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The Traveler’s Wife

As I sit in Iceland at around 4:30 AM in bright daylight in the middle of a solo travel writing trip around the country, I must wonder how many other husbands on this planet are afforded this same opportunity? Very few. I have a wife and a daughter in the USA, but I am still [...]

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As I sit in Iceland at around 4:30 AM in bright daylight in the middle of a solo travel writing trip around the country, I must wonder how many other husbands on this planet are afforded this same opportunity?

Very few.

I have a wife and a daughter in the USA, but I am still traveling — both with my family and, sometimes, solo.

This is not to say that my wife is happy with me leaving. “You’re leaving us,” she would say with irritation before my departure, but she is also not completely angry. She seemed to know what she was in for when we started this whole fiasco with me three years ago, and, to her credit, she has not tried to alter the course of this path at all. Rather, she adds to it, pushing us further on our journey through this world.

Chaya, my wife

My wife either missed a few vital lessons in wifery or she is exceptionally accepting, clear headed, cool. I don’t know of any other woman like her, I truly believe that she is some bio-cultural freak of nature, a true oddball who can see from another person’s point of view and emphathize. Many people claim to have this ability, but it is incredibly rare. Tolerance — the ability to accept other people’s ways of living even when it adversely impacts you — is truly a rare quality. I don’t have it, but my wife does. I did not marry her on a whim, as I sometimes make it seem, but I calculated this move with precision — perhaps with the most planning that I ever put into any venture ever before.

“As a wife this is OK with me, I am happy for you,” my wife Chaya told me over a Skype call recently, “but as a mother I am not so happy because Petra misses you.”

I remember reading an introduction to some Paul Theroux book in which he gives a brief overview of his wives and their take on his travel writing trips. His first wife told him not to leave on the journey that made the Great Railway Bazaar, gave him static, and then she cheated on him the entire time. The second wife just shrugs her shoulders when Paul proposes a trip, says “have fun,” and then returns to her knitting or something.

My wife is of the second variety.

Though she is pissed because I am in Iceland. This is not because I’ve traveled away from her, but because she wants to come to Iceland too. Although she tries to deny it, my wife is a traveler. But I know that the style of travel that I am employing now would not be acceptable for the entire family. I am not going to ride a bike into hellish environmental scenarios with my two year old daughter, it would not be responsible to put my family’s needs a little farther away from their grasps — yet. Soon, when Petra is five or six, we will do these hiking, hitchhiking, biking, camping trips all together, but right now she is just a touch too little. I would not hear of it, and neither would my wife. I am a vagabond who has spent his entire adult life on the road, I am not squeamish about traveling with my family, but I know that there are some limits.


Also, this is a travel writing trip, made for the sole purpose of writing a book. I take notes, write, and talk with people all day long. This objective is best accomplished traveling solo, as has been pointed out many times in travel literature. In point, it is much easier to walk up to someone and take a chance at making an ass of yourself when there is nobody else that you know around to remember it. I also know that my writing inquiries are sometimes very bold, and can sometimes embarrass my companions. There is also an element of solo travel that leaves you bare to the world — there is no social cover, no one to abscond into. I meet far more people each day of traveling solo as I do in weeks of traveling with other people. The lone traveler is both more approachable and more eager to approach others. The result is more conversation, more inquiry, and more opportunities to access the information and stories that make up a travel publication.

I have already written notes through an entire notebook on this journey, and have started on another — not to mention the pieces that get typed directly into the computer or Alpha-smart.

So I take one solo travel writing trip a year. My wife is alright with this. I can only hope that I can make them pay off: I am either a hero here or a heal.

“Go on your trip,” my wife told me the night before I left for Iceland, “I can do this for you, it is OK, you need this. Go to Iceland and see what happens.”

Last year I went to Haiti solo, the year before Arizona, this year I’m in Iceland, and while my wife does not necessarily encourage such journeys, she knows that I am trying hard to establish myself as a traveling writer. But I need to write books for this — there is no way around this, these travelogue entries can be nothing more than sporadic piecework rough drafts of a book — otherwise it is all for nothing.

