An Interview with Jessie Voigts of Wandering Educators

Jessie Voigt’s dream to blend her love for travel writing with her passion for teaching led her to create Wandering Educators, a travel site for global educators and a place for young travel writers to begin finding their voices and honing their craft. Jessie, who has written for many travel sites, looks for young people with a curiosity to learn and an eye for finding the interesting and unusual in the places they’ve lived and visited. She is currently accepting applications for her Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship program, so if you’ve got a teen in your life who is itching to try his or her hand at blogging, come check out Jessie’s guidelines here!

What path led you to the position you have now? What’s your background?

I’ve always loved travel and learning about other cultures – it’s a family tradition! From international exchanges as a teen to working overseas and in study abroad (and directing Michigan State University’s Summer Study Abroad Programs in London),  travel has been an integral part of my life.

But something was missing for me – I wanted to dig deeper into why people travel,  about the changes that people experienced after living abroad, and how intercultural adjustment could be understood and made easier. I discovered the PhD program in Comparative and International Development Education (CIDE) at the University of Minnesota, and packed my bags! I learned about Bennett’s model of Intercultural Sensitivity and so much more, from thought leaders in the field. I thrived in such an engaging, intellectual, intercultural atmosphere (and yes, Minnesota winters are extremely cold…but it is an incredibly diverse and exciting place, worth freezing for).

Because I have CFIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I am not able to work full time. My husband and I pondered ways to include my experience, education, and passion for teaching about the world in a project that we could both work on – and include our daughter (now 9). He’s a marketing guru, and has taught classes, written books, and helped small businesses for years. We combined my love of sharing the world and his business experience and started WanderingEducators.com in 2008. It’s a travel library – a community of global educators, sharing travel experiences. We love it.

How much of your income would you say comes from travel writing and blogging? In your opinion, where do you see the industry heading in the next few years?

All of it. We’re one of the few travel blogging sites that do this full-time! When we first got into this business, we made an exceptional living from affiliate marketing. As everyone knows, changes in the way the search engines rank sites have made search engine marketing unpredictable. We’ve moved toward a more corporate partnership model, which has less dependency upon our search engine rankings and focuses more on the genuine relationships that we build with our core audience. That happens through social media, direct interactions with different organizations in our niche, and of course being a trusted resource for our readers.

The travel blogging industry is expanding exponentially and gaining credibility. We all need to take this responsibility seriously. It is more cost-effective for destinations, service providers, and product manufacturers to work with travel bloggers than traditional advertising channels (e.g., tv, print, and celebrity endorsements).  Travel bloggers see themselves as independent journalists, but to make a living in the future, they are going to have to become partners with these destinations, service providers, product manufacturers – and other travel bloggers. They will need to find new ways to make money and grow their audience, including creating their own products and books (such as our new book on Raising Intercultural Kids).  The travel bloggers who conduct themselves in a professional manner will be the ones who will succeed.  Travel bloggers also need to treat this as a business – with clear business goals, marketing plans, and revenue streams.

The challenge right now is that many travel bloggers are happy to receive press trips in exchange for writing a few guest posts. However, some travel bloggers want to be compensated financially along with receiving the free press trip. Let’s be honest – most destinations aren’t financially capable of doing that. Ultimately, the money will come from combining corporate partnerships with destination marketing.

What can you share about SEO and social media promotion? What do the most successful sites do to get and maintain good exposure?

SEO comes down to onsite and offsite optimization.  Google ranks pages, not sites. So, your web pages, or your articles, will have a better chance for ranking well in the search engines if you focus each article around a single thought or idea. If you’re talking about multiple topics in an article, the search engines have no idea how to rank it. Offpage SEO comes down to incoming links. Here, the quality of links is more important than the quantity of links.

Social Media promotion is all about building relationships. It’s all about your personality – which can’t be effectively outsourced. There is not enough time in the day to be truly effective in all of the major social media channels that are out there. You need to pick and choose the ones that you want to pursue (and become good at). Focus on one or two, build relationships, and be honest and genuine.

The most successful sites work hard at building relationships. They frequently refer their readers to other great sites, write quality guest posts, work together on projects, and are flexible – adapting to change well. The key thing is to not isolate yourself, but to connect with other like-minded people, learn from each other, and work together.  Find a synergy with people – one phone call, and you’ll know right away who you want to partner with and create something together.

Tell me a little bit about this Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. What kinds of writers are you looking for and how do you personally evaluate good travel writing?

We’re so very excited about our Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship program! We’ve garnered some extraordinary faculty – a professor that teaches travel writing at a prestigious university, world-renowned photographer/ videographers, one of the best social media gurus out there, a successful YA author, a career development advisor, travel writers that have flourishing careers, an SEO expert, and more.

We created this youth travel blogging mentorship program to equip youth with the writing and business skills needed to succeed in the global economy, and create a foundation for living powerful and productive lives.  It’s an on-going program, covering several terms and advanced ideas and techniques.

Why?  Today’s youth face enormous challenges that their parents and grandparents could not envision.  Traditional educational methods have not evolved quickly enough to keep up with the rapidly changing economic environment.  Kids go to school, get their college degree, and no longer are guaranteed a job. While we recommend a college education, any extra skills or flexibility that students have can be a game-changer.

We are offering this program as a way to give back, because we see the need for a sea change in how people prepare themselves for their work lives, and because we want to teach students how to take the passion for writing and the curiosity about the world that they have anywhere they want.

What are we looking for? We’re looking for students, ages 14-18, that have a natural curiosity about the world and a passion for expressing themselves. We have been surprised by the extraordinary students that have applied thus far – some have traveled around the world, while some have been busy exploring their own backyard.  We also have seen students with no writing or exploring experience – but a curiosity and drive to learn that is irresistible.

How do we evaluate good travel writing? It pulls us in, makes us want to learn more, teaches us about a place, and sparks an interest in going there.  We don’t expect our students to have this – yet. But it is part of what we’ll teach them!

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Jessie Voigts is a mom who loves sharing the world with her daughter. She has a PhD in International Education, and is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, especially with kids (it’s never too young to start!). She has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. Jessie and her family live on a lake in Michigan, enjoying the summers swimming, kayaking, and sailing, and planning travel for the winter months! Jessie is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel site for global educators. In addition to writing about learning and exploring the world, she is passionate about sharing stories of family travel and travel with disabilities – her work has appeared on countless travel sites.

Interview conducted in February, 2012 by Kristin Mock.

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