A Conversation with Dave Thompson

Dave Thompson was perhaps one of the first travel bloggers out there. He started his site, Dave’s Travel Corner, almost 15 years ago–and it’s still going strong! Today, he talks to us about the evolution of his site, what else he does to break up his day, and what advice he has for making income off of travel blogs. Enjoy!

You started Dave’s Travel Corner after a life-changing trip to Nepal. Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to start your site and how has it evolved (aesthetically, financially, in terms of focus, content, etc.) over the past 15 years?

The site was directly inspired as a result of that trip to Nepal. I had only been out of the country twice prior to this trip – to Canada and a short trip to Costa Rica. It was a trip that I met a number of very interesting people – one of which seemed to try everything at least once. I had never been around someone like that, and he encouraged me to truly go outside of my comfort zone and make new experiences for myself.

The site started out as a part of another website until 1999 (common in the early days of the internet) at which point I registered the domain name, www.davestravelcorner.com and moved all the content over. It has been called Dave’s Travel Corner since day one. My first actual blog entry on the site using a “blogging based software” was in 2005.

Like many travel blogs today (and there are thousands), my site made no money for a number of years. It was born out of my passion to write and my newfound passion for travel. In the early days, several travel startups found me and I earned income from writing content for them. It wasn’t until 8 or 9 years into it that I started attracting advertisers. I never really sought them out – rather they found me. Today the site is entirely supported via advertising revenue.

This year we have made big upgrades to the site. Until recently the site was a mix of various software platforms, was hosted on an extremely slow and old server – and did not present the best experience for users. We built a dedicated server, moved the site over, converted much of it into WordPress and are in the process of upgrading the rest of the site.

What kind of writing and photography experience did you have before you became a full-time blogger?

All my writing prior to starting the site was personal – poetry and a journal which I ultimately put online in the early 1990’s as a personal website (not related to my travel site). My initial photography was basic at best – I took a photography class in high school and within ten years all the processing techniques I had learned about film were no longer being used on a widespread basis! Technology has certainly changed over the past 15 years in regards to cameras and I’ve adapted by upgrading my own camera’s over time.

You need a decent camera – lens quality is really important for excellent shots; of course it certainly helps to travel so you put yourself in front of interesting and diverse subject matter.

What advice could you give to our readers out there who are just starting their own travel blogs and would like to make some money doing it?

If you are serious about making money – you will need to treat your travel blog as a business rather than a hobby. This may mean compromising how you would ideally build your blog versus what will make you money. In regards to online advertising – it is a balance between ads and content – you must maintain good content to maintain good readership yet at the same time you don’t want to overwhelm your site with ads (affiliate or otherwise) as you will lose the interest of your audience.

Evaluate your strengths – determine what you really enjoy doing and then write about it. Create something that people want to be a part of – whether it is beautiful photography, in depth information about a specific region, how to’s about certain types of travel or useful travel advice based upon personal experiences.

Embrace social media – interact and reach out to other sites similar to yours – create partnerships with these sites, whether it is for sharing content or building interest from advertisers based upon “power in numbers.”

Network – both online and face to face. This means joining organizations that promote the interests of travel writers or bloggers such as the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU), North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), and the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), among others.

Having been in the blogging industry since it was very young, where do you see your career as a travel writer being five years from now? How will your income mix change and what are you doing to continue adapting to the changing media landscape?

Good question! I’m optimistic that I will be making more of my income from travel writing – as that is my first love. There needs to be additional revenue streams (as well as a greater diversity of revenue streams) from the site besides straight advertising – a couple opportunities I am looking at are writing a niche eBook (travel and or wine related), using my photographs to provide an income source (stock photography sites), and creating a mailing list for additional advertising revenue. I’m also looking at partnering with other sites to collectively build interest by numbers – whether it is for advertisers or creating interest from tourism boards.

All types of income is great of course but in my opinion the best income in the world is passive – where income is made without you needing to directly work for it on a regular basis.

In addition to Dave’s Travel Corner, what other kinds of work do you do to mix up your day?

The travel site takes up a majority of my time – either the actual travel, or creating the content. However, I also founded the Napa Wine Project in 2006 – my mission is to visit, taste with and review all wineries/commercial wine producers in the Napa Valley, California. To date I’ve visited and reviewed more than 700 of these! So a fair amount of my time, depending on the time of year is spent working on this project. I also give tours of Napa based on my very unique perspective of the valley – but this is seasonal – usually part time from May through the end of October. A friend and I run a very tiny Internet Service Provider – and some of my time is spent dealing with some day to day matters relating to that business.

I heard you were recently admitted into the coveted Traveler’s Century Club for 100+ countries or territories visited. What did achieving that recognition feel like for you? What have been some of the top places you’ve visited on this list, and why?

It is just a number yet is a number that represents a significant amount of travel, effort and enjoyment – so it felt really great to join this organization. However, for me the real eye opener came after traveling extensively to a variety of destinations. As a result, I gained perspective (the most important word in travel) on the world, its varied landscapes, people, their cultures, experiences and food.

Some of my top experiences are visiting Petra and Wadi al Mujib in Jordan, climbing and trekking in the Himalayas and the Andes, visiting the Desert of the Empty Quarter in Oman and Yemen, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiking to Lago 69 in Peru and going on safari several times in sub Saharan Africa. I will carry memories with me for the rest of my life about these places and experiences – and these are more important to me than things, or fancy hotel stays – which are nice but don’t really stand out in my mind long term compared to experiences. Plus it is so much more enjoyable to sit down with friends and share experiences!

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Dave Thompson is the founder of Dave’s Travel Corner.  He began Dave’s Travel Corner in late 1996 as a result of of a life-changing trip to Nepal in which he trekked near Everest Base Camp. He began writing a journal while he was on the trip and it was the notes from this journal that became the foundation for Dave’s Travel Corner.

Interview conducted in December, 2012 by Kristin Mock.

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