I Decided Against Travel Blogging As A Career – Here’s Why

I recently accepted a full time job. With that acceptance I concretely closed a chapter of my life during which I came very close to pursuing full time travel blogging as my career. Make no mistake, VirtualWayfarer isn’t changing, it just isn’t going to be a platform for my full-time career either.  Over the last two years many friends have expressed surprise that I chose not to pursue travel blogging as a career. Here’s a somewhat simplified explanation of why I made the decision to return to the corporate world and how I shaped that return to maximize my travel opportunities and work-life balance.

Back in early 2012 I found myself on the ground floor of the travel blogging industry’s professionalization.  Between 2011 and 2013 the industry underwent significant changes as travel blogging grew up.  Now, granted, there’s still major room for maturation and the industry lags behind similar blogging sectors like Fashion and Food. Still, what has been accomplished and happened to the Travel Blogging industry is extremely impressive and has been driven, in no small part, by a handful of individuals.

I’ve had the deep pleasure of knowing many of these individuals and enjoyed the opportunity for candid conversations and late night brainstorming sessions.  I’ve also had the opportunity to observe as they struggled to re-shape the travel blogging industry, to stand out, and to craft their own business.  These conversations and observations combined with my own first hand experiences as a fairly well-recognized travel blogger guided me to where I am today and have played a pivotal role in my ultimate decision.

It wasn’t an easy decision but looking back there were two key watershed moments.

Read Travel Blogs? Be Careful.

It’s no secret that many bloggers have been able to monetize somewhat through the sale of links to search engine optimization companies and digital brands.  This has led to a sort of dance between bloggers, Google, and SEO professionals which is utterly confusing and complex. Are they any different than traditional ads? Does the intent matter? Are they misleading readers? etc. and the reality is that several high profile bloggers have come out and talked a bit about how they were funding their travels using this approach (on high volume) until it started to undermine their relationships with their readers, incurred the wrath of Google, or a bit of both. Others have established secondary sites that essentially serve as dumping grounds for these links and content. Yet others have been far less scrupulous and completely forgone the wall between paid content/endorsements/links/disclosure and genuine written material. What I find particularly disturbing about this is that it seems to be an increasing trend, particularly as rates for other forms of advertising/compensation decrease.

A Video Tour of Cappadocia’s Mesmerizing Rock Formations In The Snow

There are moments as a traveler when you find yourself running headlong into some of the world’s most inconvenient or forbidding weather. While my trip to Turkey didn’t leave me facing down a hurricane or braving a tornado, it did land me smack center of one of the worst cold spells to hit Europe in more than 25 years. As the front swept across Turkey and into the rest of Europe more than 200 people ended up losing their lives. The cold front brought with it below zero temperatures, snow, and a glimmer of opportunity.

While the storm front and loss of life was a profound tragedy, it also provided me with the opportunity to experience parts of Turkey in a rare and unusual fashion. After having to cut my time in Cappadocia in half due to the cancellation of my initial flight out of Istanbul, I eventually arrived at Kaysari Airport.  Once there I made my way, late at night and in below freezing weather, to the small town of Goreme in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey. With just 24 hours to see the region I threw on every warm piece of clothing I owned and set to the task of exploring what is normally a desert landscape but which was transformed by the snow into a strange winter wonderland. I hope you’ll enjoy this video sequence which I shot during my time exploring the above ground parts of Cappadocia.

The video contains footage from the Open Air Museum, Pasabag (Monks Valley), Devrent (Imagination Valley), Goreme, and of a very traditional Cappadocian meal cooked in sealed clay pots. You can see footage from my tour of the area’s underground cities in this video.

If you enjoy this video please consider subscribing both here on VirtualWayfarer and to my youtube channel. Your support and feedback is what makes these videos worth it!

Travel Bloggers Unite Umbria

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

I’m delighted to say that I’ve just returned from an absolutely fantastic trip to the Umbria region of Italy.  As long term readers may recall, the last time I was in Italy was in 2007 as part of my three month European adventure that started in Scotland and ended in Greece. To be frank, since that trip I felt like I had covered most of the major parts of Italy during that trip and that my travel funds, time and energy were better spent exploring new destinations elsewhere in Europe.  Historically, I’ve also had a fairly sub-par opinion of Italian food – particularly as someone who is lactose intolerant and not a huge pasta fan.  After this trip to Umbria with a stop in Bologna and the associated press trips I’m happy to throw both conclusions out the window.  The food I sampled was absolutely amazing and the taste of Umbria  I got while attending TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite)/during the post-conference press trips has left me with a strong desire to rent a motorcycle next spring and to spend several weeks wandering from Italian hilltop village to Italian hilltop village.  I’ll be back and sooner rather than later.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

The Conference

TBU Umbria was held at the Valle di Assisi resort located just outside of the city of Assisi.  The resort was a beautiful sprawling facility situated in the midst of a number of fields, olive groves, and a local vineyard.  It offered a mixture of options: the main resort building and small stand alone apartments.  My room fell in one of the outlying stand alone apartments situated near a picturesque vine covered well and with a view over the vineyard back towards Assisi.  While the location was several miles outside of Assisi which made trips into the town a bit more challenging, it worked out perfectly for the conference.  Located as it was with meals on site it made it much easier to socialize and network with all of the other attendees in a very inclusive fashion which is often fairly challenging at conferences where people splinter off into small sub-groups to socialize or eat as soon as the day’s sessions wind down.

I personally got a lot out of the talks which to be quite frank surprised me. Not because I didn’t have high expectations for the speakers – they were all high caliber experts in their fields – but rather because I usually find conference material to be fairly redundant if you are active in industry/community groups related to the content being covered and have made a decent effort to self educate.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t get a lot out of conferences – I just find it to be more about the people in attendance and the small group/one-on-one conversations than narrated powerpoint talks.

Not so with TBU.  One of the things I really liked in particular was that the presentations were identified by experience level allowing me to easily target and skip presentations which were not likely to be relevant for me.   This was a huge frustration and time saver for me. Over the last few years I’ve probably sat through 10-15 talks about Search Engine Optimization.  Out of those maybe 2 have been worth while and had new information. I got a lot of new information, and key questions answered in the advanced session provided at TBU – a very pleasant surprise.

As I reflect on the various talks I attended, I was quite happy with each.  The Travel Blogger, Industry, Public Relations and SEO experts that gave talks were all extremely candid, skilled in their field, up-front, approachable, and eager to put together a great presentation. I took a lot away from the nuggets of wisdom they shared, and have already begun implementing a number of key changes here on VirtualWayfarer.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Jeff of Career Break Secrets and Jodi of Legal Nomads which offered great information, and compelling arguments for how bloggers and industry experts in the travel niche need to re-frame the way we communicate, interact, exchange social capital and do business.

A fairly common thread throughout the conference was embodied in the “bloggers and business a year on” panel discussion which focused on the maturation of the industry.  I’m a firm believer that we will see drastic changes in the role travel bloggers play in the travel industry over the next year.  As with most new industries there was an initial “wild west” style explosion in popularity where there were few rules, few guarantees, and virtually no industry standards for engagement, interaction or professionalism. Over the last few years savvy businesses have been able to get a lot of amazing deals, content and press from travel bloggers for virtually nothing. At the same time, however, the lack of standards and rules for good practice have also created a caveat emptor situation for those brands. As the industry starts to organize, settle, and differentiate between casual 1-trip bloggers, and long-term semi-professional/professional travel bloggers I think we will finally see viable revenue models emerge.  While this means that advertisers interested in engaging travel bloggers will have to start paying monetary compensation in addition to the current practice of trading freebies, it also means that the quality standards and reliability of the bloggers brands end up working with will increase and professionalize.  It is an interesting time, and I am very curious to see if 2012 finally becomes the year where travel blogging becomes financially viable as something more than a casual hobby.  I’d like to especially thank the panelists; Melvin (Traveldudes), Kash (Budget Traveller), Debbie (Four BGB), Wilde und Partner and Ryan (Housetrip) for a great session. Also of note was Deb and Dave of The Planet D‘s advanced workshop on how to engage with, seek out, and partner with brands.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

Other Fun Stuff

The conference had a lot of secondary perks that added to the experience. While several had minor scheduling issues (what conference doesn’t?) I found them to be a fun added bonus, and a fantastic boon to my experience at TBU.

1. Conference attendees had the opportunity to sign up for a series of half-day photo and video workshops.  These included an hour long presentation by the likes of Ken KamineskyKristen Alana, Rachelle Lucas and Yvonne Zagermann and then post-talk walking tours of Assisi or Perugia. I owe Ken a huge thank you for finally helping me figure out and get straight in my head how to use ISO, Aperture, AV and TV modes.

2. A Q&A session and short talk by Steve McCurry, the famous photographer who is perhaps best known for his National Geographic photograph of an Afghan Girl.

3. 10 minute helicopter rides around Assisi with stunning views of the Umbrian country side (more in a future post).

4. Six post-conference press trips with varied itineraries setup through the Umbria Tourism Board and Umbria on the Blog to showcase one of Italy’s most beautiful regions (more on this in future posts).

5. A bunch of great prizes including a series of fantastic trips via Intrepid Travel, several iPads and a spectacular competition for a trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see wild Polar Bears in their natural habitats near the arctic circle via the Canadian Tourism Commission.  I’m thrilled to announce that I won the Polar Bear trip w/ iPad 3 and am now very excited to share the experience with you later this fall when I’m able to make the trip (more details to come soon).

I had an absolute blast at TBU, and look forward to keeping in touch with everyone I met. I apologize to anyone I left out of this summary and to those of you who attended and had a favorite part I may not have mentioned, feel free to share it in a comment.

Next Stop – Spain!

