Destinations Magazine

Celebrating Four Years of Travel Blogging!

By Livingthedreamrtw @livingdreamrtw
Happy 4th Birthday Living the Dream! Today we mark a great day here at Living the Dream, the completion of our 4th year being live as a travel blog!.  It's been a long time since we started out as a basic travel journal for a long-term trip abroad and have evolved in ways we would never have expected.
Considering that, it is hard to pull together 4 years of blogging into one post - but we're going to try.  So here it is, our 4th anniversary spectacular, full of our favorite highlights, advice to new bloggers, plans for the future, and some other secrets we've been holding onto for some time!
Favorite Posts
To start off our celebration, we wanted to look back at some of our favorite posts of the last four years that you might have missed.  While some of our favorites have been destination specific posts for great countries like Spain, Egypt, Jordan, Japan, and Thailand, we cannot help but feel the most pride about a few particular general travel posts that have been quite well received over the last few years:
Scenes from a Travel Bloggers Wedding - Photos from our recent wedding in May 2012
Writing a Travel Book Ten Part Series - A ten part series about putting together our first book, The Long-Term Traveler's Guide (available in print, digital, kindle, nook, and iPad formats)
Travel Photo Roulette Round 1 - A photography competition that started in November 2010 and has been going near weekly ever since and is quickly approaching Round #50.
Top 10 Murphy's Laws of Backpacking - A collection of travel laws for 'anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.'
Itinerary Change! New Destination Ahead - Ending my first long-term trip early (151 days in) to return home and get married to Angie.
To check out the nearly 600 blog posts we've published in the last few years, check out the Categories sidebar on the right side or the country-by-country drop down menu in the toolbar above.  Next stop, 1,000 posts!
Advice to New Travel Bloggers
Paper Cranes
There is a reason it took us four years to get to where we are, and that is because we do not follow the "rules".  We have a history of being the last to embrace an industry wide change and the first to shrug off any new fad for our blogs mostly because we like the direction we are going. This is true from the beginning, as when we started travel blogging was in its relative infancy, and will be true for the future.  It is just how we are.  I can still think back to old blog layouts and cringe at the thought of how bad our site looked compared to where we have it today.
But with four years of operations we have four years of experience and recommendations that we are finally ready to pass along to new and veteran travel bloggers alike.  Keep in mind these are recommendations that worked for us when taking the leap from a public journal to a mainstream resource.  They may not work for you.  When in doubt, jump to our last piece of advice and ignore everything we say because that is how you will stand out from the rest:
  1. Own your domain - Everything you do is based off your domain name.  Get rid of Blogspot and Wordpress links as soon as possible as your most important site statistics will reset and start from scratch.  It took us over 1 year to do this, and is probably the biggest regret to not spend the $10-$15/year to upgrade right away.  Even if you don't envision trying to grow your blog into the public domain, we recommend doing this right away as you never know what spark may set you off in a new direction several months down the road.
  2. Have a unique name - Check out our massive list of travel bloggers page.  Count the number of blogs that have the words 'travel,' 'backpack,' and 'adventure' in the title.  A unique name will set you apart from this group. You will often be judged, in many cases, entirely from your blog name. Want to work with travel companies in the future?  Some companies may get turned off by a blog name not matching up with their marketing goals even if your entire readership is precisely what they need.  It is that simple sometimes.
  3. Aesthetics - The quickest way someone will exit from your page is if it looks unprofessional and unappealing.  Blogs are judged by their cover, and that is the sad truth of it all.  Spend time working on your site design and learn some basic HTML to make your page as custom as possible. It doesn't have to be perfect, but if you enjoy the way your blog looks then you are probably doing something right. At the very least, you'll pick up a new skill which is something we should all strive for on a daily basis.
  4. Make friends -  Making friends with travel bloggers is great for expanding your knowledge on the industry as a whole as almost everyone is happy to help out when you need it.  But do not fall into the trap as to write specifically to receive comments from these friends. You should have a larger goal than to write for the 20 people who comment on every post you publish.  Instead, target the millions of travelers who explore the world every year.  To put it bluntly, I'll take one comment from a random stranger who found our site on a Google search over 100 comments from people I know any day.  Why? The stranger has a need for your post and advice, your travel blogging friends do not.
  5. Engage readers - Give as many prompts as you can for readers to subscribe to a mailing list, RSS feed, or Facebook page as soon as possible.  We have a rather large following here (thanks everyone!), but only implemented our prompts for subscription at the beginning of our 3rd year.  Think of how many readers we may have missed in those 3 years?   Growth in travel blogging is very much an exponential thing.  Getting the initial spark is the hardest, and waiting to begin makes it even more difficult.
