“What do you do?”
“I’m a travel blogger.”
“Wow! Must be nice! What a great gig!”
“Yes. Yes, it is. I’m very grateful.”
Ok, that last response is one that I have mastered over the past few months. In truth, I didn’t know what to respond when presented with the whole “it must be nice” “what a great job” thing.
But I have learned over time that I am more appreciative of the fact that people acknowledge it as a job, and not a hobby, and though the tone still remains an indication that they believe that what I do is “fluff”, my confidence is unwavering.
“Oh, I want to be a travel blogger and get all those nice free trips too!”
That one? Well, that one is a bit nerving to me because it is a false impression on travel blogging, and blogging in general, that irks me.
I am not one to discourage anyone from being anything they want to be, and if inspiring others to travel and take on adventures is something you want to do, than I am more than delighted because I believe that one way to improve human relations, increase confidence and self-esteem, and develop a better understanding of the world is through travel. The more of us who can encourage others to get out there, the merrier. But, before you send out a pitch for that “free trip” and take on the travel blogging career, let me give you a few pointers.
It’s Awesome, But It Ain’t Free
I won’t be a jerk and try to pretend that a lot of my trips aren’t wonderful, and deny that being invited and hosted made it possible for me to go to places that would have required some time for me to get to because of the expense involved. But these trips aren’t free and they are not vacations – at least not for me, even when I am with my family. They are material for content on my blog, for which I don’t get paid. They are potential material for other publications that might pay me beyond just exposure, and they are a source of knowledge that I gain in the field which leads to paid contracts. But free they are not and you should never accept or pitch a destination you have no intention on considering for a write up. Do your research before you pitch…and even before you accept an invitation. If there isn’t a potential story there, or it doesn’t fit your blog or reader demographic, don’t go. Tweets, Facebook statuses and Instagrams are nice, but it’s not travel blogging. Be willing to do the work or stay home. Be willing to work hard for your story beyond the set itinerary and press releases.
It’s Not About You
As much as my readers are expecting to be informed on destinations and other travel related information, my hosts are expecting that whatever I decide to write about them is accurate, well-informed and presented in a professional manner. Notice I said “professional manner” and not “positively”. We can’t all have the best experience all the time, and we don’t. I might not get the softest pillow on my bed, or my steak might have not been cooked to my liking, and maybe I realized halfway into the trip that I really hate cruising, but it’s not about me. I am blogging to a diverse group of people, some of which love their steak well-done, and love cruising and prefer stiff pillows on their beds. Though we write from our experiences, we owe it to our readers and to our hosts to be as fair as we can and to step out of ourselves and take the traveler into consideration. There is an expectation of behavior, of professionalism, and of deliverable, not only from my host but from my readers and followers – because those who read and follow me aren’t just doing so to hear me go on and on about what a great time I had, they want me to tell them how they can have a great time too. Be willing to look outside of yourself and keep an open-mind when sharing your experiences, never forgetting who you are writing to.
It’s A Business Investment
I’m going to touch on a subject here which many of my peers will disagree with me on: when I am invited to travel to highlight a family program or destination feature, I pay for my family to travel with me and I have no problem with that. Truth is, there’s this growing belief that in order to feature a “family” piece, my family has to be with me and the cost of them being there has to be fully covered by my host.
Reality is almost never in the history of journalism has there been a case where editors, publications, or destinations pay for the writer’s entire family to travel with them so that the writer can communicate a family travel experience to their readers.
Because we as bloggers rely so heavily on personal experiences, it is a bonus to actually see how our children react to certain programs, activities, destinations, etc., but let’s be honest: we know our children and most of the time, can identify what most families would enjoy or not, what might be considered to be expensive or inconvenient, what most traveling families would appreciate, what they would miss, and if we can’t and we want to really tell that story, than we need to commit to the investment in our brand to deliver it. I have been able to successfully provide families with tips and information on family-friendly destinations without my children in tow. I am not dishonest about it, nor misleading in my recounting of what I have seen. I know my children, my family, and as a parent of three in varying ages, I am pretty aware of what would work or not…and if I am not, then I won’t comment on it – but I won’t walk away without a good story either.
When I want to tell my children’s story, I pay for all five of us to be there. My brand is worth the money I put into it. When I don’t take my children with me, I pay in babysitting costs. There have been times when I have turned down trips because I want my family with me and I can’t afford for them to go. Either way, with my kids or not, I am putting money into my business. If the hosts really wants us there, and I have shown that I am worth the investment, then we are all picked up – but this rarely happens.
We are a middle-class family, not wealthy by any means. All my funds from freelancing work with brands helps to pay for the costs related to my travels. We don’t own a house and drive a used car, and we live off a monthly budget and shop on sale. But these are the choices we make because of our commitment to travel and to invest in this business. Be willing to invest on your business and brand and be willing to invest on your story.
Not Everyone Will Succeed
There, I said it. Not everyone is a good travel blogger. Not everyone can tell the story in a way that inspires or motivates others. Not everyone knows how to write a balanced review. Not everyone travels well in press junkets, or knows how to behave professionally or knows how to balance their blog/writing with marketing strategies via social media. Not everyone knows how to work with brands or agencies. Not everyone knows how to take great pictures, which matter a lot in this niche. And not everyone can afford to invest the time and money it takes to attain the content needed to sustain a travel blog.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t try if that is what you want. But there is a certain level of crazy passion required and a lot of sacrifice of time and money required. I also have the added benefit of a husband who is hands on and is just as committed to the success and growth of my work and brand. It would be much harder without his support and help. It’s as real as I can get with you on this.
It’s also a very competitive space with very little pay, and even some of the most well-known travel publications don’t pay their writers or bloggers. There are a lot of really popular travel blogs that are not all that great out there, or with not-so nice people behind them, while there are many more really incredible blogs that are unrecognized and have really passionate bloggers behind them. There are more chances than not that you will spend a lot of your time being the talented travel blogger with awesome heart that nobody ever heard of. Be aware of what it takes so that you are not discouraged in the process.
Everyone Says You’re Awesome – Don’t Believe The Hype
The biggest problem with bloggers in general is that once people start telling them they are awesome, they loose sight of why it was they started blogging in the first place. Their heads get swollen, their egos get big, they become entitled and impossible to work with. My advice? Be gracious and grateful for any recognition you may receive, but don’t believe you’ve arrived. Because the road to greatness in life should never have an ending point. We should always strive to be better than what others believe us to be and we should never forget to stay grounded. For every one person telling you how fabulous you are, there are many, many more who have no idea who the hell you are – it’s called the “real” world outside of blogging.
I for one will admit that nothing I have achieved in this space I have achieved alone. Remain appreciative of the agencies and brands who invested in you to come to their hotel, restaurant, destination. You cost their client money, prove to them that you are worth it – don’t tell them you are. And be kind to fellow bloggers, they can become your closest friends and most loyal supporters. Don’t use or take advantage of them. It feels yucky and no one likes the aggressive blogger who stalks them for contacts, or steals their pictures, or lifts their quotes without permission.
Success in this space, no matter what your niche, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I have been motivated, guided, counseled, informed, encouraged, critiqued, mentored, referred, and helped by very many people along the way…and I am not anywhere close to being done. You don’t have to like everyone, not everyone deserves it – and you can’t make everyone like you either, don’t waste your time on them. But be kind and stay real. Be humble, be gracious, be grounded, be kind – you can’t do this on your own.
There are so many other elements to travel blogging, many which are easily learned along the way – I am still learning and I have been doing this for 4 years! But, I think these are important starting points to keep in mind. I hope they serve to help you and to understand what travel blogging entails.
I left a career in public relations and landed doing this with no real guide or intention, at least not at first. Support from my family, focus and love for what I do have been my greatest helpers in this career. I take what I do very seriously, and though it is the most fun I have had and I am the happiest I have ever been, it is my job and I put a lot of time and effort into it. If this is something you want to do, I encourage you to try. I hope you will keep my tips in mind and wish you much success.
To my readers – well, now you know! Thank you for your continued support and visits. I love what I do, I love sharing my stories with you, and most of all, I love hearing that they have inspired many of you to take on adventures of your own!