Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2019, including my blogaversary, which I celebrated in June.
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
Eight years in the business of blogging. I survived the seven year itch only to be hit with a curve ball I never saw coming: pressing pause to become a caretaker after my mom’s diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
At first, I felt grateful that the flexibility of my career allowed me to quickly uproot and move back abruptly from Thailand to Upstate New York, where I was needed. Later, I realized that I wasn’t quite set up to be still: my passive income sources were sorely lacking, and as my travels ground to a halt, in many ways so too did my business. But my mom raised me to be adaptable and overcome, and eventually, that’s what I started to do. Today, I’m looking back over my shoulder at three hundred and sixty five more days of self employment.
Let’s warm up with some facts and figures, celebrate some of year eight’s best blog posts, and cool down with some bittersweet reflections. You can read about my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh years of blogging to catch up on my journey so far.
My Year in Blogging // By The Numbers
• Posts Written: 74. It’s the lowest number of posts I’ve ever written in a year, by quite a large degree. I also took a two solid months off blogging, when my mom’s treatment began, the longest I’ve ever gone without publishing a blog post, by a long shot.
• Comments Replied To: 1,560. As always, I truly do miss the golden years of blog commenting. I don’t even know if I realized what a huge motivation that conversation was for my writing until it started to wane.
• Group Press Trips: 1 cancelled — my dream dive campaign through Indonesia.
• Influencer Campaigns: 1 completed, 1 postponed — I completed a slightly abbreviated version of my dive campaign to Florida but last-minute cancelled one with the Finger Lakes (which we are still working to reschedule!) after my friend Rachel tragically and suddenly passed away.
Influencer campaigns were once the largest portion of my income, so being largely unable to commit to them was stressful — and not a gamble I was willing to take, for the most part — I know how much money and time brands invest in creating these trips and I couldn’t potentially waste that for them with a clean conscience. The Finger Lakes I made an exception for, as I would be just driving distance away, and I knew Rachel would be able to replace me and still complete her coverage if I was unable to travel — never did it cross my mind that it would be her that wouldn’t make it, and I’m still grateful for the kindness and humanity their team showed us in that heartbreaking time.
• Brand Partnerships: 0 — on my blog, anyway. This was the first year ever that I had zero branded content on my blog. Instead, I signed on for partnerships on Instagram, something I didn’t really have the opportunity to do when I was living abroad and unable to reliable receive packages. I’m super grateful for the opportunities I had to work with brands like KIND (healthy snacks on-the-go), KN filters (reusable, eco-friendly home and auto filters), and small projects with companies making everything from kombucha to home-delivery wine flights to hangover supplements. They kept my income afloat, gave me a professional purpose, and kept my creativity alive.
• Retreats: Ran 2, launched and heavy heartedly cancelled a 3rd, announced 2 more, researched 1. I loved watching my Koh Tao Retreat and Martha’s Vineyard Retreat come to life on two of my favorite islands in the world. I was devastated to back out of my collaboration Bali Retreat — a third favorite island. And I proudly and nervously launched my St. Pete Retreat and Red Sea Retreats, eventually, too, with the support of my family knowing I had to get back to work. I also went on a retreat scouting trip to Dominican Republic.
• Conferences: 4. I’ve decided this makes more sense to include here than in my travelversary post, where I’ve chucked it in previous years. I was honored to speak at three — TravelCon in Texas, TBEX North America in New York and Women in Travel Summit in Maine. A fourth, Boston Sea Rovers, was a scouting trip as I’d love to speak at a dive show one year about marketing diving to millennials (or one of the many other topics I have in mind!)
• Trainings or Courses: 2. A new category! But as I hope to continue to put an emphasis on self-development and education, it seems like a fun thing to track. During this period I proudly completed a month-long 200HR vinyasa yoga teacher training in New York City, and also attended a weekend Buti Bands training in New York City as well.
My Year in Blogging // By The Blog Posts
Never has it taken me more hours, scrounged together from a stolen ten minutes here or ten minutes there, to pull blog content together. Because of that, I thought, surely this can’t be one of my best years for writing. And looking back, well, it was different. I deleted a section from these “senior superlatives” normally reserved for my funniest posts, because I guess I wasn’t in much of a silly mood this year.
