Three years ago to the day, I published my very first post on Wonderful Wanderings. It was nothing more than a “hello”. I felt like I needed to introduce the blog a bit in that first post. I couldn’t just start writing about travel, now could I? A lot has changed since then and especially the last year held a lot of firsts for me.
Year 3 in firsts
My first time meeting other travel bloggers
Yes, I did actually go my first two years of blogging without meeting any other travel bloggers. I think part of that has to do with the fact that I still worked my full-time job back then and wasn’t really thinking about quitting it until late into my second year of blogging. The past year, however, I’ve tried to meet up with other bloggers both during my travels and back here in Belgium.
Each time I meet someone who blogs full-time as well, it motivates me. Of course, I talk about blogging with my parents, boyfriend and friends and they’re great about it (poor them, I’m pretty sure they now doze off each time they hear the word “blog”), but it’s not the same as discussing it with someone who I can exchange ideas and blogging experiences with.
My first conferences
Which brings me to conferences. There are actually several conferences specifically for travel bloggers and then there are also a few travel trade fairs that have a travel blogger “section”. I attended my first one in October last year and have attended four other ones since. Why did I wait for more than two years to go to a conference? Because I was afraid. I’m kind of a chicken sh*t when it comes to going places by myself where I know other people will know each other already and I won’t. Turned out my fear was completely ungrounded. Apparently I have a very recognizable Facebook profile picture and so people would come up to me and go “Hey, aren’t you Sofie?”. Score.
These conferences have changed the way I look at travel blogging a lot and most of them have given me ideas which I’ve implemented on the blog. After my first conference, TBDI in Italy, I realized how important it is to meet people face to face and I decided to attend more of these events (mission accomplished).
After my second conference, TBEX in Greece, I really started thinking about the blog’s focus and direction. Attending my third conference, TBCAsia in Sri Lanka, gave that an extra push and made me decide to write more about travel in Belgium. But more importantly, it was after that trip and conference that I decided to quit my job.
Then there was NBE Finland, where I was just cold the entire time.
Just kidding. I was cold the entire time, but I also realized I really needed to start doing video. I haven’t been very consistent with it yet as I’m still a bit ashamed when filming myself in public, but I do plan on creating more videos in the future.
Oh and after my last conference, TBEX in Spain, I landed one of my best assignments so far by attending a speed networking session.
My first real solo trip
Until the start of this blogging year, I hadn’t really traveled solo yet. I’d traveled to places by myself, but always to meet someone I knew at my destination. You could say that I really eased into it this year. First, by attending all these conferences and then by going on trips with other bloggers that I didn’t know prior to the trip. And then the moment was there: my trip to Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
Yes, yes, I know, Baden-Württemberg isn’t exactly some distant and exotic destination. It doesn’t create a “wow” effect when you tell someone you’ve been to Germany all by yourself, but I honestly couldn’t have cared less. I just wanted to know how I’d feel being completely on my own for six days while working on a campaign.
I felt great and I’m already looking forward to traveling solo more often.
My first time hiring a designer
After messing around with code and trying this site design thing by myself for over two years, I decided to hire a designer to give Wonderful Wanderings a new and cleaner look. This has been a real learning experience for me in terms of communicating wishes and asking questions. I used to think I needed to hire someone based on their experience and knowledge, but I realized the personal connection is just as important. You have to “click” with someone in order to work with them successfully on an important project. You both have to have the same outcome in mind, the same direction to follow, even though there might be discussions along the way.
My first time writing about travel blogging
I recently road a very long post on how to start a travel blog and keep it running. It was the first time I published something that was solely focused on travel blogging and not just on travel. Don’t worry, Wonderful Wanderings won’t turn all meta, but I am thinking of occasionally writing a “how to” guide or sharing some tips on travel blogging from my own experience. Let me know if this would interest you or not in the comment section. Or would you prefer getting a monthly look behind the scenes? I already give this in my monthly newsletter but if there’s enough interest, I might be willing to expand this information to the blog.
My first time starting an interview series
In February, I launched “The X-pat Files”, an interview series in which I talk with Belgians who’ve moved abroad and people from all over the world who’ve moved to Belgium. I started this series because I wanted to know what attracted people to Belgium as a country to live in, opposed to as a travel destination, but also what pushed them away. The series has been running for half a year now and I’m clearly seeing some recurrent themes. I’d like to do a post on it, but I want to wait a bit longer until I have more interviews that I can include.
