It’s Full Life, Full Passport’s fifth birthday! 🎉 Five years ago, on February 1, 2018, I published the very first blog post that would launch this business.
At the time, I was feeling lost and a bit adrift. I had recently lost a job I loved when my company (let’s call it… Schmapple Inc.) restructured the sector of the business where I worked. M and I were on year three of looking for our first house. I wasn’t getting pregnant, despite months and months of trying. It was a time of uncertainty and disappointment, and there didn’t seem to be any forward momentum in sight.
But I knew I loved travel. And even more than that, I loved talking to people about travel. I loved talking to people about the trips they were planning and offering advice (usually after being asked). And so, with no small amount of help and encouragement from M, Full Life, Full Passport was born.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into; or, rather, even if I thought I did, there was no way I could have imagined that five years would have brought me to where I am now. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to bring FLFP to its first birthday, let alone turn it into an actual career.
But now, thanks to the Lord’s grace and M’s support, a lot of hard work and the wonderful community that you, as a reader, are a part of, we’re celebrating five years of the Full Life, Full Passport blog. Five years of itineraries, tips and tricks, interviews, essays and commentaries on travel-related topics, destination highlights, gift guides, and other fun and helpful content. Five years of empowering you to take your best (and least stressful) vacations yet.
Today, I want to celebrate this milestone by sharing ten things I’ve learned over the past five years of travel blogging. If you’ve ever thought about joining the blogging world yourself, I hope they are illuminating and useful for you. If you’ve been around here for a long time, I hope they give you some fun insight into this place of which you’ve become a part. And if you’re new here, welcome! I’m glad to have you along for the next part of this amazing ride.
Whoever you are and however long you’ve been here, thank you for helping to make it all possible.
10 Things I've Learned Over Five Years as a Travel Blogger
10.) It's a lot of work, especially if you care about quality.
Although it may not seem that way from the outside looking in, there is a lot of work that goes into making a blog helpful, relevant, and successful. While I could probably just throw together a listicle or a quick post each week with notes and photos about my personal travels, that’s not my style, nor what would be most useful to you as a reader planning your own vacations.
I know some people are lightning-fast at writing blog posts, but it takes a long time for me to craft an article. This includes researching relevant keywords, writing at least 1,500 words of copy, doing additional research to flesh out the article and make it more helpful, editing (ugh, editing), creating Pinterest pins and other social media content, and promoting the post once it’s live.
There’s also the work that goes into continuously improving the website, user experience, email community, traffic, and search engine optimization, plus time spent staying up to date on trends and news in the travel industry.
I suppose the nice part about travel blogging is that you can put as much or as little effort into it as you want, but if you care about the quality of your product or are looking to grow an audience and create a career, you need to do the work.
9.) You can't compare yourself to others.
When I first started working on Full Life, Full Passport, I started following a lot of the biggest and most popular travel blogs for inspiration and to get a feel for the industry. At first it was great: I was excited to jump in and share my own stories and perspectives, and it was such a cool community to feel like I was joining!
But over time, I noticed the temptation to compare Full Life, Full Passport to their blogs and businesses. I would feel dejected that my website wasn’t as pretty as theirs, or jealous that someone was partnering with an awesome brand and taking a free, amazing vacation. I would look at my lowly traffic statistics and tiny social media following and wonder how I had ever felt like I could be good at this.
It was like I had moved to Nashville to pursue a singing career and was feeling like a failure because I hadn’t immediately become Carrie Underwood.
M, who has graciously talked me off many a ledge over the past five years, kept reminding me that I can’t compare my own successes to the accomplishments of people who had been doing this for a decade or more. He also kindly pointed out where it wasn’t fair to judge myself harshly when another blogger’s life looked radically different from mine. Of course she was able to generate two blog posts a week – she’s not spending twelve hours a day chasing two toddlers! Of course he has more consistently fresh content and Instagram photos than I do – he uprooted his life to move to Europe, while I long ago realized that my heart needs a home base near family!
I’m still not great at it, but over time I have learned to appreciate my work and successes for exactly what they are, not for what they are compared to everyone else’s.
