How I got to where I am.
ASTORIA, NYC- Here it is: blog post #3,650. That’s a blog post a day for ten years. However, I can’t lay claim that title. The first post on this blog was published 18 years ago on April Fool’s Day, 2004, and is something that has been with me ever since.
I received this comment a few days ago from Richard and it shook me up a little:
I’ve been following you and your website(on and off) since I was 15 years old. I’m 34 now! I can’t for the life of me see how you’ve done nothing. Sure things slowed down because of covid but if you make as much as you say you make without busting yourself into the grave I think that’s a huge win. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?
Because of you and other sources I’m following a similar path and I thank you for giving me the awareness I needed.
For half of his life, Richard has been following this blog. That not only makes me feel incredibly grateful but made me realize that I’ve been doing this for a long time … and I began thinking about where all of this came from.
This blog began with a dream of being able to travel the world and writing about it. When I became aware of HoboTraveler and Andy Graham the dream shifted to being able to travel the world writing about it AND making money. Andy was the original digital nomad. He was the pioneer who first realized that blogging could make him enough money to travel. He was also the first one to share how he did it so that others could follow. Without that influence I’m not sure if I would have done this, and life would have looked very differently:
If I didn’t blog full time I wouldn’t have been able to travel like I did in the early days.
If I didn’t travel full time writing about it I wouldn’t have gotten my first book deal.
If I didn’t get my first book deal I wouldn’t have been invited to write for the South China Morning Post.
If I didn’t write for the SCMP I wouldn’t have gotten invited to write for Reuters.
If not for Reuters I wouldn’t have spent three years at Forbes.
If no Forbes then there would have been no bylines at The Guardian, Bloomsberg, The Diplomat; no films with the BBC, no working with Oscar-winning filmmakers, and probably no Real Life Cinema … what I’m doing now.
Fate is like a colossal set of dominos with an almost infinite number of pathways. One domino strikes another and leads you along the path you call your life.
How did I find HoboTraveler? A secretly half-deaf opera singer that I met in the North Country of NY State one day forwarded me one of his newsletters. It was that simple. If I didn’t start talking to her one day as she sat at the computer next to mine a college library my domino fall probably would have gone in a very different direction.
While I was already traveling at that point: I logged two journeys to South America, one to Europe, one to Japan, moved around the US, and was preparing to travel through the backwoods of Canada — seriously, that’s why I was in the North Country — I had not yet conceptualized how I was going to get to where I wanted to be. I wasn’t lost but I was still finding my way. Then I began getting these newsletters from this guy who was making enough money to travel the world by writing crazy shit. I wanted to do that too. So I got my first laptop — a giant brick of a Dell — and started swinging.
This was 2005, when blogging had just become a thing and the infrastructure had just appeared to support it. The internet was different then. There was no social media. No Facebook. No Twitter. No smartphones. No apps. There was only mainstream news and blogs. And a critical mass of people gravitated towards blogs … and that ecosystem quickly transformed from online diaries to a form of news in and of itself.
My first years of blogging full time were nothing less than exhilarating. I suddenly had a mission which gave a sense of purpose to my travels. Ever single day I would wake up and have something to do. I thought I was becoming a little disillusioned with travel at that time. I’d go way out there to where I wanted to be, feel that initial boost of excitement and then it would die off … I thought there was something wrong with me. The reality was that I was just bored. I wasn’t really doing anything other than traveling. I just didn’t have the impetus to push things deeper, to peer under the surface. It takes a little gumption to talk to strangers, to ask for interviews, to request permission to go to places that ordinary tourists are not allowed. Blogging gave me this impetus … it gave me a reason to have courage.
Travel blogging also wasn’t very easy back then — WIFI was sometimes difficult to find, worked horribly, and internet cafes became our offices — but something about this gave it appeal, as it wasn’t something that everyone was willing to do. You really had to earn each blog post back then …
And each blog post was a way to quantify and commodify experiences and knowledge. It was a way to accumulate what I did and learned and somehow make it seem tangible. It was a collection — each post gave me a feeling of accomplishment — and I’ve always been taken by the collector’s mentality, whether it be counting countries, sex partners, tattoos, coins, sports cards … The steady accumulation of numbers has always excited me, and watching the ticker of blog posts / traffic / earnings get higher and higher fed that fix better than almost anything else.
I was making pennies per day at that time — literally — but I was still making pennies traveling and writing. I knew that if I kept at it those pennies would turn into dollars and those dollars would turn into hundreds and those hundreds into thousands. It was a bit of a pipe dream, but one that I seem to have pulled off — I’ve probably made around $250,000 from this blog.
I’ve never really been adverse to molehill-to-mountain types of strategies (just read my recent post on dividend investing). Collector’s mentality, I suppose.
This was the first version of VagabondJourney.com in 2007. I remember being so proud of this homepage … but today I just have to laugh. I was young, and it showed, and this is the long-term value. VagabondJourney.com was my kid project — my kid project that I’m still working on today.
A couple of years later we were a little more sophisticated, pushing for a news-style information site. I actually kind of like the web 1.0 look. Websites don’t look like this anymore … probably for good reason.
By 2012, I was getting the hang of it. We were bringing in 7,000 unique visitors then and had a design that looked like a real site.
In 2016, we were back to being a blog and I was writing articles that could have been publishable in mainstream news outlets. This was around the time that I transitioned to being a journalist and began leaving this blog by the wayside a little.
