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August 24, 2011 Vagabond Journey Status Report

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I groaned when I realized that I was late in producing a Vagabond Journey status report for July 2011. These reports attempt to show the heart of this operation, they create the space to allow readers to know what is going on, to show what has been published on other parts of the site beyond the travelogue, for me to sit back and evaluate my progress, and to invite ideas and suggestions from readers. In point, these progress reports show where Vagabond Journey Travel stands in a certain place, at a certain point in time.

VJT update for August 2011

Web Traffic

Throughout the summer of 2011 traffic has been incredibly unsteady: we lost about a thousand visitors per day in late spring, gained it back again, lost a little again, and now we have plateaued at around 3,000 daily unique visitors daily. This number would make 99% of webmasters’ jaws hang with envy, but this is a disappointing figure for us: the goal was to average 7,000 uniques by the end of the year, and it does not look as if this will happen.

Traffic on this site once rose in proportion to how much work — how many pages I published — I put into it. Which is to say, a diagonal line rising to the far right hand corner of the graph. Since 2005, we have been rising steadily as far as traffic is concerned, but in 2011 the game has shifted. This next era of web publishing is a different game. Our traffic graph now looks like a jack-o-lantern’s jagged mouth. But we are still at the top of the game, no worries.

In the new climate of the internet getting traffic has become vastly more difficult: the competition is now much more sophisticated and knowledgeable. The tricks of the trade have been revealed, and the gap between contending webmasters has gotten paper thin. It is like competing in modern bodybuilding: everyone knows the same tactics, the same tricks, the same strategies — the competitive edge is now incredibly slight.

Whatever the case, VagabondJourney.com is still ranked 80,000 in the world. Truly not bad.

[adsense]

Vagabond Explorer

Starting September 1st, Vagabond Explorer magazine will be distributed free of charge. Many people put a lot of effort into this project and I want our output to be seen by as many people as possible. In exchange for doing an anonymous demographics survey — I need to see the lifestyle/ interest patterns of the reading audience to better meet the demands of the mag — this 55 page vagabonding flagship will be available at the click of a button.

I had the idea that I could do a travel magazine for perpetual travelers that could be commercially viable outside the rounds of advertising. I had confidence that there would be enough people out there willing to part with $5 to fund the project, and although initial sales were decent, they were not enough to back vol. 2. The first issue of Vagabond Explorer had only a few ads in it, and they were for truly top notch companies that I 100% recommend– like Scottevest — and websites — like Travellerspoint.

The next issue of Explorer will move towards an advertising earnings platform — offering full page and partial page ads where vendors can really show their product rather than just a small photo of some generic muscle man and hot chick saying “be like us.” Advertisers will still be chosen very selectively, and only those whose products and services I use and/ or recommend will be invited to show off their wares in Vagabond Explorer.

We received some really good press for the first issue of Vagabond Explorer. NBC LA did a prime time television news segment on one of the articles and even showed screen shots on air from the magazine, Travellerspoint included a blurb for it in their monthly newsletter, which got sent out to something like 400,000 people, and Travelblogs.com as well as many other great websites did amazing reviews of it. But this just served to show me that even with big media exposure getting sales is still a huge challenge. If I am going to run a profiting magazine, I need to change my income strategy.

So beginning September 1st, the goal of VEx distribution will be to get it in front of as many people possible without regard to making money from this issue. This is keeping with the tides of internet marketing — you give things to people free in hopes of building up enough trust and interest that someday, in someway, you will be able to sell them something and make a living.

Travel Writing

I set out at the beginning of this year to run VJT as a business, we were rolling fast, growing at an unprecedented rate. At our high point I had around 30 people working on the site. But I found myself being more of a manager than a writer, I would spend my days writing emails rather that travelogue entries or articles.

It then hit me one day that I was not enjoying myself anymore.

I was doing too much work for too little pay. This is always the case with travel writing, the only difference was that I was not enjoying the work anymore.

So I laid off the paid workers, have not taken on any new interns, and did not replace the volunteers who moved on. I am pulling in the reigns, going back to the days when VJT was just Wade Shepard. I am a writer not a manager, and masquerading as something I am not just got in the way of being what I am.

If my income doubled or tripled from running the site as a business, from being a manager, then there would be every incentive in the world to continue on that road. But earnings have not risen, so I am going back to the roots of this project, when I did it for fun.

I found that doing something that I did not fully enjoy just got in the way of what I really love — and the earnings were not enough to keep going down this path. I live off this project, but I make so little money that there is absolutely no reason for me do ever do something I don’t enjoy which does not up my income proportionally.

