Our 100th Post: Behind the Scenes at Slow Camino
For our one-hundredth post, I wanted to provide a sneak peak into what it takes to write a post, whether and how we make money, and where I see us going with this in the future. If any of that strikes you as interesting, please read on.
How did it start?
We were still more than a year away from beginning our grand adventure. Two years prior, we had decided we would leave home, job, and comfort zone to travel far and wide. We spent those years re-engineering our home affairs so that they wouldn’t cause us endless hassle when we left. This was the home stretch, counting down in months now. This was seriously happening.
“Why not start a blog about our adventure?” one of us suggested. I took to the idea, though I half suspected I’d give up after two or three posts. Every writing project I had undertaken, from journals to blogs, had quickly petered out. (I once started a travel blog in college about my time in Mexico. I only managed to publish one post.) Liuan was surprised I would be willing to open that window of transparency into our lives, being the private type that I am.
The idea gained momentum once we made up a solid name and bought the domain. I was excited to set it up. Blogs take time to accumulate content and readers, so it wasn’t a bad idea to give it a running start. Plus, it’s never too soon to start a good habit. I published my first article about a lifelong love of travel. Liuan published a post in response called, Reflections From a Worried Mother. And just like that, it became a family project.
Why the name?
Though one might readily associate the name with the Camino de Santiago, that’s not what the blog is about. In fact we have never set foot on the Camino. Not yet, anyway. (If the Camino de Santiago interests you, check out Everyday Journeys on Substack).
Slow refers to slow travel. Slow travel is about spending more time in a place, not rushing around to see everything. It is also about traveling responsibly and respectfully. Taking the bus or train instead of a flight. Being conscientious towards the locals. Preferring hidden gems over landmarks that are strained by the crush of international tourism.
Camino is Spanish for road or, metaphorically, way. It’s a word that can stand in for travel, or the more ancient form of tourism, pilgrimage.
What motivates us?
Liuan and I are both creators. Oliver, our oldest son, now in fourth grade, seems to have inherited that trait. We obsess over our labors of love.
Writing is an art form, one that we consume daily through books and news. It’s not just the subjects and stories that move us, but the style that our favorite authors employ to make us laugh, cry, or permanently dent our worldview. For us, seeing art done well compels us to try and do likewise.
Though Liuan is a professional writer and author, and writes beautifully, I don’t claim to be particularly brilliant. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun trying! And as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.
We took hordes of photos, of course. But there is a downside to relying on a camera (or smartphone) to remember everything. For one, we take about fifty photos a day (if we are exercising restraint) when we travel. That means by the end of a two-week vacation we have 700 photos to remember it by. Manageable, yes, but now extrapolate out to an entire year — 18,250 videos and images— and you see the problem.
Also, photos won’t help you recall names of people. They won’t tell all the stories or record all the details. They won’t remind you what daily life was like. Writing allows you to set down the feelings and insights you had in the moment. It allows you to capture those moments that were too intense to bother with snapping a selfie — taking out my iPhone for a photo was low on my priority list when I was running from the mugger in Cali.
We hope to be able to read some of these posts aloud in the years to come and laugh about those forgotten details, feelings, and shared experiences.
Of course, all of that could have been written offline in a private journal. But we decided early on we wanted to share with others.
From a practical standpoint, we’ve benefitted immensely from other travel bloggers sharing their tips, recommendations and stories. Most of the valuable information we glean while doing our research comes from another traveler having gone before and taken the time to write about it. So we want to pay it forward.
In addition, coming home to friends and family that know the details about some of your wildest adventures and sublime moments is a treat. One of the hardest things about coming home from a life-changing experience is having to answer in a sentence or two, “How was your trip?” Because of the blog, friends can initiate more interesting conversations.
Does it bring in income?
Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter! Does the blog make money? Will it make money? The answers are no and maybe.
We didn’t go into it expecting to make money, at least not right away. And even after two and a half years and one hundred posts, there is no clear path to doing so. We don’t have the tens of thousands of readers to make Google Ads yield anything of substance. I’m not even sure I would want to make money that way if I could. (Not that I begrudge others for putting ads on their site. Everyone deserves to be compensated for their labor. And getting travel tips, recipes, and tutorials for free is not something I want to give up anytime soon.)
But it was never about making money (see above: What Motivates Us). There are benefits to writing as a hobby, not a job. I don’t hold myself to a publishing schedule. We choose our topics based on what’s fun or meaningful for us to write, not on what the search engine demands. Reflections, stories, musings — those are our favorite genres, but they rarely rank on search engines. Ten Kid-Friendly Things to do in Wherever gets traffic, but I find those articles more tedious to write.
Nevertheless, we recently hit upon an idea that could make us a little income, or at least cover hosting costs. It’s still in the very early stages, but we have started writing, illustrating, and self-publishing a children’s book!
What goes into writing a post?
It takes me three or four hours to write the first draft. Two if I spent a several-hour hike already mulling over what to write. Editing takes another three or four hours, minimum. All those interesting details, funny asides, and silly metaphors usually come in a second or third pass, the first pass usually being cliché and boring.
To finish off, we insert pictures with silly captions, write up a summary for the search engines, and noodle around with a title until we’re satisfied (and our SEO Headline Analyzer gives us a good enough score). That’s another hour or so. Whoever didn’t write the article reads it over, corrects all the typos, makes sure all the ideas are clear, and redacts any awkwardly private details.
It’s a hefty amount of work, but we take it slow.
What are the biggest challenges?
Our biggest challenge lies in the ambiguous space between this being a hobby and a potential future income source.
Our readership has steadily grown. That is a happy development. But it adds pressure on us to keep growing. On the other hand, if it’s a hobby, it shouldn’t matter, right?
We did a pretty good job while traveling not letting the blog commandeer our time. There were so many articles we could have written. So many opportunities to give it a boost. But spending all of our time staring at a laptop would have defeated the purpose of our time away.
What is never a challenge is coming up with ideas to write about!
How successful is the blog?
As with everything, it depends on how you measure success. You already know how much money it makes (none), so there’s that.
On the other hand, we’ve had some pretty cool wins along the way.
In terms of traffic, we get a few hundred visitors a month and that number steadily grows with time.
One of the funnest things we’ve discovered is that some of our posts rank highly, or even land at the very top for certain search terms. Our best performing articles (so far) in descending order are:
- A Self-Guided Tour of Torres del Paine With Little Kids (search: torres del paine with kids)
- Read This Before Booking a Direct Bus from Cali to Quito (search: bus cali to quito)
- When You’re the First Tourist in a Remote Chinese Village (search: remote chinese village)
*Caveat: search rankings are always changing, so no guarantee ours will come out on top by the time you read this.
We have enjoyed the blogging journey and don’t plan to stop any time soon. We racked up quite a list of content ideas while on the road, despite having already published 100 of them.
In terms of travel, we haven’t quite decided yet. We know we will stick around for the year and let the kids thoroughly enjoy their school and friends without interruptions. For next summer, we’ve tossed around some ideas to travel Norway or Iceland. But we’re also contemplating moderating our jet fuel consumption for the benefit of future generations. So maybe next trip we’ll try to pick a destination in our own hemisphere.
Liuan and I continue to take joy in our creative pursuits, which includes the blog and a children’s book coming down the line. If you wish to stay in the loop, consider subscribing to our newsletter. I hope you enjoyed our 100th post. Stay tuned for a hundred more!