Let’s get personal for a second here. 7 years ago, the city of Philadelphia unexpectedly established itself as an important chapter in my life.
Less than 3-months into dating, I found out that Tristen would be moving to the opposite side of the country. She had applied to Drexel University’s accelerated nursing school program and, much to her surprise, ended up getting accepted! Of course, this meant that she would be leaving California to spend the next year in Philly – plans would need to be updated; decisions would need to be made. Where did that leave us (and when does Bloghouse Philadelphia enter the picture)?
Our relationship had been going so extraordinarily well that Tristen and I decided to keep things going long distance. It wasn’t easy but, through lots of texting, phone calls, and trips to see each other every 6 weeks, we were able to make it work. As a side-bonus, going through all of this gave me my first real introduction to Philadelphia. Even though it was brief, I quickly grew to admire this area’s sense of history and its colorful neighborhoods.
After Tristen graduated, we both said our goodbyes to Philly and packed into her car for the drive back to San Francisco. I knew that I’d return to the city of brotherly love at some point. I just didn’t know when.
Seriously, what about BlogHouse Philadelphia?
When I eventually stepped away from my full-time job last year to travel, I made sure to set a few high-level goals that I could hold myself to:
- Establish this very blog as a way to share my experiences, travel advice, and photography with others.
- Find a balance between being home and on the road that Tristen (now my wife) and I are both comfortable with.
- At around the 1-year mark, apply to this awesome sounding workshop called BlogHouse.
There are plenty of objectives, but these were the biggies powering the GlobeSlice engine.
So What Exactly is a BlogHouse…?
BlogHouse is an annual program for up-and-coming bloggers who are looking to take their skills to the next level (whatever that means for each individual). Run by the experts at Navigate Media, it’s an intensive four-day/three-night small-group workshop where everyone selected spends their time taking part in workshops, networking events, and 1-on-1 sessions.
It not only sounded like an incredible opportunity tailored to my style of learning, but it also provided a much needed checkpoint. Really, a reality check for my sapling of a blog. This was a chance to validate that I had established some element(s) of potential.
Now it was just a matter of waiting until BlogHouse 2016, and its location, was announced.
Philadelphia?! No way!!
When I read that BlogHouse would be held in Philly this year, I just couldn’t believe it. This city had provided such an incredible experience for Tristen that maybe, just maybe, it was now my turn.
In late-March, I sent in my application with fingers crossed and low expectations that a newer blog like mine would make the cut. With so many other incredible applicants out there, who have been at this for longer with significantly larger audiences/followers to show for it, what hope did I have?
But what the heck. What did I have to lose?
You can imagine my shock and awe when I received an email a few weeks later stating, “We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into BlogHouse Philadelphia!” Shock and awe is actually putting it lightly – I WENT. THROUGH. THE. ROOF.
— Julian James (@GlobeSlice) April 29, 2016
After that initial wave of excitement and disbelief wore-off, it was all quickly replaced with a healthy dose of anxiety. What kind of constructive criticism will I receive? How deep will it force me to dig? Will I have to scrap most of what I’ve already done? I just wasn’t sure.
Hitting the Ground Running
As soon as I set foot in the Philadelphia International Airport, I was hit with a flood of emotions. How many times had I anxiously passed though those sliding-glass security doors, only to be greeted by an impossibly joyous face? But not this time. Tristen was back in California, but I could still feel the positive energy she had left behind all those years ago. I bottled up as much of it as I could and made my way downtown. BlogHouse Philadelphia awaited…
Over the next 4-days, our group spent almost every second eating, sleeping, and breathing the world of blogging. When we weren’t participating in workshops, 1-on-1’s, and group discussions inside the beautiful Sonesta, we were out exploring different areas of Philadelphia with Visit Philly, or even enjoying a few delicious Federal Donuts, care of Context Travel.
Digging Deep to Find My Fuel
Honestly, I could go on and on about the pages of valuable action items I accumulated. Really though, it was the feedback and questions from my 1-on-1 session with the incredible Sherry Ott of Ottsworld that provided the necessary spark.
Who am I and why do I love to travel?
This was a biggie, and something that I entered BlogHouse Philadelphia knowing full well I needed to better communicate. Even though I already have a fair amount of content, very little of it touches on me as an individual. What’s my background and what am I passionate about? How does that influence my style of travel? Who am I outside of the destination focused stories I was primarily posting?
I spent that first night of BlogHouse Philadelphia wide awake, trying to work it all out. Everything was spinning around my head so fast that I never even considered starting with the obvious.
What’s a recent trip that I felt really passionate about and why?
It didn’t take me long to come up with the answer: Myanmar. I enjoyed that feeling of culture shock from the relative lack of tourism, I relished the challenge of figuring out transportation, and I loved the stories that came from it all (my ribs are still recovering from that Myanmar overnight train). Looking back, all three of these elements are present in each and every one of my favorite travel experiences. This was my lightbulb moment. Travel and transportation planning is especially key, as this is what I loved most about my former project management career – piecing together challenging objectives, risks, and costs into a digestible plan.
Sounds like pretty good material for a future post, yeah?
Why should readers care about what I have to say?
Sherry made it very clear: I needed a sharper niche and tagline. What untapped value am I bringing to the crowded space of travel blogging? What makes GlobeSlice unique? Luckily, all the brainstorming I had already been doing helped to make this an easier nut to crack.
I went back to my 3 core elements and refocused around planning. One of the most aggravating aspects of this last year has been not always finding up-to-date transportation info when traveling to relatively less-visited locations. Still, my inner masochist enjoyed struggling with how to purchase a ticket for an Indonesian domestic flight, and getting around Myanmar by land, air, and sea. Even better? I absolutely loved writing about all of this.
So transportation and travel planning for offbeat destinations seems like a natural niche for me, but what about my tagline? This was another toughie for me, requiring more brainstorming and discussion with the other BlogHouse Philadelphia participants. But eventually I settled on something that not only evokes my niche, but also both my literal and figurative journey through travel blogging.
Navigating the Roads Less Traveled
I couldn’t be more excited with both my niche and tagline! They target a unique value, reflect my style of travel, and provide a clear direction for GlobeSlice. What more could I ask for?
Once Again, the City of Philly Delivers
I had high hopes for BlogHouse Philadelphia, but I honestly had no idea just how valuable the experience would be. I departed San Francisco hoping to get clarity around improving GlobeSlice and my abilities as a blogger. I definitely got all of that, but what I didn’t expect was the sense of community I returned with. Each person I met displayed so much talent and passion that I could have easily just spent the entire weekend picking everyone’s brain. I can’t wait to see and read about what’s next on each of their journeys!
Do yourself a favor and keep an eye on this group:
Amanda Carnagie: The World Incorporated
Danielle Des: The Thought Card
Delia Harrington: Away She Goes
Gina Zammit: Gina Zammit
Jennifer Huber: Solo Travel Girl
Juliana Dever: Clever Dever Wherever
Katie MacLeod-English: Stories My Suitcases Could Tell
Kimi Sugiyama: Sushiyama Travels
Lee Blackwood: Eat Travel Cook
Marie-France Roy: Big Travel Nut
Marissa Pedersen: Postcards to Seattle
Rachel Elizabeth: Blond Wayfarer
Valerie Stimac: Valerie & Valise
— Julian James (@GlobeSlice) June 12, 2016
So, should I be surprised that this city continues to shape my future? Probably not. I’m just eagerly awaiting our next eventual rendezvous.