What I’ve learned after five years of blogging

The tiny notification came to my inbox rather unexpected. If I’d been in a hurry as I normally am while browsing through my WordPress Inbox perhaps it would have gone unnoticed. Yet, there it was an indistinguishable little note that said “Happy Anniversary from WordPress” next to a tiny little cake with the number 5 inside. I stopped for a moment and just stared at the screen a bit in disbelief that I’d forgotten this fact. That five years ago, as a stay-at-home mom of a four and six-year-old, I decided to take a chance. I started a blog.

I remember the feeling of utter shyness and apprehension when I wrote that first post. Would anyone even read it or my blog? Was I making a big mistake by opening myself up to the world, to strangers? Would it even be any good? Lots of self-doubt swirled around inside my head but I decided to take a leap of faith and go for it. What did I have to loose? 

Above: A gallery of some of the first photos introduced in my blog.

Fast forward five years and 1,000 posts later, I am still blogging as passionately as ever and consider my blog to be my part-time job. I may not make a dime off my blog however what I get in return with satisfaction, fulfillment, opportunity and friendship has made it one of the best decisions of my life (of course, behind getting married and having children). I love blogging and I believe that because I love what I do so much that my blog will be here to stay for a very long time.

So what is the key to longevity? Why do I continue to spend countless hours on my blog every single day, week after week, month after month and year after year? Simple. Because I am passionate about what I’m doing and believe in it. If I didn’t love blogging, I would have quit long ago.

I’ve sadly seen many of my fellow bloggers come and go. I’ve also learned many tips along the way that have worked for me and have kept me going with my blog. Here are a few of the best things I’ve learned along the way.


Reflections on TBEX and the Lone Life of a Travel Blogger

The first weekend in June, I was one of 1,200 travel bloggers who packed my bags along with my tangled emotions, and headed to Toronto, Canada for the 3rd Annual TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference. I had no idea what to expect and it was my first time ever attending a travel blogging conference. I went to BlogHer last summer along with 5,000 other blogging hopefuls and felt misplaced as a travel blogger among so many mommy bloggers. When I heard about a TBEX, an event exclusively for travel bloggers, I was thrilled. It was my tribe and the place for me to be. I instantly signed up with high expectations of what I’d learn, who I’d meet and the connections I’d make. My journey as a travel blogger was awash with opportunities.


Looking down from the CN Tower in Toronto during TBEX.


Be the Change

I recently subscribed to the WordPress Daily Prompts to see what kind of inspiration I could find on expanding my writing. I briefly read the prompts but never wrote one until today when I saw one that struck a chord in my heart. I read it and I filled with joy and excitement. I felt like the words were talking exactly to me.

“What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world”. 

I read these words and thought, isn’t this why I am writing my blog in the first place? To use my voice to share my experiences of what I’ve seen in the world, what I’ve learned and most importantly of all, how we can all give back?

I have talked about my voice time and time again in my blog. But today I’d like to share with you what I’m hoping to change in the world with my blog.



I landed in China after a thirteen hour non-stop flight from Chicago feeling elated, excited, tired and uncertain about what to expect.  I had been to Asia before with a visit last year to India and Nepal and trip to Japan years ago.  I’ve found these countries fascinating yet for some reason I was unsure what my expectations would be of China.  I had heard a lot about it.  Both good and bad.  It was time for me to judge for myself.

Of course I knew there would be tons of amazing history and culture to see.  Not many other places in the world can boast about having a 5,000 year-old civilization.  Yet I also knew it would be crowded, polluted, controlled, different, and perhaps confusing giving the huge paradox between the old and the new.

As I got off the plane and entered Beijing’s new Terminal 3, one of the largest terminals in the world that was completed just before the 2008 Olympics, my eyes widened.  It was so huge, so modern, and so clean.  This couldn’t be China, could it?

Photo taken just past midnight at Beijing International Airport’s Terminal 3. 

We retrieved our luggage, and wearily followed the clearly marked signs in English pointing to the taxi line.  Then, all hell broke loose.  As we stood there, waiting patiently in line, there was a mad dash of black-haired Chinese pushing past us and jumping into cabs haphazardly.  It was organized chaos.  It was so uncivilized.  It was China.

We arrived at our hotel well past one am, in a trance-like mood after so much travel.  I hardly noticed the row after row of street food canteens lining the brightly light streets.  Instead, what I noticed was the Soviet-looking appearance of our Trip Advisor rated hotel.  The outside was just plain old ugly.  Yet the inside was surprisingly nice.

We checked in to silence.  No one was around except a few late night stragglers coming back drunk, commenting on how wonderful the Beijing nightlife was.  The room was more than adequate (much nicer than the outside of the building) and since we were going on a twelve-hour time difference there was no way I could fall asleep.  It was 1 am yet my body was telling me it was noon.

My plan of attacking jet leg was to have a few glasses of wine, stay up for a while and then try to sleep four to five hours if possible.  It has worked before so I was hoping it would work this time.

I went down to the lobby to check my emails and enter my first blog post when I had my first real dose of serious culture shock.  I entered www.wordpress.com and nothing happened.  Hmmm.  I was tired but I couldn’t quite understand why on earth it wasn’t working.  I next went to my email and tried reading some of my fellow blog posts.  I could read the emailed short version but then when I clicked on the link to read more, it went blank.  Frustrated, I decided to try going on my Facebook page to send out a message to my friends that I had arrived and was here.  No dice.  It went blank.

It took me a day until it finally hit me that these sites as well as other social networking and media sites are blocked in China.  I couldn’t believe it.  I guess when I look back, it all makes sense to me and I should have known that this would be the case.  I know that China’s government censors all its media including the internet.  Yet for some reason I was completely taken aback.

I’ve heard stories off CNN being cut off right in the middle of a program.  Words being mysteriously erased from Obama’s speeches.  I’ve heard about the jailed and imprisoned writers, journalists and human rights activists who tried to speak their mind.  Yet I was absolutely stunned by the level of censorship on the big wide web.  How in the heck do they do it?

A timely November 7, 2011 article in the Financial Times claimed that:

“The heads of China’s leading information technology companies have pledged to censor internet content more strictly as the Communist party tries to tame the country’s boisterous online media”.

“While the Communist party regards the internet as making a positive contribution to economic development, it runs a vast censorship machine to ensure that online information does not challenge its grip of power”.

For a country that is advancing at lightning speed, with its 1.3 billion people wanting more and more a piece of the economic pie, I find this situation to be completely mind-boggling.   As an American, I’m used to being able to say or do what I want.  I had never realized how much I’d taken this liberty for granted until I was in a place where freedom of speech was gone.

Another big surprise was how incredibly slow the internet is in China.  Whenever you do a search, the internet runs at a snail’s speed to find or not find the answer.  I could just picture the giant censorship apparatus at work.  How do do it?

With anything illegal, of course there are ways around it.  Censorship can become uncensored.  You can use a proxy service to sneak into blogging sites or Facebook, if you like.  Likewise, many times things written in English from foreign sources are not censored (yet the Chinese versions are).  An American businessman I met traveling in China told me he could access Facebook only on his Blackberry.  And China does have their own Chinese versions of Facebook and Twitter-like tools which are in demand and growing.  Yet it leads me to wonder how long this can really go on.  The estimated 500 million internet users in China only continue to grow, as does the breadth of the wild wild web.

Will censorship be possible forever?

Stay tuned…next will be Day 1 Culture Shock galore! 


The unforgettable hike to the flagship “Torres” del Paine

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson 

Today was it.  The final leg of the “W” trek to the infamous, mysterious las torres, the towers, which are the trademark of this incredible park.  It was going to be a long, tiring hike taking over 8 hours of our day.  But I was ready for the challenge as I always am.  We prayed that we would have a clear day so that we would be able to actually see the towers and the Gods must have been watching us from above.  When we woke up in the morning, the sun was shining brilliantly against an azure blue sky.  It was a postcard perfect day, a rarity in Patagonia.

Morning view outside our Eco Tent.  A few fluffy clouds floated graciously against my favorite colored sky:  Blue.

We felt so incredibly lucky.  Cristian told us that a group of Irish travelers had attempted the trek to the towers three times over two days and had never seen a thing. Since the towers are the most famous and unique feature in the park, we really wanted to do the hike and more importantly, have decent enough weather so we could make it to the top and see las torres unhidden by the clouds.  The thought of such dedication, persistence and perseverance of the Irish trekkers intrigued me.  What a pity, I thought reflectively yet secretly hoped we would not be faced with a similar fate.

After another large breakfast of an all-you-can-eat-yet-not-feel-the-slightest-bit-guilty buffet, we headed out for our big hike to las torres.  The first forty-five minutes were relatively tiring, knee-breaking work as we ascended from 0 to 1,500 feet rather quickly.

A few more clouds trespassed into the sky.  Yet so far so good.  The view was still promising. 

The hike was a lot of ups and downs through a huge river valley that afforded spectacular panoramic views of the park.  The pure air was so fresh that my lungs were overjoyed and at ease.  I tried to enjoy each and every step with my eye on the prize.

Here is a picture of the heavenly Valle Ascencio beneath our feet.

I was amazed how well my body was doing given all this hiking.  No major aches or pains.  I felt like I was on top of the world both physically and mentally, nothing like how I felt healing my old battle wounds for six months after completing my first marathon a year before while working a job that required a ton of tedious travel and unwanted stress.   I could feel each part of my body as it worked to move me forward, methodically and purposefully, towards my goal.

There were lots hills in the hike.  At times it felt like hiking over a rollercoaster track. 

The hike was gorgeous.  Our views of the surrounding mountains and the massive glacial valley were phenomenal.  I took it all in as best as I could, knowing that today was our last day in the park.  We also hiked through a beautiful Patagonian rainforest that had patches of snow on the ground leftover from the previous day’s storm.  Thankfully the storm was yesterday and not today as I would have been extremely disappointed to miss this hike.

The blossoming red flowers within the Patagonian snow-covered rainforest.  Somehow, Spring had managed to arrive.

The windswept trail showed years and years of trees that had faced the wild forces of Mother Nature in Patagonia.

Cristian pointed out a tree that was recently damaged by the wind.  There were remnants of snow scattered across the ground from the previous day’s storm.

The last hour of the hike was the most difficult.  We hiked one hour up on terrain peppered with large, slippery rocks left over from the glacial age.

Going up and hitting the glacier Moreno. (No…I’m not falling over with exhaustion or tripping….just bending down to tie my shoe!  Thought this picture demonstrated the difficult trekking conditions.  I’m seriously not that clumsy!).

At this point, the snow was up to our knees so it was quite exhausting work, taking up all our energy and effort to continue up.  We also had to be extremely careful because the rocks had become slippery and we didn’t want an accident to happen hours away from camp.

As we got closer to the top, I had a surge in anticipation.  The sky was still clear and we had an excellent chance at seeing all three towers.  We knew that this was a rare opportunity so we hurried up as fast as we could.  We finally reached a huge boulder, which marked the last ten minutes of the hike to the top.  We still couldn’t see anything and were forced to keep our heads down the remainder of the way due to the treacherously slippery and steep conditions.

Almost there!

We continued up and then all of the sudden they appeared, three stunning blue granite towers soaring majestically up in the sky.  The sight was so extraordinary that we felt like we were on another planet.

And finally….here they are, all three of las torres, in all their glory jetting up to the sky.

We hiked up to a flat plateau with a superb view of the towers and admired their spectacular height.  At almost 10,000 feet high, the towers rose above us in an intimidating manner and it was hard to grasp their true magnitude.

I made it!  Yeah!!!!

Paul and I, thankful that we reached the top, got to see the three towers before they disappeared into the clouds.

Getting windier and colder.  It was time to put on more layers.

After taking several pictures, we found a perfect spot for our last Patagonian picnic lunch with arguably one of the best views Torres del Paine National Park has to offer.  As we admired the view, we felt truly lucky to have seen all three towers uncovered by the clouds, knowing quite well that this rare opportunity was truly a special gift.  We stayed for over an hour despite the strong, cold winds that were penetrating our multiple layers of clothes.  It was hard to leave knowing that this would be our final trek of the journey.

Me marveling at the towers and reflecting on what this week meant to me.  It is amazing how utterly relaxed I felt.  It was if my body, mind and soul became one for a last fleeting moment in time.  Soon, regretfully, I’d have to go home and face reality.

The knee breaking descent…

As we hiked back to the camp, I took in each awe-inspiring view as much as possible, trying to seal it into my memory as best I could.  Despite my fatigue at this point in the trek, I somehow felt a bit lighter with each step as if all the stress in my life had finally been released, up into the sky, chasing after las torres and dissolving  into the heavens.

As we made our final approach to the Eco Camp, I at last understood what utter freedom truly meant.  When the only thing that matters in life is life itself.  I felt so happy and at peace with myself that I didn’t want this trip to end.  I wondered why we need so much in today’s world and why our lives are so stressful.  It didn’t make any sense to me.  In nature, none of that stuff matters.

Almost there…

We arrived at the camp filled with a glorious feeling of accomplishment and deep satisfaction.  We had reached our goal and even surpassed it beyond expectations.

Photo of Paul, me and our wonderful guide, Cristian.

That night, we celebrated the end of our journey with our guide Cristian and all the other members of the fabulous Cascada team.  We indulged in a fantastic send off dinner and this time the three of us split two bottles of wine.  We shared stories of our trip and laughed a lot more freely with our Chilean friends.  It was quite a memorable evening despite my lingering headache the next day.

View of the towers from the Eco Camp.

One last look before we went to sleep.

Stay tuned…next post is my last one of Torres del Paine National Park.

Adventure Travel Chile TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking