Blogging is such big business these days that people look confused when I tell them I began blogging without a plan. That I didn’t use social media, know anything about SEO scores and Google Analytics, or consider the appeal of my ‘brand’ before choosing a name and writing my first post. All I cared about was having a place to write.
Four years ago, when I pressed ‘publish’ on November 24th, I was sitting at the kitchen table in my home on the Isle of Lewis. I remember it was dark – the days are short during Hebridean winters – and that I nervously emailed my boyfriend and a good friend from university the link to my very first post.
They liked it (although I doubt they would have said otherwise!), and I kept writing, sporadically. I was job hunting at the time, a dismal prospect after four years at university, a year working in China, and a summer of sunshine in the American west, and I wanted, needed, somewhere to do what I have always loved, which is to write.
And write I did, testing out words and sentences and post lengths, toying with ideas and inspiration. I used a pen name, and a photo that didn’t show my face – why would I let strangers on the internet know the personal details of my life? Oh, how internet times have changed! I carried on like that for nearly two years, writing for no-one but myself, and possibly my parents and boyfriend.
I flitted back and forth between Stornoway and the States. I tried snowboarding for the first time in my life on a mountain in Utah, and ate sushi from a conveyor belt in Tokyo. I got to know New York better and better on each visit. Feeling nostalgic, I wrote about past travels: memories from China and Italy, tales from a California road trip.
Not long after I began the blog, I found myself doing a job I loved, at the newspaper I had worked for as a student during summer holidays. Somehow I was doing the two things I had always dreamed of: I was writing, and I was travelling, and my blog was a place to further indulge both those passions.
And then, in the summer of 2013, I joined social media, and discovered blogging. Discovering that there were people who were professional bloggers with sleek websites, social media accounts, advertising rates, and entire careers built off personal brands was something of a revelation.
Not only was I inspired by other bloggers thanks to social media, but encouraged too. I secretly entered my first writing competition, after seeing it advertised on The Well-Travelled Postcard. I started to write travel stories about Lewis and Harris (Europe’s best island!), and really began to embrace my now beloved idea of ‘local travel.’ I took a chance by entering my travel tale from Ness in a national blog competition – and won.
I found myself reviewing hotels in Paris, going on safari in Kenya, and shaking with shock as in London I accepted the Cosmopolitan Blog Award for Best Travel Blog. I’ve even made friends through this blog, which has been a surprising but lovely side effect of putting ‘pen to paper’ on here (shout out to my NYC blogger buddies, Erin and Marie!).
It’s been a wonderful four years, and most of all, I’ve loved hearing from and getting to know you, the readers of my suitcase stories. Some of you are fellow immigrant islanders, like Cathie in New Zealand and Christine in Michigan. Others – like Camila, Elaine, and Lucy – are bloggers too. You’re fans of the Outer Hebrides, travellers looking for tips for visiting New York City, expats who can relate to the ups and downs of starting over on the other side of the world, and dreamers looking for a dose of guilt-free armchair travel.
Since that wintery evening in Point, Stories My Suitcase Could Tell has slowly grown into what it is today: not just a place for me to write about my wanderings, but a place to inspire people to get out and see the world, whether near or far. And it would not be what it is without all of you, so thank you: your words and comments and encouragement mean more to me than I can ever say. Here’s to the next four years!
After all these years of writing, I’m curious: how long have you been reading Stories My Suitcase Could Tell for?
All photos taken by the very lovely, very talented Catriona Stewart of Blue Door Photography.