Vagabond Journey Travel to Geographic The way it seems to me there are two ways towards publishing success: 1. You do the same thing as that everyone else is trying to do, put it in a posh package, either do it better or get the most friends to say that you do it better — [...]
Vagabond Journey Travel to Geographic
The way it seems to me there are two ways towards publishing success:
1. You do the same thing as that everyone else is trying to do, put it in a posh package, either do it better or get the most friends to say that you do it better — you play to the audience that sits before you.
2. You do something that is out in right field, over the wall, out in the hills, do just want you want without regard to the hoard, work hard, sit back, and wait for “them” to come — you create your own audience.
The first option requires money, and a lot of time sucking up, perfecting a good guy-smiley routine, and making “friends” for the purpose of self promotion. The second way means toiling in silence, always believing in the myth of yourself and that “they” — success — will come. The first route is for the slick suit salesmen driving leased Ferraris who pretend they have already made it big, the second for peddlers with worn out shoes who dream of that someday when they will have received all the regard that they are due.
“You are like some girl trying to be discovered in a shopping mall,” Chaya once observed early on in her Vagabond Journey days. Maybe she was right.
I have been skirting the line with Vagabond Journey. I know who I am, but hesitated for a moment about where I am going. I thought for a moment about cleaning out my tanks, choosing a more particular path: I considered leaving the travel market. I considered streamlining the content of Vagabond Journey to be about travel less and about the world more.
I considered stripping out the “how to travel” content in exchange for more articles about the places that I travel in. I thought of transforming Vagabond Journey into a geography magazine, sort of like how National Geographic is about the world and the things and the people in it but could not be called a travel magazine. I considered leaving the travel theme in the dust for a geography theme. I would travel and test geographic theories, notions, inferences in real life — I would take a more scientific bend and put my anthropology education to use.
I would write more about the places, the land, and people of the locations I travel through and far less about how to get there. All media sources form their angle based on omission, and previously the angle of Vagabond Journey was primarily about traveling the world. I thought about a readjustment, I thought of a clearer theme, of defining my parameters a little more. Right now, my website is all over the place, it has many themes, many topics, I believe that the audience that it may attract may be stunted by the variety.
The fact also remains that if I put time into travel tips then that is time taken away from investigating some aspect of culture, the underbelly of a place, or some other element of geographic intrigue.
I would call the site Vagabond Journey Geographic and make the theme very clear: this is not a travel magazine, but a collection of information and articles about the world we live in.
It was an idea.
I needed to ask some friends for bearings on the road ahead, I asked readers for feedback:
“Is anyone really interested in travel information?”
The advice that received was, for the most part:
“Keep doing what you are doing.”
I thought about this: “Wow, these people are really taking something from the travel information that I am publishing.”
I became surprised, flattered — I thought I was just writing empty words for the purpose of showing off how much of a travel expert I am, I did not know that anyone took this seriously.
I say this statement tongue in cheek, but my point stands: it felt really good to know that people really use this website for its main function, the sharing of information about traveling the world. It felt good to know that people really do want to travel the world, whether they really do so or not.
Good, that was a close one. I thought I was missing my mark, but this does not seem to be so. I just needed to hear what my mark was, I needed to probe the depths of the market I am working in. I like doing what I do, this was good news to receive. I also was advised on a couple better ways to get to where I am going.
A reader named Brandon suggested that I should streamline the “how to travel” content. He told me that I have all of the meat for a how to travel book on Vagabond Journey as it is but that it is very scattered about and lost in the fray. He let me know that it is difficult for readers to get a handle on just the “how to” information. He was correct, the content on this website is multifaceted — there are stories, geography content, cultural anecdotes all mixed in with the travel information. I need a way to sluice out the practical content, and leave the rest behind.
It was suggested that I should put all of this information into a book. I could. I could assemble it all into an eBook, and then release an updated version of it each year.
I would then essentially have the “how to travel” stuff all in the same place, so a reader could just pay a dollar or two, download it, and go.
Then I could also be freer to go with the geography theme on the website, and move away from the travel industry.
Nobody would call National Geographic a travel magazine, but it certainly inspires people to travel. This is what I wish to do. I want all of you to travel — but I do not recommend the general avenues of tourism to be a worthwhile expenditure of money and time. I want you to get outside of the tourism bubble, to go to places that nobody has ever heard of, and see what you can find there, be a foreign oddity that people want to talk to and meet, be the town idiot in a dozen places around the world that the locals need to teach how to be a normal human. I want you to live abroad, travel slowly, learn, study, work.
