Chris Backe’s writings and photographs have appeared in publications such as the Korea Herald and the Korea Times, and in addition to keeping his own blog, regularly contributes to a number of other travel blogs. His most recent book, “Weird and Wonderful Korea”, was recently self-published, and he’s working on his next book. He currently lives with his wife in Chiang Mai, where he freelances and develops websites. In our interview, Chris talks about the world of self-publishing, what it takes to become a freelancer, and how to balance multiple responsibilities. Enjoy!
Chris, you recently published a guidebook called Weird and Wonderful Korea. What was the publishing process like for you and what would you recommend to other aspiring book authors?
Weird and Wonderful Korea is my fourth book, and I’ve really found my success going the self-publishing route. Amazon has an excellent tool to convert a well-formatted Word document to its Kindle format.
The print book was a slightly different story. With previous books, I’ve used Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand service, which also lists the book on Amazon as soon as you’re done. This works great as long as your book is in black-and-white. The price for printing color, however, can be prohibitively expensive. There’s an average of one photo per page, and there’s plenty of color icons as well…
Enter Lightning Source – a printing company that will print on demand and plays nicely with Amazon. They have some strict guidelines to follow regarding formatting, but once it’s done, it’s done. I’ll recommend them if and only if your book needs to be in color.
How did you put together all the information you needed to write the book? Tell us a little bit about how you were able to get the insider’s perspective you needed in order to give the best possible advice to new travelers.
As you might guess, writing a travel book requires a fair bit of traveling. I was already on a quest to visit one new place, event, or destination every week, and many of the destinations were featured on my travel blog.
Still, there is the matter of finding – and reaching – over 100 of Korea’s most unusual destinations. Some of them came from local expats, while others came from maps produced by the local government. Clues came from all over, although sometimes it was just a matter of stumbling upon some places while heading to others!
In any case, gathering data was the hard part, especially in cases where there was no English website or signs. I have to give my wife, Laura, a fair bit of credit as well – she’s basically fluent in Korean, and helped with some research that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. In the odd chance anyone’s looking for a Korean-to-English translator, her website is over at griffontranslation.com.
You’ve done a bit of freelancing work in blogs and magazines. What’s it take to become a freelancer and how did you get your feet wet in the industry?
It’s all about who you know, sometimes. Having your own blog as a public portfolio of sorts establishes credibility and authority. It’s easier to prove you’re an expert on, say, Korean destinations, when anyone can see the proof on your website.
One thing that’s really helped the freelancing side of things is to target wisely. The local expat magazines are always looking for good writers, for instance.
A second thought: each thing leads to the next. The blog led to the book, writing for magazines led to getting a nice regular gig on Korean radio. There is some proving that’s required, though it rarely takes as long as you think.
How many blogs do you currently run? How do you juggle the work it takes to run more than one blog?
One! To make a long story short, I kept Chris in South Korea from 2008 to March 2013. When I moved to Thailand. I then started Chris in Thailand. After trips to Malaysia and Laos, I realized I didn’t want to create a new travel blog every time I traveled to a new country! I started One Weird Globe, which merged Chris in South Korea and Chris in Thailand into a long-term travel blog.
If you are juggling multiple blogs, remember that scheduling is your friend. Your posts, unless they’re time-sensitive, can probably be scheduled at least a few days or a week into the future. Consider making an editorial schedule, and employ others to create posts (guest posts, for example).
If someone near and dear to you wanted to become a travel blogger, what would you tell them?
I’d tell them anything is possible! It’s difficult to make a living out of it right away, but it’s well worth doing as it can lead to plenty of other opportunities.
Chris Backe is the author of Weird and Wonderful Korea and the blogger behind One Weird Globe. He’s currently working on a book about the unusual and bizarre destinations around Thailand, and is building a startup to help travel bloggers make money from their knowledge. See more at http://www.daytrippable.com.
Interview conducted in October, 2013 by Kristin Mock.
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.
Sabrina Iovino is a former screen designer who left her job in 2008 to travel the world. Like many travel bloggers, she sold everything she owned and started her around-the-world trek; in 2013, she’s now making her income by blogging on her site Justonewayticket.com. Today, Sabrina tells us about making a name for herself, how to build an audience, and why she’s probably the worst travel blogger ever. Enjoy!
Sabrina, you haven’t been blogging for that long but you’ve already made a name for yourself. What made you decide to jump into the travel blogging world, and how did you teach yourself what you needed to know?
