The Real Business of Travel Blogging

Towards the end of last year, I attended a number of travel blogging conferences and noticed a growing conversation about the professionalization of our little industry.

As I listened to people talk, I kept silent. I didn’t want to get caught up in the debate. I hate inside baseball. However, on my recent trip to Africa, while dealing with long 10 hour bus rides, I had a lot of time to think — and think about travel blogging and the state of the industry I did.

With all that time, I’ve decided to write.

And then I wrote some more.

And I hate wasting words so I decided to no longer stay silent but to talk about travel blogging and my opinion on what needs to be done.

Nothing I write here is meant to be taken personally; these are simply my thoughts on the business of blogging. I see too many people who should be successes but aren’t, and too many beginner bloggers being led astray, cutting off any chance of success they might have.

We all start from zero and the questions we should always ask ourselves are why did that person succeed? and how can I copy what works so I can too?

Well, here are my answers to those questions. (Note: Just blog for fun? Don’t care about making a business out of it? Awesome. Keep doing that. This post isn’t for you though!)

The Problem(s)

There are many reasons why so few of us make it beyond our own walls. Compared to other niches, our world is very small with few top bloggers, few rising stars, and few people making lots of money. Travel is a multi-billion dollar industry, and we should have a bigger piece of that pie than we currently do. I think a lot more people should be bubbling to the top and as I look at what impedes our industry and what happens in other fields, I notice a couple of things:

First, travel blogging is inward focused. Too many bloggers write to other travel bloggers, talk to other travel bloggers, and network with other travel bloggers. On a personal level, that’s awesome. On a professional level, it’s limiting. Too few of us branch outside our industry. It is a giant circle jerk. There’s too much inside baseball on people’s blogs that only ever appeals to other bloggers. In short, we don’t think big enough.

Secondly, we don’t create businesses. Most of us, myself included, are former travelers who started blogging as a way to extend our travels. Most of us think “Hey, I travel and blog. I can definitely give other people advice on travel. I’m an expert.” And then with visions of being a travel writer in our minds, we join our fellow travel bloggers in….taking press trips, selling links, and running sponsored posts — and then complaining about how hard it is to make money with a travel blog. But how many of us create business plans? Have a marketing strategy? Develop an expertise? Hire people? Contact traditional media? How many of you create products that compliment your expertise? All businesses have staff, products, and plans. Too many think “If I blog, they will come.” They won’t. Content may be king, but marketing is the queen — and, as any good chess player knows, queens are the real power.

Third, there is a huge sense of self-entitlement. I see so many people who say they are “travel writers” and “travel experts” and demand this or that but only have two readers, have never been linked or quoted in a major magazine, and are simply experts at taking press trips. Anyone who has spent five minutes in the Facebook groups can see this. It leads to a huge amount of infighting, name calling, gossiping, and a “what can you do for me?” attitude. It’s worse than high school and it’s a big roadblock to success.

Those three things create a negative feedback loop that keeps too many bloggers down. As I’ve thought about the conversations I’ve heard over the last few months, I’ve come to realize that unless there is a paradigm shift in the way most bloggers think, few will last the industry contraction that is bound to occur when the novelty of travel blogging wears off and companies start to look closer at ROI and get more selective. It’s happened in other blogging niches and ours will be no exception. What goes up always goes down.

And that’s a shame, because there are so many good travel blogs out there that — with just a little push — could become huge and profitable successes.

The Fix

Why is it that, out of the thousands of bloggers, so few succeed? It is true in any industry that a few will rise to the top, but the Internet is a large place and you could have a million followers and still be unknown. To millions, you could be the only travel blog out there. There’s no reason why we all can’t be big fishes in small ponds. You would think for all his fame Tim Ferriss would be a household name, but ask most people who aren’t Internet junkies and they will have no clue as to who he is, nor will they be able to name his famous books. Yet he has tens of millions of readers and has sold millions of books.

And the reason why our industry isn’t a smooth pyramid comes down to this one fact: only a tiny amount are actually running a business and developing a strategy. Think of a restaurant. You walk in, you sit down, and you’re handed a menu from which to order. That restaurant has something to offer you. You get food, it gets money for doing something that it loves — in this case, cooking food.

Now, let’s pretend every travel blogger is their own restaurant. Ask yourself, what’s on your menu?

For too many of us, the answer is nothing.

All businesses sell something. Every top blog in every niche sells a “product”. They have a number of selections from which customers can choose – whether it’s an e-book, a course, speaking engagements, print books, their freelance writing skills, consulting, or affiliate ad sales. Your blog is a store and you need to think of it as such. What can people buy when they come to yours?

Some tips:
I. Be an expert
Go deep. Go niche. You cannot be a travel expert, just simply an expert in a style of travel. Travel is far too big of a field to be an expert in it all. That would be like someone saying they are a science expert.

I believe a lot of it goes back to the problem that so many of us come out of the traveler tradition that we look for ways to extend our travel and think “travel blogger” sounds cool. I went around the world, I know travel, I can help others.

A trip around the world does not make you an expert on anything related to travel. Yes, you know more than the average person but you are leagues away from being an expert. In the beginning, I thought I was and it took many humbling moments to realize I knew nothing and then it took me years of work and practice to actually become an expert on a type of travel.

What makes you passionate about travel? I love budget travel. I’m cheap, I hate spending money, and sitting around for 10 hours to learn how to find a cheaper flight sounds like a perfect Friday night to me. I focused on that and absorbed everything I could about budget travel. I read books by other writers. I sought the advice of others. I made the focus of my travels revolve around the question “Where can I find the best deal?”

There is still a lot I don’t know and only a fool thinks he knows it all. I was a fool in the beginning. It wasn’t until I started to think about how to really grow my blog outside travel and was being constantly rejected that first year or so that I realized the problem was that I couldn’t provide the depth of knowledge required of an “expert.”

But expert doesn’t mean guru. It simply means a focus. Your blog should have a focus – a reoccurring theme that binds everything together. That can be anything from budget travel to adventure sports to cruises to simply stories about mishaps on the road. But you need a theme. If your blog is all over the place, you’ll lose readers.

II. Learn from traditional writers
While Pam Mandel and I don’t oven see eye to eye, I completely agree with her when she says that writing is important and bloggers should focus more on writing. It doesn’t get enough publicity in our industry but being able to tell good stories is simply the price of admission. It is the least you can do. After all, no one wants to come back to a blog with awful writing. We should all work to hone our skills; all good writers do.

And this is where blogging self-entitlement hurts us. Bloggers love to think they are the wave of the future and that print writers are passé. They think it’s all about social media, forgetting the fact that anyone can go out and buy 100,000 Twitter followers. What matters is quality content (there is so much garbage all over the Internet) and by dismissing traditional writers we ignore the valuable lesson they can teach us: that to be a success you must have quality writing and a journalistic quality of depth to your stories. How often do you see 2,500 word, detailed how-to posts? Or in-depth reporting on issues that quote sources? Or stories that really put you there?

The best bloggers in any niche do that. They take the best lessons of the old media and combine it with the new — and are powerhouses because of it. Traditional writers are great at details and form and we can learn a lot from them.

I, for one, am taking two writing courses this year to improve my narrative writings. It’s not something I do a lot on my blog but when I do I want to be able to better express my experiences better. 99.999% of us are not natural writers, yet there is never a real discussion on writing or how to improve it. I’ve heard hardly anyone ever say “I’m signing up for this writing class to improve myself.”

Improve the quality of your writing and your readership will grow.

The Fix: The Business Continues

Think of yourself as a restaurant again. When people come to your place, what are you serving them?

Text links, sponsored trips, and copious press trips are not menu items. Doing those things are like saying “Ok, I need money and no one has come into the store yet so I’m going to rent out my store to the mob for a little bit.” But what happens is the mob never leaves and the customers never come.

I can trace the rise and plateau of most bloggers (because, yes, I actually keep track) to the time they started selling text links. Now, I did them when I was starting out, and I still think that they are good money. Putting ads up on the sidebar labeled as such is not a problem. Putting something at the bottom of your post once in awhile isn’t going to kill you – trust me, your audience does want you to be profitable and succeed.

But what I see is people becoming addicted to that money and simply doing that more and more because you need money to live and travel. And then I hear “Well, text links are the only way I make money, so I can’t stop.” If that is the case, maybe you shouldn’t be a blogger. Find a new industry. Get a desk job. If you really think there’s no way to make money outside links, you never will. If you just want to pay for your next flight, go nuts with links, but if your goal is to become a professional and earn a living, you are simply shooting yourself in the foot by doing this stuff.

Your audience reads you for you, not because you got some comped nights at a hotel or because they can take “cheap flights to Tenerife.” Your audience knows those are unnatural and paid-for links and they do not appreciate them. You only have to look at the traffic and subscription rate of blogs that do this heavily and observe their lack of growth to see it doesn’t lead anywhere. I get e-mails all the time telling me they used to read a lot of blogs but stopped because they became sponsored post, link, and press trip factories.

Your goal is to be the go-to travel expert, right? Someone whose writing people enjoy reading and whose content they trust. Every link on your site tells say to your reader “I trust this website and you should too.” It’s your recommendation. Readers WILL click on those links and when they see they lead to these junk sites, they are going to stop reading you. And that is why the websites that use contextual links the most are the ones that never seem to grow.

Moreover, for too many, it seems to be that press trips are the pinnacle of blogging, as if the more press trips you take, the better your blog. But when you become a large blog, you will get more trip offers than you’ll know what to do with.

But let me say something – your readers don’t care about what you do. Sure, they are invested in you because they can see themselves in you, but no one wants to read about your awesome trip that they can never take or see photos of the seven-course, 10-star meal some tourism board gave you while they are stuck in a cubicle. What they want to read is a story that allows them to envision themselves following in your footsteps. Even if they never plan on doing it, they want to at least pretend.

And so posting videos and photos of seven-course meals you received simply because you were being wined and dined isn’t going to fly with your readers – it won’t grow your audience. After all, most of us started as travelers and people read us because they wanted to follow in our footsteps and for at least a blog post, they pictured that they can.

Too often this criticism is taken as a personal insult. It’s not. I’m just saying that we should strive to be better as an industry, that we should try to play long ball, not short ball. I hear a lot of complaints about the lack of money in travel blogging, but when asked what people are doing to grow their income, they don’t have an answer. They don’t have a plan.

You need products. You need to have something on your menu. The sites that do create long term sustainable income.

Chris Guillebeau wrote this great article where he said:

“I used to run several little businesses that produced a good income, but they were completely dependent on external factors such as Google rankings or the lack of competition in my space. It was fun while it lasted, but when efficiency entered the marketplace, I had to move on.

Looking back, I can now see that I didn’t really have a business; I was merely taking advantage of an opportunity.”

He’s right. If you are not selling anything, you are simply taking advantage of a Google loophole and when that loophole closes, you are going to be left with nothing. This year I’ve completely left text links behind. I used to have some on sites I ran besides my main site but I’ve sold them to some friends. In doing so, I lost about $30,000 USD in potential revenue. That’s a lot of money — but it forced me to monetize my site in different ways and think of products and things I could offer that can be of value to my readers as well as make money. And now, I am poised to recoup that income — and more — while freeing up tons of time to focus on stuff that actually matters.

The Fix, part 3: Why are you so ugly?

I want to make two final points.

First, if you look at big blogs in any field, they all look outward. They are all multi-media publishing houses. They are more than their blog and they network with bloggers of all sorts in all fields. If you want to be a success, you need to think about what will grow your business by leaps and bounds.

Travel overlaps with so many other niches. Why don’t the solo female travelers of the world guest blog on women’s websites? You have an empowering story… pitch it! Why aren’t the older travelers writing for boomer websites and magazines? Those who volunteer around the world could work with student and other organizations! If video is your thing, link up with other video bloggers!

The best growth will come from outside travel blogging. And once you do that, everything snowballs. When people walk by a busy restaurant, they stop and peek in. They think to themselves, “This place must be good if it is full.” People will think about your blog the same way.

Secondly, back to our restaurant analogy, there is not enough focus on design. No one wants to eat in an ugly-looking restaurant. Design is costly, but you have seven seconds to appeal to someone before they move on to the next website. If people don’t like how you look, they aren’t even going to give your content a chance. Invest in your design, otherwise you are just another blog.

Travel bloggers have been great to me, and I count many of them as friends. I love watching people grow and become better and helping them when and where I can. They do the same for me. But over the last few months, I’ve watched people tread water and too many new bloggers become disenchanted about blogging when they shouldn’t be.

My blog is not perfect. I have a lot to learn, and I am constantly getting feedback from friends, readers, and experts. A few years ago, I had drinks with Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich. He’s one of the best bloggers I know with an audience of 160,000 subscribers. He’s a genius. We were having drinks and, since at the time his website was still focused on saving money, I asked if he wanted to help promote an e-book I was working on. He peppered me with questions to which I had no answers. Then he spent a good 45 minutes ripping me and everything I did apart. (And he’s not very tactful when he does this, either). But I took that advice and made my site better. I never took it personally. He was trying to help. I took his advice, the advice of others, and I copied their best practices — and I used it all to grow my site. Now when we talk, I take great joy when he says “I like that idea, Matt!”

We all start from zero. We all have to work for it. In the beginning, we all start from the same line. There is plenty of room for us all, but if you don’t think strategically, long-term, and about the bigger picture, you will always be treading water and complaining about how hard blogging is.

Make this year the year you stop treading water and become an Olympic swimmer. Let’s make this the year we all do.

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121 Comments on “The Real Business of Travel Blogging”


  1. Interesting perspective Matt. Blogging does take hard work and dedication and a lot of networking and getting your name out there. Ad yes as you correctly say you have to find your niche and work it. No opportunity Wasted.


  2. I like your thoughts Matt. I’m definitely in the disenchanted camp at the moment, but precisely because I’ve been thinking about my blog as a business, and coming to the conclusion that there are other online businesses with a much more straight-forward route of ‘offering a menu’. I just love hanging out with other travel bloggers because its a lot of fun, and I think I’ll continue blogging to use it as a platform for other projects. Some great points in your piece to watch out for and to think about. PP


  3. Jerry Fucking Maguire, this piece here. Spot on.

  4. Bret @ GGT Says:

    One of the best, if not THE best, pieces I’ve ever read on travel blogging. If you got a dollar for every time I read a sentence and thought, “HELL, YES!” well, you’d have quite a few dollars. We spent two years building up our blog’s content, social media presence, and connections within various industries (travel, conservation, green living), but when it comes to the monetization we kept weighing our options. And you’re right, all the amazing press trips in the world still don’t pay our bills. Seems like 2013 is the time for a blogging revolution…

  5. Talon Says:

    Definitely agree with a lot of what you said.

  6. Scott Says:

    I don’t know what a press trip is as my blog is still in its (relative) infancy, but I know enough about marketing to admit that Matt makes some good points. My own blog is still just “for fun,” (for now) but if I ever hope to make money from it, I should bear these points in mind.

    A nice read!


  7. Excellent post, Matt, thanks for sharing your experience, your know-how and most of all what you’ve learned. As someone who moved into blogging from freelance writing, I appreciate that you stood up for writing. The fact that everyone thinks they can write is the bane of professional writers’ lives, and it has pushed the value of what we do down to about zero. Not everyone can write. It is a skill, and it takes years and years to learn to do it well even with natural talent.

    I also appreciate you view that if you want your blog to succeed as a business, you have to think of it as a business. This is a message I’m hearing a lot lately, and I am definitely taking it in.

    I have had two epiphanies as a writer/ blogger. The first was the one I had, almost four years ago on the day I got the idea and name for my blog, and it was: writers are being reduced to mere content suppliers, and I had better make a name for myself, and and build my own brand if I want to succeed.

    And two, the second epiphany was just last fall when I suddenly realized: the value of almost everything content-related on the internet will be driven down to zero, over time. You have to sell products and services. And I am now developing those things, and will be redesigning my blog.

    Thanks for being an inspiration and a leader.

  8. Tracey Says:

    Interesting & thoughtful piece.
    My entree into travel blogging was simply a way to grow a brand I had already created, so my perspective has always been from a business angle. When I went to TBEX for the first time in 2010, it wasn’t strategic; I was merely curious. And from that came my business relationship with Expedia. Right place, right time, and I was prepared (and surprised!).
    I don’t blog or write for other bloggers; my writing (which I’d like to improve upon as well) is merely another way for me to engage with my advocates & help them to perceive me as an expert as I produce a few very specialized trips every year that continue to pick up steam.
    I have spoken at mommy conferences and I have spoken at BlogHer because I know the value of those camps…and others. Diversifying (in more ways than one), for me, is a no brainer. And in a genre of blogging that isn’t as diverse as it should be, I’m proud of where I am. (I have always said you don’t need to be on Oprah to be famous; there are other doors.)
    I am not popular in general market travel blogger circles, but I’m okay with that. I am not a part of any groups. I do, however, try to stay abreast of what’s happening in the travel blogging industry, but my brand does not rely on my popularity with travel bloggers, a few of whom i have become quite close with. I believe that brands want bloggers who have an audience of spenders and not an audience of press trip takers, and I have always operated from that.
    Great that you put this out here like this, Matt. I think you are respected and your peers will likely take note.
    Over here in my own little corner keeping it real and having a blast,
    Tracey 🙂

  9. akismet-1f653a1a897376eaed80cf53dcfba26e Says:

    Must have taken you ages to put this together. All incredibly useful and can’t thank you enough for putting it out there, cheers!


  10. Hey there Matt!

    In one way, I agree with you so much it’s unreal!

    For me, what I consider to be most vital to good travel blogging is to not only share your memories, but also to share other peoples life stories. The ones that traditional media wouldn’t have space to publish or dare to publish (whether by words or by lens). It seems today that a tad too many travel bloggers tend to just post pictures of themselves at “that beautiful beach” or “this cool restaurant”. And if and when they do write something, they often focus too much on how they’re there enjoying themselves and “living the life” others aren’t. They forget to tell us, the readers, about the environment and the people around them, which is the core reason why I’d be interested in reading their blog. Education.

