A Conversation with Shelly Rivoli

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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 travelswithbabygreat 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?”

familytravelHow does writing a guidebook differ from writing your blog?

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.

An Interview with Tammilee Tillison

tammileeI recently met the woman behind Tammilee Tips after the TBEX North America conference, when we were on a post-trip together in lovely car-free Holbox Island, off the Yucatan Peninsula. After fishing, snorkeling, and sharing golf cart taxis, I asked her for some travel blogging advice to share with the Travel Writing 2.0 readers.

We both attended the 2014 TBEX North America conference, where there are a lot of hobbyist bloggers making almost no money (so far). I’m sure you were one of those once upon a time, since we all have to start from somewhere. How did you get from there to the great level of financial success you enjoy now?

Going from making no money to making a living blogging takes a couple of things. First it takes time. You have to invest time into your blog. Time spent creating amazing content, building a client list and working your blog as a business. Second you have to focus on the blog as a business. If you treat your blog as a hobby it will continue to be a hobby. If you treat it as a business and focus each day on creating a future than you are moving in the right direction.

We have spent years cultivating an audience, working our email list and creating a growing business. It has taken time, energy, lack of sleep and more than one breakdown but it has all been worth it.

You have the kind of social media numbers that make people either drool or go “WTF?” As in 27,000 Facebook fans, 94,000 Twitter followers and 32,000 Pinterest followers. How did you build up such a huge following?

Over the past six years I have really focused on building an audience of readers who want to see what we produce. Each social channel brings in a different type of readers. Twitter readers want info fast and quickly. Pinterest followers want to be in awe of our photos and Facebook readers want a bit of both. The biggest part of growing the following has been using each social channel daily and interacting with our audience. Finding out what they want to see and then cultivating that content.

Many freelancers who cover multiple subjects say that travel is their loss leader (but most fun) category, while they make tammileefoodtheir real money from something like business writing or tech writing. How much of your income is travel-related and how much comes from other subjects?

A portion of our income is travel related. It is not our largest income producer but it is growing. Our income is diversified between ads, product placement and sponsorships. The travel content produces an avenue for each of these. It is hard to say specifically how much of a part of the income it is because it all works together.

Let’s face it, there are a zillion family travel bloggers out there and plenty of women doing product reviews. How have you managed to separate yourself from the pack?

I think we separated ourselves from the pack by being ourselves and not following what other people thought we should do. We don’t have kids and I am a vegetarian. We blog about our life and travels. Our readers know that we will be honest and share the good, bad and sometimes ugly parts of life. Our best advice is to be yourself and not try and copy what others are doing. If we all did exactly what everyone else is doing it would be a pretty boring internet. Being unusual, funny, random or just quirky is great. You have to showcase what is amazing about you and your travels. What makes people want to read your posts?

Where do you see things headed in the next two or three years for bloggers? How do you see your income sources evolving?

Looking forward over the next few years I am excited to see the amazing things that will happen for bloggers. When we started blogging 6 years ago people looked at us like we were crazy. They had no idea what a blogger was and thought I had lost my mind to venture into this arena. Now when you say you are a blogger people get it or try and get it and don’t think you are losing your mind. I think the future is going to hold endless possibilities as long as we continue to try and innovate and produce great content.

I do worry that there is already a large sense of entitlement that I am hearing a lot about from PR reps and industry leaders. They worry that bloggers now think that they walk on water and don’t have to produce amazing content. I think we have to always remember where we started from and know that the trajectory can always end if we don’t do our best work.
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I’ll see you again in Athens when you’ll be on stage as a TBEX speaker. Tell us what you’ll be talking about and give us a few of your favorite related tools.

In Athens I will be speaking about the business of blogging. I want to help other bloggers understand that blogging can be a business and you can make a living doing it. While it does take a lot of work it can be absolutely amazing. Who else gets to travel the world and take beautiful pictures for a living?

One of my favorite tools right now is Co-Scheduler. It is a life saver for scheduling out social shares and managing your editorial calendar. Along with that, having an editorial calendar is a huge time saver. Knowing what you plan to write about each month ahead of time makes it easier to pre-schedule out posts and help minimize writers block.

Our session is going to be jam packed with a ton of tips, tricks and tools to making blogging a business and getting it done every day.

Tammilee Tillison runs the popular lifestyle and travel blog Tammilee Tips along with her husband.

Interview conducted in October, 2014 by Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Winet.

A Conversation with Geraldine DeRuiter

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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 eveWAS 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.

Contently: The Portfolio Site You’ve Been Missing

ContentlyLogoHighResWhen 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/.

That’s it!

The good?

  • The visual appearance of the portfolio is beautiful. It’s pretty simple: a lot of white space, clean, sans serif fonts, tiled images with titles, a feature photo, a teaser, and a list of social media shares, Facebook likes, and Tweets. Click on any tile to go directly to the article Also, Contently color-codes the backgrounds of all tiles associated with one publication, so it’s easy to see which articles go with which publication. Also, the layout is really nice for scrolling and “getting the big picture” of who you are as a writer.contentlyscreenshot
  • It’s really easy to “scan” for new articles to add–just click on the link on the left-hand side that says “Check publications for more stories” and it will add anything that you’ve written since the last time you updated your site.
  • It’s really fun to see, at-a-glance, how many people have liked, shared, or Tweeted your posts! (Could be good, too, for pitching new publications or applying for press trips).

The bad?

  • The main problem I noticed using Contently is that it didn’t pick up all of my articles. This could be for two reasons: One, not all the sites I’ve written for were included in the list of options (even though you can manually type in urls to search, it didn’t seem to pick up some sites), and two, though I changed my name after I got married last year (and updated it in most of the places I’ve written for), I’m not sure Contently knew what to do with those updated posts because it didn’t include posts written before I changed my name. Basically, I’m just not sure how to get Contently to pick up and archive both names. I can go in and manually add all of the ones that didn’t show up….but, wow, that sounds like a lot of work….
  • If you do a lot of work for print publications and magazines, you’ll have to upload pdfs of all of your articles if you want to include them.
  • If you include your own blog or portfolio site as one of the places you write for, Contently will include a bunch of random pages (for instance, when I did mine, it created articles for my “About Me” page, my “CV” page, etc.). You can go in and delete them, but it was kind of annoying.

The ugly?

  • There really isn’t any–Contently is super sleek and I love the layout.

What do you think, fellow travel writers and bloggers? Have you used Contently? Got any other recommendations I might have missed?

Kristin

An Interview with Colleen Lanin

travelmamasYou’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!

Where do you see your income mix going in the next 5-10 years as digital media continues to grow?Travel_Mamas_Reviews_2

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?

Travel-Mamas-Guide-JPG-from-designer-front-onlyIt 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.”

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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.