7 Concrete Steps Travel Bloggers Can Take To Stand Apart From The Crowd

In my previous post, I spoke at an abstract level about what travel bloggers need to do. Today I’m going to go into more depth about what you can do to set yourself apart and what actions you need to take.

For the record, none of these things are easy. None of these are as simple as adding a widget to your site or flipping a switch. They will take time, effort and thought.

All of these steps have something to do with building your credibility and authority. Unless you have been doing this a very long time, you should start with the assumption that you have zero. It might not be true, but it is helpful from mental standpoint in that it puts you in a struggle mode.

1) Create a Consistent Content Schedule, and Stick To It.

Back in 2007 I decided I was going to post a photo every day on my site. On November 24, 2007 I posted my very first daily photo. You can view it here.

Since that date, I have posted a daily photo on my website for 2,321 consecutive days. There were days I was late, but I have never missed a day in over six years.

Johnny Jet sends out his email newsletter every single Wednesday. He has never missed a week. Doesn’t matter where he is, or how late he is up, he never misses a week. EVER. Not surprisingly, he has a huge audience.

Whatever schedule you pick, you should stick to it. Let people know that on this day, they can expected your next piece of content. It doesn’t have to be daily, but it does have to be consistent.

A good negative example is the podcast a co-host, This Week In Travel. We are extremely inconsistent because it is difficult to get all 3 of us on at the same time, and I’m always traveling so my internet connection usually isn’t very good. Our traffic and audience has certainly suffered as a result.

Most bloggers post inconsistently and eventually die off. If you fanatically stick to your schedule, you’ll never have that problem.

2) Start Freelancing and Guest Posting

Ever notice how when traditional journalists are introduced or provide a bio of themselves, it is usually a list of the largest publications they have written for? That is a form of social proof. Without actually reading anything they’ve written, by associating themselves with big media brands, it is implied that they must be good writers.

There is no reason why you can’t do the same thing. Make a list of the top travel websites and develop a plan for appearing in them. Find out who the editors are and pitch them. (Find out how to pitch them before you pitch them.) This will take a very long time. You might get rejected many times. However, the process of doing this will improve your craft. You will have to think harder about what you are doing when you know more people will be seeing it.

Also, here is an insider pro tip: If you have an option of being in print or being online….always go with being online.

In some circles being in print may be considered more prestigious, but you can’t click on print. Paper doesn’t have links. If you primarily work online (and I assume you do if you are reading this), the benefits of being on the website FAR outweigh the benefits of being in print. Try to share a print article on social media if you doubt it.

If they wont pay you, do it for free. I know that advice will piss off freelance writers, but this is about your marketing budget, not making money. The marketing benefits of being on a big site are worth far more than what they would normally pay you anyhow.

Likewise, appearing on popular blogs can often do much more than being on the website of a big media company. Unlike working with editors, DO NOT blindly email top bloggers. Unsolicited emails for guest posts are usually deleted before they are even read. Get to know them first or get on their radar.

I’m always amazed at how many bloggers at TBEX shy away from me because they think I only hangout with other big bloggers. The most fun I’ve had at the last two TBEX events in Toronto and Dublin were drinking with bloggers who I had never heard of before. Say hello. Buy me a drink! Free beer goes a long way. Don’t just give me a business card, because I’m not going to keep it. The bloggers who regularly comment on my site or retweet me are ones I know to take the time and say “thank you” to when I meet them in person.

I am sure more other bloggers with large followings would say the same thing.

3) Join the Club

If you can meet the requirements, join one of the professional travel journalism organizations. These are not travel blogger organization, but travel media organizations. They’ve been around a lot longer than blogging has and most of the members are not bloggers.

Here is a short list of some:

  • Society of American Travel Writers. The oldest and most prestigious travel journalism organization in North America. It is open to Americans and Canadians. Bloggers need an average of 10,000 unique visitors per month over the course of a year to join.
  • Travel Media Association of Canada. Open to Canadians. Membership is based on a points system. Blogging can only earn you 1/2 the points necessary for membership regardless how successful you are.
  • North American Travel Journalists Association. NATJA isn’t a member based organization like SATW. It is more a business like TBEX. Membership is looser and open to any “legitimate, working, professional writer, photographer, or editor in the travel, food, wine, or hospitality industries.”. You also have to submit 8 examples of your work.
  • International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association. An international organization that covers much more than just travel. To join, bloggers must have a blog that is 1 year old and publishes at least twice a month.
  • British Guild of Travel Writers. Sort of the UK equivalent of SATW. Currently, they don’t let bloggers become members unless you are also doing considerable freelance work.

All of these organizations have annual dues and I know many bloggers question the value of joining. So few bloggers are members, that I think the benefits to a blogger can be greater than for a freelance writer.

The organizations also skew rather…..old. I’m one of the older people at TBEX, but I’m one of the younger people in SATW. That can work to your advantage if you are under 40, or even 50.

4) If You Can’t Join Em, Beat Em.

Publications love awards. I’ve had several newspaper and magazine editors tell me flat out how important it is for them to win prestigious awards every year.

What if you could beat the best travel publications straight up, head-to-head?

What I am talking about are judged travel journalism awards. I am NOT talking about is anything which requires public voting or awards given out by travel companies to bloggers (which are really just SEO schemes to get links. You win and then they give you a badge to put on your site.)

Blogging isn’t just a numbers game. There is a qualitative element to it. The only real way to provide proof of quality are through awards.

There are a handful of travel writing and travel photography awards which are given out each year. The publications in competition for these awards include National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, Afar Magazine and many smaller niche publications.

Can a single blog compete with these big brands? Yes, but it isn’t easy. You have to really be on top of your game and submit the best of your best material. If you can win, it is something you can really be proud of and will take the notice of people in the industry. Even if you don’t win, the act of preparing something for submission will probably make you better.

Here are some of the major awards:

  • Lowell Thomas Awards. I consider these to be the Oscars of North American travel journalism. They are similar to what the James Beard Awards are for food journalism. The contest is run by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation. You do NOT have to be a member of SATW to enter. The competition is open to any journalist who lives or works in North America. There are 25 categories ranging from newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, audio, video, individual articles and photography. In each category a gold, sliver, and bronze medal are awarded. There is also a Grand Prize for the Travel Journalist of the Year. The submission period is usually from January to the end of March. SATW members which win an award have their dues waived the next year.
  • Bill Muster Photo Competition. This is a photography competition which is limited to members of SATW. There is an overall prize, the winner of which is declared the SATW Photographer of the Year. There are also prizes for individual subject areas. Submission period is usually during the month of June.
  • NATJA Awards. NATJA has an annual awards competition. There are 52 categories with separate categories for articles which have appeared online vs in print. There are also Grand Prizes given away for the top writer and top photographer. You do not have to be a NATJA member to submit, but you do save money on your entry fees if you are a member.
  • Solas Awards. These are given out by Traveler’s Tales, a travel publishing house. There are over 20 categories and the only categories are for writing. There are no awards for publications or for photography. You can submit entries at any time, but the cutoff for this years competition is September 21.
  • British Travel Press Awards. This is run by a group called Kingley Event Management Solutions. There are 18 awards, most of which either honor overall individuals or publications. I am not sure how the submissions work, but the awards are given out near the end of November.
  • British Guild of Travel Writers Awards. These awards are limited to members of the BGTW. As it is difficult for bloggers to join and the entry rules are located in a password protected part of their website, I have no idea how this works.

To date, very few bloggers have won any of these awards outside of a special travel blog category.

5) Start a Podcast

There are 1,000’s of travel blogs. Staring one is easy to do and the barrier to entry is low.

How many travel podcasts are there? Maybe dozens, depending how you define it. Go look on iTunes. Most of those are are about Disney World or are just specials by Rick Steves.

Creating audio and video content is much harder than writing. That is why so few people do it.

If you can start a podcast, publish it consistently and have a reasonably high production value, you can probably find some success faster than you could with a blog.

6) Take a Class

As I noted in my previous post, you can’t assume the content you produce is good. Especially if you are starting out.

If you don’t have a background in writing, photography or journalism, take a class on the subject. Think about attending the Book Passage Travel Writing Conference outside San Francisco in August. Not only will you learn something, but you’ll make some great contacts.

This is especially true if you really want to try and win an award which I outlined in #4. It isn’t just a matter of knowing how to write well, but also knowing what judges are expecting. The judges tend to be the people who teach at these sort of workshops.

7) Do Something BIG

If you want to grab people’s attention, try to do something big and out of the ordinary. Something which few people have done or are willing to even dare to do.

Walk around the world. Visit every country on Earth. Visit every baseball stadium in North America.

Put a wrapper on what you are doing and you might get the attention of the wider media. At a minimum, you might get a bigger audience as you get people who follow what you are doing.

5 Comments

  1. Hey Gary – I’m on the BGTW committee this year and we are definitely open to bloggers and working on launching the first bloggers award. We are also redesigning our website so that this information will be easier to find…Check back in 2-3 months I’d say!

  2. Great tips man! Competition is pretty tough these days with a lot of travel blogs popping up. Ultimately, you have to keep traveling to keep it up.

  3. The Society of American Travel Writers sounds amazing, Gary, I should start a petition for them to consider accepting Mexican Travel Writers who write in English, we’re part of North America too haha :D

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