It’s been 5 months since my last rant. Wow, how does time fly!
It’s coming up on two years since I quit my job to become a full-time traveler blogger, and last week was my blog’s 5 year anniversary (stay tuned for exciting news!) so I have been doing a lot of deep thinking and pondering lately about life, my blog, the future, you know, the usual. You can probably see where this is going.
I’m going through a blogger mid-life crisis.
So a few months ago I attended an amazing blogger conference in Sri Lanka and was blown away by all of the incredible people there and positive conversations that were going on. But since then, like all good things, it came to an abrupt end when we all went home.
I realized when I started to think about my 5 years of blog stuff, recently I have inadvertently taken a step back from the travel blogging community over the past few months because I have been really frustrated with a lot of the attitude and behavior going on in there. Like really frustrated.
Through travel blogging and social media, many truly wonderful people have come into my life, and who continue to inspire me on a daily basis. And I’ve been able to follow my dreams and build my own business that have brought me some of the most amazing opportunities. And I am so grateful and happy for that, and I wouldn’t change anything in the world for the experiences I’ve had.
But as the years tick by, I feel like things are slowly going downhill. The interwebs have quickly become flooded with crap blogs and all sorts of seriously questionable behavior. There, I said it. Someone had to say it, might as well be me.
I’ve never been one to keep strong opinions to myself.
Nor is that to say I am an example of a perfect travel blogger. God knows sometimes I even annoy myself. In fact, I’ve probably been guilty of some of these points over the years. But I think it’s really important that bloggers can look at themselves and really analyze their own behavior; or, you know, use their brains before clicking publish. Wishful thinking.
I am not sure how many of you guys actually care about travel blogging, but many of you in the past have expressed interest to me in the behind-the-scenes of being a full-blown digital nomad (or lazy internet writer without serious career aspirations according to my family) and I know FAR TOO MANY OF YOU relish my haters, so why not indulge?
And for the small percentage of you that are bloggers, I’m very sorry if I’ve hit a nerve. And for any of you who are up and coming bloggers, this is for you. Chew on it, mull it over, ponder. Please. I’m writing this for the dual purpose of getting these feelings off my chest and also bringing people’s attention to some of the shady behavior going on in travel blogging.
While I try and generally keep my blog a happy and positive space, at the same time this has been weighing on my so much and bothering me for so long, I felt like I really needed to get it down on digital paper. My blog has always been a space for me to organize my thoughts and feeling, no matter how dark. So here we go.
Please excuse the lack of rainbows and unicorns, grab a cup of coffee, and get ready for a big, long-overdue rant about 5 blogging practices I’m totally sick of.
1. Gimme, gimme, gimme attitude
I’ve been to about a dozen travel blogging conferences and trade shows in 3 years and there is one reoccurring them above all else – the attitude of how much can I get?
Simmer down, people! Greediness is never attractive, and I can tell you the PR people you are hunting down like flies can read through you like a children’s book.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the main reasons I decided to become a full-time blogger was because I wanted free trips. Full disclosure. That being said, I did not go after free stuff like I was going to die tomorrow. I waited and waited and waited. I said no to contra when I was offered it because it wasn’t the right fit for my blog AND because I knew I didn’t have the influence to warrant it yet. I didn’t want to sell out.
I put my blog first and my love of presents second.
But the most important thing I did? I focused 100% of my energy on my blog itself and producing good content. Not SEO, not link baiting, not pandering to other travel bloggers for a hook-up. I held out. I had been blogging for two years and I spent another year figuring out how to build a community of people who were similar to me. I focused on writing better stories and taking better photos.
If you’re interested, I recently wrote about my 10 tips for starting a kickass travel blog.
Now when I go to conferences, I was astonished by the behavior of MANY travel bloggers. People who have been blogging for less than a year trying to get invited on trips. People who have literally ZERO engagement on their blog and somehow think they have enough sway to deserve not only a invite on a blog trip but also to be paid a daily rate.
I speak to all bloggers when I say this (and please please please listen) – you need to fully understand your brand, your value, and above all, YOUR INFLUENCE before you start marketing yourself and trying to work with brands and DMO’s.
Influence is the key word here – you are an influencer. People give you free stuff not because they like you, but rather they are investing in you because they believe you will bring them business. They are looking for a return from you, will you send them business? If you don’t think so, then ethically should you accept stuff?
And your numbers aren’t always the most important thing. There are blogs with plenty more traffic than mine but have no engagement and there are really small blogs with super specialized niches who have such a strong community of followers, you know they have a lot of influence. By keeper track of feedback, engagement and reader surveys, you’ll learn over time what kind of value your blog has and from there can develop good projects and partnerships.
The most important thing to remember is your audience – you will only want to work with sponsors that appeal to them, provide them something they are interested in. You have to know them really really well.
Instead of fixating on the freebies and perks, instead why not work on building relationships with the businesses you’d be interested in working with in the future? Go to workshops, listen to tutorials, take blog courses to work on improving the areas you need to before trying to make that leap into a business.
2. Lack of creativity
Maybe it’s just me, but I like creative people. When I read blogs, I like the ones that try new things, stand out, say something I haven’t thought about before or question things. Or I like ones that provide really valuable information that I could use. The most successful blogs stand out from the crowd.
I read a lot of blogs that focus on all sorts of amazing, weird, and different things and use all sorts of mediums to share their stories. Oh, and I only read about 5 travel blogs regularly.
I think to go into a field like travel blogging, you need to be a creative person. You are basically starting your own magazine or newspaper but you’re the one writing all the stories and taking all the pictures. And if you decide to do it on your own, on your own terms, in a way you are breaking away from tradition.
So what does it mean to be creative? I’m not saying you have to be the most amazing photographer or writer or whatever, but try and present things in a creative or new way, because, let’s be honest here, there is so much travel writing out there how on earth will you stand out otherwise? Or perhaps focus on what you are an expert in, what are your strengths? Tailor your blog around what you are really good at.
This is where things get tricky. There are some really amazing blogs out there that are really crap at marketing themselves. Content does not always win. And then there are the blogs that have terrible, eye-bleeding content, but are really good at marketing themselves.
Flashy graphics, beautiful designs, the latest themes, hipster fonts. Yes, that looks good but you need more than a snazzy cover to keep people around. For me, what the blog actually says and offers the readers is the most important.
Guys, I can’t stress this enough, creativity is super important in blogging. The market is absolutely flooded with blogs, there are millions of them. Is your game-plan going to be win new followers with flashy graphics or write the most kickass travel post EVER about the coolest experience you’ve had on the road?
Stop fretting so much over SEO. Stop spending all your time thinking about how to gain followers. Stop trying to optimize and guest post and do this and that that *might* get you a hundred new pageviews. And please for the love of god stop trying to game the system on social media. Don’t buy followers. Don’t use bots. Don’t play the follow/unfollow game. Take all that brainpower you are wasting on trivial shit and focus on creating something that will stand out and will last.
Trust me, that’s how you are going to be successful in the long run.
To be honest, there is also a massive dearth of creativity in the professional side of travel blogging as well. In my opinion conferences like TBEX, the leading biggest, baddest travel blogging conference in the world show a lack of commitment to innovation which drives me bonkers. Maybe it’s just me, but you would think that a conference that prides itself on being “the future of travel media” might put in a little more effort into actually being the future of travel media instead of their current business model of “what we’ve done has always worked so why change?”
I won’t be the first blogger to say that I go to see my travel blogging friends, not to learn something new. Yes, I do have blogging friends, even after this post. I promise. At least I hope I do. Eeep!
So how do you tell people to be creative? Well, that’s a tricky one sirs. What I usually do is keep an eye on what’s been done before then do the opposite. Or I think about how I normally would tell a story and then take one more step to make it more exciting and different. Challenge yourself.
3. Sense of entitlement
There has been a massive debate in the travel blogging community for years now about how travel bloggers think they deserve to be paid to travel. This growing sense of entitlement among travel bloggers really bothers me.
Yes, you read that right. Somehow getting a $10,000 free trip to Tahiti isn’t good enough anymore. Now many travel bloggers think that their time deserves to be compensated.
I wavered back and forth on this for a long time. And again, to be perfectly up front, I have been paid day rates and I have upcoming trips that pay day rates. However, most of them have been Instagram trips, not blog trips, and those rates come from the fact that I sign a big fat contract selling my photographs and their full copyright usage. In laymen terms, I am not being paid for the fact that I am going on the trip, I am being paid as a photographer. That’s very different than asking to be paid on a blog trip.
I think there are maybe a dozen travel blogs MAX out there that are truly big enough and truly command enough impact and influence that they deserve to be paid outright day rates. When they talk, people really listen.
I believe bloggers really need to refocus their energies on building long-term partnerships with brands that pay or work using their skills in social media, writing, photography or video and be able to cash that in on collaborations and projects that pay. I think bloggers deserved to be paid when they are selling content, in some way or another.
There are heaps of ways to make money as a travel blogger, and getting day rates on a trip shouldn’t be one of them.
Again this goes back to knowing your value as a blogger. And when pitching projects try and think about what else you might be able to provide that you could put a dollar amount on. How can you help? Do they need photos? Video? Maybe even blog posts for their own site? Could you potentially write the story for another publication that does pay?
4. Circle jerk community
I’m sorry for using the word circle jerk on my blog. Mom, please don’t Google it.
Moving on, while I really, deep-down, love the travel blogging community as a whole, something many of you might find questionable after reading this post, there is this really weird, bizarre “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” behavior running rampant around the blogosphere. And not in an honest way.
Like someone posting in a FB group “hey I’m going to Fiji, can someone please pass along the Fiji tourism board contact kthanksbye” and 20 people comment saying “Oh em gee, I’ve always wanted to go to Fiji, can you message me too?!”
Back to point 1 – greedy enough?
(Also, tangent, if you can’t find the contact of who you are looking for in any other way than posting in a 5,000 person public Facebook group, you probably don’t deserve to go to Fiji).
It’s like bloggers that only comment on other blogs. Why don’t you try to find your own followers than harpy off of someone else? Or those posts asking everyone to share their latest blog post and everyone else will reshare. Or just tweeting amongst other bloggers. Seriously, the list goes on and on.
It’s the same behavior I’ve mentioned before, instead of trying to attract new readers to a blog, many times bloggers are somehow magnetically drawn to other bloggers. They try to get their friends on trips they don’t deserve. They try and wheedle contacts out of people. I get daily emails from bloggers I’ve never heard of let alone have met asking me for all sorts of favors. Um, nope.
Trying to piggyback on other people’s contacts and work isn’t a good business model. Or worse, trying to snitch people’s projects out from under them is even worse.
Instead of trying to interact a lot with other travel bloggers, which don’t get me wrong, I do, I also have made a big point to observe and learn from other creatives, influencers and even other types of bloggers. It’s been really inspiring and has encouraged me to take risks, try new things and really think outside the box.
Coming from someone who just wrote “circle jerk” in public forum, you might find this one hard to swallow. But bear with me.
The worst thing about travel bloggers is the lack of professionalism. And I don’t mean in their writing. Lord knows I drop enough “f” bombs on here to make a nun blush. That actually doesn’t matter.
I am mostly talking about their blogging practices, related to all of the above points. Many travel bloggers like to oversell themselves, make promises to the moon and back and then don’t deliver. Do I need to explain why that’s ABSOLUTELY THE WORST THING EVER and why that is detrimental to travel bloggers as whole?
Bloggers who don’t deliver are the worst offenders.
Would you believe just last year I did 6 major projects where I had to work my ass off to convince someone to work with me because they had had a terrible experience with a blogger in the past? That’s a terrible statistic.
I think one of the worst things I blogger can do is misrepresent themselves.
And I say that because I see that all the time. Especially from those bloggers who are really good at marketing themselves. They know all the key words that marketers want to hear and they know how to make themselves look really really good.
They say they have tremendous engagement. They say they have so much experience. They say they are the best blogger ever. But do they have the content and influence to back it up? Nopers.
Of course it’s also not so professional to sleep with guides on press trips, get so wasted you miss the early morning wake up call, or have a hissy fit on Twitter because you didn’t get an upgrade on your free flight, seriously guys, the list could go on and on.
I think it’s time I probably stopped, don’t you?
Bloggers as a whole are a self-made industry. There aren’t industry regulations and standards. Anyone and their mom can start a blog, so it’s really important that we put on a good face and do our best. My philosophy? Underpromise and overdeliver.
This is directed for new and old bloggers alike, I think there is a lot that can be done better and more that we can become aware of, don’t you think?
Over and out.
What are your thoughts on this? Are there any blogging practices out there that upset you too?