Travel blogger Jonny Blair left his hometown of Bangor one day and has been on the road ever since. His odd jobs, writing, and blogging has allowed him to backpack through all seven continents, and he’s got the crazy stories to prove it. Today, Jonny talks to us about carving out a niche and connecting with readers. Enjoy!
Jonny, what inspired you to leave Northern Ireland ten years ago to start traveling and then blogging?
Honestly, I’ve marked that moment as the day I got sent home from work early due to catching a bad case of foot and mouth disease–that was back in 2002. Life was going nowhere–I was working in a local butchery and shop and hanging out with the same friends all the time. I needed a change. That was it. I headed first to England to study, then backpacked round Europe, North America, China and Russia. Soon I wanted more, so I hit Australia, Africa, Antarctica and South America and somehow ended up on a crazy journey around the globe. I’m currently in the Middle East with plans to hit 100 countries by the end of 2014. So 2003 was when I left Northern Ireland, and 2007 was when I started my online travel blog (more below).
What led you to start your blog and what did you have to learn about digital media in order to get it up and running?
I was backpacking in Toronto in 2007 and I met two English guys who had travel blogs and I had a look at their blogs and thought “I should start one!” So I did. At first I just typed it up in e-mails and then added photos. My first proper post was about backpacking in Toronto. I then started writing about my wider travels (2003 – 2007) which took me to places like Belarus, Iceland, China and New Zealand. Within a year I had about 100 travel posts on my site. At the start I used blogspot/blogger so it was easy to set up. Then I moved to WordPress. Then, finally, I self-hosted and bought my own domain when things started to take off for me. A few fellow travel bloggers helped me out with regards to the set up and all the digital stuff. To be honest, I’m pretty useless at computers, but I’m strong in writing stories and I have a passion for people, places, and culture. Hopefully that shines through.
On your blog, Don’t Stop Living, you say that you have the longest running one-man travel guide to all seven continents. Tell us a little bit about that claim to fame.
Having started my travel blog in 2007, I’ve been blogging longer than prominent travel bloggers like Nomadic Matt, Wandering Earl and Johnny Ward. But those guys are a lot more clued up on the marketing side of things. So I have the advantage of being around for longer, having travelled to all seven continents, all funded through hard work and my blog. It’s a one man travel blog: I don’t do guest posts and I don’t . Even the likes of Gary Arndt (Everything Everywhere) has an assistant. I don’t. It’s just me, my travels, and my wisdom. I’m happy with the ways things have gone since 2007.
If someone close to you wanted advice on how to make a living doing travel blogging, what advice would you give to this person?
I don’t think there’s a secret other than working hard. At the start you need to be doing everything yourself, be a hard worker, keep traveling, and basically just let your passion shine through. Working hard is probably the most important attribute to have. It’s also important to mention that in the last 10 years that I’ve been traveling, I haven’t been making a living online the whole time. I’ve worked in ice cream shops, in bars, in schools, on boats, in farms, in PR offices etc. I’ve had a load of other jobs too. Thankfully now, I’m out backpacking around the world and working online as I go.
I also don’t think I’m in any way an expert at this, as it’s taken me 6 years to get to the level where I’m earning money through my blog, so it definitely takes time. I don’t want to pretend it’s all glamour, as trust me, it’s not. You’ve got to have patience.
One thing for sure you must also do is engage with your readers. Think about what they might like to read about – advice on visas, crossing borders, saving money, essential items to take etc. And get off the beaten track! Nobody cares about the top 5 things to do in London anymore. Write proper entertaining and useful travel advice, like how to get a visa for Suriname, how to cross the Paraguay – Argentina border and why you should always carry toilet roll. Carve a niche for yourself.
You can’t start a revolution sitting in a rocking chair. Get a backpack on and see the world. Then tell everyone about it.
You’ve done a bit of freelancing work for blogs and other sites for the travel industry. What’s it take to become a freelancer and how did you get your feet wet in the industry?
I have always had a background in media, journalism, and writing. As a teenager I wrote for, edited, and sold a football magazine. At university I was a radio DJ and column writer for a magazine. Then, I worked in PR in London, working alongside journalists. My passion has always been in writing. Combining that with travel is the perfect dream job for me. In the last year or so a load of other sites have asked me for guest articles and to contribute. The extra income certainly helps me on my way! At present I do a lot of guest posting, I provide itineraries, and I also provide online travel advice. I’m also working closely with tour operators in a few countries, most recently Tanzania, North Korea and Jordan. Advertising and affiliate marketing are also two of my latest sources of income.
Again it’s hard work but I love it. I couldn’t do it without my laptop, a balcony with a sunset, some Wi Fi and a beer or a coffee!
Jonny Blair is a globetrotting Northern Irishman. His journey has taken his to far off places like Ethiopia, Antarctica, Sark, Belarus, North Korea, Azerbaijan and Suriname. He writes endlessly and passionately on his own travel lifestyle site, Don’t Stop Living as well as reaching out to other bloggers in the community and writing for a number of travel sites. He has hit around 80 countries so far on his journey and has plans to keep travelling as long as he can. You can also find Jonny on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus.
Interview conducted in October, 2013 by Kristin Mock.