State of the Blog Address: After 5 Years
This isn’t a blog about blogging, and thus we refrain from talking about it as much as possible, save for this annual post where we give a behind-the-scenes look. (Previous posts are here: at the beginning, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.)If this back room talk sounds like a snoozefest to you, check out some of our fave travel posts from the last year including that time someone told me I was bad at walking and that other time when a blue ball monkey (real thing) almost attacked me. Otherwise, read on.
In this last month our blog slipped past its fifth blog anniversary, and it did so almost without notice. I woke on the morning of January 7th and racked my brain trying to remember why the date seemed significant. And then, oh yeah. Five years just happened.
What a whirlwind. To say that these lives of ours have become something unexpected is a gross understatement. They have breached the unimaginable; especially in this last year when we felt like we’ve really hit our stride. 2015 will go down as our best for travel, a fantastic one for business, and we both really enjoyed the work we put into this blog. Maybe more than ever.
Why? Because, after many years of working at it, we finally feel confident and like we’ve really come into our own. We ditched our rigid publishing schedule and decided to write with less obligation. We wrote what we felt passionate about. We stopped pushing the blog to make money.
And so this last year was the very most fun. The best of our lives, really. And all the while, our blog continued to grow.
For the first time ever, after five years of blogging, I feel like I am finally in a place to dispel some solid advice given all the ups and downs we’ve encountered to get to this point. Below you’ll find a handful of hard-earned lessons that have nothing to do with optimizing SEO, or who should host your blog, or any such thing. There are plenty of posts already out there like that, and besides, we are pretty technically inept, so it’s best if you ask someone else anyway. (BONUS lesson: save yourself the grief and outsource those things you’re bad at.)
Instead, as is the case with almost all of our blog posts, these lessons specifically draw on our own experience and what we care about most. And because I read an SEO article once, somewhere, sometime, that said it’s best to write articles that have nice round numbers in them, I give this to you:
Five valuable lessons we’ve learned in our last five years as bloggers (and those who hire bloggers)
(Does that look right? I really don’t know. Whatever.)
Number One: Get Real, People.
Several months ago, Snapchat was suddenly all anyone could talk about in our travel blogging circles. Pete and I considered joining it, especially at the insistence of our friend who is a rockstar on it and who constantly harassed us about it, but in the end we did not jump on the bandwagon for several reasons: (1) We are distracted enough in our travels by all of the other things we have to worry about, (i.e. getting a good shot for Instagram, another for Facebook, a good story for the blog, etc.) that we really don’t want to add another concern to the pile. (2) Snapchat is predominantly for super youngins. We ain’t super youngins, and neither is our target audience. While we could probably find some new fans in there somewhere, I wouldn’t expect it to be significant. (3) While we can appreciate the premise of bloggers using Snapchat to give followers a behind-the-scenes look at their lives and travels, why force readers onto another platform to do so?So, no thank you, Snapchat.
But wait, THANK YOU, Snapchat! Your concept spawned a whole other idea.
In August we birthed our In Real Time series on the blog in which we give our readers a look behind-the-scenes, and in a much more current fashion than our travel stories which are typically a month or two behind. It’s not always about the places we visit, but it is always personal and about our lives on the road.
So far we’ve written about things like how we make money, what shangriness is, about the one photo we will never sell, and about the ultimate smackdown between freedom and ambition (our most popular post, and one for which we will provide an update on soon), and more. It feels good to share these stories and to also answer many of the questions we get from readers. We typically post once per month, sometimes more, and we have a long list of topics we want to tackle this coming year.
The results have been tremendous. We thoroughly enjoy it and our readers are responding very favourably – so much so that we’re soon going to give it a more prominent spot on our website. And because it is doing so well, we recently launched a behind-the-scenes Instagram account that tells micro-stories of our everyday life. Similar to the blog stream, it features quirky things about our life on the road, but separate from our main Instagram account so as not to dilute that curation of Pete’s awesomest photos.
