Candle Number Four: 5 Things I’ve Learned in My Fourth Year of Blogging

Travel blogger Ivan Kralj doing a handstand on a sandy beach in Donousa, Greece, photo by Ivan Kralj

Spring fairies should be dancing everywhere by now. Yet, as I’m writing this in Croatia, snow started falling, covering the first green leaves that shyly sprinkled the trees. As if nature played some belated April’s Fool joke.

I recall it was different four years ago. I was in Kyoto, Sakura season had just started, and together with the pink cherry blossoms waking up all over Japan, this blog came to life too.

Of course, it could have all been just a matter of perspective. As when I paid a visit to Kegon Falls, I did find out that Japanese spring can also come in a winter coat.

In the world of raging climate change, the product of our own hands dipped in all sorts of pollution, which was only shortly replaced by a seemingly more urgent crisis of COVID-19 pandemic, blog birthdays do not seem important enough to celebrate.

Yet, on March 28, 2017, in a small Airbnb flat in Japan’s cultural capital, Pipeaway.com started searching for its spot in a tsunami of travel blogs hitting the internet shores.

Four years later in that oversaturated market, I try to look back on the year that passed by, hoping to find some valuable lessons in achievements and mistakes I made.

Is this a road to success? What have I learned in my fourth year of blogging?

If you want to read my earlier reflections on lessons I took away from this adventure, check what I’ve learned in my first blogging year, second blogging year, and third blogging year.

Surviving to 4, without blogging lessons

“Travel blogging experts estimate that it takes at least 4 years to build up a website enough to start making any substantial amount of money. And that’s just for the ones that make it that long. Most blogs don’t even come close.”

The travel writing guru Roy Stevenson stated this in his report “Are Travel Blogs and Websites Becoming Irrelevant?”.

Travel blogging experts estimate that it takes at least 4 years to build up a website enough to start making any substantial amount of moneyRoy Stevenson

The four-year threshold has actually been updated from an earlier estimation which was – three.

Income might not be the only nor the most important way of measuring success. But I was already satisfied with an insight that I persisted for four years. That Pipeaway came into a circle of “the ones that made it that long”.

However, Roy’s ominous question remained: is travel blogging becoming irrelevant?

Without spoiling his analysis (please, read for yourself), he is clearly not painting a pretty picture. Stevenson suggests looking for other sources of income that seem sturdier, such as paying print magazines.

If you’ve just started your travel blogging journey, I’d avoid killing your optimism. You should be able to chase your creative endeavors!

On the other hand, if you launched your blog hooked by luxurious lifestyles projected by Instagram personalities, and you hoped to earn big bucks overnight, maybe you should indeed consider Roy’s advice.

Traveling and travel blogging changed a lot. In the pandemic year, I’ve managed to step on the territories of only (?) six countries. The same happened with other travelers; we all slowed down. Fewer travelers equal less demand for travel blog consumption.

But then again, with many writers giving up on the idea of blogging, once overflooded space becomes a bit less crowded. And maybe, just maybe, this is the perfect time to start a travel blog. Remember, stocks are bought when their price is down!

5 blogging lessons from Pipeaway’s fourth year

1. We are all stronger than we think!

Over the past year, I managed to interview some extraordinary people. There is something common to all of these inspiring individuals: obstacles did not make them divert. They persisted against all odds and became forces to reckon with.

Slaven Škrobot is a Croatian quadriplegic who didn’t allow physical immobility to stop him from seeing the world. He might be forced to invest more energy, finances, and goodwill of others to fulfill his dreams, but aren’t we all pushing the same way when following our path?

Bert terHart sailing in rough seas
With Bert terHart’s determination, you can pipe away your sailboat even through the roughest seas

Bert terHart, a Canadian in his 60s, fell off a 17-meter high mast, fractured his ribs, and had other internal injuries, and a month later he still left for an epic adventure: solo sailing around the world! He even got injured during the dangerous boat trip itself but fulfilled his plan no matter what.

Jessica Rambo is an American Marine that retired as an artist, traveling the States in her converted school bus/art studio. Many of us find traveling as curative for mental health issues. With a history of physical, sexual, and emotional traumas, this veteran found therapy in nomadic life.

Read the interviews with these unstoppable travelers, and take a look at your own doubts with a new perspective! We all felt handicapped when exiting the comfort zone and entering a zone we know nothing about. Whether you take these examples as a motivational talk for your blogging struggles or for your larger life dilemmas, remind yourself that giving up on challenges takes away all the fruit of labor which arrives once you overcome the obstacles.

