Why I Decided to Quit Travel Blogging
I started travel blogging two years ago. I had been writing for a long time, but it was a different kind of writing. I completed a PhD in 2012 and was trying to switch direction, do something other than academic writing that about three people would read. I had long wanted to be a travel writer, but like many people starting out, I didn’t know where to begin. Step one was to join the Pink Pangea Writing Retreat in Costa Rica. Step two was to start a travel blog.
I feel very fortunate to have had the success that I’ve had in the last two years. I’m now a fully fledged travel writer who is actually paid to spend all day writing, and I often don’t need to pay for my own travel, either. But I’ve decided to quit travel blogging. This isn’t actually a negative thing, or a sign that I’ve failed. Quite the opposite. Let me explain.
I like writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I also like travelling. It’s my great passion in life. So I figured travel blogging was the answer. What I didn’t realise, but soon came to learn, was the enormous amount of time travel bloggers spend on social media, and on reading and following other blogs. A lot of time must be invested in things other than writing. I occasionally use Twitter, I’m pretty active on Facebook, and I like to update Instagram when I visit beautiful places. But I’ve never gotten the hang of hashtags, or researching the best times to post–nor have I wanted to. I wanted to be a writer, not be distracted by all these other things.
About ten months into my travel blogging life, I was chosen to represent the Matador Network on a press trip to Nepal. As it was somewhere I knew and had friends, I extended the trip beyond the 10 days that was covered by the organisers. Off the back of this trip I received a lot of opportunities—comped hotel stays, a white-water rafting trip, a jungle safari. You could say I was living my dream. But none of these things were given to me because of my blog. They were given to me because of my connection with the Matador Network. I realised that as a travel writer, having connections to a high-profile and widely read publication was the key to receiving opportunities that I could go on to write about.
Off the back of this trip I received a lot of opportunities—comped hotel stays, a white-water rafting trip, a jungle safari. You could say I was living my dream.
In early 2016 I relocated to Kathmandu, where I thought there would be many opportunities to develop my writing career. I wasn’t wrong. Since being here I have taken on all kinds of writing and editing jobs with publications and websites that focus on travel in Nepal. I’ve established myself as quite an authority on travel in the region, which was my goal. An average day for me includes writing and editing from my own home, or from cafes around town, and my schedule is pretty flexible. Plus, I rarely need to pay for my own travel around Nepal (which is particularly fortunate, as I am not ‘independently wealthy’, as they say).
But where was my blog in all of this? I certainly picked up a few jobs through my blog—people finding my ‘About Me’ page and contacting me if they thought I was a good fit for their projects. But I came to realise that my blog was a means to an end: that end was making a living through my writing. The blog itself wasn’t making me any money, but it was sending clients and target readers my way. A select few were finding and reading my blog, but not nearly as many as I would have liked. Not nearly as many as when I had articles published on Pink Pangea or the Matador Network or elsewhere.
In October 2016—almost two years into my travel blogging ‘career’–I attended the TBEX Asia Pacific Conference in Manila, Philippines. This is one of the biggest worldwide conferences for travel bloggers, and is held annually somewhere in North America, Europe and Asia. I was also selected to attend one of the ‘PostBEX’ fam trips: a four day, all-expenses-paid tour to the southern island of Mindanao. I had an amazing time whitewater rafting, snorkelling at a coral reef, eating delicious Filipino seafood and cakes, staying in luxury hotels and resorts. I liked the other Filipino and international bloggers I travelled with, and had a really great experience at both the TBEX conference and on the trip. But the bloggers’ conference did something that it probably hadn’t meant to: I left the Philippines with the realisation that I am not a blogger. I am a travel writer.
Some travel bloggers are excellent writers. Some travel writers are excellent at travel blogging. But I realised that trying to fit into both categories was doing me more harm than good. It was confusing me.
The two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some travel bloggers are excellent writers. Some travel writers have great blogs. But I realised that trying to fit into both categories was doing me more harm than good. It was confusing me. While the other bloggers at TBEX were busy taking selfies, making videos, spending all night editing the photos and clips they’d taken during the day, updating their social media accounts and thinking about how best to serve their audiences, I took myself off into quiet corners and wrote. With pen and paper. While my companions flew drones over the beach, I snorkelled and took in the experience. A new friend took a photo of me sitting quietly on the beach in my sarong writing in my notebook, having gone for a swim on my own while the others were tinkering with their technology. When the photo was shared on Facebook, someone else commented, tongue-in-cheek, that I seemed to be the only one who had actually ‘experienced’ the place, because the others were all busy taking photos, flying drones and using Snapchat. It was definitely something I had noticed.
I respect the work of many travel bloggers, and know that it takes a lot of work to be successful. There are so many travel blogs out there, and you really need to be able to stand out. But the competing demands of blogging and writing about my travels were starting to get to me. My goal is to be published widely and get my work out there. A lot of travel bloggers relish the fact that they have their own little piece of internet, where they don’t have to answer to editors. They are multitalented multitaskers. But that’s not me. I like working with editors (when they reply!) to improve my work. When travelling, I was always worrying about which stories to keep for my blog, and which to pitch to other, external outlets, where more people would actually read my work. I don’t have time to do both. There are only 24 hours in a day, and nobody wants to be working all of them. With my busy schedule of editing and writing for other clients and outside publications, I need to use my spare time wisely. It’s difficult to work full days, maintain a blog and pitch my dream publications.
There are only 24 hours in a day, and nobody wants to be working all of them. With my busy schedule of editing and writing for other clients and outside publications, I need to use my spare time wisely.
As soon as I decided to quit blogging per se, my mind cleared. I feel less pressure to record the minutiae of travel—my itineraries, my restaurant recommendations, where I’ve stayed—and can focus on the bigger stories that interest me more as a writer. This doesn’t mean that I’m getting rid of my website. Not at all. It’s very important for all writers to have a website that can act as an online portfolio. It’s how I’ve scored a lot of work. But with a portfolio site, I am under no pressure to check my analytics, or stress when the number of visitors drops. I can share the pieces I’ve written for other publications, if and when they appear. I can occasionally write blog-style pieces when the urge strikes, but there is no pressure to do so. I can do something slightly off-niche without worrying that my regular readers will be annoyed. I also don’t need to be too concerned about getting regular readers.
Travel blogging has been totally worthwhile as it has helped me hone in on what is most important in my career. If you want to start a travel blog then great, go for it! You will learn a lot along the way, improve your writing and design and social media skills, and hopefully gain lots of opportunities. But be open to adaptation, and to what does and does not work for you and your career. Working out your own priorities and goals is important, rather than following what others do in an attempt to fit into someone else’s version of success.