    But then, in regards to traditional media, it’s not always the healthier option. Take a look in any commonplace travel magazine. We find magical sunsets, fairytale landscapes, postcard perfect beaches and 5 star hotels. How many published travel articles have you read Matt containing the true perspective of the backpacker?
    Of dirty hotel rooms you can rent for an hour if you like? Of a ceiling fan that has long since stopped working? Of sand flies up your nose or of a panicked searching for tampons in cities you’d consider modern?

    Traditional media is also super sponsored; they depend on their advertisers perhaps even more than bloggers. This is the reason why I think travel bloggers are so important and valuable to the future of quality and wide-ranging travel journalism, not bending to the banknotes.

    Travel writing, no matter if it’s in traditional media or a blog, should be about the nitty, gritty and pretty of travel; it’s magical, ugly, addictive, tiring, awesome, awful, boring, wonderful, testing. Honesty with words.

    By the way Matt, will we see you in TBEX Toronto in june?


  11. Hey there Matt!

    In one way, I agree with you so much it’s unreal!

    For me, what I consider to be most vital to good travel blogging is to not only share your memories, but also to share other peoples life stories. The ones that traditional media wouldn’t have space to publish or dare to publish (whether by words or by lens). It seems today that a tad too many travel bloggers tend to just post pictures of themselves at “that beautiful beach” or “this cool restaurant”. And if and when they do write something, they often focus too much on how they’re there enjoying themselves and “living the life” others aren’t. They forget to tell us, the readers, about the environment and the people around them, which is the core reason why I’d be interested in reading their blog. Education.

    But then, in regards to traditional media, it’s not always the healthier option. Take a look in any commonplace travel magazine. We find magical sunsets, fairytale landscapes, postcard perfect beaches and 5 star hotels. How many published travel articles have you read Matt containing the true perspective of the backpacker?
    Of dirty hotel rooms you can rent for an hour if you like? Of a ceiling fan that has long since stopped working? Of sand flies up your nose or of a panicked searching for tampons in cities you’d consider modern?

    Traditional media is also super sponsored; they depend on their advertisers perhaps even more than bloggers. This is the reason why I think travel bloggers are so important and valuable to the future of quality and wide-ranging travel journalism, not bending to the banknotes.

    Travel writing, no matter if it’s in traditional media or a blog, should be about the nitty, gritty and pretty of travel; it’s magical, ugly, addictive, tiring, awesome, awful, boring, wonderful, testing. Honesty with words.

    By the way Matt, will we see you in TBEX Toronto in June?


  12. “Content may be king, but marketing is the queen.” Nice! Reminds me of a talk I saw in back in 2008 with Gary Vaynerchuk. He knows.


  13. Amen to every word, Matt. I am particularly irritated by travel bloggers who write articles, tweet and add Facebook status updates about their drunken escapades and sexual exploits during press trips or hosted stays. One sponsor told me recently that he can no longer offer hosted stays because the owner of his vacation rental houses monitored the content that resulted from a trip, and to say they were unhappy would be an understatement.

    We need to conduct ourselves in a professional manner at all times. How many bloggers are providing detailed reports showing the social media benefits or the ranking in Google for articles published the client received as the result of a trip? How many are translating that into ROI for the client? I’d be willing to bet a good number of bloggers don’t even bother sending the links for their content to CVB’s, DMO’s, or direct clients following a trip.

    I recently posted on one of our Facebook groups that we should be thinking about ourselves as online travel magazines. We’re handling our own SEO, social media, design, coding, content, and advertising, among other tasks. But as you say, too many of us are puttering along, hoping that Google’s next move won’t hurt us. The key is in creating a persona and developing your own subscription list. I love your points about marketing outside our niche. Though I write about travel, my site is not a travel blog. Subscribers read my blog because my story inspires them in some way. I am a source of hope that they, too, can follow their passions, no matter what their age. That’s a story that resonates well outside the travel blogging community.

    Great post, Matt. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.


  14. Agree with everything here Matt. Great post. We are pretty much on track with everything you say. We’ve made some mistakes, sorry I mean learned some lessons but we are focused on all these points.

    This year we are focused on creating our own products and definitely reducing press trips. Or when we go on them we do our best to make the articles useful to our readers so they can do the same.


  15. Matt, thank you for your words of wisdom. We are very new to the travel blogging industry and are cautiously taking our first steps into this overwhelming world. We’ve been following yourself, Caz and Craig and other ‘big’ travel blogs since uprooting ourselves for a nomadic existence a little under two years ago. I recall a lot of the changes you’ve made and it has been great to watch you flourish.

    Your article has provided us with a lot of food for thought about how to move forward with our site. For this we are very grateful.

    Here’s to a successful year,

    Charli & Ben

  16. Alex Says:

    Well said. I’ve been debating a post for a while about the impact of paid/sponsored posts being published as general content for the sake of $ but also to help people just crank volume. Drives me nuts how often I see crap that was obviously written by an SEO spammer re-published in top list format on otherwise well read blogs. To be clear, I’m not talking about identified and separated links which I could care less about. I’m talking about complete post – the type you no doubt get a bucketload of e-mails from SEO’s about on a weekly basis.

  17. Gabriel Says:

    Wow. This post is insanely insightful. Love it. I believe the blogging world (as a whole) is stuck on this same issue and it definitely feels like highschool sometimes, where you have to hang out with the cool peeps to be cool – not because you’re actually interesting and/or different in any way. Expanding your “blog wings”, collaborating, and creating genuine relationships will set you apart from the rest.

    Again, love this post. Thanks for the awesome advice.


  18. Thanks, Matt, great post! We’ve been seriously on this track of what we can sell and how we can sell it since the beginning of the year when we did goal setting. We have the niche, we are experts, we just have to run with it.


  19. Great post. I think a lot of people who are trying to make money with blogging are so desparate that they take anything from unsuitable textlinks to boring press trips that aren’t really fitting to their otherwise great content. It has almost become a kind of prostitution. I think you are right and readers can see straight through it and eventually you will loose them. I find your angle of networking outside of social media very interesting. Definitely something I am trying to pursue. I am currently not making any money with my blog. It is fairly new and I want to grow it frst before considering making money with it. I am working full time (and like my job) and at the moment blogging is just something I am very passionate about and writing and photography is a creative outlet for me. But that is not to say that secretly I am not thinking about taking the next step. 😉

  20. Donna Hull Says:

    Matt, I totally agree with you. And, you are especially right about finding markets outside the travel world that match our various niches. There are companies out there with deep pockets willing to work with online writers; but it takes proving our worth by publishing quality content on a consistant basis that offers value to our readers. It is always, always about the reader and never about you (us).

    Like Barbara, I don’t write a blog, I publish a site (online magazine, if you will) and am focusing on growing a list of subscribers that will allow me to sell future products to an audience that wants them.


  21. Yes! I loved reading this post Matt – it makes me feel like I’m not doing everything wrong! As someone who started blogging years ago just for fun and am beginning to look into the business aspects – it’s so helpful to read your thoughts about the industry.

    I try to aspire to the kind of travel blogs/writing that I like to read – the ones that inspire you to go places and see and do beautiful things. More often than not, the ones that inspire me are not the ones constantly taking press trips.

  22. Kirstin Says:

    I would love to hear more about what Ramit Sethi said to you and what sort of changes you made based on it.

  23. geogypsy2u Says:

    Thanks for telling it like it Really is. And for a kick in the pants which I’ve fiercely needed. I too have been thinking of my blog as a business but I have nothing to sell, yet. Working on an e-book. Of course I also have fun with it. Don’t see the Press Trip as a way to go because readers aren’t going to be traveling like that. As a solo boomer female I need to be out there in those niches and get published.


  24. Hi Matt,
    I’ve just discovered your article…it sounds so right! I totally agree with you! I consider myself still a newbie even if my first travel blog was dated 2008 and I restart it end 2011. So much thing to learn and improve. I’m on a writing training and my readers appreciate my last narrative experiement. I really hope we could meet somewhere!
    Thanks for your post

  25. Chris Says:

    totally agree Matt – the whole press trip pinnacle is an odd phenomenon, as is the lack of design.
    I shall definitely be taking advice on the niche side of things and outreach too 🙂

  26. Charles Man Says:

    Please add my email address to your travel blogging. I want to start my rado blog
    on ‘blogtalkradio’, yet I need a trainer
    or mentor to help me to start, please.
    Your reply will be very helpful and
    appreciated. Thanks.
    Charles Man
    Sino American Tours
    charles@sinoamericantour.com

  27. thirdeyemom Says:

    Thanks for this post! It really speaks to me and was actually referred to me by an amazing blogger/social good doer Tracey of OneBrownGirl. I completely agree. I too started my blog as an outlet two years ago. I have been amazed by how it has grown yet honestly don’t have a business plan. My problem is that I don’t know if I want one as I’m not sure I want to have to change what I have. I love my readership community and love to write. It is such a tough decision. Yet I’ve also seen a growing number of opportunities arise from my blog, things I never thought possible such as an upcoming invitation to India to write about maternal health (I also write about Social good, advocacy and global issues). It has been hard changing my blog from just simply travel to also social good issues but my readers are slowly coming along and I’m actually getting new advocates! Thanks so much for the tips. I’m going to my first TBEX this summer and will really have to think hard about the future of my blog. Whether it continue to be a labor of love or a business with a plan (thankfully my hubbie is an MBA…LOL). Thanks again and I will be following your blog for more tips! Nicole

  28. lola Says:

    Interesting read & agree that often bloggers blog for other bloggers. I’m certainly trying to get away from that as it has nothing to do with why I started my blog in the first place. To share travel tips and experiences with others who may or may not get to travel like I do.

  29. Mapless Mike Says:

    I absolutely loved this piece! As a new travel blogger just starting out it definitely gives me a lot to think about. Right now my blog is simply for chronically my adventure of leaving behind my job and teaching English in Spain. The possibility of one day monetizing my blog is an intriguing perspective, but right now I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to go in. I’ll be sure to keep this piece in my back pocket if one day I do decide to go that route. Thank you!


  30. I’m not a travel blogger. I don’t have the slightest clue as to what in the hell I am doing, but we’re new expats in Europe so I thought I’d give it a shot. Spice up my little ‘twins +’ mom blog and see what happened.

    This: “What they want to read is a story that allows them to envision themselves following in your footsteps. Even if they never plan on doing it, they want to at least pretend.”

    Is what works for me. I write to my audience of parents (mostly moms)- I make our trips sound realistic. I encourage and I am honest. It sucks hard to travel with three boys under 4, but it doesn’t always. I want them to know that.

    Anyhow- I really enjoyed your article and am glad that I stumbled upon it. It is keeping me focused on who and what I’m writing for in the first place.


  31. Fantastic post, Matt. This is precisely why I’ve kept the *bigger picture* in mind from the beginning on this long and sometimes difficult literary road. I made the decision from the start date of my blog not to accept press trips of any kind because they don’t help me with my personal niche – a focus on culinary/cultural travel. I agree with everything you say here, and it would be great to see more talented bloggers break the mold and find mainstream success in their respective areas of travel expertise. Dream big and follow through!


  32. I wonder who will be the first person to add a “Menu” to their blog…

    All bloggers from all industries can learn tons from this and so I hope it spreads outside of travel blogging.

    And I am personally grateful for the rocket up my ass… Off to work on my bizniss plan…


  33. I don’t consider my travel blog a business right now, but you do raise some very interesting points. Business is indeed the way to go if I want to go further with my travel blog.

  34. Elena Says:

    Very interesting read, thank you very much for putting together all this information so clearly. I agree because I also run a “project space” on my website talking about my cooperation and work in the tourism and travel industry hence I depend less on having to monetize my travel blog as such. It’s definitely vital to have a plan, as with anything you start that should eventually lead up to something. Since how would you know you’ve reached your goal, or any milestone leading up to it, without formulating one in the first place? 🙂

  35. Sammy Says:

    What a refreshingly sensible post thank you, we’re holding a bloggers conference in Abruzzo Italy in June and I think we’ll be including this in our handouts!

  36. travelhumble Says:

    Thank you very much for writing this, I look forward to re-reading it and taking even more from the second time around. I keep a travel blog (and have kept travel blogs), but I would not call myself a travel writer or travel blogger- although perhaps someday I will get there! It’s wonderful to read something so well put together and honest on an industry in which I have such interest.

  37. Ahmed Nawaz Says:

    What a refreshingly sensible post thank you, I will get there! It’s wonderful to read something so well put together and honest on an industry in which I have such interest.

  38. Linda Bibb Says:

    Excellent insights, Matt. Thank you especially for sharing your thoughts on the sponsored trips; you put them in a different light.

    I can see we are moving in the right direction with our blog but have a long way to go. Next steps: Create a product to market and review our business plan.

    This was truly worth reading. I’ve bookmarked it and will retread it again soon. Thanks!


  39. Fantastic post Matt. I am proud of you!

    You inspired a post from me as well. Coming tomorrow…..


  40. Thank you for this post. Although I just started my blog about a month ago, the advice you give is something I will keep in mind and try to put into practice as I keep writing.

  41. yoyo616 Says:

    I run a travel blog and this post has inspired me!
    Thanks for sharing.


  42. Food for thought. xxx

  43. vikausa Says:

    Absolutly wonderful information and I agree with you Matt, no matter how old you are no matter where you come from we all start with Zero. Loved this aritcle!

  44. Sara L Says:

    Thank you for your guidance and advise, very timely for my extremely young blog.

  45. 3onthego Says:

    Inspiring post. I just started a travel blog this weekend, so am a total newbie. In the past few days that I’ve been obsessively researching, this is the best article I’ve stumbled on so far. Thanks for the great advice.


  46. A really interesting post.

  47. Christina Says:

    Thanks for the advice! I appreciate reading a travel blogger call out fellow travel bloggers. You’re absolutely right about some of the archetypical blogs out there: fizzle out for lack of focus, sell out to adds and become uninteresting for readers, and the bland ones because simply going somewhere does not make for interesting content.

    I don’t consider myself a pure travel blogger as my niche is art and travel, but it sounds like being a niche blog is already a broad step in the right direction. I will definitely take some of your advice to heart, such as use the strategies of traditional media to develop your content and site.

    Good luck cleaning up and growing the travel blogger “industry”. I think the scenario you propose will be a very fruitful and exciting business focused future.


  48. Spot on. I know I can learn some things from this post.

  49. Jessica Says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. This is a great post with excellent points. I fully agree that good writing needs to be a focus of all blogs, not just travel blogs. And design. And yes, what do we offer? That’s something I’ve been trying to narrow down for myself. What is my niche? I love travel and have lived abroad, and I want to share those experiences with others, but what’s my niche? What do I have to offer you, truly??? Still thinking… Because good writing is good, but not enough.

    Great post. Interesting thoughts. Thank you.

  50. Turtle Says:

    Good on you for sharing your thoughts. I think they’re all spot on! The key is to know what you want your blog to grow into and then know how to get it there. Short-term opportunities might seem easy and lucrative but they’re not the way to build sustainability. Any blog – regardless of its focus and methods – is only as good as the followers it has. You need to know who your followers are (or who you want them to be) and deliver what they want. A Thai restaurant may not be popular with people who like pizza, but all it needs to do is be the best Thai restaurant on the block!


  51. As a newcomer to blogging, I read your post about the business aspects with eye-opening interest! I am so naive!
    Of course, it’s OK to make a business out of blogging. But it’s also just fine not to. We all have different motives in blogging.
    As for me, I find that it enriches my own experience of my travels by making me more observant and attentive because I intend to write about it. I sense perspectives and detail that previously passed me by. Yes, I hope others get enjoyment from what I pen, but I can certainly can attest to becoming more self aware as a result.

  52. avivajewel Says:

    This is an excellent, and incredibly astute post! But at what point in the evolution of your blog did you actually begin to look at it as a “restaurant”, menu options and all? I’ve just started a blog I know I’d like to grow over time but am unsure of how, or when, exactly, to really start marketing it as a business, or to invest in a custom design. I am looking at it as having the potential for such from the start, but feel I’d be getting ahead of myself spending any real money on it so early in the game, especially without a following, as it’s so new.

  53. Mpho Says:

    Wow! Great article. Eye opening. So true about how we sometimes think blogging/social media is an excuse for bad writing. I took a writing course and I write fiction part time but have never thought to approach blogging with the same attention to language and technique. And you have no idea how many business opportunitir\es you made me think of by reading your piece here. I’m a beginner and still need to grow a lot but thanks for accelerating that growth with this piece.

  54. Bryce Mulder Says:

    I’m only starting out now but will take note.

    Am happy to say that at least onething I am doing and is working at least for me so far is having built a business model for myself and future blog, starting with understanding what business I am really in.


  55. So far, on my blog, I haven’t written anything that is too long.
    I think that a lot of people who are looking through blogs—don’t want to spend too much time on one page reading.
    So I try to make what few words I choose say as much as possible–in a short poem or quick story.
    I love reading and writing. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article. It is very good.

  56. Pundit Says:

    Reblogged this on Dark Blogging Tips and commented:
    If you travel a lot, take some pictures and blog about it. It’s simple as that.


  57. I love that you mentioned the need for writing skills. I’m not perfect in any way, but I do at least make an attempt to write coherent posts. To be fair, I’m also an English teacher (a soon-to-be-former English teacher) so I’m probably even more judgmental when it comes to focus and conventions. But to write a poorly-written post is to be unprofessional. You wouldn’t submit a grammar-error-riddled resume; don’t publish a poorly-written post.

    This post, while entirely true, well-thought-out, well-written, and timely, also makes me sad–sad for myself. Because as a blogger with a full-time job, there’s just no reasonable way I can balance all of this. Would you say that this relegates all bloggers (travel and otherwise) who travel part time and work full time to ‘hobbyest’ status? I’m sincerely interested in your–and everyone else’s–thoughts on this. Because I have to be honest–I’m darn near losing my mind trying to do everything. Perhaps I should just admit blogging defeat?


