When I started blogging, in 2008, I inadvertently joined a world that I was completely unaware of and unprepared for. What started as a way to talk about my life in NYC with my then toddlers and tween, while also sharing what there was to do here when you visit – specifically targeting my family out-of-state – turned into a step into a digital world I never even knew existed.
I confess, I hadn’t really read a blog. I didn’t know the key players, I didn’t understand this ever-changing landscape, and I wasn’t really sure what to do. All I had in my pocket were the years of working in public relations, an industry which itself hadn’t really caught up with blogging either, and a lot of sudden noise online.
I did so many things wrong. I accepted tons and tons of packages from tons and tons of agencies who asked me to review and write about them. I went to cocktail parties and brand-sponsored lunches and other events. Being in NYC also meant that I could go to an event every single day if I wanted to. I paid babysitters to attend these non-paid events where I was expected to tweet (Instagram wasn’t a thing back then, nor was Facebook really all that popular for this) and promote destinations I would probably never visit.
I had already written about vacations that I had gone on with my family and paid for myself, and learned quickly enough to understand that I needed to view them from a perspective that would interest a travel consumer. It would turn out that my professional background would be my saving grace in growing quickly in the space. But it didn’t protect me from making a lot of mistakes, from writing horrible blog posts full of crappy product reviews or recaps of sponsored events, or from letting the mean bloggers affect me.
I would go to conferences where there were communities and bloggers who already knew each other and were well-connected. It was, more often than not, like going to a new school again and trying to fit in – something I did often growing up and didn’t really enjoy. I felt really vulnerable – a more established travel blogger once made me cry – and so incredibly confused and insecure about my path.
Anyone who knows me, especially anyone who is my close friend or family, would find this image of me crying in a corner in a bathroom, or feeling vulnerable or clueless, unimaginable because it isn’t at all who I am. In life, I am a fighter. I push myself into uncomfortable situations that scare me simply because I hate feeling uncomfortable or scared. I am an advocate, a protector, and a loud mouth when it is needed – and maybe even sometimes when it isn’t. I never walk away from a bully and I don’t tolerate cruelty, even when it is not directed at me. I don’t really care about people’s opinions of me, but I do care about being considerate and kind, and though I don’t always succeed, I always try.
I hated that “newbie blogger” side of me. That vulnerable, insecure, and clueless side of me. But there was no way to avoid her. I was entering a new space. I was only just learning and this process, as much as I hated it, is inevitable for all of us. What makes it worse? The people who devalue you because of what you don’t know, because of what you haven’t learned or done, and because being new must mean you don’t have all that much to offer.
It’s been almost 10 years since then and I have long found my voice. I am deeply grounded in who I am and I know exactly what I want and how to get it. I don’t leave my kids behind – in fact, I rarely go anywhere – unless I see a true potential for growth not just for the brand, but for myself. I have transformed my brand many times over as I have grown with it. A lot has happened, and it’s been an incredible life changer.
I remember my journey clearly. But most importantly, I remember my heroes. The people who gave me a chance, those who took me under their wing, who mentored me, and supported me, who gave me real opportunities and work.
A lot of those people I met at events and conferences. While more established bloggers ignored me or gave me the cold shoulder and wouldn’t invite me to their fun, I used the lack of distraction and free time to have conversations with the brands and agency representatives who helped to grow my career. It’s how I was awarded Residence Mom of The Year in 2012 by Laura Davidson PR. How I locked down a partnership with Volkswagon for my very first cross-country road trip with my family. How I got to eventually speak at conferences such as Type A Parent and BlogHer and Blogalicious (where I was also recruited as their official photographer for 2 years in a row), and sit in professional panels for the Public Relations Society of America and in agency conference rooms throughout NYC. In time, I was published in magazines and other websites, and doing interviews both online and off, and receiving accolades from my peers and industry professionals.
I also found my people and created my online family.
But I had to start somewhere and it wasn’t easy or comfortable, and people weren’t always kind.
Being new today
Back in the day, a lot of bloggers were moms who were home and were looking for a creative outlet, a community, and even a source of income without much knowledge of any of this (like myself). In the travel space, there were a lot of younger people who had just finished college, or left their jobs and were looking for a way to continue to travel for free and maybe make a little money. Few bloggers actually had solidified a career before starting out. There were a handful who had, but they were more the exception and this added experience and story made them not only more interesting, but also skilled in many more ways, especially if their former profession was in television production, journalism, or tech.
This lack of experience isn’t as prevalent today. Sure, there are still those who are just starting to live as adults and looking for an income generator to travel, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but in talking to newer bloggers, an opportunity I have a lot, I have found that many more are not only a bit older than the ones that I noticed almost 10 years ago, but ready. Not only are they coming in with a solid career already in their pocket, with more disposable income, but also with the advantages of the information, resources, and education that we, the “older bloggers”, have put out for them.
It would be easy to dismiss them as lowly newbie bloggers, in the same way that traditional journalists dismissed us when we first started. But that is not only tone-deaf, it is also unwise.
Industry professionals are moving beyond the status of “celebrity blogger” and whomever has the most following, and focusing on quality, professionalism, and a combination of different skill regardless of the numbers. They are looking for the skills, without the ego, and though getting paid is still a battle for many bloggers, more often than not, if there is a budget the idea that it will be exclusive to the famous blogger is not a standard rule anymore.
They are also looking for new faces and voices and a lot of these bloggers don’t have the obstacles or the lack of confidence that I did when I first started. Sure, they have a lot to learn about the space and being “in it”, but they are quick learners and not as prone to the mistakes that many of us were 10 years ago.
Being a newbie today is not like being a newbie a few years ago, I especially saw that during my most recent attendance to TBEX Alabama. These bloggers are sharp. They are focused and organized. They are already professionals looking for a new career. Many of them are older, and even the younger ones seem more grounded and sure of themselves. I was truly in awe. I have been seeing this change in my travels, at gatherings, but it really was obvious to me at the conference. Maybe because the contrast from the crowd at my first TBEX was so drastically different from the crowd today. For some, this influx of newbies is beneath them. They rather spend their time around those whom they view as equals or as the only ones that can learn anything from. I spend a lot of time listening to new bloggers and I often walk away learning something new – maybe not in blogging, but in something more. To me, that is exciting and intriguing and makes for a far more interesting evening than a bunch of people who have no other conversational skills beyond their next trip or last one.
What does this all mean?
There’s an air of elitism and arrogance coming from those who have been in it longer. A tendency to put down and dismiss, to belittle and negate talent. There are those who have no interest in engaging, who roll their eyes when someone outside of their pro circle takes the mic or the stage. Then there are those of us who are excited to see this new level of talent in our space. We are eager to help them go beyond the travel lists and superficial stories of travel. I spent 3 days encouraging new bloggers to speak their truth, to find their voice, to ignore the haters, and to incorporate their already set skill sets into their travel work. I believe that they are the future, and that with our help, they will only further legitimize and add value to our industry.
I have met my share of journalists who dismissed what blogging was, what it was capable of, and the potential of those charting the way. Most of those journalists didn’t make it, and the ones who have are the ones who opened themselves up to new knowledge, new insights, and a fresh perspective. That is what I feel many new bloggers offer me.
If more experienced bloggers fall asleep behind their ego and false ideals they will be no better off than the journalist who felt we newcomers had nothing to teach them. Not only because these new bloggers don’t need them to succeed – because they will regardless – but because if these bloggers aren’t here to help, then there is no need for them to be here at all.
I love travel blogging. It has changed my life and that of my family. It is not my identity. It is not my only passion, skill, or interest. I have a fuller life in addition to this work. Maybe that helps to see the potential in new bloggers, as opposed to being threatened by them.
I have no intention of leaving the space, but I want to work to make sure that if I do, I contribute to leaving something better behind. I had mentors and guidance and friendship and support and those who believed in me. I want to be that for someone else too.
We pride ourselves as being sharers of stories that serve to open eyes, inform, and inspire. If that is limited to our blog posts and to a few who we consider worthy, than why are we even here? Why would we even matter? So we have a popular blog or are on the lips of every travel blogger or are affiliated to a large brand. So effing what. One day someone better will come along, and if you choose to look down on them when they first come in you will find yourself left behind when they make it. They might not all make it, but some of them will, a very many of them than when I started, and then what will you have to show for it? How will you be remembered?
So, what this all means is simple. If we want to all benefit from a better industry, with more professional standards, that is valued, paid, and paid well, that is full of skills and knowledge and creativity then those of us in it need to step up and help those coming in to make it so.
It means that instead of being nothing but negative noise that contributes nothing, we become mentors and listeners and inspire and teach and motivate and guide. It means being valuable to our industry and those looking for our support.
So, if you are a “newbie blogger”, congratulations. You’ve come at a great time. Go to conferences and events, and network and get on those press trips and groups. But ignore the haters – most of mine didn’t even make it this far – and follow your goal. You will face rejection and trip a few times. We all have. We often still do.
And if you are an “older blogger”, step up and represent us and our industry well. Humble yourself and offer compassion and knowledge beyond your blogs. Be a mentor to somebody. Mean something to someone. Get out of your circle and do something more. Not to mention those “new”, “fresh”, “inexperienced” bloggers are the ones who will buy your books, pay for your tutorials, subscribe to your newsletters, and buy tickets to see you speak anywhere.
I am not by any means the most famous blogger, nor the most successful in blogging – though right now, I am feeling pretty darn successful in life, and a lot of that has come from the lessons I learned about myself through the travels and experiences that blogging and those whom have supported me have offered.
I can’t help everyone, and I don’t know everything, but I am really looking forward to continuing my efforts and try. Otherwise, it becomes all about me, and that is a pretty boring life.
Good luck, newbie. You’ve got this.