Personal Stories

6 Years On: What I’ve Learned & What’s Next

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On this day in 2013, I published the first blog post here on Valerie & Valise. At the time, I had recently moved to Seattle and started a new job; I was fresh from a year living in London to get my MBA and exploring Europe on my weekends and terms breaks. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about travel blogging, and had no idea what it could be come.

But wow. Six years!

For the first few years, I marked each blogiversary with a big giveaway. I found cool partners willing to give my readers travel goodies, and shared the joy far and wide.

Last year, on my 5th blogiversary, I didn’t mark the occasion at all. I was busy trying to hit my deadline on Dark Skies – and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue blogging in 2019 at all. After five years, my fire had gone out – or at least burned so low that I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort to rekindle it.

I set out to write for just three more months, to finish out 2018 and then see how I felt. Little did I know that V&V was about to catch a rocket ship to the next level. Obviously, 2019 has gone very well and this blog is now part of my full-time self-employed income. I won’t say I’m a “full-time travel blogger” because I still do other writing work and non-writing freelance work too – but it’s a big part of my daily professional life.

As I mark my 6th blogiversary, I want to look back at how far I’ve come – and look forward to the future. I’m planning to blog until at least my 7th blogiversary – if not all the way to my 10th and beyond!

What’s Changed from Year 1 to Year 6

When I started Valerie & Valise in 2013, I was part of the ‘second wave’ of travel bloggers. The OG bloggers had all started in the late 2000s or early 2010s. Those of us who kicked off in 2013-2014 were riding the waves of their hard work as blogs became a more legitimate way to make a living and see the world.

For almost the entire first five years (2013-2018), I worked on my blog part-time along with holding a full-time job or freelancing full-time. This was in part a necessity: my traffic and income were inconsequential. I couldn’t afford to focus more on my blog until I could make it a better business prospect. #studentloans #saveme

When I quit my last full-time job in July 2018, my goal was to focus on writing Dark Skies, help Space Tourism Guide grow, and see if I could make V&V a viable business. I set a deadline to see what I could do by the beginning of 2019. As I wasn’t sure if I would continue blogging here, I didn’t do anything special to note my 5th blogiversary… It felt odd to celebrate a milestone if I was planning to quit a few weeks later.

Fortunately, there have been two substantial changes to the world of travel blogging:

  • Influencer marketing
  • The rise of SEO

These two came together this year, and have made it possible to run a blogging business – and for V&V specifically to be a viable part of my income.

Influencer Marketing & Travel Blogging

The word ‘influencer’ is a rightfully contentious one for most travel bloggers – myself included. While I see why it’s easy to lump me in as a social media influencer for the purposes of understanding what I do everyday, my business plan is not the same as your standard Instagram ‘influencer.’

I am a writer first and foremost; I create visual assets to complement my writing. Honestly, I only share those visual assets on social media to help round out my online brand and presence.

But the rise of influencer marketing has been a boon for bloggers too: it equates with a massive increase in interest and income available for us to earn. Brands and destinations now understand how to leverage the skills of digital creators and what to pay us for the value we provide.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement (such as learning how to see through fake influence and noise), but without marketers willing to pay those Instagrammers for their work, I would probably have gotten a lot less work this year too.

SEO & Travel Blogging

When I think back on the pre-2016 Google era, I wonder how travel bloggers got traffic. Since Google became more friendly to bloggers as experts on destinations and travel topics, we’ve been fortunate to reap the traffic rewards. This has in turn allowed many of us to monetize our sites through ads and affiliate networks. Without the Google traffic stream, most of us would never make enough to stay in business as bloggers.

Here on V&V, I saw early glimmers of the power of SEO in the summer of 2018 – ideal timing as I tried to commit to being self-employed. It wasn’t enough to pay my bills, but it gave me a sense that if I could just create more, I might be able to someday. Through the end of 2018, I pumped out a ton of SEO-optimized content, and I’ve enjoyed the results from that in 2019. In turn, I’ve been doing the same and hoping to level up again in 2020.

Together, SEO and Influencer marketing have made it possible for me to stay committed to blogging this year – and to see a path forward for a profitable future.

My Travels in Year

When I stop to look back on the past year, I’m overwhelmed by the fortune I’ve had to travel as much as I did – all while growing my blog and freelance writing career. I’m actually writing this post from London, so even kicking of year 7 on a strong travel-oriented note!

This year, I:

Like I said, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to explore so much this year – and for Mr. V’s support for all of those trips!

