In 2018, I flew out of Hong Kong for international trips 9 times.
A year later, in 2019, both my style of travel (I affectionately call it “super light touch”) and everything else in my life caught up with me. I traveled less, but also wrote more. I launched my travel blog in October. I created a presence on two new social media platforms. I turned 26.
2019 Travels: Macau, France, New Zealand, Australia, USA
Firstly, I’ve discovered that it isn’t necessarily the best travel strategy to try to “do” a country in a day and a half. I used to truly believe in this strategy. I really did. I thought if I just hit up a city, photographed myself with as many landmarks as possible, and then booked it out of there, I could call it really visiting. If I was really savvy about it, I could get as many as 5 in a single day.
I don’t know whether I’m just older now and my legs can’t sprint as quickly through the Louvre as they once did, or whether I’m just wiser. Probably the former. I get winded really quickly these days.
Here’s my 2019 Travel Round-Up.
In March, I finally made it over to Macau for a day trip. I lived in Hong Kong for two full years before visiting Macau. It’s just that it’s too easy to get over there. It’s the reason you never visit the tourist sites in your own city…because YOU CAN LITERALLY DO IT AT ANY TIME. If I lived across the street from the Colosseum, you can bet your money that I’d give that place a wide berth for as long as I possibly could.
I was mesmerized by the Portuguese signs everywhere. I flexed my skills in waiting in line for food. We visited an amazing, down-home, historically significant Macanese restaurant, where we had a chat with the Godmother of Macanese food. I love places like this, because they’re kind of dirty and there are documents from the 80s and 90s strewn about, and usually an old timey cash register, but the food is always so damn delicious. Like being home, but with less good food.
We did some cool touristy things, like the ever-congested Ruins of Saint Paul and visited and let ourselves be carried away by the incessant crowds in Senado Square. We saw the discount Venice canals and the dollar store Eiffel Tower, and I kind of liked them.
I wore a dress purposely so that it would look better on the gram than the cut-offs I wear every day in the summer. It was really low-cut, so I was always looking down and asking if my boobage was too much (it often was). After this trip, I brought this dress to the tailor and now it’s appropriate to wear in front of my parents.
My hot takes on Macau:
- • It’s like Hong Kong in vibe, but significantly more laid back and has cooler and more colorful architecture
- • The food is really good and also cheap, but there are also a lot of Michelin star restaurants here
- • There are about a gazillion mainland tourists here, both on the streets and in the hotels and casinos.
- • They do take Hong Kong dollars in most places, but they’ll give you change in Macanese . Good luck trying to get rid of it when you leave.
Overall, I’m glad I finally did visit Macau, but it would take a lot of incentive to get me to visit again, mostly because I have never gambled anything in my life (no, not even poker in the dorm rooms) and crowds make me dizzy.
I think I’m as grown-up now as I’m ever going to be now. I’ve come to the conclusion that as an eldest daughter, mediating fights and bickers between the also grown-up members of my family is simply my lot in life. For the rest of my life.
It was in this kind of environment that I flew to Paris in March – first to visit a friend, where we ate baguettes and walked around the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum. We drank red wine while watching Marie Kondo on my laptop in an tiny crumbling French apartment, where skinny nude people graced the walls and the shower was the size of a mop bucket (I honestly couldn’t locate it at first).
Aaron, if you’re reading this, the handle of the sink faucet also came off in my hands when I twisted it. I hope you didn’t notice (I tried my best) and that it didn’t cause an issue when you moved out later that year.
I then met up with my parents and my little brother at the Gare du Lyon station, where I was welcomed with the news that my brother had actually left HIS ENTIRE BACKPACK, WITH HIS LAPTOP INSIDE, on the Lufthansa plane they’d just left.
No one was in a good mood. But thankfully I’m a very positive and bouncy companion to have when traveling (if I do say so myself), and bought sandwiches for everyone while they sulked in the station. There’s nothing good bread can’t cure.
Besides, we were going to the South of France, where we drank wine at every dinner, ate more red meat than was good for us, and probably definitely had an uncomfortable racial encounter.
The South of France was also heartachingly beautiful, and I wrote a whole post on the places we visited, which also happens to be my highest-performing post.
Here are my hot takes:
- • Lourmarin is the cutest and most picturesque village you will ever see of (and probably hear of, because no one has heard of Lourmarin).
- • Things are not necessarily cheap in the South of France, mostly because a lot of the region has become a playground for rich people to visit in the spring and summer. After all, Cannes is in the south as well.
- • You can’t see the South of France well without a car. But there’s a catch – driving in small-town Europe is both a charming experience and a horror. It’s charming because of cliffside views of perched towns by the sea. It’s also a horror because, well, you’re on a cliffside and the chances you’ll topple right over on that narrow-ass road is not a stretch for the imagination.
I’m half ashamed to say that half of my desire to come to New Zealand had to do with, like millions of others before me, the Lord of the Rings. I followed Frodo and Sam from the falling-apart Sony DVD player in my childhood living room, devoured the trilogy in book form, and wanted so badly to be magicked away to Middle Earth. I was half convinced that I’d be able to do it if I wished it hard enough. Never mind that I’ve never seen an East Asian-looking person in Jackson’s Middle Earth, so I’m not exactly sure how they would have dealt with it. Needless to say, I did get to visit Hobbiton while I was there.
I remember that we landed in Auckland I was shocked at how many Asian people there were walking around. A quick Google search tells me that 1 in 4 people living in Auckland identify with one or more Asian groups. I’m not complaining, because with more Asians comes more delicious food. Don’t talk to me about those pesky immigrants when the next day I see you lining up for that boba tea. That’s right. I see you.
The next weeks were a blur of majestic mountaintops, too much red meat (again – see the trend?) in the form of New Zealand lamb chops and beef shank, and hills positively carpeted in sheep. You know what they say about there being more sheep than people in New Zealand? Well, folks, it’s entirely true. You don’t quite know what it’s like to see what looks like an oddly white hill from the distance, only to approach and – WOW THAT IS A LOT OF SHEEP.
Hot takes on New Zealand:
- • It’s really a lovely and rural country. Once you leave the cities, towns are few and far between, and more often than not, they’re just clusterings of a a few handfuls of low wooden houses with animals grazing in the outdoors pastures.
- • It’s more expensive than you may expect – especially if you’re an adventure traveler (bungee jumping, rafting, boating). I mean, hell, there were so many signs advertising helicopter rides that I wondered where the hell were people getting all the money to do this stuff?
- • New Zealand is undeniably beautiful. It may have been the hype that I gave to it before we finally visited, but I wasn’t as awestruck with the scenery as I thought I’d be. As far as views go, it reminded me of New England drives sprinkled with a little bit of Canada and a little bit of Irish countryside. Nothing, however, prepared me for the volanoes.
- • Air New Zealand is not playing around. They are awesome. When I posted on IG about the fact that Air Zealand had free and reliably working wifi on the flight, wine refills after dinner, and kind service, several friends replied that they agreed, and that Air New Zealand was really the MVP of air travel. (Don’t @ me, I don’t have enough money to FLy FiRsT ClAsS on eMiRaTes.)
Australia has been on my travel list for a long time, but always as something I could do later. As a self-professed lover of really old shit (why I like Europe so much), Australia seemed far too far and yet far too accessible to ever make a special visit. But I finally did it.
Melbourne, for starters, felt like home. It was here that I learned to ask for long blacks and flat whites, and to get used to things being “too easy.” The architectural infrastructure felt European – and if you’d told me that Boston was a sister city, I would have believed you. It was somber and awesome and had an enormous variety of totally amazing food. Just thoughtfully designed, really earnest and soulful food. I’ll agree with the Most Liveable City in the World Accolade.
Next was Sydney – a wonderfully cosmopolitan world city with a similarly varied food scene. Not only was its Central Business District as busy and chaotic and upscale as those of New York and London, but it has beaches just a short bus ride away. I’ve never seen anything like the waves I saw while walking the Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk: enormous walls of water crashing over each other, one after another, overlapping like the scales of a fish.
Hot takes on Australia:
- • I love that a common response to an easy enquiry like “Can I have a glass of water?” or “Can I have the change back please?” or “Can I just buy your entire supply of these delicious meat pies?” is “Too easy.” (Okay, maybe not that last one. But I TRIED.) I love that an easy affirmative answer, given by an Aussie, suddenly takes on this totally aspirational cloak of cool – and one that I know I’ll never achieve.
- • Their coffee culture is no joke. They are dedicated to coffee with a dogmatism that I’ve previously only seen in my some of my freshman college peers’ dedication to marijuana. It’s not uncommon for you to be handed a single sheet, in full laminated glory, about separate tasting notes for their coffee beans, including the origin story of every single type of bean. Say what you want about the Italians being the original coffee drinkers, but the Aussies evolved and perfected it.
- • If you’re nervous about solo travel, Australia is an easy place to begin, especially as an English-speaker. Ever feel like you’ve lived somewhere before, even if you’ve never stepped foot in the country? Australia felt like that for me. It was closer to the USA than I’ve ever felt England to be.
I try to go home at least once a year. It doesn’t always happen, so on average, since I’ve moved to Hong Kong, it’s more like every one and a half years.
This time, it was for one week during Thanksgiving. Packing for a trip home means unpacking all the sweaters that I haven’t Marie Kondo’d for this one purpose of going home once a year, shaking them out in all their mothballed glory, and stuffing as many of them as I can into a suitcase. It’s crazy how fast your suitcase fills up when you’re packing for winter. Like, how did my 117 liter capacity suitcase only end up with true capacity of holding one pair of shoes and 3 sweaters?
Despite my packing woes, it was wonderful to be back. I loved the cold crispness that blew on my face, the easy friendliness of Americans. I even missed the decrepit public transportation (ask me again when I move back to the USA, though). When you go back less than annually, you hold onto your memories that much more strongly, and Thanksgiving this year was an testament to holding on.
I also had a colonoscopy. Which you know. Just casually throwing that in there.
Hot takes on being home:
- • New York has an incredible food scene that everyone seems to complain about, but that I love.
- • There are is a lot of questionable and yet delicious food being served in Boston’s North End (Is it real Italian food? IS IT???)
- • Seeing your hometown through the eyes of a tourist is difficult, but it can be done. The number of times where I questioned whether this would actually be interesting to anyone came up more often than I’d like. Do we all think our hometowns are boring?
2019 Travel Blogging: The Struggle of the Set-up, SEO Hopelessness, Social Media Fatigue, Some Writing Wins, General Traffic
I don’t believe in work-life balance because of technology slowly taking over the world. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few episodes of Black Mirror. I’m convinced that by 2050, half the world will be covered in barren wasteland as climate change eviscerates the warmer parts of the world. We’ll experience The Great Climate Change Migration, where inhabitants of now-uninhabitable regions of the world begin the slow and inevitably march to air-conditioned oases…which will now be INACCESSIBLE due to the 1% holing themselves up with higher and higher gates to keep the 99% out.
It’s going to be like the Hunger Games. The Capital gets the Air Conditioning. Every other district gets nil. Maybe floor fans, if they’re lucky.
The Struggle of the Set-Up
I launched my blog on October 5, 2019. That’s the anniversary of my blog. But the real start of my blog began sometime in May.
Now, I won’t be shy about explaining what a slog it was to get the thing up and running. It sucked.
And I’m completely and hopelessly technically challenged, so I’m even more surprised that my site works (for the most part, I think). I’m a Luddite in the making. I’m a Luddite now.
But if I can do it, so can you. I know literally everyone and their mother says that, but it’s true. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was already midway through my college years. I just made a Twitter a few weeks ago, for Chrissake. If you know how to use Twitter, please. I’m all ears.
The moral of the story is: It took me nearly 5 months to actually set up my blog, because 1) I’m technologically incompetent; 2) I have a full-time job; and 3) I like to spend my weekends lying in bed and binge-watching Terrace House and Patriot Act by Hasan Minhaj (my new favorite woke bae).
In full transparency, here is what I did. You won’t find any secrets from me. There are, of course, several things that I perhaps would have done differently, but for a truly truthful account of my blogging journey, here’s what it is, laid bare. Please note that some of these steps cost money. If you are an emerging/new blogger, you may not want to pay for services (and that’s completely okay!).
- • I began Nomadic Matt’s Business of Travel Blogging course.
- • I picked Siteground to be my web host.
- • I selected a Theme from the selection given at StudioPress.
- • I hired a one-time freelancer at Fiverr to create a my site logo.
- • I signed up for ConvertKit for email subscription services.
- • I tweaked with the theme and the appearance of my blog for months on end. Months.
- • I wrote 2-3 blog posts and kept them in draft form until my blog was ready for launch (this is also the reason why even though my blog was birthed in October, some of the older posts date from August).
- • I launched on October 5, 2019.
“Lily,” you say. “Are you getting any money from mentioning these products and services? Shouldn’t you be disclosing that to your readers?
Ha! Joke’s on you.
My Goals for 2020: Tweak remaining visual aspects of the website and focus on increasing site speed.
By the end of my third month, I was receiving about 1,500 views on my blog on a monthly basis. Almost all of that traffic came from social media, and more than 80% of the social media traffic came from Pinterest.
It was also in 2019 that I was introduced to the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
The gist of what SEO is is the ease and discoverability of your website to search engines. The game of SEO is to take certain actions when constructing your posts to maximize the chances of Google (or other search engines) of indexing that post so that others using the search engine will find it on the first or second page in a Google search (optimally!).
SEO is difficult, especially in the travel blogging space, because there are a finite number of destinations and regions in the world, but new websites pushing out content about these destinations daily. It becomes increasingly competitive to rank on the first page in Google.
It’s also a highly strategic endeavor involving an entire cocktail of actions to remember, including careful assessment of aspects like finding competitive keywords, link-building, and optimizing website speed.
My Goals for 2020: Continue to optimize on-page SEO and build backlinks to my site, which may including collaborating with other bloggers and guest posting. I hope to get even a single post to rank on the first page of Google for its keyword.
Social Media Fatigue
I’m on the following forms of social media as Lily Wunders: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
My Instagram game has been mediocre this year. I’d hoped to have gotten to 10, 000 followers by 2020, but I sorely underestimated the amount of time you’d need to spend on this platform to get to that level.
At the beginning of 2019, I had about 700 followers on Instagram. At the end of 2019, I have about 4900. In 2019, I gained about 4200 Instagram followers.
Once, I watched in horror as my followers plunged 100 in a single day. I got seriously depressed about this. I was also embarrassed to be so depressed. From that day, I’ve not experienced another dip as serious, but I’ve also vowed to never let a platform have such an effect on my mental health again.
Does Instagram bring traffic to my blog? Not really. I get 10 click-throughs to my blog from Instagram a month.
But Instagram is my chosen medium because I’m also a visual content creator. I like my photos. I love my Instagram platform because I love the little community I have. I love the feedback, the emojis, and the encouragement I’ve received from people I’ve never met in real life (but now I can say that I have met up with a few of you in real life).
Follower Count as of December 31st 2019: 4926
I created a Facebook page for Lily Wunders the day I launched. As of the end of 2019, I have just shy of 200 followers on Facebook.
Facebook is helpful because it’s a good networking platform to connect with other bloggers and exchange tips and tricks. Whether my Facebook page is helpful to bring people to my blog is another story. I’m still trying to actually figure out if having the page is helpful, but until I have an answer, it will continue to exist.
Like/Follower Count as of December 31st 2019: 205
Goals for 2020: Continue to grow the page as much as I possibly can and see if it’s helpful. Not a priority.
I seriously hated the idea of getting on Pinterest. Another social media platform? But, my Facebook groups said, you have to be on Pinterest if you want to get traffic to your blog.
Pinterest is basically an inspiration board platform and visual search engine. Imagine Pinterest as Google, but that each search result comes with an pretty image. The pretty image induces you to click and save the image to view later. You save the image onto a board, which is like an online scrapbook or collage that you might have made in middle school, only the online version.
Not only did I get on Pinterest, but I also joined Tailwind, a Pinterest affiliate platform that lets you plan and schedule your pins in advance.
The bloggers were right. Almost 50% of traffic to my blog comes from Pinterest. My blog isn’t old enough or good enough to compete with the heavyweights on the first pages of Google, but Pinterest has been bringing in dependable traffic to my blog.
Monthly viewers as of December 31st 2019: 160,000
Follower Count as of December 31st 2019: 305
Goals for 2020: Fine-tune Pinterest strategy via utilizing Tailwind more. Pin at least 20-30 images on Pinterest a day. Hit at least 300,000 monthly viewers on Pinterest.
At the advice of a friend, I grabbed the Twitter handle @LilyWunders before anyone else could. I’m not sure exactly how popular “Lily Wunders” is and had an inkling that no one would want it anyway.
I made that Twitter. As of today, I have no idea how to use Twitter to promote my blog. My time is already taken up so heavily by the other social media platforms that I simply can’t find the bandwidth to do Twitter right now.
Follower Count as of December 31st 2019 (shoutout to @ITweetThere4iAm, my friend from Instagram who followed me on Twitter!): 1
Goals for 2020: Figure out how he hell Twitter can be used for in blogging. Have….100 followers by the end of the year? (This is a shot in the dark, I really am going into this blind).
Though not considered social media, email is another aspect of my blog that I haven’t had the bandwidth to pay attention to yet.
Subscribers as of December 31st, 2019: 7, and one of them is me.
Goals for 2020: Develop freebies for first-time subscribers to incentivize them to sign up for a subscription. At 100 subscribers (if I ever get there), begin working on a biweekly or monthly newsletter.
Some Writing Wins for Lily Wunders
Despite what the travel blogging industry would have you believe, I still think that the written word is alive and well. Blogging should be about writing. I love pretty pictures and slick website design as much as the next person, but sometimes I wish the early 2000s were back (minus the pencil eyebrows and ultra low-rise jeans. Never come back. Please). In the early 2000s, everyone’s blogs looked like this.
It was a great time. You couldn’t hide bad writing behind a pretty photo, and listicles were still few and far between (thanks a lot, Buzzfeed).
I’m still learning as a writer, but I care about the content I put out. I hope that you, as readers, will not only give me feedback on what you’re enjoying and what content you’d like to see more of, but also the things I’m doing that aren’t helpful.
Here are my favorite pieces of the year:
Here’s a piece I had a lot of fun writing but had no idea it would be as popular as it was. It far outstrips every single other one of my blog posts in terms of viewership.
This is a memoir piece of mine that is less helpful as a travel guide, and more of an illustration into a small slice of my childhood as well as my life since moving to Asia. I’ve lived in Hong Kong for nearly 3 years now, and it not only sums up the anticipation I felt coming to a place I’d only visited once as a child, but also the homecoming.
Goals for 2020: Level up as a writer. Hone in on my personal voice. Cover topics like overtourism, racism while traveling, (lack of) diversity in travel blogging and content creation, and travel as an innately political action. Write more in-depth about my current home of Hong Kong and living as an American-born Chinese person in the city.
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