Daily Archives: April 23, 2009

How I Manage A Travel Blog On The Road

Posted by on April 23, 2009

As of the moment I write these words, I have been running this blog for over two years. During that time I have made 1,100 posts, have had 4,013 comments, taken over 50,000 photos, have gone through 3 major designs, 2 laptop computers, and logged on from countless wifi networks in over 50 countries. As of today I have 1,870 people who subscribe to my RSS feed or email newsletter, 47,000 people who follow me on Twitter, and about 25,000 visits to my blog each month with about 54,000 page views.

As far as I know, I have the most popular blog of its kind on the internet (ie: a travelogue made by someone actively traveling). I’m sure someone will read this and bring some site to my attention that I have totally missed, but that is reality as I know it right now.

My goal with this article is to lay everything out on the table for those who are interested in doing what I do, and give everyone a peek under the hood for how things work. I’ll explain all the challenges I have to deal with traveling and the unique problems a blog in this niche has to face. I’ll give potential bloggers some realistic expectations of what to expect if they are going on a trip.

If you are not a technical person, please feel free to just gloss over the parts you don’t understand or ask a question in the comments. I will try to answer all questions, as I’m sure there were be a lot of them.

The Name

I did my first around the world trip in 1999 for work. I kept a blog for the people back in the office before they were known as blogs. When I came up with the idea of going around the world I knew a website would be part of the mix. Prior to leaving there were two websites I found that did something similar that I really admired: Mike Pugh’s Vagabonding.com, and Jim Rogers Millennium Adventure. Since then I’ve discovered many more, but those were the two I used as inspiration. I purposely avoided any play on the word “vagabond” which has become really trite since Mike launched his blog. I can’t tell you how or when I decided on “Everything Everywhere”, but the moment I thought of it, I knew it was the name I was going to use.

Hosting

My website is hosted by Positive Fusion. They have been hosting my personal blog for years so it was natural to just keep using them for my travel site. Indigo, the guy who runs the company, has been very responsive and helpful whenever I have needed assistance.

Everything runs on WordPress, which is pretty much the standard for blogging. My current theme was created special for my site by Unique Blog Designs. I was pretty ticked off at them for how long it took, but I can’t complain about the results. I use Feedburner to manage my RSS feed, Aweber for my email newsletter and SmugMug to host my travel photos.

Philosophy

I try to make the site very visual. I think travel is a very visual thing. If you look at the cover of any travel magazine, they will always have a photo of some exotic location. Calendars of beaches and mountains sell better than most travel diaries. Having an image rich site has proven to be very popular. To this end, in my most recent site redesign, I’ve moved the daily photos up top so they are the first thing you see, and the daily photo page now displayes 600 pixels wide photos, not 500. You can also click on the image to view a version of the image 1000 pixels wide. (so if you haven’t been doing that, you can see any image in all its real glory)

I also try to keep the subject matter on point. The focus of this site are my travels. I don’t talk about the travel industry, hotels or frequent flier programs because I really don’t care about them. I also don’t give a crap about spas, cruises, luxury hotels or vacation rentals. I don’t talk in general terms about blogging, internet marketing or technology, because that isn’t focus of this site. There are plenty of sites out there that do a much better job of addressing those subjects than I can.

Since November 23, 2007, I have made it a point to post an original photo taken by myself every single day. I have done this 520 consecutive day so far. I have occasionally been late, but I will always go back and make up for it. This way there is always something waiting for you in your RSS reader when you wake up in the morning. I can usually do this by creating a queue of photos a week or two in advance.

Equipment

I will leave my photography equipment to a future post on my camera equipment. Suffice to say I have a Nikon D200 with a 18-200mm and 12-24mm lenses. I also have a small Sanyo Xacti 1000 video camera and a Canon point and shoot camera. I also have a 15″ MacBook Pro, 2 300gb external USB hard drives, a Bluetooth wireless mouse, a power strip, and batter chargers for the camera and video camera. The heaviest thing I carry is a Manfroto tripod and ball head.

That is a lot of technology, but if you want to do what I’m doing, having a laptop isn’t optional. I’ve visited a lot of internet cafes on my trip and I have yet to see Photoshop or any video editing software. Most internet cafe computers are old and slow. There is a good chance they are running IE6 and I’ve even see computers running Windows 98. If you want to do even semi serious photography or video, a small netbook is also not going to cut it. Hauling a larger laptop is just one of the sacrifices you have to make.

I’ve had people ask me if they should take their SLR with them on their trip because they are worried about theft. My answer is, if you aren’t going to take your good camera with you on a trip around the world, there is no point in owning the camera. So far, I have not had anything stolen from me. I keep my laptop secured with a simple cable lock. Take reasonable precautions and you should be fine.

