50 Travel Blogging Tips
From Our First 5 Years
It’s hard to believe it was five years ago today that we first hit “publish” and introduced Green Global Travel to the world. It’s even harder to believe that this crazy dream of ours has led us to more amazing places than we ever imagined, both literally and figuratively.
Starting this site in 2010 was a HUGE leap of faith in pursuit of our mutual passions. We’d never read a single travel blog. But we had both managed businesses (me as a newspaper and magazine editor, Mary as a Client Services manager at an industrial psychology company), and I had 15 years as a journalist under my belt. So we jumped in, and figured out how to fly on the way down.
Following our business instincts, we made a lot of smart choices, a few dumb mistakes (see: starting out on the Joomla platform rather than WordPress), and learned an awful lot along the way. Here, we share 50 of our best Travel Blogging Tips from our first five years…
1) If you’re in it for the long-term, start with your passion. Chronicling a RTW trip is fine, but your blog needs to focus on something you’ll want to write about for the foreseeable future. The more unique your focus within your chosen niche, the better your chance of standing out.
2) Anybody can start a travel blog, but it takes a lot of work to launch a business. Taking time to formulate a solid business plan will save you a lot of headache and hassles later on. It doesn’t need to have a formal structure, but outlining your goals and concrete steps towards achieving them gives you a great roadmap for the future.
3) It used to be enough to have a blogging niche, but the field has grown so crowded these days that you also need to build a solid brand. Make sure your blog’s name, logo, design, mission statement and content work together to define your brand, or others will define it for you.
4) Be careful not to box yourself into a corner. We all know budget backpackers who later wanted to write about luxury travel, or solo travelers who later wanted to travel as a couple or family. When planning out your brand strategy, think long-term.
5) Quitting your job to travel the world sounds great, but don’t expect to make much (if any) money in the first few years. If you don’t have a ton of savings, maintain another source of income to give your blog time to grow.
6) Put your readers and the story first. Advertisers or sponsors are great, but building a strong community of people who are actively interested in your work is what will keep the advertisers and sponsors coming back to work with you. Focus on strengthening your storytelling by honing your journalism skills, and your brand will inevitably benefit.
7) It’s important to study what successful bloggers have done before. But this business is constantly changing, and it’s often innovators rather than imitators who get ahead.
8) Nobody does EVERYTHING well. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, and consider paying others to do the work you either can’t do or don’t like to do. We suck at web design and the technical side of running a site, so we hire others to do it for us.
9) When you make mistakes (and everyone does), don’t let your failures get you down. Look for the learning opportunities in every bad situation.
10) Don’t be afraid to reach out to others to ask for help. Not every blogger will respond positively, but those who do give you travel blogging tips (such as Dave and Deb from The Planet D and Caz and Craig from yTravel Blog did for us) will become friends for life.
11) Pay it forward. One of the reasons we started the Business of Blogging Facebook page back in 2012 was that we saw veterans getting snarky with newbies who asked for travel blogging tips. Sharing knowledge and sharing stories from other bloggers who fit your brand establishes good karma, makes you a content curator and helps build a stronger travel blogging industry. As it grows, all truly professional travel bloggers benefit, and there’s plenty of work/money to go around.
12) Don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. There will ALWAYS be someone whose brand seems bigger, better and more successful than yours. Focus on building the best blogging brand you can build, and success will come in time.
13) Never, ever, ever stop learning. Read articles about skill sets you want to master, take online courses, go to conferences and workshops to improve yourself. Education, dedication and persistence are the keys to growth and success.
14) Establish yourself as an expert in at least one thing. Whether it’s storytelling, photography, branding, SEO, social media management, building/managing websites or whatever, true expertise is valuable to the travel industry.
15) Don’t focus on numbers. Everybody does it in the beginning, but it’s a distraction from what really matters, especially in the early stages. Focus on quality first, and then learn how to use the tools of the trade mentioned above to help get your message to the masses. The numbers will come over time.
16) Listen to all the advice that comes your way, but know when to ignore it completely. People can only tell you what works in their experience, not yours. You have to find your own path and define what success looks like for you.
17) Stop using the word FREE. If you are getting a comped press trip, tour, product or what have you, there is an expectation of something in return. Call it a barter, an exchange, a trade of goods and services, but THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE.
18) Don’t be a diva. Just don’t. Nobody likes it, it makes you look like an asshat, and believe me when I tell you that word in both the blogging and PR industries travels fast.
19) Traveling the world is an amazing thing, but it’s not the only thing. We’ve seen a lot of full-time nomads get burned out and yearn to settle down over the years. Finding balance is important if you want your blog to be sustainable long-term.
20) Remember that you have family and friends back home who aren’t getting to go along on this magical journey with you. It’s great to make new friends in the blogging community, but keep the old. One is silver, but the other’s gold. Your friends and family will help keep you grounded when the blogging life makes you crazy… and it will!
21) Travel blogging can be a lonely life, so it’s important to find your tribe and be part of a supportive community. Facebook groups like We Travel We Blog and The Business of Blogging are a great place to start, but small mastermind groups also work well.
22) Attend travel industry conferences. They’re a great place to connect with your community face to face, creating stronger personal bonds than you get via computer screen and establishing new business connections in the process. We can’t recommend them enough.
23) The more you succeed, the more haters you’ll attract. It’s important to remember that their hate is never about you, but about whatever is going on with them– jealousy, feelings of inadequacy, whatever. It’s important to understand it, but that doesn’t excuse it.
24) Your brand– your site, your social media channels, etc– are yours. Constructive criticism is one thing, but don’t let trolls and haters be abusive or disrespectful of you or your brand on your turf.
25) Blogging makes you a public figure, and everything you do online or in person is basically in the public domain. Conduct yourself accordingly, or risk being viewed as the Lindsey Lohan or Kim Kardashian of the blogging world.
26) If you want to be a professional travel blogger, professionalism is everything. Don’t just take our word for it: In our survey of 200+ DMOs and Tour Operators, Professionalism was second only to Content Quality among key factors they look for in bloggers they want to work with.
27) Under-promise and over-deliver. There’s never, ever been a client who complained about getting too much return on their investment.
28) Don’t be afraid to work for less than you deserve if you think it can lead to bigger business opportunities down the road. In 2013, we let a tour operator we traveled with use some of our video to pitch a show to Travel Channel for “free.” Last year they hired our company to create all of their digital media content– a contract bigger than our entire 2013 income.
29) There are a million different ways to monetize a blog, and the “best” way to do it is an entirely personal decision. But it’s important to understand which work short-term vs. long-term before deciding which is best for your brand.
30) If there’s money involved, get all the terms in writing. Always. It doesn’t have to be a formal contract, but an email confirming terms is always a good idea to avoid miscommunication of expectations on both sides of the equation.
31) Be interesting! Whether it’s taking the polar plunge in Antarctica, climbing a glacier in Norway, finding a secret trail in Petra, or trekking to see gorillas in Rwanda, readers want to live vicariously through you. The more interesting you are, the more they’ll want to share your stuff.
32) Speaking of sharing, you need to learn how to use social media effectively. No matter how great your writing or photography may be, nobody will see it if you don’t learn how to promote it properly. Here again, it’s important to figure out which channels work best for your brand and your readers.
33) Teamwork makes the dream work. Every successful professional travel blogger we know has some sort of help, whether it’s a team of interns, virtual assistants, staff writers, PR reps or talent agents. When we started using interns to help us manage our social media channels in 2012, our blog’s growth quadrupled in six months.
34) Start building a newsletter subscriber list asap. Even if you don’t actually have a newsletter yet, building a list gives you a direct way to contact your readers and drive traffic to your site. By the time we started doing a semi-regular newsletter, we already had over 2,000 subscribers.
35) Start building a list of other industry contacts asap. Before we even launched GGT, we started assembling a spreadsheet of contact info for travel industry brands we wanted to work with, including hotels, airlines, tour operators, DMOs and PR agencies. Now, we have well over 2,000 companies on that list.
36) Create a solid media kit and make sure it’s easy to find on your site. The basics should include some background on you and your site, your stats, major media outlets you’ve been featured in, professional associations you’re a member of, major brands you’ve worked with, and the best way to contact you. Make it easy for companies to find the info they need.
