2013: An Unexpected Journey

So I thought I might do one of those yearly round up posts because there just aren’t enough of those bad boys flying about!

Ok, so I’m being sarcastic. Everyone does them and I figured I was probably a little late and maybe I shouldn’t do one. But then I thought, sod it, this is my blog and it’s been a big year for me, so I’ll write one!

2013 took me on an unexpected journey. It was the year I embarked on a new adventure, one that I wasn’t really anticipating 12 months ago.

I'm going on an adventure!

I’ve never been one of those cutting edge type of people nor am I one to follow the crowd. And even if I do manage to keep up for a bit, I’ll probably wander off the path in search of adventure and turn up late to the party. But, just because I’m late, does not mean I won’t rip up that dance floor when I arrive!

I’ve been travelling on and off for a long time, and much of that as a solo female traveller. And over time, I’ve accumulated tons of stories and knowledge. So at the beginning of 2013, with my next adventure still a way off, I thought it might be fun to do the next best thing and write about travel and maybe I would give others some inspiration for future trips.

St Lawrence Gap Barbados

Barbados, 2006 (taken on my first digital camera)

 

So I took up travel blogging. Better late, than never.

Little did I know what I was in for.

Helen in Wonderlust was Born

In May I pressed publish on my first ever post. Now that was pretty scary. But I soon realised that a) no-one was reading it anyway and b) there might be more to this blogging malarky than simply writing, travelling and taking pictures.

So I also started researching. One of the first things I learned, was that it’s all good and well writing your little socks off, but unless you promote what you write, no-one is going to read it. So I needed to get up to speed and quick.

Welcome to the 21st Century

When I first started travelling, there were a few blogs around, but most seemed to be for keeping friends and family updated rather than public viewing. Myspace was the ‘in’ social media channel, but Facebook was starting to emerge as the new contender. Twitter, Youtube and Instagram hadn’t even been invented. When you went away on a trip, you left the rest of the world behind for a little while.

Even when I went on my RTW trip in 2009, the only electrical items I owned were an old Nokia phone for emergencies (which didn’t even take pictures), my iPod Nano and a tiny Sony digital camera. I was pretty much uncontactable most of the time (sorry mum). I liked it! But I did Facebook or email when and if I found an internet cafe. Travel was still kind of simple.

Helen in Namibia

Fish River Canyon, Namibia, 2009 (pre smartphone, pre Twitter, pre Instagram)

 

In 2011, I caved in and got an iPhone, but still only used it for the odd text, taking pictures and Facebook. Well, until I took up blogging. Then it all changed.

Learning to Love Social Media

I’m not  gonna lie, I hate the self promotion side of blogging, which is ironic as my blog is about, well, me. Which leads me on to my issues with social media. If social media and I were in a relationship, our status would be ‘It’s Complicated’ (do they even have that option on Facebook these days?),  but it comes with the blogging territory. As my friend Indiana Jo quite rightly puts it, “If content is King, then social media is Queen”.

So when I started my blog, I did the unthinkable. I signed up for Twitter. Urgh.

A year ago, I didn’t understand Twitter and so didn’t like it much. I asked myself, who on earth would care what I had to ‘tweet’ about. But I did it anyway, tweeting this and that. But then people started to follow me and I started interacting with people and tweeting things I found interesting. And it began to make sense. I actually started to like Twitter. Now, I actually kind of love it. So if you’re on Twitter too, come and say hi!

I then got myself a Facebook page. I invited a few of my friends to like it (thanks guys). But then other people started signing up… first other bloggers and then even people I didn’t know, people who just seemed to like what I was writing about. Which is pretty awesome when you think about it! So thank you!!!

Then in June, I popped my Instagram cherry. Yeah, I know the rest of you discovered it a long time ago. What did I tell you? ALWAYS LATE!

For the past couple of years I have been taking pictures on my iPhones willy nilly and not doing anything with them. I’m now making up for lost time and have been really enjoying getting into iPhone photography, Instagramming and Latergramming my earlier iPhone pics left, right and centre.

It’s been fun turning original pictures like this one from my recent California trip…

Helen in Wonderlust Instagram

Before

 

Into pictures like this!

Helen in Wonderlust Instagram

After

 

So over Christmas I downloaded a few more apps which I’m looking forward to playing around with, so bear with me whilst I find my way.

Me and social media… it’s still complicated and I definitely haven’t been as committed as I should. But… “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The Thing That Made Me Smile the Most 

You guys. Eventually, people started reading.

I’ll never forget my first comment. It was from Emma from Backpacking Spirit. That first comment made my day, week, year! Someone liked what I’d written. Emma and I met recently too, we shared a dorm in Ireland and I’m happy to now call her a friend.

Then I got a few more comments and made some more friends. Good friends. Some I’ve now met, some I haven’t (Toni/Ari – I’m looking at you here). It was brilliant.

Then people started asking my advice. I started giving advice.

Any blogger will tell you that getting to know readers/comments/questions are what make it all seem worthwhile. If you’ve had a bad day or broken your site (like I did 5 minutes ago), a nice comment from a someone can perk you right back up!

I like to chat!

Things Got Serious

I started off on a self-hosted WordPress blog from day 1. I had no technical knowledge but I’d heard it was a good thing to do and I was quietly confident that this ‘fling’ would turn serious. My blog and I started spending all our spare time together, and soon, I made it official. With business cards. I even gave myself a stupid cool new job title:

‘Travel Blogger, Adventurer & Photographer’

Yes, I actually did that. One of the benefits of being your own boss, you can give yourself job titles like that!

Then there was the techie side. I spent hours trying to get my blog to look like I wanted it to. Using Youtube tutorials, visiting Wodpress forums for help. People would kindly explain things, then I wouldn’t understand, so I’d ask them to explain it in really simple terms. Then they’d explain again in what they thought was simple blog/computer language, but really, to someone with NO EXPERIENCE at all, they may have been Martian. I still wouldn’t understand but I’d thank them for their help and then go and cry in a corner.

I wasted way too much time on it, crashed my site numerous times, tearing my hair out in the process, but I’m finally in a place where I like the way it looks thanks to a bit of practice, perseverance and a few helpful friends! Especially thanks to my friend Jen who designed my header!

But, when it comes down to it, travel, writing and photography are the backbone of what I do.

My 2013 Travel Adventures

It hasn’t been one of my biggest travel years, but somewhere between my full time job and full time blog, I’ve still found a little time to do what I love… GO ON ADVENTURES!!!!

I travelled all over the UK, took a couple of surfing trips to Croyde and went to Paris.

Helen in Paris

Taking the RER train to Paris, 2013

 

September was all about the US, where I went on a road trip with four of my favourite people.

American Road Trip

Driving the open road to Las Vegas, 2013

 

Over 17 days we drove along the stunning California coast, from San Diego to San Francisco, along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) before heading inland to Yosemite National Park and finishing the trip in Las Vegas. It was one of the best trips I’ve EVER taken. And to my shame, I haven’t written about it much… yet!

Pacific Coast Highway

Photo stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, California, 2013

 

In late September, I reached out to a couple of bloggers I followed, Brenna and Yisheyne… we decided to meet for a drink. We hit it off and one drink turned into a few drinks. They welcomed me into their world. 

October brought me to Ireland on very important travel blogging business.

Meeting My Tribe

I took part in the Bloghouse. Two days of intensive blogging tuition (in a castle no less) from some of the top travel bloggers around. I learnt a lot and made some great new friends who are a real source of inspiration and always great to bounce ideas off!

BlogHouse Ireland 2013

Bloghouse, Ireland, 2013

 

I then headed straight to Dublin for TBEX, a travel blogging conference (I didn’t even know these existed before) where I learned even more and met tons of other travel bloggers. A big group of people completely different to, but in some ways, just like me. I even got to go on my first press trip where I tried out a hooker!

Travel Bloggers

Bloggers taking photos of bloggers taking photos of bloggers, Ireland, 2013

Lost

After the high of September and October, meeting new people, travelling and generally just having an amazing time, I came back down to reality with a bump, spending most of November in a slump, feeling a completely overwhelmed and a little lost.

My head was full of so much new ‘stuff’.  I was permanently attached to my computer, desperately trying to implement everything I’d learned and catch up with posts, as well as doing my day job. I wasted a lot of time comparing myself to others, frustrated that I wasn’t travelling enough, tweeting enough, taking as good pictures as… whatever. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and I lost my confidence. I was procrastinating and as a result, finding it hard to get anything done.

Quote

But a few friends kept me going and gently reminded me that I was still new at this, so what was the hurry? We’re all on our own personal journey anyway.

Found

So I took a step back and re-evaluated.

Which brings me to where I am now, taking each day as it comes, not putting myself under too much pressure.

In late November things started to pick up. I guest posted on a couple of my favourite travel blogs, Nomadic Matt and The Planet D. Bloggers that I looked up to put their faith in me and posted my articles on their sites. I was stoked.

I was nominated for a Hostelworld.com award in the category of Most Inspirational Story, for my article on solo female travel in Africa. I didn’t make it to the final shortlist, but that doesn’t matter, I was nominated.

Currently I am in the running for a UK Blog Award. First it’s a public vote and then the finalists are decided by a panel of judges. I don’t expect to win, but it’s nice to be considered.

Quote

Last but not least, I launched my newsletter. The first one is coming out at the end of January! So if you want the inside scoop, you can sign up on my homepage!

