13 things I have learned about travel blogging in the last 16 months

13 things I have learned about travel blogging in the last 16 months

 

travel blogging

Has travel blogging changed the way I travel?

I opened my blog, My Adventures Across the World, less than two years ago – in September 2014. Actually, that’s when I finally bought my own domain. In fact, I first started travel blogging on a free platform in March 2013, after a very eventful trip to Cuba. Back then, I wasn’t focusing on turning my blog into a career. I just wanted to rant about Cuba and perhaps write about my other travels. I had no intentions of abandoning my academic career yet.

Read more about my academic career in my post “How I went from being an academic to a travel blogger.”

I eventually bought my own domain because I had heard from someone that it would be easier to install Google Ads to get a passive income. Who doesn’t want an effortless, passive income? I surely did! I thought it would be an easy way to earn a little extra money to increase my meager tour leader paycheck and to add to my future travel consultant income.

Less than two years after buying my domain and less than 18 months after deciding to ditch my tour leading career (or any other career, for that matter) and start blogging full time, I haven’t installed Google Ads or any other affiliates yet, and I have come to the conclusion that travel blogging is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong: I love it and wouldn’t do anything else for a living, but this isn’t nearly as easy-peasy as I thought it would be.

Here are 13 things I have learned in my first 15 months of full time travel blogging.

travel blogging

Do I look at things differently since I have started travel blogging?

13 things I have learned about travel blogging in the last 15 months

Travel blogging is a real job

Just because I don’t walk into an office every day and I don’t have fixed hours, that doesn’t mean blogging is not a real job. Sure, I am free to work whenever and wherever I want, but for most bloggers (including myself) this translates into anywhere and at any time (and all the time).

I actually have a strict working routine, where I average 10 hours per day (with peaks of up to 12 hours), sometimes even during weekends. I work much more now than I did in my previous jobs. What’s different now is that I actually really enjoy what I am doing, for as hard as it is.

travel blogging

Travel blogging? It ain’t all beach and games

Travel blogging is much more work than I thought

Before starting to blog full time I was under the impression that managing a travel blog would be fairly easy. I thought it was just a matter of writing something, placing some nice photos here and there, and hit the publish button.

I wish it were that easy. I know that a post doesn’t necessarily have to be a masterpiece, but I still like the idea of writing to the best of my abilities. Putting together a post takes me anything between a day and even a couple of weeks, depending on the topic and on how inspired I am. Once I have an idea in mind, I have to build the post in an appealing way, one that makes people want to read it. The language I use, the phrasing, and even seemingly silly things as the length of a paragraph all make a difference.

Once the post is written, I have to find the right pictures to go with it, edit them at least a little bit (I am no photographer), caption them and place them along the relevant text.

This is why I find it very frustrating when I get contacted by people who ask all sort of questions the answers to which can be easily found on my blog. It is rather annoying when they tell me that they don’t have time 10 minutes to read that post that took me well over two weeks to write!

travel blogging

There’s more to travel blogging than just exploring amazing places

In travel blogging, SEO is a must…

Search Engine Optimization (which bloggers refer to as SEO) is the most efficient way to make sure that traffic is driven to a post and to the blog. When I wrote my first post, I had not even heard of these words. I just thought that because I had written and published something, people would magically find it and read it. How naïve of me!

Eventually, a travel blogger who took pity on me explained the basic tricks of SEO so that I could optimize my posts and make them stand out in google searches. Using keywords, people may be able to find a post I have written and hopefully if they like it, they will come back for more.

This doesn’t mean that all my posts are optimized. Indeed, I still appreciate the act of writing in a more spontaneous way. And I think that readers do too.

…as well as social media

Travel blogging and social media go pretty much hand in hand. Most travel bloggers have accounts across the best known social media. Using social media smartly means showing the world that I am out there, driving traffic to the blog and growing an audience, something which isn’t necessarily easy thanks to the constant changes in the way social media work – posts aren’t necessarily shown to all followers.

I admit that I can hardly keep on top of things. I use social media persistently but I have no real strategy. I post regularly, I try to keep my audience engaged, I reply to comments and hope for the best.

