Posted Aug 26, 2016
It may have been a bit quiet around my blog lately, but that’s only because I’ve been preparing for some big changes: starting next month, I’m going to dedicate (nearly) all of my time to Indie Traveller.
When I started blogging in 2013, I only thought of Indie Traveller as a creatively fulfilling hobby-with-benefits kind of project. Financially, I hoped it could maybe help top up my funds a bit, and after two years things did eventually reach a point where it could sort-of cover the costs of travelling in cheap countries. But I never thought it could be my main gig back home, where life is much more costly than in places like Bolivia or Cambodia.
I don’t know if this was noticeable, but late last year I essentially put the blog into maintenance mode. I had to dial down my travelling and wasn’t able to post as often anymore. I took a job as digital marketer at Rickshaw Travel, a lovely UK agency focused on meaningful travel experiences in Asia and Latin America. The job that let me do many of the things I did for Indie Traveller but… actually get paid to do it. It seemed like the right move, even though it did feel a bit like putting down my Indiana Jones hat and going back to lecturing at the university.
But then: plot twist…
I was at the airport in Sevilla, waiting for my flight back home after a trip in Spain. I logged into my site analytics on my phone, after not having looked at it in a month, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Traffic and revenue levels had suddenly doubled. I saw that almost all of the new traffic came from Google, meaning this was a structural improvement in my rankings and not just a viral accident.
I had to double-check and triple-check if the numbers were real, but they definitely were. I walked around the airport with a stupid grin on my face, probably creeping people out. I flew back home from that trip with a renewed sense that maybe doing this blog hadn’t been a stupid idea.
In the time since that plot twist in Sevilla, Indie Traveller has been on an amazing upward trajectory. And so it’s become increasingly clear that I simply have to quit my job and focus on this opportunity, and so that’s what’s happening in a couple of weeks. Being able to do this blogging thing, and even make it my sole focus, is a dream come true.
(By the way, people always ask me how my blog makes money, and I answer this to some extent on my disclosure page. It’s different for every blog, but for me, it mostly comes from sales of my book and affiliate commissions.)
Balancing travel and life
Working on Indie Traveller full-time doesn’t mean I’ll be travelling full-time, though. That was fun for a while but not something I’m planning to do again.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending nearly two years non-stop on the road (back in 2013 and 2014), it’s that you can eventually burn out.
Being a permanent digital nomad is not for me. It just doesn’t feel sustainable. Relationships are difficult or impossible to maintain, and it’s difficult to work consistently while on the road.
But… I do love having the option to travel whenever I get that itch. And I love being able to go on a proper journey and not just on brief holidays.
I’ve sometimes spoken with friends about what our endgame is, i.e. how you see yourself getting to the place in life you ultimately want to be. I think, for me, the endgame is having my cake and eating it too. I want to have roots and invest long-term in places and relationships. But… I also love breaking with routine and being on the road fairly regularly. If I can somehow combine both those things, I know I’ll be a very happy cat.
As a reader of other travel blogs, I am aware of the many cautionary tales from bloggers struggling to keep a proper balance. Some overdose on travel and lose their grounding, others become a slave to their blog or write lengthy apologies just for (gasp!) being at home sometimes. It’s something I hope to avoid.
I think from a personal branding perspective many travel bloggers want to be seen as travelling literally all the time, but that’s not what I’m aiming for now. Fortunately, the type of writing I do doesn’t rely on me constantly live-blogging everything, so it should be much easier to keep a healthy diet that includes not just one but all of the food groups in life.
Of course, I’m excited to soon have a lot more time for my blog, and I have a bunch of thoughts on where to take things next.
What I’ll be working on
I believe a travel blog always needs to evolve. Indie Traveller has already gone from chronicling my initial round-the-world journey to becoming something broader than that.
My goal is to keep a good mix of content. I want to make sure I have plenty to write about when I’m travelling but also when I’m back home (see: the life balance thing!). Right now, these are things I’m thinking about focusing on in particular:
New and updated destination guides
I think I’ve gotten pretty good at doing useful high-level introductions to a country (the latest one I did was for Morocco). I want to keep doing more of these! I also feel an obligation to refamiliarize myself with certain countries or regions that I haven’t been to for a while so I can update my advice. Having covered a lot of Asia and Latin America, I’m keen to also add more Europe to the mix.
Working with external partners
I have done relatively very little of this so far. I’m proud to have built up Indie Traveller without actually relying on commercial partnerships or sponsorships, but now that I got to a point where things are ticking along nicely, I can look at working with companies a bit more. Because I have my independent income streams, I can be selective and do the kind of collaborations that I’m genuinely excited about. (Anything I do will be clearly disclosed).
Travel gear reviews
People have given me a lot of positive feedback on my packing and travel gear posts, so I’m going to do more of it. I’ll be looking at backpacks, travel accessories, and probably expanding into gear reviews and advice for digital nomads as well. This is one of those things you can actually do from a desk or office better than from the jungles of Borneo, so this will keep me plenty busy while back at HQ.
Local travel blogging
Finally, I’ve wanted to base myself in a place that I feel is exciting and easy to blog about. This is part of why I’m leaving the UK and moving to Lisbon! I visited this city for the first time recently and just fell in love. The climate, the culture, and the relatively low cost of living make Lisbon a perfect base for me. I see myself blogging about Lisbon and Portugal a lot, and probably also regularly dipping across the border into Spain.
Travel plans for 2017
I know 2016 isn’t close to finished yet, but for my travel plans I’m mostly thinking ahead to the new year.
Over the next couple of months my first priority is to get settled in Lisbon, and any travelling I’ll do is likely to be within Portugal. I’ll get back into posting more regularly, but there is a bunch of unsexy behind-the-scenes development work I have to do on the site as well. I’ve got my eye on a wonderful coworking location in Lisbon from where I can focus on this stuff.
Beyond that, I’m not sure yet!
I might go on a trip back to Southeast Asia or Central America next year, and I’ve also thought about travelling around the Balkans or elsewhere in Europe. My travel goals tend to change on a whim, so we’ll see.
One thing I’m definitely hoping to do next year is attending my first TBEX travel blogger conference. I feel like I’ve been a bit of a hermit, not really connecting with other bloggers apart from a handful who I know only via e-mail, so it’ll be nice to get more involved in the community. If you’re a travel blogger, maybe we’ll get to meet face to face next year. (Update from the future: I did end up going to TBEX and loved it. I wrote up this report.)
For now, though, I’ll be busy packing boxes for my move to Lisbon, and I’m looking forward to gradually easing into the blogger/freelancer life over the next few months.