Bam! 5 years a blogger. That’s 1825 days of bloggy bloggerness, which is quite a long time.
This post itself has also been a long time coming, drafted over and over since the turn of the year for fear of not getting it quite right.
Finally I’ve decided that no matter how I write this, its probably never going to be perfect or right, and my internet is due to turned off in the next 12 hours, so here it is. I figure 24 versions is plenty enough versions to cover 5 years of travel blogging.
So here it is, the good, the bad, the bits I like, the bits I used to like, the bits I never liked, how my blog has grown, how it has changed in design, and finally a big ol’ summary that goes around in circles because I still find it difficult to bring blog posts to a close.
Buckle up, this is a long one!
So lets begin with the numbers, and taking this blog from 0 readers to well, a couple more than 0. I did a similar thing in after one year of blogging and people seemed to like it, so hopefully its just as interesting to see the progression year on year.
Have a look below and you’ll see that my stats are far from spectacular. No doubt they could have been higher, and I’m positive that people who have been blogging for 12 months or less might have already hit these kind of numbers, but so what? I can’t change past statistics. When you travel, make sure you are aware of hospitals nearby like the Santa Ana hospitals for emergencies.
Sure I could and should have done things differently in the past, and those things would probably have seen me arrive at this point (10k uniques per month) a lot sooner, but it was all a learning process, and in all honesty I’m just happy (and relieved) that anyone takes time out of their day to read my scribbles.
What I will say though, to give my stats maybe a tad more creditability is that:
a) I have never ever paid for advertising! Not even a Facebook post boost. I’ll done all my own marketing.
b) I have never ever paid for an SEO audit? SEO on this sight is all my own handy work. But for the rest of the optimisation, I did need some help from SpamZilla.
I’m also happy because all of the numbers and lines above have been created out of my own hard work. Granted people who have shared a post, liked a photo and re-tweeted my work have certainly helped me (thanks for that by the way), and obviously I have been given a shed ton of advice from other bloggers and chums which has helped no end, but if I didn’t do the work in the first place then there would have been nothing to share, re-tweet or give advice on. Kinda feel a shelf High-5 is justified.
The below are 5 years worth of work, and I’m very happy with them.
So the above was a quick insight into how my blog has changed/progressed in terms of readership, but I also though it might be fun to take a quick look back at previous incarnations of backpacksandbunkbeds.co.uk. It didn’t always look this good!
OK so other than the designs above, what other mistakes have I made while blogging, and how many of them have I made?
Hint: Many! SO MANY!
I want to say that some of them were all a part of a learning experience, but some of them were just really really bad. Cringe!
In no particular order …
Assuming people would read my work simply because it existed
Thinking SEO was optional
Thinking I could do it all myself
Thinking I was in charge (hint – Google is)
Publishing posts with spelling mistakes in the title e.g. The Two Towers of Bolonga
Updating WordPress without backing up my database first
Taking the easy money that come with text links
Benchmarking my work and my blog against the big players
Not knowing my niche (still don’t tbh)
Putting too much faith in social media shares
Not writing more guest posts/doing more interviews
Overthinking and worrying about analytics
Resisting Facebook, to begin with.
Resisting Snapchat, currently
Not creating a product, such as an ebook
Asking people to have faith in my writing, but failing to show people who I actually am.
Thinking I would stay a backpacker forever
Creating a blog with such an incredibly long name
Having a blog name so long that it could not be carried over to social media, hence @packandbunks
Not taking my (now failed) newsletter seriously
The good bits of blogging
It goes without saying that if blogging was a bore and far too much hard work for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be here writing this post. Blogging doesn’t pay my bills, so to stick at something I took little or no enjoyment from for 5 years would just be silly.
Sure there’s bit of the blogging world I’m not overly keen on (see below), but there’s also an incredible amount of good that comes from starting a blog.
Such as …
1. Developing (so many) new skills
I’m pretty comfortable with a computer. Truth be told I have a bit of a rep with friends and family for being someone who can solve computer woes with relative ease … most of the time.
However, before stepping into the world of blogging the following were alien to me
- Photo editing
- Video editing
- Social Media
Nowadays I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but they’re definitely something I have experience in and can put on my CV.
2. Meeting lots of cool people
As an introvert, people and interaction with other people scares me a lot of the time. The thing is, people can be really cool. especially travel bloggers.
