We are full-time travelers, on the road indefinitely, and we write about it. These two things make us travel bloggers. In no way, shape, or form do they qualify us as experts.
Travel has a way of humbling a person: the more you discover and experience of the world, the more you realize how little you know about it … or anything, really.
Nonetheless, I find travel bloggers to be an excellent resource, especially in off-the-beaten path places for which little information exists online. I also find them helpful in wading through the large and overwhelming amount of information out there on larger cities. [NOTE: for our purposes here, I’m referring to both amateur bloggers who don’t make a living doing this as well as full-time, professional bloggers who do].
For example, you’re in Bangkok, where the local food scene is world-class, but you just can’t stomach anymore curry at the moment – what you’re really craving is a good, American-style sandwich. What do you do?
A. Leaf through a guide book
B. Scroll through TripAdvisor’s list of Bangkok restaurants until you alight on a sandwich joint
C. Do a Google search for the best sandwich in Bangkok
D. Wander the streets aimlessly in hopes that Buddha will show you the way
D is obviously a terrible approach but would probably yield better results than A. B is a slightly better option but could take quite a bit of time, with iffy results. C is the clear winner here, as it was in real life when we found ourselves craving a good sandwich in Bangkok.
I played around with various search terms like “best sandwich”, “Bangkok”, “Sukhumvit” (the neighborhood we were staying in), and “blog”. In mere seconds, I had a good list of local food blogs, travel blogs, and forums, all of which pointed us to a place called El Osito. It was so good, we ate there more than once during our time in Bangkok and even had it delivered once to our hotel (we tried the Reuben, the California Chicken, and the Vegetarian with avocado and jalapenos). Their evening tapas menu is also wonderful.
While we’ve used this method most often to find restaurants, we’ve also had good success using it to find the best sights to see (and which to skip); good trip itineraries for a given city, region, and/or country; etc. The key here is using specific terms and playing around with various combinations of those terms. For example, we searched for “travel blog 10 day itinerary in Sri Lanka” to help us plan our visit there, and the first page of results was full of just that – specific itineraries from fellow travelers (on both blogs and forum posts) detailing where they went, what they liked, what they didn’t, lessons learned, etc. Hugely helpful, right? By contrast, Googling “places to visit in Sri Lanka” gives you government tourism websites, commercial tour companies, and crowd-sourcing/guide book websites, which can be helpful but will, as mentioned before, require a lot of time to weed through.
Of course, not all travel blogs are created equal,and some are more helpful than others. Here’s what I look for in a good travel blog, or any blog, for that matter:
- Visual presentation: For me, this boils down to two key questions: 1) are the photos compelling/do they enhance the story, and 2) is the site laid out in a way that is easy navigate and understand? Regarding the first question, pictures should give life to a narrative, and the narrative should give meaning and context to pictures to create an immersive experience for the reader. Pictures need not be professional-quality, but they shouldn’t be a bunch of selfies (if you’re in need of some tips to improve your travel photography, we’ve got you covered). With regard to the second, nothing is a bigger turn-off than a site that is just a mess – crazy fonts and font sizes, massive paragraphs, and no system of organization. We’ve come along way since the early days, when a blog was truly nothing more than an online diary, so if it’s just a bunch of words on a page, even interesting words, I’m probably going to get bored, fast.
- Cogent writing: I admit it: I am a grammar Nazi. Mistakes do happen – certainly, my work is not error-free, especially since my editor is H.J. (love of my life, not the best with comma placement). But, each and every piece that goes up here is proofread at least five times, three or more by me and once or twice by H.J. Between editing the narrative, catching spelling and grammar mistakes, ensuring links are correct, and formatting pictures and text, this final step takes a serious amount of time. But, if you have pride in your work and respect for your readers, you’ll put in the time. Nothing makes me click the little red “x” button faster than someone who doesn’t.
- Compelling, useful content: It’s not enough for the blog to look good – if I want to look at pretty pictures all day, I get on Instagram. A good travel blog has to have interesting, personal stories and/or specific and useful information. To illustrate this point, I’ll give you two examples that fall short in this category: the aspiring travel blogger and the professional travel blogger. Both are real examples.
The Aspiring Blogger
This particular aspiring blogger is 22,earned some sort of unspecified degree/certificate in tourism, and has visited 14 countries on various vacations for a few weeks at a time (many of those during childhood). She has a professional and appealing website wherein she offers her “expert” (her word, not mine) advice, guidance, and even trip-planning services. An example of such advice includes the following exchange witnessed on social media:
Reader: “Dear Author: I’m going to Paris in a few weeks, and though I’ve been to Europe before, this is my first time in the City of Light. Do you have any restaurants/hotels/activities that you recommend?”
Author: “When I was in Paris, I stayed with local friends, who took me all around the city to their favorites restaurants, shops, and sights – I suggest you do the same. Go for a walk, explore, discover – that is the best part of travel after all!”
The Professional Blogger
This is who the aspiring blogger wants to be – the person making enough money off of her blog to travel the world full-time. How does she do it? In the course of creating her visually-stunning blog, she amassed a huge amount of followers on social media (over 150,000 across all platforms). Almost every trip is sponsored by a tour company or bureau, every hotel stay is free, and every product she wears or uses is gratis … in exchange for her endorsement, of course. This naturally dictates almost everything, from where she goes, stays, and eats to social media and blog content (i.e. “reviews” of $2,500/night hotels that give her free stays in exchange for said endorsement). While the blog may have started out as personal and informative (I don’t know, as I started reading recently), at this point it’s not much more than a platform to connect her readers with products, services, etc. they can never afford. She’s much more of a brand ambassador/spokesperson than a writer.
Both bloggers have a lot in common. They nail my first two requirements, good visuals and clear writing, and they both fall short of my third requirement, good and useful content, albeit in different ways. In an effort to monetize her blog, the aspiring blogger has branded herself an expert, and thus all content is in service of that assertion, never mind the fact that she may not have any personal experience or specific information to share. In the professional blogger’s case, all content is in service of her sponsors. In both cases, personal stories and non-biased, non-agenda driven information have been sacrificed on the altar of making money, and it doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of full-time, professional travel bloggers out there who provide thought-provoking, useful content and support themselves in doing so.
Perhaps you’re already following a few folks like this, but if you’re brand-new to the game, here’s a short list to get you started:
- FathomAway (a grab-bag of goodness for the nomadic soul – travel porn, guides, tips, stories, and more)
- Johnny Vagabond (unbelievable stories and great tips from a fellow-nomad who’s been just about everywhere)
- View from the Wing (information-overload for points/rewards geeks, brought to you by a former colleague of mine)
- Adventure Journal (more than just a blog, it’s one-stop shop of stories, advice, gear reviews, and news for any serious adrenaline junkie or nature lover)
- Nowhere Mag (an online magazine that takes travel writing to a literature level)
- Our Open Road (a vagabonding family cruising the Americas in their Westphalia – a bucket list item for Wanderrlust)
- Lady Iron Chef (tales of a Singapore-based foodie traveler and an excellent resource for restaurant recommendations)
If you follow an awesome travel blog that fits our criteria, please share in the comments! One request: please no self-promotion – this is a chance to highlight writers whose work you really enjoy.
This is Part 3 of 5 in a series featuring our tips on how to get the most from various travel “experts”. Click here for our thoughts on “experts” in general, here for Part 1: The Travel Agent, here for Part 2: The Guide Book, and stay tuned for Parts 4-5.