A Conversation with Laurel Robbins

laurelrobbinsLaurel Robbins is a travel blogger and Twitter aficionado–and with good reason: she’s got over 45,000 followers! In our interview today, Laurel talks about the value of learning how to properly use social media, what she’ll be talking about at the upcoming TBEX conference, and what she wish she’d known starting out. Enjoy!

Laurel, you say you’re a “Conversation Starter, Twitter Aficionado and Social Media Time Optimizer.” How did you get into social media and how did you see its value early on?

I was into Facebook from my first day of blogging, but it took me months to get into Twitter. I thought it was a complete waste of time and didn’t see the value. Then I figured out it wasn’t Twitter, it was the way I was using it. Since changing the way I used Twitter, it’s become my favorite social media platform and my #1 source of sales referrals.

What inspired you to start Monkeys and Mountains? What has that journey been like for you?

When I moved from Canada to Germany I asked myself what my dream job would be if I could do anything, and the answer was “travel blogger”. I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded like a lot of fun! Turns out I was right! It is a lot of fun, but it’s also a LOT of work – way more than I had anticipated. Like any career journey, it’s had it’s ups and downs, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

What do you wish you’d known about blogging when you started?

That it’s very difficult to make a living solely from Google AdSense and affiliate marketing – especially when you’re just starting out. That was my income generation strategy, which needless to say was not successful and needed a complete overhaul.

In your opinion, where is the use of social media heading in the travel industry in the next 5, 10 years? 

I think there is a tremendous opportunity for real-time targeted engagement with travelers, i.e. reaching out to them when they’re on a trip and offering them an incentive Monkeys-and-Mountains-Top-100-Travel-Blogsfor a particular tour or service while they’re in a particular destination.

What advice do you have for bloggers wishing to “make it” in the industry in terms of how to spread their time between traveling, blogging, writing, and interacting with social media? How can one person balance it all without sacrificing, let’s say, the quality of the content?

Find your unique selling point and hone it like crazy. You can not be amazing at everything, so pick one thing to really excel at – something that will make you stand out from the thousands of other travel bloggers. It will save you a ton of time – since you will be really focused on one thing not 10 things. It’s fine to be just “good” or even “OK” at some of the other stuff, as long as you’re really good at one thing.

The other thing is have digital detox days. You need it more than you realize. It’s easy to think that you have to be connected 24/7 and that your followers will miss you if you disappear for a few days. In reality they probably won’t and if they do well hey, they’ll be really happy that you’re back! It’s important to be real and remember that we’re travel bloggers – we’re not saving people’s lives.

You’re going to be speaking at TBEX Athens in October. Can you give our readers a sneak peek at what you’ll be talking about?

I will be sharing practical advanced Twitter techniques that can help you grow your followers and make Twitter your #1 source for client referrals. I realize that bloggers and the travel industry are already using Twitter so my presentation doesn’t cover the basic stuff, but the more advanced tips and techniques that most bloggers/travel industry professionals are too busy to investigate or implement. I’ve tested my presentation on a few bloggers already and they were really surprised at how much they learned given that they’re active Twitter users. That’s what I’m going for – really practical tips that bloggers and the travel industry can implement quickly to get better results in minutes a day!


Laurel Robbins is a social media time optimizer and Twitter aficionado with over 45,000 followers @Laurel_Robbins. She’s also the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an award-winning outdoor and adventure blog. When not tweeting or traveling, you can find her in the mountains, which is most weekends!

Join Us at TBEX Athens (And Free Registration Winner Announced)!


Hello fellow travel bloggers and readers!

Because TBEX Europe is coming up soon (October 23-25, 2014), we thought we’d highlight some of this year’s speakers that we’ve interviewed over here at Travel Writing 2.0 to celebrate the upcoming conference. This year’s lineup, which includes our very own Tim Leffel, is sure to be pretty amazing.

Click below to read the interviews we’ve done with some of this year’s TBEX Athens speakers:

Bret Love of Green Global Travel blog

David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity

Laurence Norah of Finding the Universe blog

Michael Collins of media consulting company Travel Media

In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing more interviews with the TBEX speakers, so make sure to check back regularly!

**And a big congratulations to Jessica Dawdy for winning our free TBEX Athens registration contest! You can connect with Jessica over on her blog Ways of Wanderers or on Twitter @waysofwanderers.

Travel On,

Tim & Kristin


To read more about the TBEX Europe conference, check out their homepage to see a list of speakers, workshops, trips, and get registered.

Working on the Road With Nora Dunn, the Professional Hobo

Professional HoboNora Dunn is a former certified financial planner who is the editor of The Professional Hobo. She is also a freelance writer, and a regular contributor to Wise Bread, Transitions Abroad, and many organizations’ websites, newsletters, and blogs. She’s the author of How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World and runs a free course on traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way. See more on Nora here.

You’re known as an expert on making a living pursuing the location independent lifestyle and write a lot of articles about the intersection of travel, writing, and finance. How did you get to where you are now?

I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 in Toronto Canada, to embrace my dreams of full-time immersive travel. On a quest to “live” around the world, I usually camp out for at least a few months in most locations. Initially, between a desire to experience local life for longer periods of time (rather than passing through as a tourist), and a desire to keep my expenses low (whilst building my freelance writing career), I discovered how to get free accommodation around the world. I use a variety of modalities such as volunteering, couch surfing, house-sitting, and living on boats. (I wrote a book on it here.)

Now, seven years and a few dozen countries later, I’m still on the road, and I’m an international freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design. With this location independent income – along with travel hacking strategies like free accommodation and cheap transportation (with frequent flyer miles and mystery shopping) – I continue to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.

I admire you for so diligently keeping track of your income and expenses. How have both been going the past few years?

Each year I do a rundown of both. Here’s my expenses and my income for 2012, for example, and you can find past years’ in related posts.

My expenses and income for 2013 were also sustainable, but both were much higher, due to a few costly tragedies, as well as having to support my partner. I haven’t published those figures yet, but I will do so shortly. Meanwhile, here’s what I did: 12 countries and 29,000 miles.

I focus a lot on cheap places to travel and live in the world, but you’ve managed to pack in a lot of places that are not perceived as a bargain. How do you make it work and still keep expenses low?

stay for freeI’ve traveled and lived in some of the more expensive places in the world. Instead of looking for budget destinations, I’ve chosen to travel to places where there has been a free accommodation opportunity for me – which in turn, saved me over $63,000 in my first five years of traveling.

I’ve lived 6 months in Hawaii, 1.5 years in Australia, 1 year in New Zealand, I’ve traveled and lived around Europe, and I spent a few years on the Caribbean island of Grenada. None of these places are particularly cheap if you’re renting a place in a conventional way. But because I’ve largely had free digs – and the ability to shop and cook locally instead of being in the tourist/expat centers, my cost of full-time travel (as I’ve posted in detail) has been way less than than to live in one place.

However, I’ve also paid rent a few times, including in Grenada – where I spent $350-500/month for a furnished apartment. You can spend much more there, but it boils down to knowing some locals who can connect you, as eventually happened to me. The same thing happened in Australia; after volunteering for 7 months, I found a full house in the countryside to rent for less than $400/month. It was far from plush – but it did the trick.

I’m currently in Peru, where the cost of living is very very low. I’m staying at a retreat center, which is an expensive option, and paying less than $700/month. In buying local food and cooking in my kitchen, I would be hard-pressed to spend more than $1,000/month on living expenses here – and that includes a few indulgences too.

Nora Dunn in Peru

What advice you would give to bloggers, freelancers, or any other people who want to live a better life for less, on getting beyond the fear and anxiety that holds people back from cutting loose?

By traveling the world, and breaking free from the North American standards of living (and “requirements” of living), your expenses can go down. As an example, Panama and Costa Rica have become hotspots for expats and retiring Americans, which have in turn pushed the cost of living and real estate up almost disproportionately to the rest of Central America. However with less “stuff” to worry about (like expensive healthcare, and over-priced insurance policies, and of course the ever-present “Joneses” to keep up with), most Americans I spoke to in an expat community near Panama City where I was house-sitting said they still had a way lower cost of living than they ever could have managed living in the States. And if you want to stray just a wee bit further from the norm, you’ll find cheaper yet alternatives and places to live, along with a cheaper cost of living.

I co-authored a book called 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget; a creation from a site I contribute regularly to called WiseBread.com. It’s an entire site dedicated to living better for less money. There’s a large movement of people on this bandwagon, and with a dose of creativity and flexibility, anything is possible.

In 2006, I had no idea that full-time travel could actually cost less than $20,000/year, nor that I could find a way to sustain it with little more than my laptop and an internet connection. But once I made the commitment to a better life abroad, it was amazing the opportunities that came to me – opportunities that I finally had the flexibility and ability to jump on and try out.

After wandering for many years, you’re semi-settled right now in Peru. What are you working on?

nora-dunn-trainAfter over seven years of transient wandering, I’m ready for a place that I can call mine (even if it’s rented), that I can use as a base for other travels, and also as a retreat to simply do my own thing. And Peru (specifically Pisac) resonates with me very much as a place I feel comfortable enough to call home, and yet exotic enough that I feel like I’m still traveling every time I leave the house!

