Confessions From a Travel Blogger
In April 2007 I created my first WordPress.com account (blissfultravel.wordpress.com, which no longer exists) and began blogging to share my past travel experiences of living and working abroad. While I would recommend new travel bloggers with high aims to go for the self-hosted version on WordPress.org I’m glad I at least chose WordPress and not Blogger.
What else did I do that I wouldn’t do again? And what else am I still doing that needs to change?
I asked Rolf Potts how to add a contact form
Back in early 2007 I knew nothing about blogging and was naïve enough to ask anyone for help. And I don’t refer to just friends or acquaintances. I mean anyone. Even professional travel writers with busy schedules. Like Rolf Potts. I was trying to figure out how to add a contact form to my blog and simultaneously checked out the contact pages of other travel bloggers to see if that would make me any wiser. Not so. When I saw Rolf Potts contact page (simple and minimalist as I like it) I sent a message asking how he added the form. The reply came two weeks later. He wrote he was sorry for taking so long to answer (he mentioned something about being busy and a trip) and explained there were plugins for contact forms. Plugins, what’s a plugin!?
If I don’t know how to do something today I will use Google before sending off emails to persons who have better things to do than telling me something I could have learnt from Google in the first place. However, if that fails and the answer to my question is nowhere to be found online, then and only then will I contact someone. And that someone will preferably be a friend, an acquaintance or a fellow travel blogger.
I used other people’s photos
Not without their permission, I’d like to add. I totally get if you use photos from Flickr, WikiPhoto, stock sites or other reliable sources for your blog. I do it on another blog. But for a personal travel blog, few things says ‘personal’ more than your own pictures. Whether they capture places you’ve visited and loved, from somewhere you couldn’t wait to leave, or what you had for dinner in Paris doesn’t matter as long as it’s your photos. One exception: Interviews. For interviews, use as many photos from the object of your interview as you like.
While I liked the convenience of finding suitable images on Flickr for my posts, from now on I’ll share my own photos.
I haven’t published one single picture of myself
Throughout the whole time I have blogged I haven’t shared any photos of me. Not in any blog posts. Apart from pictures of me as a kid, which don’t count, not even in sidebar profile pictures. Like photos from your trips make a blog personal, so does photos of yourself in places you’ve traveled to. Even more so.
Truth is, as I love the feeling of being anonymous in cities, I love the opportunity of anonymity in blogging. To write while being an “unknown face”. Although I understand why people chose to blog anonymously, even under different names, I have realized this is only beneficial for blogs where things need to be kept private for whatever reason. Which isn’t the case for a travel blog. Pictures of yourself on your blog show visitors you’re a real person. You’ll be a familiar face and regular readers will feel like they know you better.
I said no to link requests from other travel bloggers
After I had blogged for several months I began receiving many requests for link exchanges. While I ignored or rejected three-way link exchanges or irrelevant requests (like when a pet blog wanted a link) and accepted those from blogs I loved or liked, I didn’t agree to exchange links with every genuine, travel loving blogger. Why? Because I wanted to be selective and only include my favorite high-quality, established blogs. Before Matt Kepnes updated his website design he had links to lots of travel bloggers, both seasoned and beginners. One of many ways that I believe helped grew his community.
Once there’s a link page on Blissful Traveling, I will gladly accept requests from all genuine travel bloggers.
I changed blog theme more times than I remember
I started out blissfultraveling.wordpress.com with a simple white theme and changed to one with a black background and white text (no hit). Once I transferred to a self-hosted blog under the name Travel Blissful, Woo Themes won me over and I changed between a number of their awesome themes over the following months. Plus a few other themes from different WordPress theme developers. Since I love variety this was as fun for me as changing clothes but I doubt readers felt the same when they looked at yet another new theme.
Although changing themes can be part of the process of finding your way and voice as a blogger (looks do matter, to a degree), it can get addictive and readers may not recognize your blog or even find it annoying. With Blissful Traveling I began with beautiful Sight (its free!) but once I realized one of my favorite bloggers (Jodi Ettenberg) had the same theme I went for brilliant, multi-option Canvas instead. After experimenting with backgrounds, borders and fonts I didn’t feel it anymore and changed to minimalist Origin. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the theme options, though. I knew I needed to find a theme I loved that had everything I wanted in a theme. So far, it’s Streamline. My is aim to stick with the theme for as long as possible.
Update: After writing this I changed back to Origin because I missed its light design and found Streamline to be too dark plus images couldn’t be wider than 600px.
I wrote blog posts from press releases
When I first wrote a post from a press release I’d received via email it was an innocent way to get to write about more exciting destinations and projects. But what started out as a one-month thing in between personal posts eventually escalated and before I realized what had happened I wrote more press release posts than personal blog posts. Although this development caused a gradual influx of press releases and PR people I were in contact with seemed happy, my blog readers were not as happy.
For this reason and many others I choose to focus on my own travels here. Apart from possible interviews. My ambition is to let the blog follow my journey of self-discovery as I travel through the world and life (if you’re feeling philosophical).
I sold out (and put cash before content)
In my definition, selling out when it relates to travel blogging equals focusing more on cash than content. Those press release posts that had taken over my blog somehow led to a higher page rank and the decision to move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, partly to try to monetize my blog. In turn, that led to more press release posts, my first advertiser, my first guest post, my first sponsored post, more advertisers and more sponsored posts with contextual links. I earned a modest side income from the blog, some months more and other months less, but it didn’t make me truly happy. And I know the regular readers (I had had) weren’t either because comments and emails came more and more seldom. With all the guest posts and sponsored posts, I reached a point when the blog didn’t feel like my own anymore. I had lost enthusiasm for blogging. I stopped writing personal content and for a period of many months I published nothing else than contributions from others.
Travel Blissful still exists (until I know what else to do with it) and only publish contributions. While Blissful Traveling will not feature any sponsored articles, I’m willing to consider placing sponsored links in blog posts I have written myself (like I’ve seen many bloggers do) or in non-instrusive intro blurbs (like Anil Polat have done over at foXnoMad).
I tried to “save” my blog and failed
In the late spring of 2011 I got the idea of a trip through Sweden to see more of my home country and share photo-based entries about what to see and where to stay in towns and cities I visited. Before summer I had ditched my other idea of traveling abroad, researched destinations almost all over the country, contacted hotels, hostels and tourism bureaus for possible assistance and organized my own press trip for Travel Blissful. I left in late June 2011 with a flexible itinerary and returned about half a year later. My hope to make Travel Blissful ‘my own’ didn’t last. I began writing blog posts again and said no to contributors but I felt like all the previous sponsored posts had destroyed a lot of things that couldn’t be restored. I wrote the destination suggestions and accommodation reviews from Sweden as promised but after that I didn’t want to keep writing for the blog myself.
Therefore, I started over with Blissful Traveling.
I organized a press trip and didn’t deliver
The aforementioned “press trip” resulted in 54 complimentary and 4 discounted nights in 41 hotels, 5 youth hostels, 2 B&Bs and 1 guest house in 31 towns and cities. The remaining nights I paid for on my own or stayed with friends. I felt grateful that so many hotel owners and PR people believed in my idea. They did not feel grateful when my plan to write about each accommodation during or shortly after the stay didn’t happen. The traveling part went okay. But when I returned to where I’d stay for the night after all sightseeing in the cities and sometimes the surroundings I had no self-discipline or energy to sit down and write. And when I returned from my trip I fell into the danger of procrastination. For more than 5 months. In July 2012 I finally began posting about my trip.
While I did deliver in the end I had no valid excuse to wait that long. Now, a press trip for me (self-organized or not) needs to last much shorter and include sufficient preparation and a speedy follow-through.
I didn’t engage in social media
Except for a few sporadical comments I didn’t comment on any travel blog during 2012. I have used Twitter very infrequently. I deleted my personal Facebook account last year. I didn’t reach out to any travel bloggers in any way. Apart from invitations to my previous Facebook contacts for my now deleted Blissful Traveling fan page I haven’t told anybody about this blog. I haven’t used Google+, Pinterest or Instagram yet. And I didn’t join the Matador Community, TBEX and TBU until recently.
Reading blogs is all good but it’s called social media for a reason. Without it you’ll miss the other fun part of blogging. Interaction.
As I take the lessons I have learned over the years to heart I am giving myself a second chance with travel blogging through Blissful Traveling. In a way I feel like a beginner at blogging again.
Have you come to any realizations of your own? What have you learnt from blogging so far?