Earlier this week, I celebrated my fourth travelversary by recapping my last twelve months of travels. Today, I’m toasting to another big milestone — four years of tapping away in Wanderland. Let’s take a peek at my last twelve months in blogging, shall we?
My Year in Blogging
This year, I wrote 191 posts, uploaded 4,233 photos and left 5,809 comment responses. While 191 posts seems like a lot, it’s actually down quite a bit from last year, in which I wrote 235. No wonder I’m months behind in chronological time (I promise I work hard to make those posts worth the wait, though!) There’s almost a mind-boggling amount of content on Meihoukai in Wanderland now.
And there are more of you reading than ever. Last year, I was proud to report that Meihoukai in Wanderland was receiving 28,000 unique monthly visitors and 110,000 monthly page views. This year, I’m amazed to have watched those numbers grow to over 80,000 unique monthly visitors and almost 250,000 monthly page views. Holy cow!
It’s kind of hard for me to relate those number into real people — until I’m face to face with them. One of the most unexpectedly fun things about my recent Central America travels was being approached by readers who recognized me on the street. It’s definitely happened in the past — my sister was even recognized once in a bar in New Orleans — but six readers approaching me in the span of three months was definitely a first. (And also made me paranoid about my chronic resting bitch face in public, but you have to take the good with the bad.)
I say it in the comments often, but I really do feel like I’m the luckiest girl in the world, not least because I get to do every trip twice. Once, live and in person, and again, here with you all. And I couldn’t dream of a better set of virtual travel companions. I’m still humbled by the sense of community here, and constantly inspired by your travel feedback and blogging suggestions. While I’ve heard other bloggers bemoan the fact that commenting is down overall due to more users reading via mobile or connecting via social media instead, my day is still made by your regular comments!
My Year in Makin’ Money
I spent more than I made in year four, which was a disappointment after having a net profitable year for the first time in year three. It felt like moving backwards, even if I did earn slightly more gross income. But considering what an indulgent year of travel I had — a pricey jaunt to Europe may have been involved — it’s no surprise. And business expenses were higher than ever as well. I redesigned my website, I upgraded my hosting, and I hired a part-time assistant.
I have high hopes and solid plans for year five, though. With my travels slowing down and primarily based in the US and Southeast Asia, my expenses will be significantly reduced. Naturally, business costs will continue to rise — I’m planning to take on another part-time assistant and I just had a huge expenditure on camera gear — but that’s a positive progression.
On the income side, I’ve slowly been shedding freelance work in favor of focusing primarily on my blog — still a process, but getting there. In my third year of blogging, 61% of my income came from sources outside my blog — freelance design work, outside writing projects, etc. In this fourth year, that number plummeted to just 16%! I still enjoy the occasional design job and I want to keep my name out there with writing projects, so I’m happy for that number to stay where it is right now. However, considering I more or less devote the same amount of time to this blog regardless of how much I’m making, it’s nice to see that time reflected in my income.
So how am I making money these days? Mostly by working with big brands on big campaigns. As my traffic grows, so do my rates, which brings me closer and closer to my goal of working with a highly curated, extremely small number of sponsors that share my love of travel and storytelling. Additionally, affiliate income continues to grow while SEO-based link sales continue to diminish, and I’m working on adding two totally new income streams to my site — selling traditional sidebar adspace and adding sponsored blogger features — that I think will be a great fit for Meihoukai in Wanderland. I continue to get great feedback from both advertisers and readers alike, and it gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies inside.
Last year, I said my honeymoon with self-employment was over. That’s still true. I had more than one client skip out on payment (this was the first year I’ve ever had that happen, which I know some freelancers would say makes me lucky), and at one point, with more than $10,000 due in outstanding payments from advertisers and clients, I overdrew on my accounts for the first time in history. Let me tell ya, calling your mom from Central America as a twenty-five year old woman and asking her to put some cash in your checking account to hold you until you can sign some incoming checks over to her is not a great feeling. Yet I feel that I am on a solid path to a more stable situation. Fingers crossed that by the time I’m rounding a half-decade of this whole blogging thing, I’ll more or less have things figured out.
Looking back at my posts from the last twelve months made me realize that there’s a lot I’m doing right, but more still that I can do better. I think I’ve hit a good stride of mixing informational and inspirational posts, but I still want to continue to flex my creative muscles to bring you even more unique content. Look out for an upcoming reader survey in which you’ll be able to tell me what you want more of — your feedback and support moves mountains here at Wanderland HQ!
Last year, I set some goals for my blogging and travels. Let’s see how I did — and set some new ones.
Goal: To bring more spontaneity back into my travels.
Verdict: I definitely feel I achieved this in the second half of the year. The first half was tightly scheduled and regimented due to flight itineraries and the cost of travel in Europe. Yet I arrived in Central America with only the roughest skeleton of an itinerary, and loved blowing wherever the wind took me. A lot of this comes down to letting go of the idea of comped hotel stays and activities as a perk of the job. In the past, I focused heavily on that in order to keep expenses low — but over time, I realized it just kept me tied to a rigid schedule, and the vast amount of time it took to arrange those could be better used elsewhere. These days, I’d rather focus on increasing my income and paying out of pocket, giving me more time and more flexibility.
Goal: To work smarter, develop office hours, and find more effective ways to manage stress and expectations.
Verdict: I at least made a step here in hiring a part time assistant. Yet in general I still spend too much time trying to keep my head above water and too little thinking about the big picture — for example, how I can maximize passive income so that I can spend my time on creating beautiful content, or how I can stop seeing my inbox as public enemy number one.
Goal: To return to Southeast Asia.
Verdict: Nailed it!
Goal: To slow down my travel pace in order to reflect the fact that I am not just a carefree backpacker, I am running a business from the road.
Verdict: Again, started to get there in the second half. I truly believe that this year ahead will be a turning point toward achieving this goal.
Goal: To find a more significant way to give back to both the communities I visit on my travels and the community I’ve built here.
Verdict: I’m not sure I achieved this, but looking back I’m not 100% sure what I could have done to have felt I did. It was kind of a vague goal, which is the worst kind. One thing I know I would like to focus on more going forward is emphasizing ways to be a more eco-friendly traveler, which is an issue I care deeply about.
While I still have some work to do on some of those goals (namely, working smarter and slowing down), I have a few new ones — both business and personal — to add to the docket as well.
Goal: Get my time back. I’d like to be able to go offline for larger swaths of time without my universe collapsing. I plan to achieve this by slowing the f down, developing a home base, hiring out the aspects of my business that I am ineffective at, and developing more passive income streams.
Goal: Take trips that reflect my passions. I mean, I’m clearly not really lacking in this right now. However, I’d love to try to carve out time for both diving specific trips and perhaps even a yoga retreat this year.
Goal: Get my inbox under control. I am literally plagued with guilt on a daily basis over the hundreds (thousands?) of unanswered, flagged emails in my inbox. I am hoping that by turning the business ones over to someone else I will be able to focus more on the personal ones from readers.
Goal: To be open to commitment again. I haven’t been in a relationship where I didn’t have one foot out the door in a long time. It’s been years since I committed to anything — a lease, a long term boyfriend, a monthly gym membership. I’m ready to try living life without an escape plan. I’m not saying I’m going to force any of those things — least of all the gym membership, I mean have you ever tried to get out of one of those contracts? — but I am going to allow myself to be open to them.
Goal: To turn down press trips guilt-free. To be fair, I’ve already nailed the “turn down press trips” part of this goal (I graciously declined about ten in the last month alone), though I do struggle with nagging guilt that I’m missing out on some amazing opportunities. Still, I know that focusing on taking one or two prefect-fit press trips per year and doing my own thing the rest of the time is the right move.
Goal: To focus on improving my writing craft. Two of the highlights of my year were participating in the Koh Tao Writer’s Retreat and leading a writer’s workshop in El Salvador. I want to carve out time for writing classes, attempt to get some essays published, and to remember to write for the joy of it.
Whew! What a ride it has been. I absolutely love writing these yearly roundups and the reflection and introspection they inspire. Pausing to look back certainly reminds me that I need to hone my business sense, sharpen my prioritizing skills and work on a million other weaknesses. But it also shows me how much I’ve grown, and reminds me that I’m moving in the right direction.
In the past, when people asked me what I do for a living, I’d mutter something about blogging in an apologetic tone. These days, I feel confident that while I may wear a bikini most days, I’m most certainly a badass businesswoman. Like any entrepreneur I have good days and bad ones, and I struggle with the erratic nature of my industry. Yet knowing how restless I’d be confined to a cubicle, I’m grateful every day I found a way to make my office anywhere.
And whenever I feel that I’m missing out on the camaraderie of coworkers, I remind myself that I have you, lovely readers. This blog wouldn’t exist without ya, and not a day goes by that I don’t remember that and thank my lucky stars for the whole lot of you. When it comes to expressing gratitude, I like to stick to the classics. And thus, I’ll close this blog post the same way I have for four years running: