TAIZHOU, China- Much has happened since my last Vagabond Journey status report at the beginning of January. My family and I jumped continents, got started on new projects, and returned to old passions with renewed focus.
Break from Vagabond Journey
I took a month long break from publishing on VagabondJourney.com to get a clearer view of the path ahead. I thought of packing in this project — or at least removing the flagship presence that it currently has in my life and work. I’m devoting time to blogging and webmastering that I could otherwise be putting into writing books and other activities that would allow me to really etch out a deeper for myself in my profession. But by the end of this month off it became apparent that this VagabondJourney.com project was not in need of trashing but in need of some simple repairs.
The reality of almost all professions change with the ebbs and flows of cultures/ economies/ politics, and independent travel publishing is no different. Travel blogging and independent publishing has changed since I first got into it in 2004, and I either must change with it, drop out, or blaze my own trail.
Part of advancing in any project is knowing yourself, your parameters, and what makes you feel fulfilled — happy. I pretty much don’t do what any of the popular “make money travel blogging” or “how to be a travel writer” books tell you to do. I don’t play the social media game, I have no interest in networking or in promoting myself. I had the opportunity to go this route a long time ago. I took a few tentative steps, peaked around a corner, saw where I was going, and ralfed all over myself. I permanently burned the bridges leading in that direction, did an about face, and walked away.
“You can’t have a ‘John Wayne’ attitude. You can’t do it alone,” the editor of the magazine Budget Travel once stated when giving instruction on how to be a travel writer.
But this is exactly what I do, and I’m pretty good at it. 4,000+ people per day visit this site, and I’m making enough money to completely fund my travels. I’ve meet the goals that I set out for when I began blogging in 2004. I think this realization deflated my passion for this project a little: I’ve climbed to my summit, now what?
So I sat down, looked around me, acknowledged the fact that I’ve not had to work for anybody else since 2009, and found myself to be pretty satisfied. I’ve never been too good at arriving, so when I realized that I had nowhere else to go with VagabondJourney.com, I found myself a little lost.
I had arrived.
I had to look around for a while, kick some stones, and decide whether or not to plant a flag. I realized that I liked my place on top of my very own mountain, and decided to stay. During that month off I re-evaluated my goals, and they are no longer based on dollars and cents and traffic numbers, and, even less, regard in the travel writing profession.
New mission statement
The goal of VagabondJourney.com is to create a defacto chronicle of the ebbs and flows of a world in fast transition. I want to create a record of human opinion, lifestyle, worldview, desire, via on the ground reports from a handful of travelers who are perpetually circling the globe. I want to create a database of how people live, what people eat, the state of wild lands, a record of wildlife, the impacts of economics and politics as it seen from the ground, in the streets, by people who are living and traveling there. Simply put, I want to document the state of the planet at this juncture in time from the position of experience — in a format that (I hope) is entertaining to read.
There is a big difference between how places come off in international media and how they really are. All you have to do is listen to people in foreign countries tell you what they know about your country to know the misunderstanding that occurs when people believe what the media shows of other countries. People outside the USA often still think there are cowboys in America, that black people are all gangsters shooting each other, that it’s dangerous to go to high school, that we’re a bunch of religious nuts, that we live like the people on their Friends DVDs, all kinds of crazy stuff that could not be farther from the actual experience of being in the United States. And the perception of people in the USA about the outside world is often equally as ridiculous.
On a very small level, it is my mission to try to pop these sensationalized bubbles, and deliver stories that are anchored as close to the earth as I can get them. I’m looking for the normal to report about, not the sensational. I’m looking for the trends and patterns in the fray of a rapidly changing planet.
How am I going to document this place?
This is what I ask myself each morning, and this is the theme of this website. I know that there is a reality that is not covered on the evening news, and that there is an entire world to explain beyond Wikipedia. My goals are no longer quantifiable, I can’t fail. I just need to walk out of my front door and document what I find. I walk through the streets. I watch people. I ask them what they are doing. It’s simple.
I like blogging, I enjoy this work. This job is only worth as much as I enjoy doing it. There is no respect to be gained from being a travel blogger, there is no regard to be won from being an independent journalist, there is definitely not much money to be made — so the only thing there is to do is have fun at it.
Need to hire more chroniclers
I can only balk at the above mission statement if I’m working alone. In the future I want to be able to completely fund 25 people to travel and live around the world to work on this chronicle, but the money is simply not available yet — save I somehow get some kind of independent journalism grant. But even if I had the money finding the right people for the job would be extremely difficult. It is difficult to explain to prospective writers that I’m not looking for stories of trips but stories of learning and observation. I’m interested in travel being used as a tool to broaden and challenge perception, and the writing must impart this growth to the reader. I have one regular contributor who can do this, Tiffany Zappulla and a few others that send in articles intermittently, but I’m really in need of a larger team.
Thank you to readers
I am lucky because I have a core base of readers and supporters here on VagabondJourney.com. They seem to be people who get a thrill from having their world views and opinions challenge, who can handle a different perspective — people who can read something they don’t agree with without getting red in the face. They seem to be people who can come away from a discussion having truly gained something. These are people who never had to worry about thinking outside the box because they were never on the inside to begin with. I suppose the heretics of our time are those who boast no full fledged affiliation to any tribe, any sect, or any single philosophy. I’m blessed to have a good number of these oddballs reading this site.
Full feed removed
The full content RSS and email digest has been turned off. Only links and excerpts for new articles will continue to be sent out, but to read the full content readers will need to click over to the site. This is mainly because this site is growing ever more in a multimedia direction — over 50% of the articles now have videos or audio accompanying them — and this technology is not yet embeddable in emails and, sometimes, even in RSS feeds. This means that readers who access the site through email and RSS are only getting half the content, and this does not lend a good user experience.
The internet publishing medium allows for text, video, and audio to be joined together into complete articles.That said, there will be an ever higher frequency of articles with embedded videos and audio being published on VagabondJourney.com. We need to take more advantage of all the sensory outlets available to us. This additional media is part of the articles and should be accessed in conjunction with the text. To just read a page without watching the video is to only get half the story.
The quality of the multimedia on the site will continue to improve. I do not aim to spend three days editing videos though, so it is not my intention to produce documentary quality films, but I’m always trying to develop ways to make decent videos and podcasts that require very little editing time. I’m getting better at this.
VagabondJourney.com will always be my meat and potatoes, but I want Vagabond Explorer magazine to be the butter on my bread so to speak. I’m looking to get another issue out by mid-summer. It will have a China theme. In addition to going out as a pdf, it will be available in print as well as on Kindle. The great Craig Heimburger will probably not be able to do the graphic design for this issue, so expect the layout to be vastly simpler.
The past couple of months have seen some good travels as we went from Chiapas to Cancun to Rochester to NYC back to Rochester back to NYC then on to Shanghai before settling in Taizhou in Jiangsu province. This upcoming month I should be traveling to Nanjing, Yangzhou, and maybe visiting Shanghai.
Everything in China is going pretty well. There is a good group of expats in Taizhou, my wife enjoys her job, I’m free to work on various obsessions throughout the day. I’ve said it often that China is my favorite country in the world to be in, and I still echo this sentiment. I look out my window at the endless sea of high-rises and construction sites and there is just something about this place that I like.