But I shared a lot of deep, raw introspection and also quite a few more useful type travel guides — maybe it was easier to imagine all of you traveling than myself, this time. I also used the time to dive back in and try to clear up some of my unblogged travel archives (a battle I’m still fighting today!) and even managed a bit of content I was quite proud of: my Israel trip coverage and my yoga teacher training coverage top among them.
Life in the Lowest Place on Earth: Discovering The Dead Sea Tree • Navigating and Chill On the Chao Phraya: A Night Aboard the Mekhala River Cruise • The Wanderland Guide to Ayutthaya: The Perfect Two Day Itinerary • Diving in Dahab, The Backpacker Star of Sinai • Be a Mermaid, Make Waves: The Coney Island Mermaid Parade Splashes Again
Why I Traveled to the Land of Milk and Honey • Setting Intentions for 2019 • Looking Back on Life in Paradise • Why NY: How I Ended Up Back in the Big Apple (Briefly) • The Top Ten Differences Between Burning Man and Midburn
Most Disastrous Travel Meltdowns Melted
Diving the Dead, Red and Med: A Guide to Israel’s Three Seas • My Yoga Teacher Training Experience at Y7 Studios in New York • Open Minds and Open Bars: How Much Does Midburn Cost? • Adventures in the Negev Desert: Things To Do In Mitze Ramon • Inside My Bag: What To Pack for a Liveaboard • How To Spend The Perfect Long Weekend in Miami • The Ultimate Dog Friendly Santa Barbara Guide • A Few of My Favorite Things, Bali Edition • Learning To Code in Canggu: A Review of Institute of Code
The Wanderland Guide to a Guilt-Free Black Friday • Can An Eco-Friendly Songkran Be Sustainable? • Celebrating Earth Week! Going Green With Bamboo Toothbrushes, Plastic-Free Toothpaste Bites and Beyond
Greatest Adventures Shared
Breezy Bliss on the Nile: The Felucca Ride I’ll Remember Forever • Something Just Like This: Seeing Coldplay Live in Bangkok • Diving Where Few Women Have Dived Before: Scuba Diving in the Dead Sea • Nine Memories in a New York Minute • My Bedouin Adventure: A Camel Diving Safari in Egypt
Best Brand Collaborations
Should You Take a Group Tour in Egypt? My Review of Travel Talk Tours • The Wanderland Guide to the Florida Keys • My Eight Diving Highlights of 2018 • Savannah’s Prohibition Past — And Where to Drink Today • See The Red Sea: A Review of the King Snefro Liveaboard and PADI Travel
My Year in Blogging // By Business
My seventh year of blogging was perhaps my most productive and successful year to date. Which is probably part of what made it sting to take such a colossal step back in year eight.
In fact, I had been doing so well I made perhaps a foolish error: I over-invested in my retirement accounts without leaving a large enough cushion of an emergency fund, eager to take the maximum tax breaks and sure that my upward projection would continue. I also, unfortunately, was between assistants when things started to fall apart, leaving me tight on cash and on my own. In the end, I took out a loan so that I could get back on my feet with a new part-time assistant recommended by my friend Rachel — and we are still working together today. It was humbling, but it kept me afloat and allowed me to continue to expand my new retreat business without the usual cashflow from my blog.
I think, when moving home, a part of me thought, okay, I can do this, I can work from anywhere. But I didn’t realize — I couldn’t have realized, then — that caretaking in itself is a full time job. And it’s the most physically and emotionally exhausting one I’ve ever taken on, leaving little time or energy for the business I spent my adult life building. I now have bottomless, utmost respect for those that devote their lives to the care of others. They are angels among us.
I learned a lot. I learned how to adapt — no longer did I have the luxury of long, unbroken hours of writing in the morning, when my productivity was highest. Instead, I tried to squeeze work into my mom’s afternoon nap time, or whenever a friend of hers would pop by. I learned to humble myself and ask for help — from letting a neighbor do the dishes while I dashed out a sponsored Instagram post to asking my peers for advice, favors or connections I thought could help save my business. I learned to take enormous risks that I, a stubborn entrepreneur reluctant to carry out any plan that didn’t completely align with my vision, never would have gambled on, like launching retreats that I liked but didn’t love the backup plan for, when my mom’s condition was so unpredictable (I didn’t love them because they required letting go of micro-managing everything myself). And I continued to dig deeper the well of compassion I had for those in difficult like circumstances, one I’d thought was quite sizeable already.
