You’re the editor-in-chief behind Travel Mamas. What gave you the inspiration for the site and how did you get it off the ground?
When I became a mom, I looked for a book with practical and fun advice for traveling with babies and children but had a hard time finding what I wanted. I asked practically every mom or dad I met for tips on traveling with kids. After a few trips of my own, I decided to write the book I wanted to read.
Eventually I signed with a literary agent for my book, “The Travel Mamas’ Guide” and she told me to get some articles published and start a blog. I knew so little about blogging that you couldn’t even make comments on my site at first because I didn’t use a blogging platform like WordPress. Rather, I used the more cumbersome and difficult Dreamweaver and eventually had to convert to WordPress.
I attended blogging conferences like Type A Mom (now Type A Parent), BlogHer and TBEX, which really helped me learn so much about building a successful blog. The sessions were great, but meeting and building relationships with other bloggers was key to the success of Travel Mamas. Blogging can be such a solitary endeavor and having someone with whom to brainstorm and from whom to get advice is beyond valuable. There’s no way I’d still be blogging if I didn’t find the blogger friendships that I have today.
How did you get into writing and blogging in the first place? What led you to where you are now?
I had been taking writing classes for years but had never submitted anything for publication. I decided to write an article on how to travel with kids to submit to magazines. But after writing, and writing and writing, I realized that I had started a book. That book is what led to my website.
I wanted to create the website that I wished had existed when I first started traveling with my kids. I included printable packing lists, travel tips, reviews, and narrative pieces to inspire travel. The Travel Mamas Team also publishes stories about romantic retreats and girlfriend getaways because parents deserve a break sometimes too!
It’s so hard to say because the rules and practices of blogging, journalism and social media keep changing. I teach blogging classes and I have to update my curriculum for each session because things transform so rapidly in digital media.
I focus less and less on freelance writing because the pay is typically pretty horrible. I make money from my blog with a blend of sponsored posts and giveaways, standard ads, an Amazon store, and Google
Adsense ads. Lately I am focusing my efforts on #KidsNTrips Twitter parties to help brands build buzz along with my partners, LA Times Columnist Jen Leo and USA Today/10 Best Contributor Katie Dillon (a.k.a. La Jolla Mom). I am also trying to grow my resume as a public speaker and broadcast media personality.
I have started a second book too. This one is much more personal; it’s a memoir about how travel has influenced my life. It includes stories that, I hope, will cause tears and laughter and inspire others to live their best lives.
On your site, you say that witnessing your children’s pure joy in the journey makes traveling with kids worth it. What other advice do you have for parents who worry about the expense, time, and effort it takes to travel with kids?
It seems crazy to me to put off traveling until your children get older or move away or until you have more money. None of us knows how long we have on this planet so I advise people to make the most of their lives with their children today. Kids learn so much from traveling too. They learn about how other people live, eat, and talk. They learn about art and beauty and nature. They learn about how they fit into this big crazy world. It would be such a shame to rob your children of those experiences. You don’t have to go far or spend a lot of money, either. A camping trip is just as beneficial as a trip to Europe, in my opinion.
What advice do you have for a new blogger who is trying to create a niche and grow a readership?
Write about your passion. Don’t try to figure out what people want to read. Write good stories and people who have the same passion as you will want to read your blog. Blog readership is based on three things: good content (well-written stories, great photography, and maybe video) plus good search engine optimization (if they can’t find your blog, they can’t read it); and good social media (this is freePR for your blog and leads to more page views and paid opportunities).
You’ll be speaking at the upcoming TBEX conference. Can you give our readers a sneak peek of what you’ll be talking about?
I am leading a session on Building a Vision Board…for a blog, writing career, desired travels, or life. I will help people define what they want to draw into their lives and provide the tools, time and assistance to create a physical vision board they can bring home with them. Envisioning positive things has been proven to have just as positive an effect as experiencing positive things. The process will help attendees define goals too. If you want to get somewhere, you need to choose a direction. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “To reach a port, we must sail—Sail, not tie at anchor—Sail, not drift.”
Colleen Lanin is the author of “The Travel Mamas’ Guide” and the founder/editor-in-chief of Travel Mamas. She teaches blogging classes and gives presentations on how to travel with babies and children. She has given travel tips on television, radio, and as a paid video blogger. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. Her stories have appeared in such publications as the “Today” show’s travel section on NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, Expedia.com, Working Mother Magazine, and more.
