Lessons Learned from 362 days of Travel Blogging
Leah Walker September 4, 2012

Having a post about one’s year blogging anniversary* is so cliché.  Soooo….I’m not going to do that. Instead, you’re getting this post, inspired by some of my favorite quotes.

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1.  “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” –Katherine Hepburn

I’m not sure that I would call myself a consummate rule breaker, but I sure do like to bend them a lot. I rarely sit in my assigned seat. I sometimes have more than the allotted grocery items in the express lane. I drive really fast AND I turn right on red, even when there are signs telling me not to. I’m also guilty of sometimes believing that the rules apply to everyone but me. I usually ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and I kind of always have.

I’ve learned a lot of things this year by sitting back and observing the most successful travel bloggers. What has really stood out to me is how some of those people think they make the rules. They sit high atop the travel blogging mountain and dictate to the plebeians below.

Perhaps their way is a great way. It obviously works for them; they have the numbers and success to show for it. Is their way the only way? I don’t think so, and I’m not blindly following those rules. I want to blaze my own path and rock the apple cart. It’ll be more rewarding and certainly more fun that way.

Of course, this strategy may fail miserably. See #6.

2.  You grow up the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.” –Ethel Barrymore

There’s been lots of times that I’ve taken myself too damn seriously. I’ve gotten worked up over trivial things, stuff that doesn’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things. So what if I forgot that comma or my subject and verb don’t agree? It’s not the end of the world. Fix it and move on.

I try to make it a point to laugh at myself daily. Life’s too short not to. And people that can’t laugh at themselves are a pain in the ass to be around, and I don’t particularly want to be a pain in the ass.

3.  “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” –Maya Angelou

I’m much better at writing about what’s going on inside of my head than actually vocalizing it. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism; I don’t much like talking about feelings. The irony is that by publishing my writing, I’m actually exposing myself more than I normally would feel comfortable with. The only explanation I can come up with is that I’d be miserable if I couldn’t share my writing. The process has given me a renewed sense of purpose and joy. Writing is an inherent part of who I am, and to deny it would mean complete agony.

Ohhh…that was so melodramatic, don’t you think? But tis true. Writers gotta write {and haters gonna hate}.

4.  “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

As supportive and friendly as I’ve found other travel bloggers, there’s another side that I’m just starting to discover. I had no idea all the gossip and back biting behind the scenes. It’s like there is a seedy underworld of cliques, private groups, and back-room deals going on.

As I continue to learn stories of who did what to whom, why so-and-so aren’t best friends anymore, and who sold out the other for a sponsorship, I realize that although I want to know about it all, I want to keep my nose clean. I’m out of high school, thank you very much. I’d just assume get along with everyone, share ideas, keep my baggage to myself, and stay out of all the bullshit that comes with the travel blogging business.

Yeah. We’ll see how that turns out.

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 5.“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” –Ayn Rand

I really don’t like being told I can’t do something. I get down-right irate. One time my mother told me I’d have to wait until she got home to go to the football game. What did I do? I grabbed a pillow, wrote a note, and drove to the game in my parents’ brand new Suburban. Folks, I was TEN YEARS OLD!

I’ve only gotten worse with age. In ninth grade I declared that my dream was to play college basketball; I was told I was too slow and too white. I thought of this when I was signing my National Letter of Intent.

Then there was the time that my players told me I couldn’t drive the bus through the toll both, that it wouldn’t fit. Well, it turns out they were right. HOWEVER, I did jam it in there pretty good just because I didn’t like being told I couldn’t do something.

Stubborn? Yes.

Hard-headed? Absolutely.

Determined? Hell yes.

I realize there are easier ways to make a living than travel blogging. Right now I have a great job working for one of the top companies in the world. It would be really easy just to sit back, collect my paycheck, and write when I feel like it. However, that’s not what will ultimately make me happy. I don’t want to be tied to a cube with limited vacation. I want to travel the world, write about it, and make some money along the way.

I’m not waiting to be anointed “The Next Great Travel Blogger” by those that declare such things. Although, if it comes with a crown and scepter, I would gladly accept.

Also, see #1.

