10 years of Killing Batteries

I swear this is the last blog anniversary/reminiscing post I write – unless this thing is still up and gasping along after 20 years, in which case I’ll do whatever I damn well please, so shut up.

On February 17, this blog turned 10 years old. This makes me the granddaddy of travel blogging, with only a precious few still active blogs that have been around longer (the Methuselahs of travel blogging). I didn’t post anything on the actual anniversary because I was on vacation in Costa Rica and I don’t write anything, much less blog posts, while I’m on vacation anymore. That’s for masochistic lunatics. So here it is.

Before launching this blog, I had already been “blogging,” in a manner of speaking, for three years in a butt-ugly, difficult to read HTML format. Perhaps you’ve seen the articles that appear roughly every month on sites like BBC and Huffington Post with titles like “How I Quit My Stupid, Boring Job to Travel the World Like a Hero, Bitches,” or something along those lines. Well, I did that back in 2003. Quit a successful career at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, sold my house (for the millennials: it was once possible to sell one’s house for a giant profit) as well as all my belongings, bought a sleek laptop (this was a big deal in 2003) and a bunch of other tech and supplies, and then hit the road, living out of two bags for what was eventually 4.5 years.

To be clear, even back then, as it is now, this kind of seemingly insane lifestyle move wasn’t groundbreaking, though it may have been less common. We just didn’t know how frequently people were doing it at the time because there were no blogs and social media to publicly document one’s travels, and there were far fewer online news outlets that had to fill ginormous editorial calendars. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t highly pleased with myself, because boy was I.

Anyhoo, after a year of—to be perfectly candid—pathetic and hilarious attempts to get a travel writing career going (again, this was early-ish internet, so I couldn’t just Google “how to be a travel writer” and find a week’s worth of reading), I’d finally started getting the hang of it. I had gotten a few articles published and I passed the rigorous tests to get into the Lonely Planet author pool.

When it was initially launched, this blog was called “Every Notable Patch of Grass in Romania.” The broad theme was giving people an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at a first-time Lonely Planet author taking on a guidebook research assignment while living in the same country.

Four months later, as my Romania research trip had ended and there were new things to write about, I re-launched the blog as “Killing Batteries.” Even in 2006, I was worried about my blog having a clichéd name and this was years before every combination and permutation of the words ‘traveler,’ ‘nomad,’ ‘chronicles,’ ‘virtual,’ ‘gypsy,’ ‘wanderer,’ ‘digital,’ ‘vagabond’ and words ending in ‘logue’ had been done to death. I wanted to say “travel” and “writing” without saying travel or writing. So, I landed on Killing Batteries which is basically what travel writing has become, endless days of draining batteries on various devices while recording one’s work and/or journey. I pat myself on the back about this naming foresight on a regular basis.

In July of 2006, I appeared in the New York Times in a story about guidebook writers. If you read the blog post I just linked to, you’ll see even back then I had some pretty strong feelings about the despicably predatory approach to paying travel writers that some outlets engaged in – and still do. The Times linked to my blog from the article and my daily visitor stats skyrocketed from the low double digits to several thousand.

The blog evolved into a random journal about freelance travel writing and everything that goes along with it: pitching, writing, not writing, traveling someplace new and foreign with limited time to satisfy numerous research criteria, disasters, burnout, recovering from burnout, bitching, chewing people out, loneliness, MIA editors, and so forth.

Though nearly a year’s worth of comments were later lost in a web host switch, my blog suddenly had a rather amazing number of dedicated readers, and the comments sections turned into something akin to Facebook threads, with a camaraderie-driven, jovial back-and-forth as we riffed on whatever topic the post was about. My readers were reading, and I mean reading not skimming, everything I posted. I could write call-back jokes that referenced posts from weeks earlier without linking. It was a great time to be a blogger.

Some early Killing Batteries commenters went on to be huge travel bloggers themselves, including Gary Arndt, Nomadic Matt and Christine Gilbert from Almost Fearless. To their credit, they did almost nothing similar to what I was doing (directionless babbling) and they rightly went on to be very successful bloggers, while Killing Batteries slowly faded in popularity as the sheer number of travel blogs grew from a dozen or so to tens of thousands.

I made a few stabs at turning Killing Batteries into a legitimate money-making venture, most notably for about four months in the fall and winter of 2013 when I tried to singlehandedly start a travel news and weirdness niche, with short, funny takes on notable news stories and videos of the day. This was a model I adopted from an MSN site that went dark called msnNOW. Less than a year after I abandoned this effort, USA Today started a site with a similar theme, which I helped launch, and is now apparently doing a lot more straight news than pure, snarky fun, but there you go.

Which brings us to now. Killing Batteries only gets about two or three new posts a year, as I have focused my energies on my new job as tourism manager for Mall of America (here’s the more formal swan song, published by Skift) and my rededication to juggling.

You probably saw this coming when you clicked on the link, but yes, I have decided to close this out with a list of my favorite and best performing blog posts. Go get a drink and a snack. With the substantial knowledge I’ve gleaned during 13 years of haphazard travelogueing and blogging, writing short, to-the-point blog posts still eludes me.

How to set up a travel blog

How to escape a bribe shakedown perpetrated by greedy Moldovan swine

Do not open till February 2011

So You Want to Be a Lonely Planet Author – Redux

How to write funny shit for your blog

How to write about food when you don’t know squat about food

Drunken pitching

My extreme resume for 2010

Coincidence of the decade or greatest practical joke ever?

The Killing Batteries guide to coping with hate mail