TravelBlog, a story 10 years in the making...

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April 5th 2012
Published: April 5th 2012
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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 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 the site of the day. In 2005 the New York Times came calling -

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 and deleted_49612 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, deleted_46288, denidax, Stephanie and Andras, Rat on the Road, Maisondubonheur, liliram, littlewing 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 😊

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


5th April 2012

Wow Ali! You want to make us cry! Well done, great entry! Thanks a lot for all the fun you have brought to hundreds of us over the last few years...being here 6 months, 5 years or 10....Ali, blogger number 1, never counted the hours....and for those who want to know, yes I had the pleasure to meet Ali twice already. Can't wait for this Sunday in KL...guess the first page of TB is going to be a great one on Monday!
5th April 2012

Long live TravelBlog :)
Personally, and I think I speak for everyone here; we all owe you a huge debt of gratitude and thanks for making this all possible. Without your unflinching commitment and hard work, this site would have been a shadow of its current self. I'd also like to thank Affandy, Jo, Mell and Shane for helping to keep things on an even keel too. I wish you all the best in the U.S Ali and hope that one day our paths will eventually cross :)
5th April 2012

Happy Birthday and well done
Hi Ali, I've been a member of travel blog for some years now and have always admired your travelling/founding presence in it. I really admire what you do and what you help all of us who are members to do...and be inspired to do. thank you! a big cyber hug and smiles.....
5th April 2012

Congratulations Ali!
Thanks for sharing the story and evolution of Travel Blog. I didn't have all those details and it is nice to hear what put you on your path. Travel blog means a lot to us and we appreciate all the hard work you have put into this company so it is easy for us to communicate to our friends and family. We love the connections and friends we have made in the travel blog community. These are genuinely nice people and they share our interest to experience life to its fullest. Hopefully, your future and the future of Travel blog will continue to be bright. Again, thank you for creating this wonderful community and allowing us to join.
5th April 2012

Happy 10th anniversary
You've done an awesome job, Ali. I only discovered Travelblog a couple of months ago, and ever since I've been racing against time to try and catch up on four years worth of travel adventures, before I set off on my next trip in one month's time! I can't imagine a better way for people to share their travel experiences. You should be proud - 300,000 'followers' and you're just a regular guy. Keep up the good work mate.
5th April 2012

Congratulations on ten years of "The World's Friendliest Travel Site"
Thanks for documenting your story. And thanks for not selling us bloggers out. I came to this site as I is run by and for travelers, and not for some big business, although I hope you are able to make some money, somehow, for all your effort. Your Forums help us connect and get to know each other, some well. Anyway, have a nice long vacation and make sure to blog! Just keep the site running.
5th April 2012

Happy Birthday Travelblog!
Fantastic story, fantastic site and really fantastic memories! Here’s to 10 more years!
5th April 2012

Reflections of a decade
Ali, you started this journey on your own and the world has followed. Though Travelblog is now an enormous family of travellers, explorers, adventurers, photographers and writers from different backgrounds, we all share a passion for travel and every glorious moment that it brings. You should be immensely satisfied that you have created a site that has inspired and enriched the lives of so many people.
5th April 2012

A Sincere Thank You
Ali, I want to thank you for all your hard work (and your support staff). Travelblog has touched my life in such a positive way; It has become a significant part of my life. It has not only allowed me to share my travels with friends and family (and random followers) but provided me with something special to pass on to my daughter as she continues her journey through life. You have also provided me with a vehicle to help me help others realize that having kids is not a reason to stop travelling...even if you are a single parent. On the contrary, it is an even better reason to travel. Hope our paths cross and now that you are on this side of the pond it may be more likely (though I will be in Singapore at the end of the month. Let me know if you are ever in Miami, as you have a place to stay. Thanks again.
5th April 2012

Congratulations Travelblog and Thank You Ali!
What an amazing journey to where the site is today - and how great to read about all that happens/ed behind the scenes. I still remember the day I discovered TB after we had decided to chronicle our journey across the U.S. I thought of doing my own blog, I looked at other travel oriented blogging sites, I did my due research. Then I found Travelblog and got very excited - it was vibrant, so many pictures, so free of spam (and now I know why!), the blogs and forum posts were from people who seemed friendly and shared the same ideals, the type of people I'd want to meet and travel with. All still reasons that keep me coming back even when my feet are planted firmly at "home." Here's to ten more years! Happy Travels everyone.
5th April 2012

I love Travelblog!
Wow Ali! Your fantastic story is one of those to admire and inspire! You are the reason this is the world's friendliest travel site, and I wish you many more years of success. Cheers!
5th April 2012

Happy Birthday!!!
Well done on 10 years of hard but productive work.
5th April 2012

Hearing your story...puts it in perspective...and an insight...into why I have been captured & obsessed with Travelblog for one year and counting. I think it is the personal touch...I feel it in the site...people out there...and in the Travelblog organisation...they are actually interested in us humble bloggers...definitely not the feel of a big corporate machine. And now I know why. It's because you did not sell remained your baby...part of your personality. Thank you Ali...from all of us have added something amazing to our lives...sharing our travel stories & photos...with like-minded persons...from all over the World. Best Wishes for your future. Here's to you..!
5th April 2012

Cheers Ali
I'll always be a fan of the site :) wishing all the best for TVB's future. x
5th April 2012

Happy 10th birthday Ail and the TravelBlog team. It's been quite a ride for you, and congratulation on making the site what it is today. I joined in 2005, and the screen shots shown through the years bring so many good memories. I've always looked forward to logging on and making a contribution. TravelBlog is and always has been the No 1 travel website in the marketplace, and long may it remain so!
5th April 2012

A great big thankyou...
I always knew TravelBlog was run by a small dedicated team but only after meeting you last year did I realise the hard work and passion that you pour into the site. Thankfully it shows, the site is spectacular and you should be proud of what you've created and how its inspired countless numbers of people to see what's out there... Thanks for keeping us connected... It's a pleasure to be a part of TravelBlog and I'll see you on Sunday! :)
5th April 2012

Happy Birthday to Travelblog!
Wow, 10 years...we have been a member for almost 6 years and remember when we first found Travelblog and thinking it was head and shoulders above any other blogging sites. Over the years we have made friends with other bloggers and felt like we were part of a bigger community of travellers. It's great reading the back story behind Travelblog and seeing how much hard work you have put into this site. We are grateful for all your hard work and wish you all the luck with the next stage of your life in the US. Sorry we can't make it to the celebration on Sunday, but we are looking forward to reading the blogs!
5th April 2012

Is there anything more that can be said after all the above?
TravelBlog seems to have a unique soul to it, if a website could be said to have one. Maybe it's a combination of all your hard effort and the love of bloggers shining through. Whatever the case, it's there. Thank you for everything!
5th April 2012

travelblog still is the most user friendly travel blog website ive ever seen. your design is top notch. seriously, you make blogging even for techno-challenged people like me easy. so thank you
5th April 2012

Oh, don't I feel fancy now?
Whoa... I got a mention! Righteous! Ali, it was my pleasure to help. It was my pleasure to get back in touch with you after all of those years. My pleasure to have the chance to meet up, catch up, and experience some travel together. I have always wished that there was more I could have done for you and the site... I felt that suggestions and criticisms were all I could offer back in the Blogger #79 days (that number almost being one of my favorite none awards on this site... #79!). Moderating the early forums were an adventure. Killing spam bloggers was almost fun. I recall the day you dropped me a line, excited, telling me a NY Times reporter might be calling me, and to be prepared. If I was nervous about that prospect, I can't imagine what you felt back then. It's all true, this was so long before what everyone today knows as blogging. Things were so different back then. You really did it man!!!! Congratulations!
5th April 2012

And another thanks.
There is very little I can add to what everybody else has already said, so I shall keep it short and sweet. Thanks Ali! As a humble blogger I am happy I found this site, and I appreciate all the hard work put into it. Especially since it means we, the bloggers, don't have to do all that hard work. I shall be curious to see the evolution of this blog site in the next 10 years. Also thanks to all the moderators and all others working on TravelBlog. So thanks and on to the next 10!
5th April 2012