Because I think this is a good way to live. I am biased, for sure — I have never lived any other way — but I think this way of life is simple, I think it is good. And it is not very difficult to do, anyone with a class A passport can travel the world for as long as they want. It is like driving a car — the first few times it is f’cking scary, you stare straight ahead, with full attention on the task before you, but then over time it becomes standard operating procedure, and you look out on the horizon, dig the sunset, and enjoy the ride.
I do this website partly to make money, partly because I want a record of my own experience, partly to let my family know what I am doing, and partly because I arrogantly think that I am living the best life that I have ever observed.
Clearly, I could be wrong — but this is my impression anyway.
I have gotten drunk with princes, gotten drunk with paupers, hung out with the super wealthy, befriended the poor, and all of them, almost without exception, have looked at me with wide eyed envy when I explain to them how I have been living for the past 11 years. And now that I have a wife and baby, I know that this lifestyle is applicable and viable for a mature adult who wishes to have a solid life. I live the stuff of dreams, but it is not a dream, it is real life — a real, mature, and solid life.
I want to inspire you to travel, but I want to shift this inspiration away from “how to” and more towards “what is out there.” I want to publish what is purely awesome in this world, and I want you to then stop reading and go out there and find this stuff for yourself. This is my mission, this has always been my mission, and I feel as if I may need to jumpstart it with a different method.
When I pick up a National Geographic I am a thousand times more inspired to travel than when I read ANY travel magazine or website. I leaf through National Geographic and dream into the photos, I read the words, look at the maps, decide to go there. If you want inspiration to travel, look away from blogs and travel industry magazines that just want to sell you junk that you don’t need, scare you into buying insurance or a tour, go to a library book sale and buy all the National Geographics you can. I swear that clicking “purchase” on that airfare website will then be far less of an internal struggle.
With this in mind, I have decided to go way off on my own limb, I am going to make Vagabond Journey into a two part endeavor:
1. I am going to write about what is out there in this world, show pictures, maps, to the best of my ability turn the website into a true geographic emagazine. I wish to plant the seeds to inspire you to travel.
2. I am going to consolidate all of the “how to travel” content into a manageable, all purpose travel manual that can be downloaded for a small amount of money and printed at will.
This two part endeavor will provide inspiration on one hand and the nuts and bolts of how to make good on that inspiration on the other.
All of the how to travel information will remain on the site — this is important — but it will be shifted more towards the correspondent pages, Travel Help, the travel guides, and Wiki Vagabond, and away from the travelogue.
Vagabond Journey Travel to become a geographic emagazine
I had a shock of a realization: I don’t know travelers. I have no idea about what the majority of the “budget, backpack travelers” want, need, desire. I thought I knew what I was talking about for the past five years that I have been publishing travel related websites and answering reader questions, but I really have no idea. I am out of touch, I am estranged, I am the one who has a problem.
I sit back in the finca and see backpackers come in here demanding special meals to suit their picky dietary preferences, I see them going into the villages and calling the happy, smiling people they meet poor and in need of help, I see them trying to make the world adapt to them rather than them learning from and adapting to the world, I listen to them talk and they seem to think that they already know everything.
This are also the people who probably read travel websites. Maybe they have even read Vagabond Journey?
I find myself withdrawing from 90% of them, not wanting to even help them travel in real life, let alone helping them virtually:
Why am I putting all of this work into publishing travel information for people I don’t want to help travel?
I found a crisis in my mission:
I want people to travel, I want to help people travel, I want to publish a travel website that someone could go to, use, and then say, “wow, this website really helped me to travel.”
But I don’t want to help these people travel.
I had a conflict. I needed some resolution.
I put up a call to readers, “Is what I am doing worth it?”
Their responses made me smile. Clearly, the readers on Vagabond Journey are not like 90% of the people that travel through the hotel I am working at, they seem to be the other 10%. Feedback from readers has made it clear that not everybody is like the “budget, backpack travelers” that come through the finca, there are really travelers left in this world — even if they don’t travel.
My friend Bicycle Luke sent me an additional email in regards to my identity crisis entry. He warned me that I could potentially be alienating some potential readers by insulting them, by my sometimes gruff language.
Bicycle Luke was able to read through the lines, he saw the intersection that I was standing at:
I could either go the Guy Smiley route and publish a happy face website that is marketable to the wider travel audience and would stand to make a lot more money (option 1 above), or I was thinking of going way out there, and completely doing my own thing (option 2).
I know that I put up intentional limiting factors to curb the readership of Vagabond Journey. I know that I prune the pack, and pick who I want to read by simply making myself intolerable to the people who this publication is not made for. I am sure that many — most — people who read Vagabond Journey go through a couple travelogue entries, hit something that offends them, and then, as Luke observed, say “I’m otta here.”
Good, this means that I have identified my niche, I have cultivated a market.
Dave is correct: both The Longest Way Home and Vagabond Journey are not marketable in this industry — in the standard travel market — but this does not mean that we cannot find our own place, our own niche. We do something different, we write about the world we experience. We do not crop content to sell tours, vacation packages, destinations, we are not travel writers.
But I believe that we both have a market outside of the travel industry. I believe strongly that we both are marketable to the “unmarketable,” to people like ourselves who really do not fit into any categories, who deny classification, the people who would go traveling out of curiosity rather than the pursuit of leisure.
We are marketable, but we need to cultivate our own market — if we take the industry that is here before us we stand to remain neat little oddities to interview and poke at.
My friend Dave gave me the sobering shot that I needed: why am I writing for an industry that will never heed my call, for people who will never take the information that I offer, when there is an entire world out there waiting to be written about?
There is another type of traveler out there, I know it, the kind that is vastly different than anybody else, who may not even travel. If Dave and I could somehow consolidate our efforts along with a couple other online publishers like Andy Graham, I believe that we could leave the travel industry behind, I believe that there is enough people like us out there to form another group outside of the pale of the tourist bubble.
If we go way out there, far out in the hills, design content for all of us at the periphery of the travel industry, with complete disregard for the mainstream publications — if we wrote that which we ourselves would be interested in reading — I believe that we could be marketable.
We just need to draw the line somehow, show our parameters, put up a large sign on the fence.
I am unsure what that sign would say, but I know that if I were to move content away from “travel” I could essentially show my colors.
I know that I sometimes write with a touch of crassness to keep the hoards at bay, to keep my distance, perhaps. I know that this is a limiting factor on my success when looked at from the perspective of the travel industry and what people expect from a travel website. Saying that international volunteers essentially picked up with the old school colonists left off is not a popular statement, it is a limiting factor — this would be a statement that would alienate a large market of prospective and real international volunteers, this statement would completely remove me from this industry, make me a little more unmarketable. If I would write a statement like, “Territory goes to the group strong enough to take it, the way of history shows that Israel has every right to annihilate their enemies,” I would certainly turn off a lot of readers — the majority of Westerners in the world today seem to have the inability to handle and learn from different opinions.
Like so, if I did not construct such limiting factors I would stand to increase the size of my audience by many fold — I would stand to make more money. If I put on a happy face and took up the Guy Smiley gig, made a PC, everyone is welcome, popular opinions only travel site I would stand a far better chance of becoming a successful travel writer.
But doing so would not isolate my niche, it would make me general to the point of dilution — and diluted, general publications tend to be read today and discarded tomorrow. I do not want to be some flakey travel writer who could potentially be king for a day a nobody tomorrow.
I am in this for the long haul, I want to be respected and worthy of respect.
It is my impression that you can either cater to a larger audience and be a small fry, or you can be a big fry catering to a smaller audience. I believe strongly that my road promises longer lasting reward. I know that I place limiting factors in my writing, I know that I show aspects of myself that would be far more marketable if kept hidden, but this is my angle:
I created this publication for a particular group, a particular niche, it is not suppose to be palatable to the world at large.
This is the new way of publishing.
Publications choose their audience almost as much as the audience chooses their publications. Niche markets are the new key to publishing, the old guard of overly general magazines and newspapers are Neanderthalic, they are old news — they are going out of business. The new reader wants content catered to them, we want to feel special, we want to know that the publications we read are being written just for us, we want to identify our group and keep up to date about what is going on in it. Perhaps we now wish to identify ourselves down to the lowest denominator possible.