Through travel blogging and travel blogger events/conferences I have been so lucky to meet some really incredible people. I may not photograph as well as some of them (below is the PERFECT example), but I am happy and proud to call a lot of other bloggers my friends.
Once upon a time I might have considered it a bit strange meeting people online first and IRL second, but times change and if anything I’m not quite happy and reassured to know that I have blogger friends all over the world. It’s obviously nice to see a friendly face when visiting another part of the world (assuming we can meet up), and it’s nice that I now know so many like minded people. Don’t get me wrong, my friends from school and world all like a nice holiday and cocktails on the beach, but they won’t have me droning on about WordPress and SEO all the time. Blogger friends are obviously more inclined to engage in such a conversation.
Of course the sad part about making friends with other travel bloggers is that they quite often up sticks and jet off to the other side of the globe for 6 / 12 months at a time. Sad times :( … but of course there’s always the option of going travelling with them. Ready made travel buddies.
In my case joining a trip for months at a time isnt really an option, but a road trip through Romania with the lads, or an Andorran snow holiday is right up my street!
3. It has made me a better traveller
For a long time my travels saw me as the archetypal Brit abroad. Of course if that’s your jam, there’s actually nothing wrong with that, so my use of the word ‘better’ in the above paragraph may not be right adjective to use.
Anyway, whereas once upon a time a trip abroad would have consisted of mainly finding somewhere that had a sandy beach not too far from a bar serving beer and showing English football, nowadays I would like to think that I take a little more time to learn about and experience local customs, language, foods and traditions. I’m more interested in history and geography, and trying to really get to know a village/town/city.
I suspect that some of the change in my mentality is due to my getting older, but I would also attribute some of that change to other bloggers and their own experiences which they have documented and shared.
I also think that blogging and reading other blogs has led me to travel to parts of the world which I would have never considered previously. Whether that be through recommendations, press trip opportunities or new friends suggesting/demanding we visit X destination together, I can’t help think that the more diverse experiences and people I am introduced to, the better and well rounded traveller I will become.
Well rounded in the body shape sense too. There’s a lot of good food and drink out there!
4. Improved health – physical and mental
Shock! I am not someone who has massively enjoyed my corporate life to date. Don’t get me wrong, I am lucky I am employed and that all of my employers to date have afforded me the opportunity to travel via a regular income and annual leave.
It’s too early to say too much about the new job I have just started as I am still learning the role and getting to know my coworkers, but my previous roles never reached ‘dream job’ status.
Spending 8 hours a day doing something you’re not crazy passionate about can be taxing and take its toll. For the years before I found blogging I would quite often leave work at 5pm and then spend the next 6 hours dreading the following day.
Now suffice to say, that’s not a healthy way to live, but then along came blogging and provided a mental point of focus, a project, a creative outlet. All of a sudden my evenings became enjoyable and filled with purpose. Starting a blog was a good thing in that respects.
In terms of physical health I dare say that spending hours in front of my laptop is not the ideal. But, through the people I have met and different travel experiences I have also learned that exercise and diet are both really quite important, and that healthy, fresh foods can be just as tasty, if not more, than my beloved bacon cheeseburgers.
So too I have learned that while a good ol shindig is great for making new friends and memories … one too many beers will see those memories quickly forgotten. So quickly that the memories are often unlikely to last until the next morning.
An ice cold beer in the sun has been and probably always will be one of the great simple pleasures in life for me, but through travel and travel friends I have learned that being able to surface the morning after without feeling like utter doom is more important than having ‘one’ more drink and tipping myself over the edge. Obviously alcohol should be consumed in moderation and drunk responsibly, but it took travel and travel people to show me just how much you can miss out on when a good night out can lead you to missing the morning after in its entirety.
Ying and Yang. While blogging led me to some incredible experiences (sounding like a broken record now aren’t I, sorry) and to meet some truly wonderful people, I haven’t found it all rainbows and unicorns sadly. There are bits of this blogging game which have left me wanting to launch my laptop at a wall, put my fist through its screen, launch a massive rant on social media, or just duck out of blogging all together.
In a roundabout way I guess that having such strong feelings can only show how passionate I have become about blogging and how much I care, but I cant lie, at times I really have found this gig a tough one.
I’ve toyed with deleting next few paragraphs from this post more than once, but then I figure I would just be telling a lie if I made it the past 5 years had all been rosy. Hopefully these don’t come across as too salty, but yeah they sucked!
