Five Years of Travel Blogging…Now What?

Bamako sunset 1

Sometime in February, I passed the five-year anniversary of this blog. I thought of writing something about it then, but never got around to it, in large part because I just didn’t have the motivation to do so – a feeling that has plagued me quite a bit recently. It’s not that I don’t have things I want to write about; I do. I go for a run or I’m walking home from work and I am dictating blog posts in my head, but when I get back home and in front of my laptop, other things capture my attention.

As I write this, I am on an airplane heading back to Washington, D.C. from Los Angeles. I spent much of the last week traveling all over southern California for my new job before spending a couple nights in Irvine, attending and speaking at the Women in Travel Summit. While I had a wonderful time at WITS in Chicago back in 2014, this year I found myself feeling a bit lost. WITS isn’t just a conference for women travelers, it is a conference for women travel bloggers and entrepreneurs. While I certainly identify as the former (a traveler) and I was there to speak about travel (career break and long term travel, to be exact), I have never identified as an entrepreneur and I am not so sure I even identify as a travel blogger anymore. I found myself wondering frequently what on earth I was doing there.

But let’s take a step back.

I started this blog back in 2011 leading up to my departure on a 13-month career break. At its height, I was publishing four posts a week chronicling my travels through Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In some ways, I was ahead of my time – I was writing about those areas when not many people were interested in reading about them. I had a niche but it was hard to embrace it when I felt like no one cared. I made a half-hearted attempt at monetizing, but did just about everything wrong. I spent little time on search engine optimization or figuring out the “right” key words to sprinkle throughout my posts. I shared on Twitter and Facebook but balked at doing the whole “follow me, I’ll follow you back” thing and soon got tired of the Facebook groups where everyone promises to share each other’s posts.

While my traffic grew steadily from 1,000 views a month in 2011 to 15,000 a month in early 2015, I never got beyond that. And that was fine because I never got into this to make money off ads or affiliate links or even to go on a gazillion press trips. Besides stoking my ego, what did it really matter how many people were reading?

And then life happened and other things started to take priority. I wanted to write, but when I got home from my day job at 9 p.m. and still had to cook dinner, writing a blog post just wasn’t a priority. Even now that I am settled into a new job in D.C. and have hours more free time than I’ve had in the last couple years, I find myself with a never ending case of writer’s block. So it should come as no surprise that my traffic has started to plummet.

Darvaza sunset

Attending WITS this past weekend was a bit of a wake up call for me. Travel blogging has changed a lot in the last five years (and I have written in the past about how I don’t really like what it has become). Now people spend hours on a single post, not just writing but editing photos, optimizing for search engines, resizing pictures and captions to display just right when they share on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram (and don’t even get me started on Instagram, which I realized I have pretty much been doing completely wrong since the start!), and then scheduling all of that social media sharing. Bloggers aren’t just getting comped trips, they’re getting day rates and they’re making money by posting to Instagram and Snapchat. Travel blogging has truly become a business and it makes me wonder where someone like me fits when I really only see it as a hobby? All weekend, I struggled with how to even introduce myself because I don’t really feel like a travel blogger anymore. And I found myself wishing I was at a travel conference, not a travel blogging conference.

So what do I want?

I want to inspire and motivate people to travel and to chase their dreams. I want to serve as a resource for people who want to travel off the beaten path and experience something new. I still get emails or messages on Facebook or Twitter from readers and friends who tell me I have done just that – and it is that feedback that makes me want to keep going in some way. I still want to write a book about my career break travels and I would love to get published in a magazine – again, not to make money, but because I feel like I have a story worth sharing.

And I would love to do more public speaking – about taking a career break to travel, about traveling solo as a woman and about getting off the beaten path. But I don’t even really know where to start. I feel like those gigs are reserved for the professionals, the bloggers that are on every top ten list and are bringing in thousands of readers a day, not thousands a month.

walk away quote

My friend Saya recently wrote a post about walking away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you or makes you happy. She made the decision to walk away from a couple of pretty major things in her life that she had been doing for years but that she felt no longer had a place. I feel like I am close to that point with this blog, but I am not quite ready to pull the plug just yet.

Instead, I’m taking a hiatus.

I am not going to publish another post until I really want to (as opposed to feeling like I have to because I haven’t posted in two weeks). It may be a month, it may be two months. Or it may only be two weeks. I really have no idea. I just know I need to let go of the feeling that this is something I have to do so I can get back to the feeling of wanting to do it.

And if I don’t recapture that feeling – if I realize this just isn’t something that serves me, grows me or makes me happy – I’ll walk away.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading, whether you have been following me from the beginning or you just discovered me last month. I hope you’ll check me out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat (@katieaune on all platforms) as I’ll  continue to share real-time pictures and thoughts from my new life in D.C. and my upcoming trip to Hong Kong and China, even if I’m not writing about it all here.

Thank you!!