In 2019, we landed on a design that we just kept. It’s simple, doesn’t tell its age, and is all about the words on the page. I was working full time as a journalist and was only blogging personal stories, thoughts, and anecdotes … a model of pure blogging like I do today.
When I look back on my history of blogging I kind of see it as the tendons and ligaments that hold everything else together. This was where I told the background story of what I was doing and thinking about, which is ultimately the real value of journaling: it tells the story of how you got to where you are that you’re liable to forget.
When I go back and read some of those old posts now I feel like a voyeur looking into someone else’s life … which is proverbially accurate. People change over time, and having these demarcators of what you were — these wayposts leading back to your origins — allows you to preserve the most valuable possession that anyone can have: memories.
It’s funny to think that all of this started on that day when I turned to stranger and had what seemed to be a completely innocuous conversation. Listen to your visitors, as you never know where it will lead.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 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. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
November 25, 2022, 2:28 pm
Congratulations on your awesome blogging persistence.
November 26, 2022, 2:35 pm
I really enjoy reading your posts once again Wade! It seems like Vagabond Journey just awoke for a new spell? Reading this post, up to the 2012 part …when I was in a small room of a Fiji Island and we decided on that new logo together. More than 10 years ago already.
Keep it up, you’re inspiring, as always mate!
November 27, 2022, 9:28 am
It’s always exciting to see my words emulated by someone I follow! I get this same excitement when I interact with (to me) famous people on instagram. Yes I do follow you there as well :). Because instagram isn’t as hectic as other platforms they take the time to respond in DM story replies. You get that giddy stomach feeling. I’m sure that feeling happened to you when that random stranger told you about hobotraveler.
You said you were interested to hear about you and other sources that lead me to where I am. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a world traveler. I don’t have a passport and I never left Canada. But I did land a job that pays me to travel and work around the country. Letting me see views no one else gets to see. Experience different cities and different towns.
I’ve always took this opportunity to visit local museums and antique shops. Going to independent pubs in the area trying out the local food and brews. Being in the restaurant industry for 13 years prior to switching my career I always try to visit these places and give them the recognition they deserve.
Let’s face it when you work on the road living in hotels, restaurants and fast food are the only option after working 12hrs that day. And who wants to go to Boston pizza every night? That’s a Tuesday thing when their carnivore pasta is on sale 🤣.
Without going into crazy personal detail I’ve always been on the move since I was a child. Living in different places every other year or so. And this ingrained traveling has stuck with me. For better and for worse. I can’t seem to “settle”. I get this unwavering feeling that I’m missing something. And you get accustomed to saying goodbye to people and it not affecting you.
There’s little nuances within a subject that you get other things from. Like living minimalistic. This leads to not spending money because what’s an apartment or room full of stuff going to do if you pack up and move? For a better part of 8 years now it’s just been me and a small suitcase and a laptop. Traveling and working.
The origins of traveling has been around my entire life. But I remember on my bulky grey tower windows 98 computer landing on vagabond journey reading your stories. If my memory serves me right the first article I read you were at a bus stop in South America with your wife and child. Maybe Mexico? It’s definitely been awhile.
It was random searching that brought me to you. Wanting to go to Mt. Roraima in Brazil I kept searching and searching about traveling.
I’ve decided that I’m going to live the RV Life. But first I have to fix it up and get it road worthy. It’s an old 1985 ship but it’s coming along! I’m hoping by the end of summer next year I can ditch this room I’m paying rent for that I’m only in on the weekends and live my full traveling dreams. Summer or winter.
Over the years I’ve picked up self sufficient tendencies and I carry that over when I’m traveling. Making things from scratch rather then buy. My end goal is to own/build up a homestead. But I get weary of it because of my unwavering traveling. It’s a nice idea but am I able to “settle”? I’m hoping to get a passport next year and start seeing the world as well.
The domino effect you mentioned is mind blowing when I reflect on my life and the things I had to go through. If I didn’t suffer at that particular point would I be in this spot today? If that one thing didn’t come along to make me think about changing my career to better my life where would I be today? Still stuck in the kitchen? It’s definitely mind blowing to reflect where we were and where we have gone.
November 27, 2022, 1:12 pm
I think I found you way back when through Hobotraveler as well, I even bought the digital magazine you did for a little bit. Crazy how much things have changed in the world. It’s been fun following you over the years. I do get a bit nostalgic for the old travel blogs before travel influencers came along, there were a few other good ones back in the early 2000s but not much online these days resembles those anymore.
December 28, 2022, 1:15 pm
Wow it has been awhile!
In 2004, I was coming back to the US after a long stint abroad. 🙂 It’s fun to see how life twists and turns and twists around again. Here I am in SE AZ, building a ranchstead, raising chickens, milking goats, and shooting rattlesnakes. I increasingly want to just tune out from the world that I once enjoyed traveling around.
And your blog is always here to get inspiration from. I hadn’t checked it for a few months and boom, you have so many new posts. I get to go through them and read them and comment my conspiratorial drivel on them. That’s really the benefit of blogs these days.
Did I ever tell you how I came across your blog? I was planning a trip to do some biking as a break from China. It had to be 2011 or very early 2012. I came across your site in my research. I know I didn’t make any comments, but I seemed to keep drawing myself back to your site. That’s when Google was more free.