I’ve got another e-book that just came out on my train journeys around the world, and I’m writing a book about working on the road to be published as part of Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide series.

Nora Dunn has been traveling in a financially sustainable way since 2007 and works as a blogger and freelance writer. See TheProfessionalHobo for regular updates and her free course. Follow her on Twitter here: @HoboNora.

Interview conducted in August 2014 by Tim Leffel, author of Travel Writing 2.0 and A Better Life for Half the Price.



An Interview with Diana Laskaris


Diana is the co-founder of The Food Travelist, a new blog dedicated to food cultures around the food. Not new to the culinary food and travel niche, Diana will be speaking at TBEX Cancun in September about building culinary food travel brands–it’s sure to be a great presentations. Enjoy our interview!

How did your blog,The Food Travelist, get its start? What was the inspiration?

My Co-Founder, Sue Reddel and I had a previous website (PoshPorts.com) that was more general in nature. Out of that we found that people were most interested in food and travel. We learned more about the culinary travel industry, earned our certifications as Certified Culinary Travel Professionals and decided to focus exclusively on this arena.

On your blog, you say that your mission is world peace through food. Could you elaborate on this a little bit more for us?

I believe that when people get to know one another, the barriers to understanding can be overcome. Food is our common ground and sharing a meal is a great way to get a conversation going. In fact, we wrote a chapter in Have Fork Will Travel, the World Food Travel Association Handbook, specifically about food and drink as communication.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned since you started blogging? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that nothing happens overnight, with few exceptions. It takes a lot of work, persistence and continued effort to make headway. I went to a conference recently where almost every blogger/speaker talked FT-logo-betaabout how much they do without compensation. I wish I knew how difficult it is to get actual money from brands and sponsors. Everyone thinks that you work for free product or travel, which is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Where do you see social media going in the next 5, 10 years? What advice would you give to bloggers who are just “starting out” and who don’t know much about using social media?

I think social media, like all technology is constantly evolving and changing. What may be the most awesome platform for you today may be useless in the future. Find out where your audience is and keep your dialogue going with them. You will start to see the changes in what they want as they are happening and not be caught off-guard if one platform or another ceases to be useful. Don’t expect things to stay the same, and if you’re starting out, keep that in mind.

You’re going to be speaking at TBEX Cancun 2014 in September. Can you give our readers a little taste of what you’ll be talking about?

Sure! I’m honored and thrilled to be speaking at TBEX. My topic is for people who are interested in culinary travel as a blogging niche. I’ll show them the ways they can capitalize on the boom in this area, whether they want to focus on a specific aspect such as the cuisine of a specific destination or add culinary highlights to their already existing blog. People are interested in learning about the food culture of different destinations, getting authentic recipes, and discovering tips on the best spots for local fare. And food diana3photos are always fun.

You recently returned from a trip to Cuba. Tell us about some of the highlights from the trip!

It was an extraordinary trip for me. The people I met were absolutely amazing. We visited a church where our hosts cooked not one, but two meals for our group of 13 in addition to our guides and translators. The food was delicious, extremely simple to make, using mostly citrus marinade with garlic and few spices. Beans and rice are their everyday food, but they made sure we had meat at both meals, which I know was a big treat for them. It was humbling and exciting at the same time to watch them in the kitchen.  There’s nothing quite like someone cooking the food of their culture that they hope you enjoy. It brings us all closer together.

Diana Laskaris is Co-Founder of FoodTravelist.com, which launched in 2014 as an online publication and network connecting food travelers around the world with brands, destinations and experiences. Recently expanded, Food Travelist will begin hosting global tasting events offline in the fall and launched #foodtravelchat on Twitter, which garners more than 4 million timeline impressions per week. Diana is an accomplished culinarian, a professional member of the James Beard Foundation, Les Toques Blanches Du Monde, and The World Gourmet Society. She is the Chicago Ambassador for the World Food Travel Association and an active philanthropist in the areas of hunger and food insecurity as well as food waste management.

Interview conducted in August, 2014 by Kristin Winet.

A Conversation with David & Veronica James


David and Veronica James set out to “break the empty nest rules” after their kids left home and haven’t looked back since. They started their blog, Gypsy Nester, and have their first book, Going Gypsy, coming out in February 2015. In our interview today, David and Veronica talk about finding the courage to start their blogging journey together and what they will be talking about at TBEX Cancun 2014! Enjoy.

You started your blog, The Gypsy Nester, after your kids “flew the coop.” Can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration for the blog and how you got started?

Like most couples, we had a big “now what?” moment when our youngest child was ready to fly from the nest. We were living in The Caribbean – in the U.S. Virgin Islands – so with all the kids on their own we thought it was a good time to go back up to The States and reconnect with family and friends. Ten thousand miles in a beat-up old motorhome we bought on eBay later, we had another “now what?” moment in Mexico and decided we liked the lifestyle, so we kept going.

