Announcing the 2018 HMI Scholarship Awardees

by Dalene Heck

With eight years under my belt, I am nearly a dinosaur in the blogging world. My husband and I started solely as a means to update family and friends on our world travels, as many early travel bloggers did, before realizing that there was something to it. Brands starting approaching us and we began to fully realize the potential of what we were building.

I’ve seen a lot of change in these eight years. Social media platforms have risen and fallen. The word “influencer” emerged a few years ago. Many bloggers (and other “influencers”) now begin with the full purpose of making money and traveling the world on someone else’s dime, instead of just for the love of it. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the change in intent has shifted the landscape entirely.

Along the way, I feel like the essential element of story has been lost. I loved that about early blogs – I miss the travelogues that were introspective or deeply reflective of cultural exploration. In today’s age, the popularity of listicles and deliberately-posed Instagram photos mean that more complex and poignant pieces are becoming harder to find.

At HMI, our clients routinely ask us to source influencers who tell good stories, and in the last couple of years, it has been increasingly harder for us to do. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way to do both. My intent with introducing HMI Storytelling Scholarships was not only to #ShareBetterStories and help grow this blogging community that I love, but I’ll admit that my objective was also a bit selfish. I need a pool of solid storytellers available to work with. Thankfully, I was overwhelmed with the applications for our inaugural scholarships and found that many of the responders feel the same way I do.

We asked…“Why do you want this scholarship?”

This is how our applicants responded.

I used to write narratives, but then started to favor SEO more, including listicles and other types of articles I thought people would love. I would want to go back to writing stories again but don’t quite know how, leading to writer’s block and weeks of nothing published on my blog. Help!

I understand the necessity of writing lists and ‘how to’ guides for SEO purposes, but I never feel prouder than when I publish an article that is more a story or research-based than just a top ten.

I’m tired of reading articles that talk endlessly about SEO, page views, media kits, and social media strategy. I feel like I need to reset and be reminded of why I started this in the first place.

I want to learn how to get away from the ‘how-to’ aspect of blogging and draw people into a story. I want their skimming to become reading because they can’t help themselves. I actually stopped blogging this year and tried to be a business because it didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.

By noticing my own desire to read stories, I realized that people just want to know other people. That human connection is more important than money, status, or accomplishment. So now I know what kind of blogger I want to be. I want to tell stories so people can understand and get to know other people in faraway places. Because the more we know about each other, the easier it is to get along.

This is a small sample of the 70 applications received. You may guess how rewarding this process was for all of us involved, and how overwhelmed the esteemed judges – Torre DeRoche, Jodi Ettenberg, and Dené Sinclair – were in making their decisions.

Amanda Carnagie

Amanda is a marketing professional with a travel addiction. Fueled by weekends and vacation days, she seeks to balance her career aspirations with travel inspiration. Yes, it is possible to travel with a full-time job! Her travel blog, The World Incorporated, encourages the everyday workaholic to depart from their desk and maximize their PTO to travel the world. Amanda is on a mission to discourage work martyrdom, end vacation shaming, and prove that a “power trip” is a good thing.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“To be a better story teller.
To trade listicles for lessons in travel.
To swap itineraries for cultural exchange.
To turn keyword research into interviewing locals.
To exchange retweets for emotional responses.
To realign the focus from SEO to story.”

Michelle Chang

Michelle is a traveler, questioner, and introvert. She is passionate about cross-cultural exchange, the power of transformational travel, and the importance of intentional living.

Michelle and her husband quit their traditional jobs in 2011 and served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Jamaica. They have been location-independent digital nomads since 2014, running their freelance web services business and travel blog,, while they explore new places.

Michelle’s travel experiences include studying in Paris and Florence, two summer internships in the Dominican Republic, two years living in rural Jamaica, and long-term travels with her husband to over 20 countries.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“Writing about the practicalities of travel has come more naturally to me. But the true power of travel is how it transforms us, and I want to get better at drawing our readers into the lives of people we encounter.

To celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband and I started a Global Neighbor Project where we set out to do 10 interviews in 10 countries. We wanted our fellow Americans back home to connect with their neighbors despite being a world away. Recording the interviews was the easy part. But I’ve felt stuck on the next step: translating what we’ve learned into compelling stories.”

Danielle Desir

Danielle Desir is a travel finance strategist, podcaster, writer and the founder of The Thought Card. The Thought Card is a travel finance blog and podcast that empowers people to make informed financial decisions – affording more travel, paying off debt, building wealth and living life on your own terms.

She knows how frustrating it can be navigating your finances without the financial-know so she writes about personal finance and travel topics including destination guides and budget breakdowns, investing for newbies, financially savvy travel and saving money.

