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Two Years Into Travel Blogging: Lessons I’ve Learned and What My Life Really Looks Like!

Two Years Into Travel Blogging: Lessons I've Learned and What My Life Really Looks Like!

I recently did a poll on Instagram to ask what my readers wanted to see more of, and the picture your responses painted was loud and clear: you want to read more about blogging! So here we are. I’ve tried to keep this site very focused on travel tips and destinations, but I realize that there’s still a lot of mystery around the world of blogging and an interest that comes with it, so if travel blogging is something you’re curious about or trying to get started in, read on! If you’re just here for the travel goods, feel free to to head back HERE. I won’t be upset 🙂

The truth is I’ve learned so much more over the last two years of travel blogging than I ever could have imagined, and the topics I could go into are literally endless. But I wanted to start the conversation with a post sharing some of those lessons and realizations I’ve come to while giving a behind the scenes look into what my life really looks like, since I’m guessing most of what you all see is confined to my Instagram feed. That’s not real. We all know that by now, don’t we? Ok, let’s get into it.

So what does my life really look like? 

First off, let me back it up a bit. July marks the two year anniversary of my blog going live, but when I first launched it in 2016, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really treat it like a business. I was in the midst of a year sabbatical to travel after I quit my corporate job in fashion marketing, and I really just needed some time for me. Some time to figure out what I really wanted to be doing in my career and if I wanted travel to be a part of it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that yes, I wanted to try to make travel blogging my full-time gig, but I continued to dedicate that first year to only doing trips that I personally wanted to take and paying for 100% of it myself, all while posting pretty infrequently on my site.

When my one year mark of blogging hit, I started to get more serious about treating this blog like a business rather than a hobby. I started posting more often on my blog and began reaching out to hotels and brands that I wanted to work with. It honestly took about a year and half in of me traveling and posting daily to Instagram and writing about once a week on the blog for me to get comfortable marketing myself and pitching brands. It still isn’t always easy to hear no’s or get ghosted (it doesn’t just happen in dating!), but that’s a big part of this job and a necessity if you want to grow and succeed in the world of blogging.

It wasn’t until just earlier this year that I took my very first all-expenses paid press trip to Puerto Rico about one and a half years into blogging! There were a couple that I had been offered previously in 2017, but had to turn down because of stuff going on in my family life, so when I could finally go on this all-expenses paid trip I was STOKED.

Now two years in, I can honestly say that my favorite trips are still the ones that I plan myself and pay for mostly myself, but my trips take on a bit more of a mix these days. Most of the travel I do falls into one of the categories below, and I’m hoping this breakdown will give you a better sense of how these trips take shape and how I cover costs.

Here is a little breakdown of different kinds of trips I’ve been on this past year:

  • Trips with other bloggers (or sometimes friends) that I’ve planned completely myself where I’ll reach out to hotels, tours, etc that I love and pitch working with them (example: my trips to Bali, Morocco, Banff and my South Africa road trip). In these cases, I try to get as many flights as I can for free by using points and miles to help me cut down on travel costs.
  • Hotel sponsored trips to promote the properties and the surrounding areas. In this case, flights and accommodation are typically covered and in some cases bloggers can even get paid a day rate on top of it depending on the deliverables involved (examples of hotel sponsored trips: my trip to Puerto Rico and Riviera Maya, Mexico).
  • Tourism Board sponsored trips where the destination chooses the entire itinerary so there is less flexibility, but everything is covered and no planning is needed, which has its pros and cons. Sometimes these are paid trips and sometimes they’re not (examples: my trips earlier this year to Zion National Park and Virginia Beach).
  • Tour/Brand sponsored trips where the tour operator or brand wants to promote their business in a particular destination (example: my trip to Mexico with luxury cruise company Offshore Outpost). Getting flights to these experience for free depends on the company and what they are offering.
  • Trips that are completely unsponsored and I pay for 100% of everything because I don’t want to spend hours a day shooting the hotel I’m in. In these cases I might pitch a select number of brands for product collaborations to shoot in these locations to offset trip costs (example: my Tulum trip).
  • Trips to visit friends where I stay for free in a friend’s spare room/or in their bed with them (ha! life of luxury, I know). One of the amazing benefits of living a digital nomad life where I can be anywhere at any time, is that it allows me the freedom to visit my friends all over the world. Sometimes these trips are in destinations I’ve been dying to visit and explore (Cape Town) and sometimes these trips are to familiar old places where I’m catching up with some of my best friends in the world (Los Angeles, New York, Maine, Cleveland) and I try to focus less on content creation in these places and more on connecting with the people I love.

What an Average Work Day Looks Like on the Road 

When I’m on work trips, life can be quite hectic. I’m waking up for a LOT of sunrises to take photos, exploring and shooting all day long (especially if it’s a pre-determined itinerary from a client), and then uploading and backing up photos during any downtime as well as catching up on emails, reading contracts, posting to social media, writing blog posts, marketing my site, and doing work for my consulting client as well. Are you exhausted reading that list, cause I am!

The biggest con of living life as a travel blogger is that the concept of “vacation” becomes sort of a thing of the past — you’re never really able to shut off. And with any travel perk you get for free, there comes a cost of your time. My trips certainly don’t feel like vacations, but at the end of the day, because I love traveling and sharing my experiences with the world it truly doesn’t feel like a negative at all.

So What Am I Doing When I’m Not Traveling? 

So far I’ve spent only 55 days this year at home, which is currently my family’s house in Charlottesville, Virginia. It doesn’t really feel like home to me since I’m barely there, but it does have people I love, my dog, my cozy bed and my belongings (or at least the ones that still aren’t in storage in Los Angeles), so I guess it’s the closest thing to a home that I’ve got.

At the current stage of my business, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to pay rent in a place I’ll never be, so I’ve chosen to reinvest my money into travel and my business rather than on a home base. Eventually I’d love to have a real home in a place that I love, but I’m still determining where that will be when the time is right.

When I’m in Charlottesville and not traveling, my day basically consists of: waking up around 6:30 AM, giving some love to my King Charles Cavalier, making a Bulletproof coffee (my new obsession!), and then getting to work. Around 4 PM, I’ll head to the gym down the road and then cook dinner when I return home. Totally glamorous, I know. Currently I am working 90% on my blog and the clients I have through the blog and Instagram, but I still do some marketing and social media consulting for one client that I’ve been working with for three years now since before I left my full-time job.

Here’s a breakdown of various things you can find me doing throughout the day:

  • Checking and responding to emails
  • Posting to Instagram and my other social media channels
  • Engaging on social media by answering DMs, responding to comments and interacting with other people’s content
  • Editing photos from trips or for sponsored content
  • Having phone calls with current or prospective brand clients
  • Writing/editing blog content
  • Making updates to my website
  • Planning for an upcoming trip: ie. booking flights, accommodation and pitching any potential partners for the trip
  • Pitching brands I want to work with
  • Writing articles for Jetsetter.com where I am a monthly contributor
  • Checking influencer platforms for potential job opportunities
  • Planning out my Pinterest marketing for the week
  • Educating myself on certain topics I’m trying to get better at like SEO, drone photography (I just bought a Mavic Pro!) and email marketing. I do this mostly by reading other blog posts, listening to podcasts and watching video tutorials
  • Brainstorming and planning for future projects and products I’ll be launching (stay tuned!)

The above list doesn’t include general life things like paying bills, reporting fraud charges to my credit card (don’t you just love those), and of course watching Stephen Colbert and the Bachelorette, because obviously those things need to fit in somewhere too!

So there you have it — that’s my life in a nutshell. So now that I’ve shared what my life really looks like whether traveling or at home, I wanted to share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last two years and things I still think about regularly to try and stay at the top of my game. If you’re interested in getting into the travel blogging space, I hope these concepts help you think more clearly about what you want for your life and for your brand.

12 Things I’ve Learned From 2 Years of Travel Blogging

Your Story is More Important Than Your Niche

When I first started blogging, I felt like all I ever read was “you have to find your niche” and “get really specific with your niche.” Well to be honest, I kind of think niches are bullshit. Let me clarify. Do I think you should start your blogging journey by covering everything under the sun from your garden and your dog to the local breweries in town as well as the hottest face masks on the market? OK, maybe not. But my point is that I think niches are overrated and you shouldn’t let them get you stuck if you’re feeling a little too broad with your blog. Here’s why.

At the end of the day, people follow you and your blog because they like you and relate or look up to you in some way, OR because you create amazing content that provides value. It’s still important to have a general subject matter that you discuss regularly, but the fact of the matter is that travel blogging is super saturated and you can bet there are many other people talking about the same topics as you. What makes the difference is how and why you talk about it and the stories you share over the topic itself.

While choosing and sticking with a very narrow niche can help you own the market in that area and can definitely help when it comes to search traffic, you need to look at the bigger picture of your business and get real with yourself about where you want your business to go in 5-10 years. Blogging is like growing a personal brand and chances are you are going to change a lot over the next decade.

While you want to be an expert in a particular topic, you also want your blog to be able to evolve and grow with you as you grow as a person. Instead of focusing on a niche, focus on 5 or 6 topics that are part of your story as a human and start to weave those stories throughout the verbiage on your site and in your social media copy.

Travel Blogging is Probably the Hardest Form of Blogging Out There

This is not to discredit any of the amazing bloggers out there who cover topics like fashion, food, finance, etc, but when it comes to expenditure of time and resources and the things you give up in your personal life, I think travel blogging takes the cake. In order to write about travel, you have to be getting out there and traveling (uh, duh!), and it takes a lot of time and energy to seek out the experiences and generate the content worth sharing with readers. And that’s just the content generation phase.

Then you actually have to put all the pieces together in digestible ways for your readers which is another full-time job in itself, not to mention the whole business side of blogging. I’ve constantly struggled with balance and time management as I know others have as well, which is why I think you’ll find that while there are many self-proclaimed “travel bloggers” out there, many of them don’t actually have sites they update regularly or have websites at all. That’s because it’s hard. It’s time consuming. And it literally takes an army, but you’re only one person. Welcome to the world of travel blogging 😉

Of course, I write about global travel which doesn’t have to be the case for everyone. You can have a successful blog writing about short weekend trips or just the city you live in, which will give you back time to spend with friends and loved ones and allow you to spend less of your own funds on extravagant trips abroad.

With all that said, I think travel blogging can be one of the most rewarding blogging jobs out there as well, because the opportunities it provides are sometimes once-in-a-lifetime. You just have to decide if its worth it for you.

 

Focusing On Your Owned Channels Will Get You Further in the Long Run 

This is something I regret about the choices I’ve made over the last two years of blogging about travel. While I’ve gotten some incredible opportunities through Instagram, I wish I would have taken some of that time I spent obsessing over Instagram and put it into my blog instead.

I think we can all recognize that social media platforms come and go. Just look at what happened to Vine, or how Snapchat died out a bit as soon as Instagram launched their Stories feature, or how no young people use Facebook anymore now that everyone from your boss to your Great Aunt Peg uses the platform. I’m not necessarily predicting that Instagram will die, but the golden age of growth and organic visibility is over and I don’t think it’s a smart business move to put all of your eggs in Instagram’s mysterious basket.

So what do you actually own? Well, basically your website and your email list. Growing a blogging business is just like investing. Except instead of investing money, you’re investing your time and energy (and let’s be honest, some buckaroos too). If blogging were the stock market would you invest all your money into one single, trending company? Or would you diversify and place your funds on the safest bets? The smartest bloggers out there are the ones that focus on growing their blog traffic, their email list, creating products that readers can buy directly from them or diversifying their attention onto multiple channels rather than just one. These are all things I’m working on putting more focus into this year.

To Stay True to Yourself and Avoid Comparison, You Need to Reverse Engineer Your Life

I get it. It’s next to impossible to not compare yourself to others at one point or another when you’re trying to make it as a blogger. I’m guilty of it and it’s still something I struggle with constantly. But often what I’ve found helps me the most is to take a step back and do a little reverse engineering of my life. What does this mean exactly? Well, I start by thinking about what I want my life to look like, say 10 years down the road. Or I take inventory of my biggest dreams and goals for the future, or think about what I want my legacy to be when I look back on my life.

What this helps me to realize is that often the people I’m comparing myself to have very different paths and end goals as I do. Maybe I was honing in on one metric like how fast a person is growing on Instagram compared to me, rather than looking at the bigger picture of what we’re each trying to accomplish individually. When I step back and look at the whole enchilada I realize how silly it was to compare myself to this person, because we’re trying to end up in very different places. As they say, “comparison is the thief of joy,” just don’t let it be the thief of your common sense as well!

There’s Never Really a Shortage of Content 

At the beginning of my travel journey I was so worried about not having enough content that I created this illusion in my head that I always had to be traveling. Now two years in I have the opposite problem. I have way too much content and on top of that I’m behind in sharing all of that content with you, my badass readers!

If you’re just starting out on this journey, consider traveling more slowly and allowing yourself time to develop the content you already have to share with your readers — because what’s the point of loading up your schedule with blogging trips if you can’t keep up with the content about them, right?

You Shouldn’t Stop Investing Your Money Back Into Travel 

When I first started my blog, I was in the middle of a round-the-world trip around four different continents and spending all the personal savings I had (about $30,000) on my travels. In my head, I thought that the bigger and better I got as a blogger, the less I would have to pay for my own travels until I got to a point where I barely had to pay for travel at all – ha! I laugh at that now.

While it’s true that I do receive a lot of nights at hotels for free and occasionally take press trips that are entirely covered, the majority of my travel is still paid for by me, and I’ve realized that if I want to run an authentic travel blogging business, that will never change.

While some popular bloggers may hop from press trip to press trip, the truth is if you start to cover 100% sponsored content, your community will begin to wonder how much of what you did was actually planned out by the tourism board or the hotel sponsor vs yourself — and if you’re only recommending those things because you felt obligated.

I like to plan a lot of my own trips simply because I want to be able to share helpful information on how I did so, and if all my trips are coordinated by someone else I’ll lose sight of those details. So I’ve just come into acceptance that paying for travel is a necessary part of the game — good thing I love it!

Making Self Care a Priority Should Be a Priority 

A couple of years ago, I never thought I would *not* want to travel, but the truth is that there have been times where my exhaustion levels are at an extreme and my body is telling me to take a break asap. Between switching time zones, sitting on long flights, eating out constantly in new destinations and trying every pasta dish possible because “when in Rome” is my literal life motto, my body has felt pretty spent at times.

Just recently when I returned from Bali and was visiting with friends in Maine where I grew up, all of my muscles went into spasm to a point where I couldn’t bend down halfway without being in pain. My body was in so much discomfort that I couldn’t even find a soothing position to sleep in at night. I was able to resolve it by going several times to a massage and muscle release therapist, but it woke me up to the fact that long-term travel is taking its toll on my body and I need to start paying more attention.

If you’re just getting started out in the space, I’d recommend having a preventative action plan rather than waiting for things to go wrong. Find out what multi-vitamins or minerals you could be taking to boost your energy and immune system, wear good walking shoes, or travel a bit more slowly so that you’re working in days to rest and recover after long days in the air. You have to find what works for you, but listen to your body — it will tell you what it needs.

You Have to Be Your Biggest Advocate

This has been one of the most challenging aspects of being in the blogging business for me personally. When I first started blogging, I imagined that as soon as I hit a certain threshold on Instagram or if I got featured on a big website, that opportunities would suddenly come rushing to my door. And while I do get plenty of emails a day with collaboration opportunities, the vast majority are not from the kinds of brands I want to work with.

Know that many of your favorite brands are employing a social media manager or maybe an outside agency to try to find talent that’s the perfect fit for their brand, but with Instagram being such a saturated space and without any real, organized way to sift through creators, finding you could be like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s your job to wriggle your way through the hay and be that needle in plain view if you want to be considered for the opportunities you desire. The only way to truly do that is to be the one to pitch yourself and show the brand what makes you different. Which brings me to my next point…

The Worst They Can Say is No — and it Can Always Turn Into a Yes Later 

It can be scary to press send on that pitch email to your favorite brand in the world and know they might say no. But that’s the worst that can happen. And if you think about it, nothing has really changed if they say ‘no’ because you’re just back to where you started.

The best part is, that ‘no’ always has the potential to turn into a yes later. Companies may add more budget to their marketing plan, or have new employees come in that resonate with your content more than the last person. Or maybe their future marketing strategies incorporate aspects of content they didn’t think they needed before and that you provide. There are so many different ways things can play out. I’ve had companies ghost me for months only to pop back into my inbox saying they want to do a collaboration. Don’t give up and don’t let one little ‘no’ bring you down.

Size Doesn’t Matter, Being The Right Fit Does 

Yes, it’s true that brand sponsorships and other opportunities are easier to get as you grow your social media followings and blog, but at the end of the day you still have to be the right fit. It doesn’t matter if you have millions of Instagram and Youtube followers, if you’re dying to work with a brand that has a very sophisticated, luxury aesthetic and an older customer, and your branding is all cupcakes and confetti and attracting women under the age of 21, chances are you won’t be the person they’re looking for.

That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, but smart brands don’t just hire talent for their size — they hire for the message and vibe they give out and the audience they reach. At the end of the day it has to be the right fit. Start thinking now about the mood and message your branding gives off and if those are the vibes that will attract your ideal clients and customers down the road.

Saying No Will Be Your Greatest Asset Long Term (PS – You Should Say No to Free Trips)

Yes, I just talked a lot about landing brand sponsorships, but in my opinion, the name of the blogging game is to gain community loyalty — not brand loyalty. At the end of the day your community is what allows you to do everything else as a blogger. If you don’t have a community as a blogger, you don’t have a business.

The mistakes I see new or even seasoned bloggers make again and again is hustling to make money from brand sponsorships and thus promoting products or brands they really don’t give a shit about. Your readers will see right through this and remember those endorsements next time you try to promote something you really love. Not only does this create bad rapport with your community, but it dilutes the success of your sponsored content because people are less likely to take action when they’ve lost your trust.

I personally say no to 99% of the inquiries that come my way, which has even included a nicely paid gig for a major hotel brand because even though it was a recognized brand, I personally wouldn’t be excited to stay there if I was planning a trip to the area myself. If I’m not excited about something, it gets a no.

Even though it can hurt a bit at first to turn down money, these authentic choices you make for your brand will be your greatest assets long term. Remember, it’s not just the yes’s and the things you do post that shape what your brand means and the vibe it gives off, it’s also the things you don’t post that are just as important.

There’s Still Plenty of Room to Succeed with an Actual Blog

While I think it’s easy to go on Instagram and get overwhelmed by all of the people posting about travel daily, the truth is many of them don’t actually have blogs. And I truly think there’s still room in the market for great female travel bloggers! I’m not saying I’m perfect — far from it. It takes a lot of hard work and grind to put out consistent content and make money directly from your blog, but the reason why there is more room in the industry is because it is hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it — and killing it, which is so not the case.

Just know that this is not a quick endeavor. You’ll likely be a year or two plus in without ever seeing a dime directly from your blog, but if you stick with it the rewards of freedom and making passive income down the road are totally worth it in my opinion! Best of all, you get to be your own boss and design your life just how you want it, and that’s the coolest thing in the world.

I hope you found some of this post interesting and informative and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! xx Michelle

 

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Two Years Into Travel Blogging: Lessons I've Learned and What My Life Really Looks Like!

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