A Conversation with Erin Bender

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High-school sweethearts Erin and Josh decided to embark on a one-way journey around the world in 2012–and they haven’t stopped yet! Their blog, Travelwithbender.com, which started out as a way to communicate with friends and family, has steadily grown over the past two years into one of the premier family travel blogs. In our interview, Erin talks to us about blending her marketing background with Josh’s web design background, life lessons she’s learned on the road, and how they decided to create an app that helps keep readers up-to-date on all of their travels and posts. Enjoy!

Erin, you started the travel blog Travelwithbender.com in 2012. Tell us a little bit about this process and what the journey has been like so far in terms of blogging, traveling, etc. What did you have to learn in order to get started?

We decided late 2011 that we wanted to commence nomadic travel. Someone mentioned to me that I should write a blog so they could follow our adventures. I took a Facebook status poll of my family and friends on who would read it and after conclusive results I thought it sounded like a great idea. It would save me having to tell the same stories to my Mum, Dad, brothers, sisters, family and friends and it would be a great record for my kids when they got older.

One day while I was at a Chinese street festival in Malaysia I heard someone yell, “Bender!” I turned around bewildered, as a little lady ran towards me. She took a few breaths and then gushed, “I can’t believe it’s you. I’ve been following your blog since Hong Kong and now you are here!.” It was in the shocking moment that I thought; wow this is much bigger than just my friends. I checked my numbers and realized there were more strangers following my blog than people I knew. I changed my writing style to less personal and more informative and it’s been steadily growing every month.

I started reaching out to other bloggers, joined some Facebook groups and learnt that blogging was a huge thing, not just a personal online diary. Since then I have been learning and writing and travelling all at the same time. It’s one of the best jobs I have ever had and I love it. We have now been travelling for over 700 days and the blog is still going strong.

What’s been the most surprising life lesson you’ve learned about writing, travel, family, etc. since you started blogging?logo

These questions are always so hard for me to answer. I’ve learned so much, so what is the most surprising thing I’ve learned? I guess it really is just the fact that you can make blogging into a job. You can earn an actual income, you can receive free stays and sponsored activities. I never knew there was a whole side of blogging other then just the writing and reading. I’ve also found it surprising how well my marketing degree marries with running a blog, and even how much my husband’s web design and online marketing skills marries into it as well. It’s like our all previous jobs were leading up to this.

With regards to family travel, I’ve been surprised at my coping mechanisms. They say people who travel do it for something to do, not for nothing to do. There is so much involved in travelling with your family, from choosing destinations, finding accommodation, transport, food, nappies, etc. It’s been surprising to me to see how deep my resources really are.

You have a Travelwithbender app. What gave you the inspiration to create your own app, and how did you develop it?

iPhone-4S-black-3views-mockupMy husband has made apps before and enjoys making them. We made an Australian animal game for our kids when we noticed their accents were turning slightly American from the apps they were playing with.

When we thought about how we could reach our readers better, the app was a great idea. It seemed like a natural progression and helped take our blog to a new level of professionalism. We didn’t want to leave anyone out so built an iPhone and Android version. Josh utilized a development tool from a startup company based in Europe which made the development process fairly fast and didn’t cost too much (whatever that means).

What advice do you have for aspiring bloggers who aren’t sure how to get started?

We just wrote a new post on how to get started with a blog, you can read it here. I think the more important question is how to continue. Getting started is just a series of technical steps that are easy to complete, continuing is a passion, an understanding, a love affair with writing and photography and social interaction.

I find the key is deeply caring about what you’re writing. But more importantly is to have a clear purpose for creating a blog. Its an easy thing to overlook for newbies, but it will help determine what are the right steps – is the blog about making money, or a hobby or promoting a social cause? If a blog is primarily about making money, then it will need to be the focus front and centre. For us, we started the blog as a hobby and it has grown into a small business which are excited about building further.

There’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet about how to create and run a blog so it’s easy to get confused. Try to find 1 or 2 reliable mentors who can help guide you. But if your primary motivation is making money then invest in yourself and spend a little time and money on training to help get you where you want to be.

How do you see your income mix changing over the next 5 years? 10 years?

We are really working on building our residual income stream. As we continue our travels we would like to be less dependent on trading hours for dollars and better able our focus on our passions and helping others.

Our income mix has already changed a lot over the last 2 years and Josh is always working on new income streams and building up his team. So I have no idea how things are going to look in 2 years time let alone 10. But a few things are for sure, it will be residual in nature, it will be connected to the Internet and it will be fun and exciting. Our travel blog has never intended to be our primary income source and I’m not planning on changing that. It also means we don’t have to sacrifice quality in the name of making a quick buck and gives our readers a better experience.

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Erin & Josh have been travelling with their 4 & 5 year old since May 2012. Their journey has taken them from the jungles of Bali to the beaches of Thailand through the cities of Malaysia and then a giant leap to the other side of the world where they traversed the roads of the US, played in the cenotes of Mexico, discovered the ruins of Guatemala, walked the sacred grounds of Israel, hot-air ballooned in Turkey, road-tripped Southern Europe, survived the tube with a stroller in London and slid with sharks in Dubai. And they are still going! It’s an open-ended, unplanned, round-the-world trip discovering amazing places for kids that you can share by visiting their family travel blog, following them on Facebook, or catch them tweeting on Twitter.

Interview conducted in March, 2014 by Kristin Winet.

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