  6. Use Facebook as a place for everything else - We did not use our Facebook page very well until about 6 months ago.  In that time our readership increased, interactions spiked, and we doubled our fan page from 300+ to over 1,000 fans in just a few months when it took over a year to just get to a few hundred.  What did we do?  Shared a daily photo and asked an occasional question.  That was it.  Facebook fan pages are good places for everything else that does not fit within the scope of your blog and is a great way to provide extra for those who want more. It is the most popular thing since sliced bread after all, so use it.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask - The best way to learn is by doing, but never be afraid to ask a question to the travel blogging community at large.   Some people do bite, but most people are helpful as long as you are not trying to self-promote in the process.  But as a word of warning, try a Google search before asking for more personal help.  99% of all answers can be found there as long as you know the right question to ask.  Better to hear it from me now than the people who do not like helping!
  8. Be a mentor - Once you become good at what you do, help others.  Simple as that.  Travel karma goes a long way, and we've received many amazing contacts to travel companies and resources purely because we helped out a friend one time with little to no effort on our part. We reply to every single email we receive whether it is from a traveler asking for advice or a blogger looking for help.  Every. Single. Email.  So if you have a question, shoot it our way.  We don't charge to help friends, and in blogging we are all friends.
  9. Write for the passion, not money -  While advertising is a great to supplement your income, the motivation for opening a blog should be to write for the sake of writing.  Every travel writer out there has an opinion about advertising, and ours is most certainly to not open a blog purely for the sake of seeking advertising.  Write because it is your passion first.  It took us two years before we even made $1 on this site and are only now making a decent revenue that is inherently capped for quality control of our own choosing.   If advertising dropped off tomorrow, we'd still be writing.  Would you?
  10. Don't be taken advantage of -  You know you made a milestone as a blog when you start receiving requests from third party companies.  Be able to sort the seedy ones out from the reputable ones and never sell yourself short to make a quick buck.  Remember, the quickest way to spot a scam is if someone insists they are doing you a favor.  Just because you are new doesn't mean you can be treated like you are not valuable.  If the person contacting you didn't think you were worth being contacted, you wouldn't have received an email in the first place. 
  11. You are a traveler - If you are anything like us, you started your blog to document your journey and not the other way around.  Keep your priorities straight.  Travel first.  Write second.  No one will ever fault you for sitting on a great article for a week, month, or even several years.  A good story is a good story, but an experience can only be had while you are at the destination.   Don't waste the moments for your blog.  Your trip will probably end, your blog can go forever. 
  12. Most importantly - Ignore the pack - While every blogger out there has advice, ignore us just like we ignore everyone else.  The advice listed above worked for this website and may not work for yours.  Take it with a grain of salt.  Don't like it?  Don't do it!  Like it? Try it out.  Your blog is yours, and that is the point.  Make it what you want it to be, give it your voice, and don't let anyone tell you what to do otherwise just because it worked for them. Without your personal voice and style, you'll be just another website in the vast sea of the world wide web.  Trust me on this one, you don't want that.
The Long-Term Traveler's Guide
The Long-Term Traveler's Guide
In February of this year we released our first self-published book, The Long-Term Traveler's Guide. The guide is a comprehensive planning resource for anyone looking to plan a long-term trip.  The goal of this project was to produce a resource that could be used by everyone, regardless of where you come from or where you are going.  Rather than going into fine details, such as visa requirements to visit Asia for Americans or the top sights of Europe, we took a broader approach.  The guide teaches you how to travel long-term, and the topics are relevant for all travelers, no matter where you come from or where you are going.
Want to check out our guide?  We have it available from a number of sources, including the following:
It took nearly a year and a half to put the ~250 page book together, as well as about $1,400 in funding to get the book out in print, digital, and for every major reader device there is.  So far we've sold enough copies to recover > 50% of our cost, which is quite exciting for only being out for 7 months. To chronicle the book's publishing effort we even put together a tell-all series about the challenges faced when putting together a travel book and self-publishing.
Our ultimate goal is to get a publishing deal for the guide, and are looking for getting as much exposure as possible.  If you have read the guide and liked it, please give it a review on your favorite website above or share the book's webpage to your social network. If you haven't read the book, we'd love it if you checked it out! Any extra exposure we can get would be most appreciated.  Our first pitches to potential agents are going out this month, and we are eagerly awaiting feedback.  If anyone has a contact in the publishing market that you can put us in touch with, we will be most appreciative.  Making the leap from self-published to a fully published book is quite possibly our biggest challenge yet, but we are embracing it as best we can.
A New Site in The Network!
A few months ago, I had a stroke of inspiration.  Not the fleeting thought that gives you motivation to get through another day, but one that consumes you for weeks, months, or years.  Luckily as a part-time website developer this inspiration is for another site in our ever expanding network.  What is this site?  Well, we're calling it Trust a Traveler, and the major players of the travel blogging community will be taking part.
Celebrating Four Years of Travel Blogging!
