Summer Round-Up: Best Travel Writing Advice So Far This Year

As we reach the halfway point of 2014, we couldn’t help but go back through many interviews we’ve conducted so far this year to see where we’ve been and where we’re going. The travel industry is changing (there is no doubt about that!), and these writers, editors, and publishers have given us insight into how to make it in the travel industry. So, as we plan for the upcoming TBEX conferences, take our much-needed summer vacations, and do what we do best (travel and write), take a few moments to sit back, relax, and enjoy this round-up of the most interesting travel writing quotes we’ve gotten so far in 2014. And, let us know in the comments section what you think about what our experts have to say!

Happy continued writing,

–Tim & Kristin

P.S. Also, if you’re not subscribed to our newsletter (which always features a round-up of our most recent interviews!), sign up here. No spam, no selling, and no sharing–just a friendly newsletter every once in a while.

Don’t Play It Too Safe

“Wearing your heart on your sleeve can bond you with your audience in ways that “Everything is awesome” pampic2can’t…..Bloggers totally play it too safe. If you want to be invited on press trip after press trip or get paid day rates by PR, it pays to be safe. You have to have a lot of nerve to bite the hand that feeds you. But it depends on what your goal is. If you want to have a career as an independent writer, you’re gotta put your incisors to work. If you want to trade work as a marketing hack for luscious vacations on someone else’s dime, carry on. But no one says, “I would like to read a travel story about someone who’s having an awesome time on a meticulously managed experience, especially if they are writing to please the host.” – Interview with Pam Mandel, Nerd’s Eye View and Passports with Purpose

lucasDon’t Let Social Media Drain You

“I think it’s important to be judicious in your use of social media, or it can become a big drain on your time and not necessarily garner the results you’re seeking. As of mid-2014, I still believe there are lots of good paying print markets out there. You just have to find them and then consistently deliver the goods for your editors.” – Interview with Lucas Aykroyd, freelance writer

Newsletters Can Be Your #1 Assetevelyn

“I think newsletters are your number one asset in reaching out to readers. Keep them short, keep them sweet and make sure they are interactive so that readers can give you feedback on what they do and don’t like. From there it is your particular style (and don’t be afraid to let that show) which will spell success or not.” – Interview with Evelyn Hannon, Journeywoman

Short Blog Posts Aren’t Always Your Friend

“My most popular post on the Cheapest Destinations Blog is 4,803 words, for example. There are e-books for sale that are shorter than that. But don’t take my word for it. In this awesome (long) post from AppSumo founder Noah Kagan, the analysis of more than 100,000 blog posts showed the longer the post, the more it got shared.” – Advice post from our very own Tim Leffel

Know What (And Who) You’re Writing For

bender“I find the key is deeply caring about what you’re writing. But more importantly is to have a clear purpose for creating a blog. Its an easy thing to overlook for newbies, but it will help determine what are the right steps – is the blog about making money, or a hobby or promoting a social cause? If a blog is primarily about making money, then it will need to be the focus front and centre. For us, we started the blog as a hobby and it has grown into a small business which are excited about building further.” – Interview with Erin Bender, Travel with Bender

Travelers Today Don’t Travel Like They Used To

“Digital media has made a huge impact in the industry and opened up a gap for new ways that travelers can get information. This was crucial for opening the door for this new wave of world travelers, who don’t necessarily travel like their parents once did.” – Interview with Cacinda Maloney, Points and Travel

robgossFake It ‘Til You Make It (Really)

“Don’t be afraid to act like a professional, even if you don’t feel like one yet. Be reliable, meet deadlines, and deliver exactly as briefed. Overcome any shyness about communicating with your editors. Good editors don’t get annoyed if you ask for guidance. It shows that you care.” – Interview with Rob Goss, freelance writer

And, Of Course, Don’t Quit Your Day Job (Yet)

“We’re now in the ‘golden age of free content’ which means many writers end up giving away their work for nothing, especially in the early days as they try to build a reputation. It’s very hard to move from writing for free to writing for a living but the sooner you start to make this transition the better. I would suggest starting by keeping your job and writing on the side; then transitioning to part-time work and paid writing assignments; then moving – if possible – to full-time paid writing. But it isn’t easy and there are no short cuts.” – Interview with John Lee, freelance writer

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Round-up collected in July 2014 by Kristin Winet.

Join Us at TBEX 2014 (+ Free Registration Giveaway!)

