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The Real Story Behind Travel With Bender

Did you know the most searched term on my blog is “Travel With Bender divorce“? And yet I’ve never fully spoken publicly about what happened in February 2017 when I got hacked and lost not only my blog, but my diary, and the full-time income that I used to provide for my children.

Many of you have followed me in the last ten years starting with my original blog, Travel With Bender. You knew us as the Bender family.

And many of you may have only just found me in the last five years from the conception of Explore With Erin and the reinvention of Erin Bender.

Travel With Bender - the bender family

So what is Travel With Bender?

Travel With Bender is a family travel blog I created in May 2012 to document my family’s nomadic lifestyle, travel plans, and other personal information about MY life.

A trip that was originally going to be a 6-month stint through Southeast Asia ended up being a 5-year journey across 68 countries.

Travel With Bender website

Travel With Bender website August 2012

It was only some 3 months in that I had taken a flight to a favorite destination of mine and was watching a Chinese street festival in Malaysia. Suddenly I heard my name being called through the crowd. This small lady ran towards me, smiling and gushing, “I can’t believe you’re here. I read your blog!”

I was shocked.

I thought only my family and friends read my travel experience blog. Turned out that at that time more than 6,000 people were tuning in to my awful pictures and diary entry writing. From there it grew.

Travel With Bender - the bender family

Why the name Travel With Bender?

My married name back in those nomadic days was Erin Bender (not to be confused with Sarah Bender of Travel Society). A name I never loved. I insisted on always being called Erin by young and old, never Mrs. Bender.

I love my maiden name. And when my marriage ended it was not a difficult decision for me to ditch Bender and go back to Holmes.

The Travel With is obvious, I guess. I considered using it when I created Explore With Erin – Travel With Erin, but it was taken. And on top of that, I knew Explore With Erin was going to be much bigger than just personal travel.

Travel With Bender - Explore With Erin - Erin Bender - Erin Holmes

How did Travel With Bender start?

I have been blogging since 2009. My first blog was Erin Eats That. I wasn’t serious, I just ate out a lot so started documenting it.

Then in 2012, when my family decided to travel the world I wrote a post on Facebook asking if people would be interested in reading about my journey with the kids. There was a resounding yes, so I started a blog called www.etbender.com.

Travel With Bender - Erin Bender - etbender.com - Erin Holmes

I wrote my first travel experience blog post the day we arrived in Bali on a one-way ticket in May 2012.

Travel With Bender - first blog post Bali

It wasn’t long after that I changed the blog name to Travel With Bender and continued writing about my experience traveling the world with my kids.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I sure did! I have been writing poetry and diaries since I was 9 years old. I wrote three novels during my high school years.

Writing is my passion, I just never knew I’d find an outlet in travel.

Travel With bender writer blogger

Do you write for anyone else?

My writing certainly did catch the eyes of some pretty other epic publications. I wrote a chapter on family travel with Lonely Planet. I also wrote for several airline magazines, Viator, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Wotif, and more. And featured as the best travel blogs in many more. 

But my primary focus was my personal travel blog, Travel With Bender.

 

Was Travel With Bender “big”?

In 2016 my blog was reaching 180,000 readers per month. It was one of the largest family travel blogs in the world. It was also my full-time income earning US $150,000 at the time, not including travel perks.

Travel With Bender website stats

Did Travel With Bender open doors for you?

Through my blog, I was invited to speak at multiple events. I spoke at Problogger, the Women in Travel Summit, and the New York Times Travel Show.

 

Doors opened for multiple press trips, cruising opportunities, awards, celebrity meetings, and more.

I partied with Jennie Garth in New York, watched Gwyneth Paltrow on stage, and got serenaded by Boys II Men at a private function.

 

I met founders of companies, big-name bloggers became my friends, and I felt I had truly found my calling.

Every day I spent no longer just travel planning or playing travel agent to my family I was creating a business, and one I’ve never felt more passionate about.

So What Happened To Travel With Bender?

I know you’ve spent the whole article thinking just get to the point, Erin. But, just like any suspenseful drama movie, it’s important to build the plot first.

Let’s set the scene.

It was February 2017. I awoke in my apartment in Melbourne, Australia. As I have for the last 5 years I immediately went to check my Travel With Bender Facebook Page and I had been logged out. Odd.

I also noticed that my usual flurry of emails I wake up to was not there. There was one email to my private account. Where were all my work emails?

Groggy eyed I opened my private email with some of the simplest words you’ll ever read, but the only ones that to this day feel me with dread.

Your password has been changed.

I was now wide awake.

I checked my work emails. Nothing.

I tried my Facebook page again. Nothing.

Twitter. Nothing.

Pinterest. Nothing.

YouTube. Nothing.

One by one every account I owned came up as ‘password changed.’

I was locked out of every single account I had ever created.

My final check was my WordPress account. My beloved blog of five years.

‘Your password has been changed. Please try again.’

My erratic heartbeat slowed to a dull thud. And I am sure I sat down and cried in pain. What had happened?

Travel With Bender password error

Who Hacked Travel With Bender?

I immediately called my estranged husband (who had been MIA for 2 months, while I was in Australia taking care of our children) and choked, “I think we’ve been hacked.”

He simply responded, “Yes, that was me.” And hung up.

You can imagine my shellshock… and my heart break.

Travel With Bender hacked - Josh Bender

What Parts of Travel With Bender did you lose?

I couldn’t believe it.

Everything I had built, every last medium I had, gone.

My 20k plus Facebook page.

My 161k Instagram account.

My 30k Twitter account.

My 180k readers per month blog.

The income that I used to support our children.

When I tried to reset the passwords they all went to my email, which had also been hacked and I no longer had access.

Travel With Bender social media stats

Did You Try To Get Travel With Bender Back?

What can one do? I wish I knew.

It wasn’t just me. Many of my travel blogging friends were also contacted by the hacker. I’ve never seen our travel industry community rally as they did behind me to try and prevent the disaster, but without success.

My clients were also on the receiving end. One high-paying client rang me personally to ask me what was happening and I’ve never been so relieved to hear their words once I had told them, “Erin, we never hired Travel With Bender. We hired you. We wanted you. We will have our legal team deal with this, and have a new contract drawn up for you straight away.”

One of my blogging friends even contacted me saying her husband worked in IT security for a bank and to say the word and they would hack it back for me. I was very grateful but replied that I would try a legal method before considering lowering myself to the same level.

I did attempt a three-year court case to obtain my rightful intellectual property, however, the court system is so far behind in things online that they did not have any idea how to get it back or make any person who had it give it back if they did not reside in Australia.

I was running out of steam. There was no solution.

Travel With Bender problem - hacked - girl at Pummakule

Did You Get Anything From the Court?

The Court ordered all images of me to be taken off the site, and for me to receive a payout. Of course, as any unscrupulous hacker is court orders were ignored, and unfortunately pretty much unenforceable. 

I never received my payment. And photos of me are still on Travel With Bender, making it look like the happy family travel blog is still running when it is anything but.

 

What Did The Hacker Want?

There were several requests. One request was to swap the blog for the kids!?! As if my kids were part of a business bargain. I’m sure you understood my response. That’s when the lawyers got involved. 

The hacker was convinced the blog was worth $11k. But when offered a payment of that refused. We both knew it was worth more than that, hence the refusal. I requested a court evaluation of the business which put its value at $150k as I predicted. Upon receiving this information the hacker disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. It’s been 5 years.

One of my favorite Nashville songs sings, “It’s a whole lot easier to undermine than to shine.” Ain’t that the truth?

Travel With bender - Explore With Erin in Bali

How Did You Cope?

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t. I was devasted. My business, my diary, my memories with my kids, my income. All gone in one night.

I lost a huge amount of weight from stress and depression. I felt I’d lost my purpose, my calling, myself.

I started seeing a psychologist to work through the pain that felt similar to death. I’ll never forget that session with that miracle worker. And how she brought me through the blackest moments of my life.

Many people search the world looking for themselves. Many people miss that it’s only found in them.

It took roughly 3 months of darkness and aimlessness to return to myself. What that one brand said to me started to imprint on my heart, “We did NOT hire Travel With Bender. We wanted you.”

Travel With bender - Explore With Erin in Bali

When Did You Start Explore With Erin?

I remember one email from the hacker very clearly. The last line read “Good luck trying to start a new blog without me.”

And that’s when it hit me. A new blog. I didn’t have web design skills, but those could be hired. What couldn’t be hired were my personality, my branding, and my face.

