It’s been five years since I started this blog and its been a rocky ride. I’ve watched the rise and fall of peers – some lifting to stratospheric success and others slipping away – while I’ve bumbled along, sometimes giving it my all, and other times fading away. This isn’t a blog of dizzying success, but I’m still here doing it after five years, and for that I’m proud. It feels good to stick at something, and every time I get a message saying “thank you for your words/tips/advice”, it makes it worth the while. So firstly, thank you for reading this. You continually make my day. And now, here’s a few lessons I’ve learned from five years in this crazy travel blogging world.
1. Comparison is the thief of joy
As soon as I heard this quote, I knew it’d be my mantra. So much of the strife I cause myself – that so many people cause themselves – comes down to this little thing. It can be applied across all aspects of life, from appearances to relationships, and it’s no different in blogging. As soon as you start comparing yourself to other bloggers, you start to lose a bit of the joy. You might have reached 5k followers on Instagram, but your peer has just hit 10k. Soon, nothing is ever good enough. Sure, a little of this helps to spur you on, but really your motivations must be your own. Set yourself goals and strive to meet them, but avoid your goals being in competition or comparison with others. Don’t say “I want as big a following as so and so”. Instead say, “I want to double my traffic this year”. And then be happy that you did that, not sad that someone else quadrupled theirs. There will always be someone or something better.
2. Most bloggers don’t last
There were already hundreds of travel blogs when I began five years ago, and now there are thousands more. But although the number of new bloggers is rising, there aren’t many that tend to last. From the outset, travel blogging can sound like a dream – travel the world for free and get paid to do it – but the reality doesn’t match up. People quit when they don’t see results. Others quit because they stopped travelling, their blog perhaps morphing into a lifestyle or parenting site. And then there are lots of bloggers who simply fell out of love with it. They may have had a big readership, but they didn’t like the options for monetisation, so decided to focus their efforts elsewhere. So many of my favourite bloggers have stopped posting, focussing on books or other business. If you aren’t making any money from blogging or its not supporting your career in some way, it’s hard to devote so much time to it.
3. Facebook is a bitch (and now Instagram too)
The bane of my blogging life is social media. Some bloggers love it, but I find it a chore. On one hand, I love the aspect of community and being able to interact with you, the people reading this. But actually reaching people is the problem. The social media algorithms are an ever-evolving mystery and so much of it comes down to luck. On Facebook, as soon as it changed its algorithm and introduced the ‘pay to play’ model a few years back, everything got a lot harder and posts that used to reach hundreds of people were now only seen by a few. I made the mistake of paying to ‘boost’ a few posts, and from then on it got even worse. Other bloggers have seen the same issue: once you pay for something once, it seems Facebook logs that and then reduces your organic reach. And now Instagram appears to be going the same way, changing its algorithm in ways no one ever seems sure of, and drastically reducing the amount of people who see your posts. It’s a frustrating game and dispiriting when you’ve spent a lot of effort building an organic audience, only for them never to see your posts. Sigh.
4. You can find your kin in blogging
Hands down, my favourite thing in blogging is the people I’ve met both in person and online. Once you start delving into all the blogs, you soon find ones that resonate. And if they post regularly, you feel like you get to know them. Early on in my blogging days, I started to reach out to other bloggers, commenting on their posts or sending emails, asking for advice. We became friends, and met in person when our paths crossed, sometimes even co-ordinating our travels for longer periods. I remember a time in Mexico when five of us were in the same town for months. A travel blogging / digital nomad life is something people often find hard to understand, so it’s wonderful to meet people who are on the same page. I may not see them all that often, but some of my dearest friends are bloggers. Hi Shannon, Erin, Simon, Kash, Brenna, Dan, Audrey, Jodi and the list goes on and on.
5. Don’t do it for the free stuff
One of the first questions new bloggers often ask is, “How do you get stuff sponsored?” and it kind of makes my heart sink. I get it: the idea of not having to pay for your travels and getting free stuff sent to you is a huge lure, but in reality nothing is free. In return for that “free” thing, you have to offer something in return. At a basic level that might mean writing a review on your blog and promoting their business on social media. But, in the background to that, there are the weeks, months, maybe even years, that you’ve spent building an audience that is worth promoting to. It’s not a simple freebie. Moreover, if you fill your blog with sponsored trips/products, especially if they’re outside the realm of what you’d normally want/be able to afford to do or buy, you risk alienating the readership you’ve been building (as well as filling the internet with more clutter). And that brings me to number six…
6. Be authentic
For me, one of the best things about blogs is being able to get advice from someone you trust and can relate to. A lot of bloggers compromise this when they start acting in service of something other than their readers. For example, they might go on a press trip that they don’t enjoy, but still write a good review because they don’t want to upset the host or be blacklisted for future trips. I’ve been on a few trips with other bloggers where I know their write-up didn’t match the reality. And I understand that: it’s awkward when you don’t like something you’re supposed to be promoting, but the answer isn’t to lie.
There’s a lot of debate in blogging about this issue of authenticity. On one hand, bloggers need to make a living. We’re not journalists being paid by a publisher; we’re on our own and need to be creative about how we do things. On the other side, there are some people who are fully against the idea of any sponsored trips; they think they always cause bias and alienate the reader. While I’d like to be on that high horse and simply pay for all my travels, finances mean I’m actually somewhere in-between. I seek out sponsorship when I can, but I always try to do so responsibly, only going places I’d choose to go even if it wasn’t sponsored, and always writing honest reviews. Sponsored trips may not pay the bills directly, but they do help save money elsewhere and help make this blog sustainable. And I think you, my readers, understand that without thinking I’m a total sell-out. For me, it’s a balance that’s helped by having an income from freelance work. Do what feels right for you.
7. Press trips aren’t all that
And one last thing on sponsored stuff. Lots of bloggers strive for press trips – the moment they’re invited on all-expenses paid trip somewhere overseas. I was certainly very happy when I got my first invite. But I soon realised this wasn’t the way I like to travel. A press trip tends to involve a packed itinerary filled with things you might not want to do. It’s an unnatural way to travel, and then you’re supposed to write about it. Sometimes it works out and you find yourself travelling with a great group of people on an itinerary you couldn’t have planned better yourself, but more often than not, I’ve found myself struggling with the set-up and stressing about what to write that would be authentic and valuable for this blog. Nowadays, I try to create bespoke sponsored trips – I create the itinerary myself and then reach out to the places I’m visiting to see if they want to work together. That’s what I did on our recent trip to Iceland. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and even if it doesn’t I still make the booking. For example, Steve and I are about to go on a road trip in Europe that isn’t sponsored at all.
8. Blogging is filled with pyramid schemes
The whole world of blogging, not just travel, is filled with pyramid schemes: people who have got rich selling books on how to get rich – or more specifically on how to make it as a blogger. They sell their book/course and then set up affiliate schemes so other people sell it too. It’s a crazy and infuriating chain that most often leads to nothing aside from the person at the top getting lots of cash! There are some good courses and books out there, but always do your research first, especially seeking out reviews/recommendations from people you trust.
9. Conferences can be a downer (or the best thing ever)
I both love and hate blogging conferences. I’ve met some of my favourite people at them, and they’re definitely a great place to get advice and insight from other bloggers. But they can also be pretty difficult. Like with all professions, there’s a lot of politics, opinions and egos in blogging, and you hear a lot of people telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s an easy place to fall prey to what I outlined in number one: comparison thieving joy. I’ve never had a business strategy for this blog, I don’t have a clear niche, and my numbers aren’t mind blowing, so I always have moments at conferences where I feel downright unprofessional and wonder what I’m doing. But then I find another blogger who feels the same way, lost, bumbling along and doing if for three simple loves: travel, writing and sharing. And it’s those moments that make conferences awesome.
11. There’s no right way to do it
There are so many different ways to blog and, of course, there are people who’ll tell you their way is the right way. But, in an industry this young, in fact in any industry at all, there’s never a homogenous “right”. All bloggers and influencers are finding a path through new terrain. The parameters and rules are always changing, and success is different for everyone. While some bloggers may want to make blogging their full-time career, others are happy to work a separate full-time job and blog when they get the chance. Some of my favourite blogs fall into the latter category. Being a full-time blogger doesn’t make you better. It took me a long time to find my balance, but I got there in the end.
12. Affiliates are good (when genuine)
There are plenty of bad ways to make money blogging (for example, selling sponsored posts), but, in my opinion, one of the best ways for bloggers to earn a living is through affiliate schemes. These are where a blogger links to something they recommend, and if you click on it and place an order, they receive a percentage of the profit, at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win for everyone: the reader gets a good recommendation; the company being promoted gets some business; and the blogger gets rewarded for the promotion. For example, I link to Booking.com and AirBnB. For AirBnB, it’s particularly good as the reader also gets money (£30) off their first booking. It’s a simple and honest way to make a living. Unless of course it’s not. Plenty of bloggers compromise this relationship by filling their blogs with affiliate links for things they don’t genuinely recommend, purely in pursuit of a profit. As I said in point six, authenticity is the thing that makes blogs great, so I find disingenuous affiliates maddening!
13. Blogs should be useful, interesting, entertaining or beautiful
Some bloggers are all about the writing, others are about the tips, photographs and advice. Everyone has a different style, but so long as you’re writing something that’s either useful, interesting, entertaining or beautiful, I think you’re doing it right. Some good examples: Useful, interesting, entertaining, and beautiful. And some of the best blogs do more than one. I think Jodi succeeds across all four.
14. It’s hard bloody work
When I say I’m a travel blogger, people often respond by saying, “what a dream job”. And, in some ways, it is. I love doing this and I feel lucky to be someone who can. But it isn’t my full-time job and nor would I want it to be. The full-time bloggers I know tend to be stressed and over-worked, often struggling to make ends meet or to maintain a love of travel. There are definitely people out there who make it work, but the happiest ones I know have combined it with something else, perhaps making apps or freelance writing too. Even to be a part-time blogger requires a lot of effort. We all tend to spend more time online that we’d like to, and have endless to-do lists we’re never on top of. I think it’s easy to think that travel bloggers spend their days on the beach, publishing a blog post now and then, and generally living the life of Riley – but the reality is far from it. Blogging requires a huge amount of effort and dedication. It’s a job not a hobby and, as with all jobs, it has its downsides. I’ve had my ups and downs with it all, coming close to quitting many times – but now, five years in, I’m happy with my balance; there’s nothing I’d rather do.
And that’s it from me. Are you a blogger? What are your best lessons learned?