 

Sorry kids – the chance to attend for free has passed, but check out the rest for what’s in store!

TBEX North America and TBEX Europe are coming up later this year and our very own Tim Leffel will be joining 750+ attendees to talk about travel, adventures, writing, photographing, blogging, and making a living with the combination. This year, to kick things off, we’re giving away one free registration to TBEX Europe in Athens, a $247 value. All you have to do to enter is answer one question below in the Comments and you’re entered!

TBEX Athens

You’ll see plenty of the writers, bloggers, and editors we’ve interviewed here on the Travel Writing 2.0 blog at both TBEX conferences this year, including Max Hartshorne, Sheila Scarborough, and a host of other names in the business. Click below to see some of the interviews we’ve done with this year’s speakers:

TBEX Cancun (September 11-13, 2014):

TBEX Athens (October 23-25, 2014):

To enter our giveaway, simply respond to this question in the Comments section: What has your blogging journey been like and what do you want to learn at TBEX? Be as creative and insightful as you can!

Rules: one entry per person; no writers who work for Tim or any of the above websites are eligible.

Update – Congrats to Jessica Dawdy, who will be joining me in Greece!

This prize is non-refundable or transferable and must be used at TBEX Europe in Athens. It is for registration only and does not include travel expenses or lodging.

 

A Conversation with Pam Mandel

pampic2

Pam Mandel has done a beautiful job blending her day job of technical writing with her passion for writing and blogging about travel. She blogs at Nerd’s Eye View, has freelanced for some of the most important publications in the industry, and co-founded Passports with Purpose, a group that raises money for worthy causes that resonate with travelers. In our interview today, Pam tells us about how she balances her two careers, why she hated writing guidebooks, and what travel brands she loves the most. Enjoy!

Tell us how you ended up in travel writing and what you also do to earn a living.

I was sending stupidly long emails to all my friends while living as an expat in Austria. And one day, my friend Jules said, “Have you heard about blogging? You should be blogging.” He was right.

Everything I do as a travel writer came from my starting a little expat blog about my life in a very small town in Austria. I had a 3 megapixel digital camera that I used to shoot photos. 3 megapixels! My phone has 12! So there I was, blogging, and looking at the very early travel web and contacting people who were total strangers to ask if I could write for them. World Hum published one of my very first stories — years later, I still write for them. I got a lot of lucky breaks — I connected with a travel writer for Lonely Planet and Thomas Cook through a community expat blog and she referred me for my first guidebook gig — things kind of grew from there.

The early adopter community was small, so I got hooked it to places it mattered really fast. I’ve since written for Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveler and Afar and the San Francisco Chronicle and a bunch of places, but all of that came out of connections I made online as a blogger when the whole world of online and travel was so new.

I do a lot of things to earn a living, but almost all of them are writing. I write technical specifications for websites, I write copy for websites, I ghost write rather dull corporate content for… websites. All this website work means I’ve learned about what makes websites go, and more recently, I’ve also done architecture for websites — UX — meaning I help design the scaffolding that all the pretty stuff on websites hangs on.

I say in the Travel Writing 2.0 book that the happiest travel writers are often the ones that don’t have to depend on it to pay the bills. Do you think having another primary source of income has enabled you to be more discerning about what you choose to write about?

Absolutely. If all I did was chase travel writing gigs, I could not afford to be picky about what I do. In travel writing I try to focus only on gigs that I enjoy. I love writing about travel, I really love it, and I think it would bum me out if I had to churn out SEO or content farm work about travel to pay my bills. I’m so lucky to have been in Seattle in the 90s — I was hired for a contract project at Microsoft writing captions for a product called Encarta — that led to a series of increasingly technical gigs. Those tech gigs can pay pretty well and that keeps me from doing travel work that would crush my soul.

What kind of freelance travel pieces have you had the most fun writing and which ones were the hardest to get done and sent?

I hated doing guidebook work. I get asked about it a lot, people think it’s glam. I did Hawaii, even, and I hated it. I ran around the islands like a crazy person with barely any time to pampicenjoy where I was, and then, I spent months involved in what felt like glorified data entry. I’m glad I did it, it built up my cred, but I never want to do it again. What a chore. I have nothing but respect for guidebook writers, they work really hard.