Since this site is still in its initial stages, we have to keep things under wraps for the time being.  If you want to be notified when the newest site in our network comes out, Like the site's Facebook page!  Otherwise, check back here in a month or so when we have an official launch party. 
Are you a travel blogger with over 1 year experience, 100+ blog posts, and have visited 10+ countries or lived abroad in one place for 6+ months?  If so, let us know, and we'll send over more info about our newest project and a quick survey to take part!
Our Dirty Little Secrets
Jeremy and Angie
We don't like keeping any secrets on this blog.  The best posts often come from complete honesty, even if the story has embarrassing aspects we don't really want to share but know we should.   Even though we are approaching 600 posts, we were sure there are several topics we have missed that might be on your mind.  Because of that, we asked the fans of our Facebook page if they had any questions for us.  The following are some of the best questions we received:
  • How much have you spent traveling in the last 4 years?
We have spent approximately $39,100 in travel over the last four years, starting with my first solo trip abroad shortly before opening this blog in 2008.  What all does this include?  A 25 day guided tour in Europe, a 21 day guided tour in Egypt, a 9 day Caribbean trip (7 day cruise) for two, a long weekend in Canada, two trips to Vegas (one trip for two), a 15 day luxury honeymoon to Spain for two, 152 days of travel throughout Asia and 15 days for a second person on that same trip.   Overall, this cost covers 278 days of travel and factors out to about $141/day on average - $9,000 being just for airfare!
Don't feel too bad for us though, as we've recovered roughly 70% of this cost through the website, freelance travel writing, and book sales.  While we are not turning a "true profit" we are happy to have recovered almost all of our costs in the last four years - which for travel blogging is a very large accomplishment that we want to thank you all for.
  • How many airline frequent flier miles do you have?
Jeremy has accrued approximately 150,000 airline miles and Angie has approximately 85,000.  Most of these came through opening credit cards as we had only 30,000 combined at the beginning of the year!    As outlined in the post linked above, we each plan to open 3 credit cards.  Two of which have major bonus points for opening an account (40-50k) that can be transferred to United Airlines, and the third gives cash back for all airline miles gained in the previous year (assuming it will be available in 2013 as in the past 2 years).  So far we've opened 3 of the 6 cards we will have combined to get to the level we are today. 
Our goal is to hit over 300,000 and around $750 in cash rewards in the next 6 months.  Jeremy just spent 100,000 of his though, but we cannot say on what just yet!  Needless to say, we saved about $10,000 in doing so.
  • What is your next trip?
Okay fine, this is one secret we can't let out.  But needless to say year 5 and year 6 on Living the Dream will be better than the previous four combined.  Stick around by subscribing to email updates at the end of this post or on our sidebar to find out where we are going!
  •  You did something new to the site recently.  What is it?
We've been doing a lot of subtle changes to our site in the last few months.  The biggest one is that we're making all the photos on the majority of our posts larger and in high resolution.   Believe us when we say this is no easy task, as going through approximately 500 of 600 active posts is a very time consuming effort.   Within the next few weeks, every post from late 2008 to this post will follow the same style format you've been seeing with our newest posts.
Do you have a question for us?  Comment below and we'll update the post to include it!
Rebranding Time - Living the Dream in Year 5
With the release of our first book, The Long-Term Traveler's Guide, we now have two projects with the same tag line. "Going Longer, Cheaper, and Living Your Dream" is now going to be the official tag line of the book, and we are looking to phase out our trusty tag line on Living the Dream with our next header change.
Previously, we've focused our posts on budget travel.   That is, planning for a specific spending amount, and sticking to it.  That often gets confused with going on the cheap which is not something we have done on this website.  To us, budget travel is spending exactly what you set out to do while still having a great time.  This theme will still dictate all of our future travels, but we have been known to more recently splurge if the moment has called for it. 
Our aim to get a new tagline will cover our more broad approach to travel writing that the next years will follow.  One trip may be luxurious, another may be longer and backpack friendly.  We may go on group tours, cruises, or even stay at home and explore our backyard.  We've become less focused on being apart of one travel group (budget) to embrace all aspects of travel as a whole while still being completely addicted to adventure activities and food.
In our quest for a new tagline for this site, we need your help. We are looking for tagline submissions to go with the theme of our site and are putting an open call for ideas.
Here are a few we are considering:
  • "Have a story to tell" 
  • "Live like a fiction novel"
  • "How does your story read?"
  • "Define your own reality"
Have something you think would fit our theme and future plans?  Comment and let us know! 
With that, we must conclude our 4th anniversary celebration!  Hopefully we've let out a few of our biggest secrets in this post.  Of course, you cannot assume that we would let it all out.  Our biggest ones are still being held quite closely and will be let out in our 5th year of blogging!  Stick around by subscribing to our mailing list below, liking our Facebook page, and following us on Twitter.
Keep on Living the Dream!
Celebrating Four Years of Travel Blogging!

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