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What I’ve Learned From Three Years of Travel Blogging

Today, July 23, 2012, is my three year blogaversary! For the past three years I have been pouring my narcissistic travel rants and observations out into the internet, and for some reason you people have kept reading.

I don’t usually write about the actual act of blogging, I prefer to stick to travel and the experiences that surround that. At this point though, blogging has come such a big part of my life that it not only influences the way I travel, but the way I look at the world. It’s deeply impacted my experiences and brought me a lot of rewards, both career-wise and personally.

I’ve been so so lucky. SO lucky. Literally every single day I count my blessings and beam at my incredible luck. A lot of bloggers don’t make it this far or haven’t gotten the breaks I have. But I’ve also worked a lot and learned a lot in these past three years. So on my anniversary I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned from blogging.

Success Takes a Metric Ton of Patience

Success, particularly blogging success, isn’t something that just happens to you. There’s a lot of work involved and a lot of well… waiting around. The first 6-12 months are a hard slog with little positive feedback, then one day, a switch just flips. Even after that it’s a fight every day to move forward and not give up.

It also takes a good pinch of luck. There are a lot of bloggers out there who have been working just as long as I have with not nearly the same results. It’s not necessarily that I’m more talented, but I’ve gotten some lucky breaks.

People Will Have a Lot of Misconceptions About You

 

Sadly not my typical daily life.

There are people who think I’m flighty. People who think I’m irresponsible. There are people who think I’m on some sort of permanent vacation. They are wrong, but it’s a waste of energy to tell them so.  To live a life less ordinary you need a thick skin.

Surround yourself with the positive, supportive people and forget the rest. They are less fun anyhow.

Being Self-Employed is no Picnic

There are certain things I love about not having a boss: I can get to work whenever I want (aka I can sleep in), I don’t have to argue for my days off and I get to work on things I really love, not stupid busy work.

Sometimes though, being self employed sucks. I’m a much meaner boss than my old one was: I make myself work longer hours, I’m harsher and way more critical, and I always know what I’m up to. I feel guilty when I’m not working, more often than I probably should.

Even worse, sometimes being self employed is really scary: There’s nobody else to cover your ass, no safety net when things go wrong. You don’t get cushy benefits like health insurance (man it would be great to have health insurance) and when the money drys up well, you better figure out how to hustle.

Good Business is About Learning When to Say No (and When to Say Yes)

I say yes to swim up bars

When I go through my inbox each morning I have to make all sorts of decisions. On a daily basis I am flooded with sales pitches, advertising inquiries, favor requests and scams. Half of my time is spent sorting through this mess, trying to pick out the valuable stuff from the muck. A lot of it is muck.

I’ve always hated saying no. I think it’s that good-girl please everyone trait that far too many people (women in particular) suffer from. Over the years I’ve gotten much better at saying no. No, I won’t sell you an ad for 25% of my listed price. No, you can’t guest blog on my site to promote your spammy medical tourism company. No, your ebook actually looks really cool, but I just don’t have time I’m sorry.

On the flip side, it’s also important to know when to say yes! When to take a chance on some new project or adventure. When things are worth the risk. In some ways this is even harder than knowing when to say no.

It’s Remarkably Easy to Get Used to Just About Anything

I have a half-written post that I’ve been batting about for months called “The New Normal.” In my life what constitutes “normal” is constantly changing. One month normal is dog-sitting in chilly Bogota and the next it’s taking spanish lessons in sweltering Buenos Aires. One week I’m working at my mom’s kitchen table in Arlington and the next I’m trying to answer emails on the beach in Fiji. The changes are exhilarating, but somewhere in the chaos you have to find that familiar rhythm where you can sit down at your computer, crack open a diet coke, and write.

Making Connections is the Most Important Thing

In business, maybe in life too. I’ve become a networking fiend over the past few years and I make it a priority to attend conferences and meet other bloggers whenever possible. I’ve forced myself to be more extraverted than I’m really comfortable with and I’ve learned how to chat myself up without sounding full of it. You never know who may be a really great business contact, or a great friend, or something more (china link).

Choices Mean You Have to Give Things Up Too

I made a choice to quit my job and to be location independent and I have yet to regret it. However in making those choices I’ve given things up too: stability, steady income, a home, the option of getting a puppy I really really want a puppy).

I think this is an important point to realize. There’s no such thing as “having it all,” with every door you open you shut one too. Choices are good though, because the alternative is stagnation.

Nobody Really Knows What they are Doing

I originally meant this in terms of blogging but I think it’s true in a more universal sense too. This whole thing, this life that each of us are building for ourselves, is a total crapshoot. You can plan and plan and plan but you really have no idea how things are going to turn out. And that is great and that is terrifying but I think it’s also a little freeing.

The industry I work in is a really young one. Every year I go to the conferences and every year I see new bloggers, disappointed because they didn’t learn how to make money and become a successful blogger.  Well, you never will learn that a conference because nobody actually knows. People don’t know how to make money or how to become successful, and if they tell you they do they are most likely lying. We’re all bumbling around trying to find our way. It’s kind of scary but it’s also exciting because in this wild west of the internet, there is so much to create and discover. There’s no right way to build a blog and there’s no wrong way either, so beat your own path.

But always be nice to your readers, you’re not much of anything without them.

Thank you guys for letting me do what I do and making it worthwhile!

61 Responses to What I’ve Learned From Three Years of Travel Blogging

  1. Karen Graham July 23, 2012 at 9:32 AM #

    “We’re all bumbling around trying to find our way. It’s kind of scary but it’s also exciting because in this wild west of the internet, there is so much to create and discover. There’s no right way to build a blog and there’s no wrong way either, so beat your own path.”

    I really like what you’ve written here… I’m new to blogging but really enjoying it so far. Thanks for your advice.

  2. Shayna @ Adventurous Soul July 23, 2012 at 9:35 AM #

    Fantastic and insightful post!

    As someone who has been self-employed for the past 2 years, the thing that really struck me was the “sacrifice of stability and a steady income” bit. To people who have never tried it, it SOUNDS all free-spirited and fun (I mean, who would be so boring as to say “I prefer ‘stability’ to travel and new experiences”?).

    However, what the actual reality often looks like is passing up a lot of new experiences because they don’t fit into your budget, and debating whether or not to “splurge” on a $1 coconut water since a police strike resulted in all of your classes being canceled and an unexpected 45% income cut for the month. (Not that that has ever happened to me or anything… :-p)

  3. mishvo July 23, 2012 at 9:37 AM #

    Great last point there – There needs to be a requisite class in college about that. And in that same class they should include a section on “why graduating sucks”

  4. Kieu July 23, 2012 at 9:44 AM #

    First things first. Congratulations and happy 3 years!! I’ve really enjoyed your blog since discovering it last year. Thanks for sharing this and all the best in the coming years. 🙂

  5. Waegook Tom July 23, 2012 at 10:23 AM #

    Happy Anniversary Steph! Echoing my comment on FB, yours is the first travel blog I ever read, and still following you now. Thanks for continuing to write and inspire 🙂

    Great tips as well, and you’re so right about the making money thing. There’s no magic formula and I find myself with months where I’m flooded and other months where it’s seriously slim pickings.

    Love the tip at the end – always be nice to your readers. So, that means you’re buying me margaritas in DC next year, right?

    I jest, I jest….kinda 😉

  6. Christine July 23, 2012 at 10:23 AM #

    Love it! Can’t believe I’ve been reading for almost 2 1/2 years—so many adventures! Really looking forward to finally meeting in person this year 🙂

  7. Mike Hinshaw July 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM #

    “The industry I work in is a really young one.”

    Why do you think this is? Is it because a large portion of my generation is afraid of computers and the Internet? Upon retirement we have an income that can enable us survive travel blogging. I have always loved travel and visiting other cultures and countries. So…what do you think? Is there a place for a Baby Boomer Blogger?

  8. Irina July 23, 2012 at 12:26 PM #

    Congrats on your blogoversary! I’m a new reader but I’ve looked at a ton of your posts, so it feels like I know you well 🙂 What you say is very encouraging, hope I can have a celebration of my own 2+ years from now…
    Cheers!

  9. Ayngelina July 23, 2012 at 3:35 PM #

    I had no idea I was following you from the beginning. I completely agree that no one really knows what they are doing, it’s still the Wild West and once you think you’ve figured it out, it changes on you.

  10. Nomadic Matt July 23, 2012 at 3:41 PM #

    I disagree. I know exactly how to make money.

    Step 1: Go to Target

    Step 2: Buy money tree.

    Step 3: Plant money tree.

    Step 4: Let dollar bills rain from the heavens.

    🙂

  11. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) July 23, 2012 at 3:43 PM #

    What a great post filled with so many words of wisdom! I haven’t even hit the road yet officially for my RTW trip (just 2 weeks to go!), but I am already grappling with the whole “making choices means giving things up” part of this decision. Seeing as today is the last day we will spend with our two dogs for the next year or so, I’d say that lesson is resonating pretty hard within me right now.

  12. Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 23, 2012 at 3:57 PM #

    Saying no has always been hard for me with any job. And I think that is what has led me to burnout in previous “regular jobs.” As you point out, you have to do the same even when you are self-employed and doing something less traditional like travel blogging. I still haven’t learned yet 🙂

  13. Kristina July 23, 2012 at 4:12 PM #

    Congrats on 3 years!!

    I recently started following your blog but am loving it. I am someone who is passionate about travel and loves to write. Recent life changes have brought me to a crossroads and I’m seriously considering taking the leap and doing what I love – writing about travel. But, I’ve been trying to be realistic and analyze all the aspects of pursing this (because I too really really want a puppy)!

    Your article about “Restless Heart Syndrome” really hit home – I really appreciate you putting the truth out there and sharing what you’ve learned!

  14. Unisse July 23, 2012 at 6:14 PM #

    Wow, congratulations for hitting that three year mark! 🙂
    I’ve also had a problem with saying no to people who want to guest post on my site. They send in a bunch of repetitive topics and it just feels like it’s not going to work so well. I feel sad saying no because it’s not easy especially when people finally notice the blog, but it can be a bunch of lies too. Which is sad. 🙁

  15. Matt July 23, 2012 at 6:23 PM #

    Happy Three Years! You continue to remain one of my sources of inspiration, as you were when you were one of the first small handfull of travel blogs I began following three years ago. Here’s to three more years!

  16. Gina July 23, 2012 at 6:34 PM #

    Happy Anniversary! I’m still fairly new to the world of blogging and find your website and work ethic inspiring.

    And I also really like swim-up pool bars. 😉

  17. Efrutik July 23, 2012 at 10:54 PM #

    Happy, Happy, Happy 3rd Birthday! Cheers to many more and thank you for continuing on 🙂

  18. Antoinette | love.antoinette July 23, 2012 at 11:21 PM #

    Congratulations on your three years of travel blogging success Stephanie! It’s always been fun and entertaining reading your posts since I stumbled upon your site last year. Here’s to more travel fun, memories, and success esp to you and Mike!

  19. Beverley July 24, 2012 at 12:20 AM #

    Congratulations Steph! I’ve been reading since I started my blog, just over a year ago, and you continue to inspire me both in my travels and also travel blogging!

  20. Lindsey July 24, 2012 at 1:07 AM #

    Congratulations on 3 years! Such an inspiration. A very thoughtful post, and here’s to three years more!

  21. TammyOnTheMove July 24, 2012 at 1:39 AM #

    Happy anniversary! I have only come across your blog recently, but love reading your stories. It is really interesting to read your experience. I have been blogging for a year now, but not full time like you. I am in the process of trying to make this my full time job though, so until that’s happening I guess I won’t have that special moment you mentioned when everything starts turning. Working on it though and your tips are really helpful! So thanks and don’t have too many cocktails by the pool, as it is making me very thirsty. 🙂

  22. tj July 24, 2012 at 8:08 AM #

    Wow! This is a great post…very inspiring too! 🙂 Well done!

  23. Drew Meyers July 24, 2012 at 8:44 AM #

    I just passed the 2 year mark of travel blogging, but am coming up on the 6 year mark of my blogging activities (most of which have been spent in the real estate vertical). Every single one of your points resonates with me, as I’ve been doing the same thing for the last 2 1/2 years since I left my job in early 2010. Particularly the fact that no one knows what they are doing and beating your own path.

    PS: I like ALL bars, and that Dave Dean guy is quite the character.. 🙂

  24. Lisa July 24, 2012 at 9:08 AM #

    happy blogaversary! i always enjoy reading your posts. hopefully, i’ll maintain a blog as good as you do. cheers to more adventures! 🙂

  25. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy July 24, 2012 at 10:08 AM #

    Really great advice, and the last point is especially true. You just have to roll with whatever comes your way, especially when you’re self-employed! Also – “I say yes to swim up bars.” This made me laugh out loud.

  26. Tiffany @ theUnimaginedLife July 24, 2012 at 11:09 AM #

    This was, by far, the MOST informational (and inspirational) post I’ve read on travel blogging to date…and, trust me, I have read ALOT of them…..I just set out on my own indefinite RTW travels, and while I honestly don’t have any expectations for my own blog, if I can somehow manage to find and connect with readers the way you have, that’s success enough for me 🙂

    • Steph July 24, 2012 at 1:55 PM #

      Thank you that means a lot to me!

  27. jade July 24, 2012 at 12:25 PM #

    Great advice and insight… i especially love saying yes to swim up bars and forgetting the people who think you are on a permanent vacation… It is a lot of work making places look great! 🙂

  28. Victoria July 24, 2012 at 2:14 PM #

    Thanks Steph. This is a wonderfully inspiring posts and so much of it rings true. I’ve only just started out on this journey so am figuring things out as I go, but I’m certainly noticing how much of a meaner boss I am than my last, and how much extra work I’m doing. But I’m not yearning for something else anymore. I’m trying to make what I want work, and that feels so much better than settling for the safe option, And I wish I could have a puppy too! I’m always delighted when I couchsurf with someone who has pets.

  29. Hogga July 24, 2012 at 10:02 PM #

    Happy anniversary and hooray for learning things!

  30. Jess @UsedYorkCity July 25, 2012 at 11:25 AM #

    Fabulous article! I just came across my website’s 8 month anniversary and was making crazy lists of ways to improve, get more readers, etc…this was very inspiring and a reminder that these things do take lots of hard work and don’t always happen over night;-) Thanks, and congrats on the 3 years!

  31. Sandy Allain July 25, 2012 at 12:19 PM #

    Thanks for the advice! It’s an inspiration to other blogger. I hope you could visit Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Anyways,Congratulations and Keep up the great job!

  32. Monica Suma July 25, 2012 at 12:27 PM #

    Thank you for this post! So informative and reassuring at the same time. You are right, it’s a lot of hard work and motivation (and that is hard sometimes, when you don’t see the desired results and no one is pushing you to do it) and making some tough choices. Best of luck and I’m excited to start following your blog!

  33. Scott July 25, 2012 at 1:07 PM #

    Congratulations and as always, thanks for the inspiration Steph!

  34. Christy July 25, 2012 at 4:22 PM #

    Happy Blogaversary! It’s crazy to look back and realize 3 years have passed! It’s only been 2 for me, but I know I’m in it for the long haul. I hope to see you guys again at another conference!

  35. Lenore Greiner July 25, 2012 at 4:28 PM #

    Congrats! I just celebrated my first year of travel blogging as an addition to my many years as a travel writer. Doing what you love is worth it!

  36. Philip July 26, 2012 at 12:24 PM #

    A well written and thoughtful post. Love the part about not being around people’s negative energy. After a year of travel blogging I am still waiting to figure out how to make money at it and having the time of my life doing so. Happy anniversary.

  37. Rease July 26, 2012 at 7:49 PM #

    Yay 3 years! I think you give great advice. Sad about not having a puppy though. I just couldnt give my puppy up, which caused me a LOT of stress in Buenos Aires, but I still think it was worth it. However, now that I am taking shorter trips in North America, my little pup stays at home with my mama. I struggle with the sacrifices of traveling a lot, but when I weigh it out, it always seems worth it!

  38. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures July 26, 2012 at 11:28 PM #

    These are all fantastic words of wisdom Steph! I freelance, which essentially means that I’m self employed (at least in the eyes of the IRS) so I hear ya on the lack of financial stability and benefits. I’ve gotten used to that though, especially since the tradoff is the freedom that allows me to travel! And to me, that freedom is worth its weight in gold!

    Oh, and that’s a FANTASTIC photo of Dave Dean… just saying!

  39. Rob @ Making It Anywhere July 27, 2012 at 11:41 AM #

    Terrific post – happy bloggerversary! One of my favourite things to remember is that no-one really knows what they’re doing – even if they seem super-confident – so it’s fine to be clueless and try new things.

    The flipside of course is that successful people are often totally surprised by their success, and struggle to reverse-engineer it in a way that’s meaningful for other people. I’d say that the Chris Guillebeaus and Tim Ferrisses of the world, where their whole path seemed totally premeditated, are in the extreme minority.

    And yeah, the biggest drawback of the nomadic lifestyle for us is that we really really want a puppy too 🙁

  40. Skott - Get Up and Globe July 28, 2012 at 8:27 AM #

    Congrats Steph! Three years is pretty impressive. Although we are blogging, simply to ‘scrapbook our journey’ as opposed to make a couple of bucks I still find it challenging, so I can’t imagine what it must be like to use it as your whole source of income…it takes a ton of courage… well played.

    Keep having fun – and go talk to your boss about health insurance! 🙂

  41. adinparadise July 28, 2012 at 10:38 AM #

    Fabulous post, Jim. Congrats on your three years and your success. 😉

  42. Anna Marie July 28, 2012 at 9:31 PM #

    Very nice post. I just launched my travel blog a couple weeks ago – this is inspirational and insightful. Thanks for sharing!

  43. Alison July 29, 2012 at 3:12 PM #

    Hi Steph, I liked the honest and humble tone of your article. Your blog was one of the first I came across before I decided to set up my own one around 10 months ago, leave my journo job and make plans to travel around Canada (where I am now). Although I’m not doing too badly overall in terms of sponsored travel and a wee bit of advertising revenue, I am still trying to master the art of online networking and the importance of building links etc – concepts that were alien to me until fairly recently. It’s frustrating sometimes when you try and produce regular articles, but are still unsure of how to really tecnically promote a blog and get it enough attention. It’s nice to be reminded to keep going and that success happens eventually after a lot of hard work and perserverance. Cheers and best of luck with your fourth year of blogging 🙂

  44. Hannah July 30, 2012 at 6:15 AM #

    I do love reading your blog and it’s great to see how things can develop over time with some effort and patience. When you first started this blog did you intend for it to become more of a career than just a hobby or did that just happen along the way?

    • Steph July 30, 2012 at 10:33 PM #

      I definitely did not start out with high ambitions, I just wanted to keep myself motivated in planning my trip. It wasn’t until nearly a year in that it even occurred to me I could make money doing this.

  45. Ali July 30, 2012 at 4:01 PM #

    Congrats on 3 years of blogging! It’s awesome to see people like you actually make something out of it.

  46. Kelly Dennett July 30, 2012 at 5:07 PM #

    I love this. Everything is a crap shoot in life, but to quit is automatic failure. The fact that you´ve been blogging for three years says alot about discipline- and passion! I vow to keep writing, even if it feels like nobody is reading!

  47. Wez July 31, 2012 at 12:49 AM #

    Great post Steph about the struggles, pros and cons of being a full time travel blogger. I’m glad you’ve made it to 3 years (and congratulations) and hope the success continues and inspires more people to travel.
    Keep up the good work.

  48. Drew August 3, 2012 at 11:09 AM #

    Found this fascinating. I’ve often struggled with the idea of booting it all and just going around the world, but honestly I don’t think I could give up my dog! My wife and I even had that talk when we got him, knowing he would pin us down – we couldn’t resist him though, so short-term travels it is. I appreciate your transparency and not just trying to sell a shiny fantasy that doesn’t exist or a catch-all solution to travel blogging. The uncertainty of it all makes it exciting.

  49. Tonya at World Footprints August 5, 2012 at 4:25 PM #

    Congratulations on your 3-year anniversary. Moreover, congratulations on not giving up your dream. You’re right–self employment is not for the faint of heart. We’ve been growing World Footprints for five years now and we have the bumps and bruises to show for it. This year has been especially challenging (on a personal level) and insightful and we’ll see a brand new company by year end (including a new website within 2 weeks). If this were easy everyone would be making a living as a travel journalist. Keep moving forward and following your passion(s).

  50. Jeremy Foster August 8, 2012 at 6:57 AM #

    Congrats, Stephanie! Thinking back, I’ve been following you for almost two years! Time flies, eh?

  51. Lauren, Ephemerratic August 8, 2012 at 4:04 PM #

    I travel blog for fun, but my other money-earning hat is as a self-employed marketing and communications consultant. Wearing either of those hats, I’m really appreciative of what you’ve shared in this post. I have the same struggles and frustrations, sometimes with my business, sometimes on behalf of a client (and the fun of having to explain that sending 1 tweet is not going to make an online marketing campaign an overnight success).

    Thank you.

    • Steph August 9, 2012 at 9:49 PM #

      After I read your comment I realized I should have named this post “things I learned from being self-employed,” because most of them aren’t even blogger specific! oops.

  52. Kyle September 12, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

    I think this is awesome. I rather be bumbling around at least searching for HOW to do something I want than bumbling around searching for WHAT I want. Those who have steady jobs are just as lost but with no where to go. I’d rather take the less beaten path and figure out how to make it on my own because the upside of it is worth so much more to me.

  53. Erin September 25, 2012 at 1:27 PM #

    Thanks for such clear, honest posts. As someone who’s started blogging only four months ago, it’s great to get such honest advice but hear how it’s worth it.

    (Of course it is)

    Looking forward to more!!

  54. Utsav January 21, 2013 at 3:02 AM #

    Just discovered your blog today, and have already learnt so many positive thoughts!

    Looking forward to reading more!

  55. Adam January 25, 2013 at 12:00 PM #

    We have definitely learned the same lessons over the years of traveling.

  56. Jaryd July 23, 2013 at 6:46 AM #

    Congrats mate and wow! Incredible post. I love the fact that is is a little scary because of the un-knowingness of it all too, your certainly right when you say it’s freeing. You have inspired me to get off my but and start connecting now and to start putting myself in front of those lucky opportunities that may or may no pop up (hopefully they do, and when they do, I will be ready), Cheers

  57. Shayne Zalameda June 15, 2015 at 10:23 PM #

    What a lovely and inspiring post. That’s one of the things that’s holding me back — I won’t get to keep my pets if I am always on the go. 🙁 you really can’t have it all.

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