Birthday 2011, I turn 30
“The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.” -Theodore Roosevelt
“Dada, birthday, dada,” my daughter Petra exclaimed while pointing in my direction, thus giving away the surprise a day or two before my 30th birthday.
The morning of my birthday Petra awoke seemingly more excited than I was, cooing from my bedside, “Dada, sleeping bag, birthday,” with a big grin on her face. Her mother tried to cover up for her secret revealing little daughter, but this just added fuel to the fires of her mischief, as Petra tried a cover up for her herself by counter-stating, “Dada, up bag.”
Up, in this instance, being the antonym of sleep.
I am now 30 years old, and, needless to add, I was gifted a sleping bag for my upcoming Iceland trip. My inlaws dressed up as pirates and had the house decorated as such. Sea shanties filled the air, and I became keenly aware of how good visits to family can be — even if they consist of 10 hour work days trying to get out a big ass magazine. Petra gave me a huge tub of dill pickles in appreciation of my fatherly labors, the favorite food of both of us.
Each birthday, I make a travelogue entry as a status report.
Travelogue entries from previous birthdays
Since I was 25 I worked at Vagabond Journey Travel full time — averaging at least 40 hours per week of work. The small odds of creating and establishing a travel website that I could live off of fueled an obsessive drive in this labor: I was overtly determined to succeed. This site now has nearly 10,000 pages, and brings in around 4,000 visitors a day. Back in 2005 I would have thought that these numbers would be enough to lay back in the recliner of success — back then these numbers would have brought in at least $50 in ad revenue alone each day. But the game has changed significantly since then, a change which has picked up pace significantly in the past few months.
It is now expondentially more difficult for an independent webmaster to make money from their sites without resorting to underhanded methods. The glory age of the internet where some guy with a love for travel and writing could create a form of media which rivals the top corporate sites and bring him in enough money to travel off of are just about over. If starting VJT today, I would have to work twice as hard to get to where I am now in the same amount of years. Like magazines, newspapers, television, radio, and any other media that as come before it, the internet is going ever more corporate (or at least the large commercial websites have been given even more preference in SERPs at the expense of the little guys). This is the way of things, the nature of the beast, the motion of the ocean.
Dwelling on these stale facts are of no benefit to me, so I must recollect myself, this website, and try other strategies. I am not able to progress any farther using the old models alone — the algorithmic parameters are now different, earning potentials reconfigured. We are in a new, more commercially mature era of online media. Some call it the Web 2.0 era.
I call it the hand feeding of large predators era.
The sharks that I’m up against have gotten bigger, stronger, and faster, and now they are being hand fed as well. The forces which distribute food to the fish in the tank are taking short cuts and just tossing the best bits to the biggest fish, as the the millions of little ones must go a little hungrier. To keep surviving in this tank I can either cut my loses and nibble on the leftovers or develop new strategies and stuff my gills with rightful sized bites.
One thing that I know for certain is that webpages in and of themselves no longer make a viable amount of money. The five pages a day strategy of web mastering success is now starkly outdated. The amount of money that can be made from running ads on pages continues to decrease, and can only be considered a supplementary income within any successful web mastering strategy. Like so, in the upcoming months you will see this site move from a passive advertising business model to an active sales one. I need to make a living here — this is the bottom line — the more money I make the better a site I can offer, the more I can pay contributors and team members. I need new strategies.
New strategies for web mastering success
The fist volume of the 100+ page Vagabond Explorer Journal will be available for purchase very soon, as will a book of travel tips. My trip to Iceland is for the sole purpose of writing a book to be published in print. The Travel Gear Store will soon be transformed from an Amazon affiliate shop to an independent store which Vagabond Journey will operate in full. I will also begin doing tours at extremely low prices as well as serving as a travel planning liaison and organizer for members of this site (membership packages starting at $25 per year).
My 30th birthday came without the drunken escapades of youth but with the sober reality of what could only be called adulthood. Scary prospects. I am no longer a full time writer froliking the world in search of stories, I have become some odd specimin of a digital business man cultivating a brand, pushing products, taking the hard, long road towards making a living, rather than the fast short cuts that could be had from working formally a mere four months per year or from writing articles for publication outside of VJT.
I need to make $50 per day minimum to keep myself and family going as well as to pay the staff and contributors to this website what they are worth. With this passing birthday, with the entry into the fourth decade of this life cycle, I know that I stand on very different grounds than I did ten years ago, or, for that matter, six years ago when I began publishing on the internet as a full time profession. At the expense of sounding melodramatic, I can no longer accept the financial standings of youth as I move into the apex of manhood. I have a very supportive wife, but every teather has its end. To live happily and to continue on this road, I need to make $50 per day — fast.
In 2007 I wrote:
So I find it to be very unlikely that I am trying to make a living off of writing on a website. But this is, perhaps, a last ditch effort to forever avoid the harshness of living the life of an employee. I seek to live on my own terms; a website is one way, if the stars shine upon me, that I could do this. But it takes more work than I have ever put into any employment venture, and seems to be vastly more frustrating. –The Trauma of Building a Website
In one sense I feel as if I am treading water — saying the same things year after year — but, in another sense, I still have the feeling that I am beginning this project anew, moving into the next phase where I will be able to, finally, make enough money to travel and to, eventually, create a platform from which other travelers can also make their travel funds.
If I look at how far this site has come since I wrote those words in 2007 (even then two years into the project) the progress is stark. Even if I look at the difference of where VJT was at the end of last year to where we are now, the progress is again more than evident. If I am treading water I am at least in different seas now. For the first time, I can say that VJT looks like a site that is worthy of making money. We’ve battled through the minor leagues and we are getting ready to step up for our first at bats in the majors.
There is now a team working with me on VJT, and they are doing great work. Rich Poulter has taken over the Travel Gear Reveiws and also contributes Travel Book Reviews with Mike McGuire. Ani St.Amand wrote an article for Vagabond Explorer and is consistently is kicking out travel guides for Australia and New Zealand. I just hired a marketing director named Rachel. Craig from Travelvice.com has been doing truly excellent work putting together VEx magazine. The correspondents continue to provide essential travel instruction in their particular fields of expertise. The wheels on this site are spinning faster than they ever had before. I truly have no reason to look anywhere else but straight ahead. With each day that passes we are making a better and better travel resource, and, regardless of what my bank ledger says, this is the bottom line.
Reader contributions have been another bright side of this operation, as they continue to come in at very opportune moments — the most recent from Bob Baurys of The Panama Gringo. Thank you to everyone who made donations this month.
At 30 years old, I stand in between Roosevelt’s two extremes of age: I am beyond the dreams of youth and stand well before the regrets of the elderly. Now is the time to start living fully. The days of loathing over the small earnings of VJT are over: we are in a new decade, a new era of web development, we have a new look, new people involved, more knowledge, and new strategies.
Birthdays are signposts of achievement for travelers — as travel is ultimately about one thing: the acquisition of knowledge in relation to time and space.
I wrote this a few years ago on a previous birthday, and still stand by it.