A Fresh Start: Reevaluating My Purpose in Blogging

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aussie on the road when he was young
A much younger, less well-traveled Aussie in the Road during his first year in South Korea.

Getting Starting in Travel Blogging

When I first started Aussie on the Road back in 2010, I did it for a strange reason: a girl.

The girl I was dating at the time had started a healthy living blog (which didn’t see out the year, incidentally) and, in the interests of sharing a hobby, I decided I would do the same.

Despite my more obvious interests lying with rugby league or geek hobbies like Dungeons & Dragons, I opted for travel. Why? I’m not sure. I had been to exactly three countries at the time I launched my blog: South Korea, China, and the United States.

I guess Australia too, but I was born there.

Regardless of my intentions, I set to the task of documenting my meager travels with a huge appetite. I became addicted to the thrill of sharing stories and having people relate to them. I loved having strangers contact me to ask questions as if I were some authority.

And, in a case of life imitating art, having a travel blog encouraged me to travel. It gave me a reason to drag my ass out of bed on a cold Busan morning and photograph a temple I’d normally have had no interest in. 

Having a blog not only helped me grow as a writer and as a traveler, but it quite literally changed my life.

I met the girl of my dreams because of our travel blogs. We’re getting married later this year.

I’d never have met her if I hadn’t started blogging. Meeting and falling in love with Richelle has been worth more than every press trip, paid opportunity, and free sample I’ve ‘earned’ over the years.

franz josef glacier
Visiting country #4: New Zealand and being deliriously happy about it. December 2010.

A Growing Business

A combination of heartbreak and the fact I hate living in Australia, saw me go back out on the road in 2012.

By that time, I’d managed to make a little money from my hobby, but I was still very much reliant on my job teaching English in Nanjing. Oddly, my first posts about life in Nanjing were the closest to ‘fame’ I’ve come – with new teachers coming into Nanjing recognizing me from my blog and thanking me for selling them on Nanjing.

As I became disillusioned with education, I started to focus more on building my brand. I’d always enjoyed creating posts like my bucket list, so it seemed a natural direction for me to shift in. To this day, my Korea, China, and Japan bucket lists are my top three traffic draws.

But for all the traffic they draw, they don’t create a sense of community. People don’t stick around to chat or click through to other articles – mostly because I never got around to writing them.

Over time, travel blogging became a job. I wasn’t logging in to share an experience I was excited about – I was logging in to write a piece for a client or review something I had done as work. Coupled with my day job selling safaris (and writing content for them), it has become next to impossible for me to find the energy and inspiration to write posts that are true to me.

I can’t quit my day job, obviously, but I can quit the underpaying sponsored opportunities and instead focus on what I love.

How Far We’ve Fallen

I look back at some of the early posts on this site and I cringe.

The travel stories read like the idle journalling of the angsty twenty-something I very much was. It’s like I thought I could do justice to an entire week of explorations in a 3,000-word eruption of prose.

Amidst all of that naivete and amateurish stuff, however, there was the truth.

I was brutally honest about my battle with depression, my midnight run from South Korea, and my thoughts on never being able to truly come home. Fuck, I even published poetry.

It might not have been SEO-optimised or especially profitable, but it was very much me.

opal xinjiang china
Enjoying a local meal in Opal, Xinjiang, China in 2012.

A quick glance at my front page today will show you paid top ten listicles (#7 will surprise you!), puff pieces on destinations I was paid to visit, and sloppily handled product placement.

Somewhere along the way, the business of being a blogger not only pushed aside my love for sharing honest stories, it fucking killed it.

I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I opened WordPress and wrote a piece wholly because I wanted to.

These days, I’m mostly logging in to check metrics for a press trip or find a way to ham-fistedly work in a link to a product that is only tangentially related to travel.

I look at the front page of Aussie on the Road today and I don’t see much ‘me’ on it at all.

bukit lawang best orangutan trekking
Exploring Sumatra with Richelle in February 2017.

Perspective

If you follow the blogosphere at all, you have probably heard about the tragic passing of Rachel of Hippie in Heels. 

I didn’t know Rachel personally. Our interactions had been limited to her asking me for some contacts in the US back in 2016, but I knew of Rachel and her blog.

I knew about her great work in promoting both Goa and India as travel destinations for solo female travelers.

I was well aware of her reputation as being honest, down to earth, and a genuinely fantastic person who engaged with her community.

Rachel, like Richelle and I, got engaged in 2018 and was due to be married later this year. Seeing a 29-year-old’s life come to a sudden end when she had so much ahead of her was not only heartbreaking, but it made both of us aware just how fragile life is.

It is also a reminder of why I fell in love with being a travel blogger. It wasn’t for the sweet paychecks (ha!) or the occasionally ‘free’ tip. I fell in love with blogging because it allowed me to be honest and to connect with people.

Maybe the business has changed too much for that to be achievable anymore but I’ll be damned if I want to see Aussie on the Road just become a billboard.

You look ridiculous, Chris!
You look ridiculous, Chris! Post surgery in 2004.

Changes

What does all of this mean for Aussie on the Road?

It means that going forward, I’ll be writing more honest, narrative posts and less shitty listicles.

I want to focus just as much on the “Aussie” as I do on the “on the road”, because somewhere along the way, this has just become another generic travel site without its heart and soul.

It isn’t going to happen overnight. I’m going to be doing an extensive content audit to figure out what stays and what goes. I’ll be rewriting, retooling, or removing posts that don’t reflect me.

I’ll be doing more storytelling and less hand-holding. There’ll be more personal stories and less impersonal top tens.

Put simply, I want to get back to the joy of sharing stories and inspiring people, and I don’t care if that means making less money.

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8 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the post, mate! It’s been hard to reset my mindset to this new line of thinking haha.

    Everytime I try to start a new post, I have to stop myself from worrying about how much SEO/social media value it’s going to give me. It’s a serious writer’s block issue haha.

  2. Hey Chris, I just shared this article with the Blogging in Beijing network. It’s so refreshing to read such an honest piece, given nowadays bloggers and content creators (ugh, hate that term) flood us with useless content. Looking forward to reading more — and sharing them here in Beijing

  3. I was one of those teachers that decided to come to China (first foreign country I ever visited) and ultimately Nanjing because of your blog. That decision changed my life more ever and turned me into the travelholic I am today. Thanks for all of that authentic writing. Best of luck reshaping you blog and look forward to reading more stories.

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