So far, I’ve been publishing these interviews twice a week: one with a Belgian abroad on Fridays and one with an expat in Belgium on Sundays. I still have some interviews scheduled for the following weeks, but I’ll probably lower that frequency because my initial goal wasn’t to do as many interviews as possible, but to have an interview with a Belgian expat and an expat in Belgium for every country in the world. So if you know a Belgian living in a country I haven’t covered yet, or an expat in Belgium from a country I haven’t covered yet, please get in touch.
The first time I got featured in the paper
Those of you who follow me on Facebook will already have seen this, but I was recently featured in our local newspaper. It’s only a small publication, but it’s the first step to world domination, right? RIGHT?
The first time I blogged in two languages
Yup, Year 3 was the year in which I made Wonderful Wanderings bilingual. It’s a lot of work doing everything in two languages, but I’m happy to see the work paying off. Since September 2014, when the Dutch version of the site went live, my Belgian audience has gotten six times bigger.
The first time I got properly paid for a blog campaign
Now that I’ve quit my job and made travel blogging my full-time profession, it’s quite important that I make some money out of it as well. And I can’t believe I do! More on that in the next section.
Year 3 in money
As I was already living pretty frugally and saving up for who knows what before I quit my job, I didn’t consciously lower my spending when I officially went freelance. Two consequences of becoming a full-time blogger, however, did have a positive impact on my monthly costs. I spend way less money on gas now that I don’t have to drive to work every day and go dancing less. Yes, I travel around Belgium a lot, but I often take the train. As far as dancing goes: I miss it so much, but it’s pretty hard to keep up with classes when I travel abroad several times a month and have a pile of work waiting for me when I get back home.
There’s been a switch in my blogging income as well. Where I used to earn most of my freelance income (which wasn’t a lot) selling sponsored links and writing for other websites, I now earn most doing campaigns for travel brands and destinations. Year 3 was also the first year I made money with affiliate marketing and I’m also testing out Adsense banners. I guess those are two firsts as well.
My primary money making goal for year 4 is to grow my income from campaigns and affiliate sales, but also to further diversify my income streams.
Goals for year 4
Talking about goals… I’m terrible at setting them. No, wait. I’m terrible at making them official. So I’m taking a giant step here by telling you about some of my goals for Year 4 (losing weight isn’t really travel blog related, so I’ll leave that out of here). I was inspired to do so by Alex from Alex in Wanderland. She writes a post for each of her blogaversaries as well and always analyzes whether she’s achieved the goals she set last year and sets new ones for her next year of travel blogging.
Goal 1: Get to Thailand
I know this one is as easy as buying the ticket and flying there, but as a ticket to Thailand is pretty expensive, I want to make sure I do it right. Although I’m not sure what “right” would be yet. I know Thailand has been hip and trendy for several years already and that it’s really become a hub for digital nomads, but I still want to go and see what all the fuss is about.
Goal 2: write a book
I love writing. It’s what I love best about travel blogging (besides the travel part, obviously) and it’s the one thing I can stay focused on for hours. I honestly have no idea yet what I would write a book about, but now that I’ve told you, I better start brainstorming.
Goal 3: Show you more of me
I think I often write too factual (feel free to correct me). I love researching and adding a lot of information to the posts I publish here, but it makes that I often forget to include a bit of myself. I want to get to know you guys and I want you to get to know me too, so in Year 4 I want to add more of my personal voice to the stories I share with you.
Goal 4: Improve my writing
The past year has been hard on my writing. Since I started blogging in two languages, Dutch constructions have entered my English and English words have drawn out their Dutch translations. I need to start reading more fiction again (in both languages) and I would love to go on a writing retreat. I know a regular course wouldn’t work for me, but I would definitely be interested in a week of writing in a nice destination that allows me to immediately implement what I learn on my travel writing. Any recommendations?
Goal 5: Being more effective
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I work from early morning to late at night every single day. Even when I’m traveling, I’ll answer emails from the previous day in the morning and edit photos in the evening. That’s not necessarily a problem, but I don’t feel like the results from my work correspond with the time I put in. In Year 4 I need to have a thorough look at what leads to results and what I’m better of switching for an ice cream somewhere in the sun.
I could keep on adding goals, but five seems like a good number to be held accountable for, don’t you think?
This post has gotten way longer than I’d planned. I actually didn’t think I’d have a lot to say about Year 3, but looking back on it made me realize how eventful it was. Thank you for sticking with me. This blog would be nothing without you and every day I’m grateful that you’re there, reading, following and commenting.