Well, most people won’t admit it, but I started blogging to earn money. Now I know you won’t get rich from blogging. But it’s so much fun! When I started my travel blog, I was already 4 years on the road and I figured if I don’t start writing now, I never will. Now, 9 months later I have to say it was the best decision I ever made. I love my job every day and can’t wait to wake up and work on my blog. All the emails I receive from my readers are so encouraging and keeps me going.
I don’t think I will ever get back at my old job, even though my earnings were 10 times higher. So all I can say is do what you love. Money can’t buy happiness.
In your opinion, what’s the secret to building an audience?
There are tons of ways, but obviously one is writing great content. Write stuff that people want to share! Contact other big groups on Facebook that are related to the subject of your blog post and ask them kindly if they want to share it. If your blog post is epic, they will do that for sure. Last but not least, write about the things you love, because your writing will be more passionate.
How has your income mix changed since you started your blog and what tips would you give others who are looking to monetize their sites?
Since April this year, my income doubled every month. This month it was enough to cover my monthly expenses which is a great achievement! (Note: I live in Turkey at the moment, it’s cheap here!) The earnings from my blog are a mix of Adsense and Affiliates. If you want to make money, you need traffic first. I wouldn’t start monetizing before you have at least 500 visitors a day. Choose Affiliate products you love and write reviews about them, they will sell much better than a simple banner in your sidebar.
I’m still not an expert in making money online, but I’ve found some great resources that taught me a lot on how to monetize my blog, I share them on my page Stuff I Love.
Write amazing stuff. Write more amazing stuff. Contact the big travel sites like Matador, Vagabundo. Lonely Planet etc. If you’re passionate about your writing, people will notice you. It won’t happen overnight though. So be patient. Believe in yourself and never give up. Hard work will pay off!
One of your recent posts is called “Why I’m Probably the Worst Travel Blogger Ever (+10 Tips for Getting Better.” Tell us why you wrote this.
Oh this was a mix of a ranting post and also telling the world that you can make it without following all those rules. Learning how to become an expert blogger takes a lot of time. I have never learned SEO and I don’t really have the time to comment on other blog posts every day. I mean look at my blog: I have only 12 posts so far. But still, I have about 1000 visitors a day and when you google my name, I totally show up. That’s enough for me, lol. I don’t want to become an expert blogger. I just want to write about the things I love and entertain people with my stories and some photos.
What’s it like blogging in English as a non-native English speaker? Why not blog in German?
In the beginning I thought of writing in German and English, but I gave up after one post. Takes too much time. Plus my German got a bit rusty after not speaking my mother language for more than 4 years. (Yes that can totally happen!)
Finally I switched to English to reach a larger audience. I have to admit it, writing in English is still difficult for me. I have editors who proofread my posts before I publish them. In the beginning I was very anxious to blog in English but after a while I decided to not give a damn anymore. I’m a blogger, not a news reporter. As long as people understand what I’m writing about, I’m happy. So please forgive me all my grammar mistakes and typos.
Sabrina, a German Italian Blogger and former screen designer quit her job and sold everything she owned in order to travel the world. She left Germany in 2008 and came back 14 month later. After a few months back in her home country she realized that she can’t live the ordinary 9-5 life anymore and left again. Sabrina has traveled more than 50 countries and lived in various places in Asia. Her favorite country is the Philippines. Currently she’s in Istanbul for a longer period, but she’s escaping every winter for warmer places. Get to know her better on her travel blog http://www.justonewayticket.com/.
Interview conducted in September, 2013 by Kristin Mock.
Amanda Black and I recently met on a press trip to Malaysia and became instant friends. Our love for writing and editing, combined with our passion for travel and sharing that passion with others, had us chatting about travel writing nearly all week. As the Associate Editor for Sherman’s Travel, Amanda knows first-hand how important budget-minded travel is and how much her readers need articles and stories that really speak to their desire to see the world without spending a fortune. In our interview, Amanda shares how she landed her position with Sherman’s Travel, what it’s like working with freelancers, and where she sees the future of digital media. Enjoy!
Amanda, you’re the Associate Editor for Sherman’s Travel. How did you get your start in the business and what led you to your current position?
