Five years ago today, I was living in a little English town called Banbury in the UK, commuting to school in London, and exploring new destinations in Europe for the very first time.
The travel bug had bitten me and bitten hard.
I was taking tons and tons of photographs on each trip, and I knew I was coming up with a lot of ideas for travel content but I just didn’t have the right outlet for all the content.
Sharing random photos and travel thoughts on Facebook posts and getting likes from Grandma just wasn’t enough. I wanted to put myself out there in a way that brought real value to the world.
So I decided to start a travel website, but first, I needed a name (and not a stupid one).
I spent some time trying to figure out a name for the new blog. I wanted something a little catchy and not overly used, but I couldn’t decide for the life of me what to go with.
I tossed around many ideas. Mostly ultra-generic names that included variations of “Wanderlust,” “Globetrotter” – the usual go-to travel blog names you’ve probably seen.
But nothing stood out.
And then “UponArrival” just popped into my head. I checked its availability online and across social media and to my dismay it wasn’t available but a close cousin was.
So with one slight alteration the name was born.
I was stoked to finally have a name but then realized there was a much larger problem: I didn’t really know what the blog was supposed to be.
Everyone said a general travel blog was just too broad and that you needed to find a niche (which I still think is mostly true) but I had no clue what niche to pursue.
Adventure travel was the most appealing, but I wasn’t quite a true adrenaline junkie. Luxury travel was out of the question since I was basically broke and food/drink blogs seemed overplayed not to mention how unrefined my palate is.
I just couldn’t commit to a niche.
So I just started writing random articles related to my experiences like my first article: Northern Lights… from a plane!? and my second article: The Blue Lagoon in Iceland: 9 Tips for Having a Great Experience.
Then I watched as months rolled on and my ghost town of a blog got a whopping ten, maybe twenty views a day. It was fun writing travel articles but tracking my blog stats was flat out depressing.
I had a distant dream of some day making a living from my laptop blogging about travel one day but it was just that: a (very) distant dream.
I knew to get anywhere blogging I needed to find a niche. And I needed to find one fast.
Fast forward about five months to March 27, 2015.
Brad and I were planning a visit back to Houston to surprise my mom after being away for about eight months.
Our flight was BA0195 London (LHR) to Houston (IAH).
My dad offered (very graciously) to pay for our flights and allowed us to splurge on British Airways “premium economy.”
I was absolutely stoked to be flying premium economy, as I’d never flown anything except normal economy and it was a long flight back to Houston from London.
As we boarded our plane, the scanner beeped and lit up when my boarding pass was scanned.
“Great,” I thought. There was probably an issue with my boarding pass. I immediately assumed I was headed back to economy and was honestly a little heart broken.
But it wasn’t an error….
Instead, Brad and I had been upgraded to business class (Club World) on the British Airways 747!
As I made my way across the jet bridge and started looking for my seat, I was still very confused.
I’d never even seen a business class cabin up close before and when the flight attendant showed me our seats — my jaw dropped.
I saw fully lie-flat seats, large monitors, and infinite leg-room. And this was going to be my home for the next 10 hours!? It just didn’t compute.
What’s funny now is that business class on BA would be at the bottom of my list of impressive business class cabins but at the time, it may as well have been the Etihad Apartment!
Seriously, I was floored.
After that flight, I could not get that experience out of my head and replayed the flight over and over again. The free champagne, desserts, fully reclined seats, hot towels, jolly accents — I loved everything about it.
Suffice it to say, I never wanted to fly economy again.
Up to that point, I’d vaguely heard about people who fly business class and first class for pennies on the dollar but I’d never really looked into doing it myself. It just seemed like way too much work and those “travel hacking” people sort of sounded like nut-jobs (let’s be honest some still do).
But that experience gave me the motivation to look more into that exciting world.
And that’s when I knew I’d found my niche: travel rewards.
Little did I know that this niche would be the reason why I’d end up dropping my career as an attorney and pursuing my ultimate dream job of travel blogging, being my own boss, and earning passive income….
But what’s really crazy about it is that it all started with one unexpected seat upgrade. One completely random event altered the course of my life.
Now, there’s a lot that took place from the time of that upgrade to the time I went full-time on UponArrving. In fact, it took a full 3.5 years of some serious side-hustle grinding.
Balancing work as a full-time attorney and wannabe blogger wasn’t easy. There were lots of ups and downs and one point in December of 2017 when I was only a couple of months away from giving up on UponArriving entirely due to dismal stats.
I have plenty to say about the struggles during those times and everything I learned from them but for now I just wanted to share the story of how UponArriving came into existence.
It was a little bit of luck (thanks to British Airways), a little bit of spontaneity (thanks to my Dad), and a lot of hard work and sacrifice (that was made possible with support from Brad, my husband).
But it just goes to show you how important it is to always remain open to possibilities that come your way.
So once again thanks so much for reading and if you have any interest in doing your own thing online feel free to share and I’d love to offer any insight or advice that I can.
Two commenters below will also win a $100 AA e-Gift card.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.