So instead of providing just little snippets on a brand new platform, we’re collectively providing a more in-depth look, and publishing where our readers already are. Mileage may vary for others, but for us it just feels more real, it feels more authentic, and it’s one of the very best things we’ve ever done for our blog.
Number Two: how about you just go ahead and make your own rules!
But do you want to join SnapChat? Then go right ahead. If you will enjoy it, if you can grow your audience there, then by all means, ignore the above point and totally start snapping.(And that goes for all of these “lessons learned” posts. Take away the parts which resonate with you, but leave the rest. There is no one path to success in blogging – and never mind that success is relative anyways.)
Same goes for writing – write what you like.
If your strength is in writing short and impactful stories, don’t be swayed by the masses who claim that #longreads are the only way to go. Don’t stuff words to get your count up (please remember that the first rule of writing is to edit ruthlessly, so strive to make every single word matter before even counting them). Or, if you prefer to put all of your energy into writing a ten thousand word essay only once a month, then promote the shit out of that and ignore the other masses who say that you must post several times a week in order to make your mark. Write what you know, write what you are comfortable with, write in a way that will keep you engaged and happy, and you will find an audience.
This whole endeavour is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are not happy with what (or how, or why, or when) you are publishing, then I expect that you will be one of the many who give up blogging within a year.
Sometimes, when hitting publish on a post in which we’ve worked with a partner, I wince a little bit, as I am not writing the standard blogger fare and so worry about the reaction. I don’t write “5 reasons you MUST visit X” or “5 things to do in Y”. Instead, as they are usually very personal stories in relation to where we are and what we are doing, the destination itself may seem like only a supporting character.
However, the vast majority of responses we receive from our partners are so overwhelmingly positive, and that is because we endeavour, every time, to dig deep and attach an emotional element to it. That’s what we like to do. That’s how I like to write. That’s what people respond to. That’s how we’ve found an audience, and that’s how we also connect with the partners that matter to us. (Sure, some may pass us over as our posts are not the style that typically go viral, but that’s okay. They are the ones missing out on the fact that not only are stories important, but they sell.)
That’s what we do. And we aren’t changing for anybody.
Number Three: Blog Smarter.
There aren’t enough blogs.If you read a lot about blogging, you may be surprised by the above statement, as it is the exact opposite of what many say. Yes, there are thousands of travel blogs out there now, and yes the market could be considered saturated by some.
However, let me clarify my point: there aren’t enough quality blogs. And there also aren’t enough niche blogs.
By quality, I mean those who have worked hard to build an authentic audience (stop gaming the system, people!), and who regularly put in the time and effort to put out the very best they can. Those who regularly invest in their skills to become better writers, better photographers, and then put it all on a prettier and more user-friendly website while cultivating an enthusiastic following.
By niche, I mean those that cover very specific topics or demographics. And I speak to this point from experience as someone who also hires bloggers. Once, I needed someone who covered skiing in Canada, and found nothing. Another time, I wanted another Canadian blog that covered boomer travel to Mexico, and came up short. These are two very hot topics in Canadian travel, yet websites devoted to them are practically non-existent.
The market is saturated when it comes to general travel blogs. And, I’ll say it, it is also saturated when it comes to crappy travel blogs. But there is still plenty of opportunity out there yet to find your place and knock everyone else’s socks off.
And then let me know when you do, so I can hire you. There is always more room for good.
Number Four: Don’t be vain.
As someone who hires bloggers regularly for projects, I don’t want you to tell me that you are perfect for a project because you have 20,000 fans on Facebook or 100,000 followers on Twitter. I don’t care about that. Those are vanity numbers and can be bought or manipulated far too easily.Where are your fans from and do they match our client’s target demographic? Are your followers even responding to your content, or are you screaming into a vacuum? Do you only get comments from other bloggers or are you reaching other audiences? Can you share any examples of previous projects that have resulted in direct benefit to your partners?
As much as it can be tempting to do so, please don’t take shortcuts to building your audience. That is a short-term strategy that will get you a few free things for awhile, but believe me when I say that brands are beginning to notice. More are asking the right questions, and if you are scared to share what is hidden behind your numbers, then you are doing it all wrong.
