Caroline and Craig Makepeace are the founders of y Travel Blog, one of the world’s most influential family travel blogs. Their travel tips help others to unplug from the chaos, travel more and create better memories. Caroline joins us this week to talk about how it all started and how she and Craig manage to homeschool their girls while making a living as full-time bloggers.
What was your background before you became a travel blogger and what led to the transition to making money from writing and photographing your trips?
I was an elementary school teacher, and Craig worked in construction. These jobs helped us to live and work in other countries. I was never passionate about teaching and once I hit 30 and ran out of options for working holiday visas in other countries, we started looking for something of our own that could still give us the travel lifestyle we loved. We attempted a wide variety of things that only ended in disaster. One day I happened to stumble upon travel blogs and a fire was lit inside me. I realized they were writing about my life for the past 10 years, so I could do the same. I loved keeping a journal when traveling and writing to friends back home to share our adventures, and Craig liked taking photos of our travels, so starting a travel blog seemed like a good fit for us. Turns out it sure was.
Everyone has to start out at zero, but some manage to rise above the crowd over time. How did you take YTravelBlog.com from no visitors to reaching hundreds of thousands of readers per month? Which steps had the biggest impact?
First, we started our travel blog with over 10 years of travel behind us. This meant we were already experts on travel and could immediately write a lot of useful content to help others follow a similar pathway. We knew the travel lifestyle well and could quickly build a community around that. This enabled us to grow quite quickly.
We wanted to be a resource that inspired others to travel by following our own personal story, but also one that gave lots of tips and information like Lonely Planet does, so our content has always been focused in this way. This meant a lot of content is highly shareable which helped expand and grow our brand and authority. I also made sure I guest posted and participated in interviews frequently