We had already started documenting our adventures on a cheesy little blog – mostly to keep loved ones up-to-date. Our oldest daughter, thinking we might be on to something, dragged us – kicking and screaming – into social media. Once we got the hang of it, we loved it.

It’s a blast to share our lives with the world!

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned since you started blogging? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

Maybe the best lesson has been to allow things to go the way they want to go. By that we mean to be open and not try to force things. We never had a grand scheme, no big plan as to what we wanted GypsyNester.com to become; we just kind of followed life as it led us. We’ve become way more flexible than we used to be.

Did either of you have experience in writing and publishing prior to starting your blog together?

David sort of did. He was a staff songwriter for several music publishing companies in Nashville when we lived there. There are definite similarities that have helped him make the transition, a feel for words and conveying ideas.

Veronica owned one of the first web design firms in Nashville; there was copy and technical writing involved with that. She was also editor and publisher of the print news magazine gypsynester2and website for the school that our kids attended in the Caribbean.

Looking back though, we see our early GypsyNester posts and generally cringe, so the best experience for us was jumping in and doing it. Practice, practice, practice, write, write, write.

Where do you see social media going in the next 5, 10 years? What advice would you give to bloggers who are just “starting out” and who don’t know much about using social media?

We don’t even know what social media is going to look like tomorrow! It’s a dynamic, ever-changing medium mapped out on the fly by users and their preferences. The added element of what we expect to be an explosion of technology in that timeframe makes things even more exciting.

Our best advice for the newcomer is to be yourself and be social. It’s called social media for a reason. YOU are what makes your blog unique and keep that vibe going when you are interacting with folks. Trust us, it wasn’t until we found the guts to be ourselves that our site began to take wing.

You’re going to be speaking at TBEX Cancun 2014 in September. Can you give our readers a little taste of what you’ll be talking about?

Of course! The idea for Veronica’s talk was spawned from the #1 topic that comes up when we get together with fellow travel writers: Dealing with haters, flamers, and trolls.

Fear of cyberbullies can hold folks back from starting a blog and even seasoned bloggers (ourselves included) are constantly stunned by some of the mean-spirited comments flying at us on a regular basis. The first one is especially hard—Veronica’s came when she was called an emotionally bankrupt shell of a person.

I’ll be discussing how to deal with haters, flamers, and trolls on your blog and social media, as well as how to cope with the emotions inevitably felt when you are on the receiving end. You’ll learn when – and how – it’s proper to defend yourself, to let it go, to delete or – yes – even thank someone who has offended you.

And no interview with you would be complete without a congratulations! Your book, Going Gypsy, is coming out in early 2015! Tell us about the process of writing, editing, and publishing the book and what readers can expect.

twittericon_400x400Wow, it’s a long process! Going Gypsy is our first book, so we didn’t really have any idea of what we had gotten ourselves into. Writing for a blog and writing a book are two completely different animals.

It’s been about three years from when we first thought, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to write a book? Our first draft ended up being completely reworked over the span of about two years. Then the whole process of finding a publisher can take quite a while – nearly a year for us, which, from what we gather, is actually fairly fast. We feel very lucky that it went as quickly as it did, and that we found a publisher – Skyhorse in New York City – that turned out to be a perfect fit for us, and our book. We signed our contract in November of 2013, have gone through another round of edits, and now have six months until our publication date. We are trying really hard to be good and patient, but the suspense is killing us!

Going Gypsy is the story of how we faced that “now what?” moment by pulling the ripcord on our daily grind, quitting our jobs, and going gypsy in a beat-up old RV found on eBay. On a journey of over ten thousand miles along the back roads of America (and a hysterical, error-infused side trip into Italy), we conquer old fears, see new sites, reestablish bonds with family and friends, and transform our relationship with our three grown children from parent-child to adult-to-adult. Most importantly, we rediscovered the fun-loving youngsters who fell in love three decades prior. Going Gypsy is coming out in February of 2015, but it is available for pre-orders now at: GoingGypsyBook.com


David & Veronica are experiencing the collision of Baby Boomer and Empty Nester. Upon sending their youngest out into the big, wide world, they set out to break the empty nest rules by selling everything and hitting the road. To become more than empty nesters, to be gypsies, GypsyNesters! Along the way they rediscovered the couple who fell in love years ago and chronicled their journey in a new book, Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All. Read more about their escapades at GypsyNester.com. Connect with The GypsyNesters on social media: Facebook – Twitter – YouTube – Google+ – Pinterest  – GoodReads – Instagram 

Interview conducted in August, 2014 by Kristin Winet.