My Blog Growth from Year 5 to Year 6

I know some of you readers are curious about how far I’ve come. I pulled together a few quick interesting stats to show how much V&V has grown from my 5th year (2017-2018) to this 6th year (2018-2019).

Traffic Growth

  • I had 224,491 pageviews from October 21, 2017 to October 20, 2018.
  • I had 800,555 pageviews from October 21, 2018 to October 20, 2019.

That’s a 256% increase in traffic! It brings me much closer to the coveted 100k monthly and 1,000,000 yearly traffic milestones.

Income Growth

  • I made $4,849 between October 2017 and September 2018.
  • I made $37,025 between October 2018 and September 2018.

I’ve never compared these numbers before, but holy crow! While $37k is not enough to live on, this is a 663% growth in income. It’s also more than enough to cover all the costs of running my blog and traveling to keep the whole thing going.

Community Growth

Measuring how much my community has grown is a tricky one, but I feel like it’s important to try.

  • I received 216 new comments on my site this past year… excluding some lost data from when I had comments turned off before December 15, 2018.
  • My mailing list grew from 502 to 1,944 subscribers… excluding some people I deleted because they had unsubscribed and I didn’t want to pay for them to be on my list.
  • I received 197 emails from readers. Sometimes these were replies to my newsletters; others were spontaneous emails asking for travel advice.
  • My social media followers have shrunk, but who knows how much? It has become increasingly tricky to grow social media – and those people are the least engaged community members… so I didn’t try to figure out how many people have ‘unfollowed’ me this year.

Roughly, this means that I replied to 1 emails or comments, and 4 new people signed up for my email list per day!

What’s Next for Year 7?

If you’re one of those email subscribers, you might remember that I ran a big survey in September to help come up with my strategy for next year. Here are some of the interesting results!

Strategy 1: Continue Bringing Y’all Back for Trustworthy Content

The good news is that all of the respondents had been to my site within the last year – and I was delighted that 24% of people had been within the last week!

I’m confused about the 4 people who said they trust me a 6 or less (because, uh, why are you still reading much less filling out my survey???). However, the fact that 90% of readers rate me an 8 or higher and my average score is an 8.76 is really reassuring that the work I put into my posts is valuable to you. There’s also plenty of room to improve here!

This was a fun question because while 38.8% of people haven’t booked something based on my site – 40% of you have, and another 21.2% of you plan to!

Strategy 2: Create Great Content on Topics You Want

These two charts show what types of posts you like (top) and the ones you don’t like (bottom). It’s a good sign that you like almost everything I post, and that sharing lots of destination guides is the right strategy. I plan to continue posting destination guides as my primary type of post.

Mr. V will also be starting to post here on V&V, to share his perspective.

Strategy 3: Recommend the Tools You’re Already Using

In one section of my survey, I asked about how you like to book flights, hotels, and tours. This was to help me improve the tools I suggest in each post.

The results are granular because I allowed you to fill in an ‘other’ answer (my mistake), but some interesting takeaways:

  • 40% of you identify as budget travelers
  • Over 35% of you identify as a female traveler, family traveler, or independent traveler
  • 29% of you identify as adventure travelers
  • Most of you identify as more than one of these types of traveler!

So you’re pretty much badass women travelers who may or may not have families but don’t want to spend a ton of money to have a great adventure. Sounds like me!

Most of you book on whatever tool gets you the best price (budget travelers) and you have relatively little loyalty to any specific airline, hotel brand, or even booking site. Price and affordability are the crucial in booking anything, as based on the 67% of you who said that was your top consideration.

What does this all mean?

  1. I need to continue to travel independently (or with Mr. V) where it makes sense because y’all aren’t really the tour types.
  2. This site needs to reflect a budget-minded consideration. While some of you said you’re also luxury travelers, you’re unlikely to book a trip that blows the budget.
  3. Wherever possible, I should share a budget option, pricing, and price comparisons to help you find the option that’s right for your budget.

It might not seem like it, but this helps me a lot. Instead of just recommending the top hotels somewhere, I can also start to add budget-friendly options. I hope this helps you in your travel planning too!

Conclusion? There’s Lots of Work To Do

Despite a bad autumnal slump in traffic right now, I feel more committed than ever to continue Valerie & Valise to at least its 7th blogiversary. It might seem like the jetsetting or income are my only priorities, but seeing how many of you have been impacted and booked trips to explore our world is the most reaffirming part of marking my blogiversary this year.

I’m excited to continue growing, to impact over 1,000,000 prospective travelers next year – and to explore new corners of the world to share my stories with you.

Have any questions about travel blogging or my life, since I’ve been doing it for six years now? Let me know in the comments!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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