Shelly Rivoli started her website, Travels with Baby ten years ago (hard to believe!). Since then, she’s changed a lot of diapers–on four continents, in fact–and learned a lot about traveling with babies and small children along the way. In our interview today, Shelly tells us a little bit about getting her blog off the ground and why you have to let go of the mantra “revise, revise, revise” when blogging. Enjoy!
Shelly, you started Travels with Baby ten years ago! What initially inspired you to start the site? What has the journey been like for you?
These days, starting a website or a blog is often the first thing people think of doing if they have a special interest, but at the time, I was just looking at the bigger picture of getting a book published. I figured that having a website to help promote the book, whenever and however it came to be, would be important. With a little market research, it seemed like “Travels with Baby” was a good working title for the book, and I was able to buy the domain for a modest sum from a mom who’d been unable to use it.
TravelswithBaby.com actually became a great research tool early on. I found that the more information I shared on the site, the more parents would find it and get in touch with me about their particular situations. There were only a handful of websites related to family travel at that time, so pretty much anyone searching for information about flying with a baby, for example, would end up at TravelswithBaby.com. Those were the days!
It finally dawned on me that I might be able to make money from the website itself, whether I finished the book or not. Fortunately, I was able to do both.
How did you get your blog off the ground and begin to diversify yourself?
I didn’t start the blog until 2007, when the first edition of Travels with Baby was published. It started out completely separate from the site with a blogspot URL and didn’t look anything like it because Blogger only had a handful of templates and options to choose from. Since I already had a website full of information and advice, I only planned to use the blog platform to help promote the book with one weekly tip that would be syndicated in Amazon Daily. I was hoping I could stick it out for one year, but it’s still going—and it’s finally part of TravelswithBaby.com.
What advice would you give to someone near and dear to you who wanted to start a blog?
Do your research first. It’s easy to get caught up in why you think your blog will find an audience that cares, and it’s easier than ever to get a great looking blog up and running in no time. But there are realistically going to be dozens of blogs already going on the same topic you have in mind, especially if that’s travel. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother starting your own blog, though. Just take a look at the blogs most similar to what you have in mind, then think long and hard about what will make yours different, and what will motivate people to follow you beyond reading a post or two that help them planning one specific trip.
You’ve changed diapers on four continents (you are amazing). Can you tell us a little bit about why was traveling with your babies was important to you?
In the very beginning, just getting out the front door and to the pediatrician’s office on time for an appointment could be overwhelming. But little by little we realized that each time we got of the house together, for a hike or a picnic or just to visit friends, we had a great time. We flew to visit family, camped, and took a couple of road trips. By the time our first daughter was 7 months old, we were in Thailand and having the best trip of our lives so far.
What should parents keep in mind if they want to travel with their young children?
A lot of people think travel will be easier with children once they are past the baby and toddler phase, but that’s not necessarily true. Kids get used to what they get used to, so by starting them out with long flights and car rides early on, they can be incredibly patient flying overseas as toddlers, for example.
It also helps to teach them early on that the adventure begins the moment you leave home, not when you finally at long last arrive at a hotel. Instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” they’ll be asking, “So where are we now?”
I had to ask myself the book vs. blog question often right after I started the blog. After all, I wanted people who saw my blog posts on Amazon to buy the new book, not think they could get all the same tips from my blog for free! Of course, that all seems hilarious in retrospect.
What took me years to make peace with about blogging is that you can’t take your time and revise, revise, revise—or you will never get a new post online! It’s the complete opposite of how I was taught to write, and I still want to bite my nails every time I press the Publish button because I know there could be typos in there I just can’t see, and I always know in the back of my mind that it could be better if I spent more time on it.
Writing a guidebook gives me the luxury of more time, more revisions, and the help of a dedicated copyeditor. The great thing about working on a book and blog at the same time is that I don’t have to wait months or years to feel like I’ve “finished” a project, and I can get input from blog readers and even field questions about sections I’m working on for a guidebook while it’s in progress.
Shelly Rivoli has traveled with her husband and very young children by airplane, elephant, subway, train, cruise ship, taxi, and long tail boat, and she has the distinction of having changed diapers on four continents. Her Travels with Baby website, blog, and guidebooks, have received many awards, including the Lowell Thomas Bronze in Guidebooks for her second edition Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. She recently started a second blog focused on travel with school-age children at www.familytravel411.com. She hangs her hats as author, blogger, and mother of three in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Interview conducted in October, 2014 by Kristin Winet.
Geraldine DeRuiter is the voice behind the Everywhereist, consistently ranked as one of the best travel blogs out there. In our interview today, Geraldine and I discuss how she learned the mechanics of blogging, why she doesn’t take sponsored trips, and what advice she has for traveling with a spouse (spoiler: it references a classic 1980s movie). Enjoy!
Geraldine, you started your blog, the Everywhereist, after you started traveling with your husband. How did you “get your feet wet” in blogging? What did you have to learn when you first started?
I had actually been blogging professionally for a little while, on behalf of the company that employed me. So I had a little bit of background in the mechanics of blogging, but I only knew how to write for other people. I hadn’t developed my own voice. That was one of the most important things I had to learn when I started the Everywhereist – what my personal style and tone of writing were. It’s something I’m still working on.
The nice part about blogging is that even the people who are so-called experts have only been doing it for a little while – so even if you are just starting out, you aren’t that far behind.
If someone near and dear to you wanted to start a travel blog today, what would you tell this person?
I’m actually asked this question so often, that I wrote a blog post of tips for beginning bloggers! But the most important thing I’d tell that person is this: write about what you love. Because creating a successful blog takes a lot of patience and luck – an audience won’t show up overnight. Most successful blogs out there were unsuccessful for years. So you need to be internally motivated. You need blog because you love what you are doing, and what you are writing about.
You’ve said that you don’t like to take “freebies” because you believe it would separate you from your readers. Can you often tell the difference between blogs that are highly subsidized by free trips and blogs that aren’t?
Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t – it depends entirely on the writer and how they treat the situation. But I know that I, personally, could not be objective if I was taking a trip for free. I’d be too excited and thrilled that it was free – I love free stuff.
I once played a ski-ball game at an arcade, and the coin got jammed in the machine, and so I just got to play game after free game of ski-ball. IT WAS AMAZING. To this day, my husband jokes that it was the happiest day of my life. And it sort of was. So I know that I can’t be objective – but lots of other people can be.
Related to the last question, what advice do you have for bloggers wishing to “make it” in the industry but don’t have the financial capabilities to pay for their trips themselves?
I would highly recommend that they look at other successful bloggers who do take free or sponsored trips, and see how they do it. Some folks feel like a paid endorsement, and their blogs read like commercials. But others – Pam Mandel and Gary Arndt come to mind – are able to maintain the integrity and honesty of their blogs and their writing voice, even while taking sponsored trips.
I’d also bloggers to reach out to sponsors who are a good fit for them – think about your demographic, and which sponsors would want to reach those consumers. One great way is to look at products that you actually use, and start with those companies.
Once you are able to secure a sponsorship: make sure you know what the company or organization expects of you beforehand. And be honest to them about what you are willing to deliver. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll be comprising your values. Oh, and be sure to disclose to your audience that a trip was paid for – I find that readers appreciate it when you are up-front about those things.
How do you spread your time between traveling, blogging, writing, and interacting with social media? How can one person balance it all?
Ha! Come on – my life is a piece of cake. I get to travel around the world with my amazing husband, take photos, and blog about it. And I have an amazing audience of readers who actually seem to care about what I write! It’s crazy.
I’m incredibly, absurdly fortunate – Rand and I are in a financial position where I can devote my time to the blog rather than try to pull together freelance gigs or a full-time job. Honestly, I wake up every day trying to suss out how, exactly, I got so lucky. I definitely don’t deserve this much awesome in my life. It’s more than any reasonable person could ask for.
Lastly, what tips do you have for traveling full-time with a spouse or significant other?
It’s the same piece of advice I have for traveling with anyone, and for life in general: Be excellent to each other. (Thanks, Bill and Ted.)
Geraldine DeRuiter is the founder of Everywhereist.com, a travel blog for the accidentally adventurous. Her blog has been featured on TIME, Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler, and other reputable sites (this is consistently surprising to her). She is currently working on a travel memoir that will be due out next spring. In the meantime, she’s stalling. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Interview conducted in October 2014 by Kristin Winet.
When Tim told me about another content marketing website and suggested I take a look at it, my first thought was this: Oh no, I do not need another site I have to keep up with. As a one-woman team, I can hardly keep up with all the ones I already have!
But now, I think I’m a convert. Check out Contently.
For one, my current portfolio page is really, really uninteresting. It’s a list of titles and publications with clickable hyperlinks or downloadable pdfs. No pretty pictures, no scrolling option, just, well, a list. I guess I was ready for an upgrade.
Secondly, Contently is really cool–it’s a free portfolio site for showcasing “your story;” i.e., your freelancing life online. You input a number of urls for sites you’ve written for and Contently scans them and uploads the material it finds attributed to you. Then, you get a customizable url that’s easy to remember. Tim’s, for instance, is https://timleffel.contently.com/ and mine–which I just made yesterday–is https://kristinwinet.contently.com/.
What do you think, fellow travel writers and bloggers? Have you used Contently? Got any other recommendations I might have missed?
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.