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Ikigai Project Interview – Nikki Vargas


Throughout life and along our journey, we meet inspiring people everywhere we venture. As part of The Ikigai Project, Long Haul Trekkers interviews and shares the stories of individuals who live their life by the passion that drives them. Our most recent interview features Nikki Vargas of The Pin the Map Project.

I first learned of Nikki’s work from her interview with Jason Moore of the Zero to Travel Podcast. As a fellow budding journalist, her interview inspired me to put myself out there and write, and here we have Long Haul Trekkers today.

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Nikki is a travel journalist and blogger with published work in VICE, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, FOOD & WINE, The Daily Meal, Matador Network, GoNomad, Vagabondish and more. On her travel blog, The Pin the Map Project, which has been featured on the Zero to Travel podcast and Buzzfeed Life, she writes frequently about destinations, solo travel, travel planning and hotel reviews. The Pin the Map Project is part of the Mode Media Network, which reaches 406 million readers worldwide and is ranked #7 out of the top 100 web properties in the world. She is an accredited member of the International Travel Writers Alliance (ITWA) and Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA) and was an expert speaker at the New York Travel Festival.

What is your Ikigai?
My Ikigai is to live a life that is ruled by passion; this simple idea infuses many aspects of my life–from love, to work, to travel. In the past year, my life has changed dramatically–I left a job, a relationship, moved to a new apartment, started a new relationship, went freelance and poured my heart into The Pin the Map Project. It was one of those transformative years that take you far from where you started; and while my life now looks nothing like it once did–I am happier because my life is filled with passion for what I’m doing and the person I’m with.

At what moment did you realize that the life you led was not your Ikigai?
Last year I went solo traveling to Argentina and Uruguay at a moment in my life when many things were complicated and influx. One of the most incredible things about solo traveling was being able to wake up and ask myself “what do I want ?” Not what do I have to do, or what is expected of me. Down there, in South America, worlds away from New York City I was able to look into myself and ask myself the hard hitting questions I had been avoiding. While hiking though Iguazu National Park, I realized I wasn’t happy at home; that I felt lonelier at home than I did alone in that jungle on the Argentina/Brazil border. I knew I had to make a change and as difficult as it was so leave a long relationship, quit a job and move away–I am utterly grateful and happy I did so.

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What steps did you take in order to find your Ikigai?
Changing my life gave me the freedom to indulge in my dreams–in my case my passion for writing–which I poured my time, money and effort into with The Pin the Map Project. To find my ikigai, I try to remember the feeling of solo traveling in Argentina and the power of being honest with myself about what I want and don’t want.

In which ways do others benefit from your work?
The Pin the Map Project is written to inspire people to travel and see the world. If one person reads my story on solo traveling and starts planning a similar trip or if another reads about Colombia and decides they must visit, then I have done my job.

What changes have you noticed in terms of your health, demeanor, outlook on life, etc. since finding your Ikigai?
Since confronting myself in Iguazu and subsequently making some necessary changes in my life, I have found that to live a life on my terms has made me happier in all aspects of my life.

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Do you have a personal mission statement? If so, would you mind sharing?
Simply put, my personal mission (and that of The Pin the Map Project) is to bring the world to the doorstep of my readers and to inspire other people to travel, to help them realize that seeing the world is something that can be afforded now and does not need to be reserved for retirement and the twilight years. American society has a very work-oriented culture where we are raised to work hard and play later; so as a result people save their dream trips, passion hobbies and bucket lists for when they’re old and grey. I have found that travel is affordable if savvy to the tricks on saving and that you can enjoy this diverse world now. My goal and hope is to help others realize the same; to have my writing or images reach the eyes of someone chained to their desk at a 9-5 job they hate and help them see that they can flip the script on their life too.

What advice would you offer those who have not yet found their Ikigai?
There was a moment in Iguazu when I realized I could either go left or right; where I could either stay the course in a direction that seemed easy and comfortable or take a path that is rockier but happier. I found my Ikigai by being honest with myself, by facing that metaphorical mirror and realizing that it wasn’t enough to simply be satisfied, that I wasn’t to be happy and feel alive, to feel passion and that nothing about my life as it was felt that way. It took courage to face myself, to change my world and to defiantly walk down a new path, so to those who perhaps face such a crossroads in their lives I would say that the most important thing is to be honest with yourself, to separate out the voices of those around you and ask yourself what you want–I believe that will ultimately lead to your Ikigai.

Since we’re on the road, tell us your favorite travel destination.
I love Colombia! Cartagena in particular is a wonderfully, vibrant destination filled with music and flavor. Cartagena holds the #1 spot on my list, but I am headed to Morocco, Vietnam and Ecuador this year so that just might change!

Jen Sotolongo

Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring nature, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

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