Remember right around this time last year, when I asked y’all to take a reader survey, in which I learned that it’s very unpopular when a non-southerner says y’all? (Blame Rayna James.)
So, my major takeaway from that survey, other than the y’all thing, was that I love you guys a lot — and I’m not just buttering you up as I’m about to post another one. I reread every single one of the 600+ responses in preparation for my newest survey, and I was actually tearing up doing so. Not because you guys, like lavished me with unending praise (thaaaaanks though) but rather because of the warmth, compassion and insight you showed in your replies.
You guys have truly given me the greatest gift, and that is simply to see me. Some of the most profound heartaches and frustrations in life come from being misunderstood, and to read these survey responses where you seem to reveal that you really truly get me and this wanderlust I’m struck with, that is something special.
But anyway, enough about me – eyerolls from the respondents that said I’m a little self-obsessed, am I right? – let’s talk about you guys!
You’re Ready For the Census
• Most of you are women in my age bracket – 25 to 34. But if you aren’t, you’re not alone — I had both male and female survey respondents from under 18 to over 75!
• 10% of you rate eco-travel as super important, 20% as not a priority, and 70% somewhere in the middle. Funny enough these numbers reflect almost perfectly a talk I once heard from Canadian entrepreneur and G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip about consumers’ interest level in sustainability.
• 24% of you are scuba divers, but 78% of you read my diving content regardless – thanks, landlubbers! Of my certified crew, 53% are Open Water, 32% are Advanced, 7% are Rescue certified, 5% are Divemasters, and 3% are Instructors. Many of you spoke wistfully of times when I had more diving content, and for those of you, buckle up, because I have some kick-butt diving trips coming up
• 36% of you keep blogs, some of which are travel related, others are on different topics. Maybe I should be doing a bit more blogging about blogging.
• Though a tight race, many of you prefer Spice Girls to Britney Spears. I am still searching deep within myself for the answer to this age-old query.
Spoiler Alert — You Love To Travel
• Most of you aren’t traveling on a shoestring or a private jet, but more somewhere in the middle. Which is a relief to me in a way since I don’t always stay in hostels (though I love them and have far from sworn them off!) or, uh, take private jets.
• Most of you take trips that are 1 or 2 weeks long. Very few of y’all are nomadic. This is super helpful for me to know, since I’m planning on writing some itinerary posts for some of my favorite countries — coming soon! – and it’s helpful to know how long you guys typically have to travel.
• 53% percent of you citied “inability to take time off work or school” as your number one reason for not traveling more. Next up and inextricably linked was lack of funds at 31%. Also on the list were obligations like kids, pets and family members at 8%, nerves at 2%, and health issues at 1%. A full 5% of you said you travel enough and don’t need to travel more – bravo!
One of the most interesting questions for me to read the answers was the open ended answers to the same question. They were so raw and real and poignant. A boyfriend that wants to settle down. A beloved dog. A school program tugging at the heart strings. Lack of paid time off for entrepreneurs chasing their dreams. Living in a rural area, far from an airport. Nobody to travel with. Lots more beloved dogs. Lots more boyfriends and husbands that just aren’t into it. (Interestingly, I didn’t have a single complaint about a female partner not interested in travel.)
And there were lots of happy answers from those that wouldn’t mind traveling more but also love their jobs, their family, their friends, their cities, and those remain their priorities. That made me smile. But for those of you who do desire to travel more, I jotted down dozens of post ideas that I’m excited to work on that I hope will help inspire you to get yourself on the road – and address the issues we’re about to dive into.
It’s Not Always Rainbows On The Road
In an open-ended question about your biggest pain point on the road, hundreds of you listed itinerary making, logistic-wrangling, and generally being overwhelmed by planning as one of your greatest frustrations. I feel ya. Also on the list? Surprisingly, vastly more so than complaints about budgeting funds, you guys fretted over budgeting time. Fitting everything you want to see into a short trip, not having enough days to get to the places you want to go, and rushing to get the full experience of a place were some of your greatest struggles when it comes to travel.
There was also a lot of talk about the lack of travel companions and the fear of traveling alone. As someone who gets so much joy from solo travel, this was a wake up call to me that I need to keep sharing that joy as encouragement to those who might be on the fence about it. But I do understand – some trips are more fun with others (and, as many of you noted, accommodation can be half the price)! As one of my clearly hilarious readers put it, “I suppose my main challenge at the moment is that I’m finding it difficult to locate a hot, strapping dude to travel with me to the ends of the earth?”
Choosing where to go came up a lot. Most travelers have bucket lists that could take a lifetime to accomplish; knowing what to prioritize can be a struggle. Some of you have more specific concerns – choosing destinations for solo female travelers, and choosing destinations welcoming to LGBQT travelers both were noted challenges.
Anxiety was a big theme that kept cropping up. Anxiety over flying, anxiety over the unknown of a new destination and anxiety over traveling solo were the most common varieties, but plenty also felt stressed over more specific issues like picky eating (been there, didn’t eat that), being overwhelmed by renting cars or scooters (I’m so grateful I’ve made a ton of progress with this in the last year or so), feeling insecure about weight and appearances and even just being afraid of the dark. Not to mention one of the most relentless breeds of anxiety, FOMO, that leaves lots of you stressing over what you’re missing back home.
Some of you listed practical concerns, like acquiring visas, finding decent flights, dealing with heat, getting enough sleep, dietary restrictions, eating healthy and maintaining a workout routine, language barriers, money conversions, avoiding illnesses, figuring out frequent flyer miles, difficulty with mobility, and the most dreaded, horrible, no good concept to ever exist on planet earth: packing. “Excuse my language, but f*ck packing” was definitely one of my favorite quotes of the survey – clearly, I concur.
You in Wanderland
• You guys gave me two thumbs up for my sponsored stuff. That helped me breathe a huge sigh of relief, honestly. A few of you expressed natural skepticism and pointed out a few partnerships which weren’t a 100% fit, which I totally respect and will absorb moving forward. “Girls gotta eat” was thrown around a few times, to which I say #preach. Also, kudos to my own very responsible reader who added a twist – “a girl’s gotta retire someday!”
• You guys want itinerary posts and planning content (already working on one for Thailand and Hawaii!), more budget breakdowns (planning to do one for Koh Tao this year), more diving and adventure travel coverage (watch my social media coming up next week for insaaaane adventure diving), more yoga and fitness travel (guess that means I have to get off my ass, awkward), and more Tucker (me too)! The only thing you pretty unanimously agreed you don’t want? Guest posts. Guess you’re stuck with me.
• Only 1.7% of you think I post too often. Time to pick up the pace! (Which I definitely have been doing in the past 4 months.)
• 46% of you have done stayed at a hotel I’ve mentioned, taken a tour I blogged about, bought something I’ve reviewed, or even gone to a new country based partly on my coverage. For many of you that meant starting diving, going to Koh Tao, buying wetsuits and packing cubes and solid shampoo, booking specific tours and hotels, and beyond! The countries that came up frequently were Peru, Iceland, Thailand, and Nicaragua.
This was one of my favorite questions to read the answers to because it was so fun hearing about all of your travels and all the stories we now share. I was literally smiling ear to ear while reading these replies and only noticed it when my face started to hurt (Note to self: exercise smile muscles more vigorously). I always take my recommendations deeply seriously to begin with, but this was a fabulous reminder to always be completely pure-hearted in my endorsements – because you guys really are listening.
So, this is always the part that gives me a little stomach-ache when I do a reader survey – asking you guys for your constructive criticism! But really, it’s what I need to hear most.
However, when it comes to certain issues, I’ve learned I really have to follow my heart because you just can’t please everyone. One person says skip food posts, the next says more restaurant recommendations, please. One person says they are not into hotel reviews, another thanks me for a hotel tip they loved. One person is feeling fitness post fatigue followed by someone who wants more healthy travel content, literally one right after the other.
That said, it’s not a waste of time to give me your opinion! Reading them all at once helps me detect patterns, generate new ideas, and see what leaves me wincing because I know it’s true.
Here are a few things I am working on, thanks to your feedback:
• You don’t like when there are too many posts about one place in a row. Fair! This is kind of a new challenge that I’ve started facing in recent years, as I’ve started to shift from being fully nomadic to traveling more slowly and spending more than half my year in Thailand. This is a tough one because a lot of you prefer reading chronologically (and I’m itching to get back to that eventually too) but I’m going to work on breaking up long trip coverage with introspective posts.
• You guys hate that I’m so out of synch with real time. I do too! This has undoubtedly become my biggest pain point about blogging in the last two years, though it’s hard to see a solution other than “stop traveling and literally do literally nothing notable for a minimum of one year.” For the short term, though, I’ve jumped ahead and been basically been live-blogging my travels since this summer, and when I get back to Thailand in the fall I’ll go back and start filling in the prior year (gulp.) I feel pretty good about this solution and hope you all will too!
