Six years as a travel blogger, and seven with my eye on the travel blogging world – so much has changed in that time.
I started this travel blog while I was working as a Content Editor at HostelBookers in February 2012. Part of my job was to try and get travel bloggers to promote booking with us. ‘Blogger outreach’ they called it. I’d never actually even heard of a ‘travel blogger’ before.
Within a few months I honestly felt like I knew of all the travel bloggers, by name. Around 100 different sites, their owners and creators travelling the world and bring the best of the travels and stories of their adventures back to us normal people working away in our offices. They’d blog about their travels on their self designed blogs, add in a few point and shoot pics, and maybe put a little shout out to their posts on their Facebook pages.
So far, so simple, so genuine.
I honestly never even comprehended it would be a full time career for me though, I didn’t look that far.
Instead I looked up to people like Jayne Gorman from 40before30.com, now GirlTweetsWorld. She was part of the initial social media crew for Flight Centre. A truly innovative team at the time back in 2011, brought together to champion Flight Centre on social media. One of the only travel companies with a solid strategy in fact. I thought that one day, I could work for a forward thinking company like that and do social media for them, and maybe run a personal blog at the same time.
Eventually, I did actually work for Flight Centre, as part of gapyear.com, and then I left 18 months later to be a full time travel blogger.
That was FOUR years ago now.
But back to 6ish years ago (this post was written in 2018)
In the mean time I was watching. As the voice of HostelBookers on social I got chatting with Monica at GapDeamon, a now defunct youth travel site. And then one night I actually met her (aka The Travel Hack), and Becki (Backpacker Becki), and Jai (Savoir There), and Jen (She Gets Around) and Dylan (The Travelling Editor) and Paul (Travel Monkey), and aaalll these other travel bloggers I’d been following online.
I went to a travel bloggers meet up in London and genuinely felt like I was meeting a bunch of celebrities.
Cue an incredible year of going to almost weekly events with companies looking to promote to us travel bloggers but not really knowing how. We’d drink for free, sometimes eat, and make friends over this crazy world of travel blogging. I knew the London travel blogger lot IRL, and most of the Brits who’d come along for the events. I knew the Americans and Ozzies online. Looking back now it felt like such a small community and we had fun.
My last month working at HostelBookers was spent organising a party for all the bloggers who were around after World Travel Market (a big travel trade show). ‘All the bloggers’ was about 100 (in 2018, it’d be 1000s). They had a good following if it was a few thousand, and everybody knew each other. Such a fun night, right in the middle of World Travel Market, a conference which had only just introduced a special track for bloggers that year.
Before that they were ignored. What use was a travel blogger anyway to the travel industry anyway?
And fast forward 5 years
The world of travel blogging is booming. ‘Travel blogging’ has become a top career choice and apparently I’m now doing a ‘dream job’. Anyone who was around then either has a course or makes money promoting the lifestyle to the newbs or runs tours or, somehow, has made their early adoption of ‘travel blogging’ work for them. A few travel bloggers have even built million pound businesses on it.
Some bloggers who set up to ‘tell their stories’ have now even been eclipsed by business-minded bloggers starting up to make money. Often, their business sense dwarfing the success of actual storytellers.
I wouldn’t even know how many travel bloggers there are now, thousands and thousands. There are conferences every month, all over the world, retreats, courses and entire companies set up with the aim to connect bloggers with brands. New domain names are being set up every day.
It was TBEX Costa Del Sol in April 2015 where I really noticed the change. Before, I would’ve gone to a conference and known at least 70% of the people. Amazing memories of Traverse Brighton, TBEX Ireland and TBU Porto, meeting bloggers, meeting travel companies and just generally having a brilliant time with new travel-loving friends will always be some of my favourite memories from my travel blogging friends. We were mates, on holiday, with what felt like free booze and food.
Again, so innocent, so lovely and way before it felt like ‘business’ for me.
But at that TBEX, there were so many new bloggers I’d never even heard of. I barely recognised a face.
For me, the amazingly successful blogger Brooke, from World of Wanderlust, changed things. Before her, in my world, it was intrepid travel bloggers doing their thing. She dropped in and amazingly quickly built up a huge following to rival the bloggers who’d been doing it five times as long as her. She mixed travel, with lifestyle, magazine-quality photography and fashion.
And then 1000s of other pretty, young, stylish travel bloggers followed suit. They swooped in holding onto their hats for Insta pics, professionally editing their photos and sharing ‘thoughtful travel quotes’ for Likes. Now here was a formula that worked.
As the lines blur between travel and lifestyle bloggers, lifestyle bloggers with their huge audiences look like the better option for some PRs who want their location to be seen by as many people as possible, irrespective of whether anyone will actually go there.
Travel blogging is a business
From the inside, and trying to take myself out of it, I can tell you that travel blogging is a business now. The fact I’m invited on trips along with staff from The Sun, The Independent, and the Press Association, shows that travel bloggers are balling in the big time.
We’re publishing entities in our own right, for its good points and bad.
I’ve met travel bloggers on press trips and conferences who set their blogs up with a strategy. They studied others, did the travel blogger courses, learnt the tech and the games and their numbers now are proof it’s worked. Their business strategy usually revolves around working with brands – to become a blogging billboard for anyone willing to pay within the travel industry.
There’s so much more interest in working with bloggers by brands to get a story across, but then, unfortunately, there are even more travel bloggers than that. This has led to stiff competition. Bloggers holding their cards tight to their chest, buying followers, inflating their figures, their earnings and how happy they actually are to sell their ‘how to live like me’ courses.
There’s no doubt that in general, the authenticity of the early years has gone.
Travel blogging is now work
I really don’t want to sound like a nostalgic / bitter geriatric blogger though. Travel blogging has just moved on, like any successful industry does.
Companies have paid me thousands to travel and create content for them – sounds crazy right? But it’s not. As fun as it looks, and is, a huge amount of work goes into being a professional travel blogger. A few years ago, as part of my free How to Be a Travel Blogger series, I listed all the skills and attributes a blogger needs, and honestly, much of this is unpaid until you get your first deal.
Kinda like musicians when they’re starting out – there’s only so much room for the ones that get paid for it and the rest burn out before they make a buck.
Some travel bloggers I know though, have made enough to buy hostels in the US, yachts to sail the Caribbean and mini homes to travel across Canada.
READ MORE: How Much Do Travel Bloggers Earn?
Travel blogging used to be that you’d write a story on your blog and put it on Facebook. Now you could post it to any one of a hundred platforms, all with their own requirements, take incredible photos with it, make a video, talk about it on your Instagram Stories and then SEO the fun out of it so that Google picks it up.
Travel blogging is hard. And if you want to do it professionally, even harder.
But gawd, it’s FUN.
And that’s team work
Team work makes the dream work right? Well it’s definitely true in the travel blogging world.
As I look into the top bloggers it’s insane to see the whole teams they have behind them. Someone for photography, someone for SEO, for Pinterest, to write, to edit – the big travel blog are businesses now. Beasts that their founders and faces can no longer control.
This isn’t low scale pour your heart out travel blogging any more.
The reach of some travel bloggers is insane. The lads from Hand Luggage Only receive a million page views a month. A MILLION! Here on VickyFlipFlop I have a sturdy 90,000. It’s Wembley Stadium, I’m proud.
Travel bloggers vs Instagram stars
Being a travel blogger now often means you’re actually an Instagram star – doing all you can for that perfect shot so people will stop the scroll and Like.
One of (many) bad decisions I’ve made with my travel blogging career, was to pay no attention to Instagram whatsoever. I was on it so early, and even, bless me, six years ago wrote a post about travel bloggers on Instagram on my blog. And even then I didn’t do anything about it.
Now, travel Instagrammers are in demand. Some travel bloggers have followings of hundreds of thousands, and they spend more time on Instagram than they do their blog. It’s insane.
But I can see why.
A few years ago I went on an incredible ski trip to Germany and Austria, and the other four people on the trip were all Instagrammers. That trip must’ve been valued at at least £3k and all they were contractually obliged to do was post one picture. All of them had over 100k followers. I had to do a lot more than that!
Interestingly Adventurous Kate wrote an article about her being nominated by Forbes as a top travel influencer a few months ago. She’s travelled independently for years, and was one of the first travel bloggers I ever heard of, but some of the others on the list don’t have quite the travel knowledge she does.
There’s a definite difference between being comfortable posing against a white / colourful wall, and then giving tried and tested travel advice. There’s space for both, for sure, but things can get confusing.
All about the advertising
Nowadays many professional bloggers will earn their money through advertising and sponsorship. Some of them (including me sometimes) can seem like one long stream of adverts, but somehow bloggers need to pay their bills / flights / accommodation to give all this free tried and tested advice for readers to suck up.
Authenticity is a big problem in travel blogging. with bloggers promoting all sorts. BUT, as I point out, this happens in all media companies. One magazine company I worked for back in the day based its entire flat plan on the advertising it managed to get opposite – and yet, bloggers get berated for advertising a product they genuinely like.
Leave travel bloggers alone.
Quality of travel blogging
The quality that some travel bloggers produce now is absolutely insane. Cinematic YouTube videos, beautiful photos, funny Instagram Stories and then written posts too. It blows my mind how they have the time.
No wonder brands are falling over themselves to work with some bloggers. With the production value bloggers like Hand Luggage Only have, and then the reach on top, whatever they’re paying them will be a fraction of what a TV, radio or magazine campaign would cost.
READ MORE: How Much Bloggers Cost Compared to Magazines
The quality of travel blogging is now so high, you can’t get away with phone photography and a few words a post anymore (loved those days). Bloggers use drones, DSLRs, are SEO experts, know all about the Instagram game, hire people and are basically running a machine.
Personally though, despite a moan here and there, I love the challenge.
Travel blogger burn out
And all this, along with the travelling and the constant moving around, has led many a travel blogger to burn out. Frazzled from the pressure they put on themselves.
I wrote about my own semi-burn out and my mental health as a travel blogger back when I moved back to England, last year. In there you’ll find plenty of other links to travel bloggers who’ve felt the same.
The travel blogging industry has evolved, thanks to older bloggers pushing for it and working with tourist boards and travel companies to work out what this travel blogging actually is. And now following their success, the newer ones are lapping up the progression and financial and lifestyle opportunities their trailblazing has brought.
READ MORE: My Mental Health as a Travel Blogger
Travel blogging is a strange one. It’s not like food, or make up, or clothes, where people regularly indulge – a lucky Brit would only go on holiday once or twice a year. Travel bloggers aren’t as easy to follow as some of the other niches and so followings are a lot smaller. But, of course, a press trip is much better than a press lipstick, and so wannabe bloggers continue to set up their blogs.
Predictions for the future
I don’t know what will happen to travel blogging. I feel like it’s a definite that the industry will get more ‘beautiful’ – better looking, better production, and, just like the media, more elite, richer and less accessible for all.
Genuine talent and stories will be hidden under those who can make their blogs look better, get more followers, pay for incredible holidays for the ‘gram, and who have the skills to beautify their output.
There’s already a lot written about travel blogging being a rich, white, privileged person’s playing ground, but I hope that can change for the better. I hope that wannabe travel bloggers will lap up the free travel blogging advice, find role models and create their own space to share stories and sustain their lifestyles.
There will always be space for more travel bloggers, there has to be, but to get yourself noticed, to have that sense of community and to actually help your readers in their quest to travel will require some skills. There are definitely more paid travel opportunities now, the average person has heard of a ‘travel blogger’ and there’s more of a clear cut path to success.
In short, and in hindsight, when I started travel blogging was a lovely way to share your travels with the world. It was a way to connect with other travel lovers, there wasn’t much money in it and few bloggers imagined the influential force it would become.
And today, 6 and a half years since I set my blog up, hundreds of travel bloggers are making good full time incomes of their site, some, millions. Travel blogging is an industry in itself, courses are being taught, it’s being studied in universities, it’s a dream job and for many, it’s a business.
Travel blogging has evolved.
I’m so happy to have discovered it in 2011, and set up my blog in 2012 – I loved those early days. But I think now, with the competition, the pathways, the knowledge and the support from the wider travel industry there’s never been a more exciting time to work as a travel blogger and to be inspired by your fellow creators.
There is absolutely no limit to what you could achieve by setting up and maintaining a travel blog.
If you want to be a travel blogger
Two years ago I wrote a series called Travel Blogger High. I wanted to create a FREE series of blog posts to give out my advice on how to be a travel blogger. I’ve always meant to do a follow up, and with a bit of time over the summer, I’ve done it!
It’s the ultimate free guide for any new travel bloggers, or any who’ve been around for a while and want to brush up on their skills. I’ll be covering as many gaps as possible from the last series, but just let me know if you’d like to know about anything in particular.