Four Years of This Battered Suitcase: What Next?

by Brenna Holeman

This Battered Suitcase Blog 1

This is completely a self-indulgent post, I admit. Sitting in my friend Ali’s kitchen the other afternoon over hot cross buns and tea, we started chatting about blogging and how many opportunities this blog has given me.

“How many years has it been now?” Ali asked. “Three?”

“No…” I thought back to that first blog post I did. I remember writing it so clearly, lying in my bed on a rainy day in Osaka, Japan. I had claimed the name “This Battered Suitcase” a couple of years before, lying in another bed on another rainy day in Osaka. It’s strange what we remember; sometimes I remember the café where I wrote a blog post, even down to the kind of sandwich I had, better than I remember the actual place I was writing about.

This Battered Suitcase Blog 2

That room in Osaka, Japan

“Wow, it’s been four years,” I responded. “Actually… four years this April!” I whipped out my phone to check the exact date. “Two days from now, to be precise, April 12th.”

My blogging story goes back even further than four years ago, back to 2003. I joined Livejournal then, and used it as a diary; most of those old posts are hidden now, as I just can’t bear to give the entire Internet access to those angsty, early-20s rants about university life. Around 2006, however, I switched to writing almost solely about travelling and living in Japan, and I’m happy to have that little archive of my former years.

There are so many reasons why blogging has been so important to me for, gulp, over a decade… it has acted as a personal account of my journey through young adulthood and through my travels around the world. Aside from that selfish reason, I am amazed at the community that I’ve become a part of, of all of the incredible bloggers, readers, and industry people that I interact with every day. While writing is in my blood, and I’ll never stop, it’s the community that brings me back to this blog time and time again.

When I started this blog four years ago, it was basically a Tumblr. Going through my archives, I rarely wrote over 100 words in the first few years, and for the first year there were nearly no photos of myself or any mention of who I am. Gradually, posts have become longer and I have no shame in hiding who I am and what I look like. I hope that this never comes across as vanity, but as being comfortable and open.

While This Battered Suitcase has always been important to me, something shifted last year, and it became an even bigger part of my life. I stopped wanting to write just about me, and what I do. I wanted to start writing about travelling in general, and of making the blog about more than just me as an individual. I want to be relatable, and I want to make sure that this blog is (hopefully) inspiring to people from all walks of life, not just budget backpackers or solo female travellers. I also learned a lot more about the business side of blogging after attending four conferences since June 2013; I’ve learned what works for this blog, and what doesn’t. While I hate the idea of sponsored posting and paid advertising, I am open to product reviews, press trips, and compensated tours and hostels. I am confident that you guys understand that these things allow me to travel more, and allow me to recommend more. I am also confident that you guys know I would never, ever compromise the trust and integrity that I have tried to build on this blog, and will always be completely honest if something is compensated (and be completely honest with my review).

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The old design in 2011 in Pai, Thailand

I started writing on this blog for fun, and because I genuinely love writing and taking (mediocre) photos. So much more has grown out of it, though. Last year I put together a portfolio of what I thought were my best posts and submitted them to a university in London; I ended up being accepted for a Creative Non-Fiction Master’s, which is what I do full-time now. Within a few weeks of moving to London, I had already made a huge group of amazing friends, almost all of them in the travel blogging world. I even met a blogger who hooked me up with my beloved flat in East London. Only a few weeks after that, at a travel blogging conference, I unwittingly chatted with someone who would become my future boss; because of this blog, I’m now employed by Expedia and have the opportunity to work on a ton of incredibly creative, fascinating projects. Also through this blog, I’ve acquired a lot of great freelance contacts and am now paid to write for other websites. I am also currently writing a book about travelling for my Master’s degree, and this blog is definitely a huge inspiration for what I’m writing about (no, it’s not necessarily a travel memoir). So, this blog has brought me: a life in London, a Master’s degree, my friends, my flat, my permanent job, my freelance career, and a future book, not to mention a few trips. Not bad.

I do not write this to brag, but instead to say that absolutely none of this would be possible without the encouragement and support I’ve received in the past four years. Friends, family, and strangers have all continued to amaze me with endless emails, comments, messages, tweets, and likes. It’s not always good – I get discouraging messages, too – but every negative comment I get encourages me to think critically about writing and blogging and travelling. So, thank you, all of you, for everything.

I also write this to hopefully encourage other people to write and blog, whether it’s about travelling or about anything at all. I never could have predicted the path this blog would take, but it’s been an amazing ride. It’s so ridiculously trite to say, but, honestly, if I can do it, you can do it.

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Office space in Little Corn, Nicaragua

The past four years have been shaped in many ways by this blog; every day I’ve thought about it, either through writing or using social media or taking photos or writing emails or brainstorming ideas. I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, hours, and dollars into this website, but it has all been worth it. And what’s next for This Battered Suitcase? Well, I know as much as you do. I can tell you this, though… it’s not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere (unless, you know, it’s on a plane, and I intend to write about it). Thank you so much for some of the best years of my life.

Do you have a blog? What does it mean to you? If not, would you ever consider starting one? 


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Turtle April 12, 2014 - 6:16 pm

Congratulations on four years (plus all the other ones). That’s a huge accomplishment!
You’ve got such a lovely way of storytelling that makes your posts relatable and informative. No wonder so many people visit each month to hear more. Can’t wait for your stories about the next big adventure in Africa!!

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:31 am

Aw, thank you Michael! I really look up to you in terms of writing and blogging (and in every aspect of life, actually), so this comment means so much to me. I will try to do you proud with my posts about Africa!

Tom @ Waegook Tom April 12, 2014 - 6:22 pm

Happy Blog-a-versary! Although it’s after midnight here in Taipei, but whatevs. Keep on keeping on. Your blog is one of my favourites to read, and glad you’ve kept at it. As you know, I adore blogging as well, and it’s amazing what opportunities can arise from it if you keep on going, and develop your own voice and style, something that’s truly your own, which is what you’ve done. Congrats Brenna, I raise a virtual glass to thee.

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:28 am

Thank you so much, Tom! I love your blog, too, so this really means a lot coming from you. I really am amazed at the opportunities that blogging can bring, and I respect bloggers so much. My glass is also raised to you, my friend… cheers from London!

Shey April 12, 2014 - 7:24 pm

Its amazing how something that started so personal and for yourself, brought such amazing opportunities.
You are awesome and deserve everything you have!

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:24 am

Aw, thank you so much, Shey! What a nice thing to say.

Zalie April 12, 2014 - 8:23 pm

I can’t believe that it has been four years already! I am so proud of you for everything that you are involved in and everything that you have become! I can’t wait to see where the future will bring you. Happy birthday This Battered Suitcase!!! Xoxo

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:25 am

I know – I can’t believe it either! Thank you for supporting me from day one. I can’t wait to see where the future takes us both… xo

Louise April 12, 2014 - 11:30 pm

Hi Brenna

After reading this, I just wanted to drop a message here to say that This Battered Suitcase has been so inspiring to me and helped me make decisions as to where and what I want to do in my life. I am about to graduate university in July and take off teaching English in Asia and who knows where else 🙂
I have read every single blog post you have written here and find your words magical. So please don’t stop what you are doing as I love to hear of all your new adventures.

Thank you and Happy Birthday This Battered Suitcase!

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:33 am

Wow, what an amazing comment to read today! Thank you so much, Louise, that is so incredibly inspiring and encouraging. I am so glad that you enjoy the blog, and it sounds like you are quite an adventurer, too. Don’t worry, as long as I keep travelling I’ll keep writing… and I have no intention of stopping either any time soon! Thanks again, you made my day.

Erin April 13, 2014 - 1:09 am

Congratulations on 4 years – what an amazing achievement! I really enjoy reading about all your adventures, your stories are so inspiring. I’ve recently started a travel blog also, so I can definitely appreciate the time and effort that you put into this one!

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:24 am

Thank you so much, Erin! Best of luck with your blog, I think the most important thing is to really love it. If you do, all the time and effort you put into it doesn’t bother you that much!

Jenn April 13, 2014 - 1:36 am

Wow! That’s quite an accomplishment! I love reading your blog and I hope you continue for another four years! Your blog has really inspired me to pay off my debts quicker and start making travel a priority 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:47 am

Thank you, Jenn! I’m so glad that you enjoying reading the blog, and that it has inspired you in some way. Happy travelling!

Matelle Rivera April 13, 2014 - 12:48 pm

Hi Brenna! After a friend of mine introduced your blog to me, I’ve never missed visiting it since then. When you encourage everyone to write and blog, it’s just so empowering, especially seeing that you’ve made it to have a great path in your writing career. You, being a blogger, is so inspiring. Congratulations for hitting 4 years of incredible writing. 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 13, 2014 - 1:26 pm

Oh wow, thank you so much! What a great comment. I’m so happy that you are enjoying the blog and that you are inspired in some way. 🙂

Helen April 13, 2014 - 7:12 pm

Happy Birthday to This Battered Suitcase! 🙂

It’s been great to follow your adventures and I also want to say thank you for helping and encouraging me with mine. Had I not met you and a few others, I might not have carried on! Thank you darling! Have a wonderful time in AFRICA!!!!!!!!!! x

Brenna Holeman April 14, 2014 - 7:16 am

Aw, thank you, Helen! I’m so happy that our blogs brought us together! Isn’t that so great?! I am currently in the airport in Joburg and CAN’T WAIT to get to Cape Town. Speak soon x

rebecca kroegel April 14, 2014 - 11:34 am

I am only a recent reader but I love your blog. Your writing is great! I personaly use my blog as more of a creative outlet I guess but also a way to remember the things I saw and done.

Brenna Holeman April 14, 2014 - 3:29 pm

Thank you so much, Rebecca! I’m so glad you like the blog. I also use this as a creative outlet… aren’t blogs great?

Katie @ Domestiphobia April 14, 2014 - 2:02 pm

Just had my 4-year blog anniversary in March. Mine has been all over the place — travel, cooking, and basically an online journal. I know I need to concentrate more on a niche if I want to make more of a business out of it, but it’s SO hard to find that balance of what makes me (and the people who’ve been reading it for years) happy, and what will draw in more readers.

Perhaps I should attend a conference… I’ve seen your circulation and successes skyrocket over the last year, and I’m so happy for you! I do hope you still continue with some of your more creative (poetic?) posts as well — I love your more recent posts on travel tips and where to go, but I know I’d miss the more personal posts if they faded off. THAT kind of writing is what drew me into your blog to begin with. 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 14, 2014 - 3:33 pm

I guess my whole life revolves around travelling, so that’s my niche… although it’s a pretty big niche! It’s funny, I actually think I’ve been writing LESS advice and MORE creative posts, so I’m a bit worried that you see it the other way around. I’ve tried to focus on longer narratives in the past six months. The last few posts have been scattered (much like my life at the moment) but for the most part all of the posts on here are, in my eyes, even more personal than before. The blog isn’t changing any time soon, don’t worry!

Katie @ Domestiphobia April 15, 2014 - 1:27 pm

You’re right — I guess I was viewing it more as a whole from when you rarely had any advice posts at all. So that, to me, was a big change. But not an unwelcome one! You are a world traveler, which is a pretty amazing niche, so your advice is invaluable to those of us who aren’t as confident when it comes to travel. (When I mentioned niche, I was referring to myself — because I’m just all over the damn place.)

Keep doing what you’re doing, Brenna! Your blog is fantastic, and it’s only going to keep getting better. 🙂

Gagan Heer April 14, 2014 - 2:30 pm

Hi Brenna,

Congratulations on your Blog Anniversary! You have an amazing blog, which I came across quite recently. How I do not remember, but I surely have been hooked! I come from India, and have always loved travelling, but your blog actually inspired me to thing about travelling seriously and since then, step by step, I am working towards it. I hope I start soon!

Keep up the good work!

Much love 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 14, 2014 - 3:29 pm

Wow, that’s great! India is one of my favourite countries in the world and I would love to go back one day. I’m so happy that you are considering travelling, too! Once that wanderlust sets in, there’s not much that can stop it, so I’m sure you’ll be on your way soon. Happy travels, and thanks so much for the comment!

The Irie Explorer April 14, 2014 - 7:04 pm

I’m so happy it’s been four years for this wonderful blog! Congratulations on your success, and I hope you stick around for a very long time. I absolutely love your spirit and your writing. The world needs more of you.

Liane from The Irie Explorer xx

Brenna Holeman April 16, 2014 - 2:02 pm

Wow, thank you, Liane. Your comments are always so supportive and encouraging, so thank you for everything. I’m so happy that you like the blog!

Cara-Mia April 14, 2014 - 7:32 pm

You deserve all these good things that are happening to you! Hoping to be able to read your book someday, I know it’ll be great. I’ve been a follower since those LiveJournal days and it’s been grand. 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 16, 2014 - 2:01 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Cara-Mia! I’m so glad that we met through Livejournal.

christine April 14, 2014 - 8:59 pm

Congratulations Brenna! What an incredible ride and I feel like I’ve been part of it all the way. I can’t wait for your upcoming adventures and blog posts.

I do have a blog and I document my holiday travel. As much as I would like to be a full time traveler, it’s just not possible for me right now. But I do like going away as much as possible and exploring the world.


Brenna Holeman April 16, 2014 - 2:04 pm

Thank you, Christine! It’s been so wonderful to have you along for the ride. 🙂

I think that everyone should blog however they’d like to – for some of us that means a lot, or more full-time, but I understand that for many people it is more of a hobby. Either way, I’m just happy when people share their experiences!

Katrina April 14, 2014 - 9:23 pm

Happy birthday to your blog and happy anniversary on your relationship with it! 😉 It’s a wonderful, exciting journey! I’m a fairly new reader but have enjoyed your posts thus far (and have been digging into some of your older ones, too). I recently started a blog myself, partly as a “diary” of my journeys to look back upon over the years and partly to give recommendations to those friends/acquaintances/family members who ask advise on various places I’ve been. Blogging is a rewarding experience but not an easy one!

All the best!

Brenna Holeman April 16, 2014 - 2:11 pm

Thank you, Katrina! It’s always nice to have new readers. 🙂 I think having a diary of your journeys is such an important thing… I love going back and reading my old (paper) diaries or even sometimes reading old blog posts… it can take me right back to the place and time! Thanks again for reading.

Linda April 15, 2014 - 3:36 pm

Hey Brenna – so sorry I missed the “actual” anniversary of your blog – we were hauling actual battered suitcases down flights of steep stairs way too early that morning…so Happy Belated Blog Birthday!

And now you’re into your fifth year of This Battered Suitcase. Where will it take you? I fondly remember the old LiveJournal days, and all I learned while reading those posts.

So looking forward to hearing and reading about your African adventures – and beyond!

With pride and love always.

Brenna Holeman April 16, 2014 - 2:12 pm

Ha ha – this is true! Quite fitting for the day, then.

Thank you so much for all of your support over the years, all 11 of them. I don’t know what I would do without you. Lots and lots of love xoxo

Nikita April 15, 2014 - 11:46 pm

You’re such an inspirational blogger! I can get lost for hours on end by your tales of travel. And you were one of the first bloggers I read who focuses more on the personal aspect of traveling, which made me feel a bit less ridiculous for starting a blog of my own despite the fact that I’m an expert on nothing. Given my utter lack of business sense, it’s really just for fun… But oh, what an outlet! (and so much more practical than mass e-mails).
Anyways, keep doing what you do, you’re a brilliant writer!

Brenna Holeman April 16, 2014 - 2:14 pm

Well you sure do know how to put a smile on someone’s face! Thank you so much, Nikita, that is such an encouraging and wonderful comment. I agree, blogging is really fun – the day that it stops being fun, I’ll probably stop doing it! Good luck with your own blog and thanks again for reading, it really means a lot to me.

Louisa April 16, 2014 - 7:11 pm

Lovely post and it’s so nice to have a forum to thank your online friends. I’m only new at blogging – I started it to push myself with my illustration, but I adore the writing part too. Unlike you though, I hope I can always keep my writing really short – it’s a challenge, but I know it’s a format that’s right for an illustrated blog. I’m finding the online community around blogging very encouraging and supportive too.

Brenna Holeman April 18, 2014 - 3:32 pm

That’s great, Louisa! I love how differently we all blog, that’s what makes it so fun to play around online. Good luck with it!

Grace April 16, 2014 - 10:51 pm

I love reading your blog!! I found it about 2 months ago as I am just about to embark on my first solo travels and reading your stories has increased my confidence to take that step! I love seeing new stories of yours pop up!( I have even found myself reading back to posts of yours a couple of years old on here!) I look forward to reading your continued adventures whilst I am on my own trip, Happy Blog anniversary and All the best in Africa!

Brenna Holeman April 18, 2014 - 3:34 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Grace! That’s really great. I’m sure your adventure will be amazing – best of luck!

ping April 25, 2014 - 4:24 pm

Congrats on 4 years! When I read this post it made me count how many years I’ve been blogging. It’s been 7 years now! I came across your blog because I was homesick and wanted to read about Laos. You were going to Laos then. Since then I’ve read every post of yours. Your words are warm and delightful as you write your post. I’m not surprised you’re in for creative writing:) Keep up the writings and thank you for sharing your stories. HUGS from Bangkok!

Victoria April 29, 2014 - 2:44 pm

well said. oh so well said. congratulations x 1000. you’ve very much inspired me to write much more myself, whether for public or private consumption, and i think you’re photos are much more than just mediocre! it’s gloomy and rainy in toronto today, so cuba helped me too 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 29, 2014 - 4:24 pm

Aw, thank you very much, Victoria! That’s a great comment to receive on this gloomy day post-holiday.

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