As for what I’ve loved — well, when an editor likes an idea I have and lets me just run with it, wow, that’s a dream gig. I recently got to spend a day visiting the Grand Canyon and talking to people about their experiences there — it was so very much fun, and I loved writing about it too. It’s a little counterintuitive, but I love where I live and getting to wax poetic about the Pacific Northwest is nice. I get to write these sort of love letters to my home, which is kind of fitting for a travel writer, don’t you think? I also really like working with editors that get me. I wrote articles for Lonely Planet’s website for a little while and when I’d get the edits back, it felt like the editor really understood my voice. That was a delight.

I enjoyed the gear reviews I did for Practical Travel Gear and Gadling too. Thing is, I field tested everything and I learned a lot about what makes great gear while doing it. Reviewing gear allowed me to be really objective — something that travel often lacks. If something breaks on first use or, alternatively, becomes an essential item, you know exactly what to say.

A lot of your fans probably love your blog because you’re so opinionated and don’t shy away from a good rant. Do you think this has been a key to your success in building an audience and that many bloggers play it too safe?

Come for the rants, stay for the travels stories. That could be it. Strong voice is critical for any successful writer, I think. There are a million and one stories about Paris now, so without a strong voice, who’s going to read what you have to say about Paris?

Understand, my blog built me a reputation as an opinionated and reliable writer, but I wouldn’t say I’m all that as a blogger. My traffic is small. But it’s fiercely devoted — I still get comments from readers who found me nearly 15 years ago. I love that.

cond___nast_traveler3I feel like a good rant helps me stay sane, but also, wearing your heart on your sleeve can bond you with your audience in ways that “Everything is awesome” can’t. I wrote about what it was like to lose my Dad to Alzheimer’s and I was overwhelmed by the kindness i got. It’s not just about ranting, it’s about writing honestly about your place in the world. Sometimes, that’s ranting, but not always.

Bloggers totally play it too safe. If you want to be invited on press trip after press trip or get paid day rates by PR, it pays to be safe.

You have to have a lot of nerve to bite the hand that feeds you. But it depends on what your goal is. If you want to have a career as an independent writer, you’re gotta put your incisors to work. If you want to trade work as a marketing hack for luscious vacations on someone else’s dime, carry on.

But no one says, “I would like to read a travel story about someone who’s having an awesome time on a meticulously managed experience, especially if they are writing to please the host.”

I’ve heard/read you go off on pop-up subscription boxes, sleazy blogger sponsorships, sponsored tweets, and commercial infographics, to name a few. What’s annoying you most lately?

Hoo boy. How much space can I have?

Andrew Sullivan posted on The Dish recently where he blasted Yahoo for caving to advertiser pressure on content. I posted it to my Facebook page and quite the storm followed.

I think folks misunderstand where I come down on paid content, so I always try to bring it back to a food analogy. As a consumer, I like to know what I’m getting — if it’s full of AfarLogo_20121-1_copychemicals, it’s GMO, it’s got eleventy billion grams of sugar and sodium — BEFORE I eat it, not after. I read labels and I think, huh, that’s bad for me. Sometimes I go ahead had have Doritios because sometimes, I want junk. But it’s an informed choice.

I want that option as a reader — an informed choice –  and I seldom get it. Usually, it’s after the food — I mean content — is consumed that I find out the writeup telling me it is safe to go to Thailand Jordan Turkey was funded by… Thailand Jordan Turkey. Not cool.

I’m not saying those places are unsafe or even that the reporting is bad, but come on, you have got to lead with the sponsor if you want me to trust you even a little bit. Telling me afterwards just makes me mad and totally kills my trust. That’s a pretty egregious example, but it holds for less charged things, too.

If you tell me “Everything is Awesome in Awesomeland!” and then “Paid for by Awesome Inc.”– well, your cred is shot, I am breaking up with you. We are through. Tell me right up from you’re on Awesome Inc’s dime and I will say, “At least you’re being transparent… I’ll give you two more minutes to convince me.” You could win me over — it’s happened.

You covered travel clothing, shoes, and gadgets for a while for me over at Practical Travel Gear. What are you packing lately that you’ve been really happy with? OR, what’s a brand you love so much you would agree to a “brand ambassador” arrangement? (Fully disclosed, of course…)

The Gregory Alpaca roller bag. Hands down my favorite roller bag. I’m still nutty for the bags by Tom Bihn, but sometimes, I want wheels.

