26 Aug Should I Start A Travel Blog? The Gap Year Escape Story
“So what do you do?”
The age old question that usually pops up in many a backpacker hostel.
I’m a blogger? No, everyone is a blogger these days. I’m a professional blogger? Hmm, but I do bit more than that. I’m an internet marketer? I’m also on the road a lot so a digital nomadic entrepreneur. Alright, I take pretty pictures, do some social media, write words, travel and make money while I do it. That’ll have to do as an explanation.
Gap Year Escape started five years. A pipe dream cooked up in my friends kitchen whilst we dreamt about The Four Hour Work Week and ate feta cheese (he’s so Greek). It took about 2 hours to set up and the majority of that time was deciding between the name Gap Year Escape and Gap Year Adventure as the name for the blog.
Three months on, having miscalculated my savings (I should have stayed in Asia longer) I’m in Australia eating pasta, tomato sauce and tuna for pretty much every meal and wondering how the hell I am going to make the rest of my gap year work. Whether it was luck, work or a combination of both I had a post go semi viral and got mentioned on places like Matador Network and Johnny Jet. More exciting than that, I got paid. I remember it quite clearly. Someone wanted to pay to advertise on my little website. It was a huge travel brand too. Sadly for me I was completely clueless and completely ripped off. Still, it was the sweetest $24 I ever made because I made it from something that I’d created.
Present day, I’ve been to all 7 continents and I’ve only been in employment for 18 months in the last 5 years. It’s been a pretty epic way to spend half a decade but would I recommend this life to someone else?
Firstly, let me start off by saying I don’t have all the answers for you as an individual. We all have very different situations, commitments, passions and tolerances. I’ve made mistakes, pursued things I shouldn’t and slacked when I should have pushed harder. I’m human. Regardless of what anyone else says (people love to throw in their two cents don’t they?) I can safely say looking back that I can live with the decisions I’ve made. That’s enough for me.
So should you start a travel blog? Well, taking ‘blogging’ in it’s purest form, why not. If you like writing, want to keep an online record of your adventures and also keep friends and family in the loop, go for it. Get something simple like Blogger or WordPress (I’d recommend the latter) and if you feel like personalising a bit more you can get your own domain name for the same price as a couple of Starbucks coffees and you’re away. Things become a little murkier when you start thinking about making money from blogging and pursuing it as a business. Here’s a few things to consider, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Let’s start off with the human component. I have to say blogging has enabled me to meet some incredible people, not just within the travel blogging community but the wider group of entrepreneurs who operate online businesses. I count many of them as close friends despite our nomadic natures. For that alone, blogging has been worth it. There’s also that social component of travel meetups and even conferences and masterminds. These are really good fun and can be great for networking too.
There’s also the perks which in travel blogging, comes in the form of press and sponsored trips (which are also now becoming paid rather than just covered expenses). Could you get more work done building your business if you weren’t on a press trip instead? Are travel blogger reviews truly impartial? Do they convert readers into buyers? They are certainly contentious points but debating them here is not the point of this article. It’s just to illustrate the viewpoints on this particular type of travel and blogging perk and you can make up your own mind how you feel about it.
Personally, I’ve done many sponsored trips in the past but haven’t in the last couple of years with no plans to in the future. Still if the right trip came up, something I was passionate about that I felt I could deliver on, both for readers and the sponsoring organisation, I probably would. Still, I like the freedom. When you’ve got a press trip booked in it gives you somewhere to be at a certain time which interferes with the whole go where the wind takes you philosophy.
Nevertheless, wherever you stand on the point about press trips it should be stated that press trips aren’t “free trips”, they involve work, a lot in fact. Travel companies and organisations have become more savvy and expect an ROI. It’s not just a trip, there’s the prep work, taking video and photos while you’re there and then producing, editing and publishing content on a variety of platforms. Everyone wants to enjoy what they do for work but just remember it is work. Nothing in life is free.
Making Money From Blogging
I also think that “making money from blogging” is aÂ misnomer. If you’re going to blog and turn it into some sort of money making enterprise to full or part fund your travel addiction, you should know that making money directly from blogging is a diminishing part of bloggers income. Your blog can be leveraged to create income in numerous ways. It’s a central part of your monetisation strategy but not everything. Here’s a few extensions of blogging that you could try:
- Affiliate Marketing
- E-mail Marketing
- Kindle Publishing
- Freelance Writing/Photography
- Book Deals
- Membership Courses
- Public Speaking
- Smartphone Apps
Your blog and online presence becomes your ‘online CV’, a way to market your products, services and skills whilst still pushing out content on your blog.
You can learn a lot from running a blog. I’ve certainly learnt more about business from running this than I ever did with four years at business school. A blog is a good way to get experience in soft skills such as networking, writing, negotiation and time management to name a few. Should you also make a switch into digital as a career you’ll also get an insight into things like Social Media, SEO, Blogging and Internet Marketing. All very good for the CV!
Four Hour Work Week Myth
I was completely absorbed by the book when I read it all those years ago. It’s a nice ideal to run a passive and automated business by outsourcing, being efficient and streamlining your life. I’d say I got close but as the years have gone on, making money online and from blogging has got more difficult. The amount of bloggers has grown exponentially and with the barriers to setting up a blog being so low, more people are joining the fray in pursuit of the digital nomad lifestyle.
When I first started, the money came fast and easy but in the last 18 months or so I’ve found I’ve had to put more time in to keep the same results. A step back rather than forward. I’m sure there are a few out there who are living that dream of doing four hours a week but they are the exception rather than the rule. For most of us there is work to be done. Running a blog as a business however still does provide location freedom even if it scan be time consuming, it’s still worth it. Grinding hard for a short period of time and then taking some time out. Rinse and repeat. It’s a trade off I am certainly happy with if I also get to be on the road.
Having A Thick Skin
Look at any YouTube video and you’ll see how a video about a baby otter will descend into a debate about American imperialism, gay rights, Gaza, Miley Cyrus and the One Percent with colourful language thrown in for good measure. Putting yourself out there online is always risky. You open yourself up to a whole lot of abuse and you need to have a thick skin.
I’ve tracked a link back to my site from a Football forum where there was around 100 posts which were pretty brutal and racist. Even on the site I’ve had people comment on posts about how I am a drunk 18 year old spoilt brat ruining the countries I am visiting. Well I was 18 a decade ago and I don’t even drink but never mind.
For every hundred positive feedback, comments or e-mails you get, it’s that one harsh one you will always remember.
A big part of running a blog is spreading the word, growing your readership and social media. I have a love and hate relationship with Social Media. Whether we care to be honest and open about it, Social Media and it’s validation isn’t particularly healthy for us. The very first time I went travelling there weren’t that many smartphone users. Now whenever I walk into a hostel common room it’s quiet with everyone’s head glued down looking at their screens. Talk to each other dammit!
I think the moment you are travelling, you see something and think “this would make a great Facebook update” is the moment we lose a bit of ourselves. We are increasingly forgetting to be in the moment. I’m guilty of it and I’m sure you are too. That’s ok as long as we are aware of it and manage it. As a blogger it’s ten times worse as you’ve got hundreds or thousands of people who follow you and you feel that you ‘have’ to keep posting.
My advice would be to make sure you take time out from social media now and again. Also, as counter-intuitive as it might be, take a special moment, a funny moment, a brilliant view and DON’T share it. Tell the story like we’ve done for hundreds of years; in a pub, around a fire or to a passing stranger. That’s right, go old school!
Sit At The Right Table
Here’s another contested point which I am yet to hear a conclusive answer to…
Most sites about entrepreneurship will tell you to follow your passion. What thing can you not stop thinking about or talking about? Pursue that. Find a niche in that. Find a problem to solve. Sell the fix. Your passion for the subject should propel you to the heights you need and keep you motivated. It makes sense. It’s something that I employed myself with my passion for travel and writing, a Gap Year travel blog was a natural leap.
But is passion all you need? Consider an alternative point of view.
Someone once asked me how many travel bloggers legitimately make over 6 figures a year. It’s all whispers and bravado so I couldn’t give a definitive answer but I suspect it’s not that many, which got me thinking. Choosing a blogging/online business career is a gamble. The amount of bloggers in niches such as fashion, dating and health who are breaking 6 figures is certainly a hell of a lot more. They make more money comparatively and yet still get to travel, experience location independence and work on the road. if you’re going to gamble why not sit at the table with higher stakes?
I say all this as a travel blogger, one who has done well from it but knowing what I know now would I pursue a different niche? If I told you, you could make a million a year but you made it by running a website that sold foot fungal cream, would you do it? It’s not an exciting product, not something I assume you’re passionate about but least you’d have enough money to do all the travelling you could possibly want. Do you want to blog to travel or travel to blog?
Like I said, no right or wrong answer but it’s worth thinking about.
Do whatever the hell you like!
When I first started Gap Year Escape one of the first people I ever told about it said “Why? There’s already Gap Year sites.”
If I’d taken feedback like that I wouldn’t be writing this now and I wouldn’t have done all the travel I have done so far. Running Gap Year Escape has been interesting, challenging but most of all liberating. Not only as a creative outlet but as a opportunity to shape the life I’ve wanted. There’s a lot of caveats in this article about blogging but really there’s not much to lose and everything to gain from giving it a go. At the very least you will have a nice document of your travels or alternative you might create something that helps extends your travels or becomes a career.
Just see what happens. I know I did.