Blog Update: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going Next…

We’re back from Japan and gearing up for a big year. In this post, I want to run through a variety of topics looking back at last year and forward to this year, covering where the blog is going next. Mostly, I want to “think aloud” a bit, tossing around some ideas, explaining my rationale, and hopefully getting some feedback from you in the process.

We’ll start by looking back. Last year, I think this blog started to find its groove. We had approximately 150 new posts, doubling the combined content of the previous four years (see them all in reverse-chronological order in our Latest Posts section). We also had a site redesign, launched the free newsletter/free 101 Things to Do in Southern California eBook, and wrote several posts offering deeper dives into places.

Looking forward, I’m hoping that we’ll have even more new posts this year–and more that offer broad planning, like itineraries and city guides. I also want to do top 10 lists; praising or criticizing a particular point of interest is useful, but ranking it offers comparative context. (And everyone loves lists!) If there are other types of posts you enjoy or dislike, we’d love feedback on that.

It might seem like things are starting slowly given that we’ve only had two post thus far this year, but I’ve written over 10. The big challenge is culling through the tens of thousands of photos I took in Japan, and starting to get those edited.

Japan is going to be an obvious focus for the blog this year, as is California. Travel-wise, we’ll also be in both locations this year. After a slow year on the U.S. National Parks front last year, I’d also like to get more serious about starting to check new parks off my list.

Other places are on the agenda, both in terms of posts and travel. The difficult part with the latter is narrowing down our list of potential places. We want to go back to Scandinavia, but also see more of Europe. Alaska has also been a dream destination for a while, as has Quebec City at Christmas.

Presently, the vast majority of my time is being spent writing about Kyoto. On our last trip, we visited over 100 temples in Kyoto. In most cases, I have a vivid memory of our experiences at each and also took meticulous notes while we visited these temples.

Other temples were (frankly) forgettable, and my notes aren’t nearly as thorough. (For one, the extent of my notes is just: “nice/modern restrooms; W/ SOAP! I wouldn’t recommend bc”. I’m thinking I forgot to finish the rest of that second sentence, as normally nice restrooms with soap are a strong basis for me to recommend something.)

The point is that time is of the essence for writing posts for some of the more underwhelming temples, as my memory of the forgettable ones will undoubtedly fade. There’s no way I’ll do full posts for every single temple we visited, as some simply are not worth the effort.

Since I don’t want this blog to be all Kyoto, all the time, my plan is to write drafts of around 30 temple posts and slowly post them over the course of several months, interspersed with other content. A few of those will come in the next two weeks, as I want those done before my “Kyoto Top 10” post.

The one thing with which I’ve still struggled is finding a thread to tie this all together–to pique your curiosity about places you may never visit. In part, I’ve realized this is a fool’s errand. Even Disney Tourist Blog, which has an obvious thread, doesn’t maintain reader interest when it comes to parks outside of the United States. I think it does a better job, though.

That’s probably because there, we’ve found the right balance of straightforward and anecdotal. Going through old posts here, I found several (probably most, if I’m being honest) temple posts that were all over the place. They featured some amount of history, tips, and thoughts on our experiences, but often lacking organization.

When it comes to travel planning, it seems like most resources read like ‘Wikipedia for Travel’. A facts-forward style without much color commentary–and what commentary is offered seems to be more like an aggregation of the consensus, rather than anyone’s actual opinion. Given the success and prevalence of this style, it’s probably what most people favor. Planning is difficult, and why digest and distill info from a 2,000-word post when you could get the same factual info in 500 words?

Personally, my favorite blogs are the ones with a distinct voice; ones that paint a vivid picture of what their experience was like. Even when I get the impression I might disagree with the opinions, I find this style more fascinating, helpful, and authentic.

I have little use for basics like admission fees (half the time those are wrong, anyway) or transit info (that feels antiquated in the age of Google Maps). History of places can be fascinating, but usually that’s not what makes my decision to visit a place, and it’s so much easier for me to retain history when reading about it at the actual place.

In writing, my approach has basically been to write for myself, which often results in rambling, stream of consciousness text. (This post being Exhibit A.) I’ve begun to realize others have different priorities when travel planning, making my style less than ideal.

While I have no interest in trying to appease everyone, I think better organization makes sense. Accordingly, in the new posts I’ve already drafted for temples we visited on our Japan trip, I’ve implemented a new format. This breaks things down into three distinct sections after the introduction: Info & Tips, History, and Our Experience/Review. 