8.) Overnight success isn't a thing... but the little successes add up.
Regardless of your industry, it’s easy to believe in the myth of the overnight success. We see a recording artist who seemingly came out of nowhere and is now at the top of the charts, or an athlete who takes his or her sport by storm and is suddenly doing endorsements for Nike.
When I first started Full Life, Full Passport, there weren’t many of you tuning in. In fact, the total number of visitors to my website in 2018 was significantly less than the monthly traffic I enjoyed last year. It was a long slog of putting my best effort into creating great content, only to have a few dozen people (or fewer!) check it out. And that’s not even taking into account the worldwide pandemic that kept people away from the travel industry as a whole for more than a year!
But every now and then, I would write a post that people would notice. I’d see a spike in traffic, or get some positive feedback from a reader I’d never met before. I’d discover that a blog post was appearing near the top of Google’s search results for a certain keyword. Soon, I was celebrating hitting over 1,000 pageviews in a month. And then 10,000. And it’s only gone upward from there!
There was no overnight success for Full Life, Full Passport, but I’m grateful to have been able to celebrate a slow, steady upward momentum. And somehow, that feels even sweeter.
7.) Self-promotion is hard, uncomfortable, and necessary work.
Although I knew deep down that it would be impossible, part of me hoped that I could somehow make FLFP a success without really having to market it at all. People would just… find it, right? My amazingly-written, incomparably dazzling blog posts would eventually just take the internet by storm. Right?
Marketing and promotion, for me, is one of the least enjoyable parts of running a business, which is especially ironic considering just how much I love doing this work. I vastly overthink my Instagram and other social media captions and headlines. I stubbornly avoid reaching out to other bloggers for link swaps and guest posts. I even struggle against fears around what others, specifically people I actually know in real life, will think of me when I share one of my own blog posts on Facebook! (Am I annoying them?!)
I guess the long and short of it is that I’m still trying to find the self-confidence and strategies that I need to effectively promote Full Life, Full Passport. I love this business so much, and I’m so proud of it, that’s it’s time to stop hiding and really let its light shine.
6.) There are a lot of fake and scammy people out there.
One of my most disheartening moments in the first few months of FLFP happened on Instagram just after we launched. I had registered to attend the first TravelCon bloggers’ conference and had followed the speakers on social media to get a feel for who they were in advance of the event. Suddenly, my follower count shot from 45 to over 200! People, mostly other travel bloggers, were following me! I was a part of the community, and my audience was growing! I was so excited.
And then, within a couple of days… the count dropped. And dropped again. And even though I was gaining multiple followers per day, I couldn’t seem to get back up over that 200 mark.
It was my first, frustrating introduction to the games that people play to gain a following on social media, and to how inauthentic and self-serving people can be online. People were following me in an attempt to get me to follow them back, then unfollowing me to keep a wide ratio between their followers and the people they themselves followed. (Can I use “follow” any more times in one sentence?)
Now, I get spammy emails every single day asking to sell me services (with no official company name or credibility) or pay me to add links to questionable products and services on my website. There are also plenty of people who reach out for guest posts, link swaps, or other “collaborations” pretending to be bloggers or content creators, only to reveal later that they work for an agency, use AI, or have misrepresented themselves in some other way. It’s frustrating and exhausting, and it can be hard to tell who is being genuine and who is trying to scam or take advantage of you.
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5.) You have to stay true to yourself.
It took a while for me to figure out who I should “be” online and on Full Life, Full Passport. For the first time, I was scrolling through Instagram and getting a glimpse of the influencer life. I was following blogs run by fabulous, fashionable women who had quit their jobs to travel the world in gorgeous dresses and with perfect hair. It felt like everyone around me was doing roughly the same thing, and that if I wanted to be successful in this industry I had better figure out how to be that kind of person, too.
So I played around with my voice. I signed off on some of my first few blog posts with “XO, Gwen” because it felt like the cute-and-friendly-girl thing to do. I tried to be overwhelmingly positive while still finding a way to be honest. I wrote chipper Instagram captions filled with a quantity of emoji that I would never use in real life. But eventually, I realized that none of that was me.