1. Other people will act like they own your blog and treat you as their employee
SEO bods and their guest post pitches, or should I say ‘submissions’. I’ll go and assume that everyone reading this has received at least one of THOSE emails. They go a little like this …
Dear X, I am a MASSIVE fan of your blog, as such I wonder if you will publish the attached article my expert writer has put together FOR YOU. Its FREE and will be of great benefit to you and your readers.
… or words to that effect. I used to reply, now I more often than not I hit delete or even the junk mail button, neither of which make me feel great about myself, but to respond to every single pitch would be exhausting and probably just encourage people to keep sending me this kind of crap.
Clicking deleted doesn’t seems to do a lot though, because in three days time I’ll get another email from the same person asking me what’s going on, near on demanding a reply.
Dear X, have you published the article I sent you on xx/xx/xx? I have not yet head back from you.
Delete once more, but it still goes on.
Dear X I have not heard back from you, are you going to post the attached article? Can you please let me know if this is possible or not? I need this to go live and will have to find others to post if you cannot post, if my campaign is to be successful.
Now I get it, these people are out to do a job and make money, but the constant emails asking when posts are going to be published (despite me never agreeing to publish them) is exhausting, especially when I have it clearly written on my blog that I don’t do guest posts, as MASSIVE fans I thought they may have copped on to this by reading my blog. Sigh, they don’t cop on and that’s probably because they’ve never actually read my blog. In fact I doubt they know anything about me, my blog or my travels.
Maybe I read too much into these emails, but I am at a point where I just find them a nuisance and a tad disrespectful.
2. Other bloggers will openly judge your work
One of my favourite travel blog ‘about’ pages contains a variation of the following sentences …
… I’m fully aware the some of my posts have the odd spelling or grammatical error, but to be honest if you’re smart enough to notice them, you’re also probably clever enough to understand their intended meaning and overlook them.
I absolutely love that paragraph, but no doubt some will hate it. The grammar police I call them, but maybe that’s a bit harsh. I kinda (yes I’ve written ‘kinda’ instead of ‘kind of’) get it, I’m a stickler for a smart looking design, but I would never enforce my hangup for design on others so I always get a bit annoyed when others try to enforce their hangups around grammar, or anything else for that matter, upon me.
My spelling is p*ss poor, I 100% admit that. English was never my strong suit, and it was only because of an amazing teacher in my high school that I scraped a B at GCSE level. My grammar is pretty sh*tty too.
But, had it ever crossed anyone’s mind that I might have started my blog with the aim of improving my spelling and grammar through its keeping? Or that maybe I prefer to write blog posts in the same way that I talk so to keep my online personality as close/real to life as possible.
3. You will always be asked for more
As per point 1 of this list, quite often I relieve emails asking for guest posts, they are a NO. Other emails I commonly receive are around me being featured in a post and would I give permission for one of my photos to be used. This is usually cool by me.
So that’s the request, to use one of my photos, nothing more.
Until the post is published and I am again contacted and told that the post is now live (good thing) and that it would be great if I could not share this among all my followers and add a link to it on my site.
Basically I am now being asked to promote the post for them, at the last minute. Had this request been made in the original email at least I would have known the whole deal. Now, with it being asked last minute I feel like its been some kind of underhanded plan all along. If anything I feel less like promoting the piece and linking, because of the way in which this person has conducted themselves and their business. Why not be upfront and honest from the the beginning? WHY?
Obviously I’m a bit wiser to this type of ploy now and can recognise when this type of scenario is likely to occur. I tend to now ask from the get go if any other work is required/requested on my part other than the initial supply of a photo. The range of responses can be quite amusing.
4. WordPress will wreck your head!
Now this is maybe too harsh, because without WordPress this travel blog and hundreds of others wouldn’t exist. A free blogging platform and incredibly powerful, I should be nothing but grateful to its creators and developers.
But (and bearing in mind I consider myself fairly tech savvy) when it goes wrong, WordPress can go REALLY wrong. From the white screen of death (yes that’s a real thing) to databases corrupting, WordPress updates screwing with my theme and in turn my theme not being ready for the new WordPress update. Then of course there is malware and people who want to hack your site.
Honestly, the up-keep of a blog can be both exhausting and costly, and while I have been and am willing to put the time and money into the tech so that the I can carry on writing and publishing photos, it’s difficult to keep such focus when you find yourself doing more of the techy bits than the stuff that really matters – writing, photo + videos.
When you’re still up at 3am, bleary eyed and still trying to get your blog back online after some kind of corruption/update/f*ck up, you do really start to wonder if its really worth it.
