Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 283 - Taking a Travel Blogging Class

I have never taken a travel blogging class. Prior to my “I have never...” year, I can’t say that taking such a class would have interested me or provided any value; however, over the course of my year of new experiences I have found a real joy in writing about the places, events, and knowledge I have encountered throughout my journey. Sharing those stories online and hearing about how they inspire and affect people has been an amazing experience, and it has showed me that exploring and writing about the world is a terrific outlet for me. It permits me to create, and it makes me happy. As a result, it was easy to see this aspect of my life wasn’t likely to go away at the end of my “I have never...” year.

Considering this perspective, I was excited when I recently learning the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union was offering a mini-course on travel blogging this month. With experienced travel blogger Sher BonDurant leading the course, I knew the opportunity would provide an enormous amount of insight on effective blogging, on connecting with people, and on techniques for traveling on the cheap, which appealed directly to investigate the possibilities of expanding my “I have never...” story beyond the scope of the past nine months. As a result, I immediately decided to sign up for the course, which set into motion the 283rd new experience of my “I have never...” journey and opened the door to a wealth of knowledge with limitless potential.

A new place, a new experience,
and a lot to learn

Although Rachael’s interest in writing about travel experiences is next to nonexistent, her interest in learning how to travel more with less was enough to convince her to join me for tonight’s class. In turn, the two of us found our way to the University of Wisconsin Educational Sciences building this evening to meet Sher and learn her travel and blogging secrets. When we arrived to our classroom, Sher was quick to greet us with a smile and welcome us to the course. I took immediate notice of the sense of joy and excitement that carried each word she spoke. As she walked us through the basic outline of the forthcoming class, she was alive with passion about the subject and the class. It made it apparent we were in for a great experience.

Getting prepped

Sher tempered her enthusiasm for a few minutes as the small classroom around us filled with several more people just before the scheduled start time of the event. Eager to begin, Sher quickly took attendance and stepped before a large illuminated screen at the heart of her presentation. With a beaming smile on her face she looked over the group and spoke. “Hello everyone!” she announced, “I’m Sher, and tonight I’m going to teach you about travel blogging! How cool is that?” the remark, and the spirit that accompanied it, immediately garnered the complete attention of everyone in the room.

A little introduction from our instructor, Sherry BonDurant
Seeing the class at the ready, Sher promptly set some ground rules for maintaining open dialogue and sharing our own experiences with travel and blogs before moving into the course content. After gauging the group’s experience with blogs, Sher started with some basic information on blogging websites and making the activity a hobby, being sure to express the happiness and discovery she has found in the process. As I listened, I nodded my head in agreement with the bulk of her remarks and recommendations for getting started, which Sher leaned on for some further insight on blogging basics. I was happy to give what advice I could to the rest of the group in those early moments of the course, but I knew my ability to assist was likely not to last as Sher delved into her broad knowledge on the blogging and traveling communities. With no background in such areas, I grabbed my notebook and pen and settled in to learn.

Over the next hour Sher walked us through an abundant amount of information on getting linked into the blogging community, attracting readers, and pursuing opportunities to blog for organizations that would benefit from our independent writing work. The information provided an open view of the methods and interactivity behind a veil I had been unable to pierce in my efforts blogging, and it showed me the true potential of using my stories to reach a broader audience and potentially start a new career.

Getting the lowdown on real blogging
Continuing, Sher guided the class through the best approaches to traveling and writing, which included specific methods to reduce expenses significantly while traveling and approaches that can be used to create local, authentic experiences while traveling. In her explanation of these techniques, Sher offered a few personal stories from her blog and stories from other bloggers that reinforced each point and made the impossible seem real. With each example I found myself equally amazed and inspired by the ways people were relying on their adventurous spirit and curiosity to guide them. The were living the kind of lives that people often dream of living, and every aspect of it was there for the world to see. It was enlightening and stirring, and it made me realize that way of life, in some capacity, was calling me to live it.

Sherry knows her stuff...
At the end of her presentation, Sher looked over the class for any signs of feedback and opened the room up for discussion. While some of my fellow students promptly obliged, I spent a few minutes silently staring at my notes and thinking about what my future might bring. For the first time in my life the idea of seeing the world without having to wait for my golden years seemed feasible. My pursuit of discovery had led me to a place where the Pandora’s Box of all the tools that could help me go after good and beautiful things in the world was sitting right in front of me. Sher had opened my eyes to a possibility that I never thought existed, and it had gripped me hard.

My silence among the group was eventually broken when a classmate asked me about my blog during the course of group discussion. Interested, Sher and the rest of the group focused their attention my story as I gave the basic rundown of my journey. In response the group offered a few remarks of enthusiastic surprise and asked a few questions. I did my best to answer concisely and offer a few examples of my experiences, which caused Sher to smile and turn to the rest of the group. “Now that’s a concept!” she exclaimed with a chuckle, “I can’t wait to read it!” The moment was exciting and honoring for me, but a part of me worried the content of my journey wouldn’t live up to the expectations of someone with Sher’s experience. “Every day?” she continued after a brief pause. “Yep, something new every day,” I replied. “That gets me excited!” she said looking at me, “I’m inspired. Thank you.”

Sher's permanent homage to her unique addiction

Humbled by the interaction, I sat and listened on as the rest of the class asked questions of Sher and me into the end of the class. By the time we reach the end of the evening I had provided some of my perspective and experience blogging to several newcomers and I had gained new knowledge and insight that exceeded anything I could have expected from my first travel blogging class. Sher came at the topic with an unfiltered, in-depth approach that gave all of us perspective that would have taken years to accumulate in any other context. Although teaching in such a manner essentially gave all of us the tools we needed to become a competitor in the space of travel blogging, Sher focused on the partnership and community that sharing her knowledge made possible. It was refreshing and uplifting, and it made me want to become a more integrated part of the writers, readers, and travelers that compose the blogger network. After tonight, Sher gave me everything I need to make that happen. I suppose the next step would be to put it all into action. I have a feeling the next few weeks and months are going to be interesting.

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