Blogging for six years full time has given me a good picture of the profession: it is a method of writing that can establish your place in a niche, but elevating you to any great professional height is something beyond the capacity of the writing form. The blog is a great way to publish anecdotal insights and aspects of a place or a culture, but it is a horrible medium for publishing a story of sequential events. Blogging is either a road to other avenues of publishing, a way to establish and keep an audience, or it is a dead end.

[adsense]I have hit the dead end of blogging. I can go no higher than where I am by ticking out these travelogue entries alone. I must venture into other mediums of travel writing: I need to publish books, I need to keep going with Vagabond Explorer magazine (if you read this site regularly, please buy a copy). This travelogue is the axle that this entire production — the website, the magazine, the books — revolves around, but it is the publications at the end of the spokes that need to bring in the income and elevate our position. The blogging can act as a supplement to other writing mediums but it can not be my ends as a writer in and of itself: there is just not enough money, respect, or mobility in it to build a life on. I know, this one of the oldest, continually published travel blogs on the planet.

Now if I could make $1500 per month just blogging, I would do it forever full time, as this is — honestly — the medium of publishing that I enjoy most. But I will not make this amount blogging about travel, ever.

I told my wife today over Skype that our traffic numbers were falling. We at Vagabond Journey Travel have become another victim of Google’s recent algorithm changes, and have found ourselves not only running in place but being thrown backward right off the f’cking treadmill all together. We are still in the game — this is still a very high traffic website — but our daily visits are now down to about 3,000 visitors a day from the 4,500 it was at a few months ago.

I did not think that Chaya would care too much about this — she says that she hates this website — but her face fell and she became slightly angry when I told her. In a flash it became apparent that my wife takes pride in this site nearly as much as I do. “It’s alright, lots of people’s businesses fail,” she told me with biting grace.

It became apparent that I dragged her into this whole web-publishing fiasco for ends that may never materialize. Before, I could justify all the work I’ve put into the site by citing that our traffic numbers would always rise in proportion to the pages that I published. This lent an illusion of hope to the operation. Now I can’t say this — it is going to be exponentially more difficult to continue growing traffic in this new era of the internet, the challenge bar has risen, more dedication, drive, and innovation will be needed.

With Google’s emphasis on “new” pages, corporate branding, and page views, for each page that I put up on VJT two more are falling way down in the index.

We are going backwards with our old methods. We need to reestablish our position and restrategize our bearings on a path ahead. Vagabond Explorer and books are the future of the site, the blog and the other sections of VagabondJourney.com is the glue that will hold it all together.

I started this entry out to say how happy I am with my dear wife, but ended up hinting strongly at some of the background pressures that we are facing. I need to make something of this trip, I really, really need to make something of these Iceland travels. I need to kick out a book, fodder for Vagabond Explorer Vol.2, something so that I can say, “See, I wasn’t really that much of a jerk by taking a solo trip, look how much money we are making.”

Much money is $50 per day.

My wife’s tether is long, but, I know, there will be a limit. There will be a point that she will say, “Enough, this is not working out and it never will work out. You need to get a real job,” and Vagabond Journey will go belly up. I need a big success here, I need to sell Vagabond Explorer, I need to make a good book, I need to make more money. As the bottom line rises higher the dream of traveling the world and writing about it sinks lower. My wife is the best companion and the biggest supporter that I have, she believes in me enough to let me go off into a hellish landscape on a bicycle, working and caring for our daughter solo. She believes that I will come back with something that will make our hearth burn more brightly.

This is just to say that I appreciate it, Chaya, and miss you.


Filed under: Family, Travel With Family

About the Author:

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. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

8 comments… add one

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  • John July 4, 2011, 9:58 am

    Wow.. You really do have an amazing wife. If you got hit by panda, then I KNOW big g is broken. Its amazing, i see these mfa sites all on first page, but when you hear a site like this gets hit, it boggles the mind. total insanity. i wish you luck

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    • Wade Shepard July 4, 2011, 2:31 pm

