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Old School Travel Blogging

I’ve been blogging for nine years, and this profession has transformed completely since I began. We’re going back to our roots: old school travel blogging.

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I’ve been travel blogging full time for nine years. When I first started out a blog was synonymous with an online diary — it was something that travelers kept for the folks back home to read. A blog then was something you didn’t really tell your friends about, something you would feel embarrassed of if you were ever found out.

This was long before the days that any news agency or respectable publication had blogs, it was long before the days that anybody would take what we wrote seriously just because it was presented on a blog. Blogging then was a hack form of writing. No, blogging wasn’t even really considered writing, it was just some bullshit that attention seeking losers did to show off their lives.

“What, did you read that on a blog or something?” was a common way to discredit an argument. People don’t really say this anymore. Our attitude towards blogging has change. This medium went from being the hallmark of diarist to a way that the indy media journalists distributed reports to a big part of every major news network.

I used to justify my blogging when I first began by calling it a “writing exercise” that I would do to prepare for writing in other mediums. I had no idea at the time that these blogging “exercises” were just preparation for blogging — that I would eventually make a profession out of this medium of writing.

Now people are getting into blogging for money and fame. This is almost something that’s normal now. There are famous bloggers all around the world who have hundreds of thousands of followers, and what was once just a system of writing a diary online has turned into one of the best ways we currently have for disseminating ideas. It is also a way that many people are trying to make money online, and even though the “make money blogging” bubble has completely burst blogging is still seen as a viable way to earn a living. If you mentioned anything about the prospect of becoming a famous or professional blogger back when I started you would have sent the place into hysterics.

I can now go into a room now, say I’m a blogger, and people listen up, straight faced. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I impress anyone, but at least now I’m no longer laughed at. I am part of a profession that has paid its dues and earned respect.

I could never have imagined this development when I pushed the publish button on Blogger for the first time.

Though it has to be stated here that in this transition the quality of the top blogs has drastically improved, the expectations placed upon bloggers have risen dramatically, and the internet has matured in a way that if you are not kicking out a blog of the highest caliber nobody will ever see it.


But in this transition many bloggers stopped writing real. Bloggers are now just journalists who write opinionated narratives. I can’t complain about this job description, and I’m truly appreciative that I had the opportunity to escape the clutches of the organized media after graduating with a degree in journalism. Though something was lost when blogging went pro.

In the beginning a travel blog was an online diary. Punto, that’s all it was. Travelers went out on the road and posted notes of their journeys for the folks back home to read. They were pretty much all first person narratives that were delivered raw and, for the most, part unedited. They were full of spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and it truly didn’t matter then — these were blogs, they were not supposed to be professional, and this was part of their appeal.

Travel blogs then told a story that could be followed daily. Readers could flip on their computers each morning and get a little more of the story, learn a little more about their world, and vicariously travel over vast stretches of the planet. Whereas someone could read a travel book in a day or two and then throw it up in some shelf and forget about it, a travel blog was a continuous story that could be read over an extended duration of time. This was a very different form of travel writing — and one that was much needed.

We went out, blogged for fun, then found that we filled a niche that people wanted filled. Before travel blogging the only place to find travel information and stories was in the formal press: guidebooks, books, magazines, and newspapers. Travel blogging was perhaps a welcomed relief from this stuffy world of highly filtered, highly edited variety of itinerant story telling. In the process some of us bloggers found a way to break through the barrier that stood between us and a large reading audience. At the height of the independent blogging era Vagabond Journey we were bringing in 5,000 unique readers per day — that’s more than most top travel authors have — and my friend Andy Graham at Hobotraveler.com was up to 15,000 — that’s more than Paul Theroux.

There was something genuine in this form of writing — we could make mistakes, we could contradict ourselves, publish nonsense, let our moods bleed through onto the screen, and it was alright. This was what we were supposed to do: the blogger was not only a personality, but a person, and it was that stark person-ness that made this form of writing interesting.

But most importantly of all, we could publish exactly what we thought and felt without fear of real consequences or the heavy hand of an editor. Unless we truly went overboard we would not lose our advertisers, and the margin of what was acceptable to publish was incredibly vast. In point, we were permitted the leeway to break journalistic conventions and challenged even the most built up of established media narratives. We imposed our experience over sterile news reports that are all too often written by people on the other side of the world from the places they reported on who seemed to think they had journalistic impunity just because they wrote the same thing as the New York Times. This voice that says “Hey, that’s not how it really is,” is valuable, and blogging created a mass of these voices.

But over the last five or so years those who wrote in this style either put on a professional mask and started writing formal articles or were simply selected out of the ecosystem.