I don’t want to sound cliché, but my fascination with media began when I was in high school. I interned at a community newspaper and there, I learned I didn’t want to work in newspapers. In college I interned at RealSimple.com with two amazing editors and my experience there really solidified my passion for editorial content. When I graduated I was lucky enough to land an EA position at The Knot where I handled everything from real weddings features, to fashion, stationery, and honeymoon stories. That travel experience, combined with my wanderlust, led me to ShermansTravel.
What was it like transitioning from the wedding industry to the travel industry?
I think of it this way: When I started in weddings, I had been to, maybe two weddings. I was by no means an expert – and nowhere close to having my own – but I became an expert by writing about them, interviewing top industry experts, etc. I think anyone can adapt if they have the drive. If anything, I felt I was more suited to travel because I had done so much in my personal time and was very passionate about it outside of my career. I didn’t know everything about cruises, the newest plane models, or the state of tourism in every country, but I’ve been doing my best to study up!
If someone close to you asked you for advice on what it takes to become a freelance writer or editor in the travel industry, what are the top three things you would tell this person?
1. Network. I’ll be the first to admit, this is easier said than done. But it’s so necessary in this industry where there are more incredibly talented people vying for positions than there are jobs to be filled. 2. Be flexible. It’s so important to be able to quickly turn around a piece, take edits, or write about most topics you’re given, and so on. It helps to be able to roll with the punches and sort of be a jack (or jill) of all trades. And while many people might think travel writing is just about going to beautiful places and writing about them, it’s also about teaching travelers thing, keeping up on the news, and staying on top of the trends. 3. Do your research. I can’t tell you how many pitches I get that just aren’t on-brand for ShermansTravel. If you’re cold-emailing with pitches, they’ve got to catch my (or any editor’s) eye and stop me in my tracks – ‘That is so us.’
In your opinion, as more publications continue to transition to online platforms, what does it take to succeed as a digital content publisher?
I think performance is key. In my experience, online is all about the numbers: how many clicks did that get; uniques; page views; what was the bounce rate; how long did the user stay on-site? If those numbers aren’t showing improvement or promise, that’s not a good sign for the author or the site. Ultimately, advertisers pay attention to those numbers and we promise a certain number of impressions. Being able to show that you’ve had record numbers is always a good thing when you’re pitching yourself as an online producer.
With the influence of digital media, social networking, and online marketing, where do you see the market going in the next five years?
It’s hard to say. I think there will always be a place for print media in travel, even I still want to have something to flip through and look at beautiful pictures. In terms on digital media, things are changing rapidly, from apps to tablets, we’re constantly consuming media in new ways. Digital media is going to keep changing and I think the stakes will keep increasing – you have to keep innovating to keep your readers to come back and devote those clicks to you as opposed to someone else.
What kinds of stories get you excited? What have you published that you were really proud of?
The coolest experience I had most recently was interviewing two really big names in travel – Anthony Bourdain and Samantha Brown. I think those interviews were two my proudest accomplishments. Then there are the really servicey pieces that I think help our readers out a lot like Traveling with Pets 101. Of course, I get really excited when I get to travel and see new places – I think some of the best stories come out of those first-hand experiences. I think the pithier pieces are also really fun: It’s in those that I really get to infuse my own voice. I’m also really proud of some freelancer pieces that I’ve edited. While I think of myself as a writer first, I know that as I grow, I’ll have to take on more editing. Some of our freelancers produce incredible content and I’m proud to have had a hand in helping it go live.
An avid traveler and writer, Amanda Black sees her job as a travel writer and Associate Editor at ShermansTravel.com as a dream. Her work has appeared in The Knot magazine, TheKnot.com, BostonGlobe.com, RealSimple.com, and more.
Interview conducted in September, 2013 by Kristin Mock.
Jennifer Miller is the second-half of the alternative education blog, Edventure Travel, where she and her husband chronicle their adventures traveling with their children. After doing their initial voyage and deciding they wanted to make globetrotting with kids their livelihood, they have now been blogging for the past 5 years. In our interview, Jennifer talks with me about how travel blogging has changed and where she hopes her family will go from here. Enjoy!
Jennifer, what inspired you and your family to sell your belongings and travel around the world together?
We’ve always known we would travel extensively with our kids. We wanted everyone to be out of diapers and old enough to travel well, so we waited until the youngest was five before we sold the house and hit the road big time. We planned to travel for one year, cycling through Europe and N. Africa in 2008-2009. To make a long story short, our gap year became our life and we just kept going.
You’ve been blogging and writing for the past five years. How has the travel blogging world changed since then, and what do you wish you knew then that you know now?