      Hello John,

      The changes in traffic are definitely due to the Panda update, but I would not necessarily say that we are being “punished” per se. Rather, the Big G seems to be looking at different criteria for establishing the “worth” of a page and site. VJT is a massive site, I have been working hard establishing content for many years, and there was a pattern where traffic would grow in proportion to pages that I made. But we have reached the law of diminishing returns, the pages that I made six years ago seem to be falling deep into the index while the new ones go straight to the top. This means that I am sort of treading water a little. Another issue is that many people come into this travelogue, read the new page, and then leave, not coming back until the next day. The Big G is viewing these visits as “bounces” and they are hurting us bad. Also, I have a lot of photos up and most photo traffic for any site are single page views. So providing daily reading material and photos is actually hurting our rep with the Big G, and we are felling the effects. Mostly, it seems as if the algorithmic changes are designed to select for sites that are different than my own. I offer information, stories, and photos, while the Big G changes seem to be selecting for shopping sites where the viewer will click 10 or 20 pages per visit as they browse products. On VJT people come in, get their daily travel story or read the page that has the information that they want and split. This looks bad to the G bots. We really need to up our page views per visitor ratio, but doing so is difficult — why would regular readers read a page again that they already read? I suggest for regular readers to browse through the other sections of the site each time they visit or dip back into the archives before they began reading each time they visit. Doing this would be the most beneficial thing that people could do to help out. It would also be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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      • craig | travelvice.com July 4, 2011, 3:25 pm

        I have to disagree w/ how Andy and yourself are perceiving the view»bounce issue. I think Google’s smart enough to know when people are searching, click a link, then return to the SERP to find another link that satisfies their query. There’s a big difference between coming in from an RSS feed or bookmark and leaving “immediately” versus not finding the content you wanted from an organic search, and believe Google incorporates this into their algorithm.

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        • Wade Shepard July 4, 2011, 4:35 pm

          We are all just sort of grasping at the air looking for explanations haha. Truth is, big changes happened and we have no idea why. I agree with you that a page entry and then a return to the same SERP is a worse action than a single page view under other circumstances, but I think that a high page view per visitor ratio is being interpreted as a sign of “quality” in the new game.

          To me, I think a website is good when I can go there, get the information that I want, and then leave without needed to dig through multiple pages. The “bounce” is often a sign of quality as much as it is an indication that a page is poor.

          Though, I agree, the Big G is probably vastly more sophisticated that we are giving it credit for being.

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          • craig | travelvice.com July 4, 2011, 4:46 pm

            Indeed — and Google Analytics is a lovely free option for many, but certainly isn’t the only analytics program out there. While it’s certain Google SERP clicks (and returns) are being monitored, they have no idea how many page views or bounces a site receives when not enrolled in GA (and/or to some extent, AdSense) — and frankly, don’t think they have the server power or desire to cross-check the specifics of your GA account results against the SERP trending for best results (GA info is far too easily manipulated). People would be pulling their GA accounts if this was the case.

            The algorithm is smart, but people are silly. If they don’t like the look of the site (etc), even if it has the content they need they might bounce back to the SERP, and that for sure hurts. I honestly think matching content + reputable site + faster page load = higher rank on SERPs. Andy’s site (non-travelogue) took a nose dive because while his content was matching the organic search, people were retuning to the SERP and trying to find what they were looking for often enough for Google to devalue those pages.

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          • John July 4, 2011, 5:42 pm

            I am going to have to agree with craig on this one.he hit it right on the head. i dont believe the bounce is what is causing it. as shameful as it is for me to say, i have 3 mfa’s that i made about 4 years ago one page sites, my bounce rate is horrible. they are all ranking for highly competitive terms. all three of them are thriving and untouched by panda…. while my passion sites,which i take the upmost pride in, where bent over and pounded 89 ways. it’s more like a crap shoot and rolling the dice at this point.

            i hate that we have to play this high tech game of charades….

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      • Denise July 4, 2011, 3:48 pm

        Just a tip. (probably you’ve already thought about this) If you really want readers to browse other articles, sprinkle your post with links back to older, relevant posts. For example, as a new reader, that would be easy for me to do (to browse this way, I mean), but probably I wouldn’t bother to browse unless I came across links in the post I was reading.

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        • Wade Shepard July 4, 2011, 4:08 pm

          Hello Denise,

          Glad that you mentioned this! There are links to related entries at the bottom of each page as well as three to five links to previous entries in the bodies of each entry. The problem is that readers do not really seem to notice them, as they read right through.

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