Sunday, August 31st, 2014

The Reality of Being a Professional Travel Blogger

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Becoming a professional travel blogger has been a dream come true for me in so many ways.  I’ve found a way to get paid for my favorite hobby, and do so while following my dream of traveling the world.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life.  Six weeks ago, I was invited on a monthlong press trip to Australia — and had to turn it down, as I had prior commitments.  Until recently, never in my life did I believe that I would be offered a free monthlong trip to Australia out of the blue, much less turn one down!

Not surprisingly, people ask me all the time how they can do what I do.  The short answer I give them is that travel blogging requires a tremendous amount of work, as well as a tremendous investment of time and effort before you begin to see any benefits.

How to Start a Travel Blog

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There are a number of posts about travel blogging telling people that if they can dream it, they can do it!  While encouragement is nice, many of these posts are short on reality.

The truth?  Almost all of you who start travel blogging with the hopes of doing it full-time will have given up a year from now.

Having been a blogger for ten years, a travel blogger for two years, and a full-time, professional travel blogger for a year and a half now, I’ve put together a list about the reality of this career.

Note: The following list is about being a professional travel blogger — not necessarily someone who makes his or her income online and also happens to be a travel blogger, nor someone who uses travel blogs primarily as link farms.

The Reality of Being a Professional Travel Blogger

You will work harder than you ever have in your entire life.

If you dream of having a four-hour workweek, this is not the career for you.  Look into passive income.  Don’t become a professional travel blogger.

It might seem like I do little more than write posts.  That’s just a small part of it.  The rest is spent responding to potential advertisers, reaching out to would-be advertisers, editing photos, editing videos, assembling promotional materials, pitching travel and tourism contacts, writing for other sites, Facebook group networking, tweaking site design, tracking financials, link building, doing keyword research, reading other travel blogs, and maintaining a presence on social media.  To start.

When you’re a travel blogger, the work is never done.  There is always something else that you could be doing, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Your travel blog is your life.

You will not succeed at travel blogging unless you produce content prolifically – at least at first.  This means that you will need to work at least a few hours each day.  Working this much means that you will be miserable unless you genuinely love it.

I don’t love everything I do as a blogger, and I’m not always in the mood to do the things I do enjoy – but as a whole, this is something that I love.  I love the work.  I love the people.  I love the conferences and events, and I love the seminars that teach me more about this field.  Travel blogging exhilarates me, and that’s what keeps me going.

This translates into a bit of workaholism, and it’s hard for other people to understand this, especially my family and friends.  When your career and passion are the same thing, you need to point out — often with frequency — just how necessary it is for you to work all the time.

You won’t make money for a long time.

The general rule is that you shouldn’t expect money for the first year.  Most advertisers, whether they be link agencies or travel companies, won’t work with a site less than one year old.  Why not?  You haven’t proven yourself as an investment yet.

While there are exceptions – I began making money about six months in – you should be prepared to not make anything for the first year.  What’s nice is that it weeds out the people who aren’t serious.

The money ebbs and flows.

Entrepreneurs and freelancers of all kinds will be able to relate to this point – most of the time, it’s either feast or famine.  I have some steady contracts with advertisers, but most of the money is not made regularly.  Either I’m making far more than I need or I’m not making nearly enough.

Those lean times are scary.  It’s important to have savings and diversify your income as much as possible, but even more important is asking yourself whether you’re prepared to handle the emotional roller-coaster that is entrepreneurship.

It’s nearly impossible to make a living from one site alone.

Yes, some people are able to make a full-time income from one site – but they are in a very small minority.

No matter how you make your money, chances are that you will be part of the 98% that needs multiple sites in order to make a living, rather than the 2% who can get by with one.

Living cheaply abroad may be necessary.

For most professional travel bloggers, it takes a long time to earn an income that would be enough to live on in North America or Western Europe.  Many make the decision to live abroad in a cheap country for that reason.

One of the main reasons why so many travel bloggers live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is that you can live very well there for very cheap.  $800 a month could cover rent in a nice place, food, cable, internet, and most everything you would need for a month in Chiang Mai, plus a bit of travel within Thailand, too.

$800 a month, by contrast, is what I paid for half of a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Boston.

Being a great writer and a great blogger are two very different things.

Writing for the internet is different from any other kind of creative writing you’ve done before.  You’re writing to engage people with a short attention span who are reading your blog while being bombarded by major distractions like Facebook.

You could write exquisite, intricate, heartbreakingly beautiful prose that would win you awards in a long-form memoir or a collection of essays.  But when you use this kind of writing on a blog, you’ll likely end up with a few comments of, “Wow, you’re a great writer!” without the traffic to back it up.  It’s simply not engaging to most readers.

Take my favorite author – Lionel Shriver, who wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World.  I adore her exquisite writing, which makes me feel smarter just for having read it.  But if she wrote a blog in the style of her books, very few people would read it.

This is not to say that good writing isn’t appreciated.  There are quite a few travel bloggers who are talented storytellers  – Wes Nations and Lauren Juliff and Mike Sowden come to mind.  You need to write well, but in order to attract the masses, your writing needs to be digestible to casual readers.

You will never travel the same way again.

When you’re a professional travel blogger, you don’t get time off, which means you can never go completely off the grid.  Sometimes you can plan ahead by scheduling posts, tweets, and Facebook shares, but when travel blogging is your main form of income, you can’t step away from your email for long.

In San Antonio, Texas, my mom and sister went out for margaritas on the Riverwalk every night while I stayed in and worked.  In Hoi An, Vietnam, my friends had a blast at the My Son ruins, which I skipped because I needed to work.  In Sayulita, Mexico, the girls in my group went to a cooking demonstration that I really wanted to experience – but I couldn’t, because I had work to do.

I’m not complaining.  I think the trade-off is very fair.  And since I travel solo most of the time, it’s easy for me to travel slowly and build in extra days to be spent working.  It’s more difficult when I travel with others.

This spring, I’ll be taking my first vacation in more than two years.  And I can only do it because I’m hiring someone to run my site in my absence.

Press trips don’t pay the bills.

Press trips can be amazing.  I feel privileged to have worked with some fantastic tourism boards and travel companies that have chosen to invest in my site, and to have experienced some amazing destinations as a result.

But in nearly all instances, travel bloggers don’t make money for these trips.  In fact, we lose money because we’re losing time that could be spent working.

That’s not to say that they won’t pay off in the future for smart, resourceful travel bloggers who parlay their relationships with these companies into creative new opportunities.  But for the press trips themselves, you won’t earn money.

I actually believe that a few years from now, it will be standard practice to pay professional travel bloggers to attend press trips.  But that’s not the case just yet.

Doing it alone is a challenge in itself.

Running a business entirely by yourself is extremely challenging.  Everything, from the creative aspects to the business aspects, comes down to you, regardless of what your strengths and weaknesses may be.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re responsible for it all, and it’s a pile of never-ending work.

This is the double-edged sword of self-employment.  It’s wonderful not to have a boss anymore and to be able to work for your own interests — but can you trust yourself to do the work when someone isn’t imploring you to do so?

This effect is somewhat mitigated for multiple people running a travel blog together.  When you have two or more people working on one site, you’re able to get a lot more done – particularly if you play to each other’s strengths.  Consequently, you’ll need to earn a higher income to support more than one person.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that all the benefits of having two people go out the window if you have young children.)

The industry is evolving constantly.

While all industries are evolving, the travel blogging industry is zooming ahead at the speed of lightning.  It’s still a very new industry, even compared to other blogging industries like mommy blogging, fashion blogging, even food blogging.

People are still figuring out what to make of us.  Being a blogger doesn’t exactly sound like a potential career.  Most people have no clue that we can make money, let alone be valuable entities that can reach tens of thousands of readers each month.

If you’re going to become a professional travel blogger, you need to commit to networking constantly with other travel bloggers and reading everything you can about the industry.  If not, you’ll fall behind.

BUT – things are getting better all the time.  One thing that many travel bloggers are doing these days, myself included, is partnering with companies to do paid work in additional to working in exchange for travel.

You need to be one arrogant motherf*cker.

At times, it seems like the travel blogging community is a bastion of helpful support and group hugs.  And it is – I love that more experienced bloggers often pitch in to help newbie bloggers, or even each other when we’re stuck.

But we’re also competing with each other.  We compete for spots on press trips.  We compete for sponsorships and partnerships.  We compete for speaking gigs.  We compete for funding to be spent on us.

If you’re going to compete in this space, you need to be able to convince companies to invest in you.  And wooing companies requires different skills than wooing readers.

You need to approach companies with confidence and, after they tell you they’re considering working with a blog with double the pageviews, you need to be ready to smile and explain what makes you a better choice.  You need to do this with charm, and grace, and humor.

At the end of the day, people want to feel good about themselves.  Travel companies are run by people.  Your job is to make them think that working with you is the best damn decision they could make for themselves.

Can this be taught?  To a degree.  It’s a tough line to walk – being cocky but approachable, arrogant but polite, and supremely confident of the belief that no other blog can even approach yours when it comes to quality.

Modesty does you no favors here.

It’s for the love of blogging.

Your love of travel has very little to do with your ability to succeed as a travel blogger.  Sure, cool travel experiences lead to good potential content, but being a compelling blogger depends on what you do with that content.

Most of the successful travel bloggers I know became travel bloggers because they loved the act of blogging, and also loved blogging about travel.  The least successful ones are people who wanted to make money while traveling and thought blogging would be a way to do it.  Most people fall somewhere in between.

You are nothing without your readers.

Your readers are the single greatest asset you have.  Travel companies and tourism boards work with bloggers because they have devoted audiences who trust them.

The moment you take advantage of your audience, you are destroying your most precious asset.  What’s considered taking advantage of your readers?  It’s your call.  For me, it’s publishing anything that I myself wouldn’t want to read.

You have friends around the world.

This piece has been a bit of a downer, so let me end it on a nice note: travel bloggers are wonderful.  I’m very fortunate to count travel bloggers among my closest friends.

I love that I can travel almost anywhere in the world and have either a blogger or a reader say, “You want to meet up while you’re here?”  That’s amazing.  That’s a gift, and one that I hope I always treasure.

Being a professional travel blogger is not for everyone, and not for everyone who thinks they could handle it.  Before you take this step, you need to decide if you’re cut out for this career.

If you think you can hack it, here’s how to start a travel blog in six easy steps.

Comments

259 Responses to “The Reality of Being a Professional Travel Blogger”
  1. Great perspective, Kate! I like how you dissected the reality of travel blogging in a blunt, but still very engaging way. Very good writing. I totally love the “You need to be one arrogant motherf*cker.” part. Yes, we do have be our own salesperson sometimes to get what we want and get ahead.

  2. Vicky says:

    Thanks for the honesty Kate! Think I need to work on being an arrogant motherf*cker, but I’m sure there’s one inside me somewhere :)

  3. Thanks for the advice and info. I’m looking into breaking into the biz myself :)

  4. Tiffany says:

    I REALLY appreciate you taking the time to create this post. I just made my way into the self-employing business myself and starting realize just how much work it really is. I love reading all your travels so all that hard work definitely pays off for you so hope to one day get in the swing of things like you. Happy traveling!!

  5. Thanks for publishing such a direct and honest piece, which makes interesting reading.

    I particularly relate to what you say about writing for a travel blog as a distinct skill versus being a travel writer. This is something I am learning, slowly! Writing for the web is a very different beast and I find it takes time to break out of habits learned in creative or copywriting.

    Never switching off is another truism – but as you say, when you love what you do this much you don’t really consider it work and you’re happy to put the hours in. People think you are simply ‘living the dream’, but you obviously didn’t get where you without a huge amount of effort and dedication :-)

    Best,

    Jai

    • Thank you, Jai! Glad you can relate on the writing point. It goes the other way, too — if I were to write a more serious or literary book, I’d struggle breaking away from my blog voice.

  6. Lauren says:

    I love this post so much.

    I can’t even begin to describe how frustrated I get when friends of mine say, “Oh wow! You make money from writing about your travels? I could do that too! This sounds like such a viable way to make money while travelling!”

    It’s not! Seriously. It’s not.

    It takes an insane amount of time, work and dedication for much less of a payout than you would receive in a full-time job.

    But it’s completely worth it :)

    …And I am SO going to send this post to anyone I meet in the future who decides they’re going to be a full-time travel blogger because it’s “fun and easy”!

    • Zara from BackpackME says:

      Whenever your friends tell you “I could do that too!” just tell them to go ahead and prove it. It’s very easy to talk, right? :)

    • Lauren, YOU DO THAT! I’d appreciate it! Glad you liked the post.

      • The “It’s for the love of blogging” portion compelled me the most.
        Travel for me is the most satisfying thing to blog about as you’ve already been compensated before you even write anything. The trick then is to live in the moment and enjoy the experience instead of being in your head and behind a camera the whole time. BUT as you mentioned some people love documenting and they often make the best bloggers as they happily commit their time to make the content.
        To me its a perpetual motion machine. Writing encourages me to live out fascinating experiences which I enjoy. If people read that’s merely a bonus. I don’t think I could handle turning it into a job.
        Some people must think its a cinch as they’re updating there social media all the time but yes “YOU DO THAT” applies.

  7. Totally agree on all accounts. Especially the part about always working.

    I’m slightly different in that I lead tours, and not necessarily make a living from travel blogging, but the same applies!

    When I go to Italy for a month, I’m up before the sun and in bed long after midnight. Friends and family think I’m just off playing and on vacation. Nope! Researching restaurants, hotels, open/close times for museums, etc. Finding the best side of the street to walk on. The list never ends.

    Love what you do and hope to cross paths someday!

    • Mountain, I can relate to you so much on that point! Plenty of people think I do nothing more than party around the world (which, to be fair, I did quite a bit of in Asia, before the blog was as big as it is now).

      Good for you for researching Italy so thoroughly. I’m sure your tour attendees have a much better time because you do nitty-gritty research like this. What side of the street to walk on!! Crazy!

      PS — I’ll be in Assisi in a week if you’re around!

  8. John O'Nolan says:

    “You need to be one arrogant motherf*cker.” – *check*

  9. Kate, thanks for offering your honesty. Your inspiration is re-energizing. I couldn’t agree more, travel blogging IS a full-time job! But it’s the best gig ever!

  10. Nick R. says:

    Adventurous Kate!
    Great insight! I really admire and respect your direct pro/con run-down of the realities of travel blogging. It is definitely a fast emerging part of tourism. It is ideal for those (You) who have a tremendous passion for travel, patience, flexibility, and the diligence as you manage to meet so many interesting people along the way. I think the greatest value from your efforts will be how these inimitable experiences impact you, your colleagues, and supporters.

    Cheers & salud to more great travels!
    Nick Reiter

    • Thank you very much, Nick! We’re in a very exciting time right now for travel bloggers — one little move could crack this industry right open. And it could happen to any of us.

  11. Gerard ~ GQ trippin says:

    We’re glad we’re not making money from our blog. Helps keep the stress away. :) maybe tress will come back when travel funds run low…
    Travel in itself is enough work already!

  12. Wow!
    With all the work involved in travel blogging how do you ever get time to actually travel…adventurously?

  13. Amanda says:

    Try doing all of this AND attending grad school full-time…. then you have MY life! ;)

    But, like you, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I LOVE being a travel blogger, and so most of the hours that go into it don’t really feel much like work at all to me.

    • I don’t envy your schedule, Amanda. :-) I think you’ll be a full-time blogger by the time you finish grad school…just a hunch! In Thailand in November 2010, my friend Cody told me I’d be a digital nomad within a year. I didn’t believe him, but he was totally right.

  14. Great post, Kate! And the beautiful thing is so many of your insights can be applied to blogging and freelancing in general.

  15. Tyler Horton says:

    Great post Kate! I have been looking for some realistic insight for a long time, thanks alot! I have a blog of my travels that I enjoy writing but, not a true “Travel blog writer” I would love to step it up to the next level!

  16. Alexandra says:

    Thank you for this honest piece. I wish more bloggers would write with this kind of honesty. I’m curious if you run more than one site and how did you manage to make money so early on? Looking forward to meeting you in Umbria.

    Aloha

    • I look forward to meeting you too, Alexandra!

      I do run more than one site, but the others are mostly used for links. I’m not sure why so many advertisers approached me early on — it may have been because I grew very quickly and produced content prolifically, and they trusted that I would remain a good investment. It had nothing to do with Google PR, as I was ranked 2 for a year and a half before finally moving up to a 4.

  17. Great post, Kate, and very true.

    I started out blogging as a way to earn money. The thought process was something like: “Hey, I want to travel. How can I make a living on the road? Travel blogging? Okay, let’s do it!”

    Turns out it’s not that easy. I’ve yet to see a dime, but I love my blog. Sure, I get tired of the design, and I have a hard time inventing content, but I love being able to tell my stories and my viewpoints, and that’s what it is all about. As it stands, I am a freelance writer building a client base in order to fund my travels. The process goes something like this: Travel, write for a few days, travel some more. Pretty simple, all in all.

    I do hope to eventually reach a level of sustainability with my blog that will make money through passive income, but I’m not as impatient as I once was.

    • Hi, Patrick — thank you for sharing (which I appreciate as I said that people who start blogging to make money are the least successful ones I know!). It sounds like you’re being smart about it by using your blog as a portfolio.

      In my experience, it’s very difficult to turn a blog into passive income because the sites that do best at generating passive income (affiliate marketing and AdSense, for example) have landing pages with few exit paths. Blogs are covered with millions of links to cool stuff. You don’t want people to be distracted.

  18. Great post as always Kate. I have no desire to be a full time professional travel blogger, but there are plenty of goals that I have in place, and this was a good reminder of the cost of achieving them…

    • Thank you, DJ, and I always appreciate your comments. It’s great that you KNOW that you don’t want to be a full-time blogger! You don’t have to be full-time to be successful.

  19. Hey I’ve just started travel blogging a few weeks ago and to me it is something that I’m passionate about and can spend a lot of time doing without it feeling like work. My eyes hurting from staring at a computer screen and tiredness in the mornings usually are the price I pay. I haven’t made any money whatsoever YET, but hope to one day do just that.

    As for your tip on writing vs writing for a blog, I feel that’s totally true and I understand and appreciate that people with successful blogs are almost primarily photos, with little blurbs of txt interspersed here and there to make it interesting and engaging. 5-minute reads, numbered lists, it all seems very dumbed down, yet it’s important to realize we are on the internet. People with mobile phones for instance never spend more than a few minutes on one site, so it’s important to realize who you’re writing to and adapt.

    I could keep going, clearly I’m a long winded writer who likes clearly and thoroughly expressing my ideas, it’s one of the habits I need to break for many posts :)

    Thanks for writing, keep up the great work

    Christopher

    • Wes Nations says:

      I think long-winded pieces can still be successful — one of my longest posts is one of my most popular. But you still have to edit for the web. If something doesn’t support the main story, cut it — no matter how much you like it. (Save it in your notes and use it as an anecdote some other time). If something you’ve explained using 5 words can be shortened to 2, do it. You have to be pretty ruthless, unlike writing for print.

      A common wisdom we hear is that “all posts should be less than 350 (or whatever #) words. This isn’t exactly true. However, I do think you have about that much time to capture their interest. If you aren’t telling a compelling, interesting tale by the 300 word mark you’ll most likely lose your reader. You have to set the hook early.

      my two cents.

    • Thanks for your comment, Christopher! Keep in mind that blogging is a marathon, not a sprint — you’ve made a great start, and I hope you keep it up.

      There are a number of bloggers who seem to concentrate on lists. It’s true that lists are the kinds of things that get picked up by the masses and retweeted quite a bit. While lots of lists are crap, some of them are quite good. But I don’t think lists are necessary, nor are they the mark of a quality blogger.

      It all comes down to being digestible. In my time, I’ve found that to be easy-to-read (black on white) text separated by strategically placed photos and headlines. A well-written 2,000-word piece broken up wisely can feel like a two-minute read.

  20. DebbZ says:

    Such a great post !!!
    Thanks for sharing, Kate :)

  21. Well said. Thank you for your candor.

  22. Annie says:

    Hi Kate.

    Great post. Ive been keeping a travel blog myself for a while now and not sure where I plan to go with it so it’s great to hear your perspective on where you’ve chosen to go with it. Keep going!

  23. Rachel says:

    Absolutely brilliant, thank you Kate. It´s spurred me on, held me back and shaken me around yet on I´ll go, not sure on the destination but definately enjoying the trip.

  24. Jerri says:

    You’re one of the best travel bloggers out there, so I think anyone who wants to become a professional travel blogger would be wise to heed all the advice in this post. With that said, very few have the work ethic to do it or the pain tolerance like you do. I think to be successful at this one has to be 99% business savvy and about .5% traveler and .5% writer.

  25. Lillie says:

    YES! And also AMEN! And also, YES YES YES!!

  26. There is a reason why you have so many readers, so many followers, and so many subscribers. I always wondered why I keep visiting your site despite how slow it loads on my phone or even on the computer sometimes. You put in a great effort into your craft, into your work and it really shows. I absolutely got your gist about a great writer and great blogger – you know exactly how to engage an audience with the shortest attention span! I’m learning from you, being that half of the blogs out there cannot seem to engage my ADD mind. This is truly one of your best, honest, raw pieces. And the best part: be an arrogant motherf*cker. I date a businessman and he always says “it’s part of the job” and that’s exactly why he’s always on the top lead.

    • Antoinette, the slowness should be a thing of the past by this time next week. :-)

      Thank you so much for the compliments. I spend a lot of time on this and I’m happy to know that it pays off.

  27. Adam says:

    A brilliant, honest post. Thanks for giving your voice on the subject Kate—I’m always interested to hear your opinions!

  28. Karen says:

    Thank you for this post! Honest and informative.

  29. As a new travel blogger who is only just starting to think making money with blogging this article has given me a really good insight. Thanks for sharing!!!

  30. Not the most encouraging article but very well written and I appreciate the honesty and realistic view. I’ve been struggling lately and have been overwhelming myself with all the possibilities that being a travel blogger can have, meanwhile forgetting why I started my blog in the first place. It seems I needed a reminder of why I am doing this. Thank you Kate!

    • Thank you, Heather. If you get caught up in the possibilities of what could be, it gets hard to focus on the immediate picture. I recommend taking a break and just writing about something you love.

  31. Teri B says:

    Interesting to see the OTHER side of your career. Bet many think that it’s all just fun and games. I admire so many things about travel bloggers and esp. love your site and the zeal you have for life and travel and sharing your take on the places you visit for the benefit of all us less travel inclined peeps.

  32. its refreshing to read a post about travel blogging that isn’t “How to travel the world for free!” I’ve been working on my travel blog for about 9 months now and this is a worthwhile reminder that I need to write MORE! I’m curious though – how often do you feel you have to be traveling to be a successful travel blogger? I’m going to be grounded for a little while and am feeling the pressure of digging up content from a trip that ended 6 months ago. I’ve found other ways to make content by interviewing travelers and writing about NYC … but I’m starting to think its time to hit the road again if I want to make this work.

    • Britany, you can absolutely build a travel blog on your past travel experiences, and I encourage you to do so. For the first six months of my blog, I talked about travels WAY in the past because I wasn’t traveling (I was saving up for Asia). And lots of people have found success that way. Take a look at Y Travel Blog — they started their blog about the same time I did, and they were grounded in Australia for most of the time, talking about their past travels.

    • Lissie says:

      Britany I recently wrote a post about a trip to Vancouver I did in 1988 – thank goodness I took a few notes when I travelled and still have the photos! To be this approach is the basis to avoid the problem that Kate mentions in her post about not being able to take time off the Internet to actually travel!

  33. Ayngelina says:

    If I knew now how much work this would be I would have never gotten into it but I can’t imagine my life without my site.

  34. Well done Kate!

    You hit the nail on the head with this post. Keep up the good work!

  35. Mikeachim says:

    I’ve just check out this Mike Sowden guy and he can’t write *at all*, but otherwise, you’re bang-on here….

    …except for one word. “Arrogant”. I’d contest that one. ;) You need to be really confident and you need to be opportunity-chasing to the point of stupidity, and steamrollering forwards is often the only way to emotionally make ends meet. And opinionated. You can have a strong opinion without being an a**hole. (Um, I hope – or I’m kinda screwed). I distrust people who don’t rant, question and pick holes. but I think arrogance happens when you can’t turn those things around on yourself and reflect realistically on your impact on others. I get the feeling that And self-awareness is a key skill, along with self-correction. It’s how you stay on-message, how you keep yourself pointing at the right projects and the right people, and learn where your skills are lacking so you can patch yourself into the right version model to do the job. So I’d replace it with “super-brave”. You need to be braver than you’ve ever been before, including accepting that you absolutely are going to f*ck things up along the way, you need to get used to the taste of humble pie, and you need to decide that virtually guaranteed failure is never a reason to not try. A travel blogger who nails those things is surely around for the long haul.

    Also…I reckon you just can’t be brave like that unless you’re doing something you believe in, and that’s why a love of blogging itself is a requirement, as you note. Insincerity has a happen of escaping us in ways other people can pick up on. Through the eyes. Through the voice. Body language. Everyone has experienced that bad feeling about someone that’s grounded in something we’ve subliminally picked up from them in this way. And it’s really hard to fake confidence in something your heart isn’t in. It also takes a lot of energy. (Wasted energy, I reckon).

    Also, Ayngelina just nailed my second point. ;) I have nothing to add on that one. (Ayngelina – you stole my point. You owe me a point. I’m quite willing to remove the “o” and get repaid in alcohol. Thx).

    Kate – great meeting you in Edinburgh yesterday & today. :) You’re doing a terrific job and your commitment is (sorry for the dreadful “i” word here) inspiring. Keep doing that. Kthx.

    • Totally agree, Mike. Arrogance is one of the least attractive qualities in the world. If anything, it’s a turnoff to most readers. Confidence, courage, the ability to sell yourself – now those are key attributes :)

      Otherwise, you pretty much nailed it. I think most people actually do realize the amount of time and effort and the lack of pay, which is why most people start travel blogs as a hobby or side job rather than diving in full-time right away. Great tips about having a savings and diversified income streams.

    • Hi, Mike — I knew that would be a point of contention with some people. I don’t mean arrogant in a purely negative sense — I think that if you combine arrogance with self-awareness, humor, charm, and business acumen, it can be a very valuable quality as a travel blogger.

      I do think that people don’t have as much confidence in themselves and their blogs as they should — I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen apologize while pitching themselves because they want to be “nice.” That doesn’t work. You need to be in the mindset that you are a damned good business and anybody would be insanely lucky to get the chance to work with you.

      Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad we finally got to hang out in Edinburgh!

      • Mikeachim says:

        Agree, with “arrogant” defined like that, but I’d still argue that’s a word people wouldn’t want to associate themselves with, so it’s not a great rallying-cry. But the other alternatives don’t help either – “forceful”, for example, still sounds negative, and “confident” sounds too passive. (“Nice” is another problem word these days. Wish it meant something proactively charming, instead of passively pleasant in a bland sort of way).

        But yes. This is a go-get-’em profession. And boldness is a virtue. Both feet or nothing.

        See you next week. :)

  36. Mikeachim says:

    Dear Mikeachim,

    Less emoticons in future. Thanks now –

    Yourself.

  37. Alfie says:

    Well… If Adventurous Kate can do it, how hard can it be?

    Thank you, Kate. You’re truly an inspiration to all of us.

  38. Wes Nations says:

    I think you have done a lot of people a very good service with such an honest look at our wacky profession/lifestyle. Well done and thanks for the shout-out. And just to top Sowden, I’m gonna finish up with *5* smileys. Take that, Mike.

    :) :) :) :) :)

  39. Kate, one of the things which really bothers me about professional travel blogging as you describe it is how can you possibly maintain a truly objective stance when reporting on a destination or experience which you have only been able to partake of in virtue of the fact your trip has been a freebie offered by a potential advertiser on your site? I mean, are you really going to say you had a totally shit time and the destination sucks if that would mean alienating future sponsorship from a particular company or even, as a consequence, alienate other potential sponsors who may read your review? In other words, does this not fatally compromise you and your business? And, apart from that, some of the destinations you may find yourself lured to in this way may not involve much real adventuring at all thereby negating the whole raison d’etre – and motto – of your website. Could you please explain how you manage to rationalise what I think is a serious endemic flaw in the business of travel blogging as you seem to be conducting it?

    • Have you read her shipwreck story? I’m pretty sure that was a sponsored trip and I will NOT be taking their boat tour after reading her recap :-)

      In my opinion the objectivity is good, but whats more important to me as a reader is that kate can go do and see things that the rest of us don’t have the time and money to do. She (and other travel bloggers) give us a blow by blow account with much more details than a tour web site. That way when we do have a chance we have a great resource to pick out what sounds the best to us. Even if she rated everything as 100% awesome, I can read a description of something and know if I want to do it or not.

      I still think mos travel bloggers are objective – they have enough sponsors and oppertunities that they don’t have to worry about offending one. Plus if its bad, they probably won’t want to go back anyway. However, I think the real service they offer is exposure to new and different things all over the world.

      • Indeed it was, Elizabeth. And I’ve since spent my time telling everyone visiting Indonesia not to get on a boat with Perama Tour. Bet they weren’t paying on their investment pay off like that!

    • Mikeachim says:

      >>”I mean, are you really going to say you had a totally shit time and the destination sucks if that would mean alienating future sponsorship from a particular company or even, as a consequence, alienate other potential sponsors who may read your review?”

      Yes. :)

      Because independent travel bloggers have everything to lose by selling out. They lose future work, they lose credibility, they lose their expertise, they lose their self-respect.

      Do we say that all business consultants are compromised when they take on contracts with major companies? Or suggest they’re sell-outs?

      What matters, surely, is what is created. Not how. *What*.

      Surely?

    • Michael, as Elizabeth pointed out before, I HAVE had horrible experiences on press trips and have written about them honestly. When I enjoy destinations, whether they’re comped or not, I write honestly about their flaws — how many times have you heard me rant about how something is way too expensive?

      I turn down 90% of the offers I get. I choose to work with companies that fit the theme of my site well, that are good for solo female travelers, that can translate into interesting content for my readers, and most importantly, that I think sound like a lot of fun!

      Take Up Helly Aa with Haggis Adventures. That trip was sponsored, and I am still reeling from how much I enjoyed that experience. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I had no idea I’d enjoy it THAT much.

      So how do I rationalize what you believe is a serious endemic flaw? I write honestly. You can choose whether or not to believe me.

  40. Nomadic Matt says:

    Completely disagree with your point about writing. No matter what niche, all the top bloggers are also great writers. You don’t get to the top buy telling a bad story. You can do everything else you talk about but if you are an awful writer, eventually you will hit a ceiling on your success and without being a good writer and being able to craft a good story, you’ll never find success outside your own niche.

    You can not separate the two.

    • Matt, I think you should take another look at that paragraph — I didn’t say that bad writing does well. I said merely that the type of intricate prose that works in long-form memoirs or essay collections does not translate into blogging success. What I insinuated is that not all good writing translates into good writing for the web — I did not say that only bad writing does well on the web. Take a look at the fantastic novel We Need to Talk About Kevin and see if a single paragraph in that book could work on a blog!

      Most of the successful bloggers I know are wonderful writers and also wonderful writers for the web. They’re not mutually exclusive.

      • Nomadic Matt says:

        You say “Being a great writer and a great blogger are two very different things.”

        I think you are wrong. They are not two different thing. Is writing a book different than writing a blog? Yes but that’s comparing apples and oranges. But your headline argument is incorrect – great bloggers are great writers.

        Does novelization work online? No, it doesn’t. But is there successful blogger who writes that is a bad writer? No.

        • Great travel writing and great travel blogging and, gee whiz, NO ADS!

          My God, how do they do it?

          http://www.oldworldwandering.com

          • Sorry, that should read HARDLY ANY ADS. But my point still stands, nevertheless.

          • Michael, nobody is holding a gun to your head. You’re free to read and believe whatever you’d like.

            But if you decide to only read bloggers who do not take press trips and sponsored activities, you can say goodbye to Nomadic Matt, Y Travel Blog, Wild Junket, Everything Everywhere, Legal Nomads, Uncornered Market, Go See Write, Dangerous Business, Inside the Travel Lab, Isabelle’s Travels, No Place to Be, Twenty-Something Travel, Art of Backpacking, D Travels Round, The Planet D, The Travelling Editor, Wandering Earl, Velvet Escape, The Budget Traveller, Man vs. Clock, Go Backpacking, Stop Having a Boring Life, Travels of Adam, Seattle’s Travels…and that’s just off the top of my head.

            Would you say that the content of these bloggers is not worth reading because much of what they write is based on comps? Because if you’re prepared to exclude one, you might as well exclude all.

        • They are VERY different things. Being a good writer does NOT automatically mean you are a good blogger.

        • Jeremy says:

          Matt, great fan of your site. Realistically, you are an icon for me (whether you know it or not). BUT, I agree completely with Kate’s point. If you research copy-writing and other stats,Writing that exceeds 8+ Flesch reading ease results in an audience that is drastically reduced…. realistically, you are a good writer because you effectively communicate your ideas with our audience, NOT because you are so eloquent. As you say, if I can do it , anyone can. SO, her point of writing to the – 8 grade reading level is on point. Because it is this audience that pays the bills of quite a few pro bloggers!

  41. Cathy Ly says:

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    I truly appreciate your honest words and perspective on this new career field in our current times. It takes 100% dedication, blood, sweat, and tears to nurture your marketability in a way you have probably never imagined before.

    It’s damn hard work and I’m experiencing now, especially the first 6 months. However, I absolutely love it and that’s life for you. If you love it, that’s awesome. Simple. Keep up the passions and I believe the rewards will come later.

    Cathy Trails

  42. This is pitch perfect. I’ve been following a number of the big travel bloggers, and just by doing that you realize it is a full-time job. It has to be, just the volume of the content is incredible, certainly among the established travel bloggers.

    Getting a travel blog to begin generating a readship must be an absolute nightmare, especially as there seems to be more and more people trying to take a slice of the pie.

    I’d be interested to see whether those leading the field currently will keep moving or settle down in the future. Obviously some will move on, which conversely will mean they have probably stopped moving. But how can you pass on something as personal as a travel blog, sure most people would think that you can’t, as each blog is based on the unique voice of each blogger? But in some cases the blogs themselves most be worth a fair amount in web traffic alone. So there has to come a time when at least couple of the established bloggers maybe looking for people to handover to.