Number Five: At the end of the day, remember WHY.
The best thing we did this past year was to start an “Amazing Emails” folder, and I really wish we had done it sooner. Besides the notes we get about housesitting or those telling us they booked travel to a specific place because of our posts, we get this:
You both are truly an inspiration. I know you probably get thousands of e-mails and comments, and it does not surprise me, you have something special with Hecktic Travels. Not only do you have a beautiful website, but you also have a beautiful story and one I can relate to.
Pete and Dalene: I came across your website a couple of months ago and your story really resonated with me. You have inspired me to finally live the life I’ve always wanted to live, but just didn’t know it yet.
Again, thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement. If this was the last I heard from you it may have been enough to change and probably save my life and marriage.
It’s really good to see others making a real success of being possession-free and plan-free. Do you mind if I send your blog to all the doubters (i.e. parents, friends and family members) who think we’re mad?
My suggestion: I know you have operated a very perfect 2-Man team, but could I interest you in raising a disciple who would take the message to the ends of the world.
(Okay, so maybe that last one was a little weird, but it’s still a keeper!)
When I think about my old job in my old life, that which most people would traditionally declare “normal”, never in a million years (or even for a million dollars), could I have found greater reward.
And for me, this is all that matters. When I have a “down” blogging day, it is this folder that pulls me out of it. So even if you are just starting out, create that folder now, and capture every shred of goodness.
And finally, what’s next for Hecktic Travels?
I recently met a couple whose son had just entered college in some sort of innovative video program. His parents were clearly excited for him and one thing his mother said about his studies was that she thought it was so cool that his eventual career was probably to work on something that doesn’t even exist yet.
Five years ago, we started the blog with no idea that ALL THIS existed.
Where can we take it in another five years?
At the rate technology and the social world changes, I expect this space will look vastly different on January 7th, 2021. Or maybe by then we’ll have sold it to another couple of Hecks. Or maybe blogs soon won’t exist at all.
Or maybe our TV show will get picked up (no, we haven’t said much about this before and yes, it has real – albeit small – potential). Maybe we’ll finally get around to writing a book. Or perhaps an opportunity will present itself for something that doesn’t even exist yet.
Five years may as well be a hundred these days – who knows what will be possible. Which in some ways is terrifying, but mostly is just crazy exciting.
I don’t believe there is any point in guessing, and as you may have noticed by the type of lifestyle we lead, we like teetering on the edge of the unknown anyway. So in the meantime we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, because in case you missed it above, we do adore this little blog and the tremendous community that we’ve built around it. We’ll continue to dig a little deeper, to bare a little more soul, and bring forth stories from around the globe.
But probably just not on Snapchat. 🙂
I love this post. Your honesty and stories throughout your blog get me every time. I hope you keep writing and traveling for a long time. This post comes at a perfect time for me personally because I’m going back and forth on what I should vs want to write. Thanks for making it real!
I hope we keep going too Tricia – thankfully there is no reason to stop now!
Write what you want! 🙂
Congrats on reaching what is undoubtedly a unique milestone in blogging world. And thanks for your continued direct (and indirect!) messages about being authentic, staying true to your values and working hard at your craft. Did I mention we would be best friends if you decided to give London another chance? 🙂 All the best and thanks for everything, from one non-Snapchatter to another.
Julie recently posted..A Welcome Treasure: the Wellcome Collection
Non-Snapchatters unite! One day, we’ll test out the BFF theory. 😉
I am told constantly to write a book about my lifestyle, how can I if I can’t even blog.
I too have inspirational emails, replies on my Facebook posts that make me blush as I am told that my TV interview or posts have inspired lifestyle changes previously not known to exist. Yes everyday I evangelise through walking the talk to those who never even heard of the existence let alone the possibility.
So hectictravels please inspire me, a 64 yo homeless, retired teacher (a term for legal documents only), world traveller and a full time home and pet sitter. I only use the term home. A house is what you build a home is where the heart is. So mine has many homes and the families that go with it.
I am truely blest.
You sound like you don’t need to be inspired France! You’re already there! 🙂
Thank you so much Dalene. I wish to start where I want to be with the right platform, do you use Wordpress?
Really want a good looking as well as easy peasy page to maintain on my own. If it is too technical then I know it won’t be for me.
Appreciate the information
Keep doing what you’re doing! I love your blog. About a year ago I culled nearly all of the travel blogs that I followed and out of more than two dozen yours is one of the 3 that remains. I love your style and always look forward to your posts. Thanks for doing what you do.
Thank you Kara! We’re honoured!
Do love the posts and I don’t really follow many posts, tho
Travel blogs are more interesting to me than most. I do follow Leya’s blog on women traveling solo. Mostly I just travel as much as I can and as often as I can. And take lots and lots of pics. I love living vicariously thru your posts and live the photos too. Yes, keep it simple, silly is a great way to go!! Keep it coming….?
Leyla’s blog is fantastic – great choice! 🙂
Thank you Molly!
Just a quick not to let you know that I wanted to say a big THANK YOU! Last week I signed up with Trusted House Sitters, used your code from the e-book I bought and today have booked my first house sit! It’s local but hey…I’m on my way thanks to you guys.
Keep on keeping on, you are both fantastic.
Way to go Kimberley! Enjoy your first sit!
Lovely post. I agree with so much of what you say. I was blogging back in 2008 and then completely quit (and deleted my entire hundreds-of-posts blog), went back to school, moved to London and thought I was getting OUT of the travel writing world. And then I came home to Canada. And then I couldn’t exist without filtering my travel experiences through writing. And now I’m back. Sigh. But since I’ve been gone, so much has happened, yet so little has changed. So much of what you wrote are things that I’ve also learned over the years. Above all, it’s the STORIES that matter and how they connect us through our differences and reveal our samenesses.
Lori Henry recently posted..A Maiko Evening in Kyoto: Meet Geisha-in-Training
Welcome back Lori! 🙂
Great read! The two of you are inspiring. I completely agree with not selling yourself out and falling prey to the “buy followers” advertisements, as well as staying true to yourselves with how you want to run your blog! I’d watch that TV show!
Kristi Black recently posted..In and around Quito, Ecuador Part I – Jan 4 – 12, 2016
Haha, well, the chances of the show are slim, and to be completely honest, we’re okay with that. Being on a show would push us so much more OUT THERE then we are now. Not sure we’re ready for that!
Congrats on the five years!! It’s been an entertaining and informative five years reading your blog. I for one would enjoy if you branched out into Snapchat. It’s just one more stream into the blog; although it would be one more thing to do as well 🙁
Jeff Cruz recently posted..PULSE Photography Exhibition
That’s the thing – one more “thing” to do. We have enough things! 🙂
Thanks for being here Jeff!
Congrats, you guys! A significant benchmark and thoughtful conclusions. It’s fun to think about what things might look like in 2021 (seems sooo weird the number, futuristic). We started in 2008, and the iterations seem like they’re just gonna keep iterating. Aloha!
Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..In the “Lost City” of Wiang Kum Kam
Thanks Betsy! 2021 does seem to crazy and futuristic. It’s all going too fast!
A very well written article and inspiration for those of us who take this Blogging thing seriously! 🙂 For those that persist and work hard, there are rewards at the end of the tunnel. You two have definitely proved that! Safe travels in 2016.
Thanks so much Robert! Safe travels to you as well. 🙂
First of all, congratulations to both of you on 5 years of blogging. That’s a lot of words, photos and travel inspiration. You make such great points. I’m happy to see you two staying true to yourselves. Finding what works to create a business, on your terms, is the key to success and longevity. BTW, it was a pleasure getting to know you and Pete on Molokai.
Donna Hull recently posted..In Search of the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway
It was really great to meet you too Donna. Hope to see you again soon!
We are on year 3 of blogging wonder what will be the “it” thing in 2 years. I am a snapper…I love Snapchat but agree it’s not for everyone!
Hannah @GettingStamped recently posted..Day Trips From Playa del Carmen Mexico
Haha, glad you love it! I have “contributed” to a few other bloggers platforms, that’s enough for me!
I just released my website four days ago and this resonated with me so much. Especially about the part of manipulated numbers via other bloggers. Extremely solid advice here. Pinning. 🙂
Thanks Dara! Good luck with your site!
Happy Blog-a-versary! Glad I found your blog and am able to follow along vicariously when I’m home saving up for my next trip 🙂
Thank you Dalene!! Just what I needed to read this morning. I feel like a “baby” blogger finding my way at the moment, it’s so much work AND so much fun at the same time!
I am all about authenticity so it’s refreshing to hear it can work. And that there is not a one size fits all for blogging. Love your comments about SnapChat – I’m even struggling with Facebook 🙂 There are so many distractions it can make me lose my focus sometimes so this is a gut check to trust my instincts. Thanks again.
Tracy recently posted..In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
It’s funny, because despite how I know many others who can’t stand Facebook, I LOVE IT! It’s my favourite platform.
With your shiny new pretty blog, I’m sure you’ll get where you want to go!
Congratulations guys and what an accomplishment, I love that you keep it real and don’t follow the rules. I rarely write straight from my gut, but I’m starting to loosen up even on contrived listies. Great tips btw 🙂
noel recently posted..Places to eat in San Francisco
Thanks so much for sharing. I also didn’t give in and get on Snapchat. I’m glad to hear that there are other bloggers out there who feel the same as way as I do!
Amy Trumpeter recently posted..Flying to Scandinavia: I just Bought 3 Flights for less than £100!
I just left a long comment only to have my internet kick me off, so I’ll just say this… I SO agree about Snapchat and breaking away from the herd is a good thing. Congrats on all of your success!
Thanks Christy! Same to you! 🙂
This post feels authentic and heartfelt and thoughtful — easily the best blogging post I’ve read since I started my baby travel blog last spring. I get so tired of bloggers writing about blogging (seemingly for hits), of posts about follow-for-follow social media strategies (which seems so artificial) and of constantly feeling discouraged when I come across huge travel blogs that lack quality writing and – worst of all – soul. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this post — it’s such a refreshing and honest departure from the blogging norm! Congrats on your five years blogging – can’t wait to see what’s next for you 🙂
Katie recently posted..The Bungle Bungles: The Gibb River Road-Kimberley Adventure, Part IV
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Katie!
I’ve just left a long, gushing post on your facebook page, so will refrain from bombarding you here also but just let me say, I LOVE your blog! Can’t believe I have only just found it! Look forward to checking out 5 years of stories 🙂 Cheers! Elesha
Thanks Elesha (and for the comment on our FB page)! Welcome!
As someone who started blogging literally three weeks ago – and has already, somehow, been nominated for one of those Liebster Award things – reading this blog post has been simultaneously helpful and a reminder of how much very, very hard work lies ahead. It was full of essential tips and should be read by all travel bloggers in my opinion, especially those who are new to the game like me! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Congrats on five years and here’s to the next five years…
Thanks Joe! All the best to you!
As always, your blog is so inspiring. Thanks for the update. I look forward to reading whatever comes next!
Congratulations guys! I find a mountain of inspiration from you, each sentence rings close to the heart and reminds me of the real essence, the real joy that blogging has been for me. I consider baring a part of my soul in my blog to be one of my biggest achievements till date and yet these are the very things we rarely talk about. Thank you for this great post, wish you many many years more of travelling and writing!
Arti (@artisdiary) recently posted..Shri Ramanathaswamy Shivlingam Temple Darshan and 22 Kund Snanams, Rameshwaram.
Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your advice and experience. I hope you all continue in your success!
Thank you for touching on quality. So many blogs I come across seem to be more concerned about free room nights and trips so they can regurgitate the same info found on TripAdvisor and leading guide books. And the number of followers on social media. Ahhh… please say that one day soon people will start caring about engagement rather than number of overall followers.
Do let me know if you’re ever back in Morocco. Would be great to meet another Canadian doing PR and travelling.
This was an insightful and enjoyable read; as are all of your posts which I have read. I espcially appreciate the “off the beaten path” and behind the scenes perspective of your articles. Thanks for sharing.
Ah, I love your State of the Blog Address posts! They’re refreshing and I come away from them feeling like you’re two very fun, free-spirited people. Congratulations on all of your success!
Grace @ The Idyll recently posted..Escape to Dzogchen Beara in South-West Ireland
Great and inspiring post. I’ve tried Snapchat and then deleted it. Just because a bunch of people scream it’s ‘the next big thing’ doesn’t mean everyone should use it. For me, it didn’t work. Not another social media platform. Call me old-fashioned, but when my little nieces are using snapchat to send pics to their crushes or talk behind each other’s backs, than that’s not my kind of social media. Congrats on the 5 years, I hope to be able to read your stories for another 5!
antonette recently posted..Tested: Lowa Lady Light GTX hiking shoe
I had a little laughing reading through this post because it was providing so much value and I wondered “How the hell did I end up here?”
I’ve been having a tough week trying to write a specific blog for months now and so thank you, because this post reinforced my right and will to write whatever the hell I want on my travel blog!
Cheers, you have new fan 🙂
I am always so impressed when I see how people can make a living while traveling and blogging about their experience. Maybe one day this is something I can also achieve- this article was a definitely an inspiration. Thank you 🙂
Thanks for such an honest overview on what you’ve learnt over the last five years.
We’ve just ticked over a year (about 3 months full time) and everyday we learn something new, whether it be photography, branding, tone of voice, scheduling… the list goes on! We love it though, as growing what we work so hard for is the ultimate reward.
Funnily enough, we’ve just joined Snapchat. We didn’t for the first three months of our trip for the exact same reasons you suggested – it was too much work. Yet as we travelled further and reached Nepal, we felt like we wanted to share this amazing place more than just images or writing. The day to day, the trials and tribulations and everything in between. We can’t wait to document our Annapurna Trek, but from there, we’ll see!
Keep being an inspiration guys!
The Common Wanderer
The Common Wanderer recently posted..Quickguides: Phnom Penh
I loved reading the article! It is definitely crazy when you see ‘things to do posts’ you’re tempted to get on the bandwagon!
I believe some of the audience is partially to blame too, as sometimes they believe what everyone tells them is ‘good’!
But yes the others who do get quality are the ones you want to engage, and that takes time and patience 🙂
I’m currently trying to strike a balance between the two 🙂
I’m glad that you feel that way about Snapchat. I feel like even instagram can get in the way sometimes.
Also, I really hope that there is still room for more travel blogs in the world. Keep it up, I love your blog!
Very inspiring post. When we started our blog last year, we posted what we thought was expected of us as a travel blog, it wasn’t enjoyable and took away from our actual travels. Now we post what we feel like and when we feel like it. No expectations!
This popped up in my emails at just the right time, thank you! I’ve found myself slowly moving over to the dark side of blogging and churning out the same template crap as everyone else, but this is a great reminder to stay weird because, if you stick at it, your tribe will come to you. Thanks again!
Jenny Smith recently posted..9 Awesome Pieces of Street Art from Bangkok’s BUKRUK II Festival
THANK YOU! I feel like our blog goes through stages of, “Our blog is for us and family.” to “but how can we leverage it and make this post SEO optimized?” It’s so important to take a step back and remember the Why and what makes your voice unique and personal! This very reason is why I come back to your blog and Instagram feeds time and again. Thank you for always being real! <3
Danielle recently posted..See Ya 2016!
So glad I found you (and this post!) – you’ve inspired me to FINALLY hit the PUBLISH button on my first post! I’m setting the deadline for myself at midnight tonight! Well done!