Gary is currently in Town of Ellington, WI (Aug 31st, 2014)
 

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State of the Blog: The Future of Everything Everywhere

Me in Muscat, Oman

Me in Muscat, Oman

I’ve been running this blog for over three years now. I estimate I’ve taken over 60,000 photos and every month seems to be a new record for traffic. Over 100,000 people a month are visiting my site and there is still a lot of room for growth. I’ve visited places I never thought I’d visit and has been the best three years of my life.

Tomorrow we will see the start of a new decade and soon I will once again be on the road for the start of a brand new adventure. I thought this would mark a good time to give an overview of where I think my site is and where I want to take it.

As I leave Wisconsin this time, I’m in a very different position than I was back in March, 2007. I’m far more experienced in the ways of travel, blogging and photography. I’m not the guy with wide eyed excitement at the thought of a trip of a lifetime. I’m treating this more as a profession now. I mean that in the best sense of the word. This is something I can see me doing for the rest of my life, and I’ve never felt that way about anything before. In fact, that is my goal for my blog: to be able to keep sharing stories from around the world. That’s it. Not get rich, not get famous, just keep doing what I’m doing.

Since I’ve ended my US road trip about a month ago, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to where I want to go with this site, what sort of work do I want to be doing, and what do I need to do to get there. I’ve created a general road map for what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it over the next year.

Wadi Rum was one of favorite places I visited in 2009

Wadi Rum was one of favorite places I visited in 2009

1) Focus on people, places and things

My love of traveling began by reading National Geographic. As I mention in my about page, I own one of the largest collections of National Geographic memorabilia and magazines in the world. On my Twitter page I describe myself as a one man National Geographic. If I had to honestly assess myself, I’d say that I have not lived up to that. My photography is good and getting better. Many of my blog posts are a far cry from National Geographic, however. It isn’t writing ability so much (although I can always improve in that department too) so much as the subject nature of what I’m writing about.

I really don’t care about travel per se. By that I mean I don’t want to write about travel tips, hotels, airlines, luxury travel, budget travel or restaurants. Hotels and airplanes are a means, not an end. I can get my fix of talking about travel on This Week in Travel, so I don’t need or want to do it here. There are a lot of blogs out there which focus on the act of traveling and the business of travel that can do it much better than I can. Moreover, you don’t need to be on the road to write about these things, so I don’t think I’m bringing anything special to the table if I am roaming around the world.

I also don’t want to write about “lifestyle design” (I hate that phrase) even though I am arguably a poster child for it. There are people who are better suited than me to write about all those subjects, and honestly, I find them boring. A lot of people want to write at a meta level about what they are doing, and that’s fine, but it just doesn’t interest me.

What I want to focus more on is history, culture, science, and nature. Subjects which can only be covered if you are traveling, but are not in and of themselves travel. That is why I mentioned National Geographic above. Strictly speaking, National Geographic isn’t a travel magazine, even though it might have spawned more adventure than any publication about travel. People travel because they want to go to interesting places, see interesting things and meet interesting people. I don’t travel to sit in airplanes and stay in hotels.

Looking back on the last three years, there are many stories I tell people when I meet them in person that I’ve never given as much attention to on my blog. I want to start telling those stories.

I enjoyed my time out west, but I'd like to go back and spend more time and in each place

I enjoyed my time out west, but I'd like to go back and spend more time and in each place

2) Change my workflow and attitude

Since 2007 I’ve been a traveler who has kept and blog and took some photos. I realized quickly that, all thing being equal, someone who visited a place expressly to take photos or write a story will get better content than someone who is just passing through. Many of my photos are what I captured just passing through. I would get the best photos I could when I was visiting a place, but I would seldom schedule my visits around getting photos. That is going to change.

I’m starting 2010 by visiting places I’ve been before: Fiji and Thailand. I’m doing this because I want to revisit places I enjoyed visiting in the past but felt I didn’t get the stories or photos I wanted. I’m also going to move much slower than I have been. The more you move, the less time you have to work and the more money you spend. I’ll be in Thailand for at least a month if not two before moving on to another country.

I’m moving from a traveler who blogs to a blogger who travels. I’m going plan where I go on the basis of what I want to get photos of and do more research prior to visiting.

I enjoyed Europe, but it has gotten rather expensive

I enjoyed Europe, but it has gotten rather expensive

3) Bigger is better…at least when it comes to photos

In 2009 I commissioned a custom WordPress theme for my site. I’m mostly satisfied with it, but there are certain things I want to change. One change I instituted was increasing the size of my daily photos from 450px wide to 600px wide. I thought this would be good enough. It isn’t.

The “Big Picture” section on Boston.com has proven to be amazingly successful. All they do are show the same photos everyone else does off the newswire, except they show them at 1,000px wide. That’s it. Trey Radcliff at StuckInCustoms.com also does this for his daily photos with great results. People love big photos and wider formats are better for giving a sense of being there.

I can’t tell you what a difference it makes. To see for yourself: compare this 600 pixel wide image with this 1,000 pixel wide image. By increasing the width by 2/3 you more than double the area. Details are more apparent and the image seems to have more life. My first priority this year is to change my theme to make all my daily photos 1,000 pixels wide.

My second priority is to incorporate this larger image format into feature articles. My blog, and for that matter almost every site on the internet, doesn’t do a very good job of integrating photos and text. I certainly don’t get the sense of immersion reading a blog post that I get reading an article in National Geographic (NationalGeographic.com doesn’t do a very good job either. Articles which appear in print are very flat and dry online.) I’ve been experimenting with formatting, and looking at how other sites do it, to see how I can integrate bigger photos into articles to provide a better experience. This will probably be an iterative process where I keep tweaking what I’m doing, but I’m sure it will involve at least one 1,000 pixel wide image per feature article.

The issue of article layout is one which I think has been largely ignored online and is one of the still compelling reasons to read a magazine. This is why I find tablet computers to be so important for 2010, at least for what I’m doing. I think it will bring new opportunities that have to this point only been possible in print.

I am looking forward to returning to Fiji in 2010

I am looking forward to returning to Fiji in 2010

4) Keep a to a schedule

By not moving around so much I will have more time to work on both the quality and quantity of content I produce. Being on the move makes it difficult to produce content. I’m always behind in my photo editing. Also, publishing a photo every day has, in some ways, made me lazy in producing other content.

I’ll continue to do a daily photo. That won’t change. I’ll try to get back into the habit of lining up my photos several weeks in advance so I don’t have to worry about it every day.

I’ll try to get a feature article out every two weeks. These will be long form articles, of at least 1,500 words with full photo integration, maybe even a photo slideshow. These will take longer to write and I’ll be taking photos specifically with a particular article in mind. I’ll even be recruiting other bloggers I know to edit the articles just so I can get another set of eyes to look at it before I hit “publish”. I’ll be aiming at publishing 26 of them next year. The goal with these is articles will be longer form content with a much higher quality than what I normally produce.

I’ll be doing product reviews. Given how much I’m on the road, I’m a perfect case study testing certain types of travel products, especially ones which deal with electronics. I

I’m sure also have a fair share of “where am I now” type articles as well as opinion pieces like this one.

2010 And Beyond

I’m really exited about the upcoming year. I feel like I’m entering phase two in whatever it is I’m doing.

I want to thank everyone who has been following along and has given me support and encouragement via all the tweets and emails I’ve received. Hopefully, I will keep providing you stories and photos from around the world for many years to come.

  • 21 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. reyjr says:

    Your plans seem very well thought of. You have a wonderful blog with awesome photos, Gary – and an impressive traffic record! Woot!

    Where you take it from here? There are numerous possibilities! Way to go!

  2. Angela says:

    “I really don’t care about travel per se. By that I mean I don’t want to write about travel tips, hotels, airlines, luxury travel, budget travel or restaurants.” I couldn’t agree more! these tips might even be important, but they are SO boring. You are so right in wanting to write about culture and people: these are the things that make traveling enlightening. Good job, looking forward to your next posts!

  3. Akila says:

    We struggled with the issue of photographs because we wanted our site to be visual-heavy. I looked at probably sixty sites to see how people do it and what we decided is that photographs that fill the text size seem to best capture the theme of the article (i.e. if your text area is 620 px, then your picture is also 620 px – as in our site). Food blogs did a particularly excellent job of this: see for example http://www.thepioneerwoman.com and http://www.smittenkitchen.com but few travel blogs used this sort of image-heavy format.

    So, we followed the food blogger format – using pictures 620 px that expand to 1000 px when you click on them. I don’t know that we have a perfect solution but I think making the articles picture heavy also help make them more scannable for those who don’t have the time to read through the whole article. I will be interested to see how you approach it in this coming year.

  4. Great stuff, I’m excited to see where your blog goes and how you put it all into practice. I’m especially interested to see how the “article layout” ideas turn out, it’s a very interesting point you raise and for me if I’m honest, it’s the last thing I’ve thought about. For travel bloggers especially it’s a juggling act with writing content, taking pictures, finding good internet access, uploading pictures, staying in touch on twitter etc and actually travelling… Something has to give and by condensing things into less frequent but better crafted “articles” with a specific focus I think you’ve found a balance, I do hope you manage it without loosing the personal touch though and not end up just like a copy of Nat Geo. Although I’m sure you’d probably love that.
    Good luck Gary and I’ll be back to see how it’s done.

    • Gary says:

      I certainly don’t want to mimic National Geographic. I use it more as an inspiration. Nat Geo is a brand and I’m an individual. That alone will set me apart I think.

      I don’t think that layout and design is a big deal for everyone. When you have a lot of photos and want to integrate them into a blog post, then it does become a big deal. What I’m currently looking at is just doing advanced layout for feature articles, which I’m planning on publishing every 2 weeks.

  5. I love photos too in all their full colour glory, but won’t having bigger pictures slow your blog load down for most readers or will it be marginal?

    • Gary says:

      When I make the change, I’ll have to eliminate the sidebar on the daily photo page. That should make it a wash in terms of downloading. It should actually mean fewer server calls, so it could possibly be a little better.

  6. Amanda says:

    I am very excited for you! When I was graduating high school, my dream was to be a photographer for National Geographic, travel the world and absorb everything in my path. I was unable to realize that dream, but I live vicariously through you and cannot WAIT to read all the articles that you have planned. Congratulations!!

  7. fintv says:

    hey do you have that african guy big pictures ?

  8. Jarrett says:

    Bravo. The other reason to stay in a single place longer, of course, is language. On a recent Europe trip armed with two rusty languages I realised that if I’d stayed in one country for a month or two, one of those languages could have gotten to the point where I could really start living and thinking in it. I still have great difficulty feeling any authenticity to my travels when in a place when I don’t know the language, because I can only encounter the elements of the culture that come to me — typically the tourist economy.

  9. BenSpark says:

    Gary, You are an inspiration. I check your photos all the time but today made me stop, and you know why, it was the photo of you and it looks like you are enjoying your Xshot. I want to see more photos of You in all these places. Sure history is great but you the person immersing himself in history is very important as well. Good Luck in the New Year!

  10. Rob says:

    Looking forward to the changes and sounds like a solid vision. I like the idea of sharing your images, and will probably use some.

    Best of luck in 2010.

  11. Great post! You’ve sparked a lively debate here about image size and our visitors’ average screen width! Looking forward to continuing to follow your travels in 2010!

    • Gary says:

      Obviously not every image tied to an article can be 1000px wide. However, I’m moved from 240px wide images to 300px wide and for my feature articles I might use 400px wide images embedded in the article. That is almost as big as what I’ve used for my feature photos last year.

      As a general rule, however, bigger is better for photos. My original RAW photos are over 3800px wide. It isn’t possible to post something that large, but every time you shrink it down you lose detail. I don’t know what the threshold is, but it is somewhere between 600 and 1000px.

  12. Debbie Ferm says:

    I am also originally from Wisconsin (Ellsworth), and now live in Farmington MN. Just a little Factoid for you:)

    Cheers

    Debbie Ferm

  13. Debbie Ferm says:

    “I’m moving from a traveler who blogs to a blogger who travels:

    That is such a good explanation of your plans.

    Wishing you great happiness in your travels in 2010.(I’ve seen you on the problogger forum and also the authority rules forum. That brought me here.)

    I’ll be watching!

    Debbie Ferm

  14. MousE says:

    Happy New Year, Gary, you sound happy and truly blissful ( a la Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss”), and I envy you your upcoming adventures! thank you for writing about it. Keep up the good work.

  15. Krista says:

    I am SO thrilled with your goals, especially with your decision to share more stories. I love your pictures I want the stories behind them!! :-)

    Have a wonderful time in Fiji – one of my favorite places in the world. I can’t wait to go back. :-)

  16. Dominique says:

    Sound like great goals.
    I’m with you on having a focus on people, places, and things–my favorite articles to write have always been about subjects like art, architecture, history, etc.–and when I’ve written about lodging, its usually been focused more on places like B&Bs or historic inns, rather than the local chain motel.
    Keeping to a schedule was one of the first things I determined I should do when I started blogging. It’s helped keep me on track to know I’ll be doing posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and occasionally other days of the week).
    Happy travels in 2010!

  17. Ms Traveling Pants says:

    Gary
    I’m delighted to see you heading out again. I agree that the best of travel is to experience the people and I think that we all get to experience that through your words and pictures.
    Kudos on going back to some familiar places on 2nd visits, you will see with new eyes. I look forward to reading and seeing the pix from it.
    Happy New Year!
    Ms Traveling Pants
    (another Wisconsite, aka Heidi)

  18. Dave says:

    “I’m moving from a traveler who blogs to a blogger who travels.”

    That’s how I see myself now too, if I can get my finances back in order and hit the road again.

    Admittedly, I want to spend time traveling overland along the eastern side of Africa, however with the knowledge that internet access is not good, or likely expensive, I’d either save that trip for another time or move quicker than I’d prefer. I’m all but sure South America would be my next slow-travel destination.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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