Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2018, including my blogaversary, which I celebrated in June. In other news: after the first week sold out so quickly, we opened up a second set of dates for my Wander Women Red Sea Retreat. I’m pinching myself that I get to spend so much of September in Sinai’s coolest beach town. And you can join me! Grab a spot while you still can.
Seven years of blogging? If this blog were my hubby, I’d be starting to itch right about now. Recently, I time traveled a bit to celebrate my seventh travelversary by recapping twelve months of glorious travel. Today, I’m switching gears and celebrating my seventh year of storytelling. Let’s take a peek back at three hundred and sixty five days of blogging, shall we?
We’ll kick things off with our usual roundup of facts and figures, highlights some of year seven’s best content, and round out with some heartfelt reflections.
You guys might be sick of hearing this by now, but it’s true — blogging has been an incredible gift. Not only for the career it’s allowed me to build for myself, and the communities it’s opened the door for me to be a part of and to build, but also because I get to live every trip twice! Once when I’m on the road, and once when I’m reliving it here, with all of you. I’m humbled you’re along for the ride.
My Year in Blogging // By The Numbers
• Posts Written: 118. This averages out to just under ten posts a month. No wonder I’m so behind chronological time — I used to crank out double that on a pretty regular bases!
• Comments Replied To: 3,589. Honestly, this number makes me sad — it was lower than the previous year, in which I wrote less posts! I know there’s an internet-wide trend towards less commenting on blogs (as more people read on mobile devices or comment socially instead), but I really miss the days when answering comments was what kicked off my morning routine with a warm, fuzzy glow. Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to write when it feels like there’s no one reading (even though I know they are.)
• Group Press Trips: 1. My trip to Israel with Vibe. So worth it.
• Influencer Campaigns: 6. Rather than press trips, I’m really focusing my energy on paid travel campaigns instead, like my New Orleans trip designed with my closest blogging buds, my Space Coast campaign with the tourism board, the Sunshine State Scuba project I designed from scratch with my longterm partner PADI, my fun project with The Opry, the Indonesian resort that hired me to come create content, and the Savannah video I made for Travel and Leisure.
These days, generally, if I’m doing an unpaid press trip or project, it’s because (A) it’s something that I requested and was planning to do regardless — for example, my media pass and cabin to the It’s The Ship festival — or (B) that, plus something I hope to derive affiliate income and display ad income from — for example, my group tour of mainland Egypt with TravelTalk — a trip that will produce content that I think will perform really well. Keeping my own travel dreams alive is so important to me, and so fulfilling those has to be my first passion — and so I prioritize paid projects to leave time and energy to follow my heart off the clock, too.
• Brand Partnerships: 5. I also worked with brands like Travelade, The New York Lottery, Sunglasses Warehouse, VIPKID, and Encircled to create travel content that wasn’t destination dependent — something I want to continue developing, as it allows me more freedom to travel where, when, and how I want.
My Year in Blogging // By The Blog Posts
I can’t believe how much content actually lives on Alex in Wanderland right now. After poring hours and hours into each post, it’s easy to let them slip off the home page and off into the dark corners of my archives. Which is why I love writing this “senior superlatives” section of sorts, where I look back at my posts from one twelve month stretch of blogging and laugh, cringe, and get lost in nostalgia.
