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.
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.
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.
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.
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.