Every month I’ll write a personal update about what’s been happening during the month. You get an insight into what travel blogging is like and it holds me accountable and enables me to track my progress, the highs and the lows as I go. My intention is to be as honest and open as possible.
I’m going to track several things in these posts: things I did and places I visited, blogs that I wrote, articles that I published on other platforms, and social media engagement. At the end of each update, I’ll set some goals for the month ahead.
So without further ado, here’s what happened this September!
I started the Researcher Gone Rogue blog
Undoubtedly the biggest thing that happened this month was that I made this blog live! The idea for Researcher Gone Rogue came to me while on a camping trip in Glaskogen Nature Reserve in Sweden one weekend. I’d been waking up at 5.30am every weekday morning for months working on side projects for a travel startup and my own freelance writing. The startup world is fickle and the one I’d been working for suddenly let me know that they couldn’t keep me on any longer. Around the same time I made the decision to take leave from my full time research job as I was starting to feel as though it wasn’t really for me. While I was wary of uncertainty and an unstable financial situation, I saw this as a window of opportunity to finally pursue travel writing and see if I had what it took to be a travel writer. I’d recently won an EU blogging competition and had successfully pitched some articles to travel platforms in Sweden, so I figured that I wasn’t completely barking up the wrong tree. I just had to try.
What I am most proud of in starting this blog is not that it took a lot of courage and determination to start (which it did) but that I did it without paying a designer or developer to set up the site for me. I’ve been using WordPress for other projects for over a year and a half now but I’d never set up my own website. This time, I did it from scratch all by my little old self (well…almost. I’d enrolled in a travel blogging course to help me with the setup and it was well worth it for all the time it saved me Googling answers to basic questions about hosting, plugins, etc). And while researchergonerogue.com may not be the flashiest of sites, I think it looks half decent!
My first ever (paid) article was published
Second to starting the Researcher Gone Rogue blog, this was my second big accomplishment this month. I had two articles published on two different platforms this month as a result of pitches that I made during August. I saw an advertisement for regular contributors to an independent travel guide to Sweden and Denmark and decided to apply. I was successful and had my first article commissioned by them on budget things to do in Karlstad. I’m still hesitant to call myself a travel writer, but this was a big milestone towards achieving that goal, so I’m celebrating. Having written a lot of content for free over the last year, it feels great to finally be compensated for the time I put in to researching, writing and editing a piece of writing. I think once you stop doing something for free as a hobby and start earning money for it, there’s something in that. Now, I’ve been hired to write regular event listings for the same website and have another article going live very shortly.
Where I Went
During August and September, I kept things close to home, enjoying the change of seasons from Summer to colourful Autumn. My partner and I made some weekend trips to nature reserves and national parks, camping out in Glaskogen and canoeing in Tiveden. We tasted delicious local food at the Alsters Herrgård Autumn market and the Taste of Värmland food festival and discovered Sweden’s oldest railway track while on a hike through the countryside in Kil.
Things I Kicked Off
A Travel Writing Course
I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing and really wanted to get some external feedback, so I signed up for an Advanced Travel Writing course with MatadorU, an online media school run by Matador Network. It cost 475USD, which sounds like a lot. But being the careful person that I am, I initially signed up for a 7-day trial and completed the first unit of the course, hung out in the forums and chatted to some people there to get a feel for whether it would be worth it or not. In the space of that first week I already felt like I’d received my money’s worth so I signed up for the full course.
I’m progressing through it quite slowly due to working full time and having freelance projects that eat up a lot of time, but I’m learning so much from the comments that the faculty are giving me on my writing and am determined to finish it in the next couple of months! As a former content manager I’ve been used to editing other people’s work for so long and it’s a really nice change to have someone critique my work and give me constructive feedback on how to improve it.
Engaging on Social Media
Researcher Gone Rogue is currently active on 3 social media platforms: Facebook (24 likes), Instagram (30 followers) and Twitter (47 followers). I’m most active on Twitter, so it makes sense that I have a bit more interaction there. I struggle a little with Instagram and Facebook is most likely always going to be the least engaged platform of them all. Snapchat might also be coming soon, but for now I’m keeping it for friends and family only! Because I still have a full time job and other projects to work on I haven’t had the time to spend on engaging as much with followers and influencers on these platforms as I would like to, but I hope to do more of that next month.
The Failures and the Struggles
This wouldn’t be an honest update if I didn’t acknowledge the failures and struggles in addition to the accomplishments. What you see on social media are the published posts, the accomplishments, the where I’m going next, the inspiring travel photos, and so on. What you don’t see all the behind-the-scenes struggles that go on. As with any freelance writer, I pitch articles to platforms (not as regularly as I should because I’m still working full time, but about every couple of weeks or so at the moment). And of course some are rejected. It always hurts to have a piece that you’re really excited about get a non-response or a “sorry, it’s not really what we’re looking for” but it’s all part of the process. And I’m using my failed pitches as a learning curve.
For example, one article that I pitched to one platform was rejected (and for good reason – pitching is such a great exercise in realising how to position your work and persuade someone why your content is interesting and relevant, and sometimes when it gets rejected you realise that the piece you pitched wasn’t really suited to that platform, or could have been pitched in a better way. Such was the case with this particular piece). So instead of forgetting about it completely, I’ve turned it into a blog that I’ll publish on Researcher Gone Rogue. It wasn’t a complete failure.
I pitched another article to a fairly big travel platform who didn’t outright reject it but asked me to resubmit my pitch in a different format and include samples of published articles. At the time I didn’t have any decent samples, but now that I do I’m going to resend the pitch and see what happens.
A Tough Decision
Another failure that I’ve tried to turn into an opportunity is my work situation. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve decided to take leave from my research job from mid-October. It’s a long story but I wasn’t happy at work and wasn’t sure that doing a PhD was for me. I felt for a long time that I would fail the expectations of both myself and others if I decided not to continue, but it reached the point where things were so bad that I felt miserable at my job. After talking to several people I decided that it’s not worth continuing something that is causing unhappiness if there is another option (albeit a less stable one) that could be better. Travel writing is generally not a well-paid career path, but it is one that I think I would love passionately with every ounce of my being. I’ve been doing it on the side for a while now, so why not try and see if I can turn it into something part time or even full time?
Therefore, as of mid-October I’m taking some time out to evaluate whether a job in academia is really for me or whether I am going to go all out and put all my efforts into travel writing. Uncertain times lie ahead, and plenty of challenges, but at least it will be great inspiration for my writing. Expect to learn more in future updates!
This month was all about starting fresh: setting up the website, new social media platforms, getting some content out there and doing a bit of trial and error. I also tried to develop a niche by focusing only on topics relating to rural destinations in Sweden. I think it’s really important to have a unique angle on your content. I’ve travelled to a lot of places – over 40 different countries – and I’ve lived in 6 different places. But instead of writing about all of them I’ve decided to start local and focus on the Värmland region of Sweden where I’m currently living.
Next month I’ll continue in this vein, but I’m also travelling to Brussels (I jointly won a trip to the European Week of Regions and Cities and will be covering the event as an accredited journalist). So I’m planning to write some content about this event and some travel pieces about Belgium, while maintaining the focus on unique and rural destinations.
My goals are to produce 2 blog posts each week during October, to publish 4 freelance pieces (this is a challenge because I only have 1 lined up and will need to pitch 3 other ideas to achieve this but I think I can do it!) and to improve my engagement and increase my interactions on social media.
Are you also an aspiring travel blogger/writer who can relate to some of these things? Please share your accomplishments and struggles in the comments below, I would love to hear from you! And if any part of this update resonated with you or you want to know more then please don’t hesitate to reach out.