This is Not a Vacation: How Blogging Changed the Way I Travel

Apr 20, 2012 by


It amuses me when people say things like ‘gee, you sure go on vacation a lot’.  Because in my world, I haven’t been on a vacation in–well, I actually can’t think of the last vacation I actually took.  Perhaps that trip to the beach in 2008.  But that was four years ago–pre-Suitcase Scholar.

As I’ve said over and over, I travel not just to see new places, but to learn new things.  And I want to share those new things with as many people as possible, and a blog is the best way that I know how to do that.  Though it would be nice if, say the New York Times really wanted me to write some travel articles for them.  Just saying.

But if you’ve ever thought of starting your own travel blog–or worse, dreamed of setting out to be a ‘real’ travel writer–there’s something you should know.  Your trips will be forever changed.  Often for the better.  And a little for the worse.

Photos become extremely important

Even small details, like random doorways, become photo worthy.

I have not consumed one single bite of one single meal on any trip I’ve taken in the past three years without first snapping a picture.  Lately, the quality of my iPhone food photos has been bothering me, so I’ve been bringing my dSLR to meals with me.  I take photos of strange things–like street signs and bus stops and the art on restroom walls.  Why?  Because I’ll never know if I’m going to need a photo of something for, say, a post about the restroom wall mural near the bus stop on Constitution Avenue (I made that up–and it was a bad example–but you get the idea).  On my last cruise, I selected shore excursions that involved as little water as possible because I knew I’d need to take my camera.  And I hiked dozens upon dozens of miles last summer from Maine to Nova Scotia and back with my camera bouncing against my belly button.  The camera never stays at home.

Note-taking is required

Imagine my shock and horror when, on a recent Segway tour in Walt Disney World, facts were given to me that I could not write down.  I write everything down when I’m traveling.  On my last trip to DC alone, I took five typed pages of notes–all with my thumbs, all on my iPhone.  I think most people assume I’m that jerk, constantly texting.  Nope–I’m that jerk, writing down everything you say.  And then snapping your photo, too.

Hitting the big name attractions becomes more important

Thinking about visiting San Francisco, as I’ll be doing in just over a week, a visit to Alcatraz was not on my list.  It just didn’t appeal to me.  Why would I want to waste a perfectly nice day wandering around an old prison?  But I’m going to go, because I want to be able to write about it.  Fortunately I found a night tour–so I don’t have to waste a perfectly nice day.  But this is important to note–travel blogging often forces you to do the touristy thing, the typical thing.  But sometimes that’s not a bad thing.  One of my favorite things from my visit to London two summers ago was the London Eye.  Touristy?  Absolutely.  But also quite enjoyable.

Finding off-the-beaten-path activities also becomes more important

Travel blogging makes you do crazy things–like leave the French Quarter to visit…the zoo?

People don’t just want to hear about the old standbys, and to be fair, most old standbys have been blogged to death.  Try this–do a Google search for ‘blog posts about the Louvre’.  There’s one million, two hundred and ten thousand results.  Now, do a Google search for ‘blog posts about the Mussee des Arts et Metiers’.  A mere hundred thousand results.  As a frequent Disney visitor–and a Disney blogger–I can tell you that there are countless articles about Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge; but there are very few about the rather unknown Wanyama Safari Tour that the lodge offers to its guests (at a price, of course.  Nothing is free in Disney World!)  That’s why the third and fourth Google results are–surprise surprise–this blog.

You will sleep less 

Did you notice how I said that you have to do both touristy things and find unique experiences?  And did I mention that you now have to write about them, and edit the photos you took of them, and combine that all together into something that looks pretty and makes sense?  Yeah–that all takes a lot of time.  No matter where I am in the world, at the end of the night I come back to my room or cabin and spend at least an hour on the computer–often more.  And I’m not even writing blog posts.  I’m often just writing down additional notes or uploading photos.  Or replying to comments on previously posted posts.  It’s all very time consuming.  Add to that the fact that, in order to do all of this touristy stuff, and unique stuff, and note-taking and photo shooting, one has to get up pretty early in the morning.  I’ve not woken without an alarm clock while traveling in years.

All that being said, travel blogging is the best hobby I’ve ever had.  I suppose it is much like having a child.  As a childless individual, I often wonder how or why anyone would sign up for at least ten years of sleepless nights and grocery store tantrums.  But in the same way, I know that blog-less individuals see me rushing from attraction to attraction, dutifully taking notes and snapping photos, and think the same thing.  Why would anyone sign up for that, they wonder.  And the answer is the same for me as it is for those exhausted-looking parents.  It’s because I love it.

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  1. Toni

    “Why would anyone sign up for that, they wonder. And the answer is the same for me as it is for those exhausted-looking parents. It’s because I love it.” This comment says it all. THIS is why you should SERIOUSLY consider taking some of these blog posts and turning them into some kind of book. I am even more convinced today that you should do an e-book of some kind- and do it SOON. You probably won’t make a ton of money, but it would be something. AND it would give you some street-cred, AND some personal satisfaction. I am sensing a real need on your part for that. The Disney educational travel book is a good idea- just maybe needs to be for later. Your writing style ahs defintely improved over the past couple of years. You are well focused, use great analogies, have a marvelous dry, almost self-deprecating wit and you draw your reader into your experiences. Your posts, with some SLIGHT modifications would be interesting to all ages from ‘elder statesmen’ travelers (like me), to young adults (your peers), to teens and pre-teens! Parents could use them to ‘entice’ kids about upcoming trips, everyone could use them to plan (some are ESPECILLY practical- like where the restrooms are in Paris and New Orleans). I know I’m harping/nagging. But sometimes I gert these feelings/premonitions and I just have to push a bit. When I do, and when the other person listens, good things happen! I’ve said it before and I ‘ve felt it very strongly this week- I’ve got a tingeling in my thumbs that something REALLY GOOD is about to happen regarding YOU and YOUR TRAVEL WRITING. You just have to take a leap of faith- and soon- and I think it really might be doing a quick, rather short, but really interest travel e-book. Ib et you’ll be surprised at the interest.

    Sorry for the sermon. But my feelings about this are really strong and I had to get them out. My sister mentioned the e-book thing to me about my project (but it just isn’t the format I need) and that started this whole rant. Ever since I first started reading your posts on Rick Steve’s board and then started reading your blogs, I’ve felt that there was something special in your future. It is getting closer. Really it is.

    Oh- and good luck having a “perfectly nice” day in San Francisco. That was our last stop on hubby’s 50th birthday around-the-world trip. It was the one destination I did not enjoy. As Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter day I ever experienced was a summer day in San Francisco!” LOL I personally found it to be a ‘tarted up’ Myrtle Beach. But I know others really like it. The one thing we didn’t get to do, that I wanted to do, was tour the Giradellie factory. You might want to check that out. Oh- and the gardens at the Golden Gate Bridge.

    • elbodans

      You are not harping, ranting, or sermonizing. You are telling me something I need to hear. You have no idea how down on myself I’ve been about not finishing ‘the book’. But I’ve fallen out of love with it–likely because of what you just described. I have a specific writing style–and I enjoy that style (yes, I am definitely self-depreciating!) ‘The Book’ is not written in any style. It’s like a sixty thousand word research paper. And I hate it.

      I will look into an e-book concept, but what would my angle be? I guess ‘lessons from the road’ or something like that–in keeping with the theme of The Suitcase Scholar. But that’s kind of vague. And everything I’ve heard about travel writing is that ‘travel memoirs don’t sell’ and ‘you can’t turn a blog into a book’. Maybe I should stop listening to those people? Ha!

  2. Toni

    On other quick though. Check out “Dragon” software. It might help you. It is a speech recognition program. It types what you say. A former student of mine who was in a horrible accident and is now a quadrapalegic, uses it to type her emails, texts, etc. I’ve recently seen it advertised on TV. It might speed up your note writing at night.

    • elbodans

      You are the third person to suggest that–first my husband and then my cousin (who is in the sixth grade). I will look into it. The only problem is that I’d feel silly talking into my phone, particularly during tours. But I’ll give it a shot. It might be good for the solo part of my solo travels. The very solo part!

      • Toni

        I think Dragon would be good for the ‘stuff’ you do at night and early morning- transposing your day-time note, making drafts for blog posts, etc. Don’t know that it would work while touring- might be a bit distracting to the guide and others. But might work while just walking around by yourself.

        As to the e-book, I think more of a travel guide type format. But very personal. I haven’t read Rick’s books (naughty, naughty me), but from what I read on his board, his are something like that. Your modern twist on ‘folksy’ would be very refreshing to someone like me who CAN read AAA guidebooks, but would PREFER another person’s impressions, rather than a just another dispassionate description.
        The one really great thing my sister pointed out- ebooks mean that ALL monies come to you- not just a percentage. No agent fees, no publisher taking the lion’s share. AND the VERY BEST- YOU maintain TOTAL CONTROL of content, format, etc. (And somehow, I think that would be important to you). Also- Who cares about the nay-sayers. If you e-publish and no one buys it, it hasn’t cost you very much- but you can say you are published!!! And I bet if you can sell it for less than $5 (maybe just for $1.99??) that you will have some takers.
        Ah– just thought- what about the solo travel angle? Might be a good place start. Lots of single young people and newly single oldersters who might be REALLY interested. Save the ‘educational’ stuff for later, maybe.
        Or do two rather quickly…..

        • elbodans

          Wow–if only I believed in myself as much as you believe in me. If there’s ever a book, you will surely get a thank you somewhere in there. :-)

  3. Becky

    I write travel articles on, so I know a bit of what you’re saying. I think I’ve always kind of been this way though – my vacations aren’t really relaxing at all! I’ve constantly been “go go go.” Even before I was writing articles I would take tons of pictures, take notes, and pack in as much as possible just to remember everything for my own personal benefit!

    And I definitely agree with Toni that an e-book could be a great idea. I love your writing style :)

    • elbodans

      Yeah, I guess it’s half the blogging and half my personality. I’m definitely and over-planner and an over-doer! I guess that’s why I gravitated towards–and then became obsessed with–blogging. :-)

      Glad you enjoy my writing!!! Thanks!

  4. I absolutely could have written this post! When I first started travel writing, I had to personally get over the idea that I couldn’t possibly go on another vacation when I has just returned from one. That was not done! Then I realized they were not vacations, they were work. The next step is making everyone else understand that I don’t spend all my time on vacations. Funny, I’m also thinking about using an audio app to take some notes. I’ll have to do it later though after tours and dinners out, I get enough looks when I’m taking pictures of all my food in restaurants, much less talking into my phone about what I’m eating! I’ll share your post on Twitter; I think it’s very good and timely for many of us.

  5. elbodans

    Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I’m fine with the amount that I travel–after all, no one is making me go anywhere. I’m making all of my own plans (and just recently determined the proper amount of time between trips–I need at least a month at home to not feel rushed, scattered, or stressed). And I’m fine with the people who think it is insane, too. I understand they just find different things important. Which is good, because the world needs people that love to golf. Or cook. Or run, collect stamps, raise Siberian huskies…etc.

    Do people look at you funny when you take photos of food? Huh. I guess I never noticed–but that’s because I’m so engrossed in taking the photos! Ha!

    I will definitely use the audio note taking app on this next trip–if only to be able to write about my experience using it! Plus I will give me someone to talk to whilst hiking alone in Yosemite.

  6. What a great picture of you, and very good points about the importance of taking pictures. When I started blogging I had a terrible camera and hated taking pictures – that had to change very, very quickly!

    • elbodans

      Thanks–my friend and blogging partner (on my Disney blog) Melissa Sue Sorrels Galley took that photo. I tried to give her a photo credit in the caption, but it kept coming out all wonky so I deleted it.

      I’m glad you are learning to love photography. I’m learning to love running–so we’re even! Ha!

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