Dalene Heck is half of Hecktic Travels, a blog that chronicles the adventures of Dalene and her husband, Pete, as they travel around the world. In our interview today, Dalene shares with me how she and her husband got started in travel writing and where she sees the future of travel media. Enjoy!
Dalene, you’ve written about your story and why you started traveling on your blog. It is such a powerful story and one that I know speaks to so many people. How would you describe your current niche in the travel blogging world?
That is a good question, but I think the best answer I can give is that we don’t really have one. From the very start we have been committed to the idea that our blog is purely a chronological narration of our story – from recording the devastating circumstances that inspired our travel, to grand adventures like our Greenland kayak expedition, to deep cultural experiences, to personal posts on our marriage, to even recounting the variety of foods we try. I write about what moves me, and that can be any number of things along the way.
So while some may consider our lack of niche a detriment to our blog or the ability to achieve success with it, that matters little to us. We will never be the biggest blog in the world, and it probably means we get passed over for certain projects, but we’re completely okay with that. At the end of the day, we have to enjoy what we do, and after four years we still adore it – not many bloggers get this far while saying the same thing. As well, I think our style has contributed to our success in other ways – our readers are highly engaged and very invested in our story. They appreciate our openness and honesty, and are always eager to know where we are going next. We hear/read the words: “Never stop traveling and blogging!” very often. That’s all that matters to us.
Being named Travelers of the Year by National Geographic also served as some validation to our blogging methodology. When we asked why we were chosen, the editor told us: “We’re interested in what people learn from their travels—how it changes them—what they discover—what they can tell us about the power of travel to transform their lives.” That award was by far our greatest accomplishment and I don’t know how it can possibly be topped – if we had focused on just one niche aspect of travel and not reflected on our whole story, I don’t think it would have happened.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the blog came to be? What were your original goals and how have those changed?
Hecktic Travels was born largely out of boredom! We had accepted a 6 month house-sitting job on the small island of Roatan, Honduras, and while hitting the beach daily sounds like paradise for some, we quickly grew bored. We had already been traveling and journaling for a year, but never discovered the world of travel blogs until that point. We stumbled on a couple like The Professional Hobo and Hole in the Donut and realized that there were people out there who were actually gaining income off of their blogs while traveling full-time. We knew that we wanted to keep traveling perpetually but that our savings would run out sometime, and so this seemed like a logical solution. Thus we started the blog to give us something to do as well as earn a few dollars along the way.
We were having a lot of fun and gained traction quickly, but also learned that it wasn’t likely that we would be able to entirely sustain our lifestyle with it. And thus began our “exploration period” of seeing what else we could do while paying a little less attention to our blog – we did some freelance writing, freelance video, new blogger training, we wrote an ebook, and more. And then finally in this last year we also started social media consulting and campaign management (as Hecktic Media Inc. http://heckticmedia.com) and really found our way. Now that we are more focused, we are far better organized and also able to invest more time into quality content for our blog.
Our new business venture has also taken the pressure off of our blog having to make money. We are proudly ad free, and while we do enter into some strategic partnerships where they make sense, we say ‘no’ FAR more times than we say ‘yes’. Our blog is thus a labour of love, and we’re only publishing the kind of content that we enjoy creating.
I’ve often wondered this when I read about people selling everything they have to travel: How do you relate to readers who enjoy their lives of occasional travel and living in a comfortable environment? Conversely, have you ever thought about settling down again in one place for a while?
I really strive to write for only one reader. And (maybe embarrassingly?) that reader is my Mom! She’s settled and only travels occasionally, so I focus on what she would be interested in reading about our life on the road. That might be an easy sell (my Mom wants to know everything of course!), but it does force me to make the posts relatable.
I also make the assumption that the reader knows little about each place we visit. I include very high level info so as not to exclude those who know nothing about it. And I try to tell each story with heart – to focus on what moves me and what true feeling I get out of being there – I find that it is those posts that readers attach themselves to most.
Pete and I have the odd conversation about settling down, but it never goes very far, we are too addicted to the journey. We travel quite slow and do some house-sitting along the way which allows us to feel like we are “home” if even for a short while.
What do you wish you’d known when you started blogging that you now know? What did you know about design, SEO, networking, etc. then versus now?
You have actually stumped me with this question. Partly because there are things that we STILL don’t know well (hello, SEO!) but also because I guess I just accept that this has all been a big learning process and is constantly evolving. We have mostly stuck with our overall philosophy since the very beginning and don’t feel like we’ve made any drastic mistakes. There are always things we can improve on, but overall are very happy with our blogging journey.
As many of our readers are budding or experienced travel bloggers or travel enthusiasts, I’d like to ask how you see your income mix changing in the next 5, 10 years. What does the future of digital media hold for bloggers?
Every six months I seem to utter the same thing – “Wow, we’re really turning a corner here!” – but it’s true. I’m always amazed at how quickly things are changing, and how the travel industry continues to strengthen their embrace with bloggers. It’s such an exciting time to be where we are.
I expect our income mix to stay relatively the same as we’ve found work (albeit outside the blog) that we enjoy. We both hold business degrees, have decades of experience in negotiation, project management, and analytics, so using those skills to help bridge the gap between influencers and industry is a natural fit. We’re also only taking on projects where bloggers are compensated fairly, so it feels good to be helping out our fellow bloggers. Focusing on our own blog as a source of income will continue to come second.
I think the overall trend will continue upwards. More brands and destinations will understand the benefit of working with bloggers and our value will continue to rise. I do believe, however, that there Is much more pressure on bloggers to improve their craft given the large number of new blogs starting every day plus the fact that the industry is getting more savvy at evaluating them. But those that work hard and have genuine audiences will be rewarded.
Dalene and her husband Pete are originally from Canada but have been nomadic for over five years and blog at HeckticTravels.com. In 2014 they were awarded the “Traveler of the Year” award by National Geographic, and Dalene has also twice been named a “Voice of the Year” by BlogHer.
Interview conducted in December, 2014 by Kristin Winet.