Gone are the days in which I used Facebook to see what my friends around the world were doing, and Instagram to post selfies and pictures of my cats (ok, I still post the occasional picture of my cats, but I have never really posted any selfie!).

travel blogging

Travel blogging isn’t nearly as solitary as I thought

Although I am travel blogging, I still have to deal with people…

… and they are not necessarily nice.

One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy my previous jobs was that I had to deal with other people, which wasn’t always fun. In my previous working life I have had a number of backstabbing colleagues, who went as far as stealing my research. I’ve also had to work hard to please difficult customers – and often didn’t succeed.

Read more about the kind of people I dealt with as a tour leader on my post “11 persons I have met during a guided tour.”

Travel bloggers may not work in an office building, but that’s about the only difference with the rest of the job market: I still have colleagues (other bloggers) and anybody who requires my services – whether it is for a consultancy, for a writing job, or for a marketing campaign – is a customer.

The job environment isn’t different from any other: there’s gossip, there’s envy, there’s a good dose of competition, there’s some who aren’t nearly as professionals as they try to show and others who act as rockstars. And there is a lot of networking to do.

A few bloggers have become really good friends: I respect them, I admire them and they are a constant source of inspiration. The others are colleagues with whom I prefer to keep a strictly professional relationship. And there are some that I would rather not deal with.

Finding a travel blogging niche is harder than I thought

I blog about travel. But that is too wide a topic and I have been told many times by very successful bloggers that I need to find my own niche, become my own brand (whatever that means) and concentrate my efforts on that. They also said it wouldn’t be easy. How right they were!

The process of finding a travel blogging niche and of establishing myself as an authority in that is actually really hard and requires a lot of trial and effort. At the beginning, I thought I’d want to concentrate on budget backpacking. But I regularly blow my budget any time I travel, to the point that I concluded I am an unsuccessful backpacker. I need my niche to be something I am actually good at.

Find out why I think I am an unsuccessful backpacker on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”

Truth be told, I am still looking for my niche and I am still thinking of the best ways to brand myself. I have a few ideas in mind. Only time will tell if these ideas work, hopefully sooner rather than later.

travel blogging

Travel blogging press trips are actually tiring!

Travel blogging press trips are hard work…

One of the perks of travel blogging is traveling for free. Or so I thought until I was invited on my first press trip to Indonesia. I concluded that there is not such thing as traveling for free – where by free I mean that I don’t have to do anything in exchange.

Participating in a press trip indeed means being employed to visit places and promote them on my blog and social media.

A typical press trip involves visiting a huge amount of places in a very limited time, as tourism boards generally try to maximize their budget. It means days of up to 16 hours, when I have to be concentrated on what I see all the time and can’t just opt out if I don’t feel like doing something. It implies traveling at an imposed rhythm, where I don’t get to just do what I want and like – I don’t even get to pick where I want to eat, or what I want to eat for that matter.

During press trips, as blogger I have to take notes, take (and edit) pictures and I am expected to post on social media, which means being constantly online. Once back, I must produce a minimum amount of posts within a specific time period. There is a contract, instructions, deadlines.

It is better (and definitely sounds more glamorous) than most jobs, but it is still a job. And a very tiring one too.

…but a lot of fun too

I would lie if I said that travel blogging press trips are boring. They are tiring, they are hard work and whenever I get back home after one I am so exhausted that I have to rest and do nothing for at least a day. But they are a lot of fun too. After all, I have always said that organized group tours don’t necessarily have to be bad, and press trips are a bit like group tours of like minded individuals.

Read what I think about group tours on my post “10 reasons to take a guided tour.”

On a recent press trip to the North of Spain, not only did I get to visit some amazing places, but a spirit of camaraderie developed, jokes were thrown all the time, and I feel like I have learned a lot from the other bloggers who took part in the trip.

Read more about the North of Spain on my post “Amazing places to visit in Spain.”

travel blogging

In travel blogging, I feel a duty to report about the not-so-great experiences too

In travel blogging, integrity is everything – at least to me.

As a blogger, I am constantly thorn between my duty towards my readers and the need to keep the brands and tourism boards I work with happy, and to establish a reputation as a good blogger to work with.

What should I do if I am invited to use some services or to visit a place and my experience isn’t as good as I had hoped for? Should I write about it and be honest to my audience, or should I just omit this information and avoid any confrontation with the sponsors?

I thought really hard whether to write about a really bad experience I had on Mount Bromo, in Indonesia. I decided I should, because I felt I should warn other people who may be visiting and I did’t want to give a sugar coated version of my experience. I thought it would be a good way to give some constructive criticism too.

Read more about my experience on Mount Bromo on my post “Ring of Fire or Circle of Hell?”

Luckily enough, bad experiences are actually not so frequent and more often than not I find myself writing glowing reviews.

Travel blogging changed the way I travel

Traveling was way more spontaneous and definitely more relaxing before I started blogging. It was about enjoying my time at a destination and telling my friends and family about my experiences.

The “telling my friends and family” is now done on a different scale, where I actually write posts for the world (ok, perhaps not the world, but you get my point) to read. It makes me look at places in a different way. I ask more questions to the guides and I often take notes, as perhaps a good blog post will come from it. I even put much more efforts in taking good pictures – sometimes I actually feel like I am seeing a place from behind the lenses of a camera.

Before starting a blog and having multiple social media accounts connected to it, I didn’t care so much if I didn’t have internet when I traveled. In fact, it was refreshing to have a break from it. Now, I end up spending at least an hour every day posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And although I am not meant to really work, I end up checking my email, just in case some good business opportunity comes through.

travel blogging

No easy money in travel blogging

There’s no such thing as easy money with travel blogging…

Whoever said that it is easy to make money blogging said a blatant lie, and I realized that fairly quickly. Friends who have been blogging for various years warned me that money would take a while to come and predicted that I wouldn’t be making a dime for at least a year or a year and a half.

It took me months of hard work to make my first $100 USD through my blog. 15 months after having started taking this seriously, I still struggle but little by little it is getting better. Some months I get little or no interesting offers; others I am overwhelmed with requests and I accept them all, knowing that the following months business may be slow.

…and there is not just one, established way to make money with travel blogging

Different travel bloggers find different ways to make money. Some have established their own tour companies whereas other offer their consultancies; some work with sponsors and others make money through a variety of writing jobs.

Most bloggers also place affiliate links on their blogs, something which requires a careful study of the audience’ interests. Funny enough, placing affiliate links was the main reason I had for buying my own domain and I haven’t had time to consider doing that yet.

What I have learnt in these 15 months of full time blogging is that a blog is generally just a platform, a way to showcase a number of services. It just takes a while to decide which is the most viable way to earn a living through a blog, and this is something completely personal: what works for one, may not work for the other.

In case anybody is wondering, I am still exploring the various ways I have to earn money though my blog.

travel blogging

I have haters since I have started travel blogging

When travel blogging, it’s good to have haters

I know some (usually female) very successful bloggers who are swamped with hateful comments which are full of disturbing messages, and that can be really hurtful. I was actually happy when I got my first hate comment. I figured hatred comes from envy, and if someone envies me it is because I am slowly becoming more successful. Something to celebrate!

Sure enough, I didn’t expect travel blogging to be such hard work. Yet, I love what I am doing and every day I wake up with a big smile on my face, looking forward to a long day at work.

What are your thoughts on travel blogging?

 

 

 

How I went from being a bored academic to a fun and free blogger

How I went from being a bored academic to a fun and free blogger

Not long after coming back from Uruguay after one of my many trips to Latin America, last April, I started catching up with the usual horror stories of the Italian job market. One of them was particularly touching to me, as I could relate to it. It was published by the very well known Italian magazine, L’Espresso. The article soon went viral. It was a piece by an Italian researcher who just reported his story, and pointed out the total lack of merit in Italian academia (but the same would go for the rest of the job market) – a story that happens only too often in Italy, something we talk about on a regular basis but for which we seem unable to fight.

Then, I read another piece, this time on The Guardian, where the author pointed out that mental health issues of PhD students and academics are becoming increasingly accepted in British universities, where staff is pushed to perform beyond their limits.

I fully enjoyed travelling alone in Uruguay

I fully enjoyed travelling alone in Uruguay

Once upon a time, I used to work in academia – and I thought it was cool

Two job environments that should be similar – despite in different countries – in reality could not be more different: in one, researchers struggle to work and have their work recognised; in the other, they are put under so much pressure to perform and gain better results that they eventually face extreme stress and even depression. I have studied and worked in both and, quite frankly, I find the issues faced by academics in the UK are almost laughable compared to the ones faced in Italy. Sure, when I worked at the University of Essex or at University College London I used to be snowed in with work. I had lectures, seminars, meetings, administrative work, conferences, workshops, office hours, papers to mark, exam questions to write (and have approved). All of that, besides having to write my PhD dissertation. But at least I was rewarded. At least my work was acknowledged. And I was part of the staff – from the highest ranking professor to the newly arrived admin worker, we all knew each other, we all respected each other, and we knew that we could count on each other. It was homey.

I should have stayed in England and I should have kept working there. I should have done many things, I suppose. But I didn’t. Because I am from Sardinia, and as pretty much anybody from Sardinia, I have a visceral connection with my land and for as much as I (we) can live away for even decades at times (I spent more than 10 years overseas), I (we) all want to go back home eventually. So, when after more than 10 years away from Sardinia, I got a fellowship to work at my old university, I did not think about it twice: I quitted my job, I packed my belongings and I boarded a plane that would take me home, finally.

La pelosa, Sardinia

I couldn’t help wanting to go back to Sardinia

Do I regret coming back?

I don’t regret giving up my academic career in England, because through a long and difficult path it brought me where I am now.

Working at my old university in Sardinia, the place where I was educated and that ultimately molded me into being the awesome human being that I am, should have been rewarding. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was the closest I could imagine to being in hell. It should have been homey (more homey than the University of Essex, I would have guessed) but I felt like I was walking in foreign territory and I should watch my back at all times.

For as much as I worked, as much as I achieved (publications in international leading journals, books, conferences and what not), I felt that the university I wanted to give back to so much did not want me and in fact did its best to push me away. I realised soon enough that I was seen as a threat: I was highly specialised, I was a hard worker, and if only I was involved in a research project or participated in a conference, I would easily put the most of the others in the corner. Like the time I happened to attend a book presentation and a professor kept calling the Roma “gypsies” – he did not like it when, at question time, I pointed out that “gypsy” was a derogatory term hardly used by people in the field nowadays. Or like the time another professor said that a specific international treaty hardly had any relevance as not many states had ratified it, when in fact – as I told her – 90% of the UN members had done so.

In my years at my home university, I faced increasing obstracism. The course I taught on discrimination was cancelled on demands of another researcher who – incidentally – was married to a professor. I was first asked to teach at a summer school in human rights, and then found out that someone else was called to do it – and that very someone did not have the expertise to teach the subject, so she demanded that I passed her my notes rather than backing off and pointing out to the director that I should teach the course instead.

The isolation I faced in Italy, the less than cooperative approach to research, the lack of any real connection and the unfriendly environment where I worked slowly brought me to hate academia. What kept me going were the conferences I attended, when I met other international academics and we exchanged ideas, views, projects. But then, that was not enough anymore. The frustration I felt made me forget what I had loved about academia and research. My hey-days in England, when I felt like the world was my oyster, and it was just waiting for me to blossom, were over.

Then I started travelling

Then I started travelling

…Then I started travelling, and that is way cooler than academia

Was it all so bad? I’d say most of it was. The good thing about being forced out of teaching and only having to do my research meant that I had no real commitments and thus I could travel whenever I wanted. So I did. Multiple short trips across Europe, then longer ones on the other side of the Atlantic. Peru first, then Mexico, Argentina, and finally Cuba in February 2013.

Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina

I had a blast in Argentina

Cuba changed my life. I did not know it back then, but looking back, two years after visiting, I can see that it did. It isn’t just that the place was so special and that I found myself there. Sure, it was and I finally came to terms with the fact that I love it. But it was a series of factors that, coming together, had a real impact on my life.

Mojito time

I left from Cuba with a huge smile on my face – I wanted that to last

Factor number one was the extreme frustration I felt during my first 10 days there. I’d lie if I said I did not hate it. I really did. Travelling in Cuba, for an organisation freak like I am, was frustrating. Try as I might, there was no way I could get things my way in Cuba. It was like the entire country had plotted to boycott my travel plans. It took me a while to get to appreciate and embrace spontaneity as a way of travelling. So, when I got home, with my zero knowledge of the blogging industry, I decided that I wanted to create my own blog, in English, to tell the truth about Cuba and warn anybody who may go there. I knew so little about blogging that I had no idea about how I could even get readers. I just thought that, since it was online, people would eventually find it. In fact, some actually did find me and started following me. In other words, I started a blog to vent about Cuba and say whatever I wanted without being censored. Cuba eventually grew on me – but that is a different story.

Machu Picchu, Peru

I want to feel as amazed as I was when I visited Machu Picchu

Factor number two was meeting Guiselaine on an eventful ride from Santiago to Baracoa. As the tire of the bus exploded, the driver asked all passengers to get off so that he could change it. So, we all started wandering about, taking pictures, and laughing at what had happened (and secretly thanking God that we were all fine). I had spotted Guiselaine at the bus station, and she sat behind me on the bus. We started talking when we were waiting for the tire to be fixed, and we agreed to meet later in Baracoa to have dinner. We did the same for every night we spent in Baracoa and eventually went separate ways, but we kept in touch since.

Where to go in Cuba: Playa Maguana, Cuba

Relaxing in Playa Maguana I realised I never wanted to work in academia again

Starting a blog and meeting Guiselaine may seem two separate things. But they weren’t. In fact, talking to Guiselaine we realised we had many things in common, which included a desire to travel the world for longer periods of time than the usual 3 weeks vacations, and the increased frustration with the traditional job market. I was increasingly frustrated with my job in academia – aside from the obstracism I faced on a regular basis, I found no purpose and no thrill in writing on the same topic over and over, in attending conferences which were auto-celebratory more than anything else, in talking about human rights issues without really taking action towards change. But while Guiselaine decided to take a step towards happiness and establish herself as a digital nomad, I wasn’t ready to go as far.

Then, my fellowship expired, there were no funds in sight to keep me working at my home university, and I did not fight to find any more. I started looking for other jobs in academia, but my heart wasn’t in it. I refused any temporary job I was offered by other universities around Italy, as I saw it as slave labour and the money wasn’t even going to cover my basic expenses for having to move to another region.

Speaking to Guiselaine, she gave me the final push to follow my dream: it was then that I decided that it was finally time to go on that backpacking trip across Latin America that had been on my mind for years. I set to leave at the end of November 2013, first stop Guatemala. Destiny can be tough at times, and with my luck, a few days before travelling, I got a permanent job offer from a university in England, but the negotiations for the starting date did not go as I had hoped – they were not willing to wait for me to get back from my travels. And although that was a good job, that would take me back to British academia, I was not ready to give up my dream when I was so close to fulfilling it.

Yaxha

I want to see the world, have fun, explore!

So I left. I just wanted to explore that part of the world and I thought that, once back, I could still look for a job in my old field. My family encouraged me to travel. My father was enthusiastic to know I’d be visiting so many places. But what is even more interesting is that my mother and sister insisted that I figured out a way to blog about my trip and make this my new career. However, blogging was only a past-time to me, something I’d do (less than seriously) while I travelled.

Finally blogging, for real!

I guess I only realised how right my mother and sister were when I got back and, after a surgery to remove my tonsils, I spent a few weeks of total misery, feeling completely lost and unsure about what to do with my life. The thing is, I did not have the guts to go back to a job in academia. I was so done with it, that the thought of writing yet one more academic paper, or preparing one more lecture, made me sick. My family encouraged me to do what I loved the most and what made me happy. And I could only think of travelling. I knew I had to give it a try, at least.

I thus applied for a course in travel design to become a specialised travel consultant. And all my years of travelling across Latin America (and spending all my savings on it) paid off when I was hired to work as a tour leader in Mexico and Central America. Finally, I decided it was time to give it a try and become a real blogger, and bought my own domain, started studying SEO manuals, social media communication techniques, and working hard on it.

I am not even close to making money yet. I work an average of 10 hours per day, every day. But I wake up with a smile on my face each morning. I like what I am doing and I am happy. I keep being interested in human rights issues and wherever I travel I can’t help observing the world through the lenses of a former human rights lawyer.

Will I succeed? I may, or I may not. But, sure enough, I will keep on trying. The years of suffering, isolation, frustration and humiliation at work were not in vain, as they brought me to a much better place. I have left academia, and I am never looking back.

I still have dreams

I still have dreams

What is your story? Did you also have a career change?