By far the worst-kept secret on this blog (and perhaps the entire internet) is just how far behind this site is in chronicling our trip. This is the worst kept secret, in part, because I routinely state explicitly just how woefully behind we are, but I also figured that since our last post was about how we spent Christmas 2012, the cat was really out of the bag: try as we might, 20YH is months behind.
But never fear! Just because our site is not exactly au courant, that doesn’t mean it’s cause for despair. In fact, talking to many other travelers and bloggers on the road, we have gotten the distinct impression that most people in our position experience a significant lag between reality and what is presently being documented on their sites (though perhaps not as extreme as in our case).
So, in the spirit of making all of us, readers and writers alike, feel a little bit better about this, I have compiled the following list of reasons why it’s ok that this blog is months behind:
1) Blog + journal = an unbeatable combination! – One of the most common reactions I receive when people realize how many stories we have yet to tell is incredulity that I could possibly remember anything that we did half a year ago never mind write about it in a meaningful way. I like to think I have a pretty great memory, but happily, I don’t have to rely on it when it comes to crafting these posts because from the day we set off, I have kept a personal journal in which I jot down salient points every night. Now, I am not a great journal writer, but I picked up this trick back when I was a pre-teen and traveled to Japan for a cultural exchange—I shared a hotel room with a somewhat eccentric adult chaperone who told me her technique of simply jotting down point-form notes of anything important that happened that day. She wasn’t focused on crafting Proustian prose or worrying about constantly choosing le mot juste, she was just focusing on getting down the meat of the ideas, feelings and moments that had made up her day in bullet point form. I really took that approach to heart, and have done something similar whenever I have since traveled. Even when I’m exhausted and brain-dead following an epic travel day, I can usually muster enough energy to write down a few grammar-optional musings about what we got up to. These aren’t my memoirs and I doubt anyone other than myself would want to read them, but that’s ok, because no one else is going to! Indeed, some of these musings will never see the light of day, but it’s nice to know that I have something that captures me precisely in a moment in time without any concern for style or the narrative. And then when I sit down to write about what we got up to, I’ve got these notes to jog my memory. Sure, I’m unlikely to forget that we spotted pygmy elephants in the wilds of Borneo, but rather than speculating or back-projecting about how that must have made me feel or what it meant to me at the time, I actually already have it written down.
2) The writing is better for it, Part 1– For better or for worse, when we set off on our journey, we decided we wanted to use this site to document our trip chronologically so that we could develop a continuous narrative that would hopefully be more compelling than if we simply jumped around in time and posted a mishmash of stories and posts. Our intention was to create a space to share our adventures as they happened and keep our families reassured that we weren’t dead in a ditch somewhere. Once on the road, however, we realized that we were packing so much into our days that if we really wanted to keep our site up to date, the majority of our posts would be huge info dumps that might make you wonder if we were being charged by the word à la Charles Dickens. I’ve written travel blogs before for shorter trips in which I focus more on what I did and saw rather than what any of it meant or why anyone else should care and I realized that’s not what I wanted this 20YH project to be. There was a learning curve, but we realized that it made more sense for us to focus less on exhaustively documenting every thing we did each day in a single post and instead take a step back and figure out what stories were important for us to share. Sometimes this means that one day’s worth of living gets spread across three different posts or that some things get excised completely, and sometimes we even condense multi-day journeys and adventures into one tale. Unlike my journal where anything goes, we have actively worked to create content that we hope is meaningful and interesting to readers other than ourselves. This approach takes time.
3) The writing is better for it, Part 2 – I’ve learned that the stories we share are the bedrock of a good blog post, but as someone who loves writing and actively works to improve and develop that skill, they are just one part of a post. I’ve read plenty of blogs where people suggest you set aside a day each week to bang out four or five posts that you schedule throughout the week, but that just doesn’t work for me. Maybe I’m a fool who can’t let her perfectionist tendencies die, but I spend hours writing each post, taking care to craft the narrative and make sure the words I’ve chosen to carry the story to our readers are the correct messengers. When I write, I do so from the very purest part of myself, and while it’s so rewarding to make a story come alive as words dance together on the page, it does drain me. I’ve learned that as a writer, I’d rather take my time and write the best posts I can rather than forcing myself to bang out content that doesn’t inspire me, or you! We put a lot of thought into how to approach and execute every post and it takes a lot out of us.