2. Do not delay!

In January 2021, after thirteen years of living with cancer, my father passed away. I know we cannot control everything that happens with our bodies or our lives. But for a great part of the outcome, we do hold some responsibility.

Often we become our own saboteurs, spreading unstoppably and swallowing our healthy parts like cancer. I’m like that sometimes (even my horoscope sign is Cancer!). We surrender to the malignant influence coming from within.

Every time a person I knew dies, I get reminded of the fragility of life. We cannot live under a glass bell. We don’t know what the future holds, and we certainly cannot find answers in a horoscope. Dwelling on the past is dysfunctional too. ‘Now’ is what we certainly have.

As Marcus Kane in “The 100” would say: “You turn the page and you don’t look back. You do better today than you did yesterday. Before you know it, you’ll deserve to survive.”

Life on Earth is a product of billions of years of evolution. But it’s not a slow process anymore. Radical changes occur daily, mostly as a product of humankind’s actions. Trusting in ‘tomorrow’ could hit you like a boomerang.

Seeing Egypt, just a flight away, remained my 78-year-old father’s never-realized dream.

Take Myanmar! Just a few years ago, it was yet another backpacker magnet in Southeast Asia. Today, wrapped behind the COVID-19 fog, the horrible regime unbuckled in killing its own people.

Ethiopia, the African country I had the privilege to visit a couple of years ago, is back to instability too.

We are a civilization of conflicts. With other people, with nature, with the future. Whenever you get an opportunity to seize the day and feed your exploring spirit, do it! Do it before the dystopian world fully comes to life!

This doesn’t mean traveling against the epidemiological measures in effect! Behave responsibly, and do not add to dystopia yourself!

3. Mean criticism is water off a duck’s back!

I had similar advice in the last year’s reflection: “Don’t let superficial judging bother you”. Lame people could try to belittle you just because you stayed at some luxury hotel as part of your job (or even your private holiday).

There is something extremely provoking in nice furniture and scenic swimming pools when simple-minded people look at them. They might try to downgrade you, thinking that your reporting on such places is a special form of bragging, something that deserves their poorly informed lecture on your “vanity”.

Last year, I experienced such criticism brought up (or down?) to a new level. A friend’s friend, someone I was willing to interact with, in a moment of pique, brought up a rather nasty comment. It was suggestive and expressed in gloves, but still clearly connected my photograph in a Santorini pool on my private Instagram account with the oldest profession in the world.

 

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A post shared by Ivan Kralj (@ovolicki)

I do not get easily offended, but the way that was delivered felt as if prostitution was the only convincing lifestyle his little mind could imagine behind my travels. It was an insult to me, but if we want to be serious, also to prostitution, as I do believe sex workers engage in difficult work too.

Of course, I could have just tolerated this derogation, but figured out – why should I? I stopped answering messages and refrained from any contact. It was not just seeing it like water off a duck’s back, but I also swam far, far away.

And that was me, someone who has heard a variety of silly comments from evil tongues in my career. This reminded me how hard it must be if you are a female, especially if they consider you an attractive woman. Fight off sexism by not giving it space to flourish!

4. Replant!

The year of the pandemic motivated many of us to experiment with new hobbies. Cooking and home gardening are probably the most popular ones.

I found some comfort in getting my hands dirty myself. I’d make myself a smoothie, and then, instead of throwing away the avocado pit, I would decide to plant it. In the end, I had a home forest of some 30 young avocado trees!

I’m just imagining if there would be kittens in place of avocados, you would probably consider me a crazy version of a cat lady. Well, maybe you already see the craziness in becoming an avocado man!

But this was a fun way to observe how life can be easily nourished out of “waste”. To make my recycling efforts complete, I was planting the seeds in discarded plastic yogurt containers. The process was minimizing my trash, and maximizing the potential of new growth.

The idea of replanting can easily be transferred to travel blogging. In the pandemic year, with no travels and limited resources, the concept of recycling offers a solution to the problem. Indeed, maybe you cannot fly away somewhere exotic, but you can surely dig into some older trips of yours, as I did with some soil and seeds, and plant a completely new story.

Look, this very article is doing exactly that! I am displaying tips from my fourth year of blogging while recalling articles I published earlier.

I employ the same technique every now and then. The 2020 Year in Review or International Travel Predictions 2021 are examples of such posts in which I try to boost older writing once again, possibly with a new perspective.

Interlinking your articles is an important process in helping Google understand your content. It also helps your readers engage in a natural flow of exploring your blog.

