As promised to those of you who attended the "So You Want to Build Your Business Through Travel Blogging" session at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)’s 42nd Annual Writer's Conference at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, here are a list of questions covered (and more) during the panel. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to leave it in the comments section. When and why did you start blogging at Fresh Traveler? What were you doing professionally before that? Is your blog a full-time venture?
I bought the domain name FreshTraveler.com when I was a senior at Emerson College and developed it for a senior thesis project. I wanted to create an online series that featured off the beaten path adventures. For the whole story, read this post: About FreshTraveler: My Path to Building a Meaningful Life that is Authentically Mine
I put the blog on hold while I pursued my MFA and after I quit my job, pursued it full time – working freelance to support it mostly doing production work. But I pursue freelance work because I wanted to have flexibility to travel and work with hotels on their marketing – I create content (written, photos, and videos) for hotels and other tour operators to use for their online promotion. This is called branded content.
Then, I create additional material for my blog – separate from what I create for them. I want to maintain the credibility of my blog being something that I experience organically. I don’t want someone to pay me to say something I don’t mean. I don’t accept that. That’s not credible travel journalism.
How do you arrange travel? Did you go on FAM trips and other types of sponsored travel?
So, first of all, a FAM trip is familiarization trip. According to the Travel Industry Dictionary, it's a low-cost or free trip or tour offered to travel agents by a supplier or group of suppliers to familiarize the agents with their destination and services. Example, a resort property or group of hotels and restaurants in Aruba might team up with an airline or tour operator to offer a discount FAM trip to the resort or to Aruba.
I’ve gone on FAM trips (more when I first started) and I am subscribed to a few newsletters that offer low cost trips for people in the travel industry. There are pros and cons. Pros, FREE TRIP, (woo hoo!) everyone likes that. CON: You’re on their schedule. I don’t like that. Especially if I am doing video. I talk to the organizer and tell them up front that we’re making videos and that we need more time to explore.
The next model I am working on is working in conjunction with a travel company/tourism board and doing my own individual press trips – getting their suggestions but also doing my own research online, then crafting an itinerary based on how I want the series of videos to be like.
I think of each of my trips as a film project with three phases - pre-production, production, and post-production phases. I used to shoot doc style – which means hours and hours of rolling the camera but now I prefer traveling with an itinerary. Especially if we are there for only a set number of days and if the videos that I make are only going to be 3 mins long. I just need to make sure that I have enough b-roll and camera coverage.
I like working on a sponsorship model. It’s much easier getting people to sponsor accommodations and meals than airfare. Although for Mauiva AirCruise, we got everything covered. Airfare, meals and hotel.
So far, I haven’t been sponsored individually by an airline although I would like to be, I have been on group trips that have been sponsored by an airline. Also, if you work with Tourism Boards, they can get you that connection to the properties or stores that you want to go to, but you have to do the convincing that you’re worth their dime.
Have you run ads and / or sponsored posts on your blog? Can you talk about how these work in general terms, and how much revenue they can reasonably generate?
No. I will not run ads or sponsored posts on my blog. I will take sponsors for video content.
What other benefits did you enjoy as an independent travel blogger?
I control what I write. I control the video production on my blog. This is important to me.
Tell us about other opportunities which have resulted from exposure through your blog.
I have received work offers – both copywriting and video, from the content that is on my blog and it is much easier to work with Travel and Tourism Boards when you can show them what you do with the content.
How did you begin working with “Best of the Road” and the Travel Channel? How did they discover you? How did you convince them that your blogging experience would be a benefit to being chosen for the program?
For Best of the Road, I submitted an audition video and they picked us.
What was your experience with that program, and how were you compensated?
We were not paid in cash. We were sponsored but the exposure was huge, especially for a young blogger. I went from a brand new blog with 45 likes to 400 in a few months without needing to harass people on a daily basis. Also, it really helped establish my credibility as a travel blogger and put me in front of people who saw what kind of work I could produce.
What other work do you do writing about travel?
I guest post on other people's blogs and websites. I also copy write for travel related products like apps and hotel websites. I also answer a lot of emails about travel as I am now everyone's travel advisor.
How do find travel writing gigs? What sources do you go to? What kind of pay can someone expect from these assignments?
You pitch to travel magazines, websites, etc. Here are some articles to help you craft your pitch.
How to Pitch a Travel Magazine from Vagabundo Magazine
The Do’s And Don’ts Of Submitting To Online Travel Magazines from Matador Network
Some magazines like Travel and Leisure have a special format to follow, so my advice is to follow it.
I know it may be scary to write your first one but just do it! If you want a one-on-one tutorial, I also offer sessions via skype or in person if you are in New York City. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for rates.
Depending on what you're good a doing, you can get paid for your skill. I emphasize your skill because whatever that is going to support you financially while you build your blog.
Here are some links to help you:
Odesk and Elance has freelance writing gigs – travel apps, blog posts, copy, hotel descriptions, etc. You just set up a profile or you search for jobs. One of the jobs I applied for was writing Halloween Costume copy. Now that was fun.
If you're outgoing and like people you can be a tour guide. Vayable is a platform where you can design your own tour and set your own price.
If you're more of a slow traveller and like spending more than a few months in a location, here's the Facebook group for you - Modern Day Nomads. I <3 them! I've applied to several of their freelance gigs. They have everything from long term to short term jobs as well as artist grants and even housesitting posts!
If you're really serious about leading a nomadic life and traveling full time. Here's a link to more resources that I've collected.
Please explain how these writing jobs fit into the “bigger picture” of your overall revenue-generation model.
These jobs float you but also allow a flexible schedule where you can take care of your blog. I sometime work on 2 computers, one to monitor my blog and the other to work on my PAID assignment.
It was important for me to establish myself as an expert in something for people to listen to anything I was saying regarding travel or screenwriting or filmmaking so a gig like writing for a travel app that encouraged me to research off the beaten path restaurants, etc. just increased my knowledge base AND I got paid for it. You get paid more for video work than you do writing. In writing, you get paid more for apps and copywriting than you do for writing articles most of the time. But that really depends on the magazine or the site that you are writing for.
Have you changed to a Tumblr format recently? (I remember it being a more traditional blog last year, with longer posts, although I could be mistaken). If so, why did you make that change? Is it part of a time-saving strategy, perhaps?
I have a tumblr but I also have wordpress. The Best of the Road blog was hosted on Wordpress on their own blog. I learned a lot from blogging for them. I originally started off with tumblr because I simply wanted to do video production work but now I am writing more and wordpress is a better place to showcase my writing and it’s much more social media friendly.
What is the connection between travel blogging and screenwriting? Has travel made you a better writer and/or storyteller? Have you found inspiration on your travels?
In my videos, I tell a travel story visually. It’s a series of beautiful shots that are strung together with a story. I think people remember stories more than a series of pretty shots although it is arguable that online people like looking at non-sequential videos that don’t necessarily tell a story. I try to balance it and look at it as a challenge in short form visual storytelling. I also use it as a test and a challenge to learn from for when I want to make my own full length features.
What would you tell someone just beginning a travel blog? What should they realistically expect?
A blog is a platform. It’s a soap box. There’s something you want to say and you say it there.
It takes TIME to grow. Experiment but also know what you want. Think about the end goal but stay consistent with your message.
I wanted to get a TV show, but also to build a lifestyle brand FreshTraveler – a new type of travelista or internationalista who travels globally and shops locally. You have to have products to sell offline or online.
Look at your blog as a business. Matthew Kepnes of NomadicMatt.com once wrote that blogging was like owning a restaurant. The blog is the window and you have to have menu items for your customers to order from. Here's a great article he wrote called An Open Letter To Travel Bloggers Who Want To Make Money.
You need to have a niche. I wanted to encourage a different type of travel. A spontaneous, off the beaten path, fresh kind of travel and encouraging more people to take risks and get out of their comfort zone and enjoy life. Like visiting an organic farm in the middle of the desert in Baja, California. But how do I do this: by showing people that it’s possible and not unsafe and how much fun I have while I do this and then also making it easy for them to find those adventures.
How did you go about securing a sponsorship from Rand McNally, tourism boards, and others? Put another way… how do you get people to pay you to travel and write?
I enter a lot of video contests. As for securing a sponsorship from Rand McNally, I made an audition video for the contest. I also get on FAM trips (those are press trips that tourism boards in conjunction with marketing agencies put together) to give different sorts of press a taste of the country. I get invited to these trips, usually after you develop a relationship with the marketing or public relations people. Other ways that I have gotten to travel is to reach out to properties that I like boutique hotels and tour companies that I like to see if they can sponsor me while I am on a trip there. I tend to like these individual press trips better because then I don’t have to follow a set tour schedule because it takes time to do video.
Is travel writing your primary source of work or do you combine it with other income sources?
It’s hard to make money just writing. I travel write, copy write and make films. I make most of my money with script consulting and my video production work. You can also make $ selling stock footage. Here's a great article from Lights Online Film School on How to Sell Stock Video Footage.
You specialize in video blogging. What advice can you offer someone about how to get started with vlogging if they’ve never done it? Do they need expensive equipment? What software do you use to edit the videos?
You don’t need expensive equipment. You can even use a smart phone for your blogs. I use Final Cut X to edit but you can use iMovie or Abode Premiere. My advice is to just do it. I think a lot of people stop themselves because they are intimidated that the footage is going to look bad or the sound is going to be bad if they don’t know what they are doing. I say collect the footage first and then fix it in post-production or delete it and retake. That's the magic of modern movie-making.
What is the value of a vlog over a traditional text-based blog?
There are a few things. First of all, you are able to connect with your intended audience in a way that you can’t with text. You are able to have your followers connect with you vicariously not just through writing but by experiencing the travel “with” you. An example of a video that does this particularly well is when I went kayaking with dogs in Costa Rica.
SEO wise, content with video often appears higher on the google ranking.
In your opinion, what are the best markets for travel writers (and is there more available than travel magazines)?
It really depends on what your interest is in writing. But I really believe that you have to find your niche and your special angle and lens on travel. Other kinds of magazines (business, automobiles) have travel sections that you can also write for. I have found in my experience that the best markets for me are the off-the-beaten-path unexplored unchartered territories because they are dying for the exposure. I just got back from an individual press trip to Cabo in Baja California and the tourism board was really excited to work with me because I told them that I was going to Cabo but I did NOT want the Spring Break experience. I wanted the off the beaten path experience and they were really excited to direct me to less explored parts of Baja like the beaches of La Paz or the small town of Todos Santos. But they were also probably really excited because I am going to do a film screening of the short film of my travels in New York later this year.
How do you pick the next location you’ll travel to and write about?
Well, my goal is to travel the whole globe according to the FreshTraveler ethos which is off the beaten path for a fresh mind, body and spirit. But when I pick the next location, I always ask myself these questions.
1) have I been there yet?
2) is there an angle here that is local and unique?
3) is it visually interesting?
I tend to like active adventures because they are more fun to film and edit. The more movement, the better. Also, the crazier, the better. I see what opportunities come up and I weigh them against each other. I get invitations to certain places by the press or from friends. I tend to favor the travels with my friends and the individual press trips over the FAM trips (although FAM trips are a great way to meet other travel writers so I don’t discount them) because you have more control over your schedule and also not all people want to be on camera so that's a problem or else there's the people who always want to be on camera and that's a different problem altogether. And oh, I also do an airfare check and if I see a cheap flight to a destination that I've always wanted to go to and I'm free to go, I buy the ticket first and worry about where I am going to stay later.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comments below and I will answer them.