All publications must define their niche, all publications should have intentional limiting factors, should seek to alienate those who are not a part of the niche in order to attract those who are. A luxury travel magazine would alienate me from the cover page, just as I aim to alienate those who are looking for a luxury travel publication.
As I try to discover what my niche is, I must admit that “travel” is an overtly broad topic — there is no single niche for travel. Rather, there are hundreds of little niches with their own sets of higher guards, with their own objectives, ideas, initiatives. I do not want to abandon the “travel” niche, I want to refine it, I want to approach travel from a geographic perspective. I believe that this niche could prove to be larger than even those in the mainstream backpacker market.
My intent is to make a geographic travel magazine for travelers whose intentions are not met by the Lonely Planet, for those travelers who are not a part of the corporate travel milieu, for those people who can walk by a UNESCO World Heritage Site without even thinking about entering, for travelers more interested in “doing” people rather than places. This is the market that I am shooting for, it is the market that I would like to help create. This is a market for cubicle workers with dreams of Office Spacing their employers — waking up one morning, not shaving, going outside in their undershirt, with a passport in one pocket, a debit card in the other, flagging down a cab to the nearest airport, and going.
It is my job to tell them that they will be alright.
This market is me, and, damn it, I want to write for people like me. I wondered for a moment if they were out there — the unmarketable, those sitting on the periphery, the outsiders who dream that maybe in travel they can find a world they could fit into — and I was told, invariably, that they are. I can say, truly, that the people who read this website are people who I would like to meet and be friends with. It is my impression that if you walked through the doors of the finca we would end up drinking beer together. It is my impression that you may be the other 10%, those on the outskirts of everything, definitely not a part of the travel industry, and not pretending to be either. I look for this other 10% as I work in the hotel, they are as easy to spot as an Israeli’s nose. This is the market that I should focus on, the Lonely Planet has nothing on this niche.
If you read this far you are person that the mainstream blogging community says no longer exists, you are the people who still maintain attention spans, who really read and think about what lays before you, who are willing to read a circuitous travelogue entry of thousands of words. I want to further develop this website in your favor, define the niche, retreat from the travel industry, see what happens.
Any feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated.
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
July 8, 2010, 10:39 pm
Man, it took you over 10 years to get here but as you’ve come to realize, the world changes and you’ve gotta be that wind of chan….
I like the new idea, the new plan “…I want you to get outside of the tourism bubble, to go to places that nobody has ever heard of, and see what you can find there…”
You know, when I left the finca I visited Utila, La Ceiba amongst other places. Utila is a pretty place and I met lots of people. But you know what? I had better conversations with the street prostitutes in La Ceiba. As soon as we established that I was no potential customer, they changed. They became real. And then they were normal people again. They were so interesting. They all had a story to share. I already forgot the conversations I had in Utila but the hours spent in the streets of La Ceiba are imprinted in my brain, I remember every single detail.
I said that in order to say this:
You’re a traveler, a pilgrim, a vagabond, and you can’t change it. In the same way as the prostitutes will never leave the streets, you will never be anything else. You will never write for the lonely planet industry. I am sure you will find your niche, the Geographic Vagabond way.
Walk slow man, walk very slow
Ciao 4 now
~ Paulo ~
July 9, 2010, 12:26 am
All good thoughts Wade. I think your biggest obstacle though is that like you, your audience likes to figure things out for themselves. We are not those who like to be led by the collar, especially when traveling. Although the tips you share are quite inventive, I think having a section where your readers can share their own experiences and creative solutions to travel’s inevitable foibles would be a great addition. You have a great product, and unlike so many people you get to do what you love. The money will come as your following increases, just remember to include your community in your product. They are your reason for being – give them an avenue to participate, let them share.
July 9, 2010, 8:55 am
Good luck to you on your “new” venture, although I see it as an evolutionary change to your current path.
I offer up some of my highly biased opinions.
Of the 90% that you shy away from, probably 20% of them can be helped, and indeed, NEED to be helped. As with National Geographic, the majority of readers will never travel. Of those that do, most will still remain the “Ugly Americans” no matter what. Your job, is two fold. One, make money. That requires either getting paying readers, or enough readers that advertisers search you out. Two, help people stop being the “Ugly Americans”. Give a kick in the butt (or maybe a carrot on a stick) to those that are on the edge, those that can be changed.
As someone wrote, dreams sell. Dreams also change people. I bet a lot of the travelers that you are shying away from could be turned into great travelers with the right example. NG is a good example for some, VJ is for others.
WAAAAAAAAAAAY back when, I was not much of a traveler, I was still in high school and, to quote a friend, “I ain’t never been no where”. This friend, more than anyone else, got me traveling (over time). He did this NOT by telling me how to do it, but by telling me stories of how he hitchhiked through Europe and Africa. About hiding under a bed when the police came for him in Libya when they were arresting Americans. And many other stories. Frankly, a little bit more info as to HOW and a little bit more of a push to do it would have helped, as I did not have a clue and I did only a little traveling prior to and during college, and did not do any international travel for many years. Had I had a web site like yours back then, I am sure I would have taken off to “other lands” at least for a while, and would have continued after “real life” took hold, rather than only traveling in the US and waiting years to head elsewhere.
Along with “”writing what you yourselves would be interested in reading” write stories that you would have been interested in reading 5, 10 and 15 years ago. Remember, dreams sell. What did you dream about? What would have sped up your transition from dumb kid to world traveler. Your stated niche market is probably not truly large, but the periphery is. Write what your niche market wants, with a few stories slightly to the side, and you will probably draw in a lot of readers that want to expand into something different.
What your site brings, that few others do, is a clear and BIASED view of the world. You write as you see things. You don’t travel to a spot, you live there, interacting with the locals in a way that few “travelers” do. I agree, if you wrote PC, you would just be another boring blog. As it stands, the reader never knows what is next.
In other words, great ideas. I suspect they will work out very well for you.
……You know, I gotta’ stop commenting on your articles as I read them and start waiting to the end. You usually cover what my comments say better, later in the article than when I wrote my comments, as you did in this article.
July 9, 2010, 12:15 pm
I say stick to who you are. Your articles are fascinating and inspire me to get out there. It is true…people are more inspired to travel to distant lands when they hear the stories of people who have traveled there. One of my college professors always started the semester off with a story about himself on a journey through the Yucatan when he was 14 years old. He said that you could feel the energy surrounding events of the past while perched atop Chichen Itza. I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like. His eyes teared up while he told the class that at that particular moment, while perched atop Chichen Itza, he decided to be an archaeologist. That’s when my eyes were opened and I decided to go see for myself! You have the same ability to inspire us “travelers” and shovelbums too. Keep up the good work Wade.
P.S. I’ll be in Belize on Sunday…any chance you and Chaya will be near San Ignacio?
July 10, 2010, 11:53 am
Did I hear my name being mentioned? Ha ha.
I do wish you would email me before writing such fine work, I might miss it otherwise!
Many, many good points here. Is there room in the market for something different within the spectrum we all work/live in? Yes. Can it be done? Yes. How should it be done …
Well, that’s another discussion.
Stepping outside the realm of todays “travel” market, is important. For it is as you have said.
I watched Nixon vs Frost the movie last night. A lot of Nixon’s thoughts towards Frost can be said of the “travel blog” world these days. And, visa versa.
If you want to make it in this game, I would suggest making your own rules.
Heck, invent a whole new game!
Sounds like it’s happening already … ha ha
July 12, 2010, 8:24 am
I really like the way you are thinking a bought Taking a already great sight and tweaking it to A Geographic type sight.
I grew up reading and enjoying Natural Geographic Magazine The photos and especially the maps always picked my curiosity for traveling and exploring. So I do look forward to the new ideas and direction.
I was always taught If you are not reinventing your self periodically than you as a person will grow stale and bored.
I am know just finishing packing my old Honda with the few belongings that I really could do without in the long run and moving back to Seattle after 8yrs in Boston. To hopefully find a job to save up for some real traveling like you write a bought.
This will be my 3rd cross country trip and I will will have your words and experiences on how to travel to make it that much more enjoyable.
Keep up the great writing and enjoy that new bundle of joy you and your wife made time gos by fast know with kids in your life my 18yr and 20yr old just left the nest this year seems like it was just the other day they where 1yrs old.
I will quit rambling now. And leave ya with this.
Life is like a path sometimes their are bumps in the path use them to see more clearly whats ahead and take advantage of the bumps.
Catch up with ya later 6-12 days.
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