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The day has finally come. After years (and years) of talking about wanting to both redesign my blog AND fix the ten thousand errors that seemed to plague it… IT IS FINISHED! OK, actually, there is still a lot of work behind the scenes to be done, but for the most part, things are running a lot smoother and are (hopefully) a lot easier to navigate.
But let’s back up, shall we? If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you know that I got my start online fifteen years ago, and I know, I know, right now you’re thinking, “Oh my god, but you look so young, you must have been what, seven when you started?” *cough* Through various iterations, numerous monikers, three platforms, and countless dubious online confessions, I have been writing online in some form for a decade and a half. Yikes. In fact, last week it was my eight-year anniversary of my first post on This Battered Suitcase.
And if you have indeed been reading for a while, you know that my main focus was never to make this a career or to make tons of money from it; I just truly love writing and being part of this amazing community of people who love travelling (and apparently Shawn Mendes). I didn’t even know that blogging made people money until about five years ago (though I can name, in frightening detail, the plots of every single Leprechaun movie. Let’s not dwell on how my brain works, shall we?). Over the years, however, it did grow into something that I could make a career, and with the recent addition of ads and the acceptance of a few collaborations, all of those thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of words have made me finally wake up and be like, “Oh shit, I might have something here.” I might have something beyond just a passion, something more than a hobby; I might have something that actually pays the bills.
While my business savvy started to grow, my blog itself felt very firmly left behind. Although I switched platforms in 2013, from Blogger to WordPress, and got a new header, that was about the extent of what I did in terms of technical aspects on this blog. There was barely any way to navigate, barely any organisation, and literally thousands of broken links and photos. It was a nightmare.
Just over a year ago, I emphasised this in the post, I Feel Bad About My Blog. Design issues, 404 errors, newsletter errors (I didn’t even know I had a newsletter, that’s how sad this situation was)… I could go on and on about all of the things that made me feel awful about my blog. I sometimes even felt embarrassed to give my blog’s information out to potential collaborators, because I felt like it looked so outdated and unprofessional (yet I weirdly wasn’t embarrassed about 40,000 people reading this, go figure).
And so, for years, I said I was getting a new design. No, for real, if you go back through my blog, I’ve been saying this for years. Finally, I’d had enough of talking about it, and started to look into it. I knew I had to hire a designer and a developer, or maybe some magical unicorn who was amazing at both. I sent out a few emails to potential designers and developers, feeling smug. “I’m totally getting a new blog in the next couple of months,” I thought as I hit send.
Well. Do you know how much freaking money it costs to get a new website built from scratch?! I was being quoted anywhere from $5000 to $10,000, and we’re talking USD. I’m Canadian, so that basically meant the equivalent of one million Canadian dollars plus a kidney. I do have some savings, but the more I looked around at custom built websites, the more I realised I didn’t really care if it was custom or not. I simply wanted a blog that worked and that encouraged people to read more. I also realised I was only looking into custom built blogs because I thought that’s what I was supposed to want – it’s almost taboo in the blogging world to say that you’re OK with having a blog that looks like other blogs. I briefly considered switching from WordPress to Squarespace – I often like the look of their websites – but felt that they were too photography-based compared to my text-heavy site, and I also panicked at having to learn a whole new platform when I barely understand WordPress some days.
Armed with that new knowledge, I found a WordPress theme I liked; I went with the Soledad theme, as I felt it most reflected what I wanted my blog to look like. But because I struggle to perform even the most basic technological tasks on my blog (I chalk it up to thinking that I might click a button and delete everything I’ve ever worked on) I knew I couldn’t implement this theme alone.
Enter my magical unicorn, Daria Olivo. Daria and I met at a blogging conference in Spain a few years ago, and later bumped into each other at a Blogstock in the UK. We worked together on a project in 2016, so I knew she was professional, patient, and talented as hell. She wasn’t available when I first contacted her last year, but she had time this year… and it was TOTALLY worth the wait.
Daria not only designed my amazing new header – I blabbed on for a few minutes about my favourite colours, favourite artists, and sent through a couple of examples of old travel posters and she fucking nailed it ON THE FIRST TRY – but she also helped me implement the new theme, no small task when I had very specific instructions of what I wanted and also a very messy, disorganised blog to work with. She made the entire experience incredibly stress-free, which is nothing short of a miracle. The many hours she spent working behind the scenes as well as the time spent emailing and on the phone with me resulted in what you see today, and I can’t thank her enough for all of her hard work.
Seriously, if you’re thinking of design work, development work, or both, hire Daria. You won’t be disappointed.
The other big switch I made that has helped things considerably is my hosting provider. OK, I don’t truly understand a lot of what I’m about to say, either, so bear with me here… but basically, every blog needs to be hosted somewhere online. Without a web host, your blog won’t exist on the Internet. There are tons of hosts to choose from, and, in general, beginner bloggers choose affordable hosting providers; you can find ones that only cost a few dollars a month.
The thing is, I found those hosting providers very limited, and when shit went down, their support teams often took a long time to resolve the issue. Not only that, my site was unbelievably slow, and we all know that nobody has any patience anymore; if someone has to wait ten seconds for a website to load, chances are they’ll click away. I made the switch to Performance Foundry last year, and while I certainly pay more for it, as someone who takes blogging seriously it definitely felt like the right move. My site is much faster, much more secure, and their support teams are on the ball. I’d highly recommend them if you want to take your blog to the next level.
So that’s where we are today. I have spent the past month working behind the scenes to retag every single goddamn post on this blog, as well as fix tons of broken links and photos. I also deleted a lot of weird old posts that had absolutely no relevance or value (keep in mind I had this blog before I had social media, so sometimes an entire blog post would consist of me saying, “I really like this story!” and link to a since-deleted travel blog. Yeesh).
You might still find a few errors here and there – it’s a work in progress – but in general I hope the experience is much smoother for you. In the past week alone I have only worn sweatpants, survived off of tuna sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches, and one giant cauldron of vegetable soup, and have watched three seasons of New Girl, one season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, one season of American Vandal, four documentaries, and seven movies while updating everything. Yeah. I think I need to shower. Also, my eyes hurt.
The most noticeable changes are that you can now dive into sections that might pique your interest. Want to read all of my narrative stories? There’s a section for that. Want to see all of my posts about fashion? There’s a section for that, too. Want to read about all of the times I’ve been dumped? Well, you’re in luck, because there’s an entire section dedicated to that as well (with a scarily abundant amount of posts, I might add). The eight sections on the blog are:
You can access those sections on the homepage under the main slider, but you’ll also see them in the drop down menu above under “Topics”. The main slider on the homepage will be updated whenever I feel like there’s an article I’d like to feature again.
I’ve been subconsciously distancing myself from “travel blogger” for a while now, although I still use it to describe myself from time to time. More and more, however, you’ll see that I’m posting more lifestyle pieces, or blog posts that have nothing to do with travelling. Travel will always be a huge part – the biggest part – of my life, but I think just “blogger” is probably more appropriate these days.
Another really exciting update to the blog, and something that took an ungodly amount of time, is my new Destinations page. Honestly, can we all just bask in how beautiful that looks?! I have wanted a page like that for years – my old one was so broken – but finding photos for each of those countries was no joke. You can click on any continent or country to see what I’ve written about it (some countries don’t have any posts attached yet) but you can also see that in the drop down menu above as well under “Destinations”. For example, you can now easily click on Italy and get all of these articles.
I also rewrote the About Me page as well as the Work With Me page because both read like boring resumes before (my About Me page now discusses taking shots of tequila as well as my history of emo poetry, so, yep, sums me up well).
You can also sign up for newsletters, meaning you’ll never miss a new post! With all of the algorithms on social media, my posts are being seen by fewer and fewer people on Facebook and other platforms. If you sign up (you can see the subscribe feature in the sidebar on the right) you’ll be notified when there’s a new article live. This has been SUCH an issue for me over the past few years – there was a serious problem with my old signup and newsletters – but I’m so glad that Daria and I could figure it out. Even if you’ve previously signed up, I’d recommend signing up again!
All in all, other than the fact I am legitimately worried I now have carpal tunnel, I am SO FREAKING HAPPY. Today I told my friend Sarah that I didn’t even realise how much of a weight this was on my chest until it was gone. For years, posting on this blog hasn’t felt as fun as I wanted it to feel, because I kept thinking of all of the problems, kept being distracted by a clunky design. It has honestly held me back from posting as much because thinking about it often made me feel so bad. I’m hoping this new facelift motivates me to update even more; with tons of new content on the way, I think it might already be working.
I can’t thank you enough for continuing to come to this blog even when it didn’t really work, or when it was a bit of an eyesore; every single day I’m motivated by your comments and messages to keep trying to be better at all of this, and this new design is a prime example of that.
Listen – I’m never going to be the Ferrari of bloggers. I’m probably never going to have a slick, custom-built website. I like to think that my old design represented the lovable old beater of a car that didn’t look very good, often broke down, but eventually got you from A to B. Now? I’d like to think I’m still the lovable old beater, I just have a new paint job, an oil change, and I’ve finally seen a mechanic. Either way, I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.