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My Travel and Business Year in Review

Bullet trains in Tokyo
Bullet trains in Tokyo

This year passed in the blink of an eye. Or at least that's how it feels looking back.

I'm lucky enough to say I've done exactly what I wanted to do and had a great time doing it.

This year had its share of low points, too; however, they only served to make me stronger.

If you're a new reader, this post is a great way to catch up!


On February 1, about a month before the earthquake and tsunami struck, I flew from Newark to Tokyo to kick off my first trip to Japan.

I packed ultra light, only carrying a daypack for the 11-day Winter trip.


I couchsurfed in Tokyo, re-enacted scenes from Lost in Translation at the Park Hyatt, got kicked out of the Tsukiji Fish Market, and took a day trip to visit the snow monkeys of Nagano.


I then hopped a bullet train to Kyoto, where I got a hazy view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.

On my first night in Kyoto, I walked into a random restaurant and had the best sushi of my life.

Despite the cold air outside, the salmon belly would melt in my mouth, and I couldn't get enough of it.

I also tried several regional cuisines in Kyoto, including Kushikatsu and Kaiseki.

I visited the tranquil Golden Temple and then stepped WAY out of my comfort zone with a bare naked visit to a traditional Japanese onsen.


The food discoveries continued with massive, fresh oysters and okonomiyaki in Hiroshima, a city that I visited as a day trip from Kyoto to see the iconic A-Bomb Dome and Peace Park first hand.

Happy Hour -- Cabo de la Vela, Colombia
Happy Hour — Cabo de la Vela, Colombia


Within a few days of returning to Virginia from Japan, I was on a flight back to Medellin, Colombia, where I spent the subsequent six months.

In addition to further delving into the city's ridiculously fun nightlife, I also made an effort to visit some of the top restaurants.

The highlight was a 4-hour dinner at El Cielo, which specializes in molecular gastronomy. I also enjoyed Bijao, which specializes in Nuevo Latino cuisine, and Me Late Chocolate.

Caribbean Coast

My big trip outside Medellin took me to the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, Taganga — a backpacker favorite, the gorgeous Parque Nacional Tayrona, and Cabo de la Vela, a desolate yet beautiful beach at the northernmost point of the country and continent.


I also made it a point to visit two of Antioquia's most popular pueblos, Jardin, where I went horseback riding, and Santa Fe de Antioquia, where I started writing and compiling my Medellin city guide, an ebook I intended to release early in 2012.

But it wasn't all fun and games.

I got sick (I swear it was more than just traveler's diarrhea) on the ride back to Santa Marta from the La Guajira Peninsula.

Once I felt better and back in Medellin, I was robbed by an armed man while waiting at a stoplight in a taxi.

Sea lions in the Galapagos
Sea lions in the Galapagos


The recent robbery in Colombia had me on edge for my first visit to Ecuador, but despite all the theft stories I'd heard, I couldn't bring myself to skip a country out of fear alone.


So I flew to Quito on AeroGal as planned and proceeded to have a fun and theft-free time exploring the historic city center, visiting the Equator, riding the Teleferico for sweeping city views, and mountain biking down Cotopaxi Volcano.

The Galapagos Islands

I booked a last-minute trip to the Galapagos Islands from Quito but ran into trouble early when our yacht broke down the first day!

Luckily, we had a cool guide, and we made the most of the downtime with a visit to Tortuga Bay, where we saw our first sharks and marine iguanas.

The week's highlight for me was swimming with sea lions, followed closely by observing the Blue Footed Boobies.

We saw the famous land tortoises and even a few Galapagos Penguins!

Banos, Guayaquil, Montanita, and More

I went to Ecuador for the Galapagos but soon found much more to the country than the wildlife out at sea.

I went canyoning in Banos, ate cuy (guinea pig), poked around Guayaquilpartied in Montanita, and fell in love with Cuenca. It was also in Cuenca that I had my best meal in Ecuador.

From there, it was on to Vilcabamba in the Valley of Longevity, from where I would start the overland journey into northern Peru.

Lomo Saltado (beef with vegetables)
Lomo Saltado (beef with vegetables)


Taking the scenic route into Peru entailed a 2-day bus and colectivo adventure to Chachapoyas, where I visited the ancient fortress of Kuelap and the world's 3rd tallest waterfall.

Then it was on to Trujillo, the country's second-largest city, from which I explored colorful Moche ruins and UNESCO-listed Chan Chan.

Continuing the zigging and zagging pattern, my next overnight bus took me to Huaraz at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca.

I toured Huascaran, Peru's tallest mountain, and visited a glacier at 5,000 meters above sea level.

From Huaraz, I landed in Lima, where I'd proceed to eat my way through the city (and put on the extra pounds to prove it).

I'll be writing more about my time in Lima, as well as my trek to Machu Picchu in early January, so stay tuned!

My Lima office (aka the kitchen)
My Lima office (aka the kitchen)

The Business

My goal with building an online income has always been to live and travel abroad freely.

As I devoted the second half of 2010 to living in Colombia, it wasn't until 2011 that I got to spread my wings and fly.

While my income didn't increase as much as I'd anticipated (it grew about 20%), it was enough to allow me a few investments back into the business, including a new 13″ MacAir (which may be the best travel laptop ever) and custom blog design.

I also began paying contributors for the first time, which has worked out very well for everyone.

So well that I'll be announcing another addition to the Go Backpacking team in early January.

And most recently, I was honored to be accepted into the Society of American Travel Writers.

Go Backpacking – I started the year searching for a new contributor, which led me to Mark Wiens.

His weekly contributions are amongst the most shared on Go Backpacking.

Visits increased 62% in 2011 over the prior year, with the site breaking 1.2 million page views. I also began creating the Travel Guides section.

Medellin Living – Medellin Living had a breakout year, with almost triple the number of visits in 2011 over 2010.

I also began paying contributors to this site, which is especially important when I'm not in Colombia, as I can't devote as much time to growing the site.

Travel Blog Success – At the start of the year, I doubled the number of lessons and audio interviews.

I also added monthly coaching calls and a private Facebook group to the Premium membership offering.  

Over 100 new members joined the TBS community in the last 12 months, bringing the total membership to over 200.

I don't anticipate any significant changes for 2012 and hope to continue helping new bloggers one by one.

The rest of the week will be devoted to sharing the most popular posts of the year.

Thank you for continuing to read, and I look forward to making 2012 our best year yet!

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Nomadic Samuel

Monday 2nd of January 2012

It sounds like 2012 is shaping up to be a banner year for you. I think even though you didn't reach all of your financial goals, you certainly experienced a lot of growth which will eventually pay off.


Monday 2nd of January 2012

Thanks Sam!


Thursday 29th of December 2011

Sounds like you had a nice balance of travel and work in 2011. What are the travel plans for 2012?

Brock - Backpack With Brock

Thursday 29th of December 2011

Another fantastic and exciting year for you Dave! Almost a bit TOO exciting eh? You're passion for what you do is huge so I am glad to see things continually growing and falling in place for you! Here's too an even better 2012!


Thursday 29th of December 2011

Thanks Brock! And congrats on the launch of your new adventure coaching business this year.

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