Lately I’ve become very disillusioned with the internet.
Oh hell, let’s be honest here, I’ve been disillusioned with the internet for years. Nothing’s new except for the fact that in the past 6 months I’ve realized I have an out-of-control social media addiction and I’m determined to conquer it. As you might imagine, this is either frightening or empowering, usually both.
This has never been more apparent than when I returned back to the digital world after 3 weeks offline in remote Mongolia this month.
After an hour of catching up on self-indulgent FB posts, worldwide news that’s not really news, and 3,000+ emails in my inbox, I could already begin to feel the tranquility I had just worked so hard to establish begin to slip through my fingers. It definitely put things into harsh perspective, and within 24 hours I was ready to run back to the hills to my beloved Kazakh family and disconnect forever.
Nonetheless, it has got me thinking (watch out everyone!) about the state of the internet – travel blogging in particular. As I started to catch up on old posts, interact in my various blogging communities and peruse the World Wide Web for new reads, I couldn’t help but find myself cringing and shutting my laptop over and over and over again.
Now I know that makes me sound like a judgmental dickhead, so hear me out.
I get a lot of emails, messages, and comments from people who either have a blog or who are interested in starting a blog asking me anything and everything from how I make money, do I get to travel for free, and how do I get so many followers. Essentially I am asked everyday how have I found success as a travel blogger. At least, that’s what I think they are asking me.
While that isn’t an easy question to answer ( I work hard, I don’t give up, I am not afraid to take risks and I generally don’t give a fuck what people think about me, especially the people who yell at me for saying ‘fuck’ a lot), I think it can be boiled down to one simple thing.
I refuse to be boring. Well, I do my best.
Prepare yourselves for a bold, sweeping, potentially politically incorrect statement – I think most travel blogs are boring. There I said it. BORING. All-caps.
I don’t like boring. And you know what? Neither does the rest of the internet.
So there’s my first piece of advice, if you want to have a successful travel blog, don’t be boring. Easier said than done, I know. While the debate about how to exactly define a “successful blog” is a conversation for another day, or even whether or not I am even qualified to be writing a post on this (am I boring? Don’t answer that), I’d like to take the opportunity to share my thoughts about how NOT to have a boring blog, for any of those who are interested.
1. Grow a personality
In my opinion, a travel blog is boring when it’s missing one simple element – YOU.
For some unknown reason, which I will delve into in a minute, a lot of bloggers get boring after a while. I’ve noticed that it usually happens when they are trying to make the transition between hobby blogger and professional blogger. The personality behind the blog starts to disappear behind the desire to seem “professional.”
Newsflash people! It’s a blog, not National Geographic!
The whole entire point of starting a blog is sharing your voice, your opinions, your thoughts, your photos, in short, YOU! As soon as you take that out of the equation, it’s boring, generic, and bland, and to be perfectly honest, most people aren’t going to read it.
I hypothesize that it comes from the fact that you think that PR people and important “business-ey” folks that you want to impress aren’t going to take you seriously or want to work with you if you *actually* have an opinion, or if you drop f-bombs now and then, or if you criticize something.
The truth is, the more honest you are, the more credibility you have.
And credibility leads to loyalty and engagement, and that is what PR people want to see. Not sunshine and rainbows 24/7. So don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through your stories.
But what if my personality is boring?
Well, I can’t help you there.
2. Write in your own voice
This leads directly into my second point. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to write in your own voice.
Personally, I am a bit bipolar. I have two voices. No judging please.
Have I introduced you to Business Liz yet? Business Liz is usually suppressed 75% of the time because, to be honest, she’s pretty boring and she is often not allowed to make an appearance here. She only comes out when the end of the month is close and the rent needs to be paid by writing freelance for other travel publications that are NOT this blog. She frequently uses words like “stunning, spectacular and jaw-droppingly beautiful” and she’s always happy, no matter what. For some reason, traditional media likes this. She is not allowed to say “douchebag” or go off on tangents about what’s been annoying her recently.
Good thing I started my very own personal blog with my own personal money where I can share my own personal thoughts and opinions in my own personal voice and offend as many trolls as possible. Phew! See what I did there?
But in all seriousness, one of the most important things you can do in building a successful travel blog is to develop, hone and sharpen your own, unique voice. Trust me on this one.
(To get started on building your own kickass travel blog, check out my 10-step guide! :D)
3. Creativity is your friend
One of the amazing things about running your own blog is that you can be as creative as you want to because you answer to no one. How cool is that?
So instead of trying to imitate what you perceive to be a successful blog or travel site (cough cough, Lonely Planet, you are not LP, remember that), try to come up with something new and different.
Take chances, don’t play it safe
You are never going to get anywhere trying to recreate what someone else has already done. Instead, try and focus on creating content that you find interesting and coming up with something innovative. Every single time before I click publish on a post, I ask myself, is this something I actually want to read? How can I tell this story in a new way?
Of course this can get stressful down the line. Now that my blog is my main income, it gets harder and harder to be creative and come up with fresh ideas without compromising my ethics or what I’ve worked so hard to achieve, but that’s a story for a different day.
In the meantime, one of the easiest and best ways to distinguish yourself from the thousands of general boring travel blogs out there is to get creative.
4. Don’t be afraid to be negative and be honest
This goes back to developing your own voice. Many bloggers nowadays are afraid of being negative or giving their true thoughts about a place.
Here’s a big secret, one of the easiest ways to get people to listen to you is to be honest, even brutally honest. If you are always a rainbow unicorn bursting with positivity 24/7, you are going to get boring.
And if you are rainbow unicorn bursting with positivity 24/7 AND you are trying to make it as a professional blogger living off free trips, free swag and paid sponsorships, not only are you going to get boring really fast, you are also going to have zero credibility.
And people don’t want to work with bloggers who have zero credibility. Your success hinges on having a blog with readers who actually give a crap and listen to what you have to say.
You have to be honest. Don’t be fake. People can see through it straight away.
If you don’t like a place, say it. People are reading your blog for your opinion, they want to hear it! If you think something was a waste of money, speak up.
My only other advice on this (and I wish some of the bigger bloggers would listen to this) is to remember that if you do have people listening in, be careful what you say and remember that your voice has weight. Don’t throw someone under the bus without thinking, and most certainly DON’T use your blog and social media to manipulate people into getting what you want. That is not cool and very unprofessional.
5. Be a part the blogging community – join Travel Blog Success
I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating (especially because there’s a sale on at the moment, you’re welcome). I owe most of my (perceived) success as a travel blogger to a couple of groups – the Bloghouse run by Navigate Media Group and Travel Blog Success, and more recently, PTBA.
If you really want to take your travel blog to the next level, you will need help. There’s only so much you can google.
While there are heaps of travel blogging communities out there, these are my favorite because they are small, I know most of the people in them personally, and they are all really positive spaces. You are never mocked or ridiculed for anything.
Travel Blog Success is also the only community I actively participate in. Between the forums and the private FB group, it’s the only space where I feel 100% comfortable to ask any question, no matter how ridiculous, knowing that I will get good answers back and learn from other people. It’s also a great arena to be inspired and also make important connections.
I also help out with lessons and webinars on TBS, offering up tips and sharing the specific details of different campaigns I’ve worked on, how exactly I pitch people and make money, and also how I’ve managed to gain such a large following on places like my blog and Instagram. It’s where I share all my secrets.
So if you are interested in becoming a pro-blogger and learn from me and from some of the best in the business, you should think about joining. There are also perks and discounts included.
There is a sale on TBS membership right now that ends on Oct. 3 at 11pm EST. Just enter tbs25 in the Coupon Code at checkout and save 25% on joining.
6. Learn to say no
When you are starting to take on more and more projects, and looking to make money as a blogger, it’s really important to learn to say no.
I turn down about 75% of the offers I get, and it’s not always easy, especially when you are living off of 2 minute noodles everyday and you’re offered $500 to post a casino ad on your site. Your blog has to be number 1 and it’s really important to be selective about who you work with. Blogs that are nothing but a walking advertisement bore me and everyone else.
It’s really important to mix up your content with stories and posts that have no sponsorship attached whatsoever. I will also take this opportunity to tell you, it’s also really important to disclose all your sponsorships, otherwise you will lose credibility, cough cough, all fashion bloggers out there!
Now say it with me guys, “no!”
No, I am not going on a Caribbean Cruise run by an Australian company, because A. my main audience demographic are not Australians and B. the idea of a all-inclusive booze cruise makes me want to kill myself.
No, I am not going to write an entire blog post about your start-up company’s hippie travel footwear because I would never buy those ugly shoes myself and therefore I cannot, in good faith, promote them, no matter how much you pay me, which you didn’t even offer because you “don’t have a budget at this time.”
And hellllll no, I am not going to write about your Sensual Massage company in Christchurch because EWWWWW!
**Disclosure – all of these actually happened. And I wish they didn’t.
7. Don’t compare your blog to other blogs
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I try to remind myself of this constantly. It is so easy, at least for me, to look at what other bloggers are doing and start to compare myself to them. Obviously this is negative, unproductive and very unhealthy.
It’s a very tough lesson to learn, but as soon as I start to feel those dark thoughts crowd into my mind, I try to flip everything the other way – instead of seeing what someone else is doing as competition, I congratulate them and try to let myself be inspired to be more creative and work harder.
I actually try to do this in all aspects of my life. If I find myself in a bad mood or in a slump, I try to focus on the positive, smile a lot, and be even more friendlier than usual. And it works!
At the end of the day, your blog is almost a manifestation of yourself, and you can’t do what other people are doing or fixate on their work. Your energy and your efforts are much better directed at things you CAN control, your own blog.
Instead of seeing what other bloggers are doing as intimidating or anything negative, flip it upside and focus on the positive.
Easier said than done but don’t knock it til you try it!
8. Enough with the hotel review posts!
This might be a personal pet peeve of mine, but I really can’t stand hotel review posts. Does anybody read that? Nope! This usually happens because once you try to transition to “pro-blogger” one of the easiest freebies to nail is a hotel stay. But seriously, come ON, can you really not think of a more creative post to write than “Hotel Review – The Hilton?”
You are not TripAdvisor nor do you rank as highly on Google, so do us all a favor and stop.
Personally, I see zero value in writing a whole post about a hotel on a blog. And neither do most readers. B-O-R-I-N-G. I think hotel review posts average 2 comments an article, both usually from other bloggers. Is that the kind of engagement the hotel will want to see? How many people are actually going to book that hotel based off of your review?
I have really cut down on working with hotels, and now I only stay with very specific ones, usually boutique/quirky. Like a treehouse in the rainforest or a cave hotel in Turkey.
For me, I’ve found success writing about hotels as part of a larger piece. I’d rather tell the story of a place and organically incorporate the hotel into it somehow, than to just cut corners and pop out a quick review to get it over and done with. Does this mean I’m late with posts? All the time. But quality is always number one for me, and I refuse to sacrifice it.
If you want to have success as a travel blogger, everything you produce needs to be top notch. In this competitive world, there’s no room for half-ass stories.
9. Quit posting ugly photos
Depending on the type of blog you run, photos are almost always an important part. Travel is inherently visual. If you are looking to have a successful travel blog, you need to have inspiring, beautiful travel photos, no two ways about it.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a professional photographer or have a $5000 camera, but it does mean you need to put a little effort into your photos. So quit posting shit photos on fabulous blog posts!
The internet is very image heavy with the attention span of a toddler, it’s really important that your pictures scream “wow” at first glance.
Seriously, the quality of photos being featured on blogs and on Instagram is shocking, even from some of the top travel bloggers. If you are marketing yourself as a brand, you need the whole package, and ugly photos of beautiful places isn’t going to cut it.
Being a travel blogger is a wonderful thing, almost a renaissance person, skilled in all forms of art and creativity, or a jack of all trades. While you do need a strong point and a niche, like writing, video or photography, it’s important that you can also do other things as well, one strength isn’t good enough anymore in this business.
This means if you think your pics aren’t up to snuff, work on it. I have always wished to take better, more dynamic and creative photos, so this year I have actively tried to improve them. From watching Youtube tutorials to researching famous places for photo ideas before traveling there to going out and practicing in my own backyard, I’ve made every effort to get better.
No one is going to do it for you, you have to take the initiative and do it yourself.
10. Blog for yourself first and foremost
At the end of the day, the most successful blogs, in my opinion, are the ones that are done out of pure, undying love and passion. No matter how many years they’ve been around, you can still see the happiness, joy and excitement behind every word and photo.
This is incredibly tricky to navigate once your blog becomes your business, but at the end of the day, if you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, why are you doing it? Most people start blogging because they love it; it’s really important to keep that passion alive over the years.
Whenever I write, I ask myself, is this something I can read myself, maybe laugh and hopefully enjoy? Is this something I find helpful? If you can always come full circle and keep your blog for yourself, I think it will never be boring.
Have you ever considered blogging or trying to take your blog to the next level? Have any good tips for not having a boring travel blog? Share!