Today I am delighted to be interviewing an awesome travel blogging couple, Pete and Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travels. See what they did there?
Pete and Dalene came up with the plan of travelling the world way back in 2007, but it wasn’t until they managed to sell their house (and everything else!) in 2009 that they finally hit the road.
They have a very leisurely approach to travel, which often involves spending long periods of time house sitting in different countries. This lets them really experience an area quite deeply, whilst living for free.
By now, they are regarded as being fairly expert on the topic of house sitting, and if you ever wanted to know how to travel the world and score free accommodation while you were at it, then you should check out their House Sitting 101 guide.
As if travelling full time, living in amazing locations and seeing the world at their own pace wasn’t enough, they also feature some truly incredible photography on their site. You really need to check that out. After you’ve read this interview of course! Enough of my waffle.. let’s meet the Hecks!
Tell us a little bit about Pete and Dalene and your site, hecktictravels.com
We are a Canadian couple who sold all our belongings in the spring of 2009 and started traveling. We are currently in Turkey, our 26th country together as a couple, and we see no end in sight to our traveling ways!
Our website started just over one year ago and is almost entirely a chronological narrative of our ongoing journey punctuated with our passion for photography. It is as much about our personal story as it is about the places we travel to.
Why did you start writing a travel blog?
When we first left home for South America, we fired up a blogspot page just to keep our family and friends posted on what we were up to. At that point we had no idea that this whole other world of travel blogging existed!
About a year and a half later, just as we settled into a six month housesit in Honduras, we started to discover the massive community, and some of the potential opportunities that went along with it. It was then that we decided to switch to our own domain and make a concerted effort to improve our offering.
Also, while six months on a tiny island in the Caribbean may sound like paradise, it can actually be quite dull. The new blog was largely born out of boredom. :)
How do you define success in terms of your travel blog?
We consider ourselves very successful for a number of reasons: the great friendships we've made from it, and for the places seen and things done that we probably wouldn't have experienced otherwise.
We enjoy the encouraging emails we get from readers and when people tell us that we have influenced them in even the smallest of ways. We truly love our little blog - it is the best job either of us has ever had, even if it doesn't pay all the bills.
I love your photos! Any quick tips for travel bloggers wanting to take great shots?
Thanks Laurence! First and foremost, learn your camera. Learn all the settings, and practice, practice, practice how to use it when off the "auto" button.
Also, understand that post processing is just as important as the capture - there are many pieces of software available that can turn good captures into amazing photos.
Where do you want your travel blog to be in the next year?
That's a tough question, because we are not typically goal setters or planners. We don't know what we're doing in two months, let alone in a year, so our blog will just be wherever we are!
The universe has taken very good care of us thus far - opening doors and providing opportunities out of the blue. We will just continue to put out the effort that we have been, and are confident that our good fortune will continue.
Do you follow any metrics in terms of traffic analysis / site ranking, and how important do you think these are?
Of course we follow all the usual analytics and metrics, but we really don't pay much heed to them. We don't get bent out of shape when we have our down days and instead try to focus on the overall picture which has been extremely positive since the start.
We believe strongly in what we are doing and work hard to put out our best effort and continuously improve - strong traffic and rankings will come naturally. Wherever we are meant to be, there we are.
Which social networks are you active on, and what tips would you give for success on these?
We use Twitter, Facebook and Stumble-upon quite diligently, and are dabbling in Pinterest.
One of the things that has worked well for us on Facebook is to post on various destination pages - for example, to get more exposure while we were in New York, we posted photos and popular posts on any tourism page that had the words "New York" in it.
Pete handles Stumble-Upon, and even though it has been frustratingly up and down as of late, it is also just a great tool to keep up on other travel blog posts. With Twitter, well, we could use some tips from others on that. We find it hard to invest the time needed to cultivate strong relationships on that platform, and so are sure that we're not using it to it's fullest potential.
What other techniques have you used to improve your traffic, and how successful have these been?
Guest posting. A lot, and a lot, of guest posting, outside of the travel blogging world as well. This is so important, especially at the start. Lately we've been trying to restrict it to one a month for better time management, but in the past couple of months we've also had too many good opportunities to turn down (including yours)! :)
What sort of time commitment do you put in to your travel blog on a weekly basis?
Roughly 20-30 hours a week each (not including actual research/travel time).
What have you found to be the hardest thing about running a travel blog, and how do you overcome this?
The hardest thing is definitely time management. Right now we are settled for three months so it is easier, but when we are traveling faster, it is so difficult and we find ourselves easily burnt out.
At the end of last year we did a stint of 40 days of constant movement, working with tourism boards and other entities along the way. By the end of it, we were completely wasted. We learned a lot about ourselves and capabilities on that trip, and will be very careful not to overcommit again in the future.
If you started your blog today, what would you differently?
We really don't think we'd do anything differently. Sure, we've made mistakes along the way, but we learned from them and most things have been easily adjustable.
Does your blog generate any form of income, and if so, how did you achieve this?
We have made some money with text advertising, our partnership with Eurail.com, and small amounts from affiliate sales and freelance work. We don't expect this to be our sole income stream (we have other projects in the works), so anything we make from our blog really is gravy.
If you have questions or problems with your site, where do you go to find answers?
From knowing absolutely nothing about Wordpress a year ago, we've come a long way in being able to handle things ourselves. There are also plenty of resources online and other bloggers that we have turned to with questions.
Travel blogging is becoming more and more popular. How do you differentiate yourself in such a crowded market?
This is something that we give zero thought to. Pete has a great analogy for travel blogging in that he compares it to the PGA: a pro golfer shouldn't be concerned with what the others are doing - his biggest competition is the course, club choice, and his own abilities and mental game.
It is the same thing with travel blogging, bloggers should be less concerned with what others are doing and focus on how to improve their own game. The internet is infinite and there is room for us all, we can only beat ourselves by not giving our very best efforts.
And finally, what advice would you give to people running, or thinking about setting up, their own travel blog?
A travel blog is very likely not going to make you rich. Therefore it has to be, first and foremost, a labour of love. It can easily become frustrating, fill you with self-doubt, and feel like a gigantic waste of time if you let it. The only thing that will keep you plugging at it every day is the fact that you love every aspect of it.
Thanks again to Pete and Dalene for taking the time to answer my questions! You can keep up with their adventures on their travel blog, hecktic travels, follow them on twitter, and find them on facebook!
If you enjoyed this post, why not check out the rest of the series, featuring a whole host of excellent travel bloggers. Or, if you’re a travel blogger keen to feature, head on over to my contact page and get in touch.
In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions or comments, do share them in the comments below!