Fact: I never studied abroad.
Another fact: it’s one of my biggest regrets.
But with a slew of friends working in international education, and after year 2 of spending a day with students returning home from their recent semesters abroad at the annual Lessons From Abroad Conference in Los Angeles, I’ve come to understand (somewhat) the joys and the challenges of such an experience. What I DO know and can speak to, is the world of travel blogging. And be it small successes like mine, or much larger ones like those of my colleagues, I can sit, unblinking, in front of a sea of faces and call travel writing one of the greatest, most intimate, most rewarding and most exciting ways to make sure that sense of adventure never leaves you, whether you’re returning home from 2 weeks or 2 years away.
Many students return home struggling with what to do with the experiences they’ve had abroad. Perhaps family & friends can’t relate or even don’t care. Maybe people get tired of hearing the stories after awhile. Maybe the experience has ignited something in them, but which they don’t know how to translate into their “normal” lives. Maybe they feel so invested in the journey they’ve come through that it seems innately wrong to face how everything was before as if that journey hadn’t happened. And in some cases, an experience so far removed from everything they’ve known has changed them irrevocably forever. But returning from a study abroad experience doesn’t have to be the end. You’re now an expert on experiences and places in a way that no one else is. And that includes the people that write for Conde Nast Traveler. Remember what those things are…and get writing.
There are many reasons to consider travel journalism on any level. Whether its to keep your experiences alive, share them with friends and family, connect with people across the globe or become a successful, high-paid, globetrotting journalist, blogging is a viable and satisfying way to ensure that travel is always a part of your life. Below I’ve outlined a few things to consider, ways to leverage your writing and opportunities to consider if you think blogging might be for you. Mix and match what works and interests you, because the beauty of blogging is that it is 100% your own. I’ve also included some tips on how to get started and carve a path for yourself. Read on, and leave your questions in the comments!
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START
Blogging is a labor of love. It is time-consuming, often thankless, not usually profitable and – if you’re not traveling regularly – sometimes seemingly irrelevant. Those are road blocks, and ones you can overcome, I think, pretty easily. But if you’re getting into blogging to avoid a 9 to 5 job right out of college, hoping to make the big bucks or jonesing for free trips around the world, don’t do it. BUT if you love to write, love to share, and make it something to be proud of…well, you never know.
Now that I’ve said my peace, and if you think you can stick to it, or even if you want to consider it for a one-time project, keep reading.
WHY TO DO IT
- Sharing & Remembering I started blogging as a way to document my experiences on trips and share them in a concise and fun way with family and friends who weren’t along for the ride. When other readers on the internet, (most of them travelers like me), showed an interest, it made me want to share more. (Because who doesn’t love an audience?) Blogging is a way for you to mentally separate your experiences into individual stories, and document your travels so that you can have them for posterity or to return to whenever you want. Over time, I found myself paying closer attention to my activities when I traveled. I wrote down the foods I ate, the people I noticed. If I overheard a conversation at the table next to me, I took note. If I sat by myself for a few minutes, I left my phone in my purse and soaked in the sights and sounds. All my experiences became more vivid, more important. And all because I knew I would need to store them all away so I could write about them later. Once you task yourself with coming up with content for your site on a regular basis, being able to share your experiences the best way you can becomes a challenge – and a fun one at that.
- Writing Portfolio Anything you have a passion for comes across immediately – any musician, actor, doctor, army commander or politician can tell you that. If writing is something you love, if it’s something you’re good at, if it’s something you’ll ever be asked for (grad school applications, job interviews, whatever!) keeping a travel blog means you have a ready-made sampler of your writing style there at your fingertips whenever you need it. And as a study abroad returnee with a passion for the adventure you’ve just had, there is little doubt that the writing that comes from those memories will be some of the best you could ever have created.
- Connecting with the Globe “No one understands me!” Well yes, a lot of people do, or will. When I started blogging I was shocked to find out how BIG the travel blogging community is. Nevermind the endless list of travel companies – airlines, hotel chains, luggage companies, tourism boards, PR representatives, tour organizers, cruise lines, etc. etc. – that exist and interact heavily in the online space. And they all want to hear from and interact with YOU. I belong to several sub-blogging groups who have shared interests like art or hotels, and it’s fun to have those people to engage with on a regular basis. Whatever your niche or special interest is, there is a whole contingent online waiting to have you as part of their group.
- Corporate America Loves You I think us bloggers like to think this is universally true (we’re bloggers! we’re influencers! we reach the masses!) It’s not. But it is true to an extent. I’ve attended the North American Travel Bloggers Conference for several years, and each year the list of sponsors grows larger and more impressive. This is because companies like Expedia, Room 77 and Tripadvisor are looking to travel bloggers to help them create content and engage their base audience. The chance to be a part of those worlds, interact with those companies and have a say in the direction of the travel industry is now more viable than ever.
I’ve learned a few things at a conference…or five. Here are my top ones:
- Pick Your Niche Consider what your specialty or personal interest might be. Solo travel? Budget travel? Adventure travel? Do you know a lot about backpacking? Are you good at picking hostels? Are you the luxury-only type? Family travel, couples’ travel, how to collect and cash in hotel & airline points….all of these and more are more apt to give you an edge and an angle than being all over the place – and it’ll be much easier to get freelance gigs or attract a loyal audience if you position yourself as an expert on something.
- Market Yourself on Social Media It too is time-consuming and you must be wiling to keep up with it, but you will increase your readership exponentially, especially at the beginning, if you set up a Twitter account and a Google+ account for yourself and begin posting, interacting, retweeting, linking and commenting regularly. Get involved in travel discussions – #TNI (Travellers’ Night In Twitter chat) on Thursdays at 12:30pm PST is one of my favorites, but there are tons more – and meet other travelers. Read other blogs – travel and otherwise – and leave them comments or tell them you liked their writing, then link your blog in the comment so they can check yours out if they choose. The bottom line is – no man is an island. If you don’t jump into the pool, no one is going to want to swim with you.
- Teach Yourself Blogging requires you to be a *slight* techno-nerd. In order to set up my site, I Googled for hours – HTML tricks to tweak certain elements of my theme, SEO tips so I’d rank higher for certain search terms, blogging tips for how to help individual posts go viral. If you aren’t familiar with Digg, Technorati, Reddit, SEO, Google+ and RSS….its time to do some reading. I promise you’ll only have to do it once.
- Set Goals Blog consistently. Whatever you think is manageable for yourself, give it a deadline, whether it’s twice a week or twice a month. Setting up an editorial calendar that dictates what your article topic is going to be and what date you’re going to post it by is a great way to plan ahead so you don’t go “I don’t know what to write about, I’ll skip it this week,” because before you know it, your blog will have sat empty for months. Make the time.
- Keep Blogging If you can’t afford to travel right this moment (or don’t have the time), it doesn’t mean you can’t blog. Pull from past experiences, no matter how far back they go. And consider that the place you currently live is actually a destination – maybe not for you, but for millions of people. If people in Paris thought Paris was boring and never wrote about it, how would you know about that great hole-in-the-wall brasserie? If you take a weekend trip or know of something cool in your town, cover it! It’s inexpensive and you can re-visit to snap photos any time.
- Be Visual Invest in a good camera, even if it’s a point-and-shoot. Great photos will make or break your blog – text only is a total snooze. But you knew that already
- Don’t Sell Out You WILL be contacted by oodles of marketing folk (often out of the country) who will tell you they loooove your site and really want to post some stuff for their clients to cross-promote, and hey, it’ll be great content for you! And they’ll even pay you! DO NOT fall for these. You are compromising the integrity of your site by letting these idiots market all over the place and pepper your labor of love with links and bad writing under false pretenses that it will be any sort of nicety for you. Unless it’s a reputable company who is asking for a banner ad, do not take text ads or guest posts from any of these companies.
OK, I’M BLOGGING – NOW HOW DO I UP MY GAME?
This is for those of you who want to parlay your blogging experience into something bigger. It takes time and energy, but a lot of successful bloggers have made a living by exploring foreign lands and covering all kinds of topics – their own, or assigned – for their sites and a slew of various other publications. Here are some things to consider!
- Your Own Site In some cases, you can make money selling advertising slots on your site in the form of banner ads. This is fine, but please know that A). this is MINIMAL revenue at best – I’m talking a matter of cents in some cases, and B). if your site is so ad-heavy it takes forever to load or is obnoxious, people will stop reading it. Be choosy. Still, it looks pretty legit if STA Travel is advertising on your site, right? Why not.
- Guest Post Offer to guest post on other, higher-profile sites once you’ve interacted or become friendly with the editors – other blogs are happy to take some burden off their shoulders in the form of a well-written post from a fellow blogger. Choose sites that fit your niche and don’t ask for money up front. This is to give you some exposure that hopefully will lead to paid posts later on.
- Freelance Some sites like WhereIveBeen, Examiner and Suite101 will have an arsenal of writers (and it’s pretty easy to become one of them with a quick application) who they pay for regular posts based on length or how successful they are once they post. Check them out. Keep an eye out for assignment requests from other sites, or opportunities with travel companies who hire bloggers and vloggers to cover travel content that beefs up their site. Expedia is one.
- Get a Job If you’re serious about writing and you’ve had experience in the blogging and writing arena (or feel ready) go for a paid job with a website, travel company or print publication. Huffington Post is a great place for bloggers. And if Travel + Leisure loves you…well, then, please share my business card with them, kay?
Where does this all lead? Not to put stars in anyone’s eyes, but the possibilities are truly endless, and that’s no joke. One of the original travel bloggers on the scene, Johnny Jet, travels over 150,000 miles a year, criss-crossing the globe and writing about it. Bloggers get invited by tourism boards, airlines, hotels, museums, tour companies, cruise ships and even Disneyland to go to special events, fly to exotic places, be guinea pigs for new tour launches…the list is endless. Its hard work on your end too – but what work! I could happily write 5000 words a day if it meant I was doing it in business class on Singapore Airlines or from a beach in Maui. Those experiences aren’t impossible, and lots of people are doing it. But they will all tell you how hard they worked to get there and how hard they work to stay there. On a smaller scale – nice dinners out, special rates at hotels, free day tours, complimentary gift boxes and travel products sent for you to try for free (even luggage!) – perks are everywhere. Many of these perks have enabled me to travel in ways and to places I may not have had the chance to otherwise, because I had my blog to back myself up. So it has actually helped me travel more!
So you’re back from studying abroad? All you need is your computer and your smarts to get back out there. Now go do it!
To read more from Leslie Guettler, visit her website at CGTravelsBlog.com
TBEX – Travel Blog Exchange (hosts of the annual TBEX and TBEX Europe Blogger Conferences)
SATW – Society of American Travel Writers
Los Angeles Consortium of Online Travel (for those of you Angelenos I met at LFA this year)
TBU – Travel Bloggers Unite