The blog was James’ brainchild. It was September 10, 2011 and we were closing down our Charleston apartment to begin our second Round-the-World Trip. On the first RTW, communication was an issue, so he thought a blog would be a fun, efficient way to keep family and friends updated. Terri, on the other hand, wasn’t certain she wanted to live our lives that out loud, and needed some convincing.
Well, Gallivance just had its 7th birthday and nobody could be more surprised than us. In that time we’ve published 600 posts, traveled to scores of new countries, lived in 7 places, owned and renovated 3 homes, had a life-threatening illness, undergone surgeries, and lost and gained friends, family … and weight.
Terri was reviewing some of our early posts for a bit of editing and cleanup when she realized that the blog was about to have a birthday. This anniversary sneaked up on us, and inspired a conversation about what 7 years of blogging had taught us.
As it turns out, 7 years = 7 lessons we’ve learned.
1. We’ve changed … and so has the blog.
Like beginners in any endeavor, we started blogging with a cartload of enthusiasm and thimble-full of experience. Essentially all of our writing experience was with our jobs, which works fine if you’re publishing a business blog. A travel blog … not so much.
At the start, we took to heart the advice that more is better, so for the longest time we busted our butts writing two posts a week. Looking back, many of those early posts were rushed and not well written.
Generally, these older posts fall into one of three categories: keepers that aren’t too bad but need work, keepers that need lots of work, and OMG! that post needs to be trashed. We’re in the process of rewriting and reimagining many of our early posts in an attempt to bring our archives up to a level that we’re happy with.
Also, over the years our ideas about the look of the blog have changed. After a few changes, we’ve settled on a clean, minimalist theme that’s well organized and user-friendly.
So going into our eighth year, our guiding principle for Gallivance is quality over quantity. We strongly believe that if our content is interesting and well written and our photos are good, people will read our posts.
2. Find a unique angle for every post.
The New York Times said “It’s impossible to estimate the number of independent travel blogs,” so we won’t even try. But whatever the number is, it’s phenomenal, and what this means for bloggers is standing out from the herd takes effort.
For Gallivance, that meant finding a unique perspective for our posts. Our tag line is “Travel Tales with a Twist” and we try to live up to it. For instance, the charming town of Rothenburg, Germany is a medieval marvel with a 1000-year history. We could have written at length about the town’s history and its collection of centuries-old buildings, but instead, our post painted scenes from the Middle Ages through its artistic street signs.
We’re blog readers as well as writers, and basically, we write what we like to read.
3. Comments are the lifeblood of the blog.
One question bloggers have to answer at some point is what role comments will play in their blogs. Opinions abound, but all the arguments boil down to: are comments allowed or not, and are they answered or not.
Early on when post comments were a rarity, we cherished each one and they made us realize that blogging wasn’t just about publishing content. We loved the feedback and interactions as well as hearing about readers’ experiences and opinions. Like a pleasant coffee shop conversation, our post was the seed of an idea, and the comments were the interesting back and forth.
As time has passed, comments have gotten to be one of the biggest rewards of our blog. We answer every one, whether from one of our regular blogging buddies or a new visitor. When someone takes the time to make a meaningful comment we feel an obligation to acknowledge it with a thoughtful response.
Usually the comments are primarily about the post topic, but sometimes, a point we’ve made strikes a cord with a reader and the conversation richochets in an entirely unexpected direction. These surprise turns can take on a life of their own and are great fun to watch. Most readers’ comments are meaningful and upbeat, but periodically we get a real zinger … we still joke about the “Drive-by Ranter” who submitted a tongue-lashing tirade about something that we’d written.
Bottom line, we can’t imagine our blog without comments. We love the community of new friends, and we do everything we can to acknowledge and encourage them.
4. Help Someone – there’s nothing more satisfying.
“Help! My hair’s falling out, skin is peeling off my hands and feet, I have no energy and feel like crap. When will this end?”
Most of our comments and requests for advice aren’t as urgent as this one, but our series on James’ experience and recovery from dengue fever routinely gets questions from worried folks from all over the world who are anxious to know what they can expect.
We get requests for opinions on destinations, help with travel logistics, and blogging tips … and we welcome them all. It’s very satisfying when people value our opinion enough to ask for advice and we try our best to help. We’ve been the recipients of help from total strangers many times, and it feels great to be able to give back.
5. Celebrate and be inspired by other bloggers.
No blog exists in a vacuum, and who would want it to? We were blog readers long before writing our own, so we came into the game with the advantage of inspiration from countless other bloggers.
As we became more experienced, the circle of successful blogs we read and respected grew larger. Everyone loves a good thing, and Gallivance was a way to spread the word about the exceptional blogs that we’d discovered. We’re always on the lookout for interesting posts by other bloggers, and we love to plug their blog with a link to the post.
We’ve been on the receiving end of kind words and links to Gallivance from many other bloggers, and we truly appreciate every one. Ultimately, all these interactions feel good because they make connections that personalize the blogging process, and that’s a very good thing.
6. Be authentic. Be honest.
We’ve traveled enough to know that, if you look hard enough, every place has a unique and interesting story. We hope that our blog will encourage readers to travel which means we always try to be positive. But the reality is that every destination isn’t sweetness and light and some places are tough to visit. So we try to be honest without being negative and judgmental.
Sitting in the Belgrade train station and overlooking a cold, muddy tent city crowded with refugees was absolutely heartbreaking. It would have been easy to skip this event and write about our favorite city museum instead, but when we visited, the refugee crisis was a part of the fabric of the city and we felt compelled to write about it.
Overly rosy descriptions of cities and sights don’t ring true, and probably don’t fool anyone. We want our blog to highlight the interesting and intriguing in the world without glossing over the harsh realities. Again, it’s a case of writing what we want to read.
7. Tell stories. Share the ups and downs of travel … and life.
For thousands of years humans have enjoyed telling and listening to stories. And believe it or not, it’s the same if you’re sitting around a virtual campfire in the blogosphere. For a bit of variety, we mix up the types of blog posts we publish, but over and over we find that our most popular posts, and the ones that get the most attention involve a personal story.
Whether its an overly affectionate donkey in Santorini or a cold, cruel shower in Krakow our readers love a good tale. These posts were fun to write and they taught us something that we didn’t realize in the beginning: some people read travel blogs for practical information, and many others just read for entertainment.
After 7 years, the blog has become more successful than we ever dreamed. It’s a creative outlet that’s made us more aware as travelers, and inspired us to dig deeper into cultures both old and new. It’s become our digital home … and there’s no place like home.
Happy Trails and Peace,
James & Terri