13 things I have learned about travel blogging in the last 16 months
I opened my blog, My Adventures Across the World, less than two years ago – in September 2014. Actually, that’s when I finally bought my own domain. In fact, I first started travel blogging on a free platform in March 2013, after a very eventful trip to Cuba. Back then, I wasn’t focusing on turning my blog into a career. I just wanted to rant about Cuba and perhaps write about my other travels. I had no intentions of abandoning my academic career yet.
Read more about my academic career in my post “How I went from being an academic to a travel blogger.”
I eventually bought my own domain because I had heard from someone that it would be easier to install Google Ads to get a passive income. Who doesn’t want an effortless, passive income? I surely did! I thought it would be an easy way to earn a little extra money to increase my meager tour leader paycheck and to add to my future travel consultant income.
Less than two years after buying my domain and less than 18 months after deciding to ditch my tour leading career (or any other career, for that matter) and start blogging full time, I haven’t installed Google Ads or any other affiliates yet, and I have come to the conclusion that travel blogging is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong: I love it and wouldn’t do anything else for a living, but this isn’t nearly as easy-peasy as I thought it would be.
Here are 13 things I have learned in my first 15 months of full time travel blogging.
13 things I have learned about travel blogging in the last 15 months
Travel blogging is a real job
Just because I don’t walk into an office every day and I don’t have fixed hours, that doesn’t mean blogging is not a real job. Sure, I am free to work whenever and wherever I want, but for most bloggers (including myself) this translates into anywhere and at any time (and all the time).
I actually have a strict working routine, where I average 10 hours per day (with peaks of up to 12 hours), sometimes even during weekends. I work much more now than I did in my previous jobs. What’s different now is that I actually really enjoy what I am doing, for as hard as it is.
Travel blogging is much more work than I thought
Before starting to blog full time I was under the impression that managing a travel blog would be fairly easy. I thought it was just a matter of writing something, placing some nice photos here and there, and hit the publish button.
I wish it were that easy. I know that a post doesn’t necessarily have to be a masterpiece, but I still like the idea of writing to the best of my abilities. Putting together a post takes me anything between a day and even a couple of weeks, depending on the topic and on how inspired I am. Once I have an idea in mind, I have to build the post in an appealing way, one that makes people want to read it. The language I use, the phrasing, and even seemingly silly things as the length of a paragraph all make a difference.
Once the post is written, I have to find the right pictures to go with it, edit them at least a little bit (I am no photographer), caption them and place them along the relevant text.
This is why I find it very frustrating when I get contacted by people who ask all sort of questions the answers to which can be easily found on my blog. It is rather annoying when they tell me that they don’t have time 10 minutes to read that post that took me well over two weeks to write!
In travel blogging, SEO is a must…
Search Engine Optimization (which bloggers refer to as SEO) is the most efficient way to make sure that traffic is driven to a post and to the blog. When I wrote my first post, I had not even heard of these words. I just thought that because I had written and published something, people would magically find it and read it. How naïve of me!
Eventually, a travel blogger who took pity on me explained the basic tricks of SEO so that I could optimize my posts and make them stand out in google searches. Using keywords, people may be able to find a post I have written and hopefully if they like it, they will come back for more.
This doesn’t mean that all my posts are optimized. Indeed, I still appreciate the act of writing in a more spontaneous way. And I think that readers do too.
…as well as social media
Travel blogging and social media go pretty much hand in hand. Most travel bloggers have accounts across the best known social media. Using social media smartly means showing the world that I am out there, driving traffic to the blog and growing an audience, something which isn’t necessarily easy thanks to the constant changes in the way social media work – posts aren’t necessarily shown to all followers.
I admit that I can hardly keep on top of things. I use social media persistently but I have no real strategy. I post regularly, I try to keep my audience engaged, I reply to comments and hope for the best.
Gone are the days in which I used Facebook to see what my friends around the world were doing, and Instagram to post selfies and pictures of my cats (ok, I still post the occasional picture of my cats, but I have never really posted any selfie!).
Although I am travel blogging, I still have to deal with people…
… and they are not necessarily nice.
One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy my previous jobs was that I had to deal with other people, which wasn’t always fun. In my previous working life I have had a number of backstabbing colleagues, who went as far as stealing my research. I’ve also had to work hard to please difficult customers – and often didn’t succeed.
Read more about the kind of people I dealt with as a tour leader on my post “11 persons I have met during a guided tour.”
Travel bloggers may not work in an office building, but that’s about the only difference with the rest of the job market: I still have colleagues (other bloggers) and anybody who requires my services – whether it is for a consultancy, for a writing job, or for a marketing campaign – is a customer.
The job environment isn’t different from any other: there’s gossip, there’s envy, there’s a good dose of competition, there’s some who aren’t nearly as professionals as they try to show and others who act as rockstars. And there is a lot of networking to do.
A few bloggers have become really good friends: I respect them, I admire them and they are a constant source of inspiration. The others are colleagues with whom I prefer to keep a strictly professional relationship. And there are some that I would rather not deal with.
Finding a travel blogging niche is harder than I thought
I blog about travel. But that is too wide a topic and I have been told many times by very successful bloggers that I need to find my own niche, become my own brand (whatever that means) and concentrate my efforts on that. They also said it wouldn’t be easy. How right they were!
