Adam Groffman is the voice behind Travels with Adam as well as a number of other sites (such as the popular My Gay Travel Guide). In our interview today, he talks about how his approach to blogging has changed over the years, what makes him unique, and offers some advice for new bloggers. Also, Adam wants us to know that he is giving away a trip for two people to Berlin! The trip includes flights from select USA cities and 4 nights accommodation at the Ku’Damm 101 design hotel. Enter here by Nov. 30th and enjoy our conversation!
In 2010, you left your job as a graphic designer to become a blogger. How has your approach to blogging changed over the past few years?
I started my blog out of a sense of guilt: I was quitting my job in the middle of the USA recession and felt pretty guilty about that so while I was backpacking across the world spending my entire life savings, I figured I should do something productive at the same time. I set up the blog as a place to start writing again (something I’d done in college but had lost sight of while working on my design career). Before I had the blog, I’d actually had my @travelsofadam Twitter account – mostly because I just loved social media. Blogging and social media were always passions of mine and when I started the blog, it was a chance to take my passion & interests to a new level.
These days blogging is still a passion but I’ve had to think more creatively and consider it as a business. I never intended it for it to become a business, but as the blog grew and my own interests changed from design to social media, it just seemed like a natural step. Plus it seemed like finally a good use for my Bachelors of Science in Communication.
I love your new web design! What recently inspired you to redesign the site?
Oh wow, thank you! The response to the new design has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m so happy about it. I’d had the previous design for over two years already and though that design had lots of great comments, I just knew it was time to change things up. Plus, as my blog has grown I’ve discovered the things that have interested me more and more – such as my small series of Hipster City Guides. I currently have 11 guides and there are two more in the work for this year. The new design puts a greater emphasis on the guides which I love producing and which people love reading.
With the advent of new travel startups like AirBNB, ridesharing and unique tours (food tours come to mind), I’ve noticed a trend in travel where travelers are looking for more special, more tailored, more memorable holidays. A trip to Rome is less about seeing the sights today than it is about experiencing Roman culture (and the food! — though of course a trip to Rome isn’t complete without a stop by the Trevi Fountain!). I think we can travel in more meaningful ways — ways that will make our trips more memorable rather than just a photo snapshot in front of the Colloseum. On my blog, I try to share about those unique experiences and share ways to achieve those same kinds of holiday memories — though of course every trip is different and every traveler is different.
What would you tell a loved one who wanted to become a travel blogger today?
Go for it — if it’s something you’re actually passionate about! Writing/blogging isn’t easy and can quickly become exhausting if it’s not a passion. Social media may be fun and easy for you as an individual, but as a brand it can be more tricky – you’ve got to really like it or else there’s really not much of a reason to do it.
You have another travel website, My Gay Travel Guide, along with Travels of Adam. How do you balance the two?
It’s hard work to manage two blogs! But I’ve got several friends and colleagues who are helping with MyGayTravelGuide.com and a small team of freelance writers and bloggers. I credit a lot of the success for that blog to the personal stories by David from lefashionisto.com and Sam from indefiniteadventure.com.
There’s no doubt there’s an effect but it’s up to the writer to determine whether it can negatively affect a story. I have the luxury of running a profitable website and a freelance business as a writer & marketer so I personally only join FAM trips and sponsored press trips when it’s most appropriate for the content that I actually want to produce. I don’t really want to be writing stories about African safaris or winter adventure holidays. I’m very particular when working with a tourism board or destination on a planned press trip. These days, it’s up to the writers AND the PRs to agree to and create press trips that are relevant for all parties involved. There’s no sense in an African safari company inviting me to join a trip because it’s not the content I know how to write or can produce, and I would never take the trip if it were offered to me for the very same reasons. It’s just about being smart and selective. Which is pretty much a key to success for many types of business endeavors.
Also, don’t forget! I’ve partnered with airberlin and VisitBerlin to give away a trip for two people to the greatest city in the world (hint: it’s Berlin!). Simply enter the contest before November 30 for your chance to win. The trip includes flights from select USA cities and 4 nights accommodation at the Ku’Damm 101 design hotel. Enter here: http://travelsofadam.com/contest/
Interview conducted in November 2014 by Kristin Winet.
Janice Waugh, the voice behind the Solo Traveler blog and the Solo Traveler’s Handbook, talks to me in our interview today about how she went from personal blog to public community–and where she hopes to go from here. Enjoy!