December 12th will mark one year to the day since I returned from my 3 month European walkabout. A trip during which I explored Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, San Marino, The Vatican and Greece. While it has been less than a year and I have no right to complain, my feet have been itching for the open road, my eyes dying for new sights and my palate hankering for new tastes and foods.  I still have some great content to share and post on the usual subjects before I leave, but please be advised that for the duration of the trip (12/16/08-1/1/09) I will be publishing travel journals instead of my typical blog content.

The Research

For the past month I’ve been scouring the web for deals and information.  New Zealand’s weather, current currency rate, and beauty put it high on the list. As did the climate, exchange rate and tango dancing in Argentina.   I even considered Iceland despite the 5 hours of daylight and 35 degree highs…after all how can you beat an opportunity to visit a Scandinavian country whose currency has lost nearly half of its value in the last 5 months?  A return trip to the Greek islands also received heavy consideration.  As did Costa Rica, Hawaii and Cancun.  So many amazing destinations … each with its own flavor, its own mystery and its own adventure.

One of the most exciting things about travel is how your comfort level changes the more you do it. As I learn more about the world at large my curiosity and hunger to explore it continues to grow.  The end result is a fairly carefree approach to where I end up.  I know that no matter where I go or what part of the world I explore, I will grow as an individual while experiencing exciting new tastes, adventures and cultures.  The beauty of that approach is it allows me to be significantly more flexible when booking my trip. To use my upcoming trip as an example; despite researching possible destinations and airfare for more than a month and a half, it wasn’t until 60 minutes before I booked my flight that I knew which country/continent I was going to be traveling to.  30 minutes after that I’d narrowed the destination down to Barcelona and Madrid and shortly there after my ticket was booked.  There are few sensations like clicking “submit” and knowing that you just invested a sizable chunk of money in airfare and have committed to a new adventure. In its own way it’s every bit as exciting as a state of the art roller coaster ride and I find it often leaves me with similar butterflies in my stomach.

Unfortunately, the only time I’m able to get off is between December 16th and the 4th of January.  As a result of the holiday travel, airfare skyrockets during this period – even on international flights. As it turned out airfare to Argentina was over $500 more than a trip to Spain with airfare to New Zealand coming in at $800-$1000 more. Places like Hawaii, Cancun, and Puerto Rico were cheaper, but only by about $200.  By flying out on the 16th (my earliest possible date) and being willing to fly home on New Year’s Day, I was able to find airfare more than $200+ dollars cheaper than if I tried to fly back on the 2nd-4th.

The Resources

I do most of my booking research through Lessno.com and Kayak.com both of which do an excellent job searching multiple carriers and returning quality results.  While both offer a flexible date search the matrix which Lessno generates is the best I’ve seen on a travel booking site and allows for a much wider date range than Kayak.  On the flip side, with registration, Kayak’s daily fare monitoring e-mails can be really useful.  I did my actual booking, however, through FlyCheapAbroad.com which is the same service I booked through last year.  The website looked unprofessional and left me a bit nervous, but every time I’ve used them so far, they have delivered quality service and an unbeatable price.  The flight I ended up booking through them was the exact same flight that came up on Kayak but for more than $40 less.  Hopefully they won’t disappoint.  For those considering a flight to Hawaii or New Zealand, I discovered that Hawaiian Airlines and Air New Zealand/Qantas all run fantastic specials 1/2-2/3 of the lowest prices on Kayak and other search sites.  If you’re booking far enough in advance, it always pays to double check with the carrier and see what they’re offering.

With all of the global economic issues the dollar has been skyrocketing and while this may not be incredible for the US economy, it’s every travelers dream. The US dollar has gained over 20% against several major currencies over the last 6 months, and shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a great time to travel if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid the flood of pink slips going out.

The Destination

As mentioned above, I ended up selecting Spain as my destination.  My travel style is backpack/hostel based and takes a very play-it-by-ear approach.  I’ve booked my ticket so I know my starting and ending destination, but that’s about the extent of it.  I’ll be booking a hostel ahead of time in Spain for my first 2 nights and another over Christmas as a precautionary step, but beyond that my trip will be fluid.  While I may end up making it over to Portugal, it’s more likely that I’ll be focusing on southern Spain.  16 days should be just about the right amount of time to give southern Spain a somewhat thorough going over.  Similar to the first 2 months of my trip last year I’ll be traveling on my own and I’ll use Hostelworld.com, Couchsurfing.com and Hostelbookers to find and book my accommodations.

I’m eager to re-visit Spain and see it through an adult’s eyes and perception (I spent time there when I was 11 back in ’95) . I’m also thrilled to have an opportunity to explore a piece of Europe I skipped over during my last trip.   I’d love to make it over into southern France but highly doubt I’ll even make it as far as Barcelona.

One exciting addition to the trip that I did not have with me last year is an ultra portable Flip Camera. If all goes according to plan I should have the usual travel photos as well as exciting new video to share with you all.

Have tips, suggestions or ideas on where to go/see and stay?  Please share them in the comments section below! It’s time to do a bit of wayfaring!