I’m not an “XO” girl. I use pretty much the same four face emoji as every other older Millennial. I’m not all that fashionable, and I have had my fair share of bad travel experiences. These days, I try to stay truer to who Gwen actually is, and not who she feels she needs to be to fit in online.
4.) Sometimes you have to invest in yourself and your product.
Ever since I started setting up lemonade stands and selling (terrible) homemade greeting cards in elementary school, my dad has often repeated to me, “You have to spend money to make money.” And that has certainly proven true with Full Life, Full Passport.
One of the great things about blogging is that there is a relatively low start-up cost: you buy a domain name, pay for web hosting, and you’re pretty much on your way. When I started back in 2018, I paid for very little apart from the aforementioned services and a Google Workspace (then GSuite) account. As traffic and revenue started to grow, however, I was able to invest in establishing FLFP as an LLC, secure a contract and insurance to protect myself and my clients, and upgrade to paid services and website plugins like Tailwind and Social Warfare. Small investments made here and there – and big ones every once in a while – have certainly paid dividends when it comes to the growth and financial success of the business.
Psst! Sign up for Tailwind using my referral link and get a month of the service free! It has absolutely streamlined and simplified FLFP’s Pinterest experience.
3.) You'll be surprised what is and isn't successful.
You can do your best to research keywords (words and phrases that people are searching for online), follow industry trends, and anticipate web traffic patterns, but sometimes what does and does not catch readers’ eyes can be surprising!
I have poured countless hours into blog posts that I thought for certain would be popular, or at least helpful and relevant enough to gain a decent amount of web traffic. I’ve researched keywords, gathered data and information, wrote what I thought was extremely helpful copy, and promoted online and on social media… only to have the blog post fade away into some forgotten corner of the interwebs. (I’m looking at you, One Day in Amsterdam, How to Stay Healthy While Traveling, and the now-obsolete complete guide to a first trip to Disney World…)
Meanwhile, a listicle about mother-daughter trip destinations that I wrote on a whim during the pandemic is still one of my most popular and well-trafficked posts today. I’m still at the top of Google for a post I wrote during my third month blogging, a quick and seemingly random article about visiting a sheepdog farm in Scotland. And despite not even knowing that Vieques existed before I started to plan our trip to Puerto Rico, my three posts about the island are among my top ten all-time most popular articles.
The lesson here is that you can be as strategic as you want – and some strategy is a good thing! – but ultimately you shouldn’t be afraid to write about things you love or care about.
2.) It is tremendously gratifying.
There’s nothing better for me (professionally) than when a blog reader or vacation planning client comes back after their travels and tells me that I played a part in them having an amazing vacation. Knowing that the work I’m doing is helping to de-stress the planning process and empower people to see the world is an unspeakably incredible privilege.
I truly treasure every comment, every email, and every direct message I receive from you all. It is such an honor to serve you in this way!
1.) I. Can. Do. It.
While I wouldn’t necessary call myself flippant or undisciplined, the fact is that I have had a lot of good intentions in the past for projects that never came to be. I have notebooks full of half-started stories or detailed character/plot outlines that never became finished works. I have told myself I was going to become a part of this online community or that local organization, only to drop out after a short time. I have attempted to start new habits or keep New Year’s resolutions only to fail miserably.
It was one of my biggest fears in starting Full Life, Full Passport: What if I just fail again? What if I don’t have the self-discipline or the drive to actually turn this into something? What if it’s all just another round of good intentions that ultimately ends up as another abandoned website crowding Al Gore’s internet?
And yet here I am, five years later, more passionate about this project than ever and regularly devoting dozens of hours of each week to making it work. I’ve stuck with it through the first year of almost no web traffic, a worldwide pandemic that shut down the entire travel industry, and becoming a mom to two small children who need me nearly every hour of the day. I have stepped out of my comfort zone, wrestled through difficult and frustrating challenges, and eked out work time during early mornings and late nights and naps. And it has 100%, without a doubt, been worth it.
I can do this. I can, and I have, and I will continue to do this. Buckle up, because the next five years of Full Life, Full Passport are going to be even better.
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