The site has also gotten way too big — there are too many sections, too many loose ends, and it has become virtually impossible to maintain while still creatively adding to it. Many sections will be getting the ax. The forum is now gone, and many of the sections of the site will be combined together. It is my goal to have VJT be this travelogue, Travel Help, the Travel Guides, Feature Stories, the core index pages that are accessible from the homepage, as well as the various other travel blogs that operate independently (such as Cubicle Ditcher, Reader Travels, and Travels with Petra).

Running VJT as a business was a failed project. It will again be ran for fun — at least I know that I can succeed in this venture.

Books

I have three books in the works now. They will be self-published in both print and digitally without even attempting to get them picked up by a publishing house. Modern book publishing is a losing game for the author. I have plenty of friends who have had books put out by various publishing houses — some even have their wares sold all over the world in the big book store chains — and I know that most of them hardly made chicken shit from their efforts: most are still waiting tables (or making far less money than they would if they did). It has been reported that only 20% of print books put out by major and intermediate publishing houses make a profit. In this climate there is not much money to pay the author. Generally speaking, for a full length book that takes an author months or even years of hard work, they are looking at a check for only a few grand (if that). Unless you write a best seller, you don’t make sufficient money being an author. The publishers say that having their brand stamped upon an author’s book will make them money residual (by giving them more of a NAME, that then can then capitalize on), and they are correct to a point. But I refuse to play the “look at me, look at me, I’m great” game, and I know that I would not be able to capitalize appropriately.

Unless you self-publish.

Self-publishing and distributing is the new game for modern authors with a following. Even the big boys are starting to do it. It is a way for an author to take 100% of their own profits, rather than the 10% cut that most publishers pay out (if you’re lucky). As most publishers require that the author promotes their own books unaided anyway, it is a kill shot to just cut out the middle many and do it yourself.

This is what I will do. I will hire an editor, a PR person, and take the full gamble myself. Lets see what happens.

Articles

I am again penning articles for other publications. I need more money — I’m truly going bankrupt here — and putting my work in other places also acts as a good promotion for my flagship operation: VagabondJourney.com. Expansion will again leave the bounds of this website. My rates for articles are low. If you run a travel/ culture publication and would like me to do a story or two, please get in touch.

Travel photo of the day

Does anyone like this “travel photo of the day” thing? It is not too much work to keep up with, but it does add one more thing on the perpetual to do list — and I can’t say that I’ve kept up with it adequately. If people enjoy it then I will put more effort in to it and will put up a new photo each day, if not, I will ax it.

[traveldeals]

So what happened in Iceland?

I’ve been in Colombia for two weeks, but I’m still writing about Iceland. I took tons of notes in Iceland, and most of the travelogue entries from this country took vastly longer to produce than they usually do. Often, when I move from one country to another with a collection of half finished entries, I will just let them go to rest — maybe going back to them the next time I return to X country. But Iceland was different: I really wanted to publish most of the articles I began. For one thing, this travelogue is a record of my travels — there are personal reasons why I do it — for another, I do not know when the next time I will return to Iceland will be. To speak bluntly, Iceland is too expensive to travel with my family (ever), and I am pretty sure that when I do my yearly bout of solo travel I will continue to choose locations I have not yet been to. I wanted Iceland to be fully recorded.

So what happened in Iceland?

To make a not so long story even shorter, I ditched the pink bicycle near a volcano and went to Reykjavik. Why? Because that is where the people are. I had a few ideas for articles and I needed to speak with a few choice people to complete them. After Pierre left, a little conversational void that was created. Writing often requires dialogue, and even when monologuing, it creates a much better effect to have someone to monologue to. Steinbeck had Charlie. Travel writing means conversation. I sat in Arnarstrapi for a few days after Pierre took off, and, after a few unsuccessful attempts at finding a conversational partner or diving into the place any deeper, I hoped a $50 bus for Reykjavik.

This is where the people are.

In Reykjavik, I found what I was looking for, collected material for an article or two, and got to know “Icelanders” a little better.

This is a travelogue not a newspaper

Back in 2005 I would dreamed of the day when travel blogging would be taken seriously — the day when the words “writer” and “blogger” would be interchangeable. That day is now, a huge change in travel blogging currents has occurred. The profession is now full of writers — professionals, journalists, university professors. Travel blogging has been gentrified, and the standards that are expected are now nearly as high as any mainstream publication.

This happened fast.

If you don’t dot your Is and cross your Ts, so to speak, you stand to be ostracized. Spelling and grammar, faultless editing is now demanded. Many travel bloggers now actually hire professional editors to edit their blog posts. Bloggers now write articles, not blog posts — there is a big difference.

I publish a traveloge — a log of my travels. It is one part diary, one part media source, one part travel instruction, one part story telling. Though I may sometimes refer to what I publish here as “articles” this is a misnomer: what goes up here are travelogue entries.

When I read a travel blog, I want to see the story. I can’t read 99% of the “pro” travel blogs out there as they are just regurgitating (to various degrees of success) the same crap that fills the newsstand travel mags and corporate travel sites. I am not interested. I feel lost in a sea of “top ten beaches” or “how to get laid in ____” or “The best European cities for partying” articles masquerading as blog posts. Same old, same old, bullshit.

I want to see someone’s dirty laundry on a blog. I can get highly polished, stiffly edited, construction plan pieces all day long in the corporate media. An independent travel blog should be an alternative to this. I want to read real life in a blog, I want to see what a person is thinking and feeling as they travel, I want errors of judgement, fast writing that leaves errors, the real story.

In this spirit, I am taking this travelogue in the exact opposite direction as is the trend. It will soon be more raw, more gruff, more unrefined. Maybe I will stop editing all together?

These Iceland entries took the piss out of me. They took at least twice as long to produce as my entries from previous countries and around three times as long as the entries from 2005 to 2009. The reason? Editing, being picky with wordage, not just puking it all out as I once did. I once produce two or three travelogue entries PER DAY. I was concerned with content — with ideas, the meat of the story rather than the presentation.

Is producing a posh product more important than content? Is the medium more important as the message?

Current marketing stategies say yes, or at least say that they are equally important.

Gag.

What I look for in a travel blog is the travelogue — the story of travel, what is learned, the mistakes, the people, the place. I don’t give a shit about where to get drunk in Madrid even when in Madrid, I could not care less about any tourist site. I want the story. I want to read travelogues.

I believe that the essence of a travelogue entry will come out through spelling or grammer errors or even typos. I do not believe that putting 2 X the effort into making entries look posh is worth producing half the amount of content. I am not going to publish one traveloge entry on Monday and then promote it full time Tuesday through Sunday. This travelogue is a place for content — ideas, inspiration, how to tips, a story.

My top favorite travelogues:

Hobotraveler– Andy has recently diluted his presence on his blog, but the glimmers of wisdom and “what the f’ck?” are still there. One of the oldest travel blogs on the planet, still going strong. This is a real travelogue, there is no posturing here.

Cubicle Ditcher– This is one of my favorite newer blogs. It is about a guy who ditched the corporate life for traveling. Lots of opinion, funny, good photos, a good story.

The Longest Way Home– A classic that continues to get better.

Digidrift- Articles, yes, but good ones.

Jasmine Wanders- This blog continues to get better all the time.

The Candy Trail– The underbelly to life. The things we all want to do but don’t. No holds barred. Insane travels with a graceful touch.

Money

The money situation is poor as always. We are just barely getting by, but this is normal — no cause for alarm. With the publication of Vagabond Explorer it seems as if readers think I’m rolling in the dough. No way — I have yet to even break even, and it is looking like I will actually lose money on the venture. Reader contributions dropped by 300% as soon as VEx was published. Seriously, it is these reader donations that hold this project together.

I need $1,500 per month to keep this project going. I travel in a three person family. Although we make it — somehow — on what this site yields, we truly live hand to mouth. This is not good. $1,500 per month gives us what we need to keep going (and allows us to purchase airline tickets, which we now need three of each time we fly!). This is the amount of money I now need to make. In the sidebar to this travelogue you will no longer see the amount of money that readers have donated; instead, you will see the total monthly earnings of the site as the money comes in. The goal is $1,500 each month.

Travels

Since the last newsletter, I returned to Maine from Iceland, met up with my family, then traveled all together to Colombia. We have since moved from Bogota to Villa de Leyva — a sort of touristy town, but set in a truly beautiful landscape. Days are spent hiking in the mountains. From here, the plan is to continue north (slowly) to the beaches of the Caribbean.

Next steps

Colombia — Venezuela — Trinidad/ Tobago — Guyana — Suriname — French Guiana — France — Spain.

Or

Colombia — Panama — Nicaragua — El Salvador — Guatemala — Mexico.

Or

Colombia — Peru — Bolivia — Paraguay — Argentina — Chile.

Each proposal has a timeline of at least 12 months.

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Filed under: Vagabond Journey Updates

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap