Featured Image for Blogiversary Four

Valerie and Valise Turns 4 – What A Year

🎉🎉🎉 It’s party time!

It’s hard to believe that today, October 21st, is my fourth blogiversary. Four years ago (in 2013), this little blog burst into the world. Valerie & Valise was born… but it was called Valise Magazine at the time. 😆

Every year to celebrate my ‘blogiversary,’ I like to write a series of posts: about my “year of travel,” what I’ve learned blogging that year, and to giveaway some cool prizes for my loyal followers. Instead of doing a series of posts this year, I’ve rolled it all into one. Get ready to travel through time with me to celebrate that my blog has made it through another year – and it was my best year yet!

Table of Contents:
1. My Travels This Year
2. My Blog This Year
3. My Goals for Year Five
4. What I’ve Learned as a Travel Blogger
5. Giveaway Time! (Enter to win 1 of 3 Travel Inspo Prize Packs!)

Let’s get to it!

My Travels This Year

My Travels This Year

  • Countries Visited: 9 – France, Czech Republic, Austria, United States, Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica
  • States Visited: 13 – Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Minnesota, Washington, California, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Alaska, Illinois Oregon
  • Plane Trips Taken: 20 across 8 time zones

My year of blogging began in Paris, France, in the final leg of my trip through Europe with Mr. Valise. From there, we moved to Prague, Czech Republic. While there, I took a flight back to the U.S. for a speaking engagement in Grand Rapids, Michigan… I spent five days in the States before jumping back across the pond to finish up our European trip. Two more weeks in Prague plus ten days in Vienna, Austria, and we were back in the U.S. again!

Over the winter holidays, Mr. V and I moved from New York down the East Coast through Philadelphia and Washington D.C. We flew to Minnesota to see my family for Christmas, and back to Seattle to see his. We settled back into life in Seattle, in what felt like both a continuation of the life we left behind to travel – and a new chapter.

As the page turned on the new year  I spent most of 2017 traveling a lot! Many of these trips were for work to Berkeley, where my now-employer Go Overseas is based.  A few other destinations included Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for this year’s Women in Travel Summit and Chicago for a friend’s wedding celebrations.

For my blog, the primary trips I took were of the nautical variety: a Princess Cruise in the Caribbean, including ports in Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Jamaica, and an UnCruise trip to Southeast Alaska.

Mr. Valise and I also spent a long weekend in Alaska, I spent a few days in Houston for a #NASASocial event, and took a trip to Oregon for the solar eclipse. Like I said – it was a surprisingly busy year!

Now, we have turned the page and moved to the Bay Area. I start my fifth year of blogging, my life is in a different place, literally and figuratively!

My Blog This Year: Posts, Traffic, Google, oh my!

Blog Post Stats

Looking at my blog in Year 4 compared with Year 3 is an interesting prospect. In late 2016, I started ‘archiving’ old posts (read: deleting crappy old posts) and culled my total number of posts from around 350 to around 200. Every 3-6 months, I go back through my posts again and archive a few more, such that my total number of posts is 195. Over the last year, I’ve also begun republishing posts (read: updating not-so-crappy old posts) too.

In total, I’ve published/republished 84 posts since my blogiversary in late October last year. That’s 1-2 per week, which is my goal! 🏆

The quality of my posts is also significantly better – if you haven’t noticed. 😉 This is all part of a larger strategy.

Traffic Stats

Additionally, despite (or perhaps because) I culled a lot of bad content from my domain and published new, high-quality posts, my traffic is growing at a healthy rate for the first time in a few years:

All Traffic, October 2016 to September 2017

All Traffic, October 2016 to September 2017

It’s hard to tell from the chart above, but if you look back historically, I’m at an all-time traffic high. Additionally, the big bump in November/December 2016 is from one of my posts getting a ton of Google traffic. I’ve worked hard this year to try and create more posts that do that all year long, and it’s definitely working.