So that pretty much sums up my 2013. It’s been a year of ups and downs and side to sides. I’ve made a lot of discoveries, hundreds of mistakes, and learned an awful lot about blogging, life and myself. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

So what’s next?

Looking Ahead to 2014

The first few months, I’ll be catching up with all my Africa and USA posts and taking some Euro trips. I’m off to Holland, Belgium and Germany between now and April, so any tips and recommendations will be very appreciated! I also need to do a bit more exploring closer to home too…

Then it’s all about weddings. I have three of them in May. Yes three. Two in the same week. One of those is in the Ukraine, I’m a bridesmaid at the other in the UK. And the third wedding, two weeks later, is my brothers. It’s gonna be a busy month!

I also have big plans for the later half of the year but I can’t reveal those just yet…

Helen in Wonderlust

Mona Lisa, Smile

 

It’s been quite theraputic, reflecting whilst putting this post together. Crazy to think about how much has happened and the direction my life has taken.

Quote

Probably time to start thinking about those 2014 Goals and New Years Resolutions…

Last but certainly not least, thank you again for reading. You guys ROCK MY WORLD!!! I hope our paths cross someday.

Have a happy, healthy and adventurous 2014!

* Quote images on Pinterest

 

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    December 30, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    As a relatively new reader, this “play-by-play” was very interesting! I found you from your guest post on Nomadic Matt. I spent 6 months in Africa as an independent female traveller back in 2000. A girl friend and I backpacked through Eastern and Southern Africa using local transportation)…still the best trip of my life. Anyway, I look forward to seeing where life brings you in 2014! Happy New Year!
    Stephanie recently posted…Spanish by the Numbers: Goals for 2014My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 12:14 am

      Hey Stephanie! Thank you for saying hello and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you too. I think a lot of people found me through Nomadic Matt (thanks Matt)! I love it when I speak to other people who’ve backpacked through Africa. To this day, best experience for me too, just love everything about it. Every time I smell wood burning I’m transported back. I’m hoping to get back to Africa at some point!!! Hopefully sooner rather than later!

      I hope the Spanish is going well!!! I’d love to be able to speak Spanish!! 🙂

      Have a great 2014, and hopefully speak to you again soon!

  • Reply
    midori
    December 31, 2013 at 12:13 am

    Relatively new reader here, found your blog after searching for travelling when all your mates have had kids, I enjoy the way you write, and look forward to reading more!

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 12:18 am

      Hey Midori! Thank you so much, what a lovely thing to say! Apparently I write like I talk (with a soft Scouse accent). A lot of my mates have kids, but then a lot still don’t! I’m still trying to figure the whole thing out! 🙂

      Have a great New Year and look forward to chatting more in 2014!!!

  • Reply
    Clare
    December 31, 2013 at 7:02 am

    So glad it’s been such a good year for you Helen! I love some of the stuff you’ve said about social media – makes me feel better. When I started blogging last year, husband was like “you need to join Twitter now” and I was in a state of shock. At the time I posted on Facebook about once a fortnight! I’m getting used to it now, but the fact I didn’t see it all coming sometimes makes me feel stupid.
    Anyway, it’s so fab to have met you a couple of times this year and hope to see more if you in 2014. Keep writing your lovely stuff!
    Clare recently posted…Sunburn on the MoonMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 1, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Clare!

      Ha ha, I know, social media… can’t live with it, can’t live without it! Was great to meet you this year too and looking forward to our next catch up!!!!

      xxxx
      Helen recently posted…2013: An Unexpected JourneyMy Profile

  • Reply
    Brenna
    December 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I love you Helen! It’s been such an incredible year for you and I’m so happy to have met you. Can’t wait to see where 2014 takes you…
    Brenna recently posted…Christmas in EuropeMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Love you too babe! I’m so happy to have met you too!

      Here’s to 2014… to having fun, friends and not taking things too seriously! 🙂 See you soon! x

  • Reply
    Julika
    December 31, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I loved this honest read about your ups and downs this year! I can officially say that meeting you at Bloghouse was one of my highlights in 2013! Can’t wait to see you again — in Germany! 🙂
    Julika recently posted…My 2013 Highlights via InstagramMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks gorgeous! Meeting you at Bloghouse was awesome too! I just remember your face as I walked over and said “Hi, are you Julika?” whilst you were surrounded by all those drunk people on the train! 🙂

      I’m definitely coming to Germany! Was thinking perhaps late Feb/early March. Will message you about it in the next few days! Have been thinking about the 2014 travel plans!! 🙂 Miss you!

