The Besalu Bloghouse

Besalu Costa Brava Spain bridge

Besalu, Costa Brava

Being a bush

“Which is when I said to the others, ‘We have to have Flora in the blog house! She’s like a great big bush of potential!'”

Kate and I sat in the airy, leather chaired board room of our luxury Spanish villa. Through the open door came sounds of laughter and the clink of wine glasses, inter-spliced with the occasional social media name drop: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest. Comments about SEO and WordPress. You could almost hear the gleeful click of iPhone cameras as they prepared to Instagram the #hashtag out of the #surrounding #scenery.

Kate turned to me, a gleam in her Bostonian eye.

“You just a little pruning, that’s all. A bit more of an identity.”

I nodded fervently, scribbling away in the battered Moleskine notebook I’d been carrying around since Thailand.

“Think about who you want to be online, and with that pruning – you could be a dolphin! A wonderful topiary dolphin!”

As I digested this hedgerow analogy, a voice from outside rose clearly above the alcohol induced melee. Michael Hodson of Go, See, Write, was regaling his happy audience with a classic travelling tale of old.

“…So I hid an alarm clock in a locker, stole their shoes and then gave them to some homeless people outside the hostel. But it’s fine – they deserved it.”

Welcome, ladies and gents, to the Besalu Bloghouse.

Besalu Spain streets

Wandering the streets of Besalu

A meeting of minds

The first travel blogger I started reading on a regular basis was Adventurous Kate.

Before her, I didn’t know what being a travel blogger meant. I didn’t really know that such a career choice existed. But I read her posts about shipwrecks and ping pong shows, and over the months that followed, I discovered just how far the travelling rabbit hole goes; a vast and spidery network of bloggers whose primary domains involve every social media site possible, as well as most hostels and bars the world over – and, occasionally, the monopolisation of entire cities for a few days at a time.

So when Kate and four of her fellow ‘professional’ bloggers invited me to take part in their latest project, the Bloghouse in Besalu, Spain, I jumped at the chance. And when I say invited, I mean I applied for a spot, crossed my fingers and jubilantly accepted their acceptance of my presence. As you do.

For a few days, me and a posse of nine other newbie bloggers were able to follow the movements of the pros, and gain an insight into how a full time blogging lifestyle actually pans out. All the while getting a taste of the high life by living it up in Casa Marcial, a gorgeous villa provided for us by Charming Villas.

Sadly, a few people I talked to at the blogger conferences were under the impression that the pro bloggers must have spent all their time talking down to us: boasting about their travels and their press trips, using the occasion to have some eager newbies rub their egos. Not so. And I feel very defensive of being part of this experience, so I’m duty bound to set the record straight.

Let’s first just address the fact that these guys were willing to share their expertise (which they have in spades) with a group of unknown and inexperienced bloggers, which was, quite frankly, awesome.

And secondly, there’s an element of this industry that I hadn’t fully realised until I arrived in Besalu: for every experienced pro blogger who’s ‘done it all’, there’s a newbie blogger who’s been somewhere even crazier and done something more unexpected.

In other words, we all have our own particular niche that makes our travels unique.

bloghouse besalu spain group

So what did this bunch of bloggers have going for them?

The newbies

To the untrained eye, we numbered a couch surfer and a cruise expert, an English teacher, two photographers, a somewhat clumsy writer, a self confessed Disney park obsessive, a military wife and a man in love with his flip flops.

Or, more accurately, we hold the following strings to our collective bow.

Victoria, a fellow hippy trousers lover, currently lives in Ecuador and has an interviewer’s eye for catching just the right story.

Emma, a Scottish loudmouth, has found a niche in her love of cruise trips that most people her age know nothing about.

Liz, a blonde bi-linguist, is a perfect example of a slow traveller: she’s spent four years living and teaching in Spain and is about to make the move to New Zealand, to start the whole process anew.

Naomi, fresh from a Trans-Siberian train adventure, picks countries at random and heads out to teach and photograph. Her next stop was about to be Thailand but she suddenly changed it to Georgia. As you do.

Ed, an incredible photographer, uses his pilot’s training to transport himself around the world. He’s exploring Iceland with his camera at the moment – in a car, for once.

Erin, a Japan junkie, is the definitive expert on the Disney bear. She and her husband Brett have home bases the world over but are currently travelling extensively through Asia.

Jen, an expat American, moved to Venice for her husbands career and is now travelling through every country in Europe, just because she can.

Cole, one half of ‘New Zealand’s adventure couple’ with his girlfriend, Adela, is now based in Edinburgh while they journey around this side of the world. But he’s still wearing flip flops in the heinous Scottish weather (I simply can’t call them jandals though).

The pros

These guys are renowned in the travel blogging world. They have Travel and Backpacking and Writing and Adventurous behaviour written all over them: figuratively and literally. Well, on their business cards, anyway. They helped us out with every one of our burgeoning blog queries, and took the helm of their specific areas of expertise.

Cailin gave great advice on photography, food and how to combine the two, while Kate told us succinctly how best to organise ourselves for everything press and media related. Michael Tieso became the house tech god when the internet broke (aka a bloghouse’s worst nightmare), but he was also my own personal saviour, as he talked me through the purchase of a new domain and navigating WordPress. Michael Hodson’s wonderfully brutal take on how to utilise social media opened my eyes completely, and Steph’s tips for better writing has the inspiration flowing like never before.

But over the two days, we spent so much time getting to know each other that it was great to realise that (obviously) these five pro bloggers were just like anyone else. Steph shares my love for a plate of ham; Cailin is a perfect person to gossip with; and while ‘Adventurous Kate’ may indeed be the best solo female travel blog, Kate herself is a veritable master of dodgy Google searches when she’s had a drink or three.

For me, the whole blog house experience culminated in the wonderful moment in the villa’s garden, surrounded by wine bottles and plates of Spanish ham, when my vague request for a new blog name was immediately answered by a chorus of voices proclaiming ideas. One of which stuck resolutely out.

Which is why I can finally introduce myself by a new blog name that I don’t have to immediately and embarrassedly explain with the handover of every business card, because its simplicity is evident.

Flora The Explorer, at your service.

Besalu Spain artist

Being at the Bloghouse also forced me to readdress exactly why I’m choosing to document my thoughts online – something that’s taken me almost three weeks to actually put into a cohesive idea.

What’s my angle?

I could easily write about Besalu – the city’s winding streets and brickwork arches, the chef who came to the villa and cooked paella, our visit to a local artist’s gallery, the dinner we had at a restaurant that looked out over the gorgeous picture-perfect bridge. But I know I’m not that kind of blogger. And it’s taken me a while to realise that I shouldn’t feel bad about it.

The numerous drafts I wrote for this post were factual and wholly positive, but they didn’t have any emotional connection to the experience of being at this house. And I didn’t like the direction they were headed. I want to write about how I feel, how a place affects me and what I learn from it. That might sound self-centred, but it’s the way I’ve been writing for the past eight months.

I’ve found it an immense pressure to feel like I ‘have’ to write about these places in Portugal and Spain because I’ve been sponsored; while I seriously appreciate said sponsorship, I know it’s not the be all and end all. And honestly? If I never get another travel-related sponsorship again, it wouldn’t stop me from blogging.

Besalu Costa Brava Spain cooking

Lee Pennington’s cooking class was pretty awesome though!

That said, my time at the blog house taught me that this partnership with sponsors is an integral part of ‘the business of being a blogger‘. To get work from your blog, you have to be prepared to work.

I was educated in how to write a pitch, the absolute necessity of a good media kit, instructed to never undersell myself and to always ask, because ‘you never know until you do’. I learned a huge amount about how to create and maintain a successful blog.

But more than that – I learned how to be a blogger.

Blogging 101

I realised the importance of retweeting other people; of taking and offering guest posts; of making Twitter friends and interacting with my Facebook followers; even meeting a blogger I’ve never met who’s recently arrived in my home city for a beer. Creativity, ingenuity and simply being friendly.

I learnt that every blogger is ridiculously proactive – that they have to be. They’ve all been the sole instigators of the crazy adventures they’ve undertaken. And nobody asked them to write about it online.

So I’m pruning away, ever striving to become that elusive topiary dolphin that Kate imagines me to be. Some day, my friends. Some day.

Topiary dolphin

My ultimate goal

Our stay at Casa Marcial was kindly provided by Charming Villas. All opinions, however, are entirely my own. I doubt this post would be so wordy if someone had told me what to write.


About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

32 Responses to The Besalu Bloghouse

  1. Jennifer October 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    LOVE the new name, Flora! And I had a great time traveling with you in Portugal and then again in Spain. Hope our paths cross again soon!

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

      Thanks Jen! It was so lovely to meet you 🙂 We’ll make this Bloghouse reunion happen some day!

  2. Ed October 14, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    Incredibly written post as always! You certainly have a gift. It was so great to meet you and I can’t wait to read more.

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      That’s really sweet Ed, thanks 🙂

  3. Victoria October 14, 2012 at 1:46 am #

    Gorgeous post Flora. As you know, I’m a massive fan of the new name. I love the dolphin analogy! Really looking forward to seeing how the blog develops. You definitely have the skills 🙂

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

      It’s all about the dolphins! Thanks my dear, I’m pretty excited to see how it all goes too!

  4. Emma Gray October 14, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Great post, Flora. Love the dolphin picture! Can’t wait to see you at WTM 🙂

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      Woohoo WTM!! You, me and Naomi are going to start this bloghouse reunioning in style (possibly Cole too?)

  5. Naomi October 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    So, so agree with you about sponsorship…it’s a funny tightrope to walk. Wonderful post 🙂

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Tightrope walking takes some practice but it’s still an exciting challenge 🙂 I’m actually quite keen to see how this apparent attitude of mine appeals (or not) to sponsors!

  6. Steph October 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Aww this gave me the warm fuzzies, especially when I noticed all the blog house commenters above me. I’m glad you found it rewarding and I can’t wait to see what you become!

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

      Another ultimate goal is to always provide the warm fuzzies 🙂 You guys have certainly started a snowball rolling..!

  7. Michael October 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Love your new domain! Happy to have helped you setup your new domain and WordPress setup.
    Thank goodness I was able to fix the wifi. A travel bloggers worse nightmare. It would have killed us!

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      Michael, you will always be a tech god. Anyone who can fix wifi as calmly as that deserves a Bloggy award :p

  8. Dalene October 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    LOVE the blog name. 🙂

    And I’m glad the blog house helped define your direction, the blogging world needs more people who write with their emotions as opposed to top ten lists or just a factual account of your day. Stick to that, nurture your obvious gift, and you will go far. Glad you had such a great experience there.

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

      Thanks Dalene, I’m loving my new blogging identity 🙂 And thank you for giving this emotional writing tactic some support. I don’t enjoy writing the bare facts so I would assume people don’t like reading it either – it definitely shows if a writer’s engaged in their words or not, I think.

  9. Sherry Ott October 15, 2012 at 4:56 am #

    Love the name and ‘new’ identity. And lovely writing too…don’t ever give that up…

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

      Thanks, Sherry! Glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂

  10. Jessica Wray October 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Sounds like such an awesome experience. I’ve been reading all of these ‘bloghouse’ blogs trying to tap into what it was like and what kind of things you guys learned 🙂 Hope to make it to a conference one day myself! Btw I read in another post you are going to Ecuador for a while. I did an internship there a few years back for almost 4 months. I was living in Quito. If you have any questions about it, let me know!

    • Flora October 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      It was a seriously good opportunity to learn about the whole blogging world – and it definitely helped all of us with our conference mentalities too! I’d recommend getting to a blog conference if the chance comes up, if only to meet so many great bloggers in the flesh (they’re better in real life!).

      How awesome that you lived in Quito! What was your internship in? Hah I actually have a ton of questions but am trying to be less over planned than I have been in the past! Although I wouldn’t mind quizzing you about some packing queries 🙂

      • Jessica Wray October 19, 2012 at 8:22 am #

        Sorry just saw this! Well, I really hope to get the chance to go to a conference in the next year or so. Hope things work out that way 🙂

        My internship was for a eco-tourism travel company. They had jungle lodges in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Besides the fact they did send me to one for free, it was really an uneventful job! I didn’t do much and I was still trying to get a good grasp on my Spanish! Ask me any questions you like! It’s better to prepare for Ecuador, it is a beautiful country, but at times I found it a hard one to live in. I was with a host family so it was intense immersion haha. Twitter or email whatever questions you have!

  11. Liz October 18, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    love this post! it made me so happy! good luck with becoming a topiary dolphin! I am excited to follow your aquatic or rather blooming (?) adventures 😀

  12. Kirra November 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Love this – I am a newbie blogger and going through many of the same experiences. Love the name. That was why I originally checked out your blog – I thought the name hinted to a sense of humour. I was right.

    • Flora November 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Thanks Kirra! I like to think I keep things amusing online 🙂

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