Exploring Penang: Southeast Asia’s Melting Pot • Sunshine State Scuba Day Three: Devils Den and Blue Grotto • Three Days Seeking Calm in Cairo’s Chic Maadi • Back to Basics on Indonesia’s Sugi Islands
Exploring the Unexpected Surf Culture of Cocoa Beach • Falling in Love with Singapore’s Lavender District • Exploring Oahu’s Vibrant and Modern Downtown • A Newfoundland Baycation in Trinity • What Makes St. Pete Special • Bright, Sunny and Bold: Falling in Love With Brighton • A Sip of Aloha: Drinking Local at Maui’s Winery, Brewery, and Distilleries
Goodbye Banyan Bar • Follow Your Stupid Travel Dreams: My Trip to Seven Magic Mountains • Five Hundred Thirty Seven Days Later • What Are Your Anchors? • In Love With the Aloha State: My Third Trip to Hawaii
Most Disastrous Travel Meltdowns Melted
Is Diving in Jamaica Worth It? • The Wanderland Guide to the Perfect Maui Camping Trip • Disney Aulani For Adults • A Florida Road Trip Diving Guide • The Wanderland Gift Guide for Travelers • What I Spent On Wonderfruit, Thailand’s Answer to Burning Man • How To Throw a Harry Potter Bachelorette in Orlando • New Orleans Nightlife: Getting Off Bourbon Street
Times I Laughed At My Own Jokes
Greatest Adventures Shared
Bringing my mom to Bonnaroo • Getting cavern certified in Florida• Camping in a vintage VW in Maui • Unplugging at an overwater bungalow in Indonesia • Seeing the Egyptian pyramids • Staying at the Caribbean’s first overwater villas
Best Brand Collaborations
Erupting with Fun: A First Look at Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay •Her Maine Squeeze: A Wedding at Live Well Farm • Move To The Bleat: Goat Yoga in Martha’s Vineyard • I Can’t Kuwait Any Longer: Thirty Six Hours in Kuwait
My Year in Blogging // By Business
I’m awash with gratitude to report this was another great year for Alex in Wanderland. And I’m not kidding: I credit much of it to finally buying a desk and an office chair for my apartment in Thailand. Total. Game. Changer.
In year seven, the majority of my income came from paid content collaborations with destinations and brands as outlined above. I also, after switching from a not-great ad network to the wonderful Mediavine at the very end of year six, started making bank on display ads (and put my face in my palm many, many times thinking of the tens of thousands of dollars I left on the table by not making the switch sooner.)
After taking the Making Sense of Affiliates course, (which I plan to review, eventually) I hired an assistant to expand my affiliate programs once again (and proceeded to bang my head against the wall many, many times thinking of all the money I left on the table by not doing so years ago — sensing a theme?). It was good timing that I started diversifying, as one of my most lucrative previous affiliates, Travel Blog Success, closed its doors halfway through the year — they were bought by and incorporated intoSuper Star Blogging, which I hope to recapture my income from when I eventually review that course as well. Travel Blog Success hugely catapulted me onto the right path with blogging, and I know that Super Star Blogging can do the same for new bloggers as well.
And then there were little things. I continued my Featured Blogger program, and in a few fun deviations from the norm, I sold photos to WestJet magazine, photos and eventually a story to Sport Diver magazine, and was paid to participate in a Twitter chat. Ain’t that fun. I also continued to Airbnb my apartment when I was traveling, since the super frugal and practical side of me couldn’t let me not. And I did a few projects that once again really rooted me in my Koh Tao community — I designed logos and menus for a few businesses, I took fresh photos for my friend Janine’s juice bar, and I created a free workshop to teach small businesses on the island how to work with influencers, something that was great public speaking practice for me and that I may eventually develop into a paid product. Again, every day is different for me, and it’s probably my favorite part of being an entrepreneur.
But honestly, this was my year of entrepreneurial leaps of faith. Some flopped, some flung to success, and some are still finding their footing.
Let’s start with the financial, at least, flop. My collaboration with my dear friend Amy on a sustainable, island-inspired jewelry collection? It netted me less than I charge for a sponsored tweet. In fact, I think for what I spent on social promotions, I might not even have broken even. Womp womp. But honestly, I don’t consider it a failure. I tried something new, I had so much fun working alongside one of my best friends, I promoted ideas, concepts and products I believe deeply in, I supported a fellow female boss babe, and frankly, I had a lot of fun! The only real costs were my time, my guilt that I let Amy down, and the fact that it gave me some fear to move forward with the other projects I had planned for the year. (What a relief I didn’t let that anxiety stop me!) I’m not afraid to admit when something didn’t go as planned, and I took a lot of time to pause and reflect on the lessons learned from this project — lessons about marketing and launches, as well as what resonates with my audience.
My next big launch? Wander Women freakin’ Retreats! Oh, the sleepless nights I had before making that one official. I remember saying to one of my friends, okay, one failure is a charming anecdote to share in a future TEDx talk, two is just like, a no go for me. Luckily they managed to talk me off that ledge. How lucky I am to have found so many friends who also understand the highs, lows, and neuroses of self employment.
