Lessons Learned In 3 Months Of Travel Blogging

Or, How We Grew Our Mailing List To 14 In Three Short Months!*

*This number includes 3-5 family members each.

I apologize in advance for the blog post about blogging. How lame are those, amirite? And, yet, we all do them at one point or another. Here's ours.

It's been exactly three months since we started this blog and, in the spirit of transparency, I want to write this post about why we started, what we've learned, and where we hope to go with it all.

I might throw in a rant or two about the state of starting a blog in a saturated market and trying to learn anything with an endless stream of e-courses and Bluehost posts blocking my way.

Disclaimer: If you are running an e-course or have taken one and loved it, bravo! In the immortal words of the incomparable Amy Poehler:

"Good for you, not for me." - Amy Poehler

It's difficult to say "bravo!" like that without coming across as sarcastic or otherwise disingenuous, but I mean it, I promise.

We're by no means a "successful" travel blog by today's standards, so you definitely won't find the secret to growing your following or your income here. But that's all well and good!

If this were that kind of post, it would be called "how we earned $5.24 in our first three months blogging!". That's the real figure, and the $.24 is because my mom bought something from an Amazon link.

Our following is small and our income is nil. This post is about why that's just fine (maybe even a good thing, I'm not sure, I'm not done writing it yet). 

Why we started travel blogging

We started this blog for a few reasons. 

We knew we were going to be here and there and all over the road for a while, and that, combined, we had a lot of experience living travellishly (tm) and could offer our unique perspectives from our non-traditional upbringings and travel sensibilities. 

We knew we wanted to travel a lot more, to be able to work from anywhere, and to share our experiences in a valuable way that might lead to further experiences and opportunities. 

We knew we wanted to, eventually, gear toward content creation and travel media. This blog will, eventually, be a great sort of portfolio for that work and those projects.

Additionally, I've always wanted to write and this is the first time I've comfortably put anything out there on any platform, so it's a wonderful way for me to practice, hone my skills, and actually write something with some purpose every day.

And, yes, we dream of monetization or compensated travel. It's bizarre to me that we have to defend wanting to make money doing this, but read any affiliate post on any blog and you'll see a carefully crafted, apologetic disclaimer because we have to feel bad about trying to monetize our blogs. 

People want to be inspired to follow their passions, to do what they love, and to hear that they, too, can earn money doing what they love. At the same time, people hate it when bloggers, Instagrammers, or anyone makes money or tries to make money doing something that seems too vain or too easy. 

What we've learned so far

So, the first lesson we learned is that people want to hear that a) we're not interested in doing any of it for the money and it's all about helping people for free and the "purity of the art" or something and b) that they can make money doing it. 

It's horrible, but we are all guilty of it. I'll see a sponsored post by a popular Instagrammer and scoff with envy and disdain at how much money they made to post a photo of some crappy piece of clothing or fake tanning lotion or the latest teeth-whitening gadget.

We sit there buying their products, hoping one day we can be just like them, and judging them for, I don't know, not working hard enough or something.

We all want free stuff and money for doing things we like to do but we don't want the same thing for other people. Welcome to being human. All we can do is notice it, try to be better, and tip-toe apologetically around it all.

Lesson two is all about pressure, time, and talent. Yes, the market is completely saturated. The big travel blogs were started a long time ago and there just might not be room for any more "greats".

At the same time, it's like entering any other competitive field. There might be a million other new travel blogs, just like there might be a million other aspiring comedy writers, but not all of them are working hard and gathering steam, not all of them are patient, and not all of them are, well, all that good.

Pressure, time, and talent. I don't know if we're going to "make it", but I know that we'll keep trying, I know that we're not in any rush, and I know that we're good at the things that we do. We've seen a lot of brand new blogs pitter out way too fast and we've seen a lot of successful blogs with "meh" content. 

It's like moving to LA and saying you're an actor amongst a million other people doing the same thing. If you cancel out anyone who isn't really doing any acting or auditioning or anything, and anyone who gives up after a year, and anyone who sucks, you're left with only a handful. Do everything you can to be in that handful. 

Caution! This gif contains swearwords.

Don't overthink "quality content" and "value" - lesson three. These terms are subjective and sneaked around. The thing about writing is that you have to write what you'd want to read. 

If you're making anything, you have to find your style and your groove, and the best way to do that is to make stuff you like, whether it's knitting, writing, or commercial jingles.

Value, for me, is real stories, humor, and authenticity. And, hey, those terms are subjective, too! Make what you want to make, and there's your value. Quality content comes from writing or creating something you love.

The world doesn't need another "how to sign up for Bluehost" post. For the love of God and all that is holy, not another "how to sign up for Bluehost" post. Sorry, faithful friends, for what might be considered blaspheming.

I totally get it, the 'Making Sense of Cents' lady makes 70 grand a month or something from her "how to sign up for Bluehost" post, and that's super appealing, but maybe we should just let her have this one. 

Lesson four - I've learned that I can't try to learn anymore and that I need to figure it out on my own. I've given up trying to read blog posts about blogging because I'm sick to death of reading a few very generic and obvious tips only to be prompted to pay for the full course, buy the e-book, or sign up for Bluehost through their link. The "real stuff", the information I'm looking for seems unattainable. 

With a hundred thousand e-courses about growing your Instagram, I can't imagine that any one of them is offering anything new, anything unique, or anything I shouldn't be able to find, somewhere, without subscribing to something.

Again, if you take or run e-courses, that's totally fine. But I do hope you try and come up with one that's unique or corners a new market or is based upon real expertise.

I wanted to know how to start a blog. Like, how to prepare, what I need to do before I publish, notes I need to take, how to get organized and make a plan, and how to start blogging, being a blogger, all that jazz.

No matter how I worded my search, how many links I clicked, or how many posts I read, they all, without fail, ended up being big, fat, lecherous, oozing "how to sign up for Bluehost" posts. Can I add a few more gross adjectives in there? I don't think I've made my feelings clear enough. I wanted to throw my laptop away.  

But, I kept my laptop, and stopped looking for outside help. Our most productive days, our best traffic, our increased growth has come from figuring it out on our own. 

I know this all sounds very whiny and cynical, maybe even hypocritical, but I think that, in the end the message is positive. 

The moral of the story

When I first realized I wanted to be a comedy writer, I googled and researched and took notes on every comedy writer I could possibly find. What I learned is that there's no "key" to breaking in. Everyone has made their own way, found their own way, or struck gold in their own way. 

Ultimately, the one, big, life-changing secret to travel blogging is this: There is not one, big, life-changing secret to travel blogging. And isn't that kind of comforting? There's nothing to figure out! Whew.

Actually, scratch that. The secret is pretending there's a secret. The brand new blogs offering courses on blogging and massive income and exponential growth have it all figured out. 

We're very much in love with what we're doing, and, for us, for now, the big secret to success is to just keep going. We're not working hard at SEO, I haven't done any guest posting, and we're trucking along at our own pace, which I think is pretty important in keeping it enjoyable.

One day, we'd love to make money doing what we love. We haven't really figured that all out yet, but we know a lot of other new bloggers are on the same journey.

Let's see what happens!

As always, thanks for reading, and don't forget to follow the sloth!

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