Reflections on My First Year of Travel Blogging

One year ago today I published my first post on Globalect. This blog’s first year has not only been a means of sharing my stories as I move through the world and immerse myself in its languages, but it’s also evolved into a professional tool that I never expected it to be. I didn’t understand this the first time I clicked ‘publish’, but in 2015, blogging can be a lot more than just a hobby.

Now as I celebrate my brain baby’s first birthday, I see not only how it’s grown over its first year, but also how it’s shaping up to fit into the bigger picture of my work and travels. It’s a centerpiece of the lifestyle I’m building, and writing and growing Globalect is still without contest my favorite job.

This one’s for the travel blogging community and others interested in leveraging a blog to build a location-independent professional lifestyle, as well as for the family and friends who’ve given up asking where I am or what I’m doing.

Happy birthday Globalect!

travel blogging mexico

So what is this and p.s. what’s up with the name??

If ‘globalect’ were a word, it would mean something like ‘world language’, or maybe the way groups of people communicate at the global level: the -lect is the same root we use in dialectsociolectlecture, and intellect, from the Greek lexis meaning word or speech. Globalect is about words and how we use them across the globe.

Globalect is about language, travel, and the many places the two meet on the road, and it mostly just popped into my head this way. A year ago I was living in a fairly international little city and an intensely international social circle in which few of us had passports in common and language barriers weren’t a thing because everyone (except me) spoke approximately 18 languages. It was in my first short stint living in Leiden that I started really traveling and learning languages, and Globalect was born right after I moved away the second time, as a way for me to continue obsessing publicly about words and the places they lived.

globalect travel blog

A sketch of the new logo I’m working on. Drawing doesn’t seem to be my higher artistic calling, and truthfully neither is digital design, but I promise by the time it’s online it’ll be minimally squiggly and blobby.

There’s a fundamental and natural connection between these two concepts, travel and language. The world is made up of people, people generate culture, and they transmit it in obvious and subtle ways through language. The fact that Flemish Belgians often call their language Flemish rather than Dutch, that several Germanic words for ‘gloves’ are made up of word parts that literally mean ‘hand shoes’, that English lacks a word to refer to citizens of the United States by anything other than the American landmass they share with the rest of the Western Hemisphere — these all reveal important details about how people view themselves, their cultures, the world around them, and their place in it.

Who’s reading?

Globalect started out mostly as a hobby and an outlet for waxing linguistic about my travels. In the beginning it was mostly read by family, friends, and a few unsuspecting victims of my Twitter feed, but then a couple lucky breaks in December mixed that up, and a blog-heavy June breathed in more new life. I’ll talk about those things in a bit.

Globalect now gets about 1,000 to 1,200 views a month, which is, uhm, modest for a travel blog twelve months in, or at least among those who become interweb famous and go on to live the fabulous lives that make us all feel worthless. I’ve been floating somewhere between hobby-blogger and self-righteous dedicated artist for most of Globalect’s first year, writing more when I felt like it and less when I was busier. In December, my third month of blogging, I pushed out seven posts that pulled in just over a thousand pairs of eyes; in all of May, June, and July, I only posted twice. This is what we in the biz call “being a lazy shit”, and it’s the secret trick to never getting any useful returns out of blogging, so since August I’ve vowed to change my flakey ways.

globalect travel blog readers map

A map of my adoring fans. Lots are in North America and Europe, and I’m hoping to break into the Uzbek market any day now.

But when I’m writing, some people are reading, which is cool. Most of them are in the US, the Netherlands, Mexico, the UK, and Germany (in that order), and most of those who aren’t either related to me or victims of weekly spamming from my personal Facebook are 1) other travel bloggers, or 2) language learners who at least like the thought of traveling.

Google also brings me some traffic. Some people land on my page when they search terms like “is Mexico safe” or “places to stay in new orleans”. Others, however, have been directed to Globalect for “I met a woman named Belinda” and “fucking mexicans in monterrey”, topics on which Google seems to think this blog has something useful to say.

Why are they reading?

Twitter tells me that my followers there are mostly under 30, don’t own homes, and have a net worth under $100,000. I’m awful at math, but I’m pretty sure x = broke student/fresh graduate. I love this audience, because I’m one of them, and soon I’ll be writing even more about living off of canned tuna and granola bars, getting really drunk for really cheap, and dragging along student debt as carryon baggage.

travel blog trilingual wall

A lot of readers are here for some help learning a language, or just because they think language in general is pretty cool, as evidenced by this Moroccan duck who’s super excited to teach the local Berber kids some Arabic.

But it seems most of the readers of my ‘travel blog’ are language learners first and travelers second (or not at all). The by far most popular posts to date have been the Trilingual in Three Years series, and most of my non-direct traffic is coming in from other language blogs. This is at least partially because I’ve been writing for Transparent Language for almost a year, and their blog has become one of the biggest drivers of traffic to Globalect.

As I move forward with Globalect I’m thinking a lot about how to keep it relevant to both indebted students with itchy feet and language geeks looking for advice and insight.

What did and didn’t happen this year

So no, my first year of blogging didn’t earn me ALL THE MONEY or any fabulous high-profile press trips. In fact, I haven’t even tried to monetize it yet. What it did do was help me build serious hard skills and get jobs.

Freelance writing jobs

Some folks saw me looking at the places I go through a linguistic lens and thought that was pretty cool, so now they pay me to say stuff about stuff I like.

Some folks saw me looking at the places I go through a linguistic lens and thought that was pretty cool, so now they pay me to say stuff about stuff I like.

December was the first noticeably successful month for Globalect. I published the Trilingual in Three Years series — by far the most popular posts to date — and then the fantastic Social Media Coordinator at Transparent Language somehow discovered my blog and emailed me asking if I’d consider doing some guest posts for them. I did a few and they went well, and later that turned into my first paid blogging job. I’m still contributing several articles a month to their main Language News blog as well as the Dutch and Spanish Language and Culture blogs.

The first time I thought this was a fluke, but at least two other times in my early blogging days, different companies or brands approached me directly and asked me to review their language learning product or write some content for their blog. Once I caught on to the formula — decent content + getting it in front of the right people = $$$ — I started pursuing it, and have since gotten three other blogging and copywriting jobs, either from people discovering Globalect or by using my work here as a sample to sell my writing.

Building professional skills

I also learned how to do some stuff, and then I suddenly understood: I could use my specialized skills to trade my labor for money, which I could then later exchange for goods and/or services!! It was just crazy enough to work.

Running a travel blog is more than just writing, as I’ve learned in the last year. It’s content curation, search engine optimization, social media marketing, and other fancy terms for creating content and using it to grow an audience. And if you wanna keep the blog running and readers reading, you’ve gotta learn how to use WordPress or another content management system, how to take and edit photographs, how to find and credit images online, and how to research keyword trends.

travel blogging photography

I must have spent an hour on this San Antonio photo alone between climbing up on a wall to get a good angle, waiting forever for that trolley to come around the corner, and editing it later.

And then, there’s the writing itself. Writing a blog post has little in common with penning the great American novel: the sentences and paragraphs need to be shorter, headings and subheadings have to break the text into readable chunks, and pretty pictures must be deftly deployed to keep readers from getting overwhelmed by huge blocks of unwieldy text.

If I look at writing and photography alone, I’m both crazy proud of the progress and crazy embarrassed by how much progress was necessary. My first post on Leiden was a whopping 3600 words full of monster 30- and 40-word sentences that no one wants to read on a screen. There are links to things that I can’t imagine anyone giving a shit about. There’s a photo that doesn’t belong to me and I’ve just plopped it down like it’s mine (actually, I will have fixed that by the time this posts… oops).

DSCF4812 cover

While traveling through Mexico, I posted some breathtaking photos like this weird green nothing you see above, and over-processed images like the one below on the left. Now I’ve not only learned to take better photos, but I’m also getting pretty good at GIMP, the most powerful open source photo editing software around. After some reediting, what was actually a decent shot now looks like it: no glowing skies or cartoonishly saturated pastels, just the natural beauty of Querétaro.

(Dem clouds tho.)

And apparently Globalect is a top new travel blog!

At least according to somebody. The folks at Tripedia noticed Globalect some time this year and included it in their Top 10 New Travel Bloggers in September, which was awesome of them. If you’re looking for a thorough destination guide written by a traveler like yourself, you should check them out.

Other prominent praise has come from the New York Times, a couple of different Mexican travel bloggers who thought I did a pretty good job talking about language and culture in their country, and my mommy. Actually only two of those things though.

What’s happening now

Lots of stuff is happening now! First of all, I’m committing to the location-independent lifestyle, or the work from anywhere movement, or becoming a digital nomad, or whatever other trendy way you want to refer to it. I’m tired of the cycles of 1) work then save then travel, or 2) work crappy local jobs while traveling. Saving money is nice (someone told me once), and a lot of the crappy local jobs are surprisingly enjoyable, but the only thing I’m financially dependent on anymore is my laptop and a wifi connection.

travel blogging knin

Now I could even work from way up here! Except that medieval fortresses on hilltops in isolated Croatian villages have the shittiest wifi.

That means Globalect is growing up. I’m aiming to start pulling in a passive income from the blog by the beginning of 2016, which means I’ll have to make a lot of improvements to the way things run around here. Fear not: we’re not talking ads and pop-ups and banners. Most stuff won’t change at all, but here’s what will:

  • Newsletters: In the next week or two, Globalect subscribers will start receiving a monthly newsletter, delivered to your inbox with care. It’ll include Globalect posts you might have missed that month, as well as other stuff going on in the worlds of language and travel that I don’t want you guys to miss.
  • More and better content: Like I said above, lack of consistency killed me this summer. From now on I’m aiming to write 4-6 posts a month and covering new and better topics. I want to start balancing useful posts like how-to’s with the more thoughtful posts about language and culture that have been common on the blog. That way I’m putting out practical stuff that helps travelers and language learners, as well as hopefully making people think more about the world we live and travel in.
  • Less terrible design: I actually really hate the blog’s current design and I can’t remember why I changed it from the old layout. The new design will feature bigger images, better fonts, and a new logo, to name a few. I’m also thinking of a few practical things, like a little widget that tells you how long a post should take to read and tables with stats on and helpful phrases in the languages of the places I’m visiting.
  • ALL THE SOCIAL MEDIA: Twitter and Facebook are up and running (and Twitter’s kicking ass!), but Stumbleupon, Pinterest, Reddit, and some others are on the way. Instead of badgering you every day to follow me on Selfiegram or do whatever it is you do on Google Plus, I’ll play around with each of the new channels, see how useful they are and whether people like them, and if they suck they’ll disappear.
  • Guest posts: Not only will I be reaching out to other travel blogs I love to pitch them some ideas, but I’m also actively seeking guest posts here on Globalect. If you’ve got your own blog or just some ideas about places and words, let me know!

Translating travel blogging into dollars and cents

Even for me it’s sort of hard to grasp sometimes how people make money travel blogging. The truth is that a) to me at least, there aren’t many ways to do it without sacrificing some of the integrity of the writing, and b) it’s not going to be an income to live off of. A few hundred dollars a month of supplementary income is what I’ll be shooting for in early 2016, and even that will be a challenge.

The two typical ways of monetizing a blog are ads and affiliate marketing. After a lot of research, I think I’m counting ads out: most bloggers appear to earn less than three digits a month from ad revenue, and furthermore, they’re really fucking annoying to look at. If Globalect ever has a hundred thousand visitors pounding down the digital door each month, I’ll think about it, but until then it seems like more of a nuisance than a benefit.

travel blogging chiapas

Alternatively, maybe I’ll start partnering with local artisans to help sell their work! You guys would buy this stuff, right? (shipping and handling is extra)

Here’s some stuff I am thinking about:

      • Affiliate programs: This will likely be the go-to. In short, affiliate marketing is collaborating with brands (like a booking engine or travel gear brand) to market their products on your blog and earn a commission of the sales. It normally comes in the form of a link within the body of a post, and with my total lack of tact, I can easily see myself throwing in a parenthetical (hey click on that, it helps me afford food and shelter).
      • eBook sales: I’m working on an eBook based on the Trilingual in Three Years series, about learning a language on the road. It’ll get its very own page somewhere on Globalect, and will cost somewhere between $2-5, so I hope you’ll read it!
      • Destination marketing: This comes further down the road, but I hope to branch out into using those newfound marketing skills to help put places on the map. In the next year I’ll be spending more time in developing countries in Latin America, where many cities are leveraging tourism dollars for development, and they could use a linguistically gifted guy like me to help get the word out about how cool they are.
      • A ‘work with me’ page: Like the eBook, this’ll have its own page, inconspicuously waiting for attention but never popping up to beg for it. Content writing, translation, language coaching, and marketing services will all be on the menu.

travel blogging Leiden

So after one year of infancy, I’ve decided it’s time for Globalect to grow up, get a job, and start taking care of itself. I’ve poured tens of thousands of words and a couple hundred hours into this blog this year, buckets upon buckets of digital blood, sweat, and tears. And even if it never makes a dime, I’ll always love it.

Thanks for reading Globalect this year! Are there any other changes I should be thinking about? Or anything that would break your heart if it were changed? Let me know in the comments!

One comment

  1. Carla · October 28, 2015

    CONGRATS!! I’m very excited for Globalect. Go do all the things and make $$