Interview conducted in September, 2014 by Kristin Winet.
Laurel Robbins is a travel blogger and Twitter aficionado–and with good reason: she’s got over 45,000 followers! In our interview today, Laurel talks about the value of learning how to properly use social media, what she’ll be talking about at the upcoming TBEX conference, and what she wish she’d known starting out. Enjoy!
Laurel, you say you’re a “Conversation Starter, Twitter Aficionado and Social Media Time Optimizer.” How did you get into social media and how did you see its value early on?
I was into Facebook from my first day of blogging, but it took me months to get into Twitter. I thought it was a complete waste of time and didn’t see the value. Then I figured out it wasn’t Twitter, it was the way I was using it. Since changing the way I used Twitter, it’s become my favorite social media platform and my #1 source of sales referrals.
What inspired you to start Monkeys and Mountains? What has that journey been like for you?
When I moved from Canada to Germany I asked myself what my dream job would be if I could do anything, and the answer was “travel blogger”. I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded like a lot of fun! Turns out I was right! It is a lot of fun, but it’s also a LOT of work – way more than I had anticipated. Like any career journey, it’s had it’s ups and downs, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
What do you wish you’d known about blogging when you started?
That it’s very difficult to make a living solely from Google AdSense and affiliate marketing – especially when you’re just starting out. That was my income generation strategy, which needless to say was not successful and needed a complete overhaul.
In your opinion, where is the use of social media heading in the travel industry in the next 5, 10 years? I think there is a tremendous opportunity for real-time targeted engagement with travelers, i.e. reaching out to them when they’re on a trip and offering them an incentive for a particular tour or service while they’re in a particular destination.
What advice do you have for bloggers wishing to “make it” in the industry in terms of how to spread their time between traveling, blogging, writing, and interacting with social media? How can one person balance it all without sacrificing, let’s say, the quality of the content?
Find your unique selling point and hone it like crazy. You can not be amazing at everything, so pick one thing to really excel at – something that will make you stand out from the thousands of other travel bloggers. It will save you a ton of time – since you will be really focused on one thing not 10 things. It’s fine to be just “good” or even “OK” at some of the other stuff, as long as you’re really good at one thing.
The other thing is have digital detox days. You need it more than you realize. It’s easy to think that you have to be connected 24/7 and that your followers will miss you if you disappear for a few days. In reality they probably won’t and if they do well hey, they’ll be really happy that you’re back! It’s important to be real and remember that we’re travel bloggers – we’re not saving people’s lives.
You’re going to be speaking at TBEX Athens in October. Can you give our readers a sneak peek at what you’ll be talking about?
I will be sharing practical advanced Twitter techniques that can help you grow your followers and make Twitter your #1 source for client referrals. I realize that bloggers and the travel industry are already using Twitter so my presentation doesn’t cover the basic stuff, but the more advanced tips and techniques that most bloggers/travel industry professionals are too busy to investigate or implement. I’ve tested my presentation on a few bloggers already and they were really surprised at how much they learned given that they’re active Twitter users. That’s what I’m going for – really practical tips that bloggers and the travel industry can implement quickly to get better results in minutes a day!
Laurel Robbins is a social media time optimizer and Twitter aficionado with over 45,000 followers @Laurel_Robbins. She’s also the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an award-winning outdoor and adventure blog. When not tweeting or traveling, you can find her in the mountains, which is most weekends!
Hello fellow travel bloggers and readers!
Because TBEX Europe is coming up soon (October 23-25, 2014), we thought we’d highlight some of this year’s speakers that we’ve interviewed over here at Travel Writing 2.0 to celebrate the upcoming conference. This year’s lineup, which includes our very own Tim Leffel, is sure to be pretty amazing.
Click below to read the interviews we’ve done with some of this year’s TBEX Athens speakers:
Bret Love of Green Global Travel blog
David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity
Laurence Norah of Finding the Universe blog
Michael Collins of media consulting company Travel Media
In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing more interviews with the TBEX speakers, so make sure to check back regularly!
**And a big congratulations to Jessica Dawdy for winning our free TBEX Athens registration contest! You can connect with Jessica over on her blog Ways of Wanderers or on Twitter @waysofwanderers.
Tim & Kristin
To read more about the TBEX Europe conference, check out their homepage to see a list of speakers, workshops, trips, and get registered.
Nora Dunn is a former certified financial planner who is the editor of The Professional Hobo. She is also a freelance writer, and a regular contributor to Wise Bread, Transitions Abroad, and many organizations’ websites, newsletters, and blogs. She’s the author of How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World and runs a free course on traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way. See more on Nora here.
You’re known as an expert on making a living pursuing the location independent lifestyle and write a lot of articles about the intersection of travel, writing, and finance. How did you get to where you are now?
I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 in Toronto Canada, to embrace my dreams of full-time immersive travel. On a quest to “live” around the world, I usually camp out for at least a few months in most locations. Initially, between a desire to experience local life for longer periods of time (rather than passing through as a tourist), and a desire to keep my expenses low (whilst building my freelance writing career), I discovered how to get free accommodation around the world. I use a variety of modalities such as volunteering, couch surfing, house-sitting, and living on boats. (I wrote a book on it here.)
Now, seven years and a few dozen countries later, I’m still on the road, and I’m an international freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design. With this location independent income – along with travel hacking strategies like free accommodation and cheap transportation (with frequent flyer miles and mystery shopping) – I continue to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.
I admire you for so diligently keeping track of your income and expenses. How have both been going the past few years?
My expenses and income for 2013 were also sustainable, but both were much higher, due to a few costly tragedies, as well as having to support my partner. I haven’t published those figures yet, but I will do so shortly. Meanwhile, here’s what I did: 12 countries and 29,000 miles.
I focus a lot on cheap places to travel and live in the world, but you’ve managed to pack in a lot of places that are not perceived as a bargain. How do you make it work and still keep expenses low?
I’ve traveled and lived in some of the more expensive places in the world. Instead of looking for budget destinations, I’ve chosen to travel to places where there has been a free accommodation opportunity for me – which in turn, saved me over $63,000 in my first five years of traveling.
I’ve lived 6 months in Hawaii, 1.5 years in Australia, 1 year in New Zealand, I’ve traveled and lived around Europe, and I spent a few years on the Caribbean island of Grenada. None of these places are particularly cheap if you’re renting a place in a conventional way. But because I’ve largely had free digs – and the ability to shop and cook locally instead of being in the tourist/expat centers, my cost of full-time travel (as I’ve posted in detail) has been way less than than to live in one place.
However, I’ve also paid rent a few times, including in Grenada – where I spent $350-500/month for a furnished apartment. You can spend much more there, but it boils down to knowing some locals who can connect you, as eventually happened to me. The same thing happened in Australia; after volunteering for 7 months, I found a full house in the countryside to rent for less than $400/month. It was far from plush – but it did the trick.
I’m currently in Peru, where the cost of living is very very low. I’m staying at a retreat center, which is an expensive option, and paying less than $700/month. In buying local food and cooking in my kitchen, I would be hard-pressed to spend more than $1,000/month on living expenses here – and that includes a few indulgences too.
What advice you would give to bloggers, freelancers, or any other people who want to live a better life for less, on getting beyond the fear and anxiety that holds people back from cutting loose?
By traveling the world, and breaking free from the North American standards of living (and “requirements” of living), your expenses can go down. As an example, Panama and Costa Rica have become hotspots for expats and retiring Americans, which have in turn pushed the cost of living and real estate up almost disproportionately to the rest of Central America. However with less “stuff” to worry about (like expensive healthcare, and over-priced insurance policies, and of course the ever-present “Joneses” to keep up with), most Americans I spoke to in an expat community near Panama City where I was house-sitting said they still had a way lower cost of living than they ever could have managed living in the States. And if you want to stray just a wee bit further from the norm, you’ll find cheaper yet alternatives and places to live, along with a cheaper cost of living.
I co-authored a book called 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget; a creation from a site I contribute regularly to called WiseBread.com. It’s an entire site dedicated to living better for less money. There’s a large movement of people on this bandwagon, and with a dose of creativity and flexibility, anything is possible.
In 2006, I had no idea that full-time travel could actually cost less than $20,000/year, nor that I could find a way to sustain it with little more than my laptop and an internet connection. But once I made the commitment to a better life abroad, it was amazing the opportunities that came to me – opportunities that I finally had the flexibility and ability to jump on and try out.
