It’s been some four years since I wrote my first blog post on this site. Four insane years.
When I clicked the “Publish” button on that very first post back in 2009, never could I have envisioned the wild ride that this website would lead me on. Never could I have imagined that a silly thing like a blog could play such a major role in everything I would do from that point forward.
How did this happen? Seriously, how did it happen?
I sure have no idea. And the more I think about it, the more clueless I am.
What I do know though is that I’ve met a massive amount of incredible people during this blogging adventure and I’ve learned a great deal about myself, about others, about the world in general. I’ve also learned what is important to me in life and I’ve discovered that there is definitely no one right way to do anything.
In fact, regarding that last point, and in terms of blogging, if I were to listen to all of the advice out there about how to blog correctly, I probably wouldn’t still be blogging today. I remember trying to figure out ‘how to blog’ when I first started and I also remember getting a headache after every research session. So much information out there, so many people telling me one thing, so many people telling me another thing. You need to do this, you need to do that. If you don’t do this your blog will explode, if you don’t do that you’ll never, ever, ever, ever have any readers.
Information and advice overload!
Before I continue, I know that many of you are bloggers as well or you’re thinking about blogging at some point. I know that you probably have tons of questions and you want to know what you should do in order to ensure that you achieve all of your blogging goals.
And while I could pretend right now to provide you with answers to those questions, answers full of advice that I could claim you ‘must’ follow in order to become a successful blogger (whatever that means), I’d rather just tell you that there are no rules, tips or pieces of advice, from anyone, that you ‘must’ follow to make that happen.
So, that’s why this guide to travel blogging is not about telling you how to blog. I’m about to tell you how I blog instead. Maybe it will prove useful to you in some way or maybe it will all sound absurd and give you a headache.
We shall see.
Be Yourself, Not Just Another Travel Blogger
It all starts here. I don’t consider this site a travel blog. I consider my site a blog, a blog about my lifestyle, and my lifestyle just happens to involve a great deal of travel. As you’ll notice, I don’t only write about travel. I write about things happening in my life, about how I feel, the challenges I face, the lessons I learn. Yes, much of that is related to travel since I am traveling all the time but I’m trying to share my personal experiences no matter what I’m doing.
Early on, I realized that there were indeed thousands of travel bloggers out there. And I remember thinking it was strange that we all wanted to be classified as a ‘travel blogger’ in the first place. Why do we need to be in such a category? In fact, being classified as such tricks us into thinking that we must always write about travel, about ‘what to do in Paris’ or about topics that you would find on thousands of travel websites already, when that’s not the case at all.
So, that’s why I decided that I didn’t need to be a travel blogger. I needed to be a blogger. This instantly freed me up to write about absolutely anything, allowing me to be more human and more personal in what I write and hopefully, to connect with all of you on a much different level as a result.
How I Gained An Audience
I’ll admit, I got a bit lucky on this one. My post “How I Can Afford My Life of Constant Travel” became quite popular somehow and ever since I wrote it back in June of 2011, it has brought me several thousand visitors per day. And since a lot of people connect with that post, many of its readers have stuck around and become regular visitors to the site, for which I am greatly thankful.
However, you don’t need a near-viral post to gain an audience. If I think about it, I can understand why that particular post was indeed popular. Based on the comments and the emails I receive, it is clear that this post resonates with a lot of you and has helped some of you realize that your travel goals are indeed achievable.
And that’s the key. When I write a post, my aim is to make it useful. I want to always help others in some way. Sure, sometimes it works, and sometimes I fail, that’s how it goes. Sometimes I just write plain nonsense because that’s the mood I’m in. You can’t write a useful or interesting post every time but you still don’t want to lose track of that goal. If your posts aren’t helping others, or entertaining them or making them think differently than they would normally think, it will be difficult to grow an audience because you are not creating any bridge between the two of you.
Just imagine yourself, it’s what I do. Let me clarify…I actually think about myself, not about your self, at least not in a naughty way, usually. Ok, back on track here…
I always imagine myself visiting my own blog. I certainly wouldn’t become a regular reader of my site, or any site, if what I read didn’t provide some value to me.
Keep that in mind. If you write posts aimed at attracting advertisers or you write posts whose sole purpose is to show up in Google searches for specific keywords or posts that are written just for the sake of writing something, I’d say you’re off track.
You simply forgot about the most important aspect of your blog – your readers. You can never forget about your readers. Never, ever, even if there is only one.
Everything you do should be done to enhance their experience. That’s something I’ve always believed and will never change my mind about because, as I’ve said before many times, without all of you, this blog wouldn’t exist and as a result, my life would not be as fulfilling as it currently is.
How I Continue To Try And Grow My Blog
Once I started to enjoy a consistent number of visitors finding this site each day, it was time to start thinking about ways to grow the readership at a faster pace, right? Well, yes. But, no. I love when my readership grows of course but I don’t really put much effort into making it happen apart from trying to continue writing useful posts. For me, it all comes back to that.
That’s why I sometimes write a post where I ask all of you what you would like me to write about. It’s not a trick question. It’s actually quite simple. I really want to know what you want me to write about so that I can provide you with exactly that.
I’ll be honest, writing doesn’t come naturally to me at all. It’s a struggle at times for me to put together a post and there are days, or even weeks, when I have real difficulty figuring out what to write. So, by telling me what kind of information you are looking for, I am able to ensure that I am providing you with posts that interest you, as often as I possibly can.
And my hope is that the more I can offer such posts, the more the word will spread about the blog to others who are looking for the same kind of information, the same blog experience. That can then lead to more mentions in various media outlets, on other blogs and even through word of mouth, bringing more readers into the community.
It’s All About The Community
About three months after I started this blog, I made a promise to myself. I promised to answer every email and comment that I would ever receive. Sure, I think I had downed a few, or seven, beers before I said it but I’ve tried my best to stick with it nonetheless. Unfortunately, I’ve failed myself with this one. While I do answer every single email and I do try to reply to every comment, I’ve realized that it’s just not possible to reply to them all.
I already spent about four hours per day answering emails and comments and I’m just unable to spend more time on it. My apologies to anyone whose message I may have missed…it’s not intentional at all. You can always feel free to write me again if I didn’t get back to you or leave another comment and just let me know I missed it the first time. I will respond!
This site is all about the community of readers, you, as I’ve mentioned above. And in my opinion, there can only be a strong, engaged community if the blogger plays a major role in the site apart from just writing posts, and only if the blogger truly loves being a part of it all as well.
This is why I reply to all emails. I love hearing from you, I love hearing your stories and reading your questions. And I love sharing whatever advice I can to hopefully help you achieve your travel goals. I want you to know that I’m as accessible as possible and that I don’t just write a post and then forget about it, and in turn, forget about you. This is how I believe blogging should work.
Social Media, Keeping It Simple
I used to spend about one to one and a half hours on Twitter and Facebook every single day, at least for the first two years. Did it help? Well, the best thing I received from the time I spent on Twitter in those early days were the connections I made. I met new people, interacted with other bloggers and travelers and learned a great deal from so many of them. This also helped me to start spreading the word about my blog and to finally get that consistent trickle of readers that causes bloggers to run up and down the street in their underwear, shouting their excitement at the top of their lungs and hugging every single person they see, until they get arrested of course.
So yes, social media, as well as commenting on other blogs and just interacting with the general travel blogging, as well as lifestyle blogging, financial blogging, motivational blogging, and other communities (not necessarily attaching yourself to any particular community, just interacting from your own space) was fantastic and definitely a major stepping stone in getting this blog off the ground.
And as many of you know, you could easily spend hours commenting and being on social media sites, trying your best to connect with even more people, to promote your site everywhere, to attract even one more reader over to your blog!
It can certainly be addicting, which is why, these days, I only spend ten minutes per day, maybe fifteen, on social media, which for me is still only Twitter and Facebook.
Call me old fashioned (or just old!) but I don’t really like to use any other social media sites. Not only do I have limited time but I just don’t have the interest. I spend enough time online as it is and as a result, I would rather skip out on those other social media sites and use my time to be outdoors enjoying my travels or wherever I happen to be staying at the time.
Would I benefit from more time on social media? Most likely yes. But at some point you need to find a balance and I’m personally willing to give up those benefits for more offline time doing other things that I love to do.
But don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy social media. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy the interactions I have on my Wandering Earl Facebook Page. Every day I look forward to sharing random things with you, hearing your thoughts about whatever I post, learning from you and just getting to know so many new people, even if it’s through one comment or like at a time.
The point is, every blogger needs to figure out what works best for themselves. Do what you enjoy in terms of social media, skip what you don’t. That will take you much farther than trying to do ‘everything’ just because you’ve read in every guide to travel blogging that you need to be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google +, Instagram, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Foursquare and every other social media site for a minimum of six hours per day in order to be a ‘successful’ blogger.
Earning An Income Through A Blog
This is always the big topic to discuss as it seems like many people are starting a blog these days strictly to earn money from it. In my view, that’s the wrong reason to start a blog, or at least it shouldn’t be the focus before you even have an audience. I can’t say it enough. If your readers, or potential readers, aren’t your major focus, it’s going to be quite a difficult, and most likely disappointing, road ahead.
While it may appear that something like advertising income is easy to earn through a blog, what you have to realize is that nobody is going to pay to advertise on your site unless you can offer some value in return. That’s how advertising works. Nobody will pay $100 to place an ad in your sidebar if you don’t have an audience to actually see that ad. It wouldn’t make sense.
Also, if your focus is on attracting advertisers, consider again what you would want if you visited your own blog for the first time. That’s what I did. I asked myself, “Would I stick around if my site was plastered with advertising? No way. Would I keep on reading each week if every post had sponsored links in it? Not a chance. Would I visit my site more than once if I felt that the writer’s focus was on earning money from their audience instead of helping them? Hell no.”
That was all it took to convince me to pay close attention to the advertising I place on my site, which as you can see, is quite limited.
But I am aware that a blogger must spend so much time on their blog that it’s hard to put in the effort without receiving some financial gain. I understand that and felt the same way. Blogging can be a full-time job and I don’t know of too many people who would work a full-time job without getting paid for it!
Back in 2010, as the site started to grow, I thought long and hard about how to proceed. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that accepting advertising was a poor long-term strategy. So I decided to give up almost all of the potential advertising revenue that I could earn from that point onwards (I do accept a few ads per year) in the hopes of growing a larger audience, of creating a larger community of readers, of creating a site that visitors wanted to spend time on without being annoyed by ads.
My idea is that if you blog for your readers and you provide them with the blog experience that you would want yourself, you’ll discover other ways to earn some money, ways that will hopefully benefit your audience to an even greater extent.
I won’t go through it all here but you can read how I’ve been able to earn money in this post: “How I Make Money Online To Support My Travels”.
The only thing I’ve added since writing that post is something you’ll find on my contact page. When sending me questions or asking for advice via email, I do suggest making a $5 donation to my Wander Fund. The main reason is that again, I do spend over four hours answering emails every single day and I put a great deal of effort into every single message I write, always striving to offer the most detailed advice and answers to your questions that I possibly can. Will I answer your email if you don’t make a donation? Absolutely! It’s simply a suggestion based on the amount of time I do spend in putting together a thorough and hopefully helpful reply.
Overall, do I earn millions as a travel, sorry, as a blogger? No. Do I earn what I feel, and what I hope you, my readers, feel, is a fair wage for the amount of time and effort I put into this site, into my eBooks, into my tours, into everything I do that is related to this blog? Yes, I honestly do.
I’m quite a stubborn person. While I’m always open to advice and instruction from other people, I have a hard time actually listening and following that advice and instruction sometimes. I prefer to do things my own way, or at least to discover on my own, how I should do something.
The funny thing is that I realized, when it comes to blogging, you have to do it your own way. If you try to follow others or copy exactly what other bloggers are doing, you probably won’t get too far. You can learn from others for sure but you need to always remember to be yourself, to blog in your own style, to create your own rules and to always try and provide value to your particular readership if you want to stand out at all.
That’s what I think anyway.
Hopefully, you don’t have a headache at this point. If you do, just ignore everything above and you’ll feel much, much better.
Any questions about blogging? Any advice you want to share based on your own blogging experiences?