  • Reply
    Jo
    December 31, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I love that quote “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”, so true and yet so many of us (I’m guilty) do it! What an amazing journey your’ve taken this year. I have my fingers crossed (even while writing!) that great things will come in 2014 and I’ll very much look forward to reading about it!
    Jo recently posted…Fears, Failures and Why 2013 Was My Worst Traveling Year YetMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Hey Jo! That quote is so true isn’t it!! I found it the other day and I was just like, oh my God, why haven’t I seen this before. It is so true. I so needed that! I think everyone is guilty of it.

      I hope 2014 brings wonderful things for you too! I’m sure it will! I love your posts, you are a brilliant writer and a lot of fun. Thank you for always asking the questions I was to scared to ask! See you in a few days!

  • Reply
    Travelling Book Junkie
    December 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Wow, I really enjoyed adding your post. I started blogging this year as well, back in June, which seems a long time ago now. I have had the frequent ‘stumbling blocks’ and question regularly why I do it. Does anyone really read this stuff? I have struggled with the tech side of things myself and have had frequent computer crashes where I have lost things, had a tantrum (I know I ridiculous at my age) and lost all patience with it…but I still continue and hope to develop it further in 2014. As of yet I have not really explored how to promote myself, been to any blogger conferences or anything like that, however, this is my first New Years resolution. It’s difficult when you are holding down a Full time job that requires extensive hours of commitment in itself but I now know that I write to relax and would love to be able to spend more time doing it.

    If you have any top tips for me, anything I should read, attend, or people I should contact I would really appreciate your insights. I have read many of your posts over the past few months and love your style of writing.

    I hope 2014 is even more successful for you and I look forward to reading your posts. Happy New Year! 🙂
    Travelling Book Junkie recently posted…Black Money (Ross Macdonald)My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Hey! Thank you for saying hello!!

      I 100% know how you feel with all of that!!! It can be totally frustrating and totally rewarding all at the same time! Finding the balance between full time job and full time blog is a constant battle. usually it’s a draw and sleep loses out! 🙂

      Tips… Set aside seperate times to do your social media, blog maintenance and your writing. I often end up jumping between them and then nothing gets done. Go to a conference, it was a great experience going to TBEX. Define your niche… looks like you have a pretty good one! Social media is key… you have to let people know you are there. Using Hoot Suite and Buffer are good for Twitter!! Lots of bloggers give good blogging tips, a few blogs I have read for tips are A Dangerous Business, Twenty Something Travel, Nomadic Samuel… my friend Indiana Jo (she’s commented here) also wrote a great post about things that we learned at Bloghouse. I definitely recommend checking that out!! I will have a think about any other tips I can think of!

      Thanks so much for commenting and I will speak to you soon! Happy New Year!!!

  • Reply
    Becki | Backpacker Becki
    December 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    What an incredible year – learning, experiencing and… ADVENTURING!!! Here’s to a travel filled 2014!
    Becki | Backpacker Becki recently posted…Why There’s More to The Old City of Nazareth Than Just Biblical ReferenceMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 31, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you Becki!!!! Here’s to an even more amazing 2014 for you! 🙂 See you in a few days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reply
    Megan
    December 31, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    What a fabulous ride. So glad you found your way to BlogHouse and my life. Special thanks for holding my hand and listening to me whine on FB chat about blogging disasters, etc. I can’t wait to read about your 2014 travel adventures. It’s going to be a great year…I can feel it. xo

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 1, 2014 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks so much Megan. I loved meeting you too and want to echo that back! If it wasn’t for you guys, I may have spent a lot more time struggling but you pulled me through! 🙂 We’ll find our way… here’s to cool 2014 adventures! x

  • Reply
    Matt
    January 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Awesome post, Helen. I usually don’t read the “year-in-review” posts but I like the honesty you spew out so I gave it a go. Seeing how far you’ve come, and how hard you’ve worked for your success, inspires me a great deal to keep working hard as well.

    Cheers! Keep on keepin’ on in 2014!
    -Matt
    Matt recently posted…Why Our Desires are like Yellowstone National ParkMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 5, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Ah that’s such a nice thing for you to say! Thanks Matt. You too! Keep doing what you’re doing! Let’s make 2014 bloody brilliant!

  • Reply
    Arianwen
    January 15, 2014 at 9:29 am

    I still can’t believe how recently you started blogging! You’ve achieved so much in such a short space of time you should be seriously proud of yourself! I’ve been jealous seeing all the blogger photos of you and the London crowd. Next time I’m in the UK, we are definitely going for a drink! Keep up the good work. I anticipate great things in your future… and good luck with the UK Blog Award! x
    Arianwen recently posted…Outback Wildlife: the Good, the Bad and the UglyMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 15, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Ha ha! I feel like I’m so slow at it! But thank you.

      Yes, definitely want to meet you at last and have some drinks!

      Hope Australia is still being amazing!!!

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