Danielle has traveled to over 24 countries and refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from experiencing the world.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“I’ve always been a numbers person and I do really well with explaining complex concepts and writing informative blog posts but I struggle with storytelling and descriptive writing. I want to get better at writing articles that grab people’s attention, evoke emotion and make readers feel compelled to read until the very end. With this scholarship, I hope to create content that inspires and provide more value to the brands I work with.”

Amber Dunlap

Born and raised in the United States, Amber now calls South America home base. Though never her original plan, a dream to live in Peru for a year back in 2016 quickly became an indefinite move down “south.” Over the course of the past three years, she’s fallen into a career in travel writing for travel agencies, exercising a passion of hers that she never knew she had. Now, it’s her mission and dream to take her writing to the next level and use it as a way to bring people and cultures together. For Amber, it’s become about far more than enticing someone to travel somewhere through beautiful language. She hopes to offer, instead, a window into a world that someone hasn’t met yet and in doing so inspire them to connect with the places they visit on a much deeper level.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“I’ve been living a half-life, one foot in and one foot out of the world of travel writing, for a while now. The safety of a steady paycheck and a “real” job have kept me at amateur status for too long now. On the side, I write blog content and website copy for travel agencies all over the world, but it’s not the type of writing that fills my soul. I want to tell stories, my stories and perspective on a place, that make people want to travel to a destination for more reasons than a selfie in front of Machu Picchu. Right now, I’m craving the expertise and coaching that will support me in finally being able to say in an unwavering voice, “I am a travel writer.” Because I am. I just don’t believe it yet. That is where I think this scholarship can help me. I have the raw ingredients. Now, what I need most is a mentor who can show me how to put these ingredients together into a form that resonates with people in the most impactful ways.”

Laura Friesen

Laura is the blogger behind An Ordinary Existence, where she shares stories of everyday adventure. She is a travel lover, outdoor enthusiast, and dog mom living on the Canadian prairies. She recently served as an ambassador for Hike Like a Woman, is the founder of Women Who Paddle, and was named as a finalist in the 2018 Outdoor Media Awards. Laura firmly believes that even the most “ordinary” among us have stories worth sharing.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“Dalene, Torre, Jodi, and Mike are all among a small group of bloggers who played a huge role in changing my perspective on the world, inspiring me to travel, and showing me how important storytelling can be. To be given a chance to participate in something that was created by someone, and is supported by others, that I have so much respect for would be beyond what I could hope for. (And yes, I’m shamelessly sucking up right now)

I think the structure, motivation, and mentorship that comes with a course is exactly what I need to get back on track and be reminded of why I love writing and storytelling so much. I’m tired of reading articles that talk endlessly about SEO, page views, media kits, and social media strategy. I feel like I need to reset and be reminded of why I started this in the first place. And I feel like Mike and this course could do that for me.”

Betsi Hill

Betsi is the content creator for Betsi’s World, where she blogs about travel through Florida, the South, The Bahamas, and the Caribbean by land or by sea, onboard Saltwater Gypsea, her home on the water. She’s married to the love of her life, Jim, who is also her partner in blogging and writing. Where Betsi is an artist with words, Jim brings the words to life with photos.

Betsi’s World specializes in luxury getaways and boomer travel to tropical locales. Of course no journey would be complete without good food and libations to accompany, so pull up a chair and join the feast.

Betsi, along with Jim, are freelancers as well. Their work has appeared in both print and digital publications.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“I am not only a blogger but also a freelance writer. I know that my storytelling is inside, and just needs some help to appear. After researching Mike Sowden and his story telling, I can see the difference – he is able to pull readers in and make them part of his stories and I want to learn how to do that. He makes me care about the story, and I want my readers to care about what I am writing. Being able to analyze your own writing is something I struggle with, and learning with Mike Sowden would be an amazing gift for me, and help take my writing to an entirely new level.”

Jonathan Sacks

Jonathan Sacks is the writer of Everybody Hates A Tourist, a travel blog covering cultural travel experiences including food, craft beer, sports, value travel, travel contests, & funny & useful travel news. Currently based in San Francisco, he has traveled to 40+ countries, including living in Scotland for 2 years. When not traveling & writing, he works in digital marketing.

Why do you want this scholarship?
“I feel like my writing is decent in some ways, but one way that I often feel that it is lacking is when it comes to telling personal stories. I would like to improve my skills when it comes to storytelling in vivid detail & making better emotional connections that keep people interested in the rest of my writing. I can get traffic to my site through SEO – what I really need to get better at is keeping those people coming back.”

I want to thank everyone who applied for our very first HMI Scholarships, and congratulate our talented awardees. I am very excited to follow their progress for the course, and look forward to seeing them Share Better Stories.

You may also want to read:

Introducing HMI Scholarships: Share Better Stories