Travel With bender - Travel Blogger

I created Travel With Bender and I would create it again. But this time, it would be even better. I had the knowledge, the skill, and the capability.

It was a mere $1,800 to build Explore With Erin and by May 2017, 3 months after the hostile takeover of Travel With Bender I had new branding, and a new face.

Many of you found me straight away, and yet I lost many of you. Even now 5 years later I receive emails regularly saying, “I can’t believe I finally found you!”

Which I guess is the real purpose of this blog post. For ya’ll to find me.

How Can I Help?

Help is free. By sharing this post you build its SEO and help me rank for the term Travel With Bender so everyone who loved my writing can find me again.

Comment on it. Link to it in your blogs. And share it with your friends. That’s all I ask. And with that, you have my gratitude.

Travel With bender - Bender family

Do You Miss Travel With Bender?

Every day. It was a diary of my five years of nomadic travel. It’s like someone taking your journal, putting their name on it, and rewriting the ending. It sux.

But I don’t feel like Travel With Bender anymore. Which took possibly the final trial of three years of the court to finalize.

Travel With bender - Bender kids

Can I Read Travel With Bender Content on Explore With Erin?

YES! But better!

I’m not done yet, but over the last five years, I have taken MY original articles, completely rewritten them, updated them with accurate pricing, opening times, and information, and published a brand new version on Explore With Erin. 

Even brands I worked with ten years ago at the birthing of Travel With Bender have invited me back to receive the same love they got when I started Travel With Bender to now appear on Explore With Erin.

For instance Visit Irving in the US, Intercontinental in Bali, and LEGOLAND in Malaysia.

How is Explore With Erin Doing?

Despite a pandemic Explore With Erin is doing fabulous and post-pandemic it’s coming back quickly and fast.

2022 saw me back at an international Travel Blogging Conference for the first time in four years. Seeing old friends, working with new brands, and renewing contracts with old ones. It was a great deal of work and a very rewarding one. From airlines to cruises or even theme parks.

What I had hoped, what I had tricked myself into thinking was real. I wasn’t Travel With Bender, I was Erin. And now Erin Bender was Erin Holmes of Explore With Erin.

Same crazy adventures, but with so much more confidence, so much more knowledge, and so much more strength than ever before.

 

How Will You Stop It From Happening Again?

A therapist said recently that we have to stop wondering if we can trust people. We can’t know. We will never know. Instead, we need to trust that we can handle it if it happens again.

Could I stop it from happening again? I’ve certainly taken multiple precautions to make sure, from secondary trusted admins on social media pages, to contracts in my personal name. However, IF it was to ever happen again I can only know that it didn’t break me the first time, and it won’t break me again.

 

To be honest, to even think that it would work on Erin Bender was foolish anyway. My name changed, not my personality, and certainly not my tenacity.

Erin Bender - Travel With Bender - Josh Bender

I won’t be silenced.

I won’t fold.

I won’t be bribed, coerced, or intimidated.

Erin Holmes is here to stay.

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Showing 51 comments
  • Nellie
    Reply

    Erin, wow I’m glad you spoke up and shared your story! Bravo!!! And it’s amazing to see how you pressed on and have emerged stronger than ever. We are all on your side!!!

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      Thanks so much Nellie, I appreciate you taking time to write. I’ve always loved your blog!

  • Mona
    Reply

    Wow, what a crazy story. So glad to hear you’ve persevered despite it all. Thank you for sharing!

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      Oh it is a whole lot crazier after the original hacking, but that’s best left to my best-seller. 😀

  • Bob
    Reply

    I know it must have been devastating but like you said, you overcame and came back stronger than ever. Always enjoyed reading your posts and meeting you once at a TBEX event.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      Thank you Bob for your support and it was so good to finally meet you too.

  • Anonymous
    Reply

    Hi Erin, hope you don’t mind me quickly messaging. I just saw your recent post about Travel With Bender and so glad to finally see your story (or a summary of it) now online. I had the misfortune of meeting your “hacker”. I was taken in by his manipulating personality and we became quite close (in a friendship way). Of course it didn’t take long for his real colours to show and hand on heart I’ve never met someone so manipulating, gas lighting or narcissistic as he was. I’m not sure why I felt the need to tell you. I check in on your stories quite often and love your content. You may have lost your original blog but he’s lost everything, including his mind I think!! I’m sorry this all happened to you, but keep on doing what you do 💪🏼

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      I always appreciate people reaching out. Thank you for doing so. I am sorry you learned the hard way. And you’re right I did lose the blog, but I gained so much more. I’d never give up my kids. Not for travel, not for a blog, not for anything. I gained the world. And I appreciate the private message too 🙂

  • Leila
    Reply

    BRAVO Erin!!!

