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20 Years Of Travel Blogging

A look back at two decades of Vagabond Journey.

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ASTORIA, NYC- Today is April Fool’s Day, 2024 — my blogging birthday. It is also the 20th anniversary of when I first began this blog.

For 20 years I’ve had this blog as a place where I could record my observations, experiences, and thoughts; a place where I could effectively chronicled my travels, career, and life; a place where I could document the world as it changed around me. This blog was a constant travel companion that I could hang with during long layovers in airports, lonely nights in remote hotels, and when sitting back in a riverside cafe with a cold beer on a sunny day. 

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly half the time that I’ve been alive. 

I’m going to sit here and ruminate on that for a moment …

I can still remember my first blog post. It was probably the most unremarkable start to any venture that has lasted for two decades ever. I was drunk in Kyoto and just wrote some nonsensical sentence. But the endorphin rush that I received from pushing that publish button was something I will never forget. 

It was the same little rush that I still feel to this day every time I push publish, 3,700 times later. 

20 years.

3,700 posts.

About 145 countries. 

I don’t know what I was thinking when I first started a blog. Although I do remember being embarrassed about it. Back then, blogging was akin to an online diary — nobody was doing it to make money, there were no pro bloggers, and it definitely was not a respectable form of writing. It was something for teenage dorks, old people, and soccer moms. 

But I secretly enjoyed it.

I loved the thought that I could sit down, write something, and the push a button that would send it out in to the world for other people to read, share, and discuss. 

I immediately sensed the power of the medium but I wasn’t yet in a position to know how to harness it … and the world wasn’t in a position to accept it even if I was. 

My initial justification for blogging — the story that I told myself — was that it was something that I was doing to let my parents know what I was doing while traveling.

For the five years that I had been traveling before blogging my parents were kind of confused about how I was spending my young adulthood. They thought that I was just some dude going on a lot of vacations, Peter-Panning my life away.

So I would blog so they would understand that I was traveling to understand culture, gain experience, and build knowledge that could someday bolster my prospects and maybe even lead to a career. 

I don’t believe I ever really believed that line of bull … but somehow that’s exactly what happened. 

With Andy Graham in Prague

It wasn’t until I found the blog of Andy Graham that I fully realized the potential that blogging could have. This guy was traveling perpetually around the world living off of a blog. I was like, “So I can travel, write for myself, and make money too?” It sounded too good, and I stoped viewing blogging as a bridge to something else and more as a medium to invest my time into in and of itself. (Which oddly turned it into a bridge to something else). 

I dove in deep. Real deep. 

For the next nine years I blogged obsessively, I lived cheap, I barely made enough money to get by, but somehow I was able to keep going. I treated blogging like a real job and poured 60 hours a week into it. 

Then one day in the autumn of 2014 it all paid off. Out of nowhere I received an invitation to write a book. In the process of doing that I was offered a freelance position at the South China Morning Post which segued into a series at Reuters. After the book was published, Forbes asked me to do an unpaid webinar for them. For some reason I agreed. Soon after that webinar the person who arranged it received a promotion to editor and invited me to come write for her.

Wade Shepard with Ghost Cities of China

And that began three years of the best job in journalism that I could imagine: I traveled all around Asia and wrote original features about topics that I found interesting which, more often than not, were published on the homepage of a major publication. 

I would eventually go on to write for other big or respectable publications: The Guardian, The Diplomat, Bloomberg … 

I guess something really came of blogging. 

Imagine that. 

At this point, VagabondJourney.com may be the longest running travel blog on the planet. It’s not common for someone to do something for 20 years, especially not blogging. 

The highlights

Hitchhiking the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku Island of Japan. I started out walking like a pilgrim but then decided to up the pace by sticking out my thumb. 

I went to the Bylakuppe Tibetan refugee camp in India and did a story called Seekers Of Refuge In A Land Of No Return.

I rode a bicycle through Eastern Europe.

I traveled out to the east of Turkey and did one of the first stories on Gobekli Tepe. This place was one of the first, if not the first, location where humans began experimenting with the sedentary lifestyle and agriculture — the beginning of the end for the nomad. Read more of a narrative blog post about it here.

I got married.

I had a kid.

I went on an ill-fated bicycle journey in Iceland. (On a pink mountain bike called the Ice Fox no less).

I went on a couple of fishing trips for tarpon in the jungle of Guatemala with local fishermen who used traditional gear and methods (I.e. dugout canoes and plastic pop bottles). 

I spent a couple of years traveling around China documenting the ghost cities and the destruction of historic communities.

I documented a 2.5 million person forced relocation in Guizhou province.

I went out to Gansu province and discovered how they were moving hundreds of mountains to build a new city.

I feel in love with Kazakhstan. 

I covered the story of a guy who got stuck in Moscow Sheremetyevo airport for eight months. 

I spent years traveling up and down the New Silk Road.

I went out to a new city that was being built in the desert of Oman.

