What I’ve Learned From 6 Years Of Travel Blogging

On October 14, 2006 I made my first blog post to Everything-Everywhere.com. I had actually been “blogging” since 1997, but we didn’t call it blogging back then. It was just my personal website. (which still exists by the way).
Having no background as a journalist, writer or photographer, I have come a long way in 6 years. Today, I’m a Lowell Thomas Award winner with a personal audience of over 100,000 people. I’ve gone from nothing to having one of the largest travel blogs on the planet. As a photographer I should note that I literally didn’t know the settings on my camera when I started.

In the last half decade, I’ve explored a huge chunk of the world, I’ve met amazing people and have been able to make a living out of traveling.

I make it a point to stay away from the subject of business and blogging on my site, because I am frankly not interested in the subject. There are so many amazing things in this world, I feel it is a waste of my time to spend it talking about things like marketing and monetization. Also, there are people out there who do focus on those subjects and I’m more than happy to let them deal with it.

Nonetheless, the business side of things is something which I am often asked about my readers. My second most frequently asked question is “how do you afford to travel so much?” I indulge myself once per year to talk about the subject of travel blogging and business related issues. I figured the anniversary of my first post is as good a time as any to dive in.

Here are some things I’ve learned:

Secret To My Success

I should start by saying that I’m not entirely certain that I am a success. In a relative sense compared to other bloggers, I suppose you could say I’ve been successful. However, in a larger sense I am aware of the potential of what I’m doing and what the possible end game could be. In that sense, I am far, far from being successful. In fact, I’m just getting started.

That being said, I have a few things going for me that other bloggers don’t.

  1. I had an early start. I’ve been doing this for longer than most travel bloggers so I’ve had a first mover advantage. Moreover, I haven’t quit. I know of many bloggers who had decent sites back when I started, but most of them have either quit or taken extended time off. The moment I decided to take this seriously, I knew that if I didn’t quit I could eventually turn this into something. This November will mark the 5 year anniversary of my daily photo. That is 1,826 days in a row of posting a photo on this site.
  2. I travel more than almost every other blogger. With maybe a few exceptions, I put on more miles and visit more places in a given year than almost any other blogger, and certainly more than any working travel writer in the world. I’ve visited all seven continents in the first 8 months of 2012. I’m writing this in Bangkok where I am spending a month working. Spending a month in one place is a luxury for me, but probably the norm for most other travel bloggers. (That being said, I’m not sure how long I can keep up this pace. I’m sure I’ll be slowing down considerably in 2013.)
  3. I have a internet business background, not a journalism background. I can’t tell you how important this is. It isn’t just a matter of experience, but one of mindset. I’ve seen so many traditional journalists straightjacket themselves because they keep trying to apply what they learned in print online, and it just doesn’t work. I’ve been working on the internet since 1994 and it is my native habitat.
  4. I actively try to improve myself. When I meet long time readers, they often tell me how much my photography has improved. They are usually hesitant to say it because it implies that my photography used to suck. That’s OK because my photography did suck. I’m often embarrassed at the quality of some of the shots I took early in my trip. I’m always trying to improve what I’m doing and I think at some level that is reflected in the audience. I think if you take the time to put out quality content, people will notice.

Blogging Is Different

This August I attended the Book Passage conference outside of San Francisco. It was the only conference I’ve attended in the last 15 years where I wasn’t a speaker. I just came to learn. I got to meet some of the heavyweights in the travel writing world like Spud Hilton, Phil Cousineau, Don George and Susan Orleans. I learned a lot from attending.

The biggest thing I learned, however, was not what was being taught in the sessions. It was the realization just how different my world was from that of a traditional travel writer. Never having had the background of a writer, I never was bound by the rules that I didn’t know existed. It isn’t so much a matter of what constitutes “good” writing (I don’t think that has changed), so much as the ecosystem that it exists in.

My audience isn’t some abstraction. They are real people who I interact with and even have drinks with, all over the world. I’ve become friends with many of them. Most traditional writers never interact with their audience in the same way that I do.

Audience is EVERYTHING

I haven’t looked at my Google Analytics in 6-months. I’ve given up on the pursuit of pageviews for pageviews sake. It doesn’t matter. Success as a blogger is simply having real people who know who you are and care about what you have to say. That’s it.

My advice to aspiring bloggers is to focus 100% on your audience. It is the only thing that matters. Too many bloggers get caught up in the blogging game or the high school aspects of the blogging community. None of that matters. Focus on the readers and everything will take care of itself.

Do What You Love

I love what I do. I honestly think I have the best job in the world. I have committed myself to this in a way which few people have committed themselves to their job. This is my life. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult (it is) or that sometimes I don’t have setbacks, but on-balance I wouldn’t want to do anything else. You can’t fake what I do. If you don’t really love travel and are willing to deal with the jet lag and solitude, then it is going to show through.

I have been amazed at how little so many “travel writers” actually travel compared to bloggers. I’ve met some very serious travel writers who travel only a few weeks a year. I think readers can pick up on the passion for travel

Time Management is Difficult

Traveling around the world while simultaneously running a small business is hard. It is by far the most difficult part of running a travel blog. Most bloggers will just stop blogging when they go on vacation. Yet that is what I have to do every single day. More often than not I’ll be out exploring with my camera and come back to my room at night exhausted.

Finding that balance between exploring (the word I’m using instead of “traveling” because I’m actually traveling all the time) and work has been a constant challenge. One of my plans for 2013 is to spend more time in different cities around the world so I can work and relax. The pace I’ve been on for the last two years just isn’t sustainable.

I also need to be better when it comes to time management. I get easily distraction and if I was just more efficient with my time I could get much more done.

You Can’t Rest on the Past

I’m continually looking for new things to do, new places to go and new things to experience. In 2013 I’m planning a large expedition through the Caribbean that will take me to every country and territory in the Lesser Antilles. I’m also looking at finally getting to Russia and China next year as well.

The longer I’ve been on the road, the more I’ve found myself wanting to do more adventurous things and to visit more remote places. I enjoy going to cities like London and New York, but that isn’t really enough anymore.

The Next 6 Years

I am often asked how long I plan on doing this. The answer is: for as long as I can. I’m sure things will change with how I travel or where I go, but this is something I’ve committed myself to and will continue to do for as long as I am able.

I want to give a special thanks to everyone who has been following along for the last several years. You are the ones that make it possible for me to do what I do. I’m always amazed at the number of people who follow along and meet in person when I come through their city. It really the the best part of my job.

Here is to another 6 years!