Monthly Archives: October 2014

It’s Times Like This When I’m Glad I Still Have The Blog

Hi again. Good to see you. What’ve you been up to? Really? That’s good to hear. Oh, you’re reading OTHER sites now? Oh. No, I’m really happy for you. I’m definitely happy you’ve moved on to other sites. Yeah, I’ve also been reading other sites. But it’s really good to see you – you look great…

So, it’s times like now when I missed writing. Here’s a conversation I just had with the front desk of the hotel in which I’m staying in Belgrade:

Me: Hi – I’m looking for somewhere to go for dinner.
Front Desk: OK. (I may be translating roughly here). (She takes out a map and starts outlining a route.) Go out of the hotel and take a left on Zyrbicicicicbrgic Avenue. Go and take a right on Sblciczybigcic Trgzskszcicgldm. When you get to Vrhzchizizchszcy Square, you’ll see the pedestrian street. That is Hrkrtvnglnosckujeunska. Follow that down and you can’t miss it. There are 3 great restaurants there. The first is Gdaskddnostniciskrije, the next is Sljvtnbedzbjeznezne, then you’ll come to Vstlihstoljaljaljarvicjajavic.
Me: OK, I think I’ll just take the map with me.
Front Desk: I’m very sorry, but you can’t.
Me: I can’t take the map?
Front Desk: No, I’m sorry we have only one map.
Me: There are no other maps?
Front Desk: We have ordered more maps, but they have not yet arrived. This is our only map.
Me: Can I borrow the map and return it?
Front Desk: No, I am sorry, this is our only map.
Me: Can you photocopy (phtokopskicszkicic?) the map?
Front Desk: Let me ask. (Turns and goes to back room; much fumbling noise; returns with map and no photocopy). My manager says you can borrow map, but asks if you can return it when you are finished.
Me: Thank you.

I ended up ordering a pizza to the hotel (I couldn’t find Vstlihstoljaljaljarvicjajavic.) I primarily mention this because it is how I learned that ATMs in Serbia will dispense as little as US$1. I took out $5 and paid for my pizza.

In any case…

I’ve learned a few things now that I’ve stepped away from the day-to-day writing of this thing, and I thought I’d share those things with you, the reader (the reader who somehow found out that I wrote something.)

— Writing a blog takes up so much more time that I realized. When I thought about writing OTR, I thought about the actual time spent in front of the computer. But writing isn’t just about the time it takes to type stuff out, it’s about the time you take to think of ideas to write about (like, “Top 7 Credit Cards for Indonesians” – that doesn’t just pop into your head, y’know?). That part takes up way, way, way more time than anyone realizes.

For the first few weeks after I stopped writing regularly, I felt like I had a phantom limb – I’d wake up in the morning with that sinking feeling that I didn’t have anything to write about. Or I’d be sitting there on a Sunday morning reading the paper, and I’d get this sick feeling in my stomach that I’d have to come up with something for tomorrow. But I didn’t. That was an enormous weight lifted from my typing fingers.

With that feeling gone, it meant I could actually pay attention to my children in a way that I realized I couldn’t do before. Sure, I played with my kids, and took them out and did stuff. But the compulsion to write stuff was planted in the back of my brain, a constant low-level throb that never went away. Having that gone (and it’s still there from time-to-time), has made me relax and enjoy my day-to-day existence much more than I realized was possible. I know that sounds goofy, but unless you’ve written something nearly daily for a long period of time, you can’t understand the constant self-driven need to come up with stuff to write. It’s been a blessing.

— There is a tremendous amount of vitriol in the blogging community about credit cards. Of course I had read some of that before, but getting a higher-level view has made it obvious that there is an undercurrent of negativity in ye olde blogosphere. There’s a group that writes about credit card stuff, and there’s a group of people who resent people writing about credit card stuff. Or more specifically, who resent bloggers who write about credit card stuff without having anything new to say.

I’m not sure there’s really a solution other than to reframe this whole thing: there are bloggers who make a 6-figure living from their blogs, and those blogs need to generate credit card content so they can earn a living. For some reason, this bothers a not insignificant group of people online. It bothers them because for a period of time, bloggers wrote their sites altruistically (or rather, not for income – it wasn’t exactly altruistic, as I’m sure all of us who wrote these sites enjoyed the minor perks that came with it – media exposure, the occasional trip, etc).

With credit card affiliate programs came significant incomes generated from credit card content. And with that came backlash. Blogs moved into slightly different niches, with those focusing on the so-called “newbie” market generating more backlash than others (but really every blog that has created credit card content has received some of the vitriol).

The truth is – blogs take a ton of time, whether the writers are full-time or not. If they choose to generate an income from them, that’s their choice. If the content isn’t valuable, then they’ll lose readers. If they’re deceiving readers with poor content, then start a blog to refute that. But I think the direction of the conversation – that bloggers who include credit card content are inherently horrible – is making it somewhat unpleasant to even be a part of this community.

And it’s almost hard to remember that this is what this is – a community. Flyertalk (for whatever you make of it) is (mostly) still a community. Every single blogger I had reached out to over the past whatever years has been nothing but helpful and selfless when I’ve had questions for them. I miss that.

— The “travel” blogs we read aren’t really travel blogs, they’re loyalty program blogs, which is a subtle difference, but one that is most obvious when I notice that pretty much every hotel review is of some mid-level chain hotel. The number of Hyatt and Hilton and Marriott and Crowne Plaza (?) reviews out there is incredible, especially considering that one primary reason you stay at one of these hotels is precisely BECAUSE the Marriott in Cleveland is the same as the Marriott in Philadelphia.

I get that most bloggers are using points and then writing about those trips, but there are zillions of independent hotels out there that go zero love from the blogger world because you can redeem Hilton points at them. That’s a giant miss. Go rent and apartment or stay at an independent hotel once in a while.

— Now that I’ve stepped away for a bit, I’ve really noticed that the minutia that people complain about is absolutely shocking. Last week I was sitting on a plane headed to Seattle. It was completely fine. Could I find a bunch of things to whine about? Sure – if I were writing the blog I’m sure I’d come up with stuff. But when I step back and look at it, it cost me $350 to go to Seattle, the staff has been good, I was sitting in Economy Plus, and we landed on time. Is there really any more to it than that?

When we flew back from Zurich last month with our girls, we weren’t able to get Economy Plus seats together, so for the first time in a while I sat in a regular coach seat on United. I was dreading the whole thing, I think because I’ve read literally hundreds of posts where people talk about how crappy it is to sit in coach.

The flight was completely uneventful. I sat next to one of my girls, and I lifted up the armrest between us, so I had a ton of room. I could angle my feet into her space (because she’s 4 feet tall), and I could stretch out. We had seatback TV, which Scarlett watched for roughly 7 straight hours. You forget that at that age the whole flying thing is so cool for them. They looked forward to when they food came around, and when the United safety video came up (the one where they’re in different places all around the world) Scarlett yelled to her sister, “this is my favorite part!” She didn’t mean that sarcastically.

I was able to enjoy the flights (even with broken seatback TVs on the way out, for which we were compensated with $25 vouchers), because I wasn’t looking for things to point out as being terrible. It was totally and completely fine. And in Zurich we didn’t even go to the lounge, preferring to just walk around the airport for a while. And I didn’t feel I needed to go to the lounge so I could write something snarky about it. We just enjoyed 30 minutes of strolling.

— My only suggestion for other bloggers would be this: write less. I know that you have to feed the beast. I know that you feel compelled to write 3 times a day. But you have a family (well, some of you have a family), and you should actually enjoy the trips you go on once in a while. Write less. I’m sure that Brett’s decision at Cranky Flier to cut back and only write 3 times a week (and never when he’s on vacation) has made it possible for him to continue to write the best airline (not loyalty program, airline) focused blog out there for so many years. Take a cue from him, and stop writing filler and focus on the good stuff you write.

Now go outside and play. See you in a month or so.