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13 thoughts on “Five Years of Travel Blogging…Now What?”

  1. I think I understand more than anyone what you’re going through. I’ve been through it and then some over the years. I was part of an industry that I felt was contrived. Yet here I was, never wanting to be like the others by turning my blog into a businesses, writing fake sponsored posts for water bottles, or being part of facebook groups that make you retweet posts you have never even read. It all seems so artificial to me. That is why I always liked your blog.

    I understand if you decide to pull the plug eventually, but I hope it is just a hiatus. Because you never know when you will have that urge to contribute something to the internet and if you do, you will always have some readers there eager to see what you’ve said.

  2. I hear ya so loudly Katie! I agree about what blogging has become. That’s why I took my own extended break. I made my return last month but I’m posting when I feel like it. Not on a schedule which feels so much more leisurely. And traffic be damned. As long as I’m serving a purpose and as long as my site is giving me a place for creative output, who really cares what my stats are?

  3. Great post Katie. I’ve only started writing for Up Up and a Bear last November and I already at that point found myself focusing on all the stuff that gave me no satisfaction at all. I wrote in a style that would suit readers but gave me no joy in writing. I spent hours upon hours doing detailed work instead of enjoying the writing process. It seems hundreds of travel blogs are created every day and everyone’s looking to find a niche for him/herself. I don’t blame any of them. It’s a great market to go into, but it has also lost that personal touch and emotion. That’s why I’ve removed all ads on my site and I’m only writing with my “voice.” It’s a crazy voice, but it makes me happy. Now writing is fun again and it’s not a chore. And I’m focusing on expressing myself rather than getting people to click on a link. That’s also partly why I also started the Project Alpha charitable book project. It’s writing for a cause, for a purpose beyond just writing. And I would like to invite you to visit and take a look (if you want).

    We all need to reinvent ourselves once in a while and I support your decision to only post when you feel like it. That’s the way it should be unless this was your business.

    Regards,
    Hung

  4. As someone who started a travel blog in 2003, the entire thing is unrecognizable to me. I started rolling my eyes at the “travel experts” who market themselves years go. Good for you on doing what you LIKE.

  5. I hope your hiatus won’t be too long! I’ve enjoyed your posts for years and still do even if it’s not just about travel. Whether it’s about your travels or your running or your new job, I really like it. I like your honesty and I guess I feel like we are quite alike. If you don’t want to describe yourself as a travel blogger, that’s fine, but please keep sharing whatever you feel like sharing! I love travel and that’s what brought me to your blog in the first place but as you move along and talk about other things, I still want to join you for the ride!

  6. I understand totally, Katie. My wife went through something similar a while ago. She loved writing a blog about concerts that she went to, but after a while it felt more like something that she had to do rather than something she wanted to do. She eventually stopped and now just gives smaller updates via Facebook

    I originally found your blog because of a post you made about the US Open tennis tournament. I continued reading your blog because I am also interested in travel, although I’ve never done anything even close to what you’ve done. But I continued reading even more so because I became interested in your personal story. You are very candid about the challenges, hopes, and dreams that you have for yourself and what you do as a result. I think that all of us can relate to these things. Your posts are always well written too which makes them a pleasure to read.

    Best wishes!

  7. The same thing happened to me a few years ago with photography. I suddenly became burnt out and stopped finding inspiration in my photographs. I found I was forcing myself to feel like I should be better than I am at the moment, rather than simply enjoying the journey and approaching it as an art. Once I stopped doing that, I picked up my camera again. Hope you can find your muse, but you’re smart in recognizing you shouldn’t force it. Good luck and hope to read again soon!

  8. Good for you. I respect you trying to listen to what you feel is right for you and being honest about who you are. I have a tiny travel
    blog that I would like more people to see. I realize there are things about it that may not attract a large audience, so I’m now thinking a bit about whether I should just keep doing what I’m doing or also add other types of pieces to the mix. Good to hear your thoughts.

  9. I know what you mean. Blogging should be something you want to do when you feel like you want to share something with other likeminded people – not something you feel “forced” to do to keep the numbers up.

    I also just want to say that you’ve been a huge inspiration to me when it comes to travelling solo, and sharing your stories about places in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I love it when people choose to go a different path from what everyone else is doing.

  10. Mostly, in life, everything happens for a reason and when one door closes another opens. It would be a shame not to use the lessons you’ve learnt during your years as a travel blogger. The answer will come to you when you least expect it.

  11. Katie, I have enjoyed reading your travel blog over the last couple of years. I respect you more as a travel blogger then most others because you were able to maintain a full time job unlike the traditional travel bloggers that tends to shun any real world responsibility. The travel blogs that I use to follow in the past have become boring, commercially driven, monotonous, and lost the story telling ability that an authentic travel blog like yours has. If this is the end or just a hiatus, thanks for your insight over the years. Keep on Traveling!

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