It seems like it’s changing faster than I can keep up with it. I wish I had known, at the beginning, that the blog would take off and I’d have a wide readership across the globe. When I started writing it I had in mind the grandparents and some folks who were following us for a geography project. I didn’t expect it to grow into an income stream or a platform for other sorts of opportunities. I might have approached it differently if I’d know that. Then again, the organic growth of it is part of the charm, I think and the story driven core of our blog is what appeals to people, and you can’t really over think that. Life just unfolds the way it does and I make the most of it.
At least two of your kids have blogs about their travels as well. Were they inspired by you, and what lessons have you given them about writing?
Yes, Hannah (17) has Edventure Girl and the boys share a blog: Have Brothers, Will Travel. Hannah is quite intentional about hers and just had her first post go viral this month, which she’s quite excited about. The boys are far more hit and miss in their posting. I don’t know if they were inspired by me or not, you’d have to ask them. Being products of their generation they quite naturally gravitate towards the internet as a communication medium. As far as teaching writing, yes, we’re quite focused on that as a part of our schooling. I teach them to write from a classical model, which will prepare them for anything from basic communication to academic writing. Our ability to communicate what we know through the written word is so important. The face we present with our written words is the one we’re first judged by in many circumstances and it’s a prime directive of their educational experience to ensure their thorough literacy and competence in written communication.
How has your income mix changed over the past few years and where do you see it going in the next 5 or 10 years?
After the stock market crashed in 2008, mid cycling trip, we had to quickly reevaluate our career paths and restructure our livelihoods. My husband started a consulting business through which he does freelance database development and design for big companies you’ve heard of and iOS/Android programming, among other things, for small companies you haven’t. That’s our primary source of income. The blog has grown and now provides a small amount of income, as does my freelance writing within the travel and alternative education markets. In coming years we hope to continue to broaden our financial base and continue to develop new income streams that are location independent. It seems that the new economic model is to decentralize income and instead build a network of smaller streams, leaving a person less vulnerable than relying on one big paycheck for a complete livelihood.
What advice do you have for new travel writers who want to freelance and are trying to get their first big break?
Keep at it. There’s no free lunch and it’s not an easy market to break into. With hundreds of self styled “travel writers” out there, it’s important to hone your craft, develop your writing, take rejection in stride and ask editors how you can improve your pitch or your presentation next time. There aren’t many travel writers who make “big money” at it, but there are many of us who make some money and find ways to support and develop the lives that we love through our writing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it… just go do it.
Let’s talk about alternative education. You say you do freelance writing for the alternative education market—how would you describe this kind of education? What advice do you have for families who do not feel they can give up their homes (or do not want to) and travel the world as a family?
The very nature of “alternative education” defies a boxed definition. The simplest definition would be education without a classroom. Homeschooling, road schooling, world schooling, unschooling, along with many other “labels” fit into this general definition. I’ve schooled my own kids birth through university without darkening the door of a classroom and I’ve got a degree in education (so I know what I’m avoiding!) I spend a lot of time helping families find the style and materials that will be a good fit for their families. Many of the folks I work with are travelers, but not all of them.
I’m reticent to give advice, as we can only speak to our own lives and choices as individuals. My biggest encouragement to anyone I have the opportunity to speak with is to be sure that they are living their dream. For some people, this includes big time travel, for others it includes a life spent in one place building community deeply and creating beauty in one place. Both are wonderful ways to spend a life… so long as it’s passionate and intentional. There is no greater sadness than a life lived on auto-pilot and in the end filled with regrets at opportunities missed. We must all follow our passions and chase our dreams, no matter where they take us: around the world, or around the block! I teach a class to that effect, called Momentum, with my good friend Nancy Vogel.
Jenn Miller is gypsy mama to four wild adventurer children growing up with the world as their classroom. The Miller Family is in their sixth year of an open ended world tour that has taken them through about thirty countries so far. They’ve journeyed across Europe and N. Africa on bicycles, the length and breadth of North and Central America, deep instead of wide for six months in Guatemala, seven months across mountains and rivers through Southeast Asia. She and her friend Keri Wellman have written Bottles to Backpacks: The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel With Kids, a cradle to college primer on every aspect of child-life on the road for families who want more than a two week vacation with their children, and she also freelances for various places. To join her on her adventures, you’ll want to stalk her blog: The Edventure Project.
Interview conducted in September, 2013 by Kristin Mock.