Here’s my search traffic over the last year:

Organic Search Traffic, October 2016 to September 2017

Organic Search Traffic by Month, October 2016 to September 2017

It’s hard to get a sense there because you can still see that bump from November/December is driving good search traffic early in the year. Instead, I like to look at this weekly search traffic chart:

Organic Search Traffic, October 2016 to September 2017

Weekly Organic Search Traffic, October 2016 to September 2017

Now you can see that I’ve been successful: I had a big spike of search traffic at the end of 2016 (as my Six Reasons You Should Visit Prague in January post peaked in traffic). More interestingly, the growth from May to September is strong and steady. Google likes me! Google really likes me!  😍

Overall, my traffic is still really low for a blog my age in the travel blog industry. I’m going to break 10,000 unique visitors this winter as Prague in January peaks again, which is teeny compared to most of the big bloggers in the industry. Nevertheless, this search traffic growth has sustained my passion and energy to keep blogging, when there have been many, many times I’ve considered quitting in the past 18 months.

My Goals for Year 5

Moving into year 5, I’m feeling much more positive than I have in the past several years. The goals I’m setting are meant to be difficult but possible.

  1. Continue to work on my Google Search Traffic. Right now, Google accounts for ~40% of my total traffic, and I’d like to hold it there. I want to see the raw number of people finding V&V by Google to go up, which means…
  2. Improve my Pinterest strategy. I have spent a year fighting with Pinterest with little success. In year 5 I would like to increase Pinterest traffic such that Pinterest accounts for 20+% of my total traffic (it’s been ~15% for the last six months) but is also significantly higher.
  3. Earn 2 backlinks per month. Backlinks (and referral traffic) are an important (and neglected) part of my traffic strategy for Year 5. I plan to work with fellow content creators to earn organic backlinks and do some guest posts/interviews too.
  4. Produce 1-2 blog posts per week on average. These can continue to be a mix of older posts and new ones; as Year 5 progresses, you will likely see an increasing number of new posts.
  5. Break 20,000 Visitors and 15,000 Unique Visitors (UVMs) in at least 2 months. This is a tricky one – it requires every other goal else coming together and increasing my momentum simultaneously. This is the BHAG (Big Hairy Ass Goal) for Year 5. Successfully achieving this would also bring me to a more competitive level as a travel blogger in the industry, even if it’s still a small number.

Valerie & Valise

What I’ve Learned as a Travel Blogger

One of the most beloved parts of my yearly check-ins – at least according to the comments you all leave – is where I share my lessons from the year of blogging. Here they are for this year!

1. Travel Blogging is a Marathon – Not a Sprint

Nobody tells you this. Everyone on the internet – including people and companies I’ve worked closely with –, would have you believe that all you need to do is register a domain, write a few pretty-good posts and voila! Hotels will want to host you! Brands will give you free stuff! Airlines will think your Insta is the coolest and fly you errywhere for free!

Don’t believe that for a second. 🤦

Travel blogging is hard work and it takes a long time to be successful.

Every blogger you follow has worked their tail off. They may have been more or less efficient with their energy or time than other bloggers (omg, this blogger is only on their 2nd blogiversary and they already have more traffic than me, says my brain), but nobody wins overnight.

Starting my fifth year blogging, I’m actually energized by this fact. The longer I work, the smarter I am, the harder I hustle, and the more likely I will be successful when other bloggers looking for the easy route drop off even if they actually achieve success.

2. Google is a Blogger’s Best Friend

Everyone says “SEO is important to travel blogging,” but I don’t think this sunk in until this year for me.

I look at bloggers who write posts like “here’s what I did in X awesome destination” and I think: great, who cares what your vacation was like?

Instead, I try and write posts that follow this formula: “here’s how YOU can plan a trip to X awesome destination with some of Valerie’s sass sprinkled throughout.” It’s not about me, it’s about you, dear reader. Google knows this, and Google rewards this. 📈

“Searcher intent” is a huge part of what top SEO companies think matters to ranking well in search engines. This means that despite the fact that I travel to X awesome destination before you when I sit down to write the post, it’s about helping you figure out whatever you need to know to have a great trip too. If I help answer your questions and plan your trip, Google will rank me better, and in the end, everyone will be happy: you’ll have a great trip, and I’ll reach more readers and inspire more travel.

Google’s where it’s at for other bloggers too: if you use a tool like SimilarWeb for a big travel blogger, you’ll see that many of them have HUGE traffic coming from Google as a portion of their total traffic. Get on the Google train or get the heck out! (Note: SimilarWeb is not super accurate, but it can give you a good sense of things.)

3. Pinterest Still Makes Zero Sense to Me 

Dammit, Pinterest: why do you hate me?

Every blogger I know seems to be killin’ it on Pinterest, and I’m stuck. I’ve tried everything I can think of to no avail, and I don’t know what else I can do. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Nevertheless, Pinterest still is an important part of any blogging strategy, because like with Google, you can meet reader’s needs through visual search (instead of textual like on Google). If you take great pictures, you can reach new readers.

Get on it.

Okay, you made it this far. Giveaway Time!

The second most favorite part of my annual blogiversary post (okay, maybe the favorite part…) is my giveaway. Over the past few years, I’ve given away some sweet stuff!

  • 2014 – Year 1: a valise stuffed with travel goodies and gear
  • 2015 – Year 2: ten cool prizes that were travel-themed
  • 2016 – Year 3: a bunch of tours in some of my favorite destinations

For this year, I spent some time deciding exactly what I thought you, dear readers, might want. Maybe you, like me, read travel blogs for inspiration. In that case, I have a duty to give you a properly inspiring prize!

This year, I’m  giving away three sets of my “Travel Inspo Prize Pack,” which includes:

  • One “Can’t Talk, Planning An Adventure” mug in gold from my friend Aleah at Map Maiden (retail: $17.50 on Etsy)
  • One copy of my Travel Journal (retail: $14.95 on Amazon)
  • One copy of Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel (retail: $13.59 on Amazon)

But it’s not just enough to get inspired, ya know? You need to GET OUT THERE. Even if it’s not far from home. You just gotta travel, and I want you to make it happen, no matter your means.

So… I also have three $50 gift cards for Urban Adventures – good anywhere in the world (read about my own experience taking a tour with Urban Adventures in Prague). I don’t have a picture for them, but these are super sweet prizes donated by Urban Adventures to help you take all the inspiration from the other prizes, and turn it into real, meaningful, local travel experiences.

The total value of this prize is almost $100! It’s chock-a-block full of travel inspiration! You can read about cool destinations while enjoying a coffee or tea from your mug, book a tour with Urban Adventures, then write about it in your journal. I gotchu covered for travel in 2018!

Blogiversary Giveaway: Prize Pack

Ready to enter? Get on it  👇


(Can’t see it on mobile? Sometimes, the raffle entry box won’t show up on your phone, so please check this page on your computer instead!)

Important details:

  1. The giveaway runs from 12:00am PST on October 21, to 12:00am PST on November 1.
  2. Winners will be notified no later than November 5, 2017.
  3. Prizes will be shipped no later than November 30, 2017.
  4. The Urban Adventures gift card must be used before October 1, 2018.
  5. I reserve the right to re-draw winners if you are cheating, spamming, or otherwise being uncool in your efforts to try and win. Be cool. 

Huge thanks to my sponsors for this year’s giveaway: Map Maiden (check out her amazing blog too!) and Urban Adventures.

Good Luck! Here’s to Year 5…

  • Kendal Karstens

    Oooo I didn’t know Intrepid had Urban Adventures! I have my eye on a couple Paris tours now…

    • Hopefully you’ll win and then you can use the gift card! 😀 Good luck!

  • Jan Thoms

    I didn’t know Urban Adventures had so many tours right here in the USA! Good to know- will keep an eye peeled for them when I’m traveling.

    • They’re pretty fantastic – local tour operators & local’s-only spots, usually!

  • Lori

    I’ve been eyeing that Lonely Planet book… 🙂 Happy blogiversary!

    • Thanks! Hopefully you’ll win and then it will be yours! It’s quite hefty…

  • SYG

    Those Urban Adventures look amazing. I think our next journey is to Canada to see Niagara falls. I’m always excited to travel, but it takes planning with toddlers!

    • I’m sure it does! :-O Good luck!

  • Cool look at the last year! I’m also stuck on Pinterest, I haven’t even really touched it this year. I kind of half got into it, then got overwhelmed with all of the other social media and gave up, haha. I might have to give it another go, because it does seem to be effective!

    Btw, the bag you sent me a few years back is AWESOME! I still use it regularly 😀

    • Nathan, I’m so glad the bag is useful to you! I always wonder about past prize winners 😉

      Pinterest, don’t get me started. It can be as good as Google for traffic, but only if you can cracking it!

  • Cydney Wolf

    Love this! I can’t believe you’ve been at it for 4 years already! Where has the time gone?! I love living vicariously through your adventures 🙂

    • Thanks Cydney! I know, right? This time four years ago, it was just starting, and we were going to have Thanksgiving in Portland in a few weeks! :-O

  • Gemma Orrock

    Sure is a marathon and Google is my best friend too. How was cruise life? I’ve never been on one, that age old stereotype that it’s for older people has kind of put me off, plus being restricted to the boat! Congrats on your 4 years <3

    • Thanks, Gemma! Now it’s time to figure out the traffic growth thing! 🙂

      Cruising was interesting – the big ship cruise was definitely stereotypical that way. The small ship was not so much. They were older people, but they were COOL, well-traveled older people, plus loads of people of younger ages too.

      • Gemma Orrock

        Well I never say never! Quite like someone else doing to driving!

        I’m sure you’ll make traffic happen 😂

  • Ligia Maria Orellana

    Congratulations on your blogiversary, miss V.! You’ve done a fantastic job, and I’m always wondering where you’ll go next. Here’s to many more years of traveling and blogging about it! (do consider returning to England soon, to add a nice Peak District hike to your records <3)

    • I have England on my list for 2018 – hopefully will see you there! Thanks, as always for being my oldest blogger friend <3

      • Ligia Maria Orellana

        Yay! I’m still here next year (I’d be here forever if I could!), so just let me know when you’re coming. I’m quite amazed as to how far back we go in blogging terms <3

  • Congratulations on your 4th blogiversary! You’ve had a very fun and exciting year! And I think you did an amazing job!

    Belle | One Awesome Momma

    • Thanks, Belle! I appreciate your support 🙂

  • Congrats on 4 years! I just made it past my first year blogging..and I don’t have a whole lot of time to spend on it so I know it’s going to be a slow process… but I’m just going to do the best I can when I can! Your words are encouraging in that it does take a while to build up, even for more experienced bloggers.
    It’s funny about Pinterest, it has been pretty much my only source of traffic thus far..I really have to learn how to get better search results in Google lol!

    • Want to give me some Pinterest tips?! 🙂

      The whole “marathon not a sprint” thing is something not many bloggers talk about, but it’s so true… you just gotta have endurance!

      • I probably don’t know anything you don’t about Pinterest, I’m a newbie..still have to organize all my boards better and such, but I just try to make the graphic look as nice as I can, and I have 1 image in my blog post with a hover over pin button, that’s really all I’ve done so far. My traffic is really very low overall, it’s just that the little traffic I do get, comes from Pinterest- so at least it’s a start!

  • Kate

    Nine countries! That’s amazing!!! I need to up my travel game!

    • Thanks! Happy to give you some pointers about travel and how to do more of it, if you want them 😉

  • Lisa Roe

    We would love to travel more, just booked a tropical vacation for December, we are looking at a cruise/Europe next spring. Time to get out there and see more of this beautiful world! I took a Pinterest course that literally took my zero, brand new Pinterest account to huge views and is the major source of my blog traffic within a few months. Pop me an email anytime if you want more info!

    • Lisa, thanks so much for the comment! I can’t wait to follow along with your travels.

      I’m emailing you now about that Pinterest course!

  • Leigh

    Congratulations on 4 years! I prefer to think of travel blogging as a triathlon rather than a marathon…as soon as you’ve got one mode “mastered” there’s something else to work on! Good luck with your BHAG!

  • Jenny Ham

    I would like to go to Los Angeles

  • Tracy Shafer

    My next destination will be Hawaii!

    • Great choice, Tracy! Which island do you want to visit?

  • Kim Cowgar

    My son and I just went on an 3 week road trip adventure across the U.S. this summer. Crossed off many of my wish list places/adventures – was amazing! Next on my wish list is an international trip – so many places I’d love to travel to but I’ll say Peru (Machu Picchu is a total bucket list magical place for me)

    • Sounds amazing! Machu Picchu is on my list too – and Peruvian food looks delicious!

%d bloggers like this: