Adam has been travelling since January 2011, with a slightly different approach to many long term travellers, which he explains in the interview.
His key message, which rings very true with me, is the importance of being happy, and following your dreams. He also has a philosophy of trying to give back as much, if not more, as he gets from his travels. Admirable stuff.
Enough of listening to me ramble, on with the interview!
Tell us a little bit about Adam, and your site: Happiness Plunge (awesome name btw!)
I am 29-years-old but everyone keeps saying I look younger than that. I guess that’ll make me feel better about myself once I turn 30. 🙂
I studied electrical and computer engineering, worked on oil rigs in the Middle East for a couple years, went to Spain for an MBA, and then intended to permanently settle in Denmark as I worked for a major wind power company.
But as I was literally living what I thought was my dream in Denmark, I started to question what it was I wanted in life. I had never sat down and tried to figure out what my passions are or what I want to do with my life.
Once I got that process going, it snowballed and snowballed. I call my site The Happiness Plunge because what I ended up doing was leaving the comfortable six-figure easy corporate life behind to take the plunge into a happier and healthier life.
Why did you start writing a travel blog?
Well, when I sat down to write what my passions are, they ended up being traveling, writing, teaching, learning, helping others, and telling stories. You can see how that is very conducive to blogging.
My Happiness Plunge is what I am calling The Happy Nomad Tour. I use my blog to tell my own story and, hopefully, inspire others to pursue their passions in life. They need not be travelers or nomads like me, but the process of living out your dream is the same nevertheless.
How do you define success in terms of your travel blog?
I don’t think I’ll try to earn money from my blog, so success certainly won’t be defined monetarily. It’s not page views either, since most of those come via Google and only spend a minute. Instead, it’s those emails I get from people telling me that something resonated with them and they are going to start the Happiness Plunge process and begin planning a new life incorporating their passions. It has happened already, and I hope it continues happening. Hearing from my audience puts wind beneath my wings as it is, but those messages are my definition of success.
What aspirations do you have for your travel blog?
I don’t travel like most other travel bloggers. I don’t pay for accommodations, for example. That is an incredible challenge at times, but it keeps things interesting.
Part of designing a life incorporating my passions means helping people as identified above. So I volunteer each place I go with the goal of leaving it a bit better than the way I found it. I no longer travel to take pictures of the monuments and listen to what the tour guides tell me. I did that through 40-some countries already. Now it’s about understanding the people, walking a mile in their shoes, and trying to make their lives a bit better.
Thus, I aspire to “sell” my more altruistic form of traveling. But I can say that however much I try to give, I always end up getting more back in return.
Do you follow any metrics in terms of traffic analysis / site ranking, and how important do you think these are?
I check my traffic daily. This is important to some extent. Sure, I’d like to build a following and know that there are people out there who enjoy what I’m doing. But in the end, I designed this life to pursue my passions, remember?
I like writing. I’d say writing and blogging are quite different animals. Maybe 25% (or less) of the time that goes into getting a post online involves writing. The rest is photo editing, looking things up, HTML tweaks, and lots of other tedious, small things.
Still, I’m on this trip for myself. So yes, I pay attention to them, but I am by no means a slave to them.
What techniques have you used to improve your traffic, and how successful have these been?
I haven’t put a ton of time into promoting myself or my blog. I’ve often been without internet access during this first part of my trip, so just getting posts online sometimes takes a herculean effort.
But I’ve done interviews for blogs, been featured in local newspaper articles, and done some networking. To be completely honest, none of these have made much of a dent in my traffic at all.
But slow and steady wins the race, and having a long-term perspective means that 10-weeks into my trip and minimal traffic increase from the start is ok by me. If after two years of traveling, I might be a bit disappointed, but I will have left a trail of goodness in my path from all my volunteering. That’s more important to me than my page views.
What have you found to be the hardest thing about running a travel blog, and how do you overcome this?
Right now I would say the marketing of it. I never have a hard time coming up with content. But yes, marketing to get myself and my blog out there is hard.
And time. People may think that being a travel blogger is all fun and games. I work harder now than I did during either of my two jobs. I volunteer during the day, work on the blog, try to stay a month ahead so I know where I’ll be over the course of the coming month and, hopefully, where I’ll be sleeping. It takes a lot of work, especially since I refuse to pay for accommodation. Finding a place to stay often eats up a lot of my time.
I overcome these things by constantly getting more efficient. Even though posts still take a long time, I’m way, way faster at it now than when I first started. I remember spending hours trying to get spacing right, for example. Now I have systems in place that mean I don’t even have to consider spacing anymore.
I also use crowdsourcing. My first step is always asking the Couchsurfing community in a location if they know of a place I can volunteer locally. This has resulted in places to stay and volunteer opportunities with minimal work.
What sort of time commitment do you put in to your travel blog on a weekly basis?
It depends where I am and what I’m up to. When I’m on the move, it requires a lot more time than when I’m stable in one place for a while. But I’d say I put a minimum of 20 hours per week into the blog, 30-40 more likely.
Sometimes ending up in a place with minimal internet connectivity forces me to take a vacation from my “vacation.” That’s ok too.
If there was one thing you wish you could have known before you started writing your blog, what would it have been?
See the previous question.. I had no idea it would require so much time. But it’s ok. I am happy to put in the time!
What have you found to be the best way to go about generating an income from your blog?
I haven’t found that yet, and I don’t know that I will. I’ll try to earn money in other ways.
How do you go about promoting your travel blog?
I do interviews for other blogs, network with other bloggers, always have business cards on hand for when I meet other travelers and bloggers on the road, contact the local media before arriving and upon arrival each place I go, and so on. I use social media, of course, but that can be another black hole of time wastage.
If you have questions or problems with your site, where do you go to find answers?
It depends on the problem. Generally I check Google. I have the Thesis theme/framework running my blog, and the support network in their forums is excellent. So they are often a big help. But I put a lot of time into getting my blog where I wanted it before I left for my trip. So I haven’t made many changes since I started traveling – mainly because I don’t have time to troubleshoot in case something goes wrong (and it always goes wrong).
I’m already thinking about how to redesign my site. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll take a week or two and totally redesign it. We’ll see.
Travel blogging is becoming more and more popular. How do you differentiate yourself in such a crowded market?
I think my story of leaving the corporate world to travel is a tired and repetitive one. But combining that, with the fact that I was so well-traveled before I left, the reasons I’m traveling, the fact that I volunteer in each place, and that I’m refusing to pay for accommodations.. Has someone done all that at once before? If they have, rock on! I haven’t found them yet though 🙂
Again, my main cause is convincing people to pursue their passions in life. My main passion happens to be traveling so that’s the main topic at hand on my blog. Had it been arts and crafts, my blog may have been about how I created my own Etsy store, for example. Who knows.
And finally, what key advice would you give to people running, or thinking about setting up, their own travel blog?
Know yourself, try and think whether you want to put in the time commitment necessary to blog your way across the world, don’t plan to rely on an income for your trip (if it happens, great, but don’t plan on having an income from your blog), decide how much you feel comfortable with sharing (the more comfortable, the more interesting stories you can share), and don’t do it unless you like writing! 🙂
And don’t forget to check out the rest of the Travel blogging tips from the experts series, now featuring interviews with nearly twenty well known travel bloggers, from Gary Arndt (Everything Everywhere) to Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt).