31 Brilliant Business Lessons From Successful Travel Bloggers

I’m not a stalker.

Really.

Sure, I follow people without their knowing it (on Twitter, anyways)…

But you know what?

I’m tired of it. Tired of waiting… and watching… and wishing I was one of those successful travel bloggers.

So I did something about it. I stopped stalking – and started talking.

I asked ten popular travel bloggers to spill their secrets on how they transformed their love for travel into a popular blog.

Best part? They did.

Actually, that’s not the best part. The best part is…

Everything was captured on tape

Each blogger (plus a few powerful travel companies) agreed to record these discussions, and let them be distributed freely to Academy members.

That’s you, buckaroo.

So without further ado I’d like to introduce…

The Magnificent Ten

Mike Richard (Vagabondish)Mike Richard

A web developer by trade, Mike launched Vagabondish in 2006 and receives between 200 – 300K pageviews per month. Mike is smart, snarky and – with over 120,000 Twitter followers – a social media ninja.

 

Geraldine DeRuiter (Everywhereist) Geraldine DeRuiter

There may be better writers out there, but I’d be hard-pressed to find one. Geraldine went from full-time copywriter to creating Everywhereist, which was listed as one of Time’s Top 25 blogs of the year. Yeah, she’s that good.

 

David Lee

David saw it all coming. That’s why he purchased the domain GoBackpacking.com in (gasp!) the nineties. Talk about vision. And now David’s grown Go Backpacking to over 200,000 monthly pageviews and even hired two writers to help out.

Andy Hayes (SharingTravelExperiences)Andy Hayes

Andy and I got along right off the bat. Why? Because we both treat our blogs as businesses, not hobbies. Andy monetized his blog in a few interesting ways (partnerships with hotel bookings & travel agents) and he’s not afraid to think outside the box.

 

Lauren Monitz (iExplore)Lauren Monitz

Lauren gets marketing more than most. She’s a realist, unafraid to tell things like they really are. Wanna know how marketing really works? Listen to Lauren.

 

Kirsty Brown (MyDestination)Kirsty Brown

Kirsty runs the content department for My Destination, so she knows the importance of good writing for building a travel business.

 

Caz Makepeace (YTravelBlog)Caz Makepeace

Want to learn about getting sponsored for travel? How about developing deeper media relationships? If so, then Caz and her husband Craig are the people to speak with. Plus – like many Australians – they’re exceptionally cool people.

 

Matt Kepnes

Matt launched his travel blog in 2008. Over 1,000 posts later he’s still traveling the world (albeit a bit slower), having adventures and blogging about it all.

 

Barbara Weibel

Barbara writes the wildly popular Hole in the Donut blog, which covers her personal adventures with a focus on cultural travel.

 

Bret Love (GreenGlobalTravel) Bret Love

This up and comer is someone to keep your eye on.  Bret and his partner Mary have quadrupled GreenGlobalTravel’s traffic in the past six months. Listen and learn, my friends.

 

Alright. This “dream team” dropped serious knowledge on me.

Now it’s your turn to discover…

31 Brilliant Blogging Lessons From The World’s Most Popular Travel Bloggers

#1. Pay for a professional design. By far the most common piece of advice. A professional design is just that: professional. It shows your serious about your blog.

#2. Set a writing schedule (and keep it). If you want to write three posts a week, set a schedule and stick with it. Doing so will train you to write better and faster.

#3. Feature a prominent opt-in. Matt Kepnes cites this as something he wish he did right away. Ask for your readers email; it will help you stay in touch and continue to provide value. For an example, visit the homepage ;)

#4. Build relationships. Lots of them. Relationships are what make blogs go from small to GIGANTIC. Begin building relationships where you can help each other out by sharing content, interviews, joint ventures… whatever. Just get started!

#5. Go to travel meetups. Both TBEX and Travel Massive came up as top ways to network. If you’re in the same hemisphere, you better get on these.

#6. Write killer headlines. OK, this is my $0.02. But guess what? If you want more reads, more pageviews, more comments – you better start writing mouthwatering headlines.

#7. Do not use Google Adsense. It looks bad, pays little and – if successful – helps people leave your site.

#8. Don’t give up. It takes time to get traction. But once you build an audience, it gets much, much easier.

#9. Think long and hard about why you’re different. Creating your Unique Selling Proposition helps you stand apart from the thousands of other travel blogs out there.

#10. Pick an audience. And stick with them. If you blog for backpackers, skip luxury posts. If you blog for language lovers, stick to topics your audience will enjoy. In other words: it may be your blog, but it’s their content.

#11. Always overdeliver. Caz from YTravelBlog drove this point home: whenever you ask your readers for anything, give back more in return. Not only does this build trust, it makes you look like a pro (which you are, right?)