The process of finding a travel blogging niche and of establishing myself as an authority in that is actually really hard and requires a lot of trial and effort. At the beginning, I thought I’d want to concentrate on budget backpacking. But I regularly blow my budget any time I travel, to the point that I concluded I am an unsuccessful backpacker. I need my niche to be something I am actually good at.
Find out why I think I am an unsuccessful backpacker on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”
Truth be told, I am still looking for my niche and I am still thinking of the best ways to brand myself. I have a few ideas in mind. Only time will tell if these ideas work, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Travel blogging press trips are hard work…
One of the perks of travel blogging is traveling for free. Or so I thought until I was invited on my first press trip to Indonesia. I concluded that there is not such thing as traveling for free – where by free I mean that I don’t have to do anything in exchange.
Participating in a press trip indeed means being employed to visit places and promote them on my blog and social media.
A typical press trip involves visiting a huge amount of places in a very limited time, as tourism boards generally try to maximize their budget. It means days of up to 16 hours, when I have to be concentrated on what I see all the time and can’t just opt out if I don’t feel like doing something. It implies traveling at an imposed rhythm, where I don’t get to just do what I want and like – I don’t even get to pick where I want to eat, or what I want to eat for that matter.
During press trips, as blogger I have to take notes, take (and edit) pictures and I am expected to post on social media, which means being constantly online. Once back, I must produce a minimum amount of posts within a specific time period. There is a contract, instructions, deadlines.
It is better (and definitely sounds more glamorous) than most jobs, but it is still a job. And a very tiring one too.
…but a lot of fun too
I would lie if I said that travel blogging press trips are boring. They are tiring, they are hard work and whenever I get back home after one I am so exhausted that I have to rest and do nothing for at least a day. But they are a lot of fun too. After all, I have always said that organized group tours don’t necessarily have to be bad, and press trips are a bit like group tours of like minded individuals.
Read what I think about group tours on my post “10 reasons to take a guided tour.”
On a recent press trip to the North of Spain, not only did I get to visit some amazing places, but a spirit of camaraderie developed, jokes were thrown all the time, and I feel like I have learned a lot from the other bloggers who took part in the trip.
Read more about the North of Spain on my post “Amazing places to visit in Spain.”
In travel blogging, integrity is everything – at least to me.
As a blogger, I am constantly thorn between my duty towards my readers and the need to keep the brands and tourism boards I work with happy, and to establish a reputation as a good blogger to work with.
What should I do if I am invited to use some services or to visit a place and my experience isn’t as good as I had hoped for? Should I write about it and be honest to my audience, or should I just omit this information and avoid any confrontation with the sponsors?
I thought really hard whether to write about a really bad experience I had on Mount Bromo, in Indonesia. I decided I should, because I felt I should warn other people who may be visiting and I did’t want to give a sugar coated version of my experience. I thought it would be a good way to give some constructive criticism too.
Read more about my experience on Mount Bromo on my post “Ring of Fire or Circle of Hell?”
Luckily enough, bad experiences are actually not so frequent and more often than not I find myself writing glowing reviews.
Travel blogging changed the way I travel
Traveling was way more spontaneous and definitely more relaxing before I started blogging. It was about enjoying my time at a destination and telling my friends and family about my experiences.
The “telling my friends and family” is now done on a different scale, where I actually write posts for the world (ok, perhaps not the world, but you get my point) to read. It makes me look at places in a different way. I ask more questions to the guides and I often take notes, as perhaps a good blog post will come from it. I even put much more efforts in taking good pictures – sometimes I actually feel like I am seeing a place from behind the lenses of a camera.
Before starting a blog and having multiple social media accounts connected to it, I didn’t care so much if I didn’t have internet when I traveled. In fact, it was refreshing to have a break from it. Now, I end up spending at least an hour every day posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And although I am not meant to really work, I end up checking my email, just in case some good business opportunity comes through.
There’s no such thing as easy money with travel blogging…
Whoever said that it is easy to make money blogging said a blatant lie, and I realized that fairly quickly. Friends who have been blogging for various years warned me that money would take a while to come and predicted that I wouldn’t be making a dime for at least a year or a year and a half.
It took me months of hard work to make my first $100 USD through my blog. 15 months after having started taking this seriously, I still struggle but little by little it is getting better. Some months I get little or no interesting offers; others I am overwhelmed with requests and I accept them all, knowing that the following months business may be slow.
…and there is not just one, established way to make money with travel blogging
Different travel bloggers find different ways to make money. Some have established their own tour companies whereas other offer their consultancies; some work with sponsors and others make money through a variety of writing jobs.
Most bloggers also place affiliate links on their blogs, something which requires a careful study of the audience’ interests. Funny enough, placing affiliate links was the main reason I had for buying my own domain and I haven’t had time to consider doing that yet.
What I have learnt in these 15 months of full time blogging is that a blog is generally just a platform, a way to showcase a number of services. It just takes a while to decide which is the most viable way to earn a living through a blog, and this is something completely personal: what works for one, may not work for the other.
In case anybody is wondering, I am still exploring the various ways I have to earn money though my blog.
When travel blogging, it’s good to have haters
I know some (usually female) very successful bloggers who are swamped with hateful comments which are full of disturbing messages, and that can be really hurtful. I was actually happy when I got my first hate comment. I figured hatred comes from envy, and if someone envies me it is because I am slowly becoming more successful. Something to celebrate!
Sure enough, I didn’t expect travel blogging to be such hard work. Yet, I love what I am doing and every day I wake up with a big smile on my face, looking forward to a long day at work.
What are your thoughts on travel blogging?