Tonya Prater is the voice of The Traveling Praters. She is also a devoted wife and mom who dreams of living as a nomad. Tonya started her blog The Traveling Praters while she was a full-time RV’er with her family. She joins us this week to talk about why she started blogging, what she has learned in the process and what the next chapter will be for The Traveling Praters.
I believe you started your blog as you were moving around the USA in an RV, while home-schooling your kids. You’ve got to start us off with that story!
Yes, you’re correct. I did start my blog the same time my family became full-time RV’ers, but our travel adventures didn’t start then. We had actually been traveling with my husband for several years prior before we decided we’d had enough of living out of hotel rooms and wanted something more home-like for our kids. We scraped together nearly six thousand dollars, visited our local RV Supercenter and found a 31-foot motorhome which became our home for nearly a year and a half. A new life in the camper with three teenagers and a puppy was an adjustment. I started my blog in an effort to keep myself sane. I like to think it worked, but maybe my family would be a better judge of that!
We spent most of our time in the RV bouncing back and forth between Huntsville, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia. It wasn’t quite the experience we’d hoped for and my daughter claims to need counseling from the experience. Yet, if we had to do it all over again, I’d jump in the motorhome in an instant. We survived, we still enjoy each other’s company, and as long as we’re not playing a game of Risk, we love each other.
So what were the first clues that this blogging thing could actually earn you an income, and maybe a few perks?
I realized the perks of blogging and being active on social media in the form of trip invites long before I began to make money on my site. However, I’d read about bloggers who were making money so I knew the potential was there. After a couple years, I began to get paying jobs on a regular basis and for the past two years I’ve really begun to steadily earn more of what I consider an income. It amazes my family that what began as my hobby could actually provide great opportunities and provide me with money to supplement our household income in the process.
Where are you now in your journey in terms of what the blog has done for your bank account or your family’s well-being?
My long-term goal is to replace my husband’s income. This hasn’t come to fruition yet and honestly, I’m not sure that will ever happen entirely, but I’m on the way. I love to blog, but I’m not really business minded which holds me back. I have acquired a bookshelf stocked with books to read that I’m sure will help when I find time to delve into them.
When it comes to short-term goals, I’m right where I want to be for the year. I’m thrilled with my income and am amazed that I have the flexibility to work at home, be there for husband and kids and earn money from my site. Contributing to the household income has definitely taken some pressure off my husband, who has been the sole bread winner for most of our married lives.
Blogging has definitely provided travel opportunities and adventures that my family probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’ve gone on a number of press trips and FAM tours, many of which have welcomed my family. I’ve taken trips on my own, with my husband and with one of my children. It’s funny because each of my kids considered starting a blog of their own until they’ve accompanied me on a press trip and then decided it’s too much work.
Can you tell us what has worked best for you, what has really moved the needle in terms of traffic or income?
At the beginning of the year, I focused on improving my site for my audience. I worked on the site’s navigation, added even larger photos and changed my theme to one that was mobile responsive. My traffic improved right away and has been steadily growing each month.
Last year, I slowed down on how much I posted and this year I’ve picked up the pace. I began to use a daily blog planner so I can keep track of deadlines, sponsored posts and future post ideas. I don’t post daily, but I do post several times a week. It’s been great for traffic. The jump in traffic has led to an increase in income through ad networks and affiliates.
Pinterest has also been huge in terms of driving referral traffic to my site. I was late jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon, but I now make sure I have a pinnable image for every single post and that my descriptions are keyword rich. I’ve also worked on the SEO for my site because I don’t want all my traffic coming from one source.
Finally, I monetized my top posts and realized that some affiliates work very well for me. These are easy steps that have added up to big results and something I wish I’d done earlier.
If you were doing it all over again, are there things you would have done differently or not at all?
I’m not sure I have enough room to tell you everything I would have changed if I knew then what I know now. I didn’t know anything when I started blogging. I read a few blogs, thought it looked like fun and jumped in. I attended my first blog conference clueless. I didn’t even know what SEO was! When that conference ended, I drove home and spent four months listening to the recordings trying to understand the workshops and sessions, that’s how much I did not know.
If I were starting over, I would have a solid plan in place. I would have spent time actually learning about blogging (and SEO) and what it takes to run a website. I would have thought of and treated my blog as a business much sooner. I would have paid for a great layout and design, strong focused content and monetized sooner.
I wish I would have had a plan when I started blogging and been more focused. My site started as a homeschooling/RV’ing blog. When my family settled down in Alabama and moved back into a home, it shifted again to include many Northern Alabama attractions. When we moved back to Ohio, I felt like I was starting an entirely new blog. I almost feel as though I completely started over three times. If I had to do it over again, I would have found a way to weave a universal theme throughout the entire site.
What’s up next in terms of big projects or fun travel excursions?
My family is headed back to the RV! I’ve missed the nomadic life, but my husband and I knew we needed to be able to support the lifestyle if we dreamed of traveling the US by camper. So, it looks like that blogging income is going to come in handy.
We made our decision this past week and I admit, I’ve been extremely emotional and weepy. This time will definitely be different, as we’ll be on the road as empty nesters and not as a family. This will mean big changes- a new blog, different content and a focus on continuous travel. I’m very excited and can’t wait for the final pieces to fall into place. Now to begin the hunt for a new RV to call home.
Tonya shares travel tips, destination reviews, and things to do in the US at The Traveling Praters and shares her love of her home state as the Ohio Traveling Mom for TravelingMom.com. You can connect with Tonya on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.