Janice, you started Solo Traveler after realizing that your personal blog was quickly going public. After that shift, how did you (or did you?) change your approach to blogging?
Solo Traveler has evolved over the years. At first I wrote all the content. Then I started the Pic of the Week so that readers could share their travel experiences as well. Then Tracey came on board as editor and added her voice to the mix. And with her involvement, we had the resources to manage more contributions from readers and the Destination of the Week became a regular feature of the blog. My approach to blogging is about building community. About giving readers a sense of ownership of the blog through real participation. I think this is well reflected on the blog’s content.
How did you become a location-independent entrepreneur? What did it take to get there?
I have been an entrepreneur my entire life. Being a blogger is just the latest manifestation of my entrepreneurial life. Blogging is a full time gig for me. As long as I have my computer or tablet and WiFi access, I can do my work from anywhere.
Where do you see your blog headed in the next 5 years? 10?
Solo Traveler serves a very broad demographic – from people in their twenties to people in the seventies. But the main writers are Tracey and myself – we’re from a very specific demographic. Over the next few years I would like to get more writers on board so that we can better serve all solo travelers.
What would you tell a loved one who wanted to become a travel blogger today?
To make travel blogging a career you need to focus on building a community of loyal readers. This means being authentic and transparent, putting yourself out there and being thoughtful about your work. But there is also the business side of blogging. It takes creativity, diligence, discipline and a lot of time.
On your blog, you advocate for traveling solo. Do you think that couples and even groups can adopt this same mentality and approach to the traveling life?
Everyone can take the time to travel solo at some point. And, in my opinion, everyone should. Traveling solo presents opportunities and experiences that simply don’t happen when you’re traveling with someone else. It also allows you the time to discover, or rediscover, your own interests and rhythm. Without being concerned about the needs of others you can learn who you are when no one is looking.
Tell us about writing The Solo Traveler’s Handbook. What was that experience like for you?
I had intended this to be a leisurely process but then I was contacted by the Smithsonian to speak there and I suddenly had a deadline. What a wonderful deadline to work to. Writing the book was enjoyable but it is far more satisfying to receive the comments from those who have read it. While those who already travel solo have liked the book it’s the newbies who really get the most out of it. It’s very satisfying to hear from them and know that it has made a difference in their lives.
Janice Waugh is author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook, publisher of Solo Traveler Blog, the blog for those who travel alone and moderator of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook with over 70,000 fans. She has spoken at The Smithsonian and elsewhere on solo travel and at a number of industry events on travel blogging. She has been quoted in many media outlets including CNN, the Oprah Blog, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times and USA Today. You can follower her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. She is also founder of Full Flight Press, publisher of The Traveler’s Handbooks series.
Interview conducted in November 2014 by Kristin Winet.
Shannon O’Donnell is an advocate for grassroots volunteering and slow travel. In addition to being recognized as Traveler of the Year by National Geographic last year, she recently published The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and writes for her blog, A Little Adrift. In our conversation today, Shannon and I discuss her consulting and public speaking work and her passion for inspiring young people to travel and become global citizens. Enjoy!
Shannon, you were named National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year in 2013. Congratulations! What did it take to receive this prestigious award?
Thank you! It was such an extreme honor to receive from a magazine that I have read for more than two decades. The Travelers of the Year program focuses on individuals who travel with passion and purpose, and NatGeo honored me for the work I am doing to promote grassroots level travel and tourism. My Grassroots Volunteering site looks to encourage ethical independent volunteering opportunity alongside the chance for travelers to find and support local organizations—restaurants, social enterprises, boutiques, tour companies—that are creating positive change in their communities.
You are a former actress. Have you been able to bring any of that part of your life into traveling and blogging? If so, how?
I’ve always felt that my acting training has benefited my life in intangible ways—from an ease with people in unfamiliar situations to networking at travel industry events. I have a strong background in improv, for years that was a focus of my training, and it’s that training that has helped me feel confident moving my travel blog success into speaking to students at universities and high schools. After honing a narrative about myself as an actress in LA—that took work to find a story arch about characters and my role in the industry—I was ready to bring that same idea of having a public persona to blogging. Though my site, A Little Adrift, is an authentic outlet for my thoughts and ideas, I also think successful blogs take this a step further and the bloggers create and follow a narrative line within their own story that makes them compelling to readers and their community. Years navigating the overwhelming sea of other red-headed actresses in Los Angeles taught me how to form a narrative voice that stands out.
