The latest in my cannon of Working Wednesdays this week stated (with huge justifications and proof) that travel blogs are better for travel advertisers than print media. And they are. So now you’re out there thinking about it all – yeah he’s right – a blog is permanent whereas a travel supplement in the paper is already binned and recycled by the next weekend. Longevity counts. Move over Daily Mail supplement, step in Nomadic Matt.
Now you want to make your own career as a travel blogger but you don’t know where to start. Neither did I. I was a complete novice and buck ejjit (Northern Irish slang for idiot). The travel blogging industry (which it now is – an industry) has come a long way. Don’t Stop Living has come a long way. And I’ve backpacked a long way through more towns than I can remember. If you’re new on here, Sunday’s Inspiration is normally just a sharp short post on me sharing my thoughts and feeling and hopefully some inspiration. Today it’s all about becoming a professional travel blogger. First here’s some quick background on me, and Don’t Stop Living so you get where I’m coming from.
I’m Jonny Blair. A wandering Northern Irishman. I hadn’t done much global travelling until 2003 when I left my home town (Bangor). But in those last 13 years, I have lived, travelled and worked around the world. I’ve backpacked through all 7 continents, over 110 countries (and a further 20 disputed countries/regions), got a degree, worked in about 40 jobs and started an online business. I’ve been a travel blogger since 2007 (link to my first ever cringeworthy post), I’ve been a travel writer since 1991 (link to my 1991 e-Book), but it’s only since 2012 that I’ve been earning money as a travel writer, blogger, copywriter and itinerary planner. So it’s been a long hard process, but if you work hard and adhere to my top 5 (especially the “really travel” bit), you should get there too and be able to live a life of freedom. By freedom I mean, tomorrow I can wake up and go anywhere I want. I have no time, monetary or mobility issues with what I do. If you want that hat-trick, then hopefully this can help you. Today I share my top five tips on becoming a professional travel blogger.
1.Tell Real Stories
What happens when you go backpacking round the world? Crazy sh*t happens. Stories that people won’t believe. So tell them. Don’t hide them. Share them.
– The time I lost $1000 in Laos
– The time I did a shit on a broccoli field
– The time I got naked in Antarctica
– The time my mate stuck his willy in a donkey
– My tips on doing a shit
– The day I showed an entire PR office my ass
(put photos and videos with them to prove they are real, don’t make stuff up, ever)
These stories make your journey unique. Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower does not. Nobody will care if you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower or not, as everybody has been there. (I once wrote a post about the Eiffel Tower and 8 years on, still nobody has read it so I know what works now). So write about the things that happen to you on your journey. Make it fun, exciting, unique and real. Tell it as a story.
The thing that makes your travel blog different to all the other travel blogs is – YOU. And your stories. Don’t forget that. Don’t be generic.
“Generic, generic and that’s the way you like it, you like it” – Dan Darch
2. Go to Places That Nobody Else Writes About
I know your travel style and blog will follow its own niche, but what works for me is going to places where there are not many travellers, exploring these places and writing about them. Basically – go where there are NO other travellers. And I mean NONE! ZERO. Earlier this year I was the first ever tourist to visit the Empire of Austenasia. I loved it. It was great publicity for the country and for myself and it worked both ways. I was suddenly contacted by other heads of state of Micronations wanting to host me.
Last year I was in French Guyana. Again, not a single other tourist in Iracoubo or Kourou when we were there. We backpacked through South America’s largest Space centre on our own – it was ridiculous! Here are just a few of the non touristy places I’ve been and written about in the last few years (if you click on the posts, you’ll notice how passionate I am about them):
2009 – Xinying, Sark, Debrecen
2010 – Chia, Rinadeena, Belfast (NZ)
2011 – Paramaribo, Mantenga Falls, Lam Tin
2012 – Danxiashan, Newtownards, Majianglong
2013 – Shahr-e Kord, Xinaliq, Isfiya
2014 – Macapa, Barra de Santiago, Atauro Island
2015 –Monastir, Jarvenpaa, Wrythe
2016 – Balkh, Nukus, Khorog
(These are only a selection of course, my full travel timeline is here)
The thing I loved about all these places is that they are not touristy, but I couldn’t fathom why not. I was more inspired by backpacking through Xinying than I was by visiting Sydney for example.
Go to places like Masar e Sharif, Chiayi, Sloth Island, Joya de Ceren, Parika, Belmopan, Portbraddon, Jiaoqui, Tiraspol etc. You might get less of the “follow the obvious backpacking trail” people reading but you’ll get genuine travel enthusiasts like yourself. People that like the wacky stuff. Sure, everybody knows that I also visit the tourist hubs – of course I do! I’m not claiming all my travel is to unknown places – it’s not! I love the hyped up tourist spots too, but I write about them less as people don’t come to Don’t Stop Living to read about Rome, Paris or Bangkok. They come here to see what destination I am now in that they have never heard of.
I get emails and messages from people saying stuff like “that is so cool you went to Uzupis – I’d never heard of it. I want to go”. My niche is “off the wall, wacky travel” and I stick to it. It works for me. If a travel blog claims to be going to “off the beaten track” (as cliched as that is) places then they write about only places you’ve heard of like Rome, Bangkok, Sydney etc. then it’s not to be trusted. So please – break the backpacking mould. I only read travel blogs now from people who go to places that are difficult to get to, unusual and that I haven’t heard of. Top 5 Bars you haven’t heard of in Sydney? No thanks, I’ve heard of Sydney. Backpacking in Orheiul Vechi or a tour of Ladonia is more my scene.
Also if you write about backpacking in Thailand, nobody will even see your article on Google if you are a new blogger. You’ll be way down the pecking order as far as SEO is concerned. However if you write about Uzupis then google “backpacking in uzupis” (for example) you might come up in the top 10. If you google “backpacking in bangkok” there’s no chance I’ll get in there (and I don’t want to). So continue to write about places that have yet to be written about and get them shared, seen and marketed.
“I’ll take you places I’ve never been” – Meatloaf
3. Be Yourself, Market Yourself
Who are you? With your website, you are creating a brand. Your brand is you. So who are you? You need to be yourself and then consistently market yourself that way. Look at these successful travel bloggers:
– Are you a nomadic Australian? If you are then market yourself in that way, like Chris Walker Bush does. He;s got a great following in Australia.
– Are you a pair of tramps looking for the cheapest food? Then do it like Agness and Cez do. Pairs and couples travelling together love their money saving tips, not to mention Agness’s positivity.
– Are you trying to be the best budget traveller on the planet? Then see why Nomadic Matt is so successful! He gets the deals, he tries to save all travellers money.
– Do you wander and have no idea where you will be next? Then perhaps you need to create a Wandering Earl style blog.
– Are you a crazy backpacker who lives their life to the full and lives by the The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. Then you check out Johnny Ward’s awesome site he’s created a crazy lifestyle for himself on route to every country in the world and becoming a millionaire.
“I need to be myself, I can’t be no-one else” – Noel Gallagher.
Who am I? I am a backpacking Northern Irishman living life to the full, enjoying every day and seeing our time here as one big adventure. What you see is what you get is what I am. I’m backpacking through Guatemala wearing an AFC Bournemouth shirt. I’m a Bournemouth fan. I fly my Northern Ireland flag around the world. I’m proud to do that. Don’t get caught up trying to earn money and forfeiting who you are for a wad of cash -it won’t work. Be you. Be yourself. Don’t be a fake.
“My crush with eyeliner” – R.E.M.
I scrounge my way to happy hour beers in Kaunas, I update my Facebook page with live updates. I keep it as real as I can for everyone. I really travel. I don’t have a car, a flat or an office. One day, but not for now. One thing I can’t stand is those who suddenly decided they were going to start a blog just to make money, and then they go and travel. What? You mean you haven’t travelled before? You mean you don’t have stories to tell? Have the blog and the travel experience before you turn it into a business. It was five years before I earned a cent on Don’t Stop Living. At the time I noticed too many fakes starting up travel sites for money only rather than the love of travel. If you’re genuine enough, you can have both.
