Dave and Deb are the faces behind the popular travel blog The Planet D, where they cover couple’s travel and inspire thousands of other couples (and individuals!) to do the same. In this interview, Tim talks to Dave and Deb about how–and why–they decided to become full-time travel bloggers. Enjoy!
How did you go from being vacationers to being self-supporting bloggers? When did you realize you could do more than just travel until your savings ran out?
We had actually been avid travelers for nearly a decade before we decided to be travel full time. We worked in the film industry as freelancers – Deb was a make-up artist, Dave was a Rigging Gaffer, so this gave us a lot of time off during the winters to see the world. We’d spend three to six months of each year traveling and then we’d come home to work during the warmer Canadian summers. It was in 2008 that we made a conscious decision to quit our jobs and travel. We initially wanted to pitch a travel show since we had a film and TV background and that is where we came up with the “Adventure Couple” concept. Our idea was to show the world that a couple can travel happily together and that average people can do extraordinary adventures. You don’t have to be an expert or uber athlete to be an adventurer; you just have to be willing to push yourself beyond your limits and take life by the horns.
We had started the blog for our cycling race from Cairo to Cape Town which was supposed to be the springboard for our adventure travel show, but obviously, that didn’t work out. However, we saw that people were really enjoying our travel stories and we really enjoyed telling them. Because we had such an extensive background in travel, we had a lot of experience to draw from and people seemed to like what they saw. We soon realized that we loved travel blogging and finally found our calling.
How have you monetized your blog in the past and how are things looking going forward?
When we first started blogging, we didn’t make any money but eventually we sold banner ads and used Adsense on our website. Having that TV background, we had a goal from the start to work with companies as spokespeople the way that celebrities and athletes endorse products. We worked hard on marketing and building our brand, readership and social media following to appeal to companies looking for people to help promote their product or service. American Express Canada was the first company we started working with and have been with them for the past year test driving the American Express Gold Rewards Card. We do TV appearances, magazine and newspaper interviews above and beyond writing about our experiences on our blog. We also work with Intrepid Travel in a similar capacity and work with Expedia on many different levels.
We have several different ways of monetization from advertising, sponsorship, running campaigns and contests and writing for other media outlets.
I love the fact that you emphasize spending quality time in the countries you visit instead of just ticking off destinations like so many people do. Do you think that depth of experience has led to more unique posts and angles?
For us I think that it has definitely helped make for more compelling posts. When we spend time in a place, our writing and photography is more inspired. It is the people we meet along the way that make for compelling stories and when we are in a place longer we get to know the people and become involved in the community. We discover interesting unknown treasures and experience things that many travelers don’t get to do. For example, when we were in Sri Lanka, we went to deliver shoes to a school in the jungle with our friend Ajith. In India we toured a hotel under construction with our guesthouse manager and visited his family. In Thailand we immersed ourselves in Muay Thai Kickboxing and in Nepal we got to know our mountain guide and still keep in touch with him.
Our creative juices are sparked and when we take our time, unique stories end up happening. When you give a place the time it deserves, you will come out with something that is unique to your experience. We’ve been travelling too quickly this year and have made it our mission to slow down at the end of the year to get back to our roots of staying longer and doing more epic adventures that test our limits.
There’s obviously no shortage of blogs written by couples backpacking around the world. What else do you do to make ThePlanetD stand out?
I think it is our story. We left our careers later in life and never settled on something that we didn’t have passion for. We never gave up searching for a career that made us happy and for ways to keep our relationship fresh and exciting. We have been together for 21 years and we really do have a great time with each other. We searched for ways to work together for several years before we finally found travel blogging and since we both love a good adventure, it adds an element of fun to our posts. I think that people can relate to our stories. They can laugh with us, cry with us and feel our frustrations about things, but most importantly they can feel empowered to know that if we can do it, anyone can.
We are open to talking about our fears and doubts and we make sure to let people know that everything is not always roses. We want to inspire people and let them know that anyone can do anything if you truly want to. It takes hard work and there are ups and downs but we are living our dream. Even though it took us longer that we thought it would to figure out what we wanted to do, we did it and you can too.
I advise most bloggers to limit their time on social media since the click-through is so low, especially when online time is precious on the road, but you all run a blog that has a huge number of Facebook fans. How much of your traffic comes from Facebook and how does it compare to the amount from search and RSS readers?
Our search engine traffic is our number one traffic source but we also have a lot of readers come from social media so we do spend a lot of time there as well. StumbleUpon is still a major contributor to theplanetd followed by Facebook. We also feel that we can really interact with our readers on Facebook and give them a voice when we ask them questions or have them share a story or photo. Social Media is very important to us however we do limit our time on it as it can take over your life. We now have a social media manager that helps us post our content to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and StumbleUpon. She manages putting out our photos, questions and blog posts while we work on the interaction. It has really helped a lot.
How do you balance productive time and experience time since you’re usually traveling instead of having a home base? Is there a time management plan and a specific posting schedule?
Time management is always a problem. Emails alone take up a lot of time and we post every day. We also like to make sure that we include videos regularly and we have a lot of photos in all our posts which take up a lot of time in editing. We have many obligations with sponsors and media trips that we have to keep on top of, so we are constantly running back to our hotel rooms at night to write and edit photos and videos.
We make sure to keep at least one week ahead of scheduled posts on the blog so that we can take a day or two to really enjoy the moment of where we are. We also accept guest posts and have an ongoing travel inspiration series that has gone over quite well. It gives us both a day off each week from writing and posting photographs.
I think that we are very good at time management though. We sit down and get our work done and aren’t overly distracted by anything. I think it is because we are so busy that we can stay focused. If we start to be swayed by social media or surfing the net, we wouldn’t get anything done and we wouldn’t enjoy our travels at all.
However, we do find that we just work a lot. Travel Blogging as a business, is still very much a business. We put in long hours. Today we went sailing and snorkelling, popped over to a Pineapple festival and now we are writing four blog posts, answering this interview, putting together a photostory for a contest that Dave is judging and putting together stats and analytics for a previous campaign. We then fly out first thing in the morning before heading off to our next adventure. I think you have to really love every aspect of running a travel blog to make it work. The travel is one part of it, but the writing, photography, video and social networking is another very big part.
What advice would you give to a blogging couple starting out today who wanted to earn money at this instead of just posting for their friends and family?
Make a business plan. Decide how you want to make money. Do you want to use the blog to promote a business or use it as a springboard to write for magazines? Do you want to seek sponsorship or do you want to run your own travel show or become a spokesperson. There are many ways to utilize a travel blog to make a living. You really need to have a clear plan as to where you want to be before you can begin to get there. Find what you love about travel and decide how you are going to make that unique to your blog. There is a lot of competition out there, but if you can find your unique voice and stick to it, you will have an easier time achieving success. Most of all, have fun. If you aren’t having fun, it is impossible to last at anything.
Canada’s Adventure Couple, ThePlanetD.com, featuring Dave and Deb, is one of the leading travel websites on the internet focusing on adventure and inspiration. Following their motto “Adventure is for Everyone” they constantly take on unique and exciting challenges such as cycling the continent of Africa and driving ⅓ of the way around the world in the Mongol Rally.
Interview conducted in July, 2012 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel and edited by Kristin Mock.