A New Year provides the perfect time for reflecting on accomplishments of the past and dreams for the future. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, these ritual contemplations likely had a lot to do with why I started my blog in early 2013. As is the case with many births, the story of The Trip Architect begins long before its actual conception. Just one year old today, this project has been in the making since mid-2011, when ideas for travel startups were swirling around in my head.
I had big plans to build a personalized-travel website that could meet the unique needs of individuals with varying interests. I set off on a mission to categorize vacation destinations based on what they could offer different types of travelers. It took me about a year and a half to finish researching Europe and Central America. The next logical step was the United States, and as I started tackling this great travel beast, I realized how truly unfeasible the project was. I still had five and a half continents left to sort through. And even if I was somehow able to find the time and energy to complete this gargantuan task, I didn’t have the tech skills to implement the idea once I was finished. I had hit a dead end.
Frustrated, but not willing to give up on my dream of turning my love for travel into a viable employment opportunity, I applied for a freelance travel-writing gig with a local lifestyle website. I was confident, though unjustifiably so. True, I had been writing professionally for seven years, but I had never typed up more than a friendly e-mail on the subject of travel. And I suppose it showed. I was rejected… swiftly.
After griping about the rejection to my writer friend Kate, she wisely suggested that I start a blog. It was such a simple solution for building a travel resume, but one that had never before crossed my mind. The best way to become a travel expert was to declare myself one… a fake it ‘til you make it philosophy. Adventures by Alena was born the next day.
What initially struck me about blogging was how instantaneously gratifying it was. My first post was a sweet little piece singing the praises of Alsace, France, one of my favorite places in the world. I learned how to market my post using Twitter and Facebook, and a few Alsatians ended up getting wind of the article. They made some nice comments on my blog and shared it with their social networks. Each bit of positive feedback put a huge smile on my face. In those early days of blogging, I took a lot of laptop screen shots to capture these exciting firsts.
Unfortunately, the novelty of social networking has worn off a bit. Just before starting my blog, I was incredibly close to deleting my Facebook account, the only online profile I had at the time. But for the sake of marketing my writing, I kept it and added Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, and Instagram to the list of profiles I actively maintain. When I’m not promoting my new material, I’m doing Twitter chats, Fan Page Fridays, and posting on other blogs in order to gain a following and establish community. These days, my phone is constantly bright and buzzing with notifications.
Despite the necessary media upkeep that comes along with social networking, I am grateful for each of the connections that I’ve made in the travel blogging community. One such connection has turned out to be one of the most career-defining relationships that I’ve ever had the pleasure of making. Enter Indi Tansey, co-founder of a startup company called OutTrippin, a website through which travel experts compete to design dream vacations for customers. Indi, a charismatic Kiwi and former travel blogger, is incredibly brilliant at recruiting writers and building enthusiasm for her project.
Upon seeing one of Indi’s recruitment posts on a Linked In message board, I signed up to be one of the writers for OutTrippin. The site works like this: for each customer trip request, three travel experts write pitches that address the person’s unique needs. The customer picks the best pitch, and the winning writer then works with the traveler to flush out a detailed itinerary for his or her upcoming vacation. I started pitching and started winning… a lot.
Personalized trip planning happens to combine a lot of things that I’m good at with one thing I truly love. My psychology background has taught me about assessing individual needs and interests. As a researcher, I know the importance of doing exhaustive searches, which has served me well when trying to track down information for highly unique customer requests. My descriptions of places and activities paint pictures for travelers and get them excited for their trips before they arrive at their destinations. And I love travel so much that each request is exciting for me even though I’m not the one going on the trip.
This career epiphany – that personalized trip planning could be my niche within the travel industry – was exactly what I was hoping to have when I started my blog. And now that I know where I want to be and what exactly I want to do, things are moving forward at an incredible speed.
In September, I re-branded my blog and created The Trip Architect, a website that would showcase my itinerary-building skills. While I struggled with WordPress, widgets, themes, and plugins, my Aunt Debbie, an amazing graphic designer, helped me with the fonts and color scheme and created my logo. In December I became incorporated and was thrilled to add the letters LLC to the end of my business name. Recently, I teamed up with OutTrippin in a more formal context. I’ll be representing them as an Ambassador to the travel community, helping them market their website and make connections within the industry. It’s an especially exciting time to be involved with this group, as they have just signed a contract with Webjet, a major online booking site.
A year ago, if someone had shown me screen shots of The Trip Architect as it appears today, I would have insisted that I was incapable of creating such a website. If someone had told me that I would be writing itineraries for “the Expedia of Australia,” I would have shook my head in disbelief. If someone had shown me my social media followers – the 3,200 on Twitter and 750 on Facebook – I would have wondered who these people were and how they could possibly be interested in what I had to say.
The progress that I’ve made over the past year is a result of a little luck and a lot of hard work… though, to be honest, it’s never really felt like work. If I didn’t love travel planning as much as I do, I could never have created what I have. And in the coming year, I’m excited to push the envelope even further. I can’t wait to take this project to the next level, and I expect I’ll have some very exciting things to report on January 28th, 2015. So, thank you a million times over for your support, and please, stay tuned
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