Are you curious what it’s like to be a travel blogger? Ever thought of becoming one yourself? Then this post is for you. No, I am not going to tell you to quit your job and ‘get paid to travel the world for free’ and no, I am not just posting this article because there is yet another blogging course on sale and I’m looking to boost my affiliate income. We all hate these posts, right?
Actually, to be honest, at the moment I’m in one of my reoccurring blogging funks (all full-time bloggers seem to have these) where I am not sure what exactly my goals are, who I am trying to reach, what my mission is and how I can really make any meaningful contribution to this world…
I have a thousand ideas on things to write and projects to work on, but when I sit down behind my computer, I just don’t know where to start. All the possibilities are so overwhelming.
THE POWER OF CHOICE
I’ve always said that the #1 thing that’s important in blogging is to CHOOSE, to make a decision. It doesn’t have to be the right one (you’ll only know after you’ve made the choice), but not choosing at all, and instead trying to do everything will get you nowhere. But choosing is hard, it’s scary and you really have to listen well to yourself to know which path to take.
One of the best ways to help you choose, I’ve found, is to take a step back and to look at all the choices you’ve made in the past that either worked out for you, or didn’t. See what you enjoyed doing, what brought you ‘success’ (whatever success looks like to you) and what gave you a feeling of accomplishment.
So when I turned 35 last month, I figured it was a good moment to look back a bit myself and write down my entire blogging journey to see how far I’ve come, starting at zero.
MY BLOGGING JOURNEY
After almost 5 years of blogging as a business, 8+ years of blogging for fun and in total over 15+ years of building websites and being online, you’d think I have something to say about this topic, right? Well, let me tell you how this crazy life came all about and what my biggest lessons, regrets and happy moments were.
I hope this post will help not just me, but also you to understand more about the choices you made in the past and the possibilities you have to do some pretty amazing things in the future!
Get a cup of tea, this might take a while.
- fase 1 – loving the internet
- fase 2 – finding community
- fase 3 – taking the first step
- fase 4 – listen to the inner voice
- fase 5 – launch & learn
- fase 6 – meeting like-minded people
- fase 7 – network or die
- fase 8 – figuring out how to make it work
- fase 9 – leaving a mark
- fase 10 – expanding the business
fase 1 – loving the internet
Ever since we got our first computer at home in the ’90s, I’ve been a fan of video games (mostly fantasy/adventure games), text- and photo editing software (I know a good WordPerfect version when I see one) and most of all… the internet. Yes kids, I’m one of those people that grew up around the same time the internet did. *ugh* OLD *ugh*.
Around 1995, when I went to high school, I started learning a bit of coding (HTML) and began making my own websites. One site for my uncle’s school, one site for my dad’s historical club, one site for my cousin’s band, one site about the X-Files (because X-Files), one fan website for the Dutch TV-series ‘Expeditie Robinson’ (that later became ‘Survivor’ in the U.S.) and one site about a trip I was planning to Australia… except that last one never went live.
HAPPY MOMENT: Every time I worked on the website of my uncle’s school, I got to choose a gadget I wanted to have, as they couldn’t pay me in cash. This is how I got my first point-and-shoot camera. I also got a massage chair later, but never mind about that.
BEST THING I DID: Learning HTML. Seriously, LEARN THIS (the basics are so easy). It has saved me lots of money having to invest in a programmer for my site later on, as I could easily change little things in the back end of my website myself. I also broke a lot of things because of this, but again, never mind about that.
BIGGEST REGRET: Never launching that Australia website! Honestly, a website is never ‘perfect’, or ‘finished’, just launch and grow from there. Besides choosing (anything!), this would be my biggest tip to all aspiring bloggers: JUST START. Make a choice to begin, start writing, start taking photos, start telling your stories and sharing your tips. Life isn’t perfect and your website also never will. It’s actually better to get things out there when nobody is looking, so you can make mistakes and tweak things along the way without anyone noticing.
Then get a domain name (=the ‘www.website.com’ part) through namecheap.com (or something similar) and hosting (=place where your actual website files are located) through a site like siteground.com (I was very happy with them, now I upgraded to websynthesis.com as I got more traffic, but they are closing down end of this year, so looking for new hosting now).
Then all you need is a simple WordPress theme (=the framework of how your actual website looks), which you can easily get from themeforest.net (there are also many free ones, but I recommend paying for a good one that is also mobile-friendly/responsive) and you’re ready to start!
fase 2 – finding community
I guess it’s related to the age (around 18), but in high school I’ve always been drawn by (online) communities. People with a similar interest who get together and talk about just that topic. I’ve never really been good at ‘just making conversation’ and talking about my own life just for the sake of it, but put me in a room with people that are interested in the same things as I am, and I get energy for hours.
Even though I stuck around a couple communities for some years, in the end I never really felt totally at home in them. Not in the Expeditie Robinson Fan Community (I ran a fan website and participated in a fan forum, we went to TV-recordings, hang out with the presenters, crew & participants, even went camping together). Not in the Competition-Winners Community (when I failed my high school exams, I took classes in just 2 subjects to re-do the exams for a year and filled the rest of my time with entering online competitions. I won just about everything and the kitchen sink and often met up with other ‘compters‘ at VIP movie premieres or other shows that we all regularly won tickets to) And not in the Crafting & Swapping Community (people all around the world getting together on a forum about crafting and sending secret parcels to each other filled with haberdashery and fun gifts -it’s a thing)
HAPPY MOMENT: In the competition-community, I got in touch with a woman (Yvonne) who was in a wheelchair and wrote on her website about her and her husband’s experience travelling this way. She was in constant pain because of her condition and often woke up at night, not being able to sleep. That’s when she started participating in competitions. I got to meet her and her husband in real life one day and she was one of the most optimistic people you’d ever meet. She wouldn’t just sit at home, she wanted to see the world, no matter what!
