Back Into Startup Mode

Last May I announced that I was going to be changing how I travel. I had hit a point where I wasn’t able to continue at the pace I was going.

However, before I could implement the new plan I had one thing I had to finish: my Lesser Antilles trip. This had been in the works for months and I didn’t want to move into my new travel mode before finishing the trip.

As I write this on the island of Grenada, the Caribbean trip is near completion. Tomorrow I’ll be on Trinidad which is my final stop. I’ve almost been viewing my arrival in Trinidad as a finish line of sorts. Once I finish with my Trinidad visit, I can start a new chapter.

I know this blog tends to be visited by other bloggers and industry people, so I wanted to go into some more detail about what I’m going to be doing and what my plan is going forward. I haven’t fleshed everything out yet, this isn’t necessarily set in stone.

Before I do that, I have to explain what the fundamental problems are that I’ve been facing.

I love to travel. That isn’t just a cliche I’m tossing out because it sounds good from a marketing perspective. I got into this to travel, not so I could become a ‘blogger’. If I had to choose between traveling and running a website, I’d hit the delete before the ultimatum was over.

As the blog has become more successful, however, and the travel industry has become more accepting of bloggers the opportunity for travel has exploded.

I’m like an alcoholic at a bar where everyone is buying him free drinks. I’m able to indulge in my passion without almost any restraints. On one hand it is wonderful. However, it does have its drawbacks.

As early as 2009 I pointed out the problems with traveling and creating content. You can’t be running around the world while putting out high quality articles and photography.

At first I thought that for ever 2 days traveling I would need 1 day to work. Later I moved that ratio out of 1 day of work for every 1 day of travel. Having spent more time around successful travel writers and photographers I realized that, that ratio still is out of whack.

Observations I’ve made

  • I don’t need to be moving constantly. Rick Steves claims to travel in Europe for 3 months every year. Most travel writers only seem to travel about 4-6 weeks each year. Some travel much (much) less. I know a few that barely travel at all. They write stories from press releases and online research.
  • Traveling means missed opportunities. I’ve spent many nights sitting in hotels around the world watching other travel media professionals getting far more opportunities because they live in New York or London. The ability to professionally network is basically non-existent while you are on the road. For many things within the industry, your travel resume is really irrelevant. (I think it matters to readers, but that’s another issue.)
  • Constant travel means letting things slide. The current WordPress theme I’m using is now 4 years old. When I had it commissioned it was sort of cutting edge. Now it has become a frankenstein of code cobbled together over the years. I haven’t had time to devote to upgrading my site, so the old one just limps along. I have a project I’ve been wanting to do for years that involves tagging and putting captions on my photos. I have yet to do it. I wont even mention my book which which is now over 3 years in the making.
  • You can’t write much when you are constantly moving. Yesterday I had a 6am flight, which means I had to be up at 4am. My flight was then delayed for 2 hours during the layover. By the time I arrived in my hotel it was 1pm and I hadn’t eaten. By the time I addressed all my emails and social media for the day, I was tired and it was already late. I didn’t have anything in me to write something meaningful. Writing is a habit. If you stop doing it, it becomes harder to start. One of the reasons I’m writing the article you are reading is just so I can type something to get things going. I’ve probably written less than 10 meaningful articles on my blog this year.

When I was growing my site I would spend several weeks in one spot and just work. I spent over a month in Saigon in 2008. I spent 3 months in Thailand in 2010. I wrote guest posts and was active being everywhere online.

I rarely do that anymore.

I can’t remember the last guest post I’ve written. I seldom read other blogs and leave comments anymore. I have contacts and the ability to do freelancing for major travel outlets and I haven’t taken advantage of a single opportunity.

My traveling has been the fundamental stumbling block in growing my travel website. (The irony is not lost on me.)

Coming to grips with the idea of traveling less has been difficult. I’ve come to accept that this is a lifetime process and that I don’t have to do everything NOW. I also have come to realize that my travel resume is as good as it will probably ever need to get for whatever professional purposes I’ll ever need.

I’ve also had lots of time to think about where I need to be going in the future. I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the future of what I’m going to do and the future of blogging. Right now I’m at a point where I’m willing to hit the reset button and totally start from scratch if necessary. Here is some of what I’m thinking:

  • How important is having a blog? Robert Scoble has made 1 blog post from February to August of 2013. He doesn’t bother actually posting things to his blog because it is so much easier to post to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I’ve been posting far more in social media outlets than I have on my own website. Does it really matter where you post so long as people are reading it? I’m aware of the advantages of owning your own platform, but it is also true that you have to go where the people are. I’m not saying I’m giving up my blog, but I am saying I am willing to rethink things. I’m going to experiment with treating each social media platform as its own end for the next several months, not just a means of generating traffic for my blog. This will mean less traffic but more engagement. I’m considering even reposting entire blog posts on Google+ and Facebook. I’ll see what the results are in a few months.
  • More video. Since before I even began traveling full time I’ve had friends tell me I should be doing video. I’m naturally more comfortable talking than I am writing. I’ve been doing competitive public speaking since I was a sophomore in high school and it is my strong suit. I have given the problem of travel video a great deal of serious thought. Cable television has totally dropped the ball in terms of travel and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I’ve paid close attention to Anthony Bourdain’s move to CNN and the reason’s behind it. The reason the Travel Channel let their top star go is because of the cost of production. From what I understand, Bourdain travels with a crew of 8 people, which isn’t cheap. I think it could be done with 3 and with much cheaper gear. You can’t do video half assed, however. You have to do it whole assed. There are many reasons to do video and many problems that will have to be overcome. I have a clear idea of what I want to do in my head, but implementing will take some help.
  • Focus. What should Everything Everywhere be about? Honestly, I don’t care about most things ‘travel’ related. I don’t care about hotels, airlines, frequent flier points, travel hacking, top 10 lists, guides or tips. I don’t want to get into the business of writing guides for destinations. All of those things address the how of travel (which is important), but miss the much larger question of why. National Geographic is technically not a travel magazine, but it has probably launched more trips than every other travel magazined combined. That is because if focuses on the why, not the how. Culture, nature, and history couples with great photography are the drive inspiration to travel to other places. I have never been satisfied where my blog was at in terms of focus. I’d be willing to sacrifice traffic to bring in a more intelligent reader who is curious about the world, not just someone who is looking to save a buck on a hotel room.
  • More people. I’ve considered turning Everything Everywhere into a multi author blog. This would be a radical change, but I would still keep my personal stamp on the site. I’ve thought of many different ways this could work. One option would be to recruit other travelers and organize expeditions around the world they would go on. Get a small team of explorers and send them to the four corners of the world. I have built enough contacts and a brand that I could bring in talented people have get them up to speed quickly. More people means a smaller work load for each and they can focus on doing more in-depth work. Another option would be to get a small team to curate culture, nature, science and history related news. The two options are not mutually exclusive. In either case, the site would expand to more voices beyond just mine, but still keeping a focus on photography and the ‘why’ of travel.
  • Freelancing. I don’t think freelancing is a good business model either. You can make a living at it, but it is difficult and you will never really hit a home run doing it. However, I you can have more success if you have something to promote, be it a book, blog or something else. I have a lot of opportunities to freelance, so it is just matter of picking the right opportunities. I still see little point in writing in print as it doesn’t provide any ancillary benefit beyond the check you get. People can’t click and Google can’t index it. I’d write for online first and if someone wants to put it in print, so be it.

I’m sure plans will change, but once this trip is over, I’m back open for business.

By Gary

3 dimples. 7 continents. 130 countries.