How This Blog Works (and Doesn’t)

I created this blog back when I began telling people about us leaving eminently; so many friends asked me to let them know where I would be, and writing here seems like the best way to do that. And I started populating it as soon as I thought of it because I was so excited about the idea of a travel blog. Let’s go!

Of course, after four months of blogging we’ve gone only one place, but I don’t have much else to do during this quarantine so I might as well keep it up. And I’m enjoying the one hour a day I give myself to do this. (That’s my blogging spot in the photo above, although I don’t do it on my phone. And Banjo helps.)

What I Need to Improve

I’d worked with WordPress on my old freelance editing business website (man, that is old) and on the magazine website, so I thought I’d be able to just pop on a template and be good to go.

Turns out someone else created both those sites; I just maintained them, and I’d forgotten that. Creating a site from scratch is a whole other ballgame.

And yet nothing online is from scratch these days; there are a ton of templates and resources out there. If you’re keeping things on the free side like I am, that’s even easier because you’re severely limited to just a few options. That’s all my beginner mind can wrap itself around right now.

I do want to improve this place, though.

The look

I’m not keen on the homepage, the way the title is very small up at the top, and then you jump right in to the most recent posts.

I tried putting a set of images up there that change every few seconds, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the blog—it just adds confusion. What is this place with all these random pictures moving in and out?

What would be ideal is one image at the top that represents the blog, with the blog title laid on top of it. Problems with that: A) We haven’t gone anywhere so I don’t have a good image, and B) I have neither Photoshop nor skills to lay text on top so it looks okay.

Well, for the fun of it I could just put a representative image up there for right now. I have this one of the Airstream parked where it is that is kind of pretty:

Here’s the same view with the additional theme of what it is we do all day:

Another take could be this “family portrait” from us camping in the Frolic, since it shows our faces:

Well, if you see changes to site, I’m just messing around. Let me know though if you really like or dislike something.

Adding a map

Thanks to a YouTube video sent to me by a friend and pro geographer (Marc, hey!), I’ve been learning how to use Google My Maps, which is like Google Maps My Places but with a spreadsheet behind all your data.

Tracy’s been using this for years for his September kayak trips and suggested I learn it a while back, but spreadsheets give me the howling fantods, frankly, and I had been hoping that I’d never have to work with one again. I should though, since planning our route and picking places to stay and making reservations are all good jobs for me in this new life. I need something useful to do, even if it involves maps.

So I managed to create a My Maps for our travels, with layers for:

  • friends to visit,
  • national and state parks with campgrounds we know about,
  • private campgrounds we’ll probably need to go to, and
  • driving routes via where we’re staying—so far just the one we’ve taken and the one we’ve planned in Florida for next summer (at right).

I can create the layers and assign icons for different types of places, but I haven’t gotten bored enough around here yet to dig into the underlying spreadsheet and add more data.

Tracy has, of course—he enjoys doing this. For every campground, he’s added columns for what amenities it has and other stuff we’ll need to know. Eventually I’ll run out of things to do here and mosey over to the spreadsheets and figure them out.

My point here is that I could add a map to the homepage that shows our progress, which I think would be cool to share in real time.

Right now, however, it looks like this.

Which accurately reflects how exciting our travels have been, but I don’t think you need to see it on the blog homepage.

One day we will travel. It might be in fits and starts, but we are not going to live at this campground forever!


That danged email-newsletter thing

Another aspect of blogging I need to improve is that email I send out once a week.

When I thought about the fact that most people don’t subscribe to RSS feeds anymore or bookmark blogs to visit when they’re bored (we have Facebook for that now, right?), I realized I needed to get this out somehow to friends who asked for it.

At first I had a newsletter subscription plugin, but like everything that’s free online, it didn’t work the way I wanted. So I went with a free account at MailChimp, which I know a little about from having worked with it at the magazine.

I’ve got the same limitations with Mailchimp as with WordPress though in that for free you get only a few templates and choices in them. Right now my weekly email looks like this:

with only text excerpts of recent posts—no images. Wouldn’t it look better with the main image of each post there on the left of each excerpt? I had that briefly when I was using the WordPress plugin to send the email, but when I moved to MailChimp I can’t manage the code well enough to get the images in.

Well, if you’re reading this through that weekly email, know that you can go to this site any time, and chances are I’ve updated the danged blog that very day.

Surprisingly Positive Outcomes

I really am enjoying blogging each day though, as if you couldn’t tell. It’s a distraction from news about the pandemic and my worries for friends and family (and the whole world).

It’s also a means of self expression while I’m cooped up with my new husband who makes spreadsheets in his down time. 🙂

Plus I love it as a way to connect to the friends I miss already. You guys have been emailing me about the blog, and some of you I haven’t spoken with in ages so this really is connecting me.

I know I won’t be able to keep this pace up once we’re traveling, but I certainly have the blogging bug so will keep it up as much as I have time for. And with my new phone coming (yay!) the pictures should be better!

You guys keep staying at home if you can and take care.

6 thoughts to “How This Blog Works (and Doesn’t)”

  1. I am looking forward to seeing the lines of your travels all around the US. I have where you are parked right now as “Home” in FMF. Soon enough I’ll be changing that!

  2. Whatever spreadsheet you come up with Shellt will be interesting and good to me. Boring? No never!
    Love -Li

  3. Shelly, I look forward to reading your posts every Friday! I hope that you eventually turn Banjo’s exploits and opinions into a children’s book one day❤️

    1. Thanks Cyndy, that’s kind of you! I doubt Banjo would write her memoir as a children’s book, though; she does not like kids. It would be a dark book.

  4. I like the map edition – it’ll be great especially once you can get on the road again. I marvel at your blogging stamina. My youngest told me I should start a retirement blog, populated with all my hobbies and things I learn, but I keep thinking (1) what would I write really, and (2) once I HAVE to write something, it’d be a chore! I think I’d be more like the author, whichever one it was, who said he didn’t like writing books, but loved having written them!