How not to write a travel blog

Matt working hard at being an unsuccessful blogger (Italy)

As I write this, the wind is howling outside our Airbnb in Italy.  We are in a town south of Naples called Castellemarre di Stabia and the wind has been gusting for over twenty-four hours.  The furniture on the terrace was overturned, the plants knocked over, pots broken. A new weather system is moving in.

Telling you, dear reader, about what is happening here and now, helps me write.  I don’t know why, it just does. Gets things started, I guess. Probably a common error among amateur writers, which is what I am.

But I’ve found in the last few years that I enjoy writing.  I’ve written a few articles for a small personal finance magazine (like this one) and now I have this blog.  Maybe someday I will find there is a book inside of me. Maybe this is practice for that. But right now blogging is the most important writing I do and I have to admit, I take it kind of seriously (which is probably another rookie mistake – taking yourself too seriously).

Here is another confession:  I know I’m doing this all wrong.  This is not how travel blogs are supposed to read or be organized.  This is how not to write a travel blog. 

The “good” blogs are actively engaged in social media, “optimize” their SEO, write blogs with titles like “Top 10 Things to do in Naples!” and “How to Travel the World and be Happy and Rich Forever!”  I bet those bloggers actually make real money on their affiliate links.  Buggers.

Part of me wonders if I could do that.  In fact, on the advice of a good friend we just bought ownership of “bigfamilysmallworld.com” so that we can transfer out of the somewhat clunky “big-family-small-world.com”.  In the process I got Googling things like, “how to create a successful blog”, and “how to monetize your blog”.  I will admit that it’s tempting, but here’s the thing:  I’m kind of attached to a few things that will likely undermine any aspirations for “success”.

  1. I want to write about things that interest me, not about things that are designed to drive traffic to our site.  “Good” bloggers know the secret sauce that drives Google users their way and it often dictates their content.  I, on the other hand, write about arriving at airports a day early and losing $100 to con artists in Poland.  Nobody searches for that.
  2. The blogging experts say to avoid the personal stuff.  Problem is, I think that is the most valuable thing I have to offer – stories about our real experiences, reflections, and mistakes.  Does the Internet need another post on Top 5 Restaurants in Timbuktu?  I want my kids to enjoy reading what I’ve written 30 years from now.
  3. “Good” bloggers get free stuff.   It is a badge of honour to be sent merchandise for free just because you have thousands of followers.  Better yet, free travel and accommodation.  When it starts influencing content, you can smell those blogs a virtual mile away.  Yuck. No thanks.
  4. To be a successful blogger you have to spend hours “engaging” with the social media community.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter . . . make sure you follow, subscribe, like, comment, etc. etc.  Do it for your blog’s success, regardless of how you feel about their content.  Problem is, I don’t actually enjoy spending 2 – 3 hours a day on social media.  I would rather play with the kids or read a book.

When I sit down to write, I’m not trying to “grow my influence” or attract sponsors or sell anything.  I’m writing because I feel driven to do it by a thought, event, or place.  I will admit that part of me might enjoy the external validation that “blog success” might bring, but not at the price of writing posts that my heart’s not in.  I get that a lot of bloggers are putting food on the table with their efforts and that’s cool, it’s just not why I’m blogging.

Here’s why I am blogging:

  1. To document our travels because I know the memories will fade.
  2. To work through and clarify my own thoughts on this crazy metamorphosis that is happening from doctor to . . . who knows what (writer??).
  3. For the sheer joy of writing!

And finally, there is this: there is very little point in writing unless there are readers.  I never knew how much gratitude I would feel for all the people who take time from their day to read what I have written.  Yes, that means you.  It feels like a gift.  Thank you.

Over time I’m sure this site will change and grow, but if years from now I am the best unsuccessful blogger you know, that’s a win in my books.

30 Comments

  1. Don’t change a thing! I love following your travels and hearing the insights of your family‘s travel experience.
    Your writing is a pleasure to read!
    Elaine

    1. Thank you, Elaine. I know you were one of the first here and the fact that your comment appeared within an hour or so of me posting pretty much says it all. Can’t tell you how happy we are to feel you with us out here.

    1. I know what you mean, Natasha! There are dozens of reasons to do it, but in the end it would be selling out. You are right.

      What I really want is not free travel stuff or popularity. It’s to promote meaningful discourse and connections with intelligent and thoughtful people like you. Thanks for being here.

  2. There is so much happiness and satisfaction in putting your time toward something you enjoy. I completely agree – if you did all the “right” things to monetize your blog and drive in more traffic, you’d lose the authenticity of what you’re doing and the joy that comes from it.

    As you know, Paul and I are in a similar predicament. There is probably money to be made in our (not so little anymore) project, but doing those things would suck the joy out of our efforts of helping others.

    I enjoy reading your blog for exactly the reasons it’s not a typical travel blog. What a gift this will be to your children! It’s refreshing to read honest reflections on your thoughts and experiences instead of click bait. Don’t change a thing! I love virtually following along on this journey with you.

    1. What you and Paul are doing to promote financial knowledge and independence is amazing. I am in awe of what you have created and the effort you continue to put into it. To be honest, I didn’t get why you were doing it before – it didn’t seem fair to you! I’m starting to now.

      As you say, it’s about authenticity. If we don’t reveal ourselves, how can we know each other? If we don’t know each other, how can we like each other, have meaningful discussions, commit to a cause greater than ourselves – together?

      I thought blogging was a solitary activity. This comments section proves I was wrong – thank God!

  3. In a couple of decades, when your youngest has left home for college, you’ll have all the time in the world to tweet, etc. Keep playing with your boys while they’ll still have you – it’s a narrow and precious window of time.

    Your blog is a head fake, in the spirit of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (worth watching on youtube with your wife after the kids are asleep, with a box of tissues nearby) . As he eloquently put it: “Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. ”

    Fondly,

    CD

    1. CD, I used to share that lecture with my community college students the first week of every semester (and then write their own). I actually intend to bring the lecture and book with me as a “worldschool assignment” for my son when we leave on own adventure next year. Thanks for the reference reminder!

    2. Hey Crispy Doc – good point. I’ll be an Instagram fanatic when the kids have outgrown me!

      Ah – the “Last Lecture”! I was made aware of it, but clearly got distracted by something far less important (like income taxes or mowing the lawn). Ok, watching it tomorrow.

  4. Look forward to your Blogs even if they are not the real thing!! What works for you keep on doing it . Barry and I enjoy reading about you and your families travels , enjoy and keep on blogging

    Susan

  5. Hey Matt,

    Just keep doing what you want to do. I suspect that your blog will evolve as you “metamorphasize”. 🙂

    I share the same sentiments as you as to why I will not become a “successful” blogger”. #4 point hits home with me. I’d just rather not spend any more time on the computer. It takes work and time to be one of those successful bloggers and I know that’s not for me. Kudos to those who are.

    After taking a 6-week extended vacation, I’ve had a taste of what an extended vacation is like, and I am hooked! For me, the best part of my extended vacation is that time seemed to slow down and I could be in the moment with my family vs. the normal routine when time seems to fly by.

    Safe travels to you and your family!

    1. Thanks, DN. Happy for you that you got to experience your extended vacation. I think I can tell that it triggered some introspection on your part.

      I agree – “normal life” with its frantic pace and time-sucking routines seems to fly by, leaving you feeling vaguely “productive”, but weary. Living this way now, far more slowly, still feels a little foreign but it has shed a light on how unnatural and unhealthy “normal” was – at least for me.

      (Just paid a visit to your blog and noticed your link to this one – thanks! I guess all my social media networking is paying off!)

  6. I agree keep on writing! We are enjoying following your travels through your writing and videos. I’m going to a meditation, writers retreat in Santa Fe for a week on Saturday ran by Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones. Try to find her book, it’s awesome for inspiring writers. I can’t wait to meet her!

    “We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer’s task to say, “It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home.” Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”
    ― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

    1. Wow, that is powerful.

      “Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are” . That writers are the evidence of a belief in our own worth, the antithesis to nihilism – if that isn’t reason to write, I don’t know what is.

      A long time ago I read another quote by Frederick Buechner: “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” Food for thought.

      I will look for that book!

  7. Don’t chase others. The world is filled with enough garbage advertising dressed up as other things.

    People respond to authenticity.

    Furthermore, in a medical culture that on one hand raises alarm bells about physician burnout but fuels that same crushing system from the other hand, the courage of you and your wife is a blessing.

    1. Hi Ryan – thanks for commenting on our little blog. Totally agree – unfortunately, the “norm” is click bait and fluff. We might get lost in the vastness of it, but will try our best to be a tiny star in a sea of black, worthy of your attention.

      People are burning out – legitimately – all over the place: doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers. Things really deteriorate when those people also feel trapped. By making our journey public, as radical as it may seem, we do hope it will show that there might be another option.

  8. And all the reasons you mention above, new friend, are the exact reasons why we LOVE reading your blog! Please don’t change a thing to be “successful.” I am convinced there is a new wave of blogging coming our way: authentic. At least I hope so because that’s the way I want to write ours as well. It is what the world needs now–real people sharing real feelings about real experiences. Let’s all start passing on the Instagram filtered life. (What does that teach our kids??)
    But if it helps, I’ll help drive traffic to yours. 😉

    1. OK, we thought you guys were pretty cool before. Now we’re pretty sure we could be best friends 🙂

      YES – here’s to the new wave of blogging! Real. Crafted. Worthwhile. There are bloggers who are doing this and you can identify them by the quality of their comments section – that’s you guys! And even if we never have more than a thousand readers, that is the group I want to belong to.

      And, for the record, if the quality of your comments here are any indication, I can’t wait to start reading your blog! When does your trip begin?

      1. Very kind. Next July 5, 2019. But our plan has been to do a much more slow travel. Sacrificing number of locales for longer experiences to slow down with each other and immerse in the community. I guess we’ll be doing more living abroad than traveling abroad. (Was really tough choice and your trip has made us reconsider but will stay with original plan and hopefully our next trip will be more adventurous to see more.) Actually starting on Big Island of Hawaii so our son can be with his BFF from kindergarten. (The carrot) Then hopefully cultural immersion in Fiji, then New Zealand for several months, Mexico then south of France…will see. Can’t wait!

        1. I’m sure that next summer seems like a long way away, but it will fly by.

          Living abroad (slow travel) vs fast travel – don’t change your plans. Yes, we started off pretty quick but are already slowing down and looking forward to spending a month or more in any given location going forward (probably starting in the new year). Fast travel is fun and experience-dense, but also exhausting and expensive. We predicted this wouldn’t be sustainable for us but planned to not plan so we could adjust on the fly.

          The destinations you have listed sound awesome – and diverse. We are truly looking forward to following along.

  9. I wouldn’t recommend becoming a cookie cutter blogger. That’s far too conventional for someone who is so creative. The unexpected is always more engaging! Your blogs are wonderful because you are willing to share what’s important to you. I so enjoyed reading Lindsay’s entry as well!

  10. Did you just trick me with this ‘click-bait’ title? (That’s a pro bloggers’s strategy) Thank you for not selling out, thank you for being authentic, and thank you for being true to your heart. Walking this path will bring more fulfillment to your heart and soul. Miss you guys. And by the way, tell Eli to never stop smiling, it warms my heart.

    1. I just told Eli what you said and he said, “Really? Did he say that? That’s kind of funny!” . . . smiling the whole time, of course.

      Glad I caught you with my click-bait. Feeling like a real pro now!

  11. Hi Matt,

    Your talent for writing is very inspirational. Please don’t conform to anyone’s idea of how to write your blog. The love and experiences come flying off of the pages and pops us directly to wherever you are writing about. That my friend is a talent! Your record of your experiences are great for us at home following you. Daylin loves to read the boy’s notes too. Lindsay’s share was great too it gave us a mommy perspective. Hugs to you all. ❤️Can’t wait for the next one. 😏

    1. Great feedback – thanks, Sharla. I am always encouraging the others to write something, but I think a gentle nudging over time combined with nice requests from you guys is likely the best way to make that happen!

    1. Thanks, Lee! So happy our paths crossed and looking forward to having them cross again in Cyprus so we can discuss all this in person over some good food and drink! Learned a lot from you and miss those talks already, buddy!

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