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 Guide. The “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.