#12. Avoid “me too” posts like the plague. You know when you Google something, and every result looks the same? Don’t be that guy. Zig where others zag and claim more traffic. And speaking of which…

#13. Learn search engine optimization. Every blogger I spoke with said Google sent them more traffic than anything else. Don’t underestimate what good SEO can do for you. Need to get started? Read this.

#14. Ask. Vagabondish editor Mike Richard summed it up in this interview: “Get in the habit of asking…. guest posts… links… whatever. Just ask.”

#15. Pick a short, catchy domain name. The shorter the better, but don’t be afraid to go long if it’s relevant (e.g. Travel Blogger Academy).

#16. Don’t expect to make money your first six months. Your first six months should be about creating killer content, building relationships and growing your traffic. Once you have an audience, then you can find ways to get paid.

#17. Use an autoresponder. These help you stay in touch with your audience and provide extra value. Matt Kepnes sends out a weekly newsletter with travel deals and personal travel updates. Does this drive traffic? You betcha.

#18. Treat your blog like a business. Because that what is. Both David Lee from Go Backpacking and Andy Hayes from Sharing Travel Experiences really drove this point home. You may start your travel blog for fun, but you’ve got to treat it like work to make it, um, work.

#19. Let your content rest. Geraldine pointed out she writes posts in advance, lets it sit overnight and edits accordingly.

#20. Don’t give up.  Even during your darkest hour. Just. keep. going.

#21. Embrace the “haters.” As a former copywriter, I’ve had people say terrible things about me. It happens. But you know what? People only “hate” on those who are doing something. In other words, you know you’ve reached new heights when others try to drag you down.

#22. Trim the fat. Most first drafts are flabby. Slice through them until lean, powerful writing remains.

#23. Build an audience, then monetize accordingly. This combines points 4, 10 and 16. Once you have an audience, figure out a way to provide value to them through monetization (i.e. sell them something awesome).

#24. Be accessible. Reply to emails. Honor your commitments.

#25. Design for mobile. Desktop computers will be irrelevant soon. Make sure mobile users can enjoy your content, too – they’ll soon be running the show.

#26. Avoid spammy tactics. Ah yes, the Google Penguin update. The lesson (which seems to be same lesson in EVERY Google update) is to publish great content and get links from the biggest, best websites on the planet.

#27. Be active on other people’s blogs. The Vacation Gals may be the nicest, most supportive blog on the planet… which explains why they’re so popular. Watch and learn, my friends.

#28. Don’t take “no” for an answer. This comes from my wife Darcie, who redefines “pleasantly persistant.” Seriously. When doing guest post outreach she would almost always figure out a win/win…. even if it took ten emails of back and forth.

#29. Don’t be a numbers junkie. Analytics, Klout Score, Twitter followers… they can all break your spirit. Remember, guys like Mike Richard started at zero, too. Just put your head down and keep working.

#30. Be brutally honest. Matt Kepnes wrote about how he’d never visit Vietnam again. Would you read that in Lonely Planet? Nope… and that’s why it worked.

#31. Don’t quit your day job. David Lee worked as a Customer Service Manager for a health insurance company while he began building Go Backpacking. When I last talked to him, he was receiving offers to drive Lamborghinis on a press trip. You better believe a whole lotta work connected those two dots.

Bonus: 3 Shocking Wake-Up Calls For New Travel Bloggers

My stalking was incomplete…

… turns out, I missed several top bloggers, for a variety of reasons.

But that doesn’t mean their voice shouldn’t be heard.

So here are three wake-up calls for aspiring travel bloggers:

To All New Travel Bloggers: “I read the words and sat and cried. I felt like my dream had just died in front of me.” Sit quietly and read this post. The happy ending might be you in a few years… if you work hard enough.

So You Wanna Be A Pro Travel Blogger: Dave and Deb are among the smartest, most hard-working travel bloggers out there… and in this article they pull no punches. The pictures alone are enough to make me cry “uncle.” But as they say “the hard work is worth it.”

An Open Letter To Aspiring Travel Bloggers: I couldn’t write this post without including Gary Arndt from Everything-Everywhere (mind the dash, people!). And while I disagree with his point about success getting harder, the whole post serves as a swift kick in the… um… reality of travel blogging.

Interesting Advice from Up and Coming Bloggers

Newbie Mistakes Travel Bloggers Make: Molly recounts her three biggest mistakes starting out, and provides actionable info on how to fix them.

How We Quadrupled Our Traffic In Six Months: Bret outlines how he and Mary continue to grow Green Global Travel. And since they just hired a team of interns, they’re only gonna grow faster…

Alright travelers, what was your favorite advice? Got anything to add? Drop in the comments below (and don’t forget to share this post!).

About adamcosta

Adam Costa is co-founder and Editor in Chief of both Trekity.com and TravelBloggerAcademy. He currently lives... um... somewhere.

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Comments

  1. Totally awesome post. Thank you so much for including us! It was awesome to chat with you and I love what you are doing wtih this new site. It’s so valuable to all bloggers. I think you have so much wisdom to share with all of us!