4. Put Travel FIRST
Keep moving. Don’t stop. Travel. Anyone that started a website “a year around the world” was never genuine, they set a limit, they wanted to do a year, earn a bit of cash and then head home as they were homesick. They didn’t put travel first and their blog died away. If you’re serious about being a professional travel blogger, then you have to put travel first in your life. It comes before football and pubs for me. I have a chance of watching Northern Ireland play Romania at football next week but I’m not going – travel comes first as it’s not just my love and passion, it’s my business. There’s no fakeness though – I’ll still be watching the match online from a bar in Hong Kong 😉 But you have to make forfeits to succeed, that’s the way it is. People in office jobs that stay in work until 8pm instead of going home to their families? They’re putting their job first. Sadly if you want to succeed as a travel blogger, you need to do the same. Travel comes first. Always. But don’t stay in the Office until 8pm please! David Brent, Finchy and Garref are already down Chasers!
So you should travel and put travel first. This is not obvious. To be a travel blogger or writer please TRAVEL. The obvious one is a bug bear of mine. There are just so many fake travel blogs out there. People that pretend to travel. People that make themselves out to be backpacking heros and heroines 12 months a year, yet they’re snuggled away in a cosy flat and they don’t even know what countries border Armenia. Maybe even stuck up snobs who wouldn’t get out of bed for $2 US. (incidentally I’d get out of bed for $0.01 cent, still!). Don’t become one of these types. Get out there and see the world with your eyes – tell it as you see it. Embrace it. Love it. Don’t Stop Living.
So my advice is TRAVEL and make it your lifestyle and your priority! Those who don’t, their travel blogs won’t last longer than a year, as they’ll end their trip after a year and only do “sporadic travel”, yeah they were in it for the money not the love. I still update this blog for free every day. Over 2,000 blog posts on this site down the years not to mention my writings on other sites and my e-Books. Get out there are see the world first hand and write about what you see and do for REAL. Don’t put generic photos of safaris you’ve never been on! Plus you’ll get more respect that way.
“4Real” – carved blood message on the arm of Richey James Edwards.
5. Take the Money, Make the Money
So you’ve cracked those first four, now it’s business time. If you’re serious about making money then you need to do these things:
– Promote your website (get a profile on every Social Media network under the sun)
– Write for other sites (my media list is here)
– Do travel interviews for other travel sites (you’re a REAL traveller remember)
– Love your readers and followers. Connect with them, make friends with them
– ALWAYS reply to e-mails and comments whether negative or positive
– Connect with other travel bloggers and get to know them (* admittedly you won’t like them all and there are some arrogant twats who think they’re too good for you)- Learn about SEO (the nitty gritty part is the one I hate but I did some research on SEO and got some staff to help out – if you want a tip outsource this type of work)
– Reach out to advertisers, hotels, airlines, hostels, tour companies (yu’re a real life traveller with an awesome portfolio and website, so they’ll want to work with you)
– Work hard (nothing comes for free my friends)
– Stick with it (keep writing, keep travelling, keep working. Don’t Stop unless you have bad health)
– Don’t turn down offers (head on free safaris, write for big name travel sites, be the yes man/woman)
– Be passionate, committed, relentless, hard working, enthusiastic
– Diversify your income streams (one website/blog/income stream might not be enough to support you so branch out – start new websites, work on new projects, release e-Books etc.)
Once you’ve done all that, if you’ve done it well – the offers flood in and you’ll be earning online. You’ll be a professional travel blogger and you won’t look back. Apart from my normal backpacking jobs and day jobs, I have now earned in the following ways thanks to the platform that Don’t Stop Living provided me with:
– Affiliate marketing
– Writing contracts
– Sponsored posts
– Direct advertising
– Planning itineraries
– Working as a travel expert on Skype calls
– Selling e-Books
– Selling photographs and rights to articles
– Free accommodation
– Free transport
– Free tours
– Free products
– Free vouchers
– Free food and drink
(There are more that I haven’t added here)
The limits are endless and I’ve created a business for myself online and hundreds (thousands) are doing the same thing. The question now is – do you want to? Do you want to become a digital nomad? Do you want to run a business from your laptop? Do you want to be a professional travel blogger?
The digital world we are living in today has less limits than before. The planet is literally your oyster. Becoming a Professional Travel Blogger is easier now than ever before. Go do it!
Finally here are some great resources to get you started on your journey to becoming a professional travel blogger:
The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich
Nomadic Matt’s How to Make Money from your Travel Blog
Wandering Earl’s How to Live a Lifestyle of Travel
(and yes – these are all affiliate links)