After several years as Content Director and lead writer for Bootsnall Travel Network, Roger Wade struck out on his own. As the founder and editor-in-chief of Priceoftravel.com, overwaterbungalows.net, phuketbeachluxury.com and other websites, he provides practical advice to help travelers plan trips based on their personal budgets. We caught up with him to see how all of this came about, what he looks for in freelance writers he hires for his sites, and what’s next in his career.
How did you “break in to travel writing”? What have been the keys to your success?
I’ve been a lifelong traveler and I’ve always loved travel guide books to the degree that I still have boxes of them that I’ve bought and used over the years. As part of a career transition I tried to get a gig as a guidebook writer and even pitched my own new Amsterdam guide to some publishers, but this was around 2003 and the decline in physical books was already starting. Around that same time I was an active member of the BootsnAll.com community boards while I was planning a round the world trip. I became friends with some of the staff shortly before I was moving from New York City to their headquarters city of Portland. They were expanding so they hired me for some projects on their site, It didn’t pay well but it helped train me to write quickly and efficiently. A few months later they offered me a full-time writing job.
If there has been a key to my success it’s that I think I’ve been good at putting myself in the reader’s shoes before I write. The vast majority of people researching travel on the internet are looking for information without a lot of fluff. My goal is always to provide that information as concisely as possible in a predictable format that is easy to scan. If my article can answer your question within 15 seconds of the page loading, I’m quite happy with that.
I know you left BootsnAll to establish your own websites. Tell us a little about the sites you manage and where did the ideas for the sites initially come from.
My first and busiest website is Priceoftravel.com, which I launched in early 2010. I really loved Tim’s World’s Cheapest Destinations book and I continue to be a fan of his books and blogs, but I felt there was room for a different approach to that same general topic. My idea was for a site that essentially had a one-page guide to every major tourist city on earth that also included price information for hotels, hostels, public transportation, attractions, food, and drinks. It took most of a year to create the first 120 or so cities, and now I’m up to just over 200. The main hook was that those pages allowed me to create what I call the “Backpacker Index,” which summarizes each destination with one price for a typical day’s expenses. The Backpacker Index allowed me to rank cities within regions and around the world by price, which people continue to tell me is useful to their travel styles.
The original idea came on my own first round the world trip when I’d read something like, “Morocco is cheap,” or “southeast Asia is cheap.” Since “cheap” is always relative, I wanted to know more details but most travel writing avoids quoting prices, presumably because they can quickly become out of date. Now in the internet era, I figured it would be simple enough to keep at least the major cities updated, and that keeps getting a bit easier each year. Now I write about almost anything that relates to the economics of world travel and it’s going quite well.
In early 2011 I launched my next site – overwaterbungalows.net – which was the first online guide to every overwater bungalow and water villa resort in the world. Like so many other people, I become hypnotized looking at those resort photos with the turquoise lagoons and thatched roofs, especially after seeing them in person on a visit to Moorea. At the time I thought there were maybe 20 or 30 resorts like that in the world, and there was no way to compare them and figure out which one suited you best, so I decided to research all of them and create a comprehensive guide. At the time I found about 80 of those resorts, mostly in the Maldives, and now five years later I think I have about 130 resorts on the site. It’s obviously a niche market but there was nothing like that at the time so I thought it was worth the effort.
Aside from those sites I also have a few destination-specific hotel sites, the busiest of which is phuketbeachluxury.com. I’ve spent some time in Phuket over the years and I found that it was very difficult to find editorial advice on hotels there. My friend, Stuart, who runs travelfish.org does an excellent job with the budget market all over Southeast Asia, but Phuket has more than 1,000 hotels and most of them are mid-range and up. My hotel sites help people quickly narrow down to a few choices, which I think is helpful compared to the whole list of 1,000 on a booking site.
Knowing what you do now, if you were starting from scratch today to become established as a travel writer, what steps would you take to ensure success?
First off, this part is pretty easy for me since I tend to be a shy person in general, but my best tip is to write about the reader’s trip rather than your own trip. Like so many other people, I started off with a personal travel blog in 2004 meant to keep friends and family up to date on my round the world trip. And while it’s definitely possible to get some attention with a site like that, especially on social media, it’s very hard to make money with that strategy.
Personal travel blogging is mostly about entertainment, especially for your core readers. At best you might inspire someone to consider a destination for the future, but even then those same readers will end up searching Google for answers once they start the planning stage. If you can answer questions for people researching specific trips, it’s much easier to support yourself and gain long-term traction.
Also, freelance writing is a great way to get experience and to become a bit known, but the only way to make any kind of decent living in this business is to own your own content. You have to write your best and most evergreen articles for your own site.
