This is a post I said I’d never do. I like writing about travel and inspiring people to take their kids to new places, and I’ve never wanted to write about blogging. But I get a lot of requests for advice, especially after being featured by several media outlets recently, so this is my attempt to consolidate my blogging thoughts in one place.
I started travel writing/blogging three years ago when I abruptly quit my healthcare career of 18 years. I was in contact with Wendy Perrin after winning Conde Nast Traveler’s Photo of the Year contest, and I called her to talk about possible paths in the travel field. She pointed me to some family travel blogs that she liked, and I thought, I can do that! I didn’t know that I would ever turn blogging into a business, but I loved the idea of inspiring people to travel by writing about the trips I took with my kids.
I started my website in August 2014, loading in a couple of posts that I had done on a blogging platform earlier in the year. Then I wrote whenever I felt like I had something important/unique to say. I slowly built up content, and joined social media sites and Facebook groups. But as I was growing, I never lost sight of my primary goals:
- Inspire people to travel with their kids.
- Keep our own family travel fun.
At the beginning I was excited to get emails from brands wanting to send me free products to place in Instagram posts, and then I was excited to get invitations to press trips. But other than accepting a pair of shoes early on, I started declining everything. Does it help me inspire family travel to leave my family to go on a press trip? Does posting a watch on Instagram help build my brand or have anything at all to do with family travel? And do I even need that watch? I’ve never regretted saying no.
Below is my advice on travel blogging. Feel free to go with all of this, or none of this! Blaze your own path. I’ve made choices along the way that felt right for my site and my brand, like saying no to advertising, sponsored posts, SEO link placements and guest posts, but I’m not judging anyone who accepts those. There’s more than one path to success.
My Advice on Travel Blogging
Have a Niche
What’s your strength? What are you passionate about? What can you offer that no one else can? Why should people read your posts and care what you have to say? Figure this out first. It’s a lot easier to get noticed if you’re unique.
Have a Business Plan
I developed a five-year business plan early on, with revenue goals and priorities for each year. Even learning a lot about the industry along the way, I’ve largely stuck to my plan.
As part of your business plan, realize that you need to invest money in your business. This includes having a good web host, having an attractive website design, paying for advertising to get your accounts and posts noticed, attending conferences, and hiring people to help you along the way. Most importantly though, you need to invest in travel. If you’re not traveling on your own dime, you’re not building your content and your authority.
Have Excellent Photography
Unless someone has been blogging for a long time and has a very loyal following, it’s almost impossible to have a successful website without great photography. And it is impossible to build social media followings and attract the attention of brands without great photography. Check out my post on top Instagram accounts. If you don’t know how to take photos like those 25 people, learn.
And don’t buy someone else’s Lightroom Presets as a shortcut. They won’t do anything for you, and they’ll just delay your own learning curve. The reason that couple’s photos look great on Instagram is because they’re beautiful people in stunning locations, and they’re excellent photographers. Their preset can’t anticipate the scene that you shot or your exact lighting. You’re far better off investing in a photo workshop or a Lightroom course.
Business is all about who you know. Travel blogging is no different. And the nice thing is that most events include both bloggers and brands. ITB (Berlin) and WTM (London) are the big annual events for the travel industry – most hotel chains, cruise lines, destinations, tour companies, airlines and travel companies attend one or both. Go! But when you go, don’t be content to walk from booth to booth talking to companies. Join Facebook groups and post messages seeing who else will be attending. Look into Travel Massive parties. Do everything you can to meet others. When I do paid projects for brands and PR agencies, they often ask me for recommendations for future campaigns. I always recommend people I’ve met in person.
Other worthwhile events are ATWS, the New York Times Travel Show, TBC Asia, Book Passage, the SATW annual convention and TBEX. At the bottom of my About Me page I list every travel conference I’ve attended.
Join Travel Organizations
Continuing on the last topic, jump into the industry and make connections. Ones to consider:
- Travel Massive
- Adventure Travel Trade Association (if there’s an adventurous element to your writing)
- The North American Travel Journalists Association
- The Society of American Travel Writers (there are Australian and British equivalents)
Join Facebook Groups
I’m in a lot of Facebook groups. My favorites:
Write When You Have Something Important to Say
Don’t create content just to have content. Think about what will make the world a better place, what will inspire people, and/or what will help people when planning a trip or traveling to a destination. Did you find an amazing place or have a great experience that you want to tell the world about? That deserves a post. Are you an expert on packing or traveling with young kids? People need advice. But pure hotel or restaurant reviews? That’s what TripAdvisor is for, unless you have a unique take.
Be Professional and Overdeliver
You are always representing your brand. If you’re on a press trip, show up on time every day. Be awesome to work with. Overdeliver on content. If you go to a conference and there are associated one-day or multi-day fam trips, don’t cancel at the last minute because you feel like sleeping in. If you commit to something, do it. Make every client happy – even the difficult ones – and you’ll get more clients.
Don’t Expect Freebies
On the business side, travel blogging is essentially marketing. Before you contact a hotel or tour company asking for a free stay or tour, make sure you’re offering something of greater value in return. That could be social or blog coverage. It could be photography. Check them out on Instagram and see if they have a good gallery. If not, say that you’d like to provide content for them to post. It only makes sense for a travel company to partner with you if you’re going to get them increased revenue in return. Do everything you can to make that happen.
I should note that I get turned down the majority of time I approach hotel/resorts about media rates, much less free stays. And I have 400k+ followers, am on a lot of top-ten lists, and have documented results. The days of starting a blog and quickly getting free travel perks from it are over.
Be Skeptical of Online Blogging Courses
I hate when I see new bloggers wasting $500, $1,000 or even $1,500 on blogging courses that promise success, free travel, or Instagram growth. I know a lot of highly successful bloggers and they don’t have courses. Why? Because they’re too busy running businesses and making money. It’s largely less-successful bloggers who have courses, because they’ve figured out that they can make more money selling the free travel dream to people than they do blogging. And even if the bloggers selling the courses are successful, the likelihood of you succeeding following their templates is small. Everyone is unique. They likely started at the right time, or got lucky, or were extremely beautiful, or had other things happen along their blogging path that you can’t duplicate. It’s why I don’t have a course, and why I don’t even speak at conferences. I can give general advice like this, but I can’t promise success.
If you have money to invest, you’re a lot better off spending it on a conference. You’ll get tips from bloggers in person, network at the same time, and ideally go somewhere cool. Or find a blogger who you follow and trust and see if he/she is hosting workshops or retreats. The one-on-one coaching will be far more beneficial than an online course and, again, you’ll be getting a cool trip out of it.
Don’t Fake Things
Bloggers do a lot of things to gain followers, boost posts and get engagement. Much of it is grey area / personal preference – what you might think crosses a line, others are fine with. The two things that I find objectionable are:
Buying followers. You’ll have the social following numbers, but your engagement will be terrible. And you’re actively deceiving the brands that are hiring you.
Blog/Facebook/Instagram comments. I don’t get this. There are numerous Facebook groups where people can leave a link to a post for people to leave comments and in exchange you agree to leave comments on everyone else’s posts. It’s similar to the Instagram comment pods, where after you post a photo you send it to a closed group of people and everyone comments. The problem? The comments virtually always look fake. If I read a blog post, I usually don’t comment. If I do, it’s to further a discussion or add a different perspective. It’s never in the realm of “Wow, great post. I’ve never been there but now I want to go.” I have a lot of blog posts with just a few comments, but they’re good comments. I’d prefer that to seeing 10 fake “wow, great post” comments on every post that don’t add to the discussion.
What I am good with: anything that gets your content in front of more people. This includes sharing threads on Facebook, Pinterest, Flipboard and Twitter, “like” threads on Facebook and “like” pods on Instagram. In general, social media algorithms are based on quick assessments of how popular your posts are – looking at how many clicks or likes they get in the first few minutes. If they’re popular, your posts will be shown to far more of your followers. So if you can work with a few others to boost those initial likes, it benefits you overall, and it benefits the brand you’re working with, while only adding a few dubious likes to the overall engagement. It’s the same with Pinterest and Twitter – sharing content simply serves to boost your overall reach.
Virtually everyone who’s considered successful in travel blogging / travel writing will tell you that it took them 4-5 years, or even longer, to get there. Work hard, but realize that nothing happens overnight. It takes time to build your authority and brand, and develop your unique voice. Don’t quit your job and become a travel blogger and expect revenue after six months or a year!
Everything above is simply meant to be my advice to people starting out in travel blogging. If you want a step-by-step guide for how to start a travel blog, how to pitch, etc…, these are great resources:
- Gabi Logan: The Six-Figure Travel Writing Road Map. Gabi is the smartest person I’ve met in the industry.
- Girl vs. Globe: How to Start a Successful Travel Blog. I got a lot of great advice from Sabina as I was starting out. (NOTE: Based on negative feedback from other bloggers, I’d suggest picking a different host than Bluehost.)
- Make Time to See the World: How to Start a Travel Blog and Make Money (ditto on Bluehost)
Again, use all of this advice or none of it – it’s simply what’s worked well for me. Please comment below if you have questions. I’m happy to answer everything once.