Barbara is a travel blogger who has made travelling her life, and her travel blog generates sufficient income to fund this dream – the aspiration of many a blogger.
Barbara focuses on excellent narrative travel writing, and her stories of her travels are always a worthy read.
Today she tells us what started off her on the road she is on today, what success means to her, and how much work running a travel blog full time actually is.
Tell us a little bit about Barbara, and your site: Hole in the Donut World Travel.
I spent most of my life in corporate life, working at a variety of jobs that I detested, for all the wrong reasons. I was doing what my family expected of me, what I thought society expected of me: putting my nose to the grindstone and working hard to ensure a comfortable retirement. But in truth, I was selling my soul. I felt like a donut, solid on the outside, but empty on the inside.
It took a major illness to wake me up. Suffering from chronic Lyme disease that doctors were unable to diagnose, my health declined a little more each year. By the time they finally figured out was wrong with me I believed I was going to die before getting to do the things I had always dreamed of. I promised myself that if I got well, I would pursue my true passions of travel, writing, and photography.
A year later, fully recovered, I walked away from my successful career, slapped on a backpack, and set out on a round-the world trip.
Why did you start writing a travel blog?
Initially, I started the blog as a way for my friends and family to stay abreast of where I was and what I was doing as I travelled. By the time I returned from that first six months on the road, I had more than 1200 readers and was hooked on blogging as well.
How do you define success in terms of your travel blog?
My main goal was to use the blog to develop my writing skills and as a platform to feature my writing. I decided if I stayed true to the writing, everything else would fall into place. I knew nothing about search engine optimization in those days or Google ranking, though I did have a good deal of technical knowledge and handled my own blog design for several years. I’ve stayed true to that goal and as a result, my writing skills have improved dramatically, so in that regard alone I deem the blog to be a success.
Gradually, I broadened my knowledge of blogging to the point where I had a concerted SEO program and became an active member of the travel blogging community, all of which are necessary if one hopes to be a successful blogger.
But in the end, regardless of Google position, traffic, SEO ranking or any of the other elements that relate to blogging, what most defines success for me is quality writing.
What aspirations do you have for your travel blog?
I believe the better we know one another, the less likely we will want to kill one another, and that travel is the most effective tool we have to effect world peace. Immersing in the cultures I visit, I am constantly shown that we are all more alike than we are different; we all have the same hopes and dream and fears, and I try my best to convey that in my writing.
I am also writing a memoir and hope that the blog can serve as a platform to attract an agent and publisher.
How would you describe your level of technical know-how, and how has this helped or hindered your site?
My level of technical knowhow is much higher than most bloggers, as I’ve done web site design and have a decent understanding of html and css, and over the years I’ve learned a bit about php. I also have a fair amount of knowledge about WordPress, SEO, and social media, all of which has tremendously benefitted my site.
However, all those functions, along with handling my own advertising program, require time that could be devoted to writing. It is exceedingly difficult to travel perpetually and still write quality content on a regular basis.
Just sorting through and cataloguing the photos I shoot each day takes an enormous amount of time, and since I’ve now added video to the mix, which I personally shoot and edit, time management is always stressful.
Do you follow any metrics in terms of traffic analysis / site ranking, and how important do you think these are?
I follow a number of metrics and consider them to be important measures, not for the success of the blog itself, but because they are the yardsticks by which advertisers determine the sites on which they will advertise.
My blog is my main source of revenue, so I try to maintain good Google PageRank, Alexa Ranking, traffic, and subscriber base. None of the traffic measurement services are perfect, however the best out there is Google Analytics, though I believe their numbers are low. I also refer to Compete, Quantcast, and my web server stats for traffic figures.
What would be your number one tip for increasing site traffic?
Produce high quality, consistent content and engage with your readership.
What have you found to be the hardest thing about running a travel blog, and how do you overcome this?
Time management, and I haven’t yet found the solution.
What sort of time commitment do you put in to your travel blog on a weekly basis?
It’s a full-time job, at least 60 hours a week, not counting travel, interviews, and research.
If there was one thing you wish you could have known before you started writing your blog, what would it have been?
I wish I had known a bit more about SEO before I began, as it was a tough learning curve and something that is so crucial to the commercial success of a blog these days.
What have you found to be the best way to go about generating an income from your blog?
How do you go about promoting your travel blog?
All the social media: Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, Mixx; plus guest posting on other sites; actively engaging the travel blog community, and mentoring other writers and bloggers.
How do you see travel blogging developing over the next few years?
I believe travel blogging will continue to grow and gain authority and respect, as traditional publishing venues continue to fold. I also see a shift in the industry away from commercial sites filled with “top ten,” “best of,” and “how to” articles, and toward great narrative or descriptive travel writing.
And finally, what key advice would you give to people running, or thinking about setting up, their own travel blog?
If you expect to make a lot of money and travel the world for free, think again. Travel writers make very little money and life on the road, though the concept is romantic and exciting, in reality is very rough. So don’t do it unless you love it, because it’s not going to make you rich. It’s a lot of work.
As always, tremendous thanks to Barbara. for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about her travels on her website: Hole in the Donut World Travel plus you can find her on both twitter and facebook.
For more travel blogging tips from the experts, have a look at the rest of the series. To keep up to date with upcoming posts you can subscribe to the RSS feed or join in on the site’s Facebook page. In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts on this post or the series thus far, the comments box awaits!