Your website provides practical information for your readers about the cost of travel to various destinations. With that as your niche, do you approach travel differently? If so, how?
One of the reasons that Priceoftravel.com works so well for me is that I’ve always been fascinated by prices and economics. Long before I decided to get into travel writing I was always scanning menus and price lists in search of value. Now when I travel I literally take photos of menus and signs in front of tour companies and that sort of thing.
Another thing that comes naturally to me is that I like to sniff out the bargains in each place as quickly as possible. If there is a fun pub with €2 pints while most others are charging €3 or more, I like to figure that out my first night so I know the range for future comparisons. When I get to a new city I always ask around about cheap places that are good and well located for budget travelers. Some people are self conscious about asking for recommendations only for cheap places, but for me it’s necessary to focus on that in order to get a sense of where each destination stacks up compared to the others. It’s not that I only eat and drink in cheap places, it’s more that I want to know about them before I spend twice as much somewhere else.
Do you use freelance writers for your websites? If so, what do you look for in a writer?
In early 2014 I put out word and got many great responses for freelancers, and I still publish new articles from some of those writers, but I haven’t advertised it lately even though I’m still open to it and pay US$50 to US$100 per article. One complication is that Priceoftravel is a pretty specific site and I don’t do well with articles that stray from the main topic of the economics of world travel. I also like and have had success with long-form articles that offer expert advice on topics like arranging a cheap Inca Trail tour or finding an affordable Galapagos boat trip, but again, those are niche topics and most people aren’t interested in writing them, even if they have the knowledge.
One of the freelancers I worked with had great attention to detail and was energetic about pitching new ideas. She’s now been working for me on all of my sites as a writer and research assistant for over a year. Still, I’d love to work with new freelancers if they are interested in my topics and the formats that work on my sites. It just has to be the right fit, which is probably true all over the industry. If you like the kind of information that I provide, I’m interested.
Where do you see your career as a travel writer being three years from now? How will your income mix change and what are you doing to adapt to the changing media landscape?
At this point I spend more time updating existing content than I do writing new pieces, and I think that will continue. My larger sites get very solid daily traffic and I can keep growing them slowly if I keep them updated.
I also have a new trip-planning website that I’m developing, so hopefully that can get some traction and generate new revenue as well. It’s a very crowded marketplace but this website will be simple and very user-oriented, unlike competitors that start with a focus on monetization.
Finally – and I have to ask – if you had to choose just three favorite destinations from your travels what would they be and why?
These are all cliche to some degree, but I stand by my choices:
Iceland – I rented a small car and drove the entire Ring Road by myself, and I can’t wait to do it again with friends. Everyone who goes to Iceland raves about it, and for good reason. Thanks to all of the volcanic activity, the views and terrain are unlike anything you will see anywhere else, but the best part is that (outside of Reykjavik) the country is still almost completely empty. You see mind-blowing waterfalls and lava fields while driving, and then an hour later you finally arrive in the next town, which might have 50 residents. The combination of raw beauty and absurd isolation is something I never expected to see in this global era.
Bali – My first visit to Bali was in 1998 and since then it has become insanely crowded in some areas, with frustrating and depressing traffic, but still I find it magical. The scenery is stunning and the locals are so gentle that I find it relaxing even when it’s busy. I also love the great value there for accommodation and food. It’s one of the few places on earth where you can afford a good chunk of luxury while on a backpacker budget. For example, you can still hire a van and driver for most of a day for around US$50 or US$60, and US$10 massages at spa-like places are easy to find.
Cappadocia, Turkey – I lived in a Mediterranean village called Kas in Turkey for more than a year, and I have great fondness for that area, but if I had to recommend just one place in the country for visitors it’s Cappadocia. When you first see pictures of the Flintstones-esque “fairy chimneys” you might assume that they are just one very photogenic cluster. Then you get there and realize that it’s this whole huge area that looks like nowhere else on earth, and that it’s all photogenic. As a bonus, it’s quite an affordable place once you get there, and you can actually get a hotel room built into one of those caves for well under US$50 per night.
With an earlier background in entertainment and print publishing, Los Angeles-native Roger Wade worked for several years as the Content Director and lead writer at the BootsnAll Travel Network, based in Portland, Oregon. During this time he wrote and contributed to a number of successful online travel guide sites for the network, and developed new products and features for a wide range of sites as well.
An urge to get back on the road led Roger to striking out on his own with Price of Travel, which is the first website that allows anyone from a backpacker to 5-star luxury traveler to make a daily budget at a glance for every major travel destination around the world.
Roger has traveled extensively all of his life, having been to 47 US states and nearly 90 countries in almost every corner of the world. He has also lived in a long list of cities in Europe and Asia, in addition to many different locations all over the United States.