  2. Adam, thanks so much for inviting me to be part of this enormously valuable post of how to “do it right” in travel blogging.I see I’m in very good company, and I’m honored to be among the ranks of such great travel bloggers. Wish I could have given you an audio for everyone to listen to, but that’s the life of perpetual travel in developing countries; most of the time I just don’t have good enough Internet connection!

  3. Just what I needed to read right now… I took a bit of a hit with Penguin (not as hard as many so I won’t moan) and I’ve watched income fall so I needed a bit of encouragement or shall we say, a swift kick… I feel thoroughly energized now. Back to work!

    • Hi Leyla,

      Sorry to hear about the Penguin. Anyone who’s done SEO for awhile knows your pain. I got hit hard with the MayDay update years ago, and it felt like the opposite of Christmas.

      That’s why I’m taking a different approach from now on.

      Instead of relying on Google, I’m focused on building various sources of traffic (including SEO, of course) so the next time something happens, it won’t be such a shock.

      Btw, I love your attitude – time to get back to work!

  4. Interview with David Lee = amazing, so much great information – realistic information – on starting a site, getting your focus, low-down on monetizing and how he has earned money along the way over many years to where he now supports himself (key point is that he didn’t for a long time, gives hope to us wannnabes out there!) from his blogging, how he’s moving ahead and other projects he’s added-on to make cash. Wow. What a cool guy and so nice to get to ‘know’ him via the interview. Great job.

    • Yep, David killed it. I don’t think we even edited that interview (escape maybe a car passing by) – it was just one giant, gushing geyser of knowledge. Or something like that.

  5. Looks like I know what I will be doing tonight and over the weekend!

  6. Great list of bloggers on here. I read most of them and will check out these interviews. Working hard and good content are a big key (as well as SEO). I work the full time job, have commitments at home, and average about 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night. You have to keep doing it and sacrificing. Nothing happens without that so be patient, keep going, and learn from these bloggers. I still am.

    • Hi Jeremy,

      You got it, my man. Working hard on content is pretty close to great SEO. Just make sure you promote the hell out of your content – otherwise, you’re shouting into the void.

      Like a wise man once said, “To succeed you either make friends, or make news. Which are you prepared to do?”

  7. Thanks Adam and thanks to all the ten travel bloggers who so graciously shared their time and knowledge with us. Another post I’ll bookmark and read over and over. Thanks again! Oh, and I’ll share too.

  8. Hey Adam, thanks so much for including us among this illustrious group. As the relative newbies of the bunch, we’re honored to be in such great company! *waves to Barbara*

  9. Speaking of creating killer content. Nice work. This information is just what I need right now (relative newbie travel blogger). Thank you !!!

  10. Just to clarify a point about my post from Travellllll.com….

    I don’t think it is getting harder. It is easier for a travel blog today to reach almost any traffic or audience benchmark you wish to measure than it was 4 years ago. There are more opportunities available as well. There are more press trips and more companies who are open to working with bloggers. Twitter and Facebook weren’t on the radar when I started blogging.

    That being said, it is still hard. Even though the pie is getting bigger, there are a lot more people at the gates who want to get in. The percentage of people who will find some sort of success with a travel blog (however you want to define it) is going to be lower than it was before because the number of bloggers has increased faster than the everything else I just mentioned in the first paragraph.

    • Hi Gary,

      I agree there are many more opportunities now than five years ago (which is why I disagreed with your statement “It is getting harder to become a success”). As the Internet matures, new distinct sub-markets are created… which provides near limitless niches for the savvy travel blogger to play in.

      But – as you point out – as these new audiences develop, more and more travel bloggers enter to fill the void. Most, however, lack a strong USP (Unique Selling Proposition), business plan and/or the willpower to put in years of hard work to build something great.

      Which is nothing new.

      As the number of success stories grow, so will the number of failures.

      But has the growth of new travel bloggers exceeded the audiences they intend to fill? I’m not sure. If I had to guess, I’d say no.

      But if you – or anyone else here – has evidence to the contrary, please share. It’d be very, very interesting data.

      What does everyone else think? Is the pie growing too slow? Or will there be enough for anyone smart and diligent enough to grab a slice?

  11. Adam, this is a great list of bloggers who are excelling. I like that you’ve included some up and comers as well.

  12. Thanks for inclusion in the round-up, Adam. Some insightful knowledge up there, for sure!

  13. Extremely INSIGHTFUL!! which i’m sure is not only going to be IMMENSELY helpful to all the novice bloggers out there but also very encouraging. While we’re not bloggers ourselves but we still learnt a lot & enjoyed the read. Thanks

  14. What a brain-trust of bloggers.

    I am not a travel blogger but I find this site exceptionally resourceful for any type of blogger.

    Succinct information that is all Zig and no Zag.

    Great job Adam!

  15. Thank you for this! Great lessons!

  16. thanks for the post really good list of update.

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