In year eight, the majority of my income came from my retreats. And they continued to be a huge source of pride and joy for me. I spent so much of the year feeling helpless and out of control. On my retreats, surrounded by this incredible community I’d built in the midst of this experience I’d hand stitched together from scraps of all the things I love, slaying problems and staying cool in every crisis, I felt like superwoman.
The rest of my — vastly reduced — earnings came from my final campaign at the beginning of the year, a straight-up photography project with my old partners at Viator, my Instagram partnerships, my Mediavine display ads, and some influencer consulting work for the team at Discover Albany. I also chugged along with my briefly revived Featured Blogger Program, various affiliate programs, my first paid speaking gigs at conferences, my sorely under-promoted ebook, and a few miscellaneous gigs like some graphic design work for my older sister Margaret’s running store in Rochester.
I struggled greatly throughout this time with the guilt of breaking my commitments, disappointing certain sponsors, and letting down those who were relying on me. Everyone constantly reassured me, “everyone will understand!” but the thing is — everyone doesn’t. Everyone has a boss they have to report to, and sometimes that boss doesn’t give a rip why undelivered content didn’t arrive, even if it involves ICU units. I was absolutely heartbroken after severing a multi-year relationship with one of my top blog sponsors who showed little compassion or grace for my situation, one of my professional lowlights of the year.
Yet while it was a difficult time for my finances and my ego, I actually look back at the bigger picture and see we were incredibly blessed. While I feel like we deserve additional college degrees in figuring out how to actually use it (don’t get me started on how complicated and lacking our healthcare system is), we were so lucky that my mom was such a practical woman and a perpetual planner and had taken out generous and comprehensive long term care insurance for herself. This allowed us to not go into a dime of debt for her care, and while I worried about making ends meet on my balance sheet — contrary to the rumor that blogs have low overhead, this one costs well into the five figures a year to run — I never worried about the roof over my head or the food on my plate once. And the longer I spent in the sad club of families trying to survive cancer, the longer I realized what a rarity that was. Thank you, mom, for looking out for us right up until the bitter end.
My Year in Blogging // Goal Setting and Keeping
I call this section my annual employee review — and I can be a pretty tough boss, normally. This year I think I’m going to cut myself a bit of slack.
Last Year’s Goals
So, we’ve got plenty still in progress. But onward and upward to some fresh ideas as well.
• Goal: Tick off some bucket list trips. I often fall into the trap of filling my time with what’s convenient or what makes sense — wedding in Ireland? Oh, let’s tack on some time in Dublin, why not. And why not, indeed — it’s a cool city and it would be silly not to go. But sometimes between my work obligations and weddings and conferences and family time, I find my years fill up almost entirely with trips like that, rather than huge bucket-list ticking adventures, like finally making it to Easter Island or bringing my dream road trip around Jamaica to life. I want to make it a priority to clear my calendar for big, nonsensical and inconvenient adventures.
Verdict: Well, obviously, no. Though making it to Mexico was a huge accomplishment, and seeing the Spice Girls reunion tour was a dream come true. And, though it was what I described here, tacking something on to a practical trip, getting to Acadia National Park was a big one for me too. I’m proud I carved out time for those trips in such a difficult year — they were what filled me up and re-energized me to survive.
• Goal: Expand my retreat business. I can’t describe what an electrifying energy I feel for this right now. I want to be running about four retreats a year, and possibly bring on another team member to assist.
Verdict: While I didn’t quite expand, wow I’m so proud that I managed to more or less stay the course, given everything. For a long time I was way too afraid to pull the trigger on introducing more trips after my mom’s diagnosis, but the grief of entirely shelving my goals indefinitely became too heavy and I’m so glad I found a way to move forward, carefully, towards my dream.
• Goal: Find a lawyer I trust and finally incorporate and trademark Alex in Wanderland. File it under, “stuff I should have done years ago.”
Verdict: Okay, so I’m embarrassed to say this is still in progress. But, the lawyer is hired — I met her at WITS in Maine. I can’t wait to officially have all this off my list.
• Goal: Properly market my ebook to get it out into the world the way it deserves. I love this book so much and I think I really aced the production. Now, to tackle the marketing again.
Verdict: Sadly, no. Made zero progress. Total flop.
• Goal: Set up a consistent social media plan and style guide for my brand. Switching between various virtual assistants over the years has left my channels inconsistent and occasionally neglected. No more! I’m finally going to get systems in place that will swap seamlessly between new team members, if necessary.
Verdict: I made solid progress! I used part of my loan to hire a graphic designer to make templates for posts on Pinterest, Instagram stories, and Facebook (as well as some new homepage sliders I still haven’t integrated, but, well, LOL.) It makes me happy to finally have a strong style guide for my brand.
• Goal: Develop a reliable, long-standing team for Alex in Wanderland. This is something I’ve really struggled with over the years, but I am aware that outsourcing is essentially the answer to so many of the business problems I circle back to year after year! Basically, from developers to virtual assistants to graphic designers, my dream is to throw some serious money back into my blog and see if that solve some of my concerns.
Verdict: Hell yes! I have an incredible assistant that I love working with and is efficient, proactive, and easy and fun to work with. I made huge strides this year in handing off pieces of my business to others. It’s still a work in progress, though — I’m eager to find the perfect fit of a web developing team, and do wish I had a graphic designer available for small jobs on-demand (the one I use is incredible but has a very long lead time.)
This Year’s Goals
While I am writing this from the future, I am trying very much to use the mindset that I had on the actual day my blogaversary rolled round. And needless to say, it was a weird year for goal setting. I had next to no travel plans on my calendar, and felt entirely at the mercy of fate. Still, in addition to working towards the in-progress goals above, I couldn’t help but dream about hitting a few new milestones.
• Goal: Speak at more conferences. I spoke in all three cases this year in groups or in a pair and I think I’m ready for the next challenge: a solo stage. I also started to hone my vision for pitching a talk at a diving conference, to further my position as a thought leader in that community.
• Goal: Write a new ebook, this time on running retreats! My mentoring sessions at the Women In Travel Summit in which I gave one-on-one advice to bloggers also eager to run trips of their own made me realize the depth of my knowledge here. I can’t wait to create this product.
• Goal: Launch a diving podcast. I have NO idea how to make this happen, but doesn’t it sound fun to find out?
• Goal: It’s almost a joke at this point to keep putting this on here but, um, email management? Ha!
• Goal: Continue finding ways to serve others and inspire sustainable travel through Alex in Wanderland and Wander Women Retreats.
• Goal: A non-blog byline. I felt a deep calling to write outside my blog again — essays about millennial caretaking, about love, and about the new parts of my life that didn’t necessarily involve travel.
• Goal: Form my LLC, trademark my brands. It’s going down — finally.
• Goal: Get this blog up to real time. You’d think that with my travels slowed so significantly, this would have been my year (I did too!). Yet I didn’t stay still and keep my old schedule. Like I said, I had another full time job that came first. But I’m making this a top priority moving forward.
Reflections // Room to Grow
When you hit the bottom, there’s only one way to go: up.
I not only wanted but needed to be home as much as possible, in this year. It wasn’t just about my own business goals or needs — me traveling or working required endless logistics and coordination behind the scenes and put a heavy burden on those around me. I constantly talked myself out of and back into trips that were not 100% strictly for work. It was the balancing act of a lifetime, trying to keep my own twenty-eight year old dreams and goals and priorities alive while taking care of my new responsibilities at home.
When I was home, I was wistful and sad, and when I was on the road, I was anxious and guilty. I’m tried to be gentle with myself and remind myself that it was an unimaginably difficult time and nothing was going to feel totally right or great.
I ended the year confused, scared, and dreading the future. But as much as I felt like things were falling apart, some part of me was kept afloat by the idea that I still had a solid foundation to climb back from, someday.
I wouldn’t exactly say I thrived through the year, but I survived. And sometimes, that’s enough.