Published: April 5th 2012April 5th 2012
TravelBlog is 10 today. Now it's a globally recognised site, with around 300,000 accounts, millions of photos and blogs. The site is improving every single day and 2012
is going to be a great year for TravelBlog, the best yet!
Behind the scenes it's been 10 years of work - I've written hundreds of thousands of lines of code, designed interfaces, updated many servers, employed staff and started companies. I've never posted this story in one place, the story of the last 10 years and how TravelBlog changed my life. So here it is.
10 years ago to the day, I was working in a large corporate office for a now infamous company in London, Lehman Brothers.
Six months prior to that, I'd realised that something was wrong with my life. I was 25 years old, adventurous yet I'd not left Europe. I'd just been thrown out of a band because I kept missing practices. I was working all the hours in the world because that's what everyone else was doing.
In New York City, Lehman Brothers had a floor in the World Trade Center, on September 11th 2001, I watched the twin towers collapse from the
London office. I was supposed to be on a conference call with people who worked in that building. A gradual realisation came over the staff in the heart of London, something big was happening, everyone wanted to get back to families and homes. A message came down the management line telling us that non-essential staff could go home, with the byline that essential staff had to stay to ensure that the company didn't lose money.
I wasn't essential, I went home, the world changed.
Some people call this a quarter life crisis, at 25 I had one. I split up with a long-term girlfriend, sold a house, paid off my debts, and gradually planned an adventure.
A trip to New Zealand turned into a trip around the world.
I researched on the net, found blogs and stories and the Lonely Planet website, I found a blog from a Dutch guy who had stayed on peoples’ couches for a year - wow travelling for free! I downloaded a copy of "blogger" software (that google ended up buying), but I realised that I wouldn't be able to update it if I couldn't get a laptop connected. This was
early days, the days before wifi, internet cafes were common, but the computers were terrible, basic browsers with really slow connections.
I decided to write a blog, about my travels with my own software, software that would let me edit and upload photos from any browser.
Prior to working at Lehman Brothers I'd been unemployed after a dot com company in London had gone bust.
"Take home your laptops guys, the company's bust and you won't be getting any of the pay we owe you!" the start-up's legal consul had told us on the last day.
The laptop had just sat there for a year, along with a digital camera I'd picked up to help do freelance web design. It was at the right time, I had the right skills and the right equipment. I started coding the blog software, I worked at it in my spare time. I registered the domain name travelblog.org. On my last working day I had a very basic version running so I blogged.
I figured I'd travel for a year, maybe two, until the money ran out. I'd take the laptop and make the software better as
I went, take photos with the clunky battery eating 2MP Kodak digital camera (I'm the kiss of death for corporates).
But this blog isn't about my travels, it's about travelblog and the unexpected adventure it's taken me on over the last 10 years - if you do want to read about those travel adventures - Last working day.
- humble beginnings.
After a year of travelling, two of my friends from the road had added a couple of blogs each, but didn't really get into blogging. I'm not great at promotion, I'd hardly told anyone about it, my family and friends back home had loved it, and people that I'd met and written about loved it. In 2003
a few more people joined, and then a few more, and then a bunch of spammers.
I improved travelblog's software a lot, and in early 2004
blogging took off, genuine accounts were being created daily. The Telegraph called up and I did my first interview - the reporter looking for some weird juicy angle on why people were travel blogging... it was as though he thought it was a dating profile. Online and in touch
- the other interviewee in the
article had a blog subtitled "Travelblog: Memoirs of a confirmed hotel slut on the move" - it explained the angle.
Seth Godin micro-blogged (before twitter) about the site shortly afterwards, and then in September 2004
Yahoo! made travelblog.org the site of the day. In 2005
the New York Times
came calling - wishyouwerehere.com
When the NYT article was published I was in a Muay Thai training camp in Chiang Mai Muay Thai in Chiang Mai; Lessons from the House of Pain
- I'd been interviewed months before and out of no where - travelblog servers kept crashing. They couldn't cope with the demand. I had a room with an ethernet cable and from my laptop I kept restarting databases, fixing problems, anything to keep the site up. Seven hours of daily kick-boxing training one week, then 24 hours straight of trying to keep an overloaded server sending out pages. Eventually I crashed from shear exhaustion, the site crashed 20 mins later, I woke, I fixed it. For the next few days it was like this.
Eventually the servers were able to handle the demand, and I went back to kicking and punching and eating pad thai.
I travelled more, became a professional diver, wondering how I'd
managed to fall in love with the most inconvenient spots for internet access. 2006
was the year that big companies wanted to acquire travelblog. I even talked with them, I even flew to talk to them. I didn't sell travelblog. I had a huge fear of selling out, of letting down everyone using travelblog. I went back to the tropical islands and dived and hid for another year, moved to Brazil for 6 months and travelled in South America.
Something had to change though, every waking minute of my life was gradually being consumed with server updates, code fixes, design changes. So in 2008 I moved to Malaysia to start a company called Laulima, counting on being able to hire people to help with TravelBlog and work on the other ideas I'd had during the last few years.
In April 2009
I hired Affandy
- with his help we upgraded servers, improved code, and took travelblog to the next level. Laulima
grew, I hired more staff, took on partners. Unfortunately it wasn't sustainable. I ended up working more and apart from a few brief diving trips, I couldn't leave the company or the city. We produced some
award winning projects and a new fresh design for travelblog but we couldn't find a business model that would sustain the kind of company we wanted to work for. Once again I was working all the hours available in an office in a big city where it rains a lot.
So that brings us up to the present day. I haven't had a day off since February, I work most days until 1 in the morning, I wake and go straight to my computer. It will be worth it, TravelBlog is the fastest and most stable it has ever been, and if we ever get mentioned in the NYT again - we're ready for it :)
In many ways for me everything has come full circle, I'm getting ready to move again not knowing exactly what will happen, selling nearly everything I own. I'm also again looking forward to a flight to the other side of the world!
Travel has changed me so much, I've been so lucky and travelled for the best part of six of these last ten years. I've visited over 40 countries and lived in 6, I've learned and forgotten 2 languages, met
thousands of inspiring people, dived hundreds of times, worked on tropical paradise islands, hung out with vast shoals of hammerhead sharks, stood on mountain tops and been interviewed by the NYT. Life is amazing! but you have to make time to go live it.
TravelBlog isn't a collection of servers and code (that's the bit that takes most of my time) - it's about the people and the stories and the photos. It's all about the blogs.
None of that would have been possible without the amazing people who have joined up and contributed.
I'll always be grateful to all the people that have helped make travelblog what it is today - something that I'm fantastically proud of.
Thanks to everyone who has helped!
Specifically my brother Matt
& sister Ele, who worked answering emails and doing administration in the early days. My parents who've supported my travels and unconventional lifestyle. Savage
and my Dad who back in 2005 kept an eye on things when I was in Burma. Jo Trouble
who for several years have made things look as though they were running like clock work, Affandy and Mark who worked
at Laulima with me, The Travel Camel
, D MJ Binkley
, Stephanie and Andras
, Rat on the Road
and all the moderators
past and present! All the people that have contributed
to the country descriptions and worked on the location database.
Thanks to Affandy, he still works on TravelBlog in his spare time, he's still proud of his involvement. He now has a new day job where his experience on TravelBlog and working for such a huge site is coming in very useful.
I also wish to thank all the regular bloggers
- many are now friends of mine, and have shown me great kindness and support throughout the years.
I apologise to those I haven't mentioned by name - so many people have done so much. I know many people have had life changing things happen to them by blogging on travelblog - hearing those stories keeps me going in the middle of the night.
We have a 10th anniversary party here in KL! It's going to be fantastic to meet some of the key people, moderators, and bloggers who make travelblog what it is, "The World's Friendliest Travel Site"
Note: check out the photos in this
blog, one from each year! The last is a teaser. I know last year we took a lot of criticism for the design changes, and bugs we introduced with it. It wasn't just a case of a difference in opinion. We lost something with the design change, and the bugs were terrible.
I'm designing again, I've learned so much from this design, the clarity, the cleanliness, the subtleness. We have a design and a logo that will keep all of that and regain some of the softer things that we lost, friendliness being one word for it. It won't be released soon, it will be bug free and that takes time. So thanks for sticking with me and TravelBlog for the last 10 years - here's to many more :)
There are more photos below