5. Stay patient!

Travel blogs’ traffic has plummeted down severely in the pandemic. If I would compare Pipeaway’s page views in March 2019 and March 2020, the difference is radical – it fell to 18 percent! That’s a scary drop if you decided to carry all your eggs in a travel blog basket.

As soon as the pandemic decimated traffic, I decided to turn off ads on my website. I know, cutting the income stream when the income is in jeopardy sounds counter-intuitive. But I felt that earning cents through advertising didn’t make sense. Ads lower the quality of user experience and negatively affect the website speed, which in turn affects SEO traffic, and causes getting even less audience to the site. Earning ad money became digging one’s own grave.

The travel blogging niche is a puddle crowded with crocodiles. When the competition leaves to find a better swamp, more opportunities open for your content!

I decided I would turn the ads back on when traffic recovers substantially. At the same time, I focused on continuing to deliver content. In March 2021, Pipeaway’s traffic is 2,4 times higher than in March 2020, but there’s still a long way to getting out of the mud.

In the travel blogging world, the pandemic was a perfect moment for quitting. But as we said earlier, overnight success is rare. This race is a marathon. It takes time for your content to be recognized by Google and to start ranking. If you used the era of dispiritedness in the market to continue nurturing and improving the relationship with your readers, you might be on the path to success.

Remember, the travel blogging niche is a puddle full of crocodiles. Hereby, I refer to one Croatian proverb, not insinuating that travel bloggers are bad people. But they share a very crowded space. When your competition leaves to find a better swamp, it opens more opportunities to establish your content and your voice. With water rising back again, the lake will be yours!

My newest blogging lessons – Summary

These are special times, and travel blogging became less sexy than before. One would think that people who cannot travel would focus on consuming travel content the other way. But that’s just not the case. With fewer people traveling, travel blogs became obsolete. Which doesn’t mean that the pandemic put the final nail in their coffin.

While the European Union did not show efficiency in vaccinating its citizens, being in this part of the world during the pandemic did provide some privileges. Besides Croatia, where I reside, I was able to visit Greece, Hungary, and Germany. I even managed to get to the non-EU parts of Europe such as Serbia and Switzerland. But 83 days abroad in a year is definitely a new reality for a nomadic spirit.

Same like me, other travelers kept closer to their homes, to the health systems they are familiar with. World Tourism Organization reported that international traffic fell by 74 percent.

In more than just one way, the year of the pandemic was the year of survival. Everyone tries to stay healthy, and hopefully not die of hunger in this process.

These are very challenging times to focus one’s work energy on planting seeds of the trees that will bear fruits in the future.

But we are a resilient species. I truly believe that those who persist with growing optimism, presence, confidence, creativity and patience, can count on success in travel blogging even in the years to come.

Pipe away and blog on!

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In the year of the pandemic, the world went upside down. With no one traveling, a work of a travel blogger almost became obsolete. After running a travel blog for four years, Pipeaway author Ivan Kralj shares travel blogging lessons he learned with other aspiring travel bloggers

Ivan Kralj

Editor

Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

6 Comments
    1. Thanks for your comment!
      Avocados will hopefully be transported to a land in coastal Croatia before summer.
      Hopefully, some will spread solid roots, survive, and grow!

  1. It’s a great article and I agree with every point you have stated. I had some experiences very similar to yours. I’m sorry about your father passing away. My deep condolences. I also had a friend who said recently, In public, that any moron can become a blogger. I was insulted. However after a week of thinking I found out that the best response would be: “Jeepers! Are you O’K? You must have had a bad day.” It finally dawned on me how not to take it personally. These people embarrass themselves with their nasty words. The EU will open soon, maybe in two or three months and travel will pick up again. Good luck on your blogging and travelling!

    1. Thanks for your comments and condolences, Natalia!
      Yeah, life comes with a lot of challenges, sometimes it seems as it’s a series that will never end.
      But your insight about “haters” goes quite to the point.
      People who criticize always do it from their own perspective. While sometimes they could certainly be right (same as we), I feel it is also true that all of us tend to analyze out of our own weaknesses.
      So the best way to healing is indeed through seeing other people, even if they come off as arrogant and hurtful, as someone who might have been hurt as well. Not taking it personally is a piece of great advice. If it is personal, it’s usually talking about that person who showers with nasty words.
      Good luck with your travel blogging too!

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Pipeaway

* pipe away ['paipǝ'wei] (vt, mar) = to give
the whistling signal for the ship about to
leave the harbor

Mapping the extraordinary since 2017.

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Pipeaway is a travel blog mapping the extraordinary people, places and passions.
Founded and run by Ivan Kralj, Croatian award-winning journalist and editor.
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