6 things I learned about you from my 2017 reader survey

I recently asked my readers to take a survey so I can learn more about what people struggle with when it comes to travel.

The responses were varied and fascinating. Some questions and topics I expected, some I didn’t. It gave me so many ideas about how I can help make it easier for people to travel and see the world, whether they've already begun traveling or not. To those of you who completed the survey, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I'm using this to shape the direction of Travel Paint Repeat in 2018, and map out everything I want to write about and create for you in the months to come.

Here are a few of the key themes that emerged, and what you can expect from me in response:

1. You don’t just want practical, how-to info - you want stories from the road, perspective, and emotion.

“Descriptions of experiences, as well as advice or perspective of you as a traveler when you made your way for the first time in a new setting.”
“Not all functional content - want to hear some of people's travel stories too.”
“Emotion from the traveller.”

This one surprised me a little bit. I’ve always assumed that most people who come to my blog want to read really practical how-to content, because those are the Travel Paint Repeat articles that seem to catch on and get shared the most. But as an artist and creative person, I really enjoy sharing my perspective on destinations I’ve visited, too - the more emotional, human side of travel. (See: Why you need to visit Mexico City ASAP, 6 reasons to fall in love with Portugal.)

When I’ve written those kinds of blog posts in the past, I wasn’t confident that you’d want to read them, even though I always try to write them in a way that gives you tips and advice you can act on; more than anything, it was something I did just because I felt called to. It’s affirming to know that some of you will enjoy and find value in those stories, so I won’t be shy about that anymore.  

2. You’re very interested in getting off the beaten path, avoiding tourist traps, and experiencing a destination like a local.

"Overlooked experiences that aren't so mainstream or can be found on TripAdvisor.”
“Would love to hear about any gems/off the beaten track places or must-sees.”

“What to see that's new, unique, hidden, or a surprise find.”
“Interesting places to see that are off the beaten track.”
“How to travel authentically.”

This is one of my favorite topics, and I love that you're also driven to dig below the surface of destinations. I've always desired a deeper understanding of every place I travel to, but lately I’ve begun to make a real mission of seeking out the most unique, unusual, and authentic experiences possible on every trip. I’ll be sure to keep approaching my articles from this angle, now that I know for sure you want to read about it. 

As I’ve gotten better at finding those hidden gems and unique, local experiences, I’ve actually begun to figure out how to do this in a repeatable and teachable way. So much of the advice about traveling off-the-beaten-path is specific to the destination it’s about, but I’m actually coming up with a framework you can use to discover authentic experiences no matter where you’re going. More on this to come in 2018!

3. MANY of you want more tips on traveling with kids.

I love getting these questions. As someone who grew up in the military and traveled all the time as a child, I know the benefits firsthand of seeing the world and getting a broader perspective from a very young age. I applaud those who want to travel with kids. But I don’t have kids myself, and I prefer to write what I know and have actually tried, so I’m not going to be much help here.

If this is you and you're looking for tips on traveling with kids, I recommend travelbabbo.com.

4. You’re not super interested in getting into the weeds of travel hacking.

“I don't want to do crazy travel hacking where I juggle several cards.”
“Travel hacking and ways to save money on flights! Figuring out those rewards cards are a pain!”

Confession time: I am the laziest travel hacker of all time. If my actual travel hacking activities were being graded in a class, I’d get a D+, maybe a C. Yet, I rarely pay actual money for flights.

It’s pretty easy to start reading up on travel hacking (where you accrue points and miles via certain credit cards, and redeem them for free flights and other perks) and get sucked into a rabbit hole that spits you out on the other side wiping sweat from your brow, thinking: “this is way too fucking complicated.”

But it is possible to dip your toe into the world of travel hacking without becoming, you know, a (air quotes here) “travel hacker.” It’s possible to do the bare minimum and still get the most valuable reward: free flights.

I’m going to share more about this in the coming weeks and months, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, check out my previous blog posts How I afford travel: badass trips on a not-so-badass budget and How I fly around the world for next to nothing.

5. You want real recommendations from real travelers.

“Where to stay. There are so many choices and it's difficult to sift through them all without a recommendation, but most of the bloggers I've followed are staying in very expensive resorts for free. Travel guides for budget-conscious but working 20-30 something's are lacking. I don't want to stay in a hostel and backpack, but I can't afford the luxe vacation of a lifestyle blogger who gets comped stays at ritzy resorts.”

I nodded my head throughout this whole response. Yes! I can so relate to that feeling. Perfectly composed, professional-looking shots of room service breakfast in bed (you know, pastries, strawberries, #butfirstcoffee) among crisp white sheets may be nice to look at on Instagram, but they’re not going to help you, as a real traveler on a real budget, actually figure out where and how to spend your money on your next trip.

I'm not a typical travel blogger. I have a full-time job and I travel during my precious vacation time. I pay my own way throughout all of my trips - and I even tell you exactly how much I paid. That may seem like pretty personal info (and sometimes it does feel that way as I’m writing!), but if it were me planning a trip and trying to figure it all out? I’d sure as hell find that kind of real world information useful. So I proudly overshare.

And I totally understand the perception some people have about travel (and that social media often perpetuates): it has to be either really, really expensive, or dirt-cheap and uncomfortable. You’re either an Instagram star getting free vacations thrown at you (or rich), or you’re a backpacker traveling on less than $30/day.

But there is a middle ground:

6. You want to travel on a budget without sacrificing comfort.

“How can I afford to travel more without sacrificing experiences/types of accommodations that I like?”
“How to travel solo and/or cheaply but not always staying in hostels.”
“I need to know a good place to stay on a budget (that isn't a hostel!)”
“Where to stay for cheap but not a hostel sharing a room.”

When I first started traveling, I was in my mid-twenties and on a tighter budget, so I stayed in some places that were definitely more functional than comfortable. As I’ve gotten older (I’m in my early thirties now), my tolerance for that has dropped. My budget isn’t as limited as it used to be, but I’m still not extravagant by any stretch of the imagination.

We all want to get the most for our money. But this becomes even more important when our budgets aren't sky-high, which means we have to be a little more strategic in order to squeeze the most value from our nightly hotel spend. 

Most of the time, this means I do a ton of research on travel sites before booking a hotel, and focus on squeezing the most stars and highest ratings possible out of my low-mid range budget. Other times, this means I aim a little higher and use some (very easy!) travel hacking moves to bring that nightly rate down to a more palatable level. That's what I did to get a room with private swim-up access at my hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand for just $106/night. 

Reading your questions about finding hotels that are both inexpensive yet still comfortable has inspired me to cover this topic more often, so stay tuned for more on that coming soon.

Thanks so much again to all of you who took the time to submit their responses. And congrats to Joyce L., who was randomly selected to win the $50 Amazon gift card for sharing her thoughts in the survey! Thanks Joyce!

I'm still looking for your feedback! It helps me know what to write about in the future.

I want to know what questions you have about travel, including:

  • what you can't find answers to just from Googling
  • what you struggle with related to travel
  • if you're not traveling, what's keeping you from traveling
  • and any other burning questions

Please let me know by taking the survey (it's still open, though the giveaway has closed), or you can drop me a line or leave a comment below. And thanks in advance!