Five years ago, I was working full-time as a copy editor at a small, family-owned newspaper in northwest Ohio. I worked weird hours and spent a lot of time making rectangles in InDesign and filling them with teeny tiny newsprint. I didn't *hate* this job by any means (I mean, I liked the people I worked with, and it was kinda fun to know what was going to be “in the news” the night before it was printed). But I also knew that it wasn't what I wanted to do until retirement.
Somewhere along the way, I decided I needed a hobby. A way to fill my downtime at home (and, let's be honest, at work too). So I started a travel blog.
For the first 5 months, I stumbled around and didn't really write much. I wasn't good at the whole blogging thing. But then, in July 2010, I decided to buy a domain name and really put effort into making my travel blog a blog that people would actually want to read.
And somehow (I'm still trying to figure out how), it worked.
In the past year alone, more than 860,000 people have visited my site. THAT'S INCREDIBLE! I'm still amazed each and every time I look at my site stats that so many people care enough about what I'm doing to come here and read about it.
So thank you for that. Truly.
Since that fateful day in July 2010, a lot in my life has changed. I quit my job. I got my master's degree. I tried the whole “digital nomad” thing and figured out that it was an awful fit for me. I came back to Ohio and moved in with a guy. I started freelancing a lot, and then got a part-time job at a social media startup.
These days, I do my best to balance working from home with traveling (and, you know, having relationships and being a cat mom). It isn't always easy and I certainly don't always succeed but I'm definitely at a point now where I can look at things and go, “Yeah, I could keep doing this for the rest of my life.”
Last year, I shared some of my best adventures in my four-year blogiversary post (and you can now find a very similar timeline on my About Me page). But this year, I want to share with you some of the things I've learned from being a travel blogger for half a decade.
5 Lessons From 5 Years of Travel Blogging
1. Do whatever the hell you want just own it
When I first started out as a travel blogger, I literally had no clue what I was doing. I knew how to write, but I was clueless when it came to website management and social media and SEO and everything else. I didn't even know it was possible to make money from a travel blog, or that eventually I would be able to approach tourism boards about working with them on media trips.
I was a newb, and I often felt like it.
I would frequently turn to fellow travel bloggers with questions. I joined Facebook groups and went to conferences and read everything that everybody else had to say about travel and blogging.
But there came a point when I realized that you can't listen to everyone and sometimes what works for one person just isn't going to work for you.
The longer I've been blogging, the more I have realized that everyone starts at square one, but that eventually you reach a point where you have to stop listening to all the other voices, follow your gut, and do whatever the hell you want.
If you want to only travel in Europe or just write about travel hookups or decide not to have a niche at all (even though everyone will tell you how important they are), do it. Do whatever feels right for you, because that's how your voice will become its strongest and most authentic. Just be bold and confident and OWN whatever it is you decide to do.
For the most part, the travel blogging community is incredibly helpful and supportive. But you will always have people trying to tell you what the “right” way to do something is, or people judging you if you travel or write differently than they do. Screw 'em. Do what you want, own what you do, and I promise your blog will be better for it.
2. Don't expect everyone to love you or what you write
No matter how awesome you think you are (and c'mon, we all think we're awesome, right?), there will be people out there who disagree with you, find you annoying, or who are just plain mean and have way too much free time on their hands. Internet trolls are real, and you'll definitely meet your fair share as a blogger.
Putting yourself out there fully on social media takes some courage, and will require you to develop a thicker skin. Because, no matter who you are or how you look, there are going to be trolls out there who will try to bring you down (just ask my friend Liz).
You'll have people call you fat in your Facebook photos. Have people call you a spoiled rich white girl on your blog posts. Have people tell you that that 2,000-word post that took you a week to write is shit.
Anybody who puts anything out into the public sphere has to be thick-skinned to some extent. But, for bloggers, I think this is even more important. You're *always* publishing your opinions, and you're publishing them often and purposefully promoting them all across the Internet.
I'm not saying that the trolling or ignorant comments are warranted. But as a blogger you just kind of have to get used to them, and learn how to brush them off. (Because you're awesome, remember?)
