By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
Danae Mercer is an American travel writer for whom a day at the office means exploring the most amazing corners of our planet. On her own! Talk about determination and wanderlust.
Had I met her back in my early twenties I would have thought that she’s me in the future career-wise. Life has brought me to other places instead (zero regrets here), but it was still very exciting to spend time with someone who’s doing something so close to my heart. The fact that Danae is a super sweet person was a bonus.
This beautiful soul has visited Vis and we spent a week at our Balance yoga retreat this past fall and I am thrilled to share my interview for The Madame guru with you! Inspiration guaranteed!
You are a freelance travel journalist, sounds exciting? What is it exactly that you do?
I’m a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, health, and luxury. This means I’m often traveling on various commissions around the world, writing for a range of outlets in the UK, UAE, and USA. It certainly keeps me busy!
When did you decide you wanted to be a journalist? Was it always the case or this realization came later?
I’ve always known I wanted to write and be a writer. Journalism appealed to me even as a little girl, and honestly, I had never even considered a career that wasn’t centered on writing. I studied journalism and politics for my undergraduate degree in the US, then did political philosophy at Cambridge in the UK. I’ve been working in media pretty much since then — and even before, as I was writing for outlets as a student.
How would you describe your career path from the beginning until now? What were the major obstacles or challenges? Did you ever want to quit?
Journalism is a changing industry. It’s one where you don’t get paid much (ever, really), where things are uncertain and outlets are closing, and where the competition is tough. Yet there’s a real pure joy in finding a good story and thinking of interesting ways to tell it. I’ve been lucky in that the full-time jobs I’ve had (working as an editor for a luxury magazine in Dubai, working in media in the UK) have always been quite flexible, allowing me the freedom to develop and explore.
In terms of obstacles or challenges, it’s always just been about trying to find a balance between commissions and income. There’s also the fact that switching off becomes tough.
What was so far your most satisfying job?
I wrote a book with The Guardian on an Olympic trainee who was severely injured, recovered, cycled from Beijing to London, and raised a lot of money for the air ambulance that saved her life. It was such a blessing to be able to tell that story. And I love The Guardian.
What are the main reasons you are in this line of work and what keeps you going?
I love writing. I love people. I love exploring new things, learning new things, seeing new things. It’s such an amazing profession that, while challenging, also has so many positives.
Were there situations in your career when you’ve encountered challenges just because you were a woman? While trying to dig deeper for a story or otherwise (especially being in so many different cultures around the world)?
I’ve been quite sheltered from this because I’ve tended to focus on luxury or health during my travels. Some of my journalist friends, those who do hard news or investigative stories, have had different experiences.
Of course, there are instances where I’m travelling in remote destinations by myself that I’m made acutely aware of the fact I’m female. I had a situation recently where I ended up getting lost in an unfamiliar city. My presence attracted a lot of stares and quite a few provocative comments. I didn’t feel very safe and the whole process set me on edge. But those instances are few and far between. For the most part, people are good, warm, welcoming and open. I’ve met so many amazing people on my travels.
Is there a harsh competition? Were you ever in situations where you had to “fight” for an assignment or a job?
Journalism is tough. You’ve got to work hard and really push yourself to excel. But I feel like the freelancer world is a close-knit community of folks all striving to achieve something against quite big odds. It’s not ‘dog-eat-dog’ — it’s more supportive, collaborative, helpful.
From my own experience, I know that going out to work on your own can be scary. How was it for you? How do you deal with the stress, fears, and worries on a daily basis and in general?
Going to work on my own has been fairly terrifying. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sometimes keep me up at night (or in my case, wake me up in the morning!). But I navigate that by talking a lot to other freelancers, getting advice and tips, and also taking corporate writing projects to help provide a bit of the stability I need. I also do a lot of yoga!
Is it worth it? 🙂
Definitely. I love the freedom and the chance to pursue things that actually interest me. Life is so short and fleeting. Why in the world would I want to spend years of it doing something I wasn’t passionate about? For me, for now, this is perfect.
What were the things and did motivate you at the beginning and what motivates you now?
I’m motivated by the moments between the chaos. I love it when I’m in a little cafe thinking through words and just allowing myself that chance to be creative. Or when I’m in a beautiful destination by myself, surrounded by nature and so many untouched stories. It’s a splendid thing.
What would you say are the qualities a woman needs when embarking on a journey to become a freelance (journalist or not)? Do you have any tips from your experience on how to cultivate those qualities?
I think it’s just being tough but also flexible. The whole industry is in a state of rapid change. Who knows what the media landscape will look like in five years, in 10? But this is exciting. We just need to be flexible. But you also have to be tough. Not every interview will be great. Not every experience will be sunshine and rainbows. And that’s perfectly ok. Sometimes that’s what makes the best story.
What is the downside of your job?
No real stability and you never switch off. I’ve been trying to have at least one non-working day a week, but it’s hard.
What are your plans for the future?
That’s a great question. If you can tell me, that would be fabulous.
Any advice for women who are looking to take the leap and pursue their dream career?
You have to be practical. Research heaps before diving off. Ask other people in your dream industry how they did it and what they wish they would have known. Have a money buffer, because money takes ages to come in and payments are often late.
But if you believe in it, if you have the flexibility in your life and your situation and want to do it, go. Jump. Try it. Other careers will always be there. The skills you have aren’t going to disappear. It’s better to try than to spend life wondering.