My blog’s birthday is impossible to forget because it coincides with Thanksgiving. My very first blog post — one of the few I didn’t correct through the years to be able to look back and gasp in disbelief at my writing capacities (or incapacities) — was about my first Thanksgiving dinner cooked exclusively for me and my husband by a friend who I’d met about two weeks prior to the celebration.
Naturally, while everyone is stressing about turkey unfreezing too slowly and pumpkin pie not setting right, I am obsessing about this year’s accomplishments because in my first year of blogging I promised to write a post on the blog’s birthday. So lets dive in!
Apart from the changes in my personal life, i.e. moving countries twice in a year: from USA to Sri Lanka and from Sri Lanka to Germany, the blog has gone through some changes of its own, primarily — rebranding. After two and a half years I decided that The Foodie Miles has got to go. The word “foodie”, being as overused as it is, started to annoy me. As well as the fact that hundreds of other blogs and Instagram accounts have it in their names.
Out of a random brainstorm with my friends on WhatsApp — which was intended as a joke rather than an actual brainstorm — That’s What She Had was born. Someone unintentionally said something sexual. I replied with “that’s what she said”. And then it hit me. As you might imagine Michael from The Office was a huge inspiration.
The other reference that almost instantly came to me was the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” during the fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. Interestingly, some people get the word play on Michael’s favorite expression, while others instantly recall the Meg Ryan scene at Katz’s Deli. There are also some who don’t get either, but the name makes sense anyways (let me know in comments which one you first thought of, if any).
With the new name came a logo and a new website design. The change of domain led to losing half of my readership that I am still struggling to earn back, but ultimately I am happy that I did it and that my blog’s identity is a better reflection of me and my voice now.
Break-up with Instagram
In June, for the first time in three years since I started my Instagram account, I took a two-months break. I wrote about all the reasons here, but in a nutshell, I felt creatively drained. The discrepancy between the pictures I was proud of and the pictures getting the most likes was too big. It was either posting cliches and getting the likes or posting what I actually love and feeling that no-one cares.
At the time when I decided to take a break, I didn’t know it would be two months. I thought a week, a couple of weeks max. But the more you stay away, the less you want to return to the stress of posting something everyday, counting likes, and getting frustrated that it’s not as much as that pretty blond girl with a perfect body got.
Taking a break helped me care less. It sounds awful, but I believe it’s a good thing. I put my work out there and if someone notices it and cares to comment — I am happy. If not — I am still ok. The likes are just the likes, not the evaluation of me as a person, not even the evaluation of my work. Because the mindless scrolling and tap-tap on the go cannot be.
Monetizing the Blog
It is only after I moved back to Sri Lanka last December, that I started thinking of monetizing the blog. Two years in. That was not for lack of desire to make money, but because of my visa restrictions. Ultimately, I think it was best for my creativity and writing process to be free from any thoughts about money, even if forcefully. Elizabeth Gilbert in her Big Magic said:
“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you are talking about, and all you are doing is scaring it away, because you are making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that”.
So far, earning money from the blog has been a slow process that started with Colombo food tours. The idea was given to me by one of the readers. Lovely Marta who was traveling with her husband to Sri Lanka found my blog and asked if I’d like to show them around Colombo, which was a terrifying idea for me, especially that Marta and her husband themselves do food tours in Rome. But what scared me first turned into the most enjoyable job I have ever had in my life. Apart from the obvious fact that I got to walk around the city I like and eat all day, I met some intelligent, well-traveled, amazing people on the tours who share my passion for food.
I am now ready to move into other conventional ways of monetizing a blog, which brings a lot of ethical questions. Do I accept sponsored posts? I am not too keen, but what if I actually like and use the product in my daily life? Do I allow guest posts? I’ve gotten a couple of emails and that would be the easiest $100 I’ve ever made. I said no. Do I add advertisement? How do I overcome the fear of selling something to my readers?
Funny enough, when I started a travel blog three years ago, one of the main goals was to travel for free. You know all those paid meals and fancy hotels. The dream! Today, I am not so sure I want to travel for free any more. I’d rather pay for my meal than be forced to spend three hours writing a positive review for an ok dish. Plus if I pay, I can write whatever, even a review that is not really a review but more of a complaint about how expensive the bread was. Fancy hotels are tougher to say “no” to, but then again, nobody offered me to stay there, so let’s see whether my integrity withholds when a king-size bed and an ocean view come along. It probably won’t. A girl has to have a good rest when she travels.
Saveur Blog Awards Nomination
This was pretty unbelievable, but for the second year in a row my blog was nominated for Saveur Blog Awards in Best Travel Blog Category. 23 000 submissions, 66 finalists. I mean, that means something, right? Being nominated again was freaking amazing. Losing again — not so much. Let’s just get it out of the way. Losing sucks. Big time. No matter how many times you repeat that being nominated is an honor. It is a huuuuge honor, but winning would be an even bigger one.
There’s this moment when you sit at the awards ceremony, and the nominees names come up on the screen, and your heart beats a little faster, and you have about half a second left to hope, and the presenter says: “and the winner is…”, and then it’s not your name. A little heart-breaking.
But just like last year, the best part of Saveur Blog Awards was not the award ceremony itself, but meeting incredibly talented people from all over the world who love food as much as I do. Food bloggers travelled to Memphis, TN, where the event was held from Italy, Britain, South Africa, Colombia, and Germany in my case to name a few.
It’s pretty damn cool when you can have BBQ at the most praised Memphis institution all the while discussing how the use of cream cheese instead of mascarpone makes a difference in a desert. The most important thing I take away from these events is the feeling of being inspired and of wanting to do more, to reach higher. That’s a good feeling.
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In a podcast I’ve been listening to lately, the life coach (I know, I listen to a life coach!) talked about a list of her fails she writes down monthly. The moments when she tried and did her best, but failed anyways. Mine is not monthly, but I’ve been contemplating what I’d add to the list as of lately. I didn’t win Saveur Blog Awards. I submitted a story to the World Nomads travel writing contest and didn’t win either. If you are curious, this is the story. I took part in a contest by Hecktic Media Inc. to win a travel writing course and didn’t win that too. I applied for TBC Asia with no luck. I pitched to Roads and Kingdoms twice and was rejected. A pretty impressive list, don’t you think?
On my blog’s third birthday I wish myself to fail more. Failing means I am trying. Failing means I am working towards achieving my goals. It kinda also means that I am bad at what I do, but let’s not concentrate on that. I am evolving. Cheers to that!
This year I thought I’ll make somewhat of my own awards for the posts I’ve written in the past year.
The most personal and cherished post — The Homesick Russian, or the Real Cost of Living Abroad. Writing it felt like taking my heart and turning it inside out in front of everybody. I’ve probably received the most feedback to this post than to any other in 2018. There were comments on social media and many private messages that truly made me happy to have shared this personal journey. The runner-up — Being a Woman and Traveling Solo in Sri Lanka.
The most researched and detailed post — The Ultimate Guide to Sri Lankan Food: 50 Must-try Dishes. There’s nothing like this on the Internet and I am really proud of this piece.
The funniest off-the-topic kind of post — For the Love of Hot Brazilian Actors. Yes, I try myself in humor sometimes. I didn’t say I am successful.
The post I am most proud of — Victory Day: Why I Remember and You Should Too. It’s not about food, it’s not about travel. But it had to be written. I’ve been working on this post for weeks. I was terrified to post it expecting lots of negative comments. I didn’t get any, most likely simply because my blog isn’t as big yet to make a real dent. I am proud of it anyways.
My favorite food story — If You Need Good Mayo, Look for a Blue Jar. Because mayo is near and dear to my heart if you did’t know yet.
My favorite recipe — Filling Russian Blini with Sri Lankan Pani Pol Might Be My Brightest Idea Yet. I have very few recipes on the blog, but this was a real success. You should try it!