3. Comparison really IS the thief of joy
Unlike some of my fellow travel bloggers out there, I'm not a full-time traveler. The digital nomad thing didn't work out for me, and I decided that having a home base and steady income was more important to me than traveling constantly.
So, sometimes, when I see what others are doing on social media and on their blogs, I get a major case of the FOMOs. I second-guess my decisions, scrutinize my blog, and suffer bouts of self-doubt over whether what I'm doing is cool enough to keep people interested.
And, though I'm not proud to admit it, this happens sometimes when I AM traveling, too. I'll wonder why I wasn't invited on that sweet press trip or to join that social media campaign, only to have to remind myself that I'm already in New Zealand or Norway or Vietnam or somewhere else really freaking cool.
When you do what I do, it's incredibly easy to start comparing yourself to others who are doing the same thing. And it's easy to lose sight of the fact that what you're already doing is AMAZING and that other people would kill to do it, too.
Comparison really IS the thief of joy, especially when you're a travel blogger. And why would you want to rob yourself of the joy of discovery just because you're comparing your own travels to someone else's? It's dumb.
I'm not saying it won't happen (I've definitely had to give myself a reality check a few times) I'm just saying that you shouldn't let it make you jaded about what you're actually doing.
4. You'll travel differently than other people
Here's the thing about becoming a travel blogger: you have to learn to do a lot of random things that you probably never expected to have to learn how to do. Yes, there's the whole writing and running a website part. But you'll also find yourself learning things about photography and video editing and Instagramming and tweeting and optimizing your blog posts for Google.
All of this will change how you live your life and change how you travel.
Now, when you're on the road, you'll be live tweeting and Snapchatting and taking the perfect Instagram snaps. You'll go to new destinations with blog post topics in mind. You'll take photos of things you never would have taken photos of before because you might need them for a post (like your food or the room you're sleeping in). You'll spend nights editing photos and answering emails instead of going out for drinks.
Basically, you'll start traveling like a blogger instead of just an ordinary holiday-maker.
This DOES make a difference. You'll have to remind yourself to put down your phone, take your camera away from your face, and actually SEE the places you're visiting.
And, if at some point you stop loving it or feel like you've lost the spark that you used to have for travel, then that's the point when it's time to reevaluate things. This type of travel definitely isn't for everyone!
5. Accept that you'll get out as much as you put in
One of my biggest pet peeves about travel bloggers is that we are, in general, a bunch of cheap asses. And ridiculously impatient.
New bloggers especially want everything (the social media followers, the pageviews, the free press trips) overnight but they don't want to spend a cent to get there.
If only I had a dollar for every time I saw a post in a blogger Facebook group bemoaning the cost of web hosting or a site redesign or a new social media tool. And don't even get me STARTED on the travel bloggers who feel they are entitled to press trips and free travel simply because they started a travel blog last month.
If you just want to have a hobby blog and write occasionally about your vacations, that's absolutely FINE! I have nothing against that. But if you come into travel blogging (or decide after doing it for a few years) that you want to make money from it and work with travel brands/tourism boards, then you have to be prepared to start treating it like a business.
And treating something like a business means investing both time AND money in it.
You'll have to pay for that new theme and that social media tool and that pricey plugin that will keep your site from getting hacked. You'll have to shell out for better hosting and a new laptop and maybe some professional photos of yourself. And yes, you'll have to pay for (most of) your own travel, especially in the beginning.
And, even then, it may take YEARS before you have the social media followers and the pageviews and the press trips offers. Building an engaged audience isn't something that happens overnight and trying to find cheap ways to get there faster won't help you stand out to anyone in the travel industry.
If you want to start out (and continue) on the right foot, then you have to invest in staying educated about what's happening in the blogging world. I've been at this blogging thing for 5 years now, and yet I'm STILL learning new things every single week.
Luckily there are plenty of resources and courses out there for those wanting to invest in them. (Check out my blogging courses here!)
A final thank you
Lastly, I just want to say thank you yet again (yes, YOU reading this post) for coming along with me on this 5-year journey, whether you've been reading since Day 1 or just stopped by for the first time today. If not for YOU, this blog wouldn't exist. And I would be very sad.
So thanks for helping me not be very sad.
As we head into year 6, I want to know what you want to get from my blog! What would you like to see more (or less) of?