3 years ago, to this day exactly, in my college room back at Cambridge University I found myself with a free day. This almost never happened!
See, you know the way you see photos of students at Uni fooling around and kicking it in the pub on a Saturday? That wasn’t our lot on my course.
And don’t get me wrong – lots of students at Cambridge got to play around.
In fact, I spent many a day envious of those students out by the college barbecue pits, sunglasses out, music blaring loudly (but not so loud that it bothered other students who decided to stay in) and the sweet smell of what was almost certain to become burnt meat if it wasn’t taken off the grill soon, gently wafting through the air while I trudged on to college to join my course mates in what seemed to be an unending stream of programming, assignments, more programming and the odd break to see if Prof Stephen Hawkings was hanging about (his office was in the same building so the chances of this happening were a lot higher than you’d think).
On this particular day, 3 years ago, it was unseasonably warm. Like ‘t-shirt and shorts‘ weather, which for April in England was just strange yet somehow unsurprising (we get all kinds of weather in April – you can almost count on snow and a 10-minute hailstorm somewhere in the last week of April).
On this day, I also found myself with a break in between assignments. Nothing was due and there was nothing I needed to work on.
I called Lloyd up and we figured we’d make the most of the sunshine. Partway through that, we finally decided to start something we’d spoken about for ages – a travel blog.
Thing is, we’d already decided on the name almost 2 years back (for those wondering, Hand Luggage Only came about because that’s how we typically travelled, even as a group, back then – somewhat confusingly, it’s not because we travel with Hand Luggage Only, there’s just no way travelling with Hand Luggage Only would have been suitable for a 3 week road trip across the USA – we pack for what the location demands). We’d also paid for the domain and even had a temporary website just sitting waiting to be used.
This just mean that on the 12th of April 2014, all we needed to do was finally design the website layout and publish out first posts! Some had been written (in one form or the other) already and we decided to finally write an intro, along with other posts and hit publish! The feeling was absolutely amazing – even when no one had read it.
For some reason, I guess kinda the same way you would when you submit a big report at school or finally finished building whatever Lego structure you’d been working on, there just a sense of pride at looking at a website you’d just created. (That sense of pride, in retrospect, seems kinda ridiculous when you think that this was the first post I wrote here).
We did the posts on Facebook (believe it or not, I didn’t actually put this on my personal Facebook), for some reason, I just wanted this to be something that stood on its own legs at the start. Plus I wasn’t really sure what anyone I knew would think of it so I kinda hesitated.
To be honest, I know this isn’t the case for most bloggers but we didn’t write this blog for family and friends. Facebook was already doing quite a great job of that at the time and so there was no need for me to create a blog to repeat something I could already do on Facebook. Instead, this blog was created for us to connect with other travellers.
It was a chance to share our experience, help people along the way and generally just provide as much information as we possibly could for fellow travellers. We figured, the more informed we all are as travellers, the better we would all be. Whether that’s just 10 things to do in XXX place, finding hidden spots or helping to save money with hacks we’d found along the way – the most important thing for us was just to be helpful.
The only part of this that I guess had fairly little to do with other travellers and more to do with us was the photos part. Having a blog meant having more reasons to take my camera out more. It meant having a purpose for my photos which didn’t involve them just sitting on a dusty hard-drive somewhere (though I did like sharing them on Facebook for family and friends).
Blogging meant actually trying to learn ways to improve my photography and gave me the perfect excuse to get the cameras I actually wanted.
I could go on an on but long story short, blogging became a creative outlet for me and has helped us connect with so many amazing and rather inspiring travellers.
A month after starting, we had our very first traffic spike. Things had been growing slowly but something on this Saturday (now in 2014) just meant that an article we’d written had a lot of people fired up to travel and to share with their friends. It was such an incredible feeling. I went from thinking our website had been hacked (like a DDOS attack where hackers try to crash your site), to panicking about not knowing how to stop a DDOS attack to feelings of pure exhilaration when I started seeing comments, likes and shares flooding it. There were no hackers – these were real people! Travellers like us who loved the opportunity to be able to see more of the world.
The same thing happened over and over again, on even more articles we’d written over the coming months and years. We somehow went from an average of 80 – 200 visitors a day (200 was a huge day back in that first month) to over 750,000 people per month this year.
Talk about a travel community, eh? These are people who constantly share their own tips and advice with us and who have managed to create something out of nothing and we are so grateful to be part of this amazing community.
By the way, YOU are the very essence of the Hand Luggage Only community and we’re so proud to be part of it with you. (Like seriously, it wouldn’t be anything at all without ya!)
So yeah, it’s been 3 years to the day since this space on this internet was born and I know you’re probably fed up of hearing this but I’m gonna say this anyway – THANK YOU!!! Thank you for building Hand Luggage Only. For taking part. For commenting. For sharing. For kind words which helped prop us up when we felt down. For keeping us going. For so many more thing than I can even start to list or describe! Thank you!
Here’s to 3 years!!!
*Due to the fact that I’m typing this directly as I’m thinking it (and also hours before leaving for a long trip and still haven’t started packing), I apologise profusely for any typos you’ve had to endure reading this! Haha! 😁 I’ll try to correct them later…