… and if it’s not WordPress, its Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Youtube changing something which in turn causes my site a heap of troubles.
Of course there is help out there, and at this point I would like to say a big thanks to Chris atwww.rtwlabs.com for helping me out on a few occasions where my tech rage almost got the better of me.
This part of the post in a way links back to my stats, and where I might have reached my current level sooner, or even exceeded it.
It pains me to say (type) this, as I really do respect the great writers and photographs who grace the travel blogging world, but there is a (bitter?) part of me that really does think that having the skills to promote and sell yourself within the market is arguably more important in terms of scoring big numbers than your actual blogging skills. Eek.
If you’re here to simply write for the sake of enjoyment this wont apply to you, but if you’re one of seemingly thousands of travel bloggers looking to get a bit more out of their blog, your skills as a wordsmith will only get you so far I believe Sorry.
They say cream rises to the top, but I’m not 100% sure that applies in the world of travel blogging. I read this article by Will Peach a long long time ago, but I think its only now that I’m really starting to understand its true meaning, and how it applies to travel blogging.
Of course as someone who struggles with having their photo taken (from the front), from day one I have certainly put myself at a disadvantage. I also think there’s a bit of ‘polite brit’ mentality that holds me back from saying anything too positive about myself and my work.
Confidence in yourself and what you do, and a willingness to show it off to the world rather than waiting for the world to find it.
Skills that are required.
Skills I lack.
I’ll get into exactly why in the next section, but safe to say that after 5 years of blogging, things have changed, both in terms of blogging and my life outside of it.
As you can probably imagine, change is continual, and not so long ago I took the decision to reduce my blog output from 2 posts per week down to 1 per week. Now I am looking to reduce my output again and maybe produce only 1 or 2 posts a month, just while I get a few things straight outside of blogging – I feel like a new home and new job deserve my full attention.
The irony of my saying that I’m going to reduce my output is that last time I reduced my blogging output my site traffic near on doubled. If there’s anything to spur you on to do MORE rather than less, its a big old traffic spike.
Jokes (sort of) aside I doubt lightening would strike twice in this case, but for too long I occupied myself with trying to work/blog in line with best practices dolled out for those people out there who blog full time. Now older and somewhat wiser I’m over my fear of the search engine overlords at Google hunting me down and striking out should I not publish a new blog on any given week.
Sometimes less is more, and a break is good for you.
So thats 5 years up, what next?
Well, as I alluded to in my last blog post (Going against the Travel Blogger grain) and the section above, things around here may quieten down a bit moving forward.
See away from the blogging world, things have really picked up in terms of work and home life. In fact tomorrow I move into a new home with my better half. Our home, our first home, together. Not to get too mushy over it, we have to wait at least 2 weeks for our broadband to be set up, so there’s some blogging down time enforced on me.
Truth be told I need a bit of time out anyway. I started this blog for me, as a hobby and as something I could take enjoyment from. I still do take enjoyment from it, but I also now feel a (self imposed?) sense of responsibility to keep offering budget travel guides, and helpful tips on parts of the world I’m lucky enough to visit. Of course one person can only handle such much stress and responsibility before they crack. Whereas blogging used to be my coping mechanism for the 9-5, now jogging/running has become my coping mechanism for dealing with the stresses of the 9-5 AND blogging.
When blogging becomes a part of the problem or adds to the stress levels, I think the sensible thing to do is take a step back and start to concentrate of what brings enjoyment and lower blood pressure. I love blogging, but right now I have other priorities and other things that simply give me more enjoyment. I also look up for more health remedies from anipots to help cope up with such stress.
Safe to say that a lack of travel plans on my part is playing a key role in this decision to take a break. While I have 1 or 2 posts in my drafts, without any future travels booked, my inspiration tank is running a little empty. Maybe once I’m settled in my new job and home I’ll feel able to start to see the world again, and in turn my love of travel writing will be rekindled. Fingers crossed.
As ever I am struggling to close a blog post and going around in circles, making the same point(s) over and over, but I think you get the idea by now. I’m not quitting, I’m just going to take a little bit of time out. Lets call it a sabbatical.
Google tells me that I don’t have many regular readers, if you are one of them I thank you, and even if this is the first post of my you’ve ever read I thank you again. In fact my thanks goes out to anyone who’s reading this and read this blog over the past 5 years. It’s been some ride. See you again soon.