She really inspired me to never give up achieving your dreams. She also made me realize that there is a reason people are drawn to certain communities and those reasons can be very different than what you may assume at first. For her it was not about winning as much stuff as possible, but about interacting with the community, meeting up, getting her mind off things. I will never forget this!
BEST THING I DID: I followed my passions (the TV-series, the competitions, the crafting/swapping) and really got invested into the community around it. I also let go of them as time passed and didn’t feel sad about that, but to understood that as time passed, your interests change and that’s totally fine.
BIGGEST REGRET: Not really a regret, because I couldn’t have known then, but looking back I can see why these communities didn’t stick with me: they only filled a temporary need, but didn’t bring me something in the long term (the TV-series would end, I wouldn’t be able to invest that much time on competitions as I had in that year ‘off’ school and the swapping was just about getting cool handmade stuff, not really bring anything else into my life).
I can recommend to really do some soul searching about what you’re truly passionate about and also don’t think that every hobby you have should also be (part of) your business right away. It often is better that they stay hobbies and you will enjoy them much longer.
HANDY RESOURCES: Do a search on facebook.com and see what groups you can find that resonate with you. Often these people meet up in real life too, so you can see if you really connect with these people or if it’s just not the right group energy for you.
fase 3 – taking the first step
After (finally) graduating, I decided to apply for teacher training college (called ‘PABO’ in The Netherlands) in a bit of a spur of the moment. I reconnected with an old school friend who signed up to study teaching in Amsterdam and with some teachers in my family, I kind of thought: ‘why not?’ and gave it a go. I really enjoyed the study those four years, met great people and got a job offer at a primary school in Amsterdam right after: I got to take over one of the classed from a colleague that was about to go with maternity leave. This was around June 2006. My colleague was due in January 2007, which meant I had 6 months free to do whatever I wanted.
Hmm… *scratches head*
I got behind my computer and somehow found this old Australia website that I’d build, but never published online. And I started thinking: what better to start a travel website/blog than to write about the country while I’m actually there?
Long story short, I took my mum to a meet-up of a Dutch, Australia-specialized tour organisation, filled in some forms, bought a backpack and stood at the airport in September 2006 with a ticket, a camera and… a blog. Little did I know then how important that decision would be for the rest of my life!
HAPPY MOMENT: I always knew that I wanted to visit Australia, so I guess standing at the airport (even though VERY nervous) was the best feeling ever. Probably not for my parents, but I’m sure they’ve forgiven me by now. Right mom? RIGHT?!
BEST THING I DID: I listened to my gut and didn’t care I had nobody to travel with, no idea what to expect or anything like that. I just went because it felt good to me. Best. Decision. Ever. Never have your own luck depend on whether others join you or not or if you’re scared about it a little, just TAKE THE FIRST STEP and the universe will do the rest for you.
BIGGEST REGRET: When I started my first blog, I never thought anyone besides my parents and some friends would read it. Boy, was I wrong! I soon got emails from strangers that followed my stories and laughed out loud (my writing style back then was very funny/sarcastic, if I can say so myself), or people afterwards that told me they’d never missed an update and even made travel plans based on my tips.
Still.. why oh why didn’t I know about WordPress then (I was on ‘Blogspot’ (now ‘Blogger’) then and had to move everything over later). But most of all: why oh why did I not stick to this first blog and keep adding to it, instead of letting it die after the trip was finished and starting a completely new blog whenever I made a new trip later? (After ‘Nienke in Australia’, I had ‘Nienke in Japan’, ‘Nienke in New Zealand’, and many, many more) *slaps face*.
I made it really hard for people that already knew my first website to find me for the next trips and all the momentum I’d build on that first trip was now gone and I had to find new followers over and over and over again. I am currently working on adding all of my old blogs into this website, but that is a massive task and the followers are gone already anyway. SO STUPID!
HANDY RESOURCES: You are your own best resource on this. What is it you really want? Where do you want to go? What topics do you want to talk about? Sit down for 20 minutes or so and just write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy it is. You might be surprised what comes up!
fase 4 – listen to the inner voice
After this first epic trip to Japan and Australia in 2006 (where, by the way, I first learned about Facebook to keep in touch with travel buddies, haha, I AM SO OLDDDD!!!), of course I had to return to Amsterdam because I had to start working on the school. And I did enjoy it, even though the teaching was super tough that first year (everything in life is tough the first year, just so you know). The second year, I got my own entire class from the start and it was a total blast. I will never forget those kids and when I now look back, I think I did a pretty good job.
I kept spending my free time writing about all my travel experiences on the blog, at that point called ‘Krookodil op Reis‘ (‘crocodile – croocodile – krookodile) travelling’, since ‘Krook’ is my last name, get it? GET IT?) and I connected with Dutch travel blogger Erik (@aroundtheglobe) who organised a yearly travellers meetup in The Netherlands. I also starting writing some articles for his blog.
At the end of the school year in 2008, there were some changes happening at the school I was working. Mostly money, but also a bit of politics that I don’t really remember the details of anymore. Together with being in a relationship that was destined to fail, some friendships that weren’t working any more and friction at home, I felt something needed to change.
One day, in a team meeting, the director was talking about some of staff having to leave because of all the changes that were happening and while my head has deleted the whole point of that meeting, all I remember very clearly is that feeling I had inside literally SCREAMING to me: YOU.NEED.TO.LEAVE. It was almost as if someone was talking to me, so clear was that inner voice I heard. I literally got tears in my eyes, talked about it with my mentor at the school, went home and resigned the next day (I think, or at least pretty soon after). There was no point arguing. I was leaving again to travel. I have never been so sure about anything in my life after that!
First, I set up yet another blog (because again, I was an idiot), then I booked an organised tour with Intrepid (intrepidtravel.com) for one month around South-East Asia (a.ma.zing), I booked a Kiwi Experience pass (kiwiexperience.com) to tour around New Zealand and finally, I booked myself a spot on a small island in Fiji where I joined a local tribe and learned spear fishing (story for another time, but here is a taste on YouTube, unfortunately the project is no longer running in Fiji).
A couple weeks before my departure for that trip I planned and booked myself, my brother told me he was thinking of perhaps studying in Australia. Long story short, we ended up booking a 2-month trip together to the Land Down Under, right before my own second solo-trip would kick off. And that would -again- change everything. Because the day we arrived together in a hostel in Sydney, we met Nick. And we all know how that (never) ended.
HAPPY MOMENT: In Fiji, I met a Canadian (Steve) who’d given up everything he owned, including his successful businesses to travel the world indefinitely. One day, we were standing outside the main building on the island, listening to the local Fijians singing/praying before they were having their dinner. We were both so emotional that we just cried like babies about how glad we were that we had chosen for ourselves and that no matter what others say, things will work out the way they’re supposed to. It was a very powerful moment and it still reminds me of how important it is to follow your heart, always.
BEST THING I DID: Going travelling with my brother and then changing my travel plans a couple of times to meet up with Nick in the next 7 months. Oh, and meeting my parents-in-law only weeks after Nick and I first met. At Christmas dinner. In Australia with friends of them I also didn’t know. Talk about having faith in someone!
BIGGEST REGRET: When I was blogging as a solo-traveller, I had created this habit of finding an internet cafe at night (oh yes, showing my age again you kids -one did not travel with laptop then. there was no phone to be swiped and no snap to be chatted to… I know, un-buh-lie-va-bal, what did I DO all day?) anyway – so an internet cafe at night to write down my latest adventures onto the blog.
Because of that, my stories were in real time and I also wrote more in diary-style than most of the ‘practical’ articles I write these days. I really miss that way of writing (and being sarcastic and (sort of) funny most of the time) and I am still trying to find a good balance in just blurting out what I think and being useful to readers and respectful to brands and destinations I work with (I don’t get away with just saying something is crap any more, I have to explain why something was crap in my eyes and how it can be different when you as a reader visits… yah-dee-yah).
Finding your own, unique voice is possible one of the hardest things in blogging, trust me.
HANDY RESOURCES: If you want to become a better storyteller (and if you want to become a successful blogger, you should be), I recommend this course by fellow blogger and magic wordsmith Mike Sowden: feveredmutterings.com/storytelling-course.
If you are looking for motivation to write, my friend Frankie Thompson created this amazing ‘WriteNOW Cards’ to help you along: asthebirdfliesblog.com/buy-writenow-affirmation-cards-for-writers.
fase 5 – launch & learn
Fast forward to 2011. After deciding my world trip had been adventurous enough after 7 months, I returned home and met Nick waiting on the airport with my brother and parents who he’d never met before (I before the sharks, he before the sharks… Nice sharks, of course, nice sharks mum).
I went on to teach in Amsterdam for a little while and then moved in with Nick in Eindhoven in The Netherlands, where I taught at an International School. He graduated as an architect. There was no work whatsoever. We said fuck it. We packed everything up and went back to Australia (via India and Nepal) and ended up staying there for 2 years. Go Team!
In Sydney I found a job in a hostel, where I worked at reception and sold tours and activities to the guests. This was a little lucrative side business (yeah to commission!), which I really quite enjoyed. At the end, I ended up on so many ‘famil trips’ (from ‘familiarization’, a sort of a press trip for travel agents where you get to experience the hotels/activities/tours that you sell), that I wanted to share my knowledge with others as well… TADAAA: “The Travel Tester” was born.
After launching my blog, I got really interested in stock photography (=generic photos of places/items/people that are used in marketing materials/on websites/etc.) and read every thing I could on selling photos online, as well as pitching ideas to sell stories & photos to magazines. That is basically how I learned about ‘blogging as a business’ and I began to discover there was a whole group of people making a living out of this.
It was also the moment I first discovered Pinterest *insert sounds of angels*. I consumed so much (SO MUCH) information on branding, monetizing, writing and SEO and a whole new, interesting world started to slowly open up to me.