  • Kami
    Reply

    I only found you after crossing paths with hacker + his wife + had to go find the woman they kept talking about. Red flags all over the place + even though travel isn’t really my thing that much, I do love reading your stuff about life + love + personal growth
    Youre amazing! 💕

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      oh kami this is such a wonderful story and I’m so glad you took the time to write and they took the time to talk about me so much at their wedding 😂 I’ll write more lifestyle for you!

  • Shobha
    Reply

    Good for you! A great example to your children of so many things – taking the higher road, strength in adversity and bouncing back better than ever. And Revenge is best served cold 😉

  • Tracie
    Reply

    This is it, Erin. Staying silent only stops other women from believing they too can stand up to men who try to manipulate and coerce them. With a platform like yours, it’s your duty to show other women and especially mothers, that it’s ok to stand up to bullies. It’s ok to move on. If they see you doing it, they can be encouraged too. You’ve come out the other side better than ever, wiser, stronger and even more tenacious, if that was possible! Great article x

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      Spoken like a true warrior princess. May we all use our voices! Thanks Tracie.

  • BETH
    Reply

    I remember initially buying the “hacker’s” story and commenting with support for him. That lasted about a day before I realized what was really going on. I’m so glad you pressed forward and continued doing what you do. You are a talented writer and fantastic at growing your audience and l writing content that people want to see.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      So interesting Beth. I’m so glad it didnt take you long to cross over. lol

  • Sarah
    Reply

    I’m super impressed with how you wrote it with such a positive and determined outlook. Many would have written it very differently looking for sympathy (which is definitely deserved) or with anger. It says so much about you, your morals, character, strength and work ethic. Your kids are truly blessed to have you as their mother. 😘

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      I appreciate you taking the time to write this, thank you Sarah.

  • Cassandra
    Reply

    I hope the SEO on this post is so strong that when people google Travel with Bender, this is shown as the #1 article!!

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      Haha thanks Cassandra, fingers crossed.

    • Nims
      Reply

      You have a fighter spirit. Never give up. Inspirational. Keep moving forward.

      • Erin Holmes
        Reply

        Thank you so much for your encouragement. I might stick that on my mirror – I am a fighter. You’ve warmed my heart today.

  • Nadia
    Reply

    BRILLIANT blog!!! Xx I think you did such a great job of balancing the facts but it remained about you. He doesn’t need anymore of your attention! Xx
    This is the best sentence for me “we need to trust ourselves that we can handle it if it ever happens.”
    I feel like that is the tone of the blog!!

  • Tracie
    Reply

    Have you ever publicly called him out? He deserves it. Riding on your coat tails the whole time you were together.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      I tried to keep the whole thing very private, while he did take it very public. This is the first time I have said a word about it. It was hard, but it’s been far too long women have been walked over and had their power taken by men they trust. I hope my story will safeguard someone else.

  • Salma
    Reply

    You Erin, were always the voice of the blog, so I followed you. And when you created a new blog, I followed that. Haven’t looked at the old one since, nor want to. May the “hacker” eat his own poisonous words.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      Thank you Salma for following my journey and your support.

  • Ahmet
    Reply

    You are a strong woman and a beautiful soul, U can do anything babe.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      To love again has been full of risk and hardness, but you made it easier than I thought. I love you, thanks for standing by me the last 5 years and as I find my voice again.

  • Kalli
    Reply

    I feel this. Same thing happened to me. As well as all my bank accounts. The courts can do nothing. A strange world we live in. Good on you for coming out stronger than ever.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      This is s**t Kalli. I am so sorry. May our stories help prevent the next woman from repeating the same.

  • Robin
    Reply

    I occasionally check in on the “hacker”. He has been utterly unsuccessful and Travel with Bender is sh*t without you. I’d follow you wherever you take your blog and just hope to make it to Australia one day to meet you. (In a I think our kids who are the same age would get along way, not in a creepy stalker way 🤣)

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      I hope we meet too! In a non creepy way! hahaha

  • Trish
    Reply

    I started following you in early 2016 as I typed in the fb search bar Australians traveling around USA as we had an upcoming trip! I loved your content! Like others when you disappeared it was weird and I actually went looking for you as I noticed no longer were you and your kids on the hacker page!
    Found you easily! And although we arnt traveling anytime soon love your posts!

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      It was easy to tell right. What a joke to pretend to be me – impossible! Haha

  • Shannon
    Reply

    Many people don’t really understand blogging as a career. Or how devastating it could be to lose your web site, your journal, your livelihood. I’ve followed you since my very early blogging days and you have was always a positive influence and inspiration to me. You’ve been through a lot, bounced back, and are still a class act.

  • Geovanna Zambrano
    Reply

    So happy to have met you in Bali 💛 I’m so glad you’ve reached a point in your healing process where you are able to talk about your journey and share your experience so that others may learn from it.

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      I am so glad to have met you! That talk was the first time I was able to tell the story without crying. You all were part of my healing journey. Thank you.

  • Hannah
    Reply

    Travel with Bender was always you (and the kiddos, too), it is nothing without you. I can’t wait to see you again out there somewhere in the world. This time I have kids. You better believe I use Explore with Erin for family travel tips. You got this mama!

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      I miss you Hannah, I can’t wait to meet your minimes. Thanks for your support.

  • K
    Reply

    ❤️

  • Juergen Klein
    Reply

    It happened to me in the very early days of the internet, at Christmas Eve of 2000, mostly through my own stupidity (weak passwords and a lot of emails with individual login details left in my email account).

    I fell for fake enquiry to buy one of my websites, which I really wanted to sell because I was changing focus. I provided the person, who posed as a serious buyer, access to my stats.

    Unfortunately my email account was secured with a variation of the same password, that’s how he got in. He then redirected my website to a porn site, changed passwords on many of all my affiliate accounts, emptied some of them quickly, and hi-jacked my domain registration account. To add insult to injury he also infected my computer with a virus so I couldn’t use it.

    Luckily those were the early, really early days of the internet and I had been active since early 1997, so I knew a lot of people who again knew other people. At the time there were no more than a handful of domain registrars (Network Solutions had lost their monopoly in late 1999), maybe 30-50 serious hosting companies, and maybe a thousand competitors, most of which I knew or at least knew of.

    So long story short: luckily we had a second older computer, which I straight away connected to the internet (still via dial-up modem!) and went frantically to work. First I secured as many affiliate accounts as possible by changing passwords and I also tried to contact my host, but due to Christmas I had no luck there…

    I then posted alerts and a call for help in a few forums I was a respected member of and which also were frequented by some reps of my affiliate accounts. That way I managed to freeze several of the compromised accounts and finally was offered a kind of unofficial backdoor contact to my domain registrar.

    After several night time calls to the States I had my domains back and about 60% of my financial losses recovered.

    At the end, through some IP tracing, I even found the address of the hacker in some highrise building in a city in southern Russia. But what did that help me? Nothing!

    Anyhow, it cost me about $2-3,000 and a very stressful Christmas, so I can sorta understand how it made you feel with no success whatsoever.

    In early May the year after I received an email from the same guy, basically saying “It was a fun game, although you were almost too good for me.” 😝

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      You did some great sleuth work there, I wish I had been as fast. I managed to get my twitter back and my LinkedIn, but was then blackmailed for the Twitter account. Gosh it sucked. Letting go was good for me. I’m so glad you got all yours back!

  • Melody
    Reply

    Felt a pit in my stomach the whole time. You’ve done such a fantastic job of rising from the ashes.
    You are amazing, and I’m so very proud of you, and for sharing your story, which may be just what some others need to hear. Invincible, my friend.
    I’m glad to see you put it out there and hope you are way happier now than you were back then. You sure look it, and your kids, while nearly grown, are precious and so loved.
    You’re setting the world on fire as you are, and fully in charge.

  • Sarah
    Reply

    Good on you for sharing – you’ve been through a lot and shouldn’t have to keep someone elses’ secret

    • Erin Holmes
      Reply

      You know what. This is so true. Why do I need to keep someone else’ secret?

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