• You guys don’t love sponsored hotel stays. That’s kind of perfect because I’ve become lazy AF about trying to arrange them. Ha! Okay but seriously – I can’t promise I’m not going to do hotel review posts (sometimes I even do them for places I’ve payed for out of pocket or am not contractually obligated to do so, simply because I love them so much) but as my income has increased, I’ve had much more flexibility to pay out of pocket for hotels and cover them as I please. I’m also always working to narrow my focus so that the hotels I do cover are super unique and special in some way.
• You guys pointed out a lot of tech issues. If I knew how to insert GIFs, I would insert one here of me banging my head into a keyboard. After years of struggling with endless errors, hacks, and flaws, in recent months I’ve been making an enormous behind-the-scenes effort to get my site cleaned up and healthy. I’ve switched hosts, hired consultants, and am working with a new developer team to get Alex in Wanderland in tip-top shape — and it’s costing a well-worth it boatload. While work is still in progress, I’m excited to see that the site is faster and healthier than ever – thanks for sticking with me while we got here. You guys also suggested some great design updates, which have been compiled into a list that I’m working through with a designer!
• You want me to work on typos. Embarrassing! I have installed an editing plugin and am trying to slow down and read through every post thoroughly before publishing, but I admit errors slip through. Thank you for the reminder to be fastidious!
• Lots of people asked for me to be more consistent on Snapchat. This time last year, I was trying and totally failing to make that work. Thankfully, in the interim, I dropped Snapchat totally and instead found a medium I really love – Instagram stories! You can now find me over there pretty much every single day. Wish granted! (Sort of.)
• A few of you shared feedback on my writing, some of which was hard to read. For example, those of you who feel my posts have become less funny and more manufactured – that hurts because I know that it’s true that when I’m flustered and rushing, I really don’t put my best writing forward. And it’s a wake up call to slow down and really remember the joy and fun of writing – and most importantly, finding all possible opportunities to casually reference The Spice Girls.
• Also a few (very few, thankfully) noted that they felt like I was perhaps sugar-coating certain destinations or being too timid in my criticisms. Frankly, I feel confident that I being diplomatic is deeply ingrained part of my personality, not a show I put on for sponsors, and there’s nothing I can do about that occasionally being mis-interpreted. I’ve been blessed that there have been so few times in my six years of professional blogging that something truly awful happened that I could not write about, contractually. In fact, I can really only think of two, and neither was something that would affect future travelers — so I couldn’t claim any moral responsibility to inform my readers or anything like that. For those of you who that rare minority really bothers, luckily I only do a handful of content campaigns per year – the vast majority of my travels are independent, self-funded passion projects!
• Many of you told me to calm down, stop apologizing, and just do me. Dang, do I appreciate hearing that. These comments were a good reminder that this is supposed to be fun for all of us, and you guys can sense when I’m vibrating with stress over something like my editorial calendar.
And then there was my most heart-filling part of the survey – where you guys told me what you loved and what has kept you reading Alex in Wanderland. I actually opened a document on my computer and titled it “READ THIS WHEN HAVING MELTDOWNS OF SELF CONFIDENCE” which included a lot of copy and pasted sections from this question.
What I learned is that you read Alex in Wanderland for hundreds of different reasons. For many of you, it’s a form of escapism that you can virtually travel with me. For some, it’s the photos. For others, it’s the blatant oversharing – er, honesty – in my writing. For a lot of you, it’s that you feel like we could be friends in real life – and if these responses and the chats we have in the comments section and the people I’ve met at my reader meetups are any indication, we totally could be.
You like that I accept criticism and respond to comments and am open to having my mind changed. You like that this is a personality-driven blog, and not one made up of top ten lists. You like the balance of fresh upbeat attitude and let’s-get-real honesty, and you like following a girl-next-door’s journey as she chases dreams and tries to live a big, adventure-filled life. I love that you guys are willing to join me on this wild ride.
Shall We Do It Again?
If you’d be generous enough to share your thoughts with me again — or maybe for the first time! — I’d be humbled.
I am just so incredibly grateful for the time each and every one of you took in responding to my 2016 survey, and I can’t wait to read the 2017 results! (And I pinky promise I won’t take so long to share them this time.)