4) Look at all them pretty pictures – I think we can all agree that no matter how great the writing, travel blogs are infinitely more interesting when they include pictures. Certainly the feedback we’ve received has suggested that y’all are as in love with Tony’s photography (and sometimes even mine too!) as I am, and I know our posts would be shadows of themselves if we didn’t have those images to complement and strengthen them. But adding in photos to our posts takes an awful lot of time in and of itself, not least because on any given day it’s not unusual for us to snap anywhere between 100 – 300 pictures. It takes time to sift through all our photos and pick the right ones. Then, the internet being what it sometimes is over here in Asia, it can take a loooong time to get those uploaded to our server and properly placed in the post. If we committed to text-only posts, we could probably shave a few months off our current lag, but where would be the fun in that?
5) We put the “travel” in “travel blogger” – It seems fairly obvious that without actually traveling, a travel blog would be kind of pointless, but what no one ever seems to say is that traveling and blogging often feel mutually exclusive. We’ve been on the road for nearly 14 months now and in that time, we have rarely spent more than four days in a single location. That kind of schedule means we spend the bulk of our time exploring our current location rather than writing about it. Wherever we are, we want to make the most of it, cross as much off of our list as possible, because who knows when we’ll be back and have this kind of time at our disposal again? We’ve found in our own travels that the travel blogs we enjoy the most tend to be run by those who similarly make traveling the priority, recognizing that although you may not be able to write about spending the night on a deserted island on the Andaman coast while you are actually on said island, you can’t write about it EVER if you elect to hole yourself up in your room to write about… all the experiences you’re forgoing, I guess? So, rushing about doing other stuff means getting content up on our site is more challenging, not simply because we don’t always have the time, but also because it turns out that traveling for long stretches of time is really tiring, both physically and mentally. I have noticed that most bloggers who keep a regular posting schedule and have fairly current content tend to be those who travel much slower than we do and are generally based somewhere for a couple of months. (There is one other option, which I’ll get into in point #7.) So, sometimes we come back to our room after having spent the day running about in the oppressive Asian heat and we realize we are done for the day. Sure there are a few hours when I could sit down and write about what we just did, but I am EXHAUSTED. On days like this, there is no writing, no planning, it’s just time for a beer and a movie and maybe a cold shower.
6) All of this is a journey & we are still learning – Our blog has been off the rails since about 48 hours after we landed in Tokyo at the very start of it. We were doing so much during the day and it was so hot and we were so tired and we had no routine and the blog just got behind. Initially, this stressed me out a lot, to the point where I was having mild panic attacks or snapping at Tony or just feeling guilty when I wasn’t using every spare minute of our day to work on our site. At this point, Tony & I were also sharing just 1 computer (huge mistake, don’t do this!) and so I would try setting my alarm for 2 hours earlier than his so that I could get in some writing time while he was sleeping. Needless to say, this did not last very long and probably contributed to our time in Japan and our transition into the world of long-term travel being far more stressful than it needed to be. Eventually, just as Tony & I swiftly realized that we needed to take time to just do nothing or do non-travel activities that made us happy, I realized that I had to loosen my grip on what I had expected for the site and what reality was actually showing me. We couldn’t post every single day, and we couldn’t post on every topic under the sun. Rather than being a last-stop travel resource for anyone hoping to follow in our footsteps, we’d just have to let the site grow in the directions that felt best to us. Part of this journey has been learning what kind of posts we like to write (you’ll note that “list” posts such as these don’t tend to feature frequently) in combination with how to write—and edit! I guess we’ve come to see the blog as constantly in a state of flux, a perpetual work in progress. Just like us, it continues to evolve and morph into something new—we add new features, we try different styles—and I’m learning to be ok with that.