I’m as guilty as anyone else. A couple of years ago I began writing in more of an article format on Vagabond Journey. This was not just to make money or to get famous, but because it challenged me to learn and explore more about the topics I was investigating and experiencing. Writing articles gave me a purpose in my travels, it gave me daily missions to accomplish, and it became a mechanism through which I could engage my world much deeper. To write an article about something you must do research, you must talk to people, you must read books, a huge amount of articles, process information, develop opinions and an angle, and then consolidate it all together and present it in a neat package.

This is one of the main ways that I grow as a traveler, as a person. Articles are my way of chronicling the world I live in and travel through. So I transformed Vagabond Journey into an independent, grassroots, experience driven cultural information and current events source. It has gone very well, but I lost something in the transition:

Raw travel blogging.

A blog is a collection of experiences, observations, and opinions. A travel blog is the chronicle of the world as a writer sees it. It should be as unfiltered as possible.

I realized back in February that I really missed just writing a diary of my days, a simple record of my travels — an exploration of the small things in a place and culture. I realized that I wanted to revert to the old blogging style, but I couldn’t reconcile placing thorough, well-researched articles alongside blog posts about what I ate for breakfast. The articles would just get in the way of readers who liked the personal narrative while the narrative would strip credibility from the articles. My solution was to cut the site up. VagabondJourney.com is now a raw travel blog, feature articles are now published on our niche blogs.

I am now free to write whatever I want on here with little fear of it impacting how my other sites are received. While Vagabond Journey readers do sometimes go over and read The China Chronicle, The China Chronicle readers have not yet demonstrated a propensity for coming over to Vagabond Journey. I can wear two blogging masks this way, and run each of my publications as they should be.

What I’m after is not glory or fame, it’s not some company footing the bill for my travels, it’s just enough cash to continue this journey and the knowledge that I gain from taking it. My mission is incredibly simple: I go out into the world and record what I observe, experience, feel, and then publish it to the internet each day. I’m taking VagabondJourney.com in an old direction, I’m making an about face, we’re returning to our roots:

Old school travel blogging.


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Filed under: Blogging, Travel Writing, Traveling Webmaster, Vagabond Journey Updates

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

7 comments… add one

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  • Jack Woods August 14, 2013, 7:48 am

    Just a thought, Wade, but it seems like you are conflicted on how to get your message out. You have an awesome message to share but it seems like you are having a problem finding the right way to get it out to the world. My suggestion is to be yourself. Share the stuff that makes your day interesting and people will find it.

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    • VagabondJourney August 14, 2013, 10:23 pm

      Very true. It’s a matter of streamlining a collection of what seems to be contending messages. Mostly it’s the same old travel blogging conundrum: readers stay for the regions they are interested in and then leave once you change regions, so it’s difficult to maintain a large regular audience when filling a blog up with large amounts of destination type content. So I guess the strategy now is to separate the messages then enhance each of them on separate blogs. So far it’s working pretty well.

      Thanks for the advice, it will definitely be followed.

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  • Belize Blog August 14, 2013, 9:17 am

    Good article. Thanks.

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  • David Jacobs August 15, 2013, 3:59 am

    Awesome news!

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  • bob l September 2, 2013, 10:15 pm

    I love your polished articles. I love your raw blogging. Whatever you have to do to keep both is OK with me.

    “A blog then was something you didn’t really tell your friends about, something you would feel embarrassed of if you were ever found out.”

    My how times changed. I remember back in high school how anyone with a calculator was considered a geek, and back then, Geek was NOT a compliment. the few that had computers would practically hide them in their basements and only tell a few friends about them. If someone had found a way to instantly make smart phones available, only a few geeky people would have gotten them, the rest would have laughed at them. Now, you are laughed at if you don’t have the latest and greatest smart phone. Humans really are nothing more than chimps in fine cloth.

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    • Wade Shepard September 3, 2013, 9:40 pm

      This is very true about how society has changed in this regard. Yes, I am old enough to remember those days too. There simply wasn’t a strong mainstream demand for these types of tech products, people were too busy hanging out with their friends, expanding their real life social circles, and living AFK . . . well, because then being on the keyboard meant working or doing something geeky. I remember when I would take a sense of pride form not using email or having a cellphone. Then all of a sudden people were giving a way to hang out with their friends, expand their social circles, and build an identity, authority, raise their status, as well as find the answer to just about any question they may have, and bam, tech became cool. In a lot of ways I think these technologies took off because they presented an easier, less stressful way to communicate rather than just a better way. It seems like were absconding each time we look for new digital friends (do people do this?) rather than showing your face somewhere and starting conversations with strangers (is this a weird thing to do now?). But, yes, I do remember the days when tech wasn’t cool.

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  • Vanholio! February 8, 2017, 2:19 pm

    Glad you found a way to keep it real and please yourself. That’s what keeps you gettin’ in front of the keyboard every day.

    I wasn’t into blogs back in them days. In my blogging now, I don’t really want to write about the personal too much. So I write with an attitude and write about ideas. Just don’t find myself very interesting. But that’s just Vanholio, not a best practices prescription for the world.

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