When I started my travel blog back in 2006, I knew most of the other travel bloggers personally. Eventually it grew so even if I didn’t know them personally, I was at least familiar with their site. Today, I see many blogs popping into existence that I have never even heard of before.
Many people have dreams of traveling around the world and making a living as a travel blogger. The reality is that very few people are able to do so and given the large numbers of travel blogs today, even achieving moderate success is becoming more and more difficult.
Now that I’m in my 8th year of travel blogging, I’ve seen enough to have an idea of what will work and what will not.
If you are too lazy to read everything, let me summarize by saying there is no quick path to success and the fact that you are too lazy to read an entire article means you are probably deeply screwed on multiple levels.
1) Take a Long Term Approach
It is going to take years to become an overnight success. One thing I noticed early on was that the longer I traveled, the more interested people became in my story. You need to be producing at a high level for years before you get any serious traction. This is true for almost every type of blog. The travel aspect only adds to it. If you aren’t prepared to blog and do so consistently for at least 3 years without any prospect of making money, they you probably shouldn’t even start.
2) Focus on Quality
Your content sucks. Well, at least you must assume your content sucks. The only way you are ever going to improve is by being extremely self critical. Despite having won several major travel photography awards, I constantly think my images suck and I look for ways to improve. Most bloggers don’t come from a media background and assume that if they are literate with a high school or college degree, it is good enough.
Consider attending a writing or photography course, or at least spend more time researching and hanging out on writing/photography forums than you do talking online about how to make money. Yes, there are some people out there who have achieved some monetary success despite being horrible writers and photographers, but as the saying goes, “anything which can’t last forever….won’t”. Or to use another cliche, “the cream always rises to the top”.
Blogging is a craft just as much as it is a business and you should focus on improving your craft.
3) The World Does Not Need Another Blog About Backpacking Through Thailand
Thailand is a great place. I’ve been there. I’ve spent a lot of time there and I am sure I will return many times.
However, it has been done to death. It seems like the first destination for every 20-something backpacker and many people never seem to leave.
When you first start traveling, going to a new place such as Thailand is fascinating, but from a blogging standpoint, you aren’t adding anything new to the conversation.
The same applies to other common destinations. Paris, London, New York, etc. Visiting these places might have been your fantasy for years, but it can’t be your bread and butter for content.
4) You Have to Travel a Lot
Unless you are running a multi-author site where you are relying on other people’s content, your success will in large part be dependent upon how much you travel. If you created a list of the most successful travel blogs, there would be a large correlation with how much and how long the bloggers have traveled.
It doesn’t mean you have to travel full time per se, but it does mean you need to do more than go on vacation a few weeks a year. At a minimum, you are looking at many months of travel per year.
So yes, travel bloggers have to travel, and if this is a problem then travel blogging probably isn’t best suited to you.
5) Visit Interesting Places
This is a corollary to #3. In addition to not just visiting obvious destinations, you need to occasionally go somewhere, where no one else goes. Look at a map and list every country where you’ve never been and you don’t personally know anyone who has ever been. Go there. Go visit a remote island or country you only hear about during the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
It is hard to be interesting as a travel blogger if you aren’t visiting interesting places.
6) Stop Trying to Please Public Relations People
There are many seminars on travel blogging which seem to start at “how to pitch destinations” or “how to create a media kit”. Go back up and reread #2. If you are focused on pleasing people who give free trips, you probably are going to be extremely limited in your success. No one, other than PR people, really care about their made up hashtags or even know what they mean.
If you only care about getting free trips, I suppose you can milk it for a while by being a PR sycophant, but you aren’t going to create a real audience in the process. What is pleasing to PR people is kryptonite to real readers. The PR industry is always several years behind the curve and they will eventually figure this out. When they do, it isn’t going to be hashtaggers they will turn to.
I never did it that often, but starting this year I’ve adopted a no hashtag rule if I work with destinations. If I’m posting a photo about Kerplekistan, there is no need to add #ILoveKerplekistan to it. If that is a deal breaker, then I guess I’m not going to that destination.
7) You Need to Occasionally Travel On Your Own
There is a class of blogger which now exists that never travels unless someone else pays for it. NEVER.
I’m not against sponsored trips as a general rule. I’ve been on them and will in the future. However, if it is all you do, and you never just go off on your own, I don’t think it is something which people are going to be interested in, in the long run.
I’d say at least half your travels should be on your own. I spent my first 3 years traveling around the world before the first person in the travel industry ever spoke to me. This year alone I’ve visited Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and two lengthy road trips in South Africa, on my own dime. When I earn money from blogging, I spend it on more travel.
I understand the economics of travel and know it can be expensive, but you at least need to seem as if destinations are helping you travel, not that you are dependant on them for traveling.
8) If You Want To Stand Apart From the Crowd, Then Don’t Be In It
If there is a large group of bloggers all in the same place, doing the same thing, then you are just a part of that group. It is almost impossible to stand out.
I’ve turned down every opportunity to be part of a blogging collective or attend a mass press trip. With special exceptions, I won’t even go on press trips with other bloggers or journalists anymore. It isn’t that I don’t like other bloggers, but I want to stand apart and do my own thing. (Example of an exception: There is a place I was going to visit later this year on my own that will be doing a promotion with bloggers during the same time. I might go with them, but there will be no hashtags and I’ll set my own schedule.)
If I see some blog collective doing a mass trip somewhere, I’ll probably stay away from that place for at least a year. When tons of bloggers visited Jordan in 2011 (I had previously been there in 2009), I didn’t return until 2013 because I didn’t want to be seen as being part of the group.
I like hanging out and talking to other bloggers are conferences, but I don’t necessarily want to travel with them, unless it is something we are doing on our own.
These group trips are the easiest to get and they are often desperate to fill spaces. If you are just starting out, these will be the most tempting and the most difficult to say “no” to.
9) Have a Thing
My thing has sort of become UNESCO world heritage sites and travel photography. I didn’t set out to do that, but it has sort of become what I’m known for, and I’m comfortable with that.
If you are just publishing random articles without focus, then you have no thing that you are known for.
It doesn’t have to be a niche (a term which I dislike). It just has to be something that you are known for. It could be your attitude or style. It could be something you do in every place you visit. Whatever it is, you need something.
10) Have an Original Name
Any domains with the following terms, or offshoots of the following terms, is hereby verboten:
I’m sure there are a few others I can think of if given time. Sites started before 2011 can be grandfathered in.
11) Focus On Audience, Not Traffic
Traffic is not the end game in blogging. Traffic is good, and traffic is important, but traffic is a means, not an end.
Traffic to your site is like people window shopping at store. Its good, but ultimately you want people to buy something. If most people visiting your site never return, you haven’t really achieved anything. What you want is to get those visitors to commit. You want them to commit to hearing more from you in the future.
Your audience are people who have made at least a one click commitment to hear more from you in the future because they know who you are and care about what you have to say.
If you have a strong, engaged audience you can do anything. It doesn’t even have to be that big if they are engaged. It isn’t easy and it is something I still struggle with all the time. All my future plans surround engaging more with my audience.
12) Do It For Love, Not Money
Running a travel blog is a lot of hard work. The more you travel, the harder it is. Moreover, even if you reach the pinnacle of success, you would still be better off financially getting a regular job.
Too many people jump into this and expect to make money from day 1. Putting aside the fact that it is a horrible way to make money, they have their priorities all wrong.
If you can’t be a good amateur blogger, you’ll never be a professional blogger. Focusing on money will get in the way of the more important things such as improving the quality of your content and building your audience, the very things which are necessary for long term success.
Most of the thing I’ve listed I’ve been guilty of violating at one time or another. It isn’t hypocrisy, it is learning through making mistakes.
No matter where you are coming from, or how long you have been doing it, the basics are the same. Be consistent, do good work, travel to interesting places and engage with your audience.
Keep doing that and eventually you will have success.