This idea was years in the making and I’m the kind of person that tends to hand-wring for far longer than necessary before jumping into something. Yet upon launch, I couldn’t believe the positive feedback I received and loved ending the year with two sold out retreats set up for year eight! Was I terrified? Absolutely. Was I electrified about an idea in a way I haven’t been in years and years? That too.
Finally, I made a dream of mine for years come true and I was just bursting with pride at the finished product: the launch of my Wanderland Guide to Koh Tao. This was a huge investment of time and money, and while I made some small stumbles along the way (not really understanding the production schedule correctly, not hiring an editor) I was so insanely thrilled with the finished product. It is so beautiful and such an expression of the love I have for this island I spent nine years on! And creating it helped me see the island in a new way. So, all that is the good news.
The bad news is I have not done the best job of marketing it — doing so is a huge goal of mine going forward. (I also didn’t get the chance to do a proper launch party, which I’d hoped to — perhaps a relaunch when I travel back to update and put out the next edition.)
I really invested a lot in me in this year. I took courses, I tried working with a blogging coach, and I funded my retirement account for the second year in a row. I couldn’t seem to find the perfect assistant this year and while I hired some great people for some short term projects, I really struggled with building a long-term, reliable team. That’s a huge goal I’m going to focus on moving forward.
Overall, I’ve always been great at being practical and generally frugal and saving money, which is key because I’ve never been so awesome at making it 😉 My confidence lies in strong storytelling, moving photography and heart-felt community building. Cutting business deals? Not so much. I’ve always felt a bit behind the curve with other bloggers of my “generation” in that way. Looking back, it’s kind of stomach turning how long it took me to get successful monetization systems in place — I can’t tell you how many business deals I probably blew because I was just too busy beach bumming or belaboring the perfect sentence. Some of that was just the punch-drunk immortality of youth, and the fact that living in insanely affordable Thailand and being a fairly practical person, I’ve always been able to access anything I ever needed and essentially everything I wanted, too — I didn’t have a lot of motivation to chase big paychecks when I felt rich in every way that mattered to me at the time. But I’m slowly learning to find balance and hopefully build a secure future for myself, wherever my heart leads me to live in the world.
It was exciting to be able to invest in two large expenditures this year: getting laser vision correction surgery, and enrolling in my 200HR yoga teacher training. The former vastly improved my quality of life by completely eliminating the chronic eye infections I’ve had my entire life, and the ladder was a big step for the evolution of me and my business.
Doing anything for seven years, you’re bound to start to feel stale at times. This was a super exciting year for me because I felt a jolt of creative energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. I struggle often with insecurity over the changing travel industry, but this year reminded me that I still have something valuable to offer to the world here in Wanderland, and that was a powerful thing. I can’t wait to keep expanding upon that, and finding ways to tighten up my business plan.
While the landscape of blogging is forever changing, I’ve been here long enough that I feel secure in the future — most days. And that’s a nice feeling. I may not have the big vision or professional business plans other bloggers seem so imbued with, but I’m scrappy and I have to believe in myself enough to know I’ll always pull it together.
My Year in Blogging // Goal Setting and Keeping
Looking back at my past goals is one of my favorite ways fo taking the pulse of how my priorities have evolved over the years and how I’ve slowly but surely made some of my dreams reality. I’ve mused before that this section is essentially my annual progress report!
I’ve said this before as well, but year seven really felt like a pivotal year for me, and kind of shifted me into the next evolution of my blogging career as I started launching my own products and maximizing the monetization of the content I already create here. Once again, I have to credit that progress to a little less travel and a little more time sleeping in my own bed in Thailand.
Last Year’s Goals
Okay so since I kinda dropped the ball on setting or checking in on goals last year, let’s go back a bit and review my goals from year five. Take a closer look at them in detail here.
• Goal: Reintroduce spontaneity into my travels. Now that I have stability back in my life, I’m cravings its counter-part, spontaneity.
Verdict: This is an interesting one. Spontaneity? No, not really. Even my big trips ended up being fairly tightly planned. I did land in Egypt having no idea what I’d be doing for the next ten days, which was a thrill, though I ended up signing on for a tour that left two days later. I am still craving a big, open-ended backpacking trip, and ended year seven with plans for a big one ahead in year eight.
What I did manage to bring in a big way in year seven? Whimsy. From festivals to mermaid camps to Seven Magic Mountains, I did a lot of things that were silly and not exactly with a purpose and not exactly easy to pull off, and I did them anyway, because I wanted to, and that was really empowering. Having the means and the confidence to do big things that might not make sense to most people? Maybe that is what being a grown up is, for me.
• Goal: Email management. No seriously this time, because this is one of the biggest sources of stress in my life. I want to reach inbox zero.
Verdict: Big fat fail, again. Maybe year eight is my year….? (Insert face palm here.) The most frustrating part about seeing this show up in my goals year after year after year? I don’t even feel like I’m making any productive steps to make it happen. Ugh.
• Goal: Continue focusing on eco-friendly travel and sharing my own journey towards sustainability.
Verdict: This is one that I’m really proud of. Could I do more? Yes. But from the chapters I put in my ebook to the elements I introduce to my retreats to the packing lists and blog posts and Instagram stories I do about sustainability, I feel this is not just a part of who I am but is now a part of my brand. I’m so proud when I’m approached by companies that want to work with me for this purpose, and I hope to continue to grow this moving forward.
• Goal: Be proactive instead of putting out fires. I’d like to spend less time this year frantically doing things I meant to do yesterday, and more time brainstorming big picture ideas; and I’d like to proactively pitch brands I want to work with rather than waiting to pick through those that come to me.
Verdict: I would give myself an “in progress” for this one. I still spend a lot of time putting out fires. But I actually feel like I’m making active progress towards achieving this goal on a regular basis with my outsourcing and shedding of small projects and well, small steps too should be celebrated.
• Goal: Pitch and publish a personal essay somewhere I’ll be proud of.
Verdict: Sadly, I didn’t achieve this one, and it is still something I want to work towards. I think because doing so would force me to write in a fresh way about topics that maybe don’t fit on this blog — family, relationships — and that really excites me.
• Goal: Prioritize and be realistic about what can be accomplished in a day. Being self employed means there are always somewhere between a dozen and a hundred options for things to busy yourself with and I often pick the wrong option. I work hard and work often, but I don’t always work smart.
Verdict: This is still something I struggle with on a regular basis. And honestly, I feel a little hopeless about it. Any tips?
• Goal: Nurture my hobbies and interests. Keep attending festivals, go on a diving liveaboard, read a book in Spanish, go to a yoga retreat and nail a forearm handstand.
Verdict: I think I nailed this one. I went to festivals, I did a diving liveaboard, and I did my yoga teacher training! A yoga retreat and reading a book in Spanish are still on the docket 😉
• Goal: Start donating regularly to charity again. After having a very rewarding year of giving when I started turning a profit off this blog, I fell out of the habit. Time to get back on the giving train.
Verdict: I’ve been really generous when things pop up, but I haven’t set up any regular structured donations — I’m grateful for this kick in the bum to do so.
• Goal: Be a grown up. I recently made adjustments to my accounting system that I hope will make my monthly monthly book-keeping and annual taxes a hell of a lot easier. Next steps? Form an LLC, get health insurance, and start a retirement plan.
Verdict: I did start the retirement plan and start paying quarterly taxes to an accountant who gets me and gained (and lost again) health insurance. I’m working on the rest. So, firmly in progress.
• Goal: Get closer to real time in my blogging. In general I think this bothers me more than it bothers you, but this is the most “behind” I’ve ever been in blogging and it’s driving me nuts.
Verdict: Um, hard fail. Zoink.
• Goal: Double my earnings from affiliates and display ads.
Verdict: Nailed it! I highly recommend Making Sense of Affiliates.
• Goal: Publish my ebook.
Verdict: Nailed it again. I rarely toot my own horn in this way, but I think it’s the most beautiful ebook out there. So proud!
This 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.
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.
Goal: Find a lawyer I trust and finally incorporate and trademark Alex in Wanderland. File it under, “stuff I should have done years ago.”
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.
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. Which brings me to…
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.
Reflections // Room to Grow
I am truly thankful for this annual opportunity to reflect on my entrepreneurship journey and see how far I’ve come. Gosh, I remember when I dreamed about having the things I have now, and it’s so important to remember that when picking apart some weakness or failure.
And thus, I’ll close this blog post the same way I have now for seven years in a row: