501 Places is 1 year old today: a few reflections from the journey

PetraOne year ago today I sat down and nervously wrote my first blog post; 501 Places was born. 309 posts later, I look back on a year’s writing and take a lot of pleasure in seeing how much of my life’s experiences, my thoughts and opinions I’ve managed to capture in these pages. Managing a travel blog has kept me busier than I thought but I am convinced it has been time well spent.

On this first anniversary of 501 Places I thought I would take stock and consider some of the things I’ve learned in my 12 months of blogging.

1. I blog, so that makes me a blogger, in the same way that I travel and that makes me a traveller. It’s something I do but it’s not a label I immediately use when people ask me what I do. That question usually means “how do you make a living?” and being a blogger doesn’t (as yet) contribute in any meaningful way toward that.

2. On a similar note, although 501 Places is a travel blog I’m reluctant to call myself a travel writer. I did at one time toy with pursuing this route, but I since figured that just because I travel and I write, I shouldn’t necessarily feel obliged or entitled to put the two together. As a freelance writer I have the ability to earn the money I need to travel on my terms and in my time, through my copywriting, website content and magazine (non-travel) work. If I choose to write about my travels, I do so primarily for my own satisfaction. There are some excellent travel writers out there, and I take the opportunity to read their work and try to learn from them, without wishing to make the sacrifices to lifestyle that they have to make in order to eek out a living. I admire their commitment to their craft, and do it without a shred of envy.

india snow3. I’ve learned over the last year that I prefer to focus on travelling when I’m away and leave the writing until I get home. I did take my laptop to SE Asia in December and managed to write several posts while out there, but it was probably the only time that I’ve really found my blog to be a chore. Since that trip we’ve travelled twice and the laptop has stayed at home, while I’ve rested my Twitter account for the duration of the trip. I just feel that there’s only a short time to enjoy being somewhere, while there is plenty of time to write about my experiences when I’m back home. I accept that this attitude alone will hinder any plans for world travel blog domination; and that’s ok with me.

4. I really enjoy writing my posts and communicating with those who take the time to read them. If I didn’t take great enjoyment from blogging then I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing it. I mean, why would I? What other reason would I have? If it’s the money, then anyone (bar a very select few) will agree that a job on the minimum wage will pay as well if not better.

5. Ruthless editing is essential. It’s easy when I write commissioned pieces elsewhere. They are checked, changed to fit around other stories or images, headlines added and typos eliminated. A professional editor makes all the difference. When I blog, I’m on my own (although my wife does an excellent job of reading my posts every evening and spotting my typos!) It falls to me to re-read my work, and all too often I find that a paragraph I wrote with some satisfaction turns out to be irrelevant or distracting to the post. It hurts, but sometimes I have to just delete a whole section of my work to make the post read better.

6. It took me several months to work out what I like to write about. My early posts were very much about destinations. Then I learned that I got more pleasure from analysing our travel behaviour; from considering the different aspects of cultures and their consequences; and of being contrary in challenging some of our most commonly held beliefs. Spinning this into destination themed posts, as I tried to do in SE Asia, gave me the most satisfaction.

7. I can never predict the post that will get most attention. There are the posts that I think about, plan carefully and quite honestly get excited about posting. I check them carefully and press publish feeling great about creating what I think is a creditable piece of writing. And then nothing. Nada. Zilch. By contrast some of my most popular posts have been churned out in a short time and I’ve published without feeling good about them, only to see them receive thousands of hits. Even after a year, I confess I’m a lousy judge of what will receive most attention.

8. It doesn’t really matter if I don’t post for a few days or have a day off. I was fixated at first about posting every single day. Then when we travelled in SE Asia for a month my postings became less frequent. Guess what happened? That’s right: nothing. My traffic dropped off for a while, and then came back once I started writing again. Now I’m more relaxed about when I post. I’ll usually post three to four times a week, but if I’m snowed under with other work then that’s just fine. No-one’s going to miss me, and no-one is going to get hurt.

9. Have I mentioned that I have great fun with 501 Places? I still look forward to writing my posts and I get pleasure from replying to comments and engaging in conversations about my topics via Twitter or by email. I’ve also been really lucky to have met face to face so many of the great writers who I’ve got to know thanks to 501 Places. Looking back at my archive of a year’s posts I do get a feeling of satisfaction that I’ve managed to put so many of my thoughts and experiences in writing.

I look forward to enjoying whatever the next 12 months will hold in store for me with 501 Places. As for advice to those starting out with a new travel blog? The main thing is to write with freedom, enthusiasm and expression about the things you enjoy writing about, and not worry about your site statistics and reader numbers. Blogging is a great way to make friends, become a better writer and even a way of expressing your own thoughts and attitudes in a more articulate way. It’s up to you to love what you do; if others like what you write, the traffic stats will take care of themselves.

Author Information

20 Responses to “501 Places is 1 year old today: a few reflections from the journey”

  1. Congrats Andy! I’m a big fan of your blog & of your perspectives. Whenever you publish something and tweet about it, I know it’s always going to be a good read with fresh insights.

    Well done Andy & keep up the fab job!


    May 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm Reply
  2. Thanks for your very kind words Keith, and thanks also for your encouragment, particularly in the early days of the blog. And for the chance to guest post on Velvet Escape too! Looking forward to meeting up next month in the Spanish sun :-)

    May 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm Reply
  3. congrats on your milestone, it’s great to see people writing about and doing what they love,it’s what’s good about the internet

    May 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm Reply
  4. Congratulations on one year! I started reading your site when I was doing research for my rtw trip, and it’s become one of my must-read sites. You have such a talent for storytelling — so while you’re having fun, your readers are too!

    May 27, 2010 at 3:20 pm Reply
  5. Congratulations. I have also enjoyed reading your posts. As someone who is less than a month in to my blogging “career,” it’s interesting to read how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned. I feel stretched out at times now and am never quite sure what I should be focusing on–design, seo, social networking, etc., etc. It took me a bit to realize that I was focusing most of my energy on things that didn’t involve actual writing-which is the thing I love to do. Keep up the good work, and good luck on your future endeavors!!

    May 27, 2010 at 3:26 pm Reply
  6. Congratulations on your 1 year milestone! I also really enjoy reading your unique and thought provoking insights.
    And as a newbie, your tips are appreciated–in my short two months I’ve definitely met some wonderful folks and am learning so much from them that help me on my journey as I find my own voice and style. Thanks and congrats!

    May 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm Reply
  7. 309 posts in one year is prolific! Congratulations to you on sticking with it. I always find interesting and entertaining posts here.

    May 27, 2010 at 4:19 pm Reply
  8. Congrats on making it the first year :) As for #5, I completely agree it’s essential. I often spend hours editing my posts and rereading them over and over before publishing. I’ve also had the same experience with #7, seems the posts I don’t like or take the least time to write do the best for me which goes right in the face of my editing habits!

    Cheers and hope to many more years to come.

    May 27, 2010 at 10:56 pm Reply
  9. Happy Blogiversary! They say the first year is the hardest…so onwards and upwards!

    May 27, 2010 at 11:14 pm Reply
  10. Happy First blog-versary Andy! :) Wow so excited. It is not that long ago since I read your blog and frequently visit, but I really do enjoy your articles. Like you said, I love the way you analyze things about travel, people, and purposes. I’ve learn a lot.
    Really happy to you are celebrate 1st birthday of 501 places, and have a happy long fun with 501 places!! :D


    May 28, 2010 at 12:07 am Reply
  11. Congratulations on the anniversary. I commend you on your editorial skills. I have a good eye for mistakes although I never nitpick anyone’s posts, but I don’t recall ever seeing an error on any of your entries. Everything is well written, and I think you can call yourself a travel writer because you do it well.

    May 28, 2010 at 2:14 am Reply
  12. Thank you to everyone here for your kind and supportive comments. One of the highlights of getting this blogging act together is also being introduced to the great blogs of others, including most of you guys. The friendly collaboration is a pleasure to be part of; maybe it stems from the fact that so many of us have left the corporate world in a move to find that better environment. Ack, it’s too early for deep thoughts. Thanks again guys! :-)

    May 28, 2010 at 7:42 am Reply
  13. Happy Birthday! I really enjoyed this post – point 7 catches me every time. It’s also good to know that there’s someone else out there with an unpaid spouse/proofreader…;)

    May 28, 2010 at 8:09 am Reply
  14. Congrats! Agree with Abi also on no 7) – often the posts I care about most get low hits and those spontaneous, hastily-written ones take on a life of their own. I used to make films and teach film and I’ll never forget learning (and teaching) that if you make the kind of films you want to watch then your film will find an audience – an audience like *you*. I think it’s the same thing with blogs – it’s not always easy for the blog to find its readers and for its readers to find *it*. The most important thing I think is to create a body of writing that you’re proud of, that *you* and people like you will enjoy re-reading in a few years.

    May 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm Reply
  15. Thanks Abi and Lara, and glad to hear others have the same inability to predict the popularity of their posts.

    Abi, those spouse proofreaders are a godsend, aren’t they!
    Lara, I enjoyed your analogy with filmmaking, and agree that for those starting off the best advice is to write about the things that you’ll enjoy reading. That way, when your audience does find you they’ll be more likely to share your tastes and interests. If you don’t enjoy writing your blog you’re probably not going to persist through those early months where noone seems to be reading your posts.

    May 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm Reply
  16. Congrats. And amen to the stats thing. I feel there are a lot of bloggers whose first priority is the numbers, which compromises the content. All the best.

    May 30, 2010 at 11:29 pm Reply
  17. You’ve got a wonderful site and I visit often to see what you’re up to. Lucky you with a wife who does corrections on a regular basis too.

    You’re absolutely right too about what you think might be worthwhile and what is popular – two very different concepts.Keep up the great work.

    May 30, 2010 at 11:42 pm Reply
  18. Hi Andy! Congrats!!! I love your blog! Keep doing :)

    June 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm Reply
  19. I agree with point 7. I’m terrible at predicting which posts will be more popular than others! I’m only about 4 months into my blog but I love the travel friends I’ve made because of it- now I just need to start meeting all of them :)

    June 2, 2010 at 9:04 pm Reply
  20. Congratulations to your one year of blogging.Thank you for letting us be part of your journey. And much of what you said is true for me too. Traffic is sometimes a strange thing, even with great KWs.
    Happy travel!

    June 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm Reply

Leave a Reply

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free