HAPPY MOMENT: Every time I sold the ‘mini travellers‘ pass for the Greyhound bus (the same ticket I used in 2006 to go on my own trip along Australia’s East coast), I felt so wise and well-travelled and happy that these people got to experience what I had 5 years ago.
BEST THING I DID: I FINALLY started self-hosting my website, opened up a WordPress account, registered a proper domain name. Everything I should have done …well, about 5 years earlier.
BIGGEST REGRET: Two things: First of all I didn’t spend enough time researching hosting options and went for one.com, which gave me the worst customer service and all the down-time (=time your website is offline) of the universe.
Second of all, I should have really invested in a proper theme for my site. I had my brother design a site that looked exactly what I wanted then, but it would have saved both of us a lot of time to just buy a solid template. The design in the end is far less important than the content of your site, especially in the beginning, so just get something decent to start with and don’t faff about. (Faff. Is that a word? I think it is. Stop faffing about you guys! Get writing instead!).
HANDY RESOURCES: The stock photography / travel writing website that I found first doesn’t exist anymore, but was re-branded to: greatescapepublishing.com, they now have many courses and are a great resource to start your journey.
Other than that… GET ON PINTEREST NOW (it’s never too late)! This is my account to get ideas: pinterest.com/thetraveltester (yes, I also started from 0!) and this is my Pinterest course I created years later: dreampingo.thinkific.com, which I’m updated regularly.
fase 6 – meeting like-minded people
Australia had a lot, but after two years not everything we needed at that moment in life, so we gave away most our belongings and moved back to Europe in February 2013. That’s why you always buy Ikea when you move abroad kids, so you can then buy the same items you’re attached to in another country all over again and pretend nothing has changed, except the weather.
As luck would have it, I came across the offer of another travel blogger selling his ticket to this ‘blogging conference’ that was going to happen in Rotterdam in The Netherlands in May. I had no clue what it was, but it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t sure it was something for me. It looked very professional and I’d really only just heard about people using their blogs to make money and all of that and I hadn’t wrapped my head around the logistics of it all yet.
Around this time, I’d been in contact with Brooke (@herpackinglist) about being part of the Pinterest ‘Pin’ team for her website and since she was going to speak at this conference, I asked her if she’d think it would be worth it for me as a newbie to tag along. “YES! OF COURSE!” She said. It’s especially great for beginner bloggers and you’ll learn so much. So I went. I booked a hostel, made my first blogger friend there in Julika (@sateless-suitcase) and together we walked to the conference, being all nervous and giddy about meeting all these ‘famous’ bloggers like Adventurous Kate.
This conference changed everything for me (I know I say this a lot, but it did!) I learned so much from all the panels and workshops, had such a good time talking about nothing other than blogging and travel and met some incredible people that became friends over the years and I would end up working on many cool projects with, like Kash @budgettraveller, Keith @velvetescape, Melvin @traveldudes, Michael @timetravelturtle, Sarah & Terry @livesharetravel, Alastair @mechtraveller, Francesca @viaggiaredasoli, Frankie @asthebirdflies, Sebastian @ofthepath, Bjorn @thesocialtraveler, Laurel @monkeysandmountains, Leyla @womenontheroad, Lucy @voyagesetvagabondages, Yishene @smallcrazy, Kerwin @passrider and Elena @creativelena (and probably many more that were there, but I forgot to mention!).
HAPPY MOMENT: Going live on Dutch radio (twice) with Kash and talking about the blogging business like I knew what I was doing, haha. I so did NOT, but then again, back then nobody really knew what bloggers where, so there’s that.
BEST THING I DID: Going to my first blogger conference was the single most important thing I ever did to turn my blog into a business. You can only learn so much on your own, you NEED to go our there to understand the industry, the important players and to make meaningful connections. It’s scary, but absolutely necessary. Oh, and it can actually be fun as well ;)
BIGGEST REGRET: I wish I had a better idea of what my blog was about (clear vision on who I was helping with what) and I wish I had understood the importance of treating my blog as a business. That concept took me years to grasp, because I was learning so many new things at the time it dazzled me. If I could go back in time, I would force myself to sit down and write a business plan. Just anything. You can always change and tweak it later, but you need to start somewhere! Focus!
I can HIGHLY recommend signing up for Fizzle (fizzle.co), a community, podcast and online course website with video courses on making your business stand out, defining your audience, google analytics, twitter, podcasting, using WordPress, creating effective and engaging content, building an email list, productivity, goal setting, affiliate marketing, video, launching a course/product, blogging and even journaling to find focus.
Another great course is The Blogger Course (thebloggercourse.com) by ‘The Travel Hack’ Monica Stott. This last course also has a FANTASTIC Facebook group where you’ll learn so much from, highly recommend it!
fase 7 – network or die
Nick and I had moved to Amsterdam in 2013, where I found a job at a big hostel in the Amsterdam Vondelpark. By this point, I didn’t feel like going back to teaching kids any more. I realized I liked learning and developing myself more than actually teaching others on subjects I already knew. I basically got restless. Time to do something else! Nick was struggling to find a job as an architect and would do so for the next 7 months, which was everything but motivating for him, to say the least.