After wandering for many years, you’re semi-settled right now in Peru. What are you working on?
After over seven years of transient wandering, I’m ready for a place that I can call mine (even if it’s rented), that I can use as a base for other travels, and also as a retreat to simply do my own thing. And Peru (specifically Pisac) resonates with me very much as a place I feel comfortable enough to call home, and yet exotic enough that I feel like I’m still traveling every time I leave the house!
I’ve got another e-book that just came out on my train journeys around the world, and I’m writing a book about working on the road to be published as part of Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide series.
Nora Dunn has been traveling in a financially sustainable way since 2007 and works as a blogger and freelance writer. See TheProfessionalHobo for regular updates and her free course. Follow her on Twitter here: @HoboNora.
Interview conducted in August 2014 by Tim Leffel, author of Travel Writing 2.0 and A Better Life for Half the Price.
Diana is the co-founder of The Food Travelist, a new blog dedicated to food cultures around the food. Not new to the culinary food and travel niche, Diana will be speaking at TBEX Cancun in September about building culinary food travel brands–it’s sure to be a great presentations. Enjoy our interview!
How did your blog,The Food Travelist, get its start? What was the inspiration?
My Co-Founder, Sue Reddel and I had a previous website (PoshPorts.com) that was more general in nature. Out of that we found that people were most interested in food and travel. We learned more about the culinary travel industry, earned our certifications as Certified Culinary Travel Professionals and decided to focus exclusively on this arena.
On your blog, you say that your mission is world peace through food. Could you elaborate on this a little bit more for us?
I believe that when people get to know one another, the barriers to understanding can be overcome. Food is our common ground and sharing a meal is a great way to get a conversation going. In fact, we wrote a chapter in Have Fork Will Travel, the World Food Travel Association Handbook, specifically about food and drink as communication.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned since you started blogging? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that nothing happens overnight, with few exceptions. It takes a lot of work, persistence and continued effort to make headway. I went to a conference recently where almost every blogger/speaker talked about how much they do without compensation. I wish I knew how difficult it is to get actual money from brands and sponsors. Everyone thinks that you work for free product or travel, which is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills.
Where do you see social media going in the next 5, 10 years? What advice would you give to bloggers who are just “starting out” and who don’t know much about using social media?
I think social media, like all technology is constantly evolving and changing. What may be the most awesome platform for you today may be useless in the future. Find out where your audience is and keep your dialogue going with them. You will start to see the changes in what they want as they are happening and not be caught off-guard if one platform or another ceases to be useful. Don’t expect things to stay the same, and if you’re starting out, keep that in mind.
You’re going to be speaking at TBEX Cancun 2014 in September. Can you give our readers a little taste of what you’ll be talking about?
Sure! I’m honored and thrilled to be speaking at TBEX. My topic is for people who are interested in culinary travel as a blogging niche. I’ll show them the ways they can capitalize on the boom in this area, whether they want to focus on a specific aspect such as the cuisine of a specific destination or add culinary highlights to their already existing blog. People are interested in learning about the food culture of different destinations, getting authentic recipes, and discovering tips on the best spots for local fare. And food photos are always fun.
You recently returned from a trip to Cuba. Tell us about some of the highlights from the trip!
It was an extraordinary trip for me. The people I met were absolutely amazing. We visited a church where our hosts cooked not one, but two meals for our group of 13 in addition to our guides and translators. The food was delicious, extremely simple to make, using mostly citrus marinade with garlic and few spices. Beans and rice are their everyday food, but they made sure we had meat at both meals, which I know was a big treat for them. It was humbling and exciting at the same time to watch them in the kitchen. There’s nothing quite like someone cooking the food of their culture that they hope you enjoy. It brings us all closer together.
Diana Laskaris is Co-Founder of FoodTravelist.com, which launched in 2014 as an online publication and network connecting food travelers around the world with brands, destinations and experiences. Recently expanded, Food Travelist will begin hosting global tasting events offline in the fall and launched #foodtravelchat on Twitter, which garners more than 4 million timeline impressions per week. Diana is an accomplished culinarian, a professional member of the James Beard Foundation, Les Toques Blanches Du Monde, and The World Gourmet Society. She is the Chicago Ambassador for the World Food Travel Association and an active philanthropist in the areas of hunger and food insecurity as well as food waste management.
Interview conducted in August, 2014 by Kristin Winet.