Since you don’t run ads or sponsored content on your site, how do you make traveling full-time possible? Is it primarily through public speaking and training?
Speaking at universities about travel is part of my income, but the majority of my funds come from online marketing and running social media for small businesses. The breakdown is about 30% from speaking and freelance traveling writing and 70% from online consulting. When I left to travel in 2008, 100% of my income came from my online work, and I was able to work from the road for years with this income and travel for the better part of every year.
How do you see your income mix changing in the next few years?
My income will likely remain at roughly this ratio; I enjoy the consulting work and generally have a good mix of speaking and writing every month that fulfills the travel and creative side of my life. I have long found that it was easier for me to gain well-paying expertise by focusing on consulting work versus trying to make an income from my blogging.
My best advice is to decide up front if you are building a business or a blog—they are not necessarily the same thing, and the way you build them is likely a different path. I offered up some ideas here for bloggers on how I built my online community, it really came down to identifying what outcome was most important to gain from the blog; for me, that was building a community of like-minded travelers interested in culture, food, and language overseas.
Oh, and I wish I had taken everyone’s advice to start a newsletter list immediately. This direct communication with my community is one of my most valuable ways to communicate and I wish I had built that community sooner!
Shannon O’Donnell is a long-term traveler on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She published The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and founded GrassrootsVolunteering.org to help travelers connect with ethical volunteering and travel opportunities. She also founded the award-winning travel site A Little Adrift to share stories of culture and inspire others to travel. She regularly speaks to students at universities and high schools around the country, striving to ignite in the next generation a passion and interest in global citizenship and travel.
Interview conducted in November, 2014 by Kristin Winet.
Stephanie, you manage the blog Twenty-Something Travel. What originally inspired you to start it? What has that journey been like for you?
I started Twenty-Something Travel over 5 years ago, partially as a personal project and partially as a way to show other twenty-somethings that long-term travel is possible. At the time I was living at home, saving money and planning my own year-long trip though Asia, Australia and Europe.
At that point I never thought that blogging and writing would become my career. My whole writing career so far has basically been an exercise in “how can I get away with this.”
What experience did you have with writing before starting your blog? What tools do you think new bloggers really need to hone in their early years?
I’ve always loved to write first and foremost. I majored in English in college and spent a long time honing my writing analytical skills while composing essays on Katherine Porter and David Lodge. I often call myself one of the few English majors who is actually working in her field!
In all honesty though, I do think writing skills are very important when it comes to blogging. You want to be able to convey experiences clearly and to connect emotionally with your audience,. Bad writing is so distracting and it puts a barrier between you and the reader.
In one of your posts, “How I Make Money While Traveling,” you say that “I think of myself less and less as a person who makes money by traveling, and more as a person who is lucky enough to have a job that allows me to travel.” Can you tell us a little bit more about that distinction? What’s your income mix like now?
I get a lot of emails from people asking me “How can I make money by traveling?” The truth is, you just can’t. Nobody is going to pay you simply to waltz around the world and have adventures. Unfortunately I think that is a very idealized image that a lot of blogs present.
If you could see what’s going on behind the scenes of most successful blogs, the reality would be less glamorous. Yes there is travel, sometimes really amazing travel, but there is a lot of really mundane stuff going on as well: conference calls, overflowing inboxes and hours and hours spent sprawled on the couch, typing away. Travel isn’t my job, writing is my job and travel is a fortunate bonus.
What do you wish you’d known about blogging when you started?
Honestly, I wish I had the forethought NOT to name my blog Twenty-Something Travel. Now that I am about to turn 30, it’s becoming a bit of a branding issue. I think it’s important to look at the long term picture even when you are just starting out. At 25 I had no idea I would still be writing on the same website, yet here I am.
I have to ask: What’s it like being married to another travel blogger?
It’s pretty great! It’s nice to have someone who just gets it. Get the weird hours, the erratic income, the obsession with plane tickets and the inability to sit still. It’s also nice that we have our own separate websites and projects but we can still collaborate occasionally. A good mix of support and autonomy.
Now I sound like I’m bragging, but really, I highly recommend everyone marry another travel blogger. Or failing that, someone really, really rich.
Now that you’re just turned the big 3-0, what’s the future of Twenty-Something Travel hold for you?
Ha. Well as I noted above, it does present something of a branding issue, which I’m still trying to figure out. In the past year I’ve brought on two more writers, Jessica Dawdy and Kay Rodriguez who are both terrific and provide very different twenty-something perspectives.
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 her book, 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.