This guest post is written by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site
So you want to be a travel writer? So do a lot of people. In fact, I can’t think of one person who wouldn’t love to get paid to travel. To try, lots of people start travel blogs. Some just do it for fun; others do it seriously. Some would like to get paid but can’t be bothered to really put in the time, so the few hundred they make off advertising is enough for them.
In 2008, when I started my travel blog, I could count the number of travel blogs on one hand. Now, there are hundreds upon hundreds: it’s a cluttered field. So how can you create a successful travel blog that moves beyond the clutter, gets you noticed, and helps fund your travels? Here are my top seven tips.
1. Be an expert.
The best travels blogs are written by people who have traveled, or are traveling. No one wants to take travel advice from someone who doesn’t travel. Many travel bloggers start blogging months before they actually start traveling. But the casual readers you want to attract want tried and tested travel advice. They want an expert—someone with experience. It’s simple advice, but it’s so often overlooked. People who start a blog six months before their trip and realize they don’t have content either stray off their subject, or commit the next sin…
2. Skip the generic advice.
One of the mistakes most beginner travel bloggers make is that they write generic articles. They make lists of what to pack, lists of how to pack, posts on how to find a cheap flight, or other topics every traveler should know. Google any of these terms and you’ll find millions of results.
When I first started out, I did this too, but in order to be successful, you need to differentiate yourself. Yes, these tips are important and I have a special section on my site for beginner tips (after all, beginners need them). But they don’t retain readers over the long term. You need to be different.
What advice can you offer that no one else can? What experience can you impart? For example, I talk about money a lot. I talk about how to use frequent flier programs for free flights and find unadvertised deals. I break it down. I show you, rather than telling you. I don’t tell you what to pack. I tell you where to go and how to save when you’re there. Forget about an article called, “10 Things to See in London.” Instead, write a piece titled, “A Historical Walk Through London’s WW2.” Tell people information that can’t easily find—take them off the beaten track.
3. Be a good writer.
Travel is about a telling a story. You want to bring someone else on the journey. Travel isn’t about you: it’s about your reader. In telling a travel story, you are putting the reader in the picture, connecting them to that place and time. You don’t need to be Ernest Hemmingway or Bill Bryson, but you can’t just blog about what you did on Sunday.
A good travel blog tells a story that brings people to the place. Most people won’t end up going to that location, but what keep readers coming back to your blog is telling a story that your reader can relate to. For example, my post on making friends in Ios is about Ios but it’s really about connecting with people. That’s something everyone can relate to. My post on Budapest describes good things to see in Budapest, but also talks about the joy of enjoying understanding local culture. Write a story that connects with your reader.
4. Be a personality.
When you think of ProBlogger, you think of Darren Rowse. The Four Hour Week? Tim Ferris. SEOmoz? Rand Fish. When we think of big sites, we think of the personalities behind them—their creators. They are the personality, and we identify the brand with them.
If you’re going to be a successful travel blogger, you need to be a personality. You need to be out there dominating a certain travel niche. Be the best backpacker blogger, be the best boomer blogger, or the best family travel blogger out there. This means having a voice on Twitter, having personality in your posts, and relating to people. You are the voice. And people are going to follow you because they have a vested interest in your life and your travels.
5. Or don’t.
If you don’t want to be a personality or deal with social media, and you just want to relax, another way to make a successful travel site is to create destination-specific blog. Destination-specific websites rely on SEO. These sites are a bit less work and can bring in a lot of money, but you’ll never be a “name.”
Sites like Travel Fish and Boots N’ All are very good, have a lot of traffic, and make a lot money—but could you name the person behind them? Most can’t. Probably most people in the travel industry can’t either. But creating a destination website is your best alternative to creating a travel blog, where you need to be a personality. All you need to do is focus on some juicy keywords, and yours can be the number one site on Mexico.
6. Use photos.
Most people don’t travel all the time. However, we all love seeing beautiful places we’ll never visit. That’s we all had tropical island posters back in college, and calendars in our cubicle. It’s why we love The Big Picture from Boston.com. How many of you have really read National Geographic? Mostly we just look at the pretty pictures.
People simply love good photos. So have big photos that attract the eyes. You can write a great story, but without images, you won’t get a lot of return visitors. I would love to hear about your safari. But you know what I would love more? Huge pictures of the Serengeti, lions, elephants, and gazelles. Travel is as much about photography as it is about writing.
7. Stay focused.
Pick a niche and stick to it. Remember: you want to be an expert. No one wants to hear about backpacking from someone who takes cruises or women’s travel tips from a guy. When you’re an expert in your niche, you attract traffic naturally because people always go to the best for information. You don’t buy books on physics from college students—you buy them from Stephen Hawking.
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. That’s the worst thing you can do in the travel niche. The world is a big place and there are simply too many ways to travel—you could never be good at covering them all with authority. Just because you have a travel site doesn’t mean you should talk about all the forms of travel. Stick to what you know.
Travel is such a personal experience that you will turn people off quickly if they don’t think you actually know the location and type of travel you are talking about. The good news? Travel is a big industry: you’re sure to find readers if you blog in this space.
Do you have a travel blog? What tips can you add?
Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.