  58. Very interesting article Matt. Definitely agree with you there – there seem to be more text links than good stories around at the moment. Bit sad you didn’t like my 7 course meal feature on Iceland though 🙂


  59. Very well written and you did make some very pertinent and thought-provoking points. Thanks Matt, for your eye-opening insights. You have got me thinking! I had travelled extensively while on the tour of duty, in the army now having come out I really want to do some serious travel writing, am so glad I was fortunate to stumble upon your blog. I am following you and shall be looking forward to your words of wisdom, in taking the right fledgling steps in Travel Writing. In India this field is still in its infancy, and is currently mostly dominated by amateur contributors. Your words have really inspired me in many ways, to now go and give it my best shot. God bless you Matt!


  60. Reblogged this on D Purushothaman Pillay and commented:
    Travel Writing anyone. Then reading this blog should be very helpful. God bless!


  61. I appreciate your perspective. I am just getting started with my blog and find there are so many topics to cover that aren’t being addressed by other bloggers.

  62. Steve Keenan Says:

    Hi Matt – points taken. We won’t be running stand-up talks at Social Travel Market at WTM London next year as STM won’t exist in name. It will be replaced by more helpful workshop sessions, with only two or three keynotes. And I spent today working with parent bloggers to further their niche and prepare them for a blogtrip. It’s all getting down to detail, and survival of the best – Happy travels


  63. I’m not a travel blogger, but you had many helpful tips for me regardless. Thanks!


  64. Hello Matt, It’s so nice of you sharing this very informative post. Starters will sure learn from your information. Travel blogging is a real fun way to express ourselves and can make money at the same time if we have the proper knowledge using the best resources to succeed. Thanks Matt!


  65. Good info for ‘stay-at-home’ bloggers as well. I like to think I’m a local expert with something to share…


  66. Content is king but maketing is queen – very true. I am always on the look for good honest travel blogs which do not reek of press feeds and tourism board lures but very seldom get there. Many bloggers write about their experiences but hardly come across them as they are not well marketed.
    Content, when heartfelt, is the soul of travelogues but mostly what we come across are the sponsered words.
    Loved your post. You have inspired me to take up writing classes.
    Thanks and congrats on being fp.


  67. I started writing a long reply and ended up coming up with a blog post of my own. You Are Not A Travel Blogger
    http://bit.ly/15w3T1r.

    Well done Matt


  68. Every blogger should read this – lessons to be learned for everyone.


  69. This is great advice and a good way to write about it. Maybe you should write an ebook about exactly this topic?


  70. I didn’t expect to, but I find myself agreeing with everything in this post. My blog is relatively new, and while I feel it’s premature to start monetizing it yet, I have approached it as a business from Day One, and I think that’s an important mindset to have.

    As bloggers it can be very easy to get caught up in our own hype and experiences, and not be vigilant about ensuring that we are providing value to our audience and other stakeholders. I’m lucky to have a great deal of professional experience as a writer and editor, so I always have this ruthless little voice in the back of my head saying “Why would anyone care about this?” I believe that’s an especially important question to ask oneself before accepting a press trip. If it’s not going to lead to content that will resonate with and inspire your audience, then accepting the trip will waste everyone’s time and ultimately disappoint the sponsor.

  71. cetracy Says:

    i’ve never really considered making money for my blog. it isn’t merely something for fun that i do. i love to travel and i post my travel experiences to show people that they do not need to focus solely on the tourist traps or take expensive tours to really experience a place. i still have a lot to learn (my blog is devoted to travel and books, two of my loves) and this post really gave me some things to think about. thank you for posting this 🙂

  72. Sal Esposito Says:

    Matt, I enjoyed reading this post. I am an old travel guy who makes money by selling travel who just happens to write more opinion than objective observations. Travel is about perceptions and insight, those motivating factors that are totally missed by so many, “so called” experts. I have worked with some of the most notable ones who do nothing but collect subjective treatment the resort, cruise line or transportation company that they are writing about. They do little more than push features and benefits and I haven’t read an interesting article from these people in 25 years.


  73. Thanks for this post, Matt. I love what you say and appreciate it. And I’m totally digging Ramit Sethi’s podcasts and insights! He’s so spot on with the business side of things.

    I started blogging in 2008 and much to my regret, because I was juggling and redesigning my own travel life, I didn’t have the time to really integrate into the travel blogging community or get into the business end. When I look at how younger bloggers developed their brands so quickly these days after a year or two, I’m in definite awe of how saavy people are. I still haven’t been to a TBEX conference… I feel so behind.

    This year, it’s been my goal to catch up with my travel blogging community and develop a stronger brand and gun for a more sponsored work, but stuff I can standby and resonates with my brand. I like what you said about solo female travelers opening their niche for women issue publications too… but where to begin, right?

    I do see a lot of sponsored material out there and more sites heavily pushing their brands, to the point it’s almost more about the business and marketing than the blogging. It’s changing both, good and bad. But the problem of the business side of travel blogging is that a lot of it is still unchartered. You’ve successfully chartered it as well as several others, but there’s no real standard for the community to stand on. While this allows for freedom, it also gives way to flailing numbers and advertisers haggling us down on prices. There’s an unconscious solidarity in the community but it’s as organized as a traveler looking in upon India.

  74. ailsapm Says:

    Fantastic post, Matt. I had no idea you had a WordPress.com blog in addition to your nomadicmatt.com site. I notice you last posted here in 2010, did you start out here and migrate over? xx Ailsa

  75. Sherry Says:

    Terrific insight and ideas, especially for those who feel that they are treading water. Treat your blog as a business (it is!) and everything else will fall into place. Love the restaurant analogy and the part about “older travelers.” It’s good to be reminded to stay focused, hone your craft (agreed…as writers, we can always improve), create a business plan and invest in your “real estate.” As you said and it’s so true, you can’t be everything to everyone no matter how hard you try. Thanks for sharing your expertise and advice.


  76. I commend you for saying things that most of us think but don’t dare express!
    Though my own reason to start blogging stemmed from trying to create a much needed ‘bridge’ between a special needs community (autism) and the travel industry- I understand those who might want to use their blog to make a living.However.inundating the web with ‘paid and hosted posts’ as you pointed out is clearly not the answer and I’m afraid the travel blogging industry is bound to lose its relevance and credibility if that trend continues

  77. lienafang Says:

    Couldn’t agree you more


  78. Hi Matt,

    I met you (and got you a glass of water!) at the Boston Meet Plan Go and enjoyed meeting you. I think this is a good, thoughtful piece. I have no idea if I will ever even try to make money out of my blog – my goal is to make people laugh more than travel – but over time I may get mercenary! I think it’s a shame that Rick Calvert basically took your piece and turned it into a mean rant. You’re very nice and constructive and make good points. I hope you stay that way!

    Kay


  79. This post has possibly changed the future of my blog. Possibly.

  80. Kevin Scott Says:

    Some great points here, like products, varying blog networking and subject, blog design, keeping advertising to minimum, and relating to users and quality of writing, sources, e.t.c.

    It’s refreshing to hear someone share their helpful thoughts, rather than simply exploit them! 🙂


  81. Very interesting thoughts. I am not currently in the ‘business’, but if my dreams were to come true this is what I would love to do. Being an outsider, how DOES one make a living being a travel blogger? I have ideas with what I think are real interest pieces but I just don’t know where to start. Any tips?


  82. Inspirational Matt. I am new to the game and reading this helps me to put into focus things that really matter not how many press trips I can do or how mcuh free stuff i can get. It makes me remember why I started., I enjoy helping people and telling stories!

  83. C Says:

    I, too, would rather sit on a Friday or Sat and come up with as many cheap scenarios or best points earnings for a flight!

  84. Anand singh Says:

    it’s interesting blog.

  85. Fishing4Deals Says:

    Wow this post really spoke to a lot of bloggers out there. Interesting perspective for a newbie like me — I’ve just been blogging for 3 weeks now and am trying to refine my niche.


  86. Matt, great info for any blog, especially “But let me say something – your readers don’t care about what you do. Sure, they are invested in you because they can see themselves in you”
    This really struck a cord. Thanks for taking the time.


  87. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. It seems like yesterday that we met at the first TBEX gathering in Chicago. Today, I find myself passing on these conferences, as it appears (to me) that many of the bloggers in attendance are all about landing the “free” press trip.


  88. Nice post, hope things continue to grow for you.


  89. Matt — a great post on a subject that needs to be addressed by the writing community. I’m a former travel magazine editor, who went into PR/marketing, and has now come back to my media roots. I don’t really consider myself a blogger per se, but an editor of an online travel magazine. I’m amazed (and dismayed) by the things I read in some posts. Many of us know that some in our field take press trips and seek free stays just to be able to travel cheaply, without regard to ethics. Years ago the Society of American Writers (SATW) was formed as a way to combat this behavior in travel journalism. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) was formed for much the same reason, to bring some level of competency to an industry. Both organizations require that members accept a code of ethics. The behavior of some bloggers affects all of us who try to run our businesses professional and ethically. Perhaps it’s time our profession also forms an organization that require members to accept such a code.

  90. Steve Keenan Says:

    Hi Jim – There is already the Professional Travel Bloggers Association which seeks to introduce a bit of order to the chaos of the nascent field of blogging. I too am amazed, but at how the old media (of which I am a member) continues to paint bloggers as black and old media as white. I know countless stories of trip abuse by print journalists and freebies scored by editors who are (were) on decent salaries. It’s a raw world in blogging but this time the good ones will surface through the size of their networks, skills and – unlike print – by knowing how many actually read their pieces. Think it a bit unfair that bloggers keep getting bad press.


  91. Hi Steve — thanks for letting me know about the PTBA . I’ve gone to the site but can’t find any info on the organization’s officers. Might I missed it? Would appreciate you pointing me in the right direction.
    BTW, I also think that many (but not all) in the print media paint bloggers as black vs. white. But this is due to the unprofessional behavior of some. I also know of abuses by some in the print media and in the travel industry but SATW and PRSA do their best to keep those people out of their organizations with a strict code of ethics. in doing so they’ve become spokespeople for their industries and organizations with clout, a reason so many travel writers and pr practitioners join them.

  92. Steve Keenan Says:

    Hi Jim – offers to be elected soon. This page might hep – http://travelbloggersassociation.com/shop/blogger-membership/
    Agree that some on both side are unprofessional. But while all fine in having organisations, many of course don’t join. I’d say majority of travel writers in the UK not members of the British Guild of Travel Writers, our equivalent.


  93. […] ago I read Matt’s thoughts on the real business of travel blogging. I actually started this post a few days after reading it, […]

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  95. Allison Foat Says:

    Thanks a ton for this insightful article that I came across via Skye Grove at Cape Town Tourism; she posted the link on Twitter. I need to attend a bloggers conference – can you recommend one please?


  96. […] with travel partners. You can keep a personal blog if you feel the need to express yourself (hey, even Nomadic Matt has one) But you know what they say about mixing business with […]


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  100. Parul Says:

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  115. Thanks for putting this together Matt. As a new blogger, I am constantly making mistakes and trying to develop new, reliable content. Honestly, I have realised that my weakness is marketing and in the upcoming months, I will develop a plan to use marketing efficiently for me. While I am quite focussed on my long-term goal, my every day struggle of getting more traffic confuses me. This is very encouraging and some salient solutions there.


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  117. lauren haas Says:

    I just came across this piece and I love it! I came into travel blogging with a very different mentality, because I’d already been running my own business, including a print magazine, for years.

    I thought I was just having trouble grasping the mechanics of “new media” when nothing I was being told about travel blogging made any sense to me from a business perspective. But no, it was all smoke and mirrors, really.

    I’m working on an online magazine— which is similar to a blog, but with different strengths and weaknesses. Most of the issues you outline here remain though. Ultimately, you need products in order to have sales.


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  119. […] I can make a business out of it, be serious and focused on my audience, my affiliates, my […]


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