    Anyways, its always interesting to get a insight, but hopefully your holding some of the best stuff back for a book?

  43. I really enjoyed reading this Kate as it shares with people the realities of the travel blogging world… Although, even with all the hardships in travel blogging as a career, I envy your life and hope Tony and I can someday have the influence that you do in the travel community! But I think we are definitely going to have to be part of the 98% that needs an outside business or separate website to generate additional income!

  44. Thanks for the insight, Kate! Just starting out in this new world of things made your points particularly interesting. Glad to get an insider’s perspective – and glad to here you really enjoy what you do. It’s always reassuring and encouraging to hear anyone’s story who loves their job!

  45. Lissie says:

    I think the interesting thing is your comment that you can’t be offline for very long. That to me is what has stopped me building a travel blog for sometime. Travelling is my hobby, but I also have 30 year’s experience in it. So I’m trying to parlay that experience, plus my knowledge from my other online endevours, into a blog which will mean I can earn money but not be chained to it.

    As I’m planning on being in both Samoa and Burma this year with minimal Internet, its pretty much a necessity actually!

    • Burma in particular will be interesting, Lissie. Kyle and Bessie from On Our Own Path have been living in Burma for the past year and while they can’t blog as often as they’d like, the atmosphere of Burma makes for some fascinating posts!

  46. Great insight here Kate. I’ve been blogging for a few months now so fairly new to it all and only used to being ‘on the other side’ for years as a PR approaching bloggers. The hard work aspect really is true. I have friends who don’t understand how and why I stay in for a weekend, my mother who was horrified that I spent the Easter bank holiday on my laptop and iphone, and I’m shattered from working until the early hours and then getting up to work a full-time job.

    But I wouldn’t change a single thing because I absolutely love it, and the hard work will be worth it in the end when I quit the 9-5 in July to travel long term and blog – and even then I am not relying on it being an income driver, so saving has been key.

    It becomes a lifestyle change, not just a hobby and making something of it comes in months and years, not days. You know that all to well. See you in Umbria!

    • I can so relate to the part about your mother being horrified — mine was the same way when I moved home for six weeks before going to Thailand. I was doing all of this blog stuff — ON TOP of eleven-hour days. It was not a good time in my life.

      See you there!

    • Kyle says:

      Becki, I’m going through the same exact thing. I feel like everyday I work 18 hour days at least. I work on my blog every second I can at my 9-5 and every second I can when I’m out. I have only been doing it for a short while and despite having so much to say, it truly is hard work.

      Just like you I am currently saving to go on long term travel in about a years time but I hope that my blog can grow to help support me in my dream of traveling freely and truly becoming location independent. Good luck Becki and Kate, you’re awesome!

  47. Waegook Tom says:

    Great tips, Kate! I hope to make income from my blog one day – maybe not a living, but income – but I’m not expecting to right now as a) I’m just living in Korea, not travelling as such (roll on 2013) and b) the design sucks. It’s Blogger and I’m not migrating over to WordPress until the end of this year when I’ll be preparing to travel. I’m solely focusing on building up an audience this year, and maintaining a presence through Twitter, Facebook, and getting my name out there a bit through guest posts.

    You’re write about making things readable – breaking things up with headers, bold font, photos etc is the way to go, otherwise people (myself included) will get bored. My favourite blogs, like yours, Unbrave Girl, Twenty Something Travel, Neverending Footsteps, are all very easy to read as well as being incredibly well-written.

    Good tips about the advertisers, too – and you have to choose carefully! I had one who wanted me to plug holidays to Greece for 200 WORDS every post and then told me I wasn’t being creative enough as I couldn’t incorporate package holidays to Crete in a post about Korean food for more than maybe 10 words haha…hmm! ;)

    Keep on making that money!

    • Tom, I KNOW you will get there. Your blog is SO funny. I’m not a big commenter, but I read everything you write and laugh at something in every one of your posts. (Like the Lebanese man.)

      I’m a big fan of the other blogs you mentioned as well!

  48. amresh says:

    I really enjoyed reading this Kate and it feel like much more adventure and employments

  49. Joburg Expat says:

    “It might seem like I do little more than write posts. That’s just a small part of it. The rest is spent responding to potential advertisers, reaching out to would-be advertiser… and maintaining a presence on social media. To start.”
    I could SO relate to that. I don’t even make any money off my travel (expat) blog unless you count the odd pennies from a few advertisers and yet my schedule looks very similar. If you love writing, it’s frustrating to have to spend so much time on things that have nothing to do with writing and rather need a heavy dose of what you call the motherf*cker skillset. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts!

  50. The travel blogging world is a great one, but you are right…it can be time-consuming. To have to rely on the income would be tough. We are lucky enough to be travelling forever off our rent, so we will always have reliable income. And as you said, having 2 to work on a blog is great. Can’t imagine doing multiple blogs solo. Keep up your excellent work.

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