And then I got my first ever invitation for a blogger trip. Through bloggers Terry & Sarah Lee, who I met at TBU Rotterdam, I was introduced to the lovely Elena (@creativelena). I’d missed the opportunity to talk to her at TBU, but now she was organising a trip to her home town in Austria and she had a spot left because someone cancelled. Somehow, I was considered, still not sure why, but it happened. In my wild enthusiasm, I directly booked a flight to Vienna (I learned later that actually on press trips, the organizer pays for your flight, haha) and off I went. It was a fantastic trip and I felt like a Queen in a fancy hotel, eating fancy food and doing all these cool activities. Great first press trip experience, I’d say!
A couple months later, I got an email invite from the German Tourist office if I wanted to participate in the #YouthHotspotsGermany campaign. It turned out to be a mixed blogger and journalist trip (never a good idea, but that’s a story for another time) and someone thought it was doable to send us to the cities of Hamburg, Bremen as Berlin in 3 days. It wasn’t. They also put us in the most uninspiring hostel at the edge of each city and forgot that bloggers would need WiFi to actually do the live social media updates we were asked to do. In fact, the attending lady from the tourism board asked us why we were on our phones all the time and we had to explain to her what Instagram was. *facepalm*.
But it was one of my first press trips, everything was paid for and I learned so much, so I can only be grateful for that at this point in life, but I quickly learned that press trips can come in all different shapes and sizes and you really have to stand up for yourself, do your research and make sure everything is taken care off, before you leave or even say yes to the invitation.
At the beginning of October in 2013, I had found out about another blogging conference called TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange). It was going to be held in Dublin in Ireland and because I’d never been there, I booked a ticket, flight and went with an open mind. I reconnected with most people I met earlier that year in Rotterdam and had, again, the time of my life.
It was for the first time that I realized that these were ‘my’ people. This was the community I’d always been looking for. It was so inspiring just being around all these people working their asses of to create a life they loved, it blew my mind a bit. So when there was another blog conference in Italy called TBDI (Travel Blogger Destination Italy) two weeks later, I didn’t even blink and made sure I was there as well. Again there were some familiar faces and friendships grew stronger!
Meanwhile, Nick got a job offer in London and at that point was so fed up waiting and applying for jobs he said yes and moved within the span of a week. I followed three weeks later, after finishing my job at the hostel in Amsterdam. Right at the time of our move, a big travel trade show called WTM (World Travel Market) was on in London. I was still on a high from TBEX and TBDI that I pretty much went straight into a week of press meetings, networking events and a whole lot of parties. I didn’t want to miss a second and was always the last person to leave the party. Nick wasn’t too happy about that, understandably, but I just felt that I needed to be there, or I would miss out, or something. And it was the best thing for my business I could have done.
Before the end of the year, I secured another press trip after meeting someone at WTM, this time to Puglia in Italy, with fellow bloggers Dylan (@thetravellingeditor) and Sophie (@oohmyworld), along with some other journalists. The trip was around food and was just a perfect end of an incredible, life-changing year.
HAPPY MOMENT: Being invited for that first press trip meant a lot and it came directly from being at the events and connecting with people. Even the fact that my original flight got cancelled while I was already at the gate and I had to literally RUN back to the check-in desk to make sure I was on the next one, this was such an incredible experience. I will never forget it. Maybe also because sauna was part of the program. Which in Austria is naked. Or: how to make friends quickly. Yeah.
BEST THING I DID: I invested time, money and all my energy (I’m an introvert, if you didn’t know) in attending all the different conferences, making business cards, media kits and practicing my pitch. All these social and networking events really paid of in the beginning and I think as a beginner blogger, getting out there and making friends is one of the best thing to do for your business.
BIGGEST REGRET: No real regrets I think, for me personally, 2013 was a pretty good year for science. I just wish Nick had more success with finding work though, because 2013 for him was anything but exciting and we were in completely different states of mind.
HANDY RESOURCES: While TBEX has gotten a bit of a bad rep over the years, I still think that as a beginner blogger, you have to start somewhere and these conferences are a good place to start, so check out tbexcon.com (they have conferences in North-America, Europe and Asia).
That said, I would recommend Traverse (traverse-events.com) over TBEX though (especially if you’re based in Europe), as it’s quite a lot smaller and there is more of an existing community already, as they cater to both beginner as established bloggers, so there is a great mix of knowledge.
If you’re already a pro-blogger, then the Social Travel Summit (thesocialtravelsummit.com) is the place to be.
And don’t forget to check out blogger conferences in other niches (think: Pro Blogger, The Hive, Meet the Blogger, Blogtacular, BritMums Live, etc. There are a million of them, just do a Google on your niche!)
Other good networking happens at Travel Massive (travelmassive.com), all around the world. If you’re a bit further along in blogging and would like to reach out to brands, then World Travel Market in London (london.wtm.com – also in other places in the world), ITB in Berlin (itb-berlin.de) and IMM International Media Marketplace (travmedia.com/immuk) are great places for you.
To get on press trips, do the networking at these events, create a media kit (do a google, there are many out there as examples) and join the following groups: Professional Travel Bloggers Association (travelbloggersassociation.com) and EWE Travel Press Trips (facebook.com/groups/710565899007971) or Travel Blogger Press Trips (facebook.com/groups/travelbloggerpresstrips), for example. But again, one of the best ways of getting invitations is to get out there and network with people IN PERSON.
fase 8 – figuring out how to make it work
2014 can best be described as a roller coaster and I learned some hard lessons on what the true life of a travel blogger is really like. Let’s start by saying that at this point I was making no to little money out of blogging. My main income was a nanny job paying £9 an hour and the rest of my time was spend writing articles for a food tour company for £35 and blog posts on my own website for, well… nothing. I dabbled a bit in affiliates and sponsored posts, but more than £100 a month I wouldn’t say I made from that either. Yet I was somewhat ignorantly bliss about it. I loved the writing, editing, talking about travel and creating content. I just didn’t really have a business plan to go along with it.
And then I got invited on my first ever iambassador campaign (iambassador.net) to Canada, which was a HUGE deal. Iambassador is a network of professional travel bloggers working with brands and destinations on big marketing campaigns. At the time they invited me, I had only just passed 4000 unique visitors a month, so I knew the rare opportunity this was and I knew I had to step up my game and do well to prove I was worth it.
While for the people back home, this trip perhaps showed as ‘just another fun trip’, I knew this would be an important ‘career move’, so to say and I learned a lot from my travel buddies Keith from @velvetescape, Melvin from @traveldudes, Becki from @bordersofadventure and cameraman Caspar from @storytravelers.
Upon returning, I learned that I was actually also getting paid on top of the free ski-trip to Canada and yet again, I was amazed. I could actually do this for a living?! Of course I understood that getting a payment / daily fee on top of a press trip isn’t standard and on some of my next trips I had to work hard to justify my time abroad.
But I soon learned to be creative. On an unpaid press trip to Luxembourg, I sold a set of 20 photos. On a trip to Austria and later to Cardiff in Wales, I got Nick to travel with me to balance things out. To Malta I travelled in place of someone else and got a daily fee for writing articles for their site. There were all these possibilities of making this work, even with my own site being still fairly small!
Another big event this year, was that I was asked to speak at the blogging conference ‘TBU’ in Nantes, France about Pinterest. I did two sessions, one for bloggers and one for industry and I loved it, it actually went pretty well. Becoming a speaker is such a good way for you to get noticed and seen as a professional blogger, that I highly recommend it.
While things were going alright, my visit to the TBEX blogging conference in Athens at the end of 2014 did make me realize that I still had a long way to go. In a conversation with Terry Lee (who I met on that first ever blogging trip to Austria), he explained the importance of having a solid business plan and making sure I got paid for what I was worth. Because, in his lovely words, ‘nobody is going to look after you but yourself. If anything happens, you’re screwed. If Nick passed away, you’re going to be an old lady, alone with your cats, but with no money left’. Cheerful, right? Haha, well actually this was exactly what I needed to hear. It did make me cry (I cry very easily, mind you), but that was because I realized that not only did I needed to change some things to make more money now, but also just how much I wanted this new lifestyle to work out and keep working for me in the long run.
Just to put things in perspective: from the total of 11 blog-related trips I took this year…
- 2 were conferences I had to pay money for to cover transport and accommodation (ITB Berlin and TBEX Athens)
- 1 was a conference I spoke at and everything was covered (TBU Nantes)
- 1 was a conference I got hosted for, but had to pay for transport (Nordic Blogger’s Experience in Helsinki + post-trip to Tallinn)
- 2 were unpaid press trips I travelled solo to, but everything was covered (Luxembourg City in Luxembourg and Cesenatico in Italy)
- 2 were unpaid press trips where Nick joined me and everything was covered (Vienna in Austria and Cardiff in Wales)
- 3 were paid campaigns, on top of the fact that everything else was covered (Canada and Malta with iambassador and Senigallia, Italy with TBnet, an Italian blogger network)
So I spend more time on trips that either cost me money or just covered my expenses, rather than working on projects that actually brought me money to live off. At the end of the year, it was time for another World Travel Market. This year, I had a better media kit, a better pitch, better connections and a better idea of what I wanted. Slowly, but steady, I started to learn the ropes of this weird, but wonderful business.
HAPPY MOMENT: I was so incredibly grateful of being invited on the Canada trip and getting the chance to not only prove my worth, but also travel with 4 people I had tons of respect for, that nearly every day at some point I had to make a run for the bathroom because I couldn’t hold in my tears (happy tears, again: I cry easily). I knew then and there that this life would be my job and this job would be my life. I just had to figure out a way to make it profitable and ‘sell’ this idea to Nick as well…
BEST THING I DID: Listen to Terry Lee. We should all listen more to Terry Lee, to be honest :)
BIGGEST REGRET: I had so many press trip opportunities, but almost never asked if these people had an extra budget to work with on top of covering expenses alone. There has been SO MUCH money left on the table over the past few years and the only one to blame is myself, because I never asked.
HANDY RESOURCES: You can find all the lessons I learned from blogging conferences that I visited in the last 5 years on the blog, as well as a video of me behind the scenes of a blog trip and my tips on how you should approach blogging conferences. Hope it’s useful to you!
fase 9 – leaving a mark
2015 was the year I started doing things a bit differently. I said no to a lot of unpaid work, and I ended up going on 13 trips, of which:
- 1 was an unpaid press trip with everything covered (to Hadrian’s wall in the UK with English Heritage)
- 5 were paid campaigns on top of everything being covered (Germany twice through iambassador, The Netherlands through the #MustLoveFestivals project, Paris for the NS, a Dutch train company and Dublin through iambassador again)
- 1 was a conference I had to pay everything for myself (ITB Berlin)
- 2 were conferences where I was invited to speak and got covered expenses (TBEX in Costa Brava, Spain and TBDI in Rimini, Italy)
- 1 was a conference where I was invited to speak and got a fee on top of covered expenses (Meet the Blogger in Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
- 1 was a conference where I helped the organisers out and got covered expenses (STS in Hamburg, Germany)
- 2 were a ‘REAL’ holiday with Nick that we paid for -yes- ourselves (a weekend to the New Forest in England and a week to New York)
See the shift here? When you start saying NO to things that don’t pay, you’ll make space for things that do pay you… and you’ll have time left to actually take a vacation. Because PRESS TRIPS ARE NOT A HOLIDAY.
Another shift I made, was that I had developed the name of ‘Pinterest Queen’ (although I still hate that name) after growing my own account to over half a million followers (with help to: 1. my own addiction 2. a collaboration with Lonely Planet 3. a feature by Pinterest themselves…) and that this topic got me to speak at quite a lot of conferences, where I could then do the networking for free.
I can HIGHLY recommend picking one topic to become an expert in / known for (could be related to your blog, such as ‘adventure travel’, but could also be blogging related, such as storytelling or photography, or social media, etc, anything goes!), so you can teach others about it. You will get sick of the topic itself, trust me, but it does help you grow your name, your business and get many more opportunities than if you spread yourself too thin.
This year, I also started working as a blogger outreach consultant for Expedia, which was great! I got to search for an invite Dutch and Belgium blogger to write content for the Expedia website (in Dutch), and had a lot of fun doing that. It was super flexible (I mostly worked from home) and I got to deliver work to some of my blogging colleagues, which is always great!
In 2016, I also finally started working with an assistant for my, then almost 10, Pinterest clients. I wanted to grow the business, but it was clear that I couldn’t do it alone. Jenna (upandawaymedia.net) turned out to be amazing and is taking care of so much around the Pinterest business, that I have time to work on other projects.
For the whole year, I ended up going on 11 trips (not including travel to and from my family in The Netherlands), of which:
- 2 were conferences I was invited to speak and got hosted (TBEX Stockholm, Sweden and STS Inverness, Scotland)
- 1 was a conference I got invited to and was a hosted blogger, still paid for transport myself (NBE Finland)
- 1 was a conference I got tickets for, but paid for my own transport and accommodation (Traverse in Cardiff, Wales)
- 2 were paid campaigns on top of everything covered (Paris with Nick to write on the site of our friend Kash @budgettraveller and solo to Grado, Italy with TBnet)
- 2 were REAL holidays that we paid for ourselves (weekend to Glasgow, Schotland and Austria to go skiing with Nick and his family)
- 1 was an unpaid press trips where Nick could join me and everything was covered (Okinawa, Japan on invite of the tourist office)
- 2 were unpaid press trips that I was invited on solo, everything was covered (Northern Ireland as part of the STS conference and Goa, India with a volunteering company and the tourism board)
It seems though that there are always a maximum of 2 years where I do things in a similar way, before everything shakes up again and changes completely, so let’s move on to the final 2 years of this adventure, if you’re still there with me!
HAPPY MOMENT: For me, it was really important that I got the support of my family and especially Nick on my blogging journey. Of course, they were a bit skeptic in the beginning, when I started earning from my blog, they saw it was actually something sustainable. I love that Nick is now friends with most of my blogging friends, that he goes along to some network events and even conferences and that we can talk about the future of the business together so much. He even went on a couple of press trips and blog campaigns with me, which is of course amazing. I’m so lucky!
BEST THING I DID: While I am always looking to create income directly from and around the blog, I think it is smart to focus on as many income streams as possible. With one bigger client that would cover the bills (Expedia in my case), I could focus all my extra time on experimenting and gaining additional income on things such as affiliates, product reviews and campaigns, which are not regular income in the beginning, but require some time to grow.
BIGGEST REGRET: At the end of 2016 I had severe back problems, that I had to get an MRI to see what was wrong. They couldn’t really find anything, but I took fysio and signed up for the local gym to do exercise and lots and lots of yoga and Pilates and it helped me so much. At one point I couldn’t even walk, so bad was the pain, but if you see me now, that’s completely different. I’m still careful with my movements and mostly my sitting positions when working behind the computer, but things are much better. I regret for not taking care of myself sooner, because your health should be top priority!!
HANDY RESOURCES: If you’re not ready to start hiring staff, the first thing you can do to create more time is to schedule your life. Schedule Twitter & Facebook with Buffer (buffer.com) and Pinterest & Instagram with Tailwind (tailwind.com), schedule your blog posts with CoSchedule (coschedule.com) and schedule your email newsletters with MailChimp (mailchimp.com).
Growing your business also means that you need to grow your money mindset. Three of my most favourite resources to help me with this are: luckybitch.com (all about money mindset for women), carolinemakepeace.com/program (money mindfulness, very practical course, loved it!) and themoneyhaven.com (getting better at accounting and finances in general).
fase 10 – expanding the business
2017 and the first half of 2018 went by so fast, I don’t think they even happened, but to sum it up, I’ve been travelling to another country pretty much every single month and went from feeling on top of the world and totally in control to pretty low to the ground and considering a career switch at various times throughout the year. Not only business wise, but also because in the 10 years since I met nick in 2008 (wayoo!), we’ve lived abroad for most of that time. I’m terrible in keeping in touch (with anyone, for that matter) and you just start to realize that you don’t really know what your friends and family go through back ‘home’ and you can’t be there for them at times when they might need you the most, and that is hard!
Besides from many trips back and forth to the Netherlands for birthdays, weddings, babies, sick grandma’s and general catch-ups, I’ve travelled mostly in Europe: Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy, Wales, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland and Iceland and even WON two trips at networking events (one to Fiji, where we also tagged on a visit to another ‘home’: Sydney) and Morocco (that we’re doing in a few month’s time). There is also a trip to Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and a handful of UK trips still on the calendar before the end of this year.
The biggest change lies in the fact that I no longer work with Expedia (due to some internal changes, such a shame, loved working there!), but soon found a perfect match in space media company ‘Space Nation’, of which you have been already reading a lot about on this website.
This company is looking to make space travel available to everyone and have a bigger mission of making life on earth (and beyond) better by focusing not only on the technical aspects, but also on the body, mind and social skills of the space travellers of the future. I am writing articles for them, manage their Pinterest and Twitter accounts and am a general ambassador for their company.
One of the most amazing trips I’ve done in my entire blogging career is going to Iceland with Space Nation. We travelled in the footsteps of the Apollo astronauts that did their field training here in the 1960’s and we climbed volcanoes, went paragliding, did survival missions, drove a mars-rover and even rescued someone from a cave in the worst weather you’ve probably ever seen. This adventure will be turned into a web series (launching in September 2018 – preview here) and it was EPIC.
Though Space Nation, I realized that I’m A) actually not that terrible on camera as I always thought I was and I want to do more video B) I loved working in a team for the first time ever and C) I found a new passion in space/tech/geeky topics and would love to incorporate that more on the blog!
Another big change is that I started working on another passion project of mine, which is ‘The London Tester’ (thelondontester.com), a website helping Dutch travellers plan their trip and/or relocation to London or the rest of the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands. Yes, it’s another project that I actually should have started 5 years ago when I just moved to London, but better late then never and I already see some great results from the site, so I’m definitely planning to stick with it and grow it further.
A last project I’ve been really working on more in the last years is product reviews. I absolutely love testing (website’s got a great name for that already) travel gear, especially backpacks and clothing, and I think there is much I can do with that on the site, apart from writing about destinations alone.
All together, I would say that I’m at the point that I have so many projects I’m working on, that I can’t keep doing this all by myself. I need to start becoming more smart in investing part of my income in hiring help to produce content, create video, etc. There is so much potential for growth, but only if I get more hands on deck. How I can organise that best is something I’m currently working on and I’m definitely not a person that likes asking for help and giving things out of hand, but I will need to in order to not only grow the business, but also to keep sane at the same time :) I will keep you posted on this.
HAPPY MOMENT: This year, a campaign I worked on with Visit Britain, Visit England and iambassador (The ’24 Hours in Britain’ Campaign) won a prestigious prize at the World Travel Awards. Not only can I now say that I’m an ‘Award Winning Travel Blogger’ (which always looks good in your media kit), but it was definitely a team effort that I was lucky to have been able to do with some great blogging friends. I would love to work more on some creative campaigns like that in the future!
BEST THING I DID: Because I’ve been working on Pinterest for so long and have grown a strong account, as well as a lot of focus on optimising my website for SEO, I was able to sign up for advertising agency ‘Mediavine’ (mediavine.com) for their ad program. This now brings in a big chuck of my income every month, which I can use to grow the business even further.
BIGGEST REGRET: I don’t think that in the last 1,5 years I’ve had many regrets, but I do wish sometimes that I’m more focused and working on a clearer goal. Working from home asks that you are very self-disciplined and while for the most part I am, I do think that I can be way more efficient in the work I do and often am too easy on myself, pushing important tasks forward, not finishing certain things when they get a little bit to difficult and get out of the way of confrontation as much as possible.
If I really want to become more serious as a business-woman, then I also need to work on things I don’t like or am a bit scared about. Work in progress, I guess!
HANDY RESOURCES: I believe that as a blogger, you’re never done learning new things, so I can highly recommend to keep going to conferences, networking to learn from fellow bloggers and taking on online classes.
One of my favourite websites for this is Creative Live (creativelive.com), where you can watch classes about pretty much any topic live for free (!) and then you can purchase the course + other materials afterwards if you liked it. They have courses on WordPress, Webdesign, Photography and everything related to money & business, such as: Time Management, Marketing, PR, Branding, Podcasting, Freelancing, Launching and Creating a Business.
Another great resource for that is Masterclass (masterclass.com), where some of the top industry leaders share their knowledge with you. For example, take a class on Investigative Journalism from Bob Woodward, writing from James Patterson or Malcolm Gladwell and take a class on Photography from Annie Leibovitz.
I also recommend listening to business podcasts such as: What She Said, The Fizzle Show, Courage and Clarity, Smart Passive Income, Naptime Empires… if you know any others, I’m keen to hear about them!
AND THAT’S IT! WHAT DO YOU THINK, AM I ON THE RIGHT TRACK HERE? ARE YOU THINKING OF BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL BLOGGER YOURSELF? IF SO, WHAT WAS THE BEST TIP(S) YOU FOUND IN THIS ARTICLE? LET ME KNOW, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
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