Long ago, I made a vow to never blog about blogging. It’s not that I’m not obsessed with the topic — serious apologies are owed to any innocent bystanders when I get together with one of my blogging buddies and we start shooting off — it’s just that it’s not what Alex in Wanderland is all about. I love my job, but this isn’t a blog about blogging.
Regardless, I am frequently asked blogging-related questions and my Ask Me Anything offer was no exception. Last week, I answered all kinds of queries about life, travel, and making money. This round, we’re onto the blogging responses!
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How did you make Alex in Wanderland a success? I want to learn how to gain more traction for my blog during my travels and diving experiences. — KY
I’m always flattered (and still a little surprised!) when I’m asked for blogging advice, because I still see myself as a small fish in a big pond — or, let’s be real here, a plankton in an endless ocean. My advice probably goes against everything “the experts” say, so heed with caution:
Have a passion. There are so many of what I call “white noise” travel blogs out there — apathetic, mediocre content farms built with no higher purpose than to someday score a free press trip or make a living off link sales. Everyone has their own path to happiness… and I suppose for some people it could be that. But mine involves creating something I’m proud of and pouring love into it every single day. Don’t write about what you think the search engines will like, or what you think Lonely Planet will re-Tweet, or what you hope will bring in the adsense big bucks. Just write from the heart. People are drawn to passion. The readers will come, and then maybe the other stuff will too.
If you’re all, “enough with the inspirational crap already gimme action!” then I have an answer for that too. Sign up for Travel Blog Success. This online course answered questions I didn’t even know I had about blogging, and helped me develop Alex in Wanderland into a business without losing my integrity. It is the best money I ever spent, and today I’m a proud affiliate of the program. (Update: Travel Blog Success was merged with Superstar Blogging by Nomadic Matt. It’s an equally impressive course that I plan to take and review eventually — click here to take it yourself!)
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What made you start blogging? — Lauren
I think most humans have an instinct to create and share with like-minded souls (hello, Facebook!) and when I first started this blog my universe didn’t have a lot of travel-obsessed people in it. So I set out to expand my universe. And, you know, other high-minded ideals, as I recounted in my Year One Roundup….
My final semester in college I took a travel writing class at NYU. At one point our professor asked us to do an in-class exercise and write freely about why we wanted to be writers, or get out of a writing career. After 15 minutes this is what I had on my page: “I want to be funny and I want people to like me.”
Profound stuff, amirite? But seriously. I started blogging with the hope of creating a creative outlet and a thriving community, and so I’m thrilled with where I am today! Had I started it with the intention of becoming passively wealthy, I’d be sorely disappointed right now. I get emails on the regular from blogging-hopefuls planning to strike it rich live-blogging their backpacking trips. When I read these emails, I must conclude that either (A) travel bloggers are promoting a very misleading impression of this industry or (B) I am really doing this whole blogging thing wrong.
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I would love to know how long it took you to reach the different stages, i.e. 10k views, 50k views and 100k views. — Tammy
Technically I started blogging in 2009 but it was only in June of 2011 that I moved to a self-hosted blog and started tracking my analytics, so I’m basing off that start date. It took me seven months to hit 10,000 page views per month, ten months to hit 20,000 per month, twenty-two months per month to hit 50,000 per month, and thirty-two months to hit 100,000 per month! Basically, it’s been a slow burn. I am horrible at self-promotion and social media and so I think my blog has grown much more gradually than others.
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I wonder if you get recognized when you travel and if you have a funny story that goes with it? — Lena
Actually, my ex-boyfriend and one of my best friends in Thailand were both recognized from my blog before I was! Outside of conferences and travel events, I’ve only been recognized once, and it was on New Year’s Eve in Thailand. Hearing first-hand how I had inspired someone to travel to Southeast Asia was the perfect way to end the year, and the most rewarding feedback I could have ever hoped for.
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How did you go about getting the freebies? Specifically, how do you go about getting your accommodation or your activities covered? — Megan
Well, first of all, I don’t think of them as freebies. There is a lot of work involved in partnering with a hotel, tour company, etc! It’s more of an exchange of goods and services. But to answer your question, it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes I email companies I want to work with and occasionally they reach out to me! Other times, it is part of a larger collaboration like my partnerships with Viator and Hostelworld. But speaking of which…
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I just started a blog and my mom is totally reading it every day. Soooo when do I start rolling in the free trips and swag bags?! No harm in asking, am I right or am I right? — Fakey McFakerson
Okay, you’re onto me — I made this question up. I didn’t want to put anyone on the spot, but I am asked variations of it on a regular basis and see it pop up with alarming frequency in a blogging networking group I’m in.
Guys — there is a harm in asking. Partnerships are a two way street. Blogging is not (or at least should not be, in order for the industry to survive and thrive) be a gimme-gimme free-for-all.
Travel blogging is still a new industry, so it’s not inconceivable that someone with very little influence could snag a complimentary hotel stay or a comped activity or even a press trip. But guess what is going to happen when that hotel review falls flat because the new blogger doesn’t really have the kind of readership that’s going to translate into brand recognition and bookings? That hotel is going to say, “Wow, working with bloggers is really a waste of time. I knew I should have trusted the sales guy at the phone book company! The internet is a fad!” And that hotel is never going to work with bloggers again.
By actively trying to partner with brands that you cannot proudly provide a strong return on investment to, you are harming the very industry you hope to be an active, productive member of! So please, I beg of you — focus on content you feel passionate about first, having fun second, building a readerships third, and getting free stuff, like, seventy-ninth.
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I would love blogging tips like advertising tips & what you say in email pitches to hotels and tourism boards! — Rachel
In my email pitches I introduce myself and my blog and share a list of my freelancing outlets as well as a brief outline of my statistics. I explain why I’m interested in working with that company specifically, and I include examples of posts and articles I’ve written for similar business. For example if I’m writing to a company that does biking tours in London I will show them Men’s Fitness stories I’ve written about active travel as well as blog posts I’ve written about bike tours in Bangkok and Reykjavik!
As for advertising, it is my least favorite part of blogging and whenever I speak to other bloggers that I consider my peers I am reminded how spectacularly I am failing at it. From a “financial success” standpoint I mismanage my time on a daily basis. I let advertiser emails decay in my inbox while I spend all day editing photos and rewriting posts. Whoops.
I am trying to adapt, though. In the past I’ve just waited for advertisers to contact me and then started the exhausting negotiations process, and often felt quite icky in the process. Right now I’m trying make a change to being more proactive and approaching brands that I love and proposing true partnerships rather than just drive-by link sales.
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When you are given accommodation/experiences in exchange for your reviews, do you usually contact companies letting them know what your plans are, or do companies contact you and you fit that into your schedule if it’s something that interests you? — Micaela
It’s a mix. Occasionally I reach out to tour operators/hotels/whatever that I am excited about, or that I’m interested in for a freelance story I’m writing elsewhere, and that I know I can provide great value to. Other times, someone will reach out to me and then I have to decide (A) if I’m interested and (B) if I can make it work with my schedule. Believe it or not, coordinating with sponsors takes a lot of time and effort and often I prefer to plan and pay for everything myself than have to deal with it!
For example, I both sought out and accepted a ton of offers for partnerships in Peru. While I adored the companies that I worked with and was proud to promote them, by the time we arrived in Ecuador, I was over it. I didn’t do a single comped activity or accommodation stay. I love the travel industry, so I really enjoy working with travel businesses and brainstorming with them and being inspired by them — but sometimes I need a break to just be on the traveler side of the equation.
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What are your thoughts on press trips? Some of my favorite bloggers seem to do nothing but these days. — Amanda
Alex in Wanderland is in no danger of turning into a press trip factory! At the moment, I’m in the process of accepting what is only my second ever press trip. The first one was amazing and the upcoming is definitely out to rival it. I’ve been offered others, and mostly I’ve had to turn them down without even considering them because my schedule is already packed with my personal travels, or I’m across the planet.
I have joked that I could probably live at home with my mom and travel exclusively on these press trip offers (they are almost always based out of the US) and have a lot more money in my bank account than I do now. But, you know what? I’m kind of a control freak and never getting to take the reigns of my own travels would drive me batty! I think press trips can be awesome — it is great being shown around a destination by an insider, and getting to collaborate with other people passionate about travel. But I will likely always limit them to one or two per year.
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I’d be interested to hear more about how you get in with your sponsors and partnerships (ex. the stuff you did for Viator in South America) – did you pitch to them or did they approach you? — Rika
The true partnerships I’ve had here on Alex in Wanderland — with Viator, Hostelworld, and Eagle Creek — for example, were built through old-fashioned networking. They have happened really organically. My work with Viator stemmed from a connection at TBEX, while my collaborations with Hostelworld came about after making friends with one of their ex-employees. And my relationship with Eagle Creek was the product of my freelance writing gig for their site.
So far, pitching hasn’t been super successful for me in either direction. There are a few brands I love that I’m dying to work with, but my emails go unanswered. On the other hand, I receive lots of unsolicited pitches that I reject because I’m not excited about promoting the brand or service.[Sidenote: Question-asker Rika is an awesome example of how you don’t need a million readers to create mutually beneficial partnerships. Her blog brings in around 5,000 page views per month, and her super-niche Roatan Reviews are a rockin’ example of how someone with a small readership can create big value for their collaborators!]
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How did you find your writing style and how do you manage to convey such great personality through your writing? It’s something I struggle with – I feel like I have to put ! at the end of everything to make it have personality. — Jes
Well, my mom is a writer so I like to think it’s in my blood! Really though, I think the key to keeping sane while writing as much content as I do is to mix it up. Sometimes I really try to flex my brain cells and push myself to craft beautiful posts, and sometimes I just let it rip like I would if I was recounting a story to my girlfriends.
A consistent compliment I get about this blog is how much personality it has, which is very flattering, but kind of ironic because offline I can be a bit shy and a lot awkward — and not in the cool Jennifer Lawrence way. Maybe my introverted ways are why I have so much energy left over for my blog?
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What is your biggest pet peeve about your community? Lol…. had to ask. — Shaun
Is this a trick question? I’m going to take the bait! I truly do love this community, and I feel I’ve developed real friendships with several of my readers over the years thanks to interactions in the comments and on social media. Sometimes when a regular commenter drops off I wonder about them and hope everything is okay! But anyone who says there is nothing that irritates them about their job is lying, and I would be to.
My pet peeve is people who email me questions that are clearly answered on my blog. I don’t expect someone to go digging through every single post in my archives (I’ve written almost 900 posts after all!) but I admit I’m sometimes annoyed when someone emails me to ask something that is very clearly answered on my site — like what camera I use, when that is answered in my sidebar and in a dedicated page! Mostly, though, I really cherish the reader emails I receive, and I think the annoyance I feel is mostly at myself — because I’m reminded I need to organize and promote my content more clearly.
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What do you love most about blogging? — Alex
Thank you for that question, self! But wow, it’s a tough one. The things I love would be impossible to rank — having independence in my schedule and location, interacting with like-minded (and sometimes not like-minded!) people from around the world, building a creative space I’m proud of, having a platform to promote issues I care about, and of course having the opportunity to explore this beautiful planet we are all so lucky to live on.
This post is illustrated with photos of some of the best parts of blogging — and not just because I don’t usually allow cameras when I’m sobbing in the fetal position because an advertiser hasn’t payed up and I have two-hundred emails flagged as needing urgent response. It’s because I do love this job. Yeah, it took me years to get to where I am today and it took years before that to save up enough of a security net that I’d be able to take the leap, and I’m on the verge of nervous breakdown more often than I’d like to admit. But I’m still figuring it out as I go. I know a lot of what I wrote here might seem negative or discouraging, but it was only intended as honesty.
I’m not out to peddle blogging as an easy income source and a carefree lifestyle, because that has not been my experience. I never want to promote a false image of how much work, time, and luck it takes to succeed. I respect you enough to want to give you a realistic picture of how I got here, and I have nothing to gain from sugarcoating it. Chasing dreams can be messy — but it’s the best kind of chaos.
Happy blogging! I’ll see ya’ll in the comments…