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There’s a question that I’ve been asked more and more often lately:
“There are so many travel blogs out there today. If I start, I’m going to be so far behind. Do I have any chance of making it a career? Is it even possible?”
A lot of people would say no — but I disagree.
I think now is actually a good time to start a travel blog. There’s more money to be had in the industry. Blogs and personalities become popular much faster. New social networks becoming progressively more prominent. In short, you’re open to a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have.
Here are a few tips from 2016 that did not apply to the space until fairly recently.
Know you don’t have to be the biggest travel blogger of all.
Just a few years ago, only the top tier of bloggers were making a full-time living from their blog, and only a few were making enough money to live anywhere more expensive than Southeast Asia.
That has changed. More people are making decent livings. You still see plenty of bloggers living in Southeast Asia, but an increasing number are living in pricey cities in North America and Europe.
A lot of new bloggers start with the goal of being one of the biggest travel bloggers of all. (Quite frankly, that was my motivation in the early days.) If you do that, you’re going to be chasing it forever. But if you don’t let fame motivate you — if you instead want to have a quality working career — you can absolutely make it happen.
Think of it this way: every TV actor dreams of having Viola Davis or Kerry Washington’s career, headlining a popular Thursday night drama. But you could also be a working actor appearing in small guest roles on everything from Law & Order to Brooklyn Nine-Nine to random commercials and the latest Judd Apatow flick, the kind of person where people say, “I know that face! What’s she been in?”
Those actors still make money from their craft. Many of them have a pretty good work/life balance as well. That’s something to keep in mind.
That said — most of the big names have slowed down their travels.
There was a time when the people behind the biggest travel blogs were on the road at least 80% of the time. That’s not the case anymore. We’re very tired.
I’m not going to name names because some people are keeping it quieter than others, but a great many popular travel bloggers have chosen to get year-round apartments with leases and travel far less often. (Most of you know that I am one of these bloggers, having moved to New York seven weeks ago.)
That means that if you have the opportunity to travel long-term, you’re going to be doing so in a way that not a lot of others are doing at the moment. That’s especially good for real-time platforms like Snapchat. More on Snapchat below.
Niche is good; personality plus specialty is better.
Niche is always a big discussion — people always talk about how important it is to HAVE A NICHE. You need to open that proverbial fly-fishing blog!
But in this day and age, I see it differently. I think the most important thing is to have a well-developed voice and personality along with a few specialties on which you can become an expert.
Alex in Wanderland, for example, has a specialty in diving.
A Dangerous Business has a specialty in New Zealand travel.
Flora the Explorer has a specialty in sustainable volunteering.
These specialties are not the only subjects that these bloggers write about, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call them their niches. But they are areas that differentiate them and give them expertise and credibility. If I needed help with any of those subjects, I would go to their sites in a heartbeat.
This is especially important for all the women trying to differentiate themselves as a solo female travel blogger. There are a million of you now, ladies. Work on diversifying.
The most difficult part is developing your voice and personality, and that can only be done by writing, writing, writing.
Social media is more important than ever.
We’ve entered a time where social media can often eclipse the value of your blog. That was never the case early in my blogging years, but I’m seeing it more and more today, especially with Instagram.
At this point in time, Instagram is by far the most important social network. It’s widely consumed by “real people,” it’s prioritized by brands (translation: this is where the money is), and it allows you to show your strengths. A company may be more interested in advertising on Instagram than anywhere on your blog.
But this means you’re going to throw a lot of time and effort into creating a beautiful, engaging Instagram profile.
Snapchat is another big network on which I recommend getting started. It’s huge among “real people” and it’s still early enough that you can be an early adopter, like me.
Another place that can become a game-changer is Pinterest. Pinterest now regularly drives traffic to lots of my pages that don’t necessarily do well in search.
Other social networks are important. Some people swear by Facebook (and I do quite a bit with it); others live and die by Twitter. And by all means, yes, work on growing your Facebook audience in particular. But if I were you, I’d throw your time and resources into focusing on Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.
The time to get into video is now. Or yesterday.
Video is projected to grow more and more — a year and a half ago, Mark Zuckerberg said that he expected video to be the dominant content on Facebook within five years. I’ve said before that not doing enough on YouTube keeps me up at night. I just feel like I haven’t had to learn all the skills.
There is plenty of room to grow on YouTube — I’d argue that you can grow faster and far more effectively as a travel YouTuber than as a travel blogger. The time is definitely now.
I actually bought the course last year but I need to make creating better videos a priority for this summer.
I still mean it — get out of Southeast Asia.
This is one of the most controversial pieces of advice I’ve given, and I stand by it. Southeast Asia is tremendously oversaturated in the travel blogosphere at this point in time.
Is it possible to focus on Southeast Asia and still become a prominent travel blogger? Of course it is. You can stand out if you consistently create genuinely original content.
But most people who spend time in Southeast Asia don’t do that. They write “this is what it’s like to cruise Halong Bay” and “here are photos from my day at Angkor Wat” and “the best things to do in Ubud are these” and “this is how awesome Koh Lanta is.”
It’s good stuff, sure, and it will be useful to your readers who aren’t familiar with those destinations, but posts like those will not allow you to gain traction as a travel blogger. Major influencers will not be sharing these posts because they’ve been seen a thousand times before.
If you want to spend extended time in a cheap region, consider parts of Mexico and Central America (inland Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, inland Nicaragua), parts of South America (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), parts of Central and Eastern Europe (Balkans excluding Croatia and Slovenia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, former USSR), and/or parts of South Asia (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka).
Because while plenty of people have written about those destinations, they are nowhere near the saturation level of Southeast Asia.
Because yes: It’s still possible to make it if you start today.
I know some people will disagree with me, but I think that in many ways, it’s a lot easier to get started now than it was when I did in 2010. The market may be crowded, but there is always — always — room for excellent content.
And whether you’re watching a brilliant sunset on a beach in Nicaragua or sitting on your purple couch in your Harlem apartment (which I may be as I write this), the life of a travel blogger is incredibly rewarding. Each day, I feel so grateful that this is what I do for a living.
Ready to start blogging?