It Started With A Packing List -- Looking Back And Forward After Nearly A Year Of Work On The Meserve Reserve Website

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I remember clearly the first blog post Nicole and I created for this website. 

Sitting in a J.F.K. Airport lounge, nearly a year ago, feverishly trying to recall all of the items we had in our luggage because our first blog post would be our packing list

Just that morning, we had said goodbye to the Manhattan apartment where we lived for the past seven years. But not before I had made one last trip to our storage unit across the Hudson River with a giant black duffel bag containing the last of our possessions that wouldn't be travelling with us. Being too cheap to take a cab, I grossly underestimated the weight of that duffel and, as I lugged it between train stops, became legitimately concerned I might injure myself for the start of our trip. 

But I made it in one piece and was able to get back to the apartment in time for an impromptu wine tasting before we headed to the airport. 

We created that first blog post while we waited for the plane to take us to Hong Kong, the first leg of our journey, then hit the button to "save and publish."

What would people think? How stupid is this to create a blog? What will we even write about beyond our packing list?

The truth is I felt silly and indulgent sharing our thoughts online.

But I got over it!

We began receiving positive feedback from people who enjoyed reading about our travels. And I discovered that I really liked writing the posts and Nicole liked having a place to display her photography. I also realized that, if someone doesn't want to check out what we have to share, they don't have to. It's not like we are bursting into their home with a laptop and forcing them to read. Seems obvious but, for some reason, that made me less apprehensive.

So we kept at it. And slowly the website started to grow. 

After a few months I discovered Google Analytics and the Google Search Console which allow us to see how people get to the Meserve Reserve website. (Don't worry, the analytics are not overly specific. When someone clicks on the website, we can see things like what city they are in, whether they clicked through from a Google search or went directly to the website, and what pages they viewed -- we can't see any specific identifying information like names, addresses, etc., i.e., we don't who is viewing the website).

By digging into these Google tools, we learned that, in addition to the friends and family we knew who were directly following the blog, people were starting to get to the website through Google searches. Someone in Japan might be looking for "AirBnb in An Bang Beach Vietnam" and find their way to a blog post we wrote. 


Today, approximately half of the traffic to the Meserve Reserve website arrives through these types of searches. In a typical month, we'll have readers from twenty or so countries. (As an example, last month folks visited the site from Singapore, New Zealand, Malta, Japan, France, Spain, Sweden, Philippines, Norway, India, Canada, Argentina, Peru, Australia, Chile, and the United States.) Nonetheless, the U.S. still accounts for the majority of our web traffic.

The growing search traffic caused us to think about the way the website appears to strangers unfamiliar with Nicole and I or the year long journey we had embarked upon. We realized that each article should stand somewhat on its own because most of these readers wouldn't be actively following the website but might stumble upon it for a post or two. We also saw, based on the sample search terms Google allows us to view, that many people come to the site for practical information rather than to learn about two thirty-something New Yorkers taking a travel sabbatical. So we started trying to balance personal insights with practical information and travel tips. Ultimately, I think a good website can provide both although I know we don't always hit that mark!

We also expanded the site to include a specific Travel Recommendations page where we share our "best of" spots from the places we've visited, specifically geared for someone planning a vacation. The places Nicole and I would recommend to a friend. This is a part of the website we will continue to grow in the future.

In addition, we started focusing more on our Sunday Shoutout, the weekly email with a link to that week's blog posts and some additional fun and favorites we come across -- what we are reading, recent purchases, and the like. We also created Facebook and Pinterest pages since some people like keeping up on these platforms. Nicole continued to post her photography regularly on Instagram

Along the way, we solicited feedback from friends who followed the blog in order to make it better. The people cried out for more pictures! It made sense. When I read blogs (and I read a lot of them), I usually skim and check out the pictures unless I'm really interested in the topic. So Nicole took over responsibility for most of the blog post photos which led to a massive upgrade in quality. Previously, Nicole had focused on the Photography section of the website where she displays her travel photos, while I added photos here and there to the blog posts as an afterthought. Now we try to focus on telling our stories equally in writing and pictures. 

As we traveled, sometimes we worked on the website a lot, sometimes a little. We found out that staying current with blog posts proved difficult during times of faster travel. It's easy to put together a blog post about the wines of Alsace when you have two weeks in an Airbnb in the area. Less so during the parts of Nicole and I's travels where we spent two nights in one place before moving on for a few more nights in the next place. Unsurprisingly, when we had a limited number of days in a new place, we didn't want to spend that time holed up in our room writing blog posts. 

This put what I observed on other travel blogs into perspective. When we started this website, I began following some of the more heavily trafficked travel blogs out there. Nomadic Matt, The Blonde Abroad, and the like. I noticed quickly that these websites often post travel reviews months after visiting a destination. What I initially imagined to be laziness I know understand to be taking the time to put together quality content which can't be done quickly on the go.  

So we started giving ourselves permission to wait a bit before posting content. Hence, we are currently still preparing posts from our visits to Cusco and Santiago, as examples, even though we visited months ago.

Finally, we discovered that, in addition to writing about travel, we loved writing about some of the things we do while travelling -- namely books and wine. We've started focusing more on these areas and plan to continue to do so in the future. Especially, as our travel slows down, which it has done in the past few weeks. 

Overall, Nicole and I have had way more fun working on this website than we ever anticipated. It's not a money maker for us. (At this point, we don't have close to the web traffic necessary, even if we displayed ads.) But, nonetheless, we get great satisfaction out of trying to put out a quality product. One measure of how we are doing is the clicks on the site, which continue to grow. Even more so, we love hearing from people who check out the website whether regularly or every once in a while.  

Nearly one year in, we are so glad we decided to start the website as we headed off from NYC on our adventure. And we look forward to continuing to make the website better. Thank you so much for reading! 

Like this post? Check out The Meserve Reserve Favorite Books Of 2017.

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