Icebreaker’s merino wool clothing is crazy expensive and some of the nicest stuff own and tough, tough, tough. SmartWool anything is a very close second.

Even though I’ve never quite made aesthetic peace with those weird bumper toes on Keen shoes, they’re really comfortable and also, are holding up beautifully.

Last but way not least? The Panasonic Lumix. I rarely shoot an SLR anymore. I love this thing.

I’d sign an ambassador contract with any of those brands — they make stuff that I’ve hauled around the planet  and continue to pack over and over and over again. They make my wish list — and recommended gifts for travelers — Every Single Year. Also, I thought packing cubes were dumb first time I tried them out. Now I use them all the time. They’re great. Go figure.

Pam Mandel has been a contributor to Conde Nast Traveler, Afar, World Hum, Gadling, BlogHer, and Divine Caroline, been featured on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog and Perceptive Travel,  and written for a handful of food, travel, and in-flight magazines.

Interview conducted in July, 2014 by Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Winet.

 

An Interview with Lucas Aykroyd

lucasI love something that Lucas Aykroyd says in our interview today: “Delivering good features that aren’t stock fare opens doors.” He would know: he’s written for the likes of National Geographic Traveler, The Washington Post, and The Toronto Star. In our interview today, Lucas talks about life as a freelance writer, why you should be judicious in your use of social media, and why good writing (and not just interesting content) is still so important. Check out his portfolio site to learn more.

Lucas, you’ve written for more than 30 magazines, newspapers and guidebooks, including National Geographic Traveler, The Washington Post, and The Toronto Star. How’d you get your feet wet in the business?

My first travel piece was about sea kayaking off the north coast of Vancouver Island for a small arts and entertainment magazine in Victoria, Canada. In my early freelancing years, I focused more on beats like hockey, music, and fashion. I realized over time that I could parlay those clips into travel writing gigs. On a press trip to Los Angeles, I covered the Golden Globes red carpet fashions – and also humorously surveyed the movie fans watching outside the Beverly Hilton about their knowledge of the NHL (which was pretty scanty eight years before the Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup). I rarely thought “inside the box” about my travel writing, whether in terms of my story topics or my worldwide markets, and I still take that approach. Delivering good features that aren’t stock fare opens doors.

How does your guidebook writing differ from the longer feature pieces you do?

With guidebook writing, it’s more about making sure you tick off the right boxes for your clients. When I wrote the British Columbia content for Frommer’s Far & Wide: A Weekly Guide to Canada’s Best Travel Experiences, my mandate was to evoke the excitement and emotions that visitors have while storm-watching in Tofino, ziplining at Grouse Mountain, or sampling craft beers in Victoria. When Globe Pequot Press Travel hired me to write their Vancouver CityGuide, I had to select the city’s key attractions, come up with itineraries, write about the local lingo, currency, and so on – all in capsule descriptions. Guidebook writing is all-intensive, as you’re juggling so many details for weeks on end.

How has the turn toward digital media impacted your work? (Or has it?)New-York-Times-Logo

It’s created more markets for me and enabled my career to advance faster than it might have otherwise. I think it’s important to be judicious in your use of social media, or it can become a big drain on your time and not necessarily garner the results you’re seeking. As of mid-2014, I still believe there are lots of good paying print markets out there. You just have to find them and then consistently deliver the goods for your editors.

What advice would you give to someone near and dear to you who wanted to become a travel (and/or sports) writer?

You need to be persistent and self-motivated. Be willing to do some writing for free at the start — but only do enough to get the clips you need to land paying assignments. If you act like a pro, you’ll get treated like a pro. Join professional writing associations. Have some specialties — in my case, I focus on adventure travel and sports — but also be willing to diversify your subject matter: it keeps life exciting and offers you more income streams.

How has your income mix changed in the past few years, and where do you see that mix going in the next five or ten years?

Traveler_Logo_NewNGTLogo-blkThe main shift has been that while my level of hockey writing has remained steady, I’ve seen a big surge on the travel side. Over the next five or ten years, I plan to continue expanding my public speaking career. Among other gigs, I’ll be speaking to the Surrey International Writers Conference this fall. My subject is “Freedom, Fun and Adventure: Live the Dream as a Travel Writer.” In my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to track polar bears near the Arctic Circle, go horseback riding past the giant stone statues on Easter Island, and take a whiskey-tasting tour of Scotland. I believe there’s a great opportunity and a great market to help aspiring writers pursue their own dreams and adventures.