Internet Access

This is probably worth of an article of its own. Getting online is really hit or miss and changes in every city I go to. I’ve had horrible bandwidth and OK bandwidth. Often I will find a hostel with free wifi and a mediocre internet connection and try to upload photos while I sleep. It is slow, but it doesn’t matter if i do it overnight. I can find some sort of internet connection everywhere, but when I find something good I try to take maximum advantage for doing uploads/downloads.

Blogging vs. Writing

I am not a journalist. I am a blogger and I am quite comfortable with that term. That means I am a one man show. Someone working for a magazine has the luxury to go out and write a 5000 word story and not worry about anything else. I’m the writer, photographer, editor, publisher, webmaster, and accounting department. Almost everything I write ends up going public as a first draft. This will often result in some spelling and grammar errors which I’m sure drive some people nuts. If I was writing for print or for a larger website, I’d take more time and do rewrites. Sometimes I might get facts wrong, in which case they are almost always discovered and pointed out by readers in the comments. That is the nature of blogging. If I wasn’t doing photography I could probably spend more time on my writing.

Marketing

This is what most people who are thinking of starting a travel blog and visit my site are interested in. Travelogues are a very odd segment of blogging. There are a ridiculously large number of travelogue floating around on the internet. There are no fewer than two dozen sites which are specifically in the business of hosting travel blogs. I’d estimate that the total number travel blogs out there is in the tens of thousands and that doesn’t include all the people on Facebook who share travel photos with friends and family. There easily might be over 100,000 travelogues.

The problem is they all have a really short shelf life. Eventually the trip is over and the blog gets abandoned. Even while traveling, most people neglect their site updating only once ever few weeks or less. Both of these factors come in to play when you are trying to build an audience. There are two reasons why I have been able to build such a relatively large audience: 1) I’ve been doing to for two years and few people ever travel that long, and 2) I take it very seriously and do not neglect the site. Very few people are prepared to do either of those things, let alone both.

A full 9 months into my trip, hardly anyone was reading this site. Most people who go on around the world trips are done by 9 months. December 2007 was a turning point for the site. I was in Hong Kong when I realized some of the special issues which travel blogs faced and made a concerted effort to try to introduce more people to what I was doing.

In addition to everything else I outlined above, there is one other big problem with travel blogs: no one goes looking for them. I’d bet less than 5% of the people who read my site went out of their way to find blog by someone who was traveling around the world. Most people found it totally by accident through a link on another site, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon or a totally unrelated Google search. So the big challenge is to expose my site to people who have no idea this sort of website even exists, let alone are looking for one.

I do have one big thing working to my advantage. When people do discover my site, I get an overwhelming positive response. There are a lot of people who dream of doing what I’m doing and when they find my site they spend several hours going through it. Almost daily I get emails and tweets from people who gush about the site, applaud me for my courage, and compliment me on my photography. It is pretty nice to get those emails :)

So you can see the enormous problem in marketing a site like this. While there are a lot of travelogues out there in theory, there are very few that have ever gotten any sort of traction. There are no big name travel bloggers out there I can hope will link to my site that will send in a flood of traffic. I am one of the closest things there is to a big name travel blogger, and my site is gets a tenth to one hundredth of the traffic some of the serious blogs get. I have had very few traffic spikes in the two years this site has been around. I have never gotten a massive wave of traffic from Digg or StumbleUpon. Most everything has been the result very slow steady increases in readers.

This issue of serendipity has been the biggest challenge I’ve had to face and will be for the foreseeable future. One of the reasons I’ve put so much effort into Twitter is because it is such an amazing vehicle for people to discover a site like mine. If you are already famous or have a popular blog, you might be able to leapfrog all the issues I’ve had to deal with.

The Future

Believe it or not, my initial goal when I started my trip was to launch a video podcast. Actually, it still is. I quickly found out that producing a video podcast all by myself in lesser developed countries, while at the same time trying to do still photography, was next to impossible. You can see some of my best attempts at video podcasting in the video links in the upper right. At best they are OK, but not really at the quality level I want. I might do some short “talk at the camera” things in the future, but nothing very fancy.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have no intention of doing this alone forever. It is just too much work and it will be impossible do video by myself. I’m looking at making it at least a 2 person operation going forward, with a second person being responsible for producing the podcast. I will also not be traveling for 2 years at a stretch. I’m looking at 3-4 month trips that are more focused and organized.

My long term goal is pretty straight forward: I want to be able to keep doing what I’m doing indefinitely. Despite the time and effort that goes into maintaining the site, I fully enjoy it. It is probably the first thing in my life I wanted to keep doing after a few years. I still have many ideas for how I can improve the site and more projects I’d like to launch. It is just a matter of finding time to do all of this stuff by myself and still……you know……travel.

If there is anything I haven’t addressed, please feel free to ask in the comments.