Many happy returns, and many, many thanks... :)
5th April 2012

Well done TravelBlog
I've really loved watching TravelBlog change and grow over the years, I remember Ali setting off for the first Big Adventure in his Dad's campervan , off to catch the train to the airport feeling rather proud of his adventurous spirit. It didn't surprise me though - Ali had always been an adventurous child - the first escapades were when he was four and had managed to open the child proof lock on the gate. He set off in his big yellow pedal car, parked it in the reeds at the canal and went to watch the trains from the railway bridge. Discovering his abscence my neighbour and I scoured the neighbourhood trying to find him, and then I called the police. I was just showing the policewoman his photo as they had found the pedal car, feeling absolutely terrible, when he showed up with two nice girls who were carrying him home. He'd got a bit lost! He was always escaping so I only worry about him when he's flying!
5th April 2012

Happy Birthday TravelBlog!
Re: Quarter life crisis - Looks like good things can come out of a crisis, since it got you travelling and inventing TravelBlog. Around this time 10 years ago, we also went through a crisis, that caused us to up sticks and start again as expats in a new country, so maybe everybody should have a crisis now and again, to prevent getting in a rut. ;) ''I'll visit Silicon Valley spend some time seeing if that's the place for me...'' I sometimes wonder how you manage to get decent jobs and work permits in the various parts of the world. Maybe you will make a blog about that sometime too, if you find youself with any more spare time at all. :) V4.0 looks good, though I certainly didn't see anything at all wrong with the V3.0 that Mark designed so well, appart from the terrible bugs that is. :)
5th April 2012

happy birthday nice to have the long story highlighted again best of luck with you new venture wish i could be travelling more - small entry coming up in april but at the moment stuck doing mba exams! this site gives me a welcome break - escape from the long hours of revision - and makes me question why i am doing it! I am sure there is a beach hut somewhere waiting for my family and me!
6th April 2012

Congratulations, and thank you!!
And fantastically proud you should be!! I still remember first hearing about TB when using the LP forums. Let did I know then that signing up for an account on a blog site would lead me to become part of such a wonderful community. Thank you for taking us all on the journey with you, and may you and TB have many successful years to come.
6th April 2012

Thank you Ali!
I just want to say thank you for this website. I haven't traveled much in my life but I'm always inspired when I go on travelblog. I love this site and I'm SO grateful for it. From the bottom of my heart thank you Ali & Travelblog staff!!!!!!!!!
6th April 2012

Great (and i mean great !) story kid. Thanks for makin my travels easy to relay to peeps back home. The kid done good !
6th April 2012

Congratulations, Ali!
I'm a big fan, regular reader, armchair traveler before TravelBlog converted me into a travel blogger, and subsequently Moderator in this fantastic site! This site made friends out of many of us. I have met and gained new friends sharing the same passion for travel with me -- Too many to mention here, but u know who u are, guys. Sorry to miss the K L party. Have fun!
6th April 2012

Thanks for uniting all people with the same passion
I have nothing else to say, I completely agree with all the comments above. It is the most inspirational, friendly, helpful website ever!!
6th April 2012

Proud Parent!
Well done Ali, (and all the invisible helpers past and present) good blog, reminding me of things I had forgotten! It makes us start to feel itchy-footed again!
6th April 2012

Happy Birthday
Congratulations Ali for the 10th year milestone. Such an inspirational achievement. Best wishes to your future endeavor . [:)]
6th April 2012

Happy birthday and congrats. Kind of wish I was in KL but then Oaxaca ain't half shabby either during Semana Santa.
6th April 2012

Thank you!
Ali without you this site would not be possible. Travelblog means so much to so many people, as I said in the comment title. Thank you!
7th April 2012

What a great story. This is how thinking out of the box should be
Thank you for posting your story of TravelBlog. I had no idea how it started, so really enjoyed this. Just think of how many more stories you will have for the 20 year celebration. Best wishes. B
7th April 2012

Happy Travelblog birthday!
Congratulations on 10 years. It's a fantastic site that I've loved being part of for the past 4 years. I loved reading your story of how it all began. You've provided a brilliant site - usable and friendly. Enjoy the celebrations today!
8th April 2012

Great Job Ali
Thanks mate for all your time and effort. Great way for travellers to stay in contact throughout the world. What an amazing life you've lived and great example of just what life can bring you. Well Done!!!! Hopefully I get to meet you one day and shout you a beer for your effort. Keep it up mate
8th April 2012

Congratulations on 10 years!
Like yourself, degree in Computer Science, worked for an IT company in London, end of a relationship sent me off to accumulate 3 years exploring the world. Your site introduced me to the concept of blogging. I find it great motivation to keep going, searching for the next outlandish story to beat the last, pushing the boundaries of Travel. My blogs have been picked up by a couple of media companies thanks to Travelblog, one was even used for a Graduate course in Writing Strategy! Not bad for one who failed GCSE English at School! Thanks for helping me to discover a creative and artistic side I never knew existed - Congratulations on 10 years!
8th April 2012

Thanks for all the hard work!
Wonderful to read your story Ali. I'm so pleased I picked Travel Blog nearly 6 years ago. Many happy returns and here's to the next 10 years being awesome!
9th April 2012

Thank YOU
Dear Ali, thank YOU for keeping this site so wonderful. I feel a little guilty couch surfers like me made you lose so much sleep over maintaining this website. Consider moving to Singapore! Eduardo Saverin, the facebook co-founder is based there (so it can't be that bad) and it's only a few hours away from KL, i.e. still close to all the wonderful diving sites. ;)
20th April 2012

Congratulations on an amazing platform and the journey its taken you on. Its certainly a long way from the smelly room at Paston all those years ago :) I wish you and M all the best in your new adventures together. Shame really as it means I will have to come and visit you both in California. Wherever you end up you know you always have a place to stay in Cambridge. Take care mate.
21st April 2012

We're all so Lucky !
So many others have said some and all of what I want to say already. Sometimes out of adversity and not so good times, really good things come and TravelBlog is one of those things. Ali, you've created a site that is simple to use and understand, even for those of us in our so-called "golden years". Since 2005 I've been using TravelBlog to share my travels with friends at home, just like you started doing 10 years ago. So envious of your youth and "breaking free" of some of the leashes of our lives to travel the world. I'll never catch up but thanks to TravelBlog I'll slowly continue trying. Thanks for TravelBlog ! Kane
9th May 2012

Thank You :)
Ali, everyone has said what I want to say - truly awesome to be part of travelblog. Finding out the story behind travelblog has just made me admire you even more. Travel long and well friend, hope to meet you one day and blow some bubbles with you.
11th May 2012

Wow 10 Years After
Hi Ali, what an achievement, We love our contribution with travel blog, something that changed our lives. leaving the UK , in our mid 40'S for a new life in Australia, I wondered how were were going to cope emotionally, and Its fair to say that Travelblog, gave us the emotional connection that was vital to the both of us. Our Blogs were a mechanism of telling our freinds and families that we were OK and surviving, and it provided a link back from them to us, to let us know what was going on in their lives, as travveling put you in a vacume, we have never looked at it as an advertisement to tell everyone "what a great time we were having" and oh look at us!!. Blogging was a new adventure for us, along with, living in a new country, I think it gave us balance and at some of our lowest points we have received a message on the blog from someone, who just gave us that pick up we needed. I am proud of my fantastic wife for producing some great pictures for our blogs, nothing like the rubbish I turned out, it made her use her camera which inspired her. Looking back on our 628 entries, it is a wow moment for us, just to realise what we have done and where we have been, we love to play our little game and I will pick a blog title whilst Caroline has to guess where we were and what we did. At this time, in our adventure, which we are nearly 4 years in to, we do not have that much to offer the blog but we know our new travels are just over the horizon and will put back in as soon as we get going again. Thanks for everything you and the team have done, it is apprecated, and all the other bloogers, your input your pictures and blogs are amazing. Kangaroojack
10th July 2012

Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your story! It's encouraging to hear how you followed your dream - through hard and beautiful times. It's good to see you never gave up and what a nice program you wrote and still work on. I love to poste my blogs for my friends and me, I'm an IT-Greenhorn though, but it's so easy.. and even some of my friends/family are not really used to mouse and stuff but they manage easily to read it. Danke und weiter so!
6th July 2013

This site helped change my life.......
My whole travel experience was made just that bit more perfect with this site. I have always thanked you for creating it as it helped create the new me, and the sheer goodness that has come from this time. The changes I was forced to make in 2007 were challenging and at times painful, writing my experiences here not only brought back my creativity but helped others too, in 2013 and in hindsight these were the best days of my life without a doubt. Although better days are here now as a direct result. Ali thank you for your vision dedication and for giving me the confidence to scuba dive and teaching me how to roll backwards off a rocking boat at sea and for your continued friendship. I think the entire travel population on here wish to thank you for making many lives happy.

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