6.“You take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing, no one to blame.” –Erica Jong

I’ve always been a member of a team. Even in tennis I played doubles. The thing about having your own Website is that if something is getting done it’s because you’re doing it. There’s nobody else to pick up the slack when you just don’t feel like writing. If your little fingers aren’t firing away on the computer then nothing gets published. If the latest post is rubbish then your name’s the one on it, nobody else’s. Of course, that’s if you’re a small-timer like me. Some of the big-name folks have ghost writers, something that I just recently learned.

To maintain a certain level of quality on this site is difficult and time consuming. People compliment me on my writing, and I very much appreciate the kind words. But I know nobody actually understands how I obsessively pour over each and every word selection (I rewrote that sentence three times, BTW). Sometimes writing is the most difficult thing I can imagine doing and equate it to going to the dentist: It’s something that just has to be done. It’s a rare occasion that a story will just erupt out of my mind and flow like hot lava onto the computer screen, but when that happens, I’m blessed with something that I’m truly proud of.

It’s a labor of love.

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 7.  “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” –Coco Chanel

I’ve always been an independently minded-person. I was taught to think for myself and not follow the crowd. I took these childhood lessons to heart, because I’ve grown into quite the opinionated adult. I’ve had to reel that in a bit, because coupled with my big mouth, I’ve found myself in trouble a time or two.

In my more youthful days, I took on a homophobic boss when my lesbian co-worker wasn’t strong enough to do it for herself. I’ve given a verbal lashing to yet another boss who wrongly accused co-workers of an inappropriate relationship. I’ve told a CEO that I wasn’t going to work for someone I didn’t respect. Then I quit. But while teaching, I bit my tongue until it bled, which is probably part of the reason I only lasted a decade. Surprisingly, I’ve never been fired.

There is a fine line between being courageous in speaking your mind and spouting off at the mouth. I’ve tried to find that delicate balance. Sometimes the loudest person in the room is just that–loud. I’ve professed my hatred of cruises and that my give-a-damn is broken, but I’ve also found that whispering can be just as effective as shouting into a microphone. The real key is to figure out which one to use and when.

I’m still working on that.

8.  “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” –Maya Angelou

Nobody would exactly accuse me of being young anymore, but I appreciate this quote nonetheless. Physically I may not be young, but in terms of travel blogging I am.

My numbers aren’t where I want them, but they’re getting better. I’m not getting the enviable opportunities that have come to others, but I’m starting to. As in life, success in travel blogging just doesn’t happen. It’s something that is achieved through hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and networking. It’s been a slow, but rewarding process. When I look back to where I was nearly a year ago I should feel a sense of pride from what I’ve accomplished.

And I do.

Things have always come easily to me, but not travel blogging success. How do I define success? I’m not really sure; it changes as I accomplish more. There’s certainly a sliding scale. If I am still simply happy with what I accomplished six months ago then I’m not growing and progressing. I can’t base what I’m doing now on what I did even three months ago.

Complacency is the enemy of success, and the key to achieving more is to simply keep kicking ass.

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9.  “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.” –Louisa May Alcott

Surprisingly enough, the writing part of having a Website is the easiest for me, despite what I described in #6. This is because I’ve been writing my whole life. When I first decided to start this site, I didn’t count on all the other things that are required to have your writing seen by others. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ all must be tended to like flower gardens. Nothing will bloom without those being watered and fed.

I’ve taught myself WordPress, SEO, and marketing strategies. I still have A LOT to learn on those fronts. I’m only scratching the surface on the business of blogging, but have gotten a hand from some very special people. There’s just so much to learn, and I’m afraid that I’ll never find the time to do everything.

After a nearly a year {362 days, as a matter of fact}, I’m still figuring out how to captain this blogging ship. When I do, it might not be smooth sailing, but at least I’ll know how to navigate the rough seas.

10.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?”

–Marianne Williamson

I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my simple keystrokes are powerful enough to change the world, BUT they do change my world. Through my writing, I’ve been introduced to people I wouldn’t have met and experiences I wouldn’t have had without it. Doing so much is hard and takes commitment. It takes discipline, something that I’m not always very good at. I haven’t been the best employee, wife, friend, aunt, or daughter I could be. I’m also not being the best travel blogger I could be either. Quite simply, it’s difficult to be balanced and great at everything.

I will say that I try not to compare myself to others’ successes. That only leads to disappointment. Besides, I don’t want to be the next _____ {fill in the blank with the big-time travel blogger of your choice}.

I want to be the first Leah.

And really, who am I not to be?

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*As an anniversary present, cash and comments are gladly accepted. 🙂

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Leah Walker

Leah has a marketing management company specializing in strategy, content creation and implementation for luxury brands and destinations. She's also a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. Leah documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. She sometimes freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

43 Comments

  1. Lovely lovely lovely. You should be so proud of what you have achieved – you are one of the best people I have had the opportunity to meet. And we got that through our blogs! And we have an ocean between us 🙂

    You are a damn good writer and I can’t go through a week without reading your amazing words. A year? Blimey!

    PS. And don’t give a damn about the other travel bloggers. Is it for them you write for?

    Many congratulations, happy anniversary!! 🙂

    1. Yes, even with an ocean between us, we’ve managed to kindle a wonderful friendship. Without this little ol’ blog, we would have never known one another. Thank you so much for the sweet words, today and always. You’re such a wonderful person to have in my corner. I’m so happy to call you a friend, and I look forward to seeing you again in Spain in two weeks!

  2. One of your finest pieces – yet! I really am amazed at the fake kings and queens of the travel blogging world. Who cares, really? I agree with Ana: I don’t think we write for them. I also have had a run-in with a travel blogger though she is far from being good at much in blogging (and, I can tell, outside of it). I cared the day of the run-in and then the law of “ignore those lacking emotional intelligence” kicked in – like your give-a-dam being broken. So, kudos for your attitude to all this and do continue blazing the Leah trail. By the way, I guess I still have to meet opinionated Leah 😉

    1. WOW, Raul! Do you really think it is? I’m blown away by that statement. I hate that other blogger treated you the way she did. It’s certainly uncalled for. I respected you for your response. I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle it with such grace. And I’m not sure if you’re kidding about not meeting the “opinionated Leah” or what. Consider yourself lucky if you’re serious. Ha! Thank you for coming into my life, Raul. You’re a blessing.

  3. I figure there’s always going to be haters if you’re trying to be the best at something. Blogging like any other pursuit will have the same competitiveness and politicking as you move your way up.

    But dang girl! You’re tenacity is undeniable. I’ll take some if you’re bottling any and can ship it over here 😉

    1. I’m not sure my goal is to be the best travel blogger in the world, but it is to be the best I can be. I know, I sound like a motivational speaker, but tis true. 🙂 I agree with you about competitiveness; I suppose I was a bit naive when I started. I’ve been called tenacious a time or two, sometimes to my own detriment. Just like anything, too much of a good thing can be bad. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  4. I think getting sent to Spain not once but twice after only a year of blogging qualifies you as getting enviable opportunities. Take it from one who is envious 🙂 I appreciate your success because it proves again that writing killer content (not social media prowess or backlink shenanigans) really is the best way to get noticed as a travel blogger. Congrats on the anniversary!

    1. Oh, Scott, I know that I’ve gotten many great opportunities very quickly. I’m impatient and want everything immediately. I’m not sure that having “killer content” is the best or fastest way to get noticed, but I’m giving it a go. (Thanks for that, BTW.)

    1. I sure did, Kristin, and I became a LEGEND. I’d been driving for two years, so it wasn’t THAT big of a deal. 😉 AND, don’t forget, I got a pillow to sit on. I was being completely responsible. Ha!

  5. You learn to sit back and decide what’s important to you, and how to get it. Let the rest roll off your back. Let mistakes happen. ~ Denise Cohen

    1. I’ve not heard that quote, Lane. I like it. Maybe it will make my “Lessons Learned in 724 Days of Travel Blogging” post next year. 🙂

  6. “I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my simple keystrokes are powerful enough to change the world, BUT they do change my world.” Well said, Leah. And while I can’t give you cash, you definitely deserve all the comments. What a great 362 days you’ve had. Here’s to the next – cheers!

    1. No cash necessary, Kieu. I’m more than grateful for your comment, friendship, and continued support. Thank you and Gerard both so much.

    1. Best one-year post EVER? Pardon me, I’m feeling a bit verklempt. Thank you DJ. And a captain is only as good as her team. 😉

  7. This is brilliant Leah, have always been a fan of your writing anyway but I have no doubt that you will achieve your dream-probably sooner than you think too!

    1. You’re so sweet to say that, Fiona. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, commenting, and being a great cheerleader. I hope you’re right about my dream coming true sooner than I think. I’m confident with people like you in my corner that it might happen. Thank you again.

  8. I love that you drove a car by yourself when you were 10. Any girl who can drive a Suburban(!) at age 10 and live to tell the tale is definitely going places, and those places are places of her choosing.

    1. I actually started driving at age eight, but there was always someone else in the car with me. I guess after two years of driving experience I thought I was ready to set out on my own. Yeah, I got grounded, but having that story to tell was certainly worth the punishment. Thank you, Margaret. I really love your last phrase…such a way with words.

  9. If it helps, I didn’t get any opportunities until I hit the first year mark. It’s hard to be part of a community that is so tight because you are constantly comparing yourself to others but if I can offer any advice it is to simply be patient. This industry is definitely a marathon and you are doing a great job, I love your site.

    1. Thanks for such great words of wisdom, Ayngelina. I’m learning as I go, so for someone who’s been there and done that to offer such words of encouragement means a lot to me. Patience is something I’ve always struggled with. Thank you!

  10. Looks like you really love your Mac. 😉

    I only travel as long as 7 months in one country – China. It’s like digesting the culture that I have missed for ages.

    What I’ve learned is that there is no one more important than yourself. It’s your journey and you should enjoy it!

    1. Ha! After too many years with a Dell, yes, I’m in love with my Mac. 🙂 I’m not sure seven months is even long enough to come close to experiencing China. I wasn’t much of a fan, but to each his own, which is why I agree 100% with your words…”It’s your journey…”

    1. You know what they say, a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Congratulations on 30 days. Here’s to many more!

  11. I love your twist on this blogoversary. While it’s only been a year, you’ve got to remember the amazing strides that you’ve taken. You and this blog have quite the future ahead of you and we can’t wait to see all the fun and opportunities you have in the coming years.

  12. Congrats on your first year! I’d say you’ve had a pretty amazing run 🙂

    This is an incredibly imaginative anniversary post- a classic example of why people keep coming back. No regular follower of the site can doubt how much of yourself you put into it.

    Looking forward to next year and beyond!

  13. The first year goes by, doesn’t it? Happy blogoversary! Wishing you continued success and great post ideas. 🙂

  14. Hi Leah,, This is a really beautiful post – I really appreciate your honesty. I started blogging six months ago and recently spent time at TBU. My head is swimming in information. Luckily, I met some really inspiring bloggers like Uncornered Market, Jodi (Legal Nomads) and Never Ending Voyage. I’m a long way off their levels but it was good to see people succeeding at something I aspire to. Most of all though, I think it comes down to having a passion for what you do – especially writing. That’s why I blog anyway. Maybe one day it will lead to something but for now I’m driven by sharing words. Thanks Leah. I should definitely be reading you more often!

    1. Thank you so much, Victoria, and I’m glad you were able to get something from this post. I wrote it mostly for myself, but am glad it helped you. I’m a long way from being where the people you mentioned as well, but we all have to start somewhere. The key is to keep improving and working at what you want to do. Nothing good comes easily, so just keep that in mind. In fact, that’s what I tell myself daily. 🙂

    1. Thanks, David. It’s been a fun and fruitful year. And yes, the Anyn Rand quote is the epitome of my personality, both good and bad. Sometimes one has to real it in a bit, you know?

  15. What a great post! Congratulations on 362 (plus plus plus) days! (I just saw this post, a little bit late!)
    For someone who has been travel blogging for just over 2 months let me say how much I enjoy and learn from more experienced writers. Thanks for your sincere and strong opinions, your example has helped me (slowly) break out of everyday politically correctness and actually express likes and dislikes more genuinely. You also invariably make me laugh.
    I totally relate to #3, it is still kinda scary for me to “vocalise” personal opinions on my blog but I have found writing to be much more fun when I reminisce critically: more often than not, the good experiences feel better and the bad ones turn rather comical.
    Thanks Leah, for sharing your adventures, and inspiring me to keep traveling and exploring all the fun in the world!

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