7) Good stories last – A couple weeks ago we met up with a fellow traveler and blogger and, as these things do, we soon were talking shop and I lamented how embarrassing it was for our site to be so far behind. The blogger we were chatting with asked why we didn’t just skip a bunch of countries and start writing more currently. I really love and admire bloggers who are able to write posts in the moment about the moment, but I realized that in order for us to do that, we’d probably have to just share a sliver of our adventures. And I just can’t stomach the thought of casting certain adventures aside just because they happened last winter rather than last week. I believe that good stories have pretty lengthy shelf lives, whether they’re about us driving a motorcycle the length of Vietnam or learning how to make mango sticky rice on a tiny Thai island. To borrow an approach from this great article about how to deal with the never-ending inundation of new artistic and cultural properties, I have two choices with how to deal with the backlog on our site: cull or surrender. I can either decide that because I’m so far behind, those adventures we have had are not worth telling any more, no longer relevant, and that I should just chuck (or tuck) them away and deal with the here and now. Or, I can surrender to the fact that my life is currently so full that I can’t keep up in a timely fashion, but I can keep chipping away at it, sharing the stories I’m moved to recount that shed a bit of light on each step we’ve taken, and accept that I might never catch up. Clearly I’m choosing the latter, but either approach is valid, honestly. I think if I were a little more flexible, a little more willing to ruthlessly edit and restrict the stories I share, culling could work. Maybe one day I’ll switch over to no more than two posts about a given week in my life or restrict myself to one post per destination, or stop writing about destinations specifically and simply use them as settings for other stories I wish to tell. For now I’m not there, and I’m ok with that. Either approach requires some kind of compromise and this is the one I’ve chosen to make. So far no one has suggested that his or her enjoyment of our site has been hindered by the lag, that a post has rung false or been less useful because we have had other experiences in the meantime. I’ve made my peace with the fact that within the past year I’ve procured an arsenal of experiences that many people will take an entire lifetime to acquire (and maybe not even then), so if it takes me a little more time to process and parcel them out, that’s ok.
8) There’s always Facebook & Twitter – I know that the way we handle & approach social media today means that most users of the internet are looking for and expecting immediacy. We send emails because we can’t wait a week for a letter to get there, we tweet photos of our lunches and update our Facebook stream with life events right as they’re happening because we want others to know what we’re doing right now. Once it’s posted—bam!—it’s on to the next thing. I know the rush of reading a post where you feel like you and the author have achieved symbiosis and the two of you are sharing the same head space in that moment. You know what their life is for that instant and you feel like you know them more intimately as a result. What I can say is that I try really hard to write the posts on this site in the most truthful way; sometimes this means writing it as though the story is happening right now, and other times it means looking back and reflecting with the wisdom that I have gained since then. I try not to be proleptic in my approach, but sometimes the lines of chronology blur in service of the story. While the stories I share are not always timely, I hope that even if they manage not to be timeless, they manage to be of a time, one that was worth documenting and sharing in some form or another.
With the increased popularity and pervasiveness of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, I think the approach we take on the blog can be forgiven because we have expanded our boundaries to allow our followers the best of both worlds. If you crave immediate, real-time insight into our daily realities, follow us on Twitter & Facebook; at the end of each and every post, we have links to both of these places to make it super easy for you to do so. Neither Tony nor I even used either of these sites before we left on our trip, but we’ve embraced them now and figured out ways that they can complement what we do on this site. If you haven’t already followed/liked us, we’d really appreciate it if you would take the time to do so. We share legitimately unique content in both venues, and we hope they make our day-to-day realities a little more transparent.
It’s possible I wrote this post mostly to assuage my own fears rather than any our readers might be experiencing. If so, I hope you’ll forgive the indulgence. I also hope these reasons will offer you some comfort when we head off to Nepal in a few days and then try not to die while trekking in the mountains and our blog inevitably falls further behind (I’m guessing WiFi coverage ain’t great up in the Himalayas and on the off chance we find it, it certainly won’t be cheap!). I suspect some of the lessons I’ve shared here will serve us well when we’re up on the top of the world: just take it moment by moment, one day—nay, one step—at a time.