In your opinion, what does it take to write award-winning travel pieces? What makes a piece stand out?

Just as with my public speaking, I’m a big believer in combining entertainment and education. If you write a travel feature with an unusual angle, a sense of humor, and lots of vivid details, you can attract readers who might not even initially be interested in the destination in question. I’ve had success writing about drinking fermented horse milk in Russia, following in the footsteps of the comic book character Tintin in Peru, and using roller coasters for therapeutic healing in California.

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Lucas Aykroyd is an award-winning writer, national newspaper columnist, and public speaker. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and The Hockey News. Since 2013, he’s won five medals at the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) Awards, as well as a Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) award.

Interview conducted in July 2014 by Kristin Winet.

Here’s How to Consistently Run a Mediocre Blog

stop doing this

If you read a lot of conventional wisdom articles about how to write successful blog posts, you’ll read a lot of advice that’s just plain wrong. Some people giving out this advice give it because it worked for them five years ago so they assume it’s still working now. Others are just parroting what they’re heard before, with no research or testing to back it up. If you follow all the “rules,” you’ll be average at best.

Here are the worst piles of crap:

Write short, easy-to-read posts of 400-600 words.

Ask anyone who has written some epic long post that’s gone viral and they’ll tell you this is bunk. My most popular post on the Cheapest Destinations Blog is 4,803 words, for example. There are e-books for sale that are shorter than that. But don’t take my word for it. In this awesome (long) post from AppSumo founder Noah Kagan, the analysis of more than 100,000 blog posts showed the longer the post, the more it got shared.

Break your post up with lots of subheads and short sentences so people can skim easily.

Yeah I know, people have short attention spans on the web and they don’t like to read long blocks of text. That’s what everyone will tell you anyway.

But what kind of readers are you trying to attract? The kind that surfs the web like a squirrel on crack? Or the kind that have landed on your site because they’re actually interested in the topic?

If it’s the latter, forget the former. Go for quality visitors, not just eyeballs. Stick in a photo or subhead where it’s natural, but those who want to skim and just pick out one fact aren’t the ones who are going to sign up for your e-mail list, get your RSS feed, or value your advice. Ten seconds from now they’ll be on to something else and won’t ever remember the name of your blog. So don’t dumb down your writing to please them. Let them go.

Don’t try to be too clever with your title—and keep it short.

This is actually half right. It’s good advice for search: you want the subject of the article to be the subject in your title. And not too long.

But it turns out this is terrible  advice when it comes to social sharing. Just look at the success of sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. They’ve built up massive traffic and Facebook followings by posting clever titles that promise something funny, strange, or amazing if you will just click that link already. (Recent examples: “The Nipple Bikini Lets You Go Topless Without Taking It All Off,” “A Man Walked Into A McDonald’s With A Knife Sticking Out Of His Back,” “If You’re Too Grossed Out To Share This Video, Then You’re Exactly Why It Exists.”

Put links to your post on every social media platform as soon as you hit publish.

This is bad advice for a whole host of reasons, the main one being that the time you publish a post might be the lowest readership time for your audience on social media. If most of your followers are in bed by 10 pm and your post goes live at midnight, then put the megaphone away until the morning.

Besides, based on personal experience with six different blogs and websites, at least 90% of an article’s traffic comes after it has been out at least a month. What’s the rush? The other point is, it’s better if others spread the word for you than if you do it yourself. This is especially true for Stumbleupon.

One caveat though: posting on Google+ does seem to get your post indexed faster by Google. Whether this matters or not in the long run is up for debate.

Write lots of list posts to get clicks and shares.

Yes, you probably will get more clicks and shares if your post has a number in it. Like it or not, top-10 lists are still popular and probably always will be. The lemmings love lists and even if they haven’t read it, they’ll retweet it.

But what good is a retweet if nobody clicks on the link? What’s the good of bringing more traffic to your site if it’s the first and last time they’ll visit–for 15 seconds?

The occasional list post is a nice break that will probably get you higher short-term traffic. You could say it’s the entire reason some blogs (like The Luxury Travel Blog) get so much traffic. They’ve done lists non-stop from the start and it has worked for them. Hey, your next list post may even go viral.

But here’s the key question: do you want to be known as a writer with expertise, or a person who’s good at making lists?

Your turn: what other advice do you read all the time that hasn’t been right for you or your audience?