The first post like this will be posted tomorrow, and I’d love feedback on how the style works for you. I think it makes the post easier to revisit if you want whatever info & tips we shared, and also skip the color commentary at the end completely if you don’t really care about our experience at whatever the place.

With regard to Kyoto, this will all culminate in an ‘Ultimate Guide’ to the city akin to our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or our Paris Travel GuideThe “problem” I’m already having as I start to draft random paragraphs of that, is that there’s so much I want to cover. I’m guessing it’ll be over 10,000 words, which borders on too long for a blog post.

This has led to me throwing around the idea of a Kyoto eBook. This idea has led to me debating whether to do another free one, like our 101 Things to Do in Southern California eBook, or do something more comprehensive, and charge for it. Charging for anything gives me pause–I much prefer the indirect, ad-supported model.

However, doing a paid eBook would help me fund further research in Kyoto. There were a variety of things we skipped because we didn’t feel they’d be worth the money to us, or because we had already spent a lot of money doing other things. Ad revenue on this blog doesn’t even come close to offsetting the expenses of what we write about, which is normally fine since personal enjoyment justifies most of it. A paid eBook would bridge the gap and help justify further research.

The big question is, does anyone really care? The SoCal eBook was relatively popular, but it had two things going for it: 1) California is a popular destination among English-speaking readers of this blog, and; 2) it was free. If I put 40 hours into a free Kyoto eBook and only 7 people downloaded it, that’d be a bummer. If I put 200 hours into a $10 version and only 5 people bought it–putting the value of my time at approximately $0.25/hour before we even think about expenses–that’d be downright depressing.

To that end, I’d love to hear from you whether this is something that interests you, and if so, whether you’d prefer a free or paid version. Please be honest: a truthful “no” is better than a spare-his-feelings “maybe.” Ultimately, I’ll have to make an educated guess based upon regular readers and those ‘passing through,’ but your feedback is helpful as an early gauge.

Finally, we’d like to underscore the request for feedback. It really is helpful to us. What is the blog doing well and poorly? What would you like to see more/less coverage of? What kind of content do you like? We’re genuinely interested in constructive criticism here, and I know that is something people hesitate to give because most people don’t take well to it.

Oh, and as always, we love it when you comment on posts, as it lets us know not just that people are reading, but are engaged by or enjoying the content. (Unless your comment is that the posts sucks and wasn’t engaging, I guess.) I put a ton of effort into editing photos and writing these posts, and it’s always satisfying to hear that they were helpful or fun to read. Likewise, anytime you share a post on social media or with your friends, it’s greatly appreciated.

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42 replies
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  1. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    Hi Tom! I’m super excited to see that you are rambling out loud about possibly charging for something. I’ve been a reader of yours for 2 years now, I know approx how much traffic your Disney site gets and would love to see you start charging for some more exclusive materials! While a Kyoto ebook probably isn’t the place to start (I think you would be discourage by revenue on that) I would love to see you do something Disney and charge for it

    Reply
  2. Jo Longson
    Jo Longson says:

    I love your writing style and content, and I would pay for an e-book on Kyoto. But I would be even more interested in paying for an e-book on The Tokyo disney parks, or even one that Covered all the parks outside of the US.

    Reply
  3. Caroline Vickerstaff
    Caroline Vickerstaff says:

    I found your blogs through your Disney content. We were planning a trip to Japan and I wanted a plan for the parks and understand what I was letting myself in for. Because of that I expanded my reading to your Japan content. I don’t think I would buy or even read a free version of a Kyoto book. I like the reading about overview of various different cities/activities so I can determine if that sounds right for us or not, and if so add it to our itinerary. We are unlikely to visit somewhere – Kyoto or otherwise for as long as you did and therefore I would only want to read the highlights. Since back from japan we are now planning a trip to San Fran, Hawaii and LA, so I’ve been reading up on applicable blogs . Your varied content that suits my travel interests is what keeps me coming back. Your style makes it easy reading, you don’t take yourself too seriously and you add a dose of reality. I don’t mind the length as I enjoy researching trips, so the longer and more detailed I’m all for!!

    Reply
  4. L
    L says:

    Honestly, I read your blogs because I like your stream-of-consciousness, wacky, at times brutally honest commentary. Also, you take amazing photos. While I like traveling around the world with you and Sarah, the chances of me paying for an eBook are slim to none just because I’m cheap.

    I don’t have a ton of constructive criticism as I think this blog has really blossomed over the past year…just keep traveling to new and interesting places. While I’d love to even go to HALF of the places you do, it will either take me a very long time to do so or I just never will. So, let me live vicariously through your trips!

    Reply
  5. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    I’m loving all you your Japan content on here, Tom! I got back from 3 weeks in Japan a month ago – it was definitely not long enough!! But I’m loving re-living my trip through your posts and learning more about the places I didn’t get to go to. I would definitely buy a Kyoto e-book! 🙂

    Reply
  6. Mindy
    Mindy says:

    As many have said, Disney first led me to your blog(s) and I’ve stayed because I like your attitude/writing style. You don’t take yourself too seriously, and are honest about the places you visit. Also, we seem to agree on our assessment of many aspects of the world of Disney, so I feel that I can trust and place value in your blogs about other places.
    Kyoto doesn’t massively hold my interest, so an e-book is unlikely to be a draw for me. However, my other big interest in your work/blog has always been the photography, so I’d be more than happy to see some more posts around that topic. I’m very much learning when it comes to cameras (just got my first interchangeable lens system for Christmas), and I love to learn from what others have done.
    I’m also a fan of the National Parks (albeit I get to see and do more in the UK equivalent!) so more posts on those would be appreciated.

    Reply
  7. Robyn
    Robyn says:

    I’ve been reading here for a few years and to be honest I don’t see myself going to Japan. I do enjoy the Disneyland planning guides, as we do go to Disney quite often. I have read through a few of them quite a few times. Other than that, my favorite post to read and reread is how to celebrate Festivus at Disneyland. Like someone else said, I came for the Disney, I stayed for the sarcasm. I also appreciate that, like me, you are a Disney parks fan, not necessarily a Disney fan. When I do read your travel blogs, I look mostly to see what you think was worth it, and what was not worth it.

    Reply
  8. Lauren Boxx
    Lauren Boxx says:

    One thing to consider on the ebook front. Your ebook may not break any new ground or may contain the same information as another one, however, I would be more inclined to buy yours because I would like to show my appreciation for your hard work and buying your ebook is a win for both of us. Just my .02 I had thinking about it.

    Reply
  9. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    We’re heading to Japan in May this year, and am following your posts to help us plan. We’re only spending a day in Kyoto, so I’m sure you will have more suggestions than we can deal with. Most of our time will be at the Tokyo Disney Resort (4 days), with a couple of other days for downtown Tokyo exploration.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      One of the posts we’ll be doing–hopefully before May–is a 1-Day Kyoto Highlights Itinerary. In the event we don’t have that done, my suggestion would be to do Higashiyama in a north-south line. Don’t try to zig-zag across the city; you’ll have to sacrifice some things with that limited amount of time.

      Reply
  10. George Potter
    George Potter says:

    Honestly…I came here for the photography what feels like forever ago. I stay here for the sarcasm. 😉
    Seriously, you two are doing amazing work in balancing factual information vs. entertainment. You clock equal parts of Tony Bourdain and Fodors; and I deeply appreciate that. It keeps me coming back.
    I don’t see me realistically making it to Japan but I enjoy the photography and the story and being a Buddhist, I do REALLY enjoy seeing so many amazing temples. So…yea, I’m down for the firehose of that content, even if you do charge for it. A general travel guide to Kyoto, I’d likely to give a pass.
    Given the volume and quality of content you’ve been putting out…ever considered something like Patreon?

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      “You clock equal parts of Tony Bourdain and Fodors”

      The first part of that is about the highest praise possible, at least from my perspective. The second part…eh, not so much.

      As for Patreon, it’s something I don’t want to do. There are a number of reasons I’m against it (for us), but the two biggest are that basic advertising is passive and egalitarian. Everyone is “paying” for the info, and no one is.

      The second big reason is expectations. I’ve realized that people already have high expectations for things they get for free; thankfully, I have no obligation to respond to angry comments or emails. Once you start charging people for something, the dynamic changes.

      Reply
  11. Tom Bricker
    Tom Bricker says:

    I’m not sure I’ll have a chance to respond to each comment individually, but just wanted to say thanks to all of the wonderful, lengthy replies. They are much appreciated.

    Given what I’ve seen thus far, I’m thinking not doing a Kyoto eBook right now is probably the best course of action. Maybe someday, but probably not the best idea for a first eBook.

    It seems like a few of you would be interested in a National Park (or Walt Disney World) eBook. In the National Parks front, Yosemite is the obvious choice for me, but I think there are a couple of excellent Yosemite resources, and I couldn’t top those (at least right now). I only want to write a guidebook if I think I could do a better job than what’s already available…

    Anyway, thank you all! 🙂

    Reply
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