I returned to New York City and started a film company. 

When I think about my life work I always thought it would be manifested by a stack of books and maybe some films, but now I’m starting to understand that it very well may be this blog. 

Not sure how I feel about that. 

But what I do know is that blogging has made me a lot of friends along the way. There’s a core of readers here who have been around for the long haul — for 10, 15, some for almost the full 20 years. Some I’ve met, most I haven’t, but they all have watched me grow up. These friends have read my autobiographical musings for years and probably know me better than people that I see regularly IRL.

How many writers can say that?

And I thank you for it.

And this is really what is unique about blogging. There has never been a medium which allows people to follow a story to the same degree that blogging does. It’s something that big media has never touched and the newsletters, zines, and small publications of the past could never really hit. It’s something that even social media fails at. The inside look, the daily experience, the behind the scenes story is what a certain segment of people find interesting, appalling, captivating — at least I do — and I’ve engaged in a two-decade-long love affair with the ideal medium for sharing this type of story. 

That was the power that I felt when I first pushed that publish button long ago in 2004.


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Filed under: Blogging, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

20 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Bob L April 3, 2024, 7:06 am

    Its been a long strange trip indeed. Thanks for entertaining me for many many years. Hopefully we celebrate your 40th anniversary together in the digital world.

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    • VBJ April 3, 2024, 11:48 am

      Yes, it has! Thank you for being there for pretty much all of it. I really appreciate all the support over the years!

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  • Alex Brisson April 3, 2024, 8:56 am

    Well done Wade!
    Always interesting to read you 🙂

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    • VBJ April 3, 2024, 11:48 am

      Thank you, Alex!

      It’s been a fun ride. Thank you for being there for it!

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  • Olly April 4, 2024, 2:59 am

    I’m a newcomer to your blog and I am very much enjoying it, plus learning a lot too. 20 years is a heck of an achievement, congratulations.

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    • VBJ April 9, 2024, 6:59 am

      Thank you Olly! And welcome aboard!

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  • Trevor Warman April 4, 2024, 3:14 am

    Happy Blogging Birthday Wade.

    Glad to have been following your journey for at least 10 years and been a part of that journey with 10+ guest posts.

    Best regards Trevor

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    • VBJ April 9, 2024, 7:00 am

      Trevor! Thanks for reading all these years, man!

      Link Reply
  • Kumbh Mela April 5, 2024, 2:43 am

    Congratulations on two decades of inspiring travel stories! Your blog not only celebrates the beauty of diverse destinations but also serves as a timeless guide for fellow adventurers. The captivating pictures you share vividly capture the essence of each journey, inviting readers to embark on their own explorations.

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    • VBJ April 9, 2024, 7:01 am

      Thank you!

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  • Liro April 5, 2024, 7:32 am

    Happy 20 years of VBJ! Glad to have stumbled upon your blogs many years ago and kept on reading. Happy to count myself as one of your readers. Here’s to the next 20! All the best.

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    • VBJ April 9, 2024, 7:01 am

      Hello Liro! Thanks for following along, man! I love getting these comments every once in a while to hear your thoughts and to know that you’re still out there!

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  • Russ April 6, 2024, 4:43 pm

    Pretty sure I found you from Andy’s blog probably in your first year or so. I was also a subscriber to the digital magazine you published for a bit. Always enjoy your writing!

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    • VBJ April 9, 2024, 6:55 am

      Hello Russ! Yes, definitely remember you, man! It’s just wild how long we’ve have some form of contact — longer than most marriages 🤣 Thank you for reading over all these … decades. Very much appreciated!

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  • LN April 7, 2024, 9:21 am

    I’ve been reading your blog, off and on, for 15 years. I have an email in my archives from July 2009 that I wrote to a friend about you. I mention that you were working 5-8 hours a day on your blog and earning less than $600 a month. I thought your writing was great. And your life. Elements of Kerouac. Things have worked out pretty good for you, I’d say.

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    • VBJ April 7, 2024, 6:12 pm

      That’s absolutely incredible. I’m just sitting here at a Five Guys in Ohio letting that sink in. 15 years. Wow. That makes me feel real good. Thank you.

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  • Jack April 17, 2024, 1:23 am

    I discovered your blog by Googling bicycle and some country I’ve forgotten and been reading ever since. Yes, I might go away for a month or two, but in the evening, before bed, on some random night, I’ll check your blog for new articles.

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    • Jack April 17, 2024, 1:24 am

      And click the submit too fast while reading……..because I want to say Congratulations and thanks for the ride along with you and your family.

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      • VBJ April 17, 2024, 12:04 pm

        Thanks for coming along! It’s been a real pleasure.

    • VBJ April 17, 2024, 12:04 pm

      Well, at least something good came from those otherwise horrid bicycle journeys 🤣 It always makes me smile to get another installment of new comments from you which often make me think about things in a different way … or at least better understand the perspectives behind takes that are different than mine.

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