37) Do freelance work and/or guest posting outside of your site. Guest posting can be a key strategy for building good links to your site, and freelancing exposes you and your brand to a much broader audience. Freelancing also allows you to provide a greater ROI for destinations you work with, so include any regular outlets you may have in your media kit.
38) Network outside of the travel blogging sphere. The longer you spend in this business, the more you realize how insular it can be. A lot of our success has come from building a solid reputation within the ecotourism, environmental conservation and business fields. This helps expand your audience and provide a more diverse array of potential business opportunities.
39) Be impeccable with your word. Too many bloggers refuse to write anything negative for fear that they won’t get invited on the next press trip, or brands won’t want to work with them if they write a bad review of a product. This goes back to putting readers first: We believe it’s our job as professional travel bloggers to help them make smart choices. When you tell the truth, readers trust you. And when readers trust you, brands WILL want to work with you.
40) Learn the power of saying no. When your blog succeeds, you’ll get more offers than you can imagine. Press trip offers, sponsored post offers, affiliate sales offers, brand ambassador offers… The older and more respected your site gets, the more relentless the deluge of opportunities. It’s fine to negotiate if you think the offer is good for your brand, but it’s important to know your worth and be prepared to walk away if it’s not a good fit.
41) Learn to deal with rejection. No matter how high-traffic or respected your site is, there will always be brands who either say no outright or try to low-ball you to work for less than you deserve. Don’t take it personally: It’s just business.
42) Refine and re-define your vision. As a relatively new field, blogging is in a crazy state of constant growth and evolution. It’s important to maintain a clear vision of your brand identity and objectives, because every decision you make is either a deposit in or a withdrawal from the account of trust you build with your audience. Check in with your original mission statement from time to time, and use it as a blueprint for how to steer the ship.
43) Practice the fine arts of the pitch and publicity. Most travel bloggers cannot afford to hire their own PR team (although some have!). But, to quote Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Whether you’re seeking a freelance writing assignment, a press trip or a sponsorship, writing a strong pitch is vital to success. And learning how to write a press release and work with the media can help ensure that more people are pitching YOU.
44) Focus on fundamentals. Becoming a career professional in any creative field is a bit like being a professional athlete. They may not be sexy or glamorous, but it’s the seemingly little things– storytelling, SEO, social media strategy, guest posting– that gradually add up over time to create a BIG success story. Don’t let yourself become complacent and rest on your laurels: Challenge yourself to constantly improve your craft in small ways.
45) Work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Some people think travel blogging is one endless vacation, but anyone who tells you that is selling snake oil. Success in professional travel blogging takes hard work, long hours and relentless dedication to building something. The beauty is that, because you’re working for yourself rather than someone else, it’s all the more rewarding when you reap the benefits of all that hard work.
46) Invest in your brand. Serious bloggers invest $$$ in their businesses. We spent $1000 on our original design in 2010, and will spend even more on a re-design next year. Due to traffic volume, our web hosting costs over $100/month and tech support another $60. We spend money to advertise on Facebook, pay people to help out with social media, pay our staff writers… it all adds up. But the old business adage is true: you have to spend money to make money.
47) Step away from the computer/tablet/smartphone. As bloggers, it’s our job to document nearly every moment of our travels. But the key word there is NEARLY. This job can be all-consuming, and it’s important to remember the reason we fell in love with travel in the first place. Take time to savor the moments that make each destination so unique: it will not only make the story better, it will make you a better person for it.
48) Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. You will never have time to write all the stories you want to write or take all the trips you want to take. You will never be able to take advantage of all the great opportunities that come your way. Stuff will inevitably fall through the cracks. And if you try to constantly juggle everything, you may be one of the cracks that falls through. Learn to improvise and prioritize what’s really important to you, which may change over time as your business grows and evolves.
49) Be grateful. If your blog is successful enough that you can travel the world, you’re among the planet’s most privileged people. Take pride in that, but also let your gratitude for your good fortune guide you. We’ve had doctors, lawyers and even celebrities tell us how much they envied our life. But for those blessings we’ve received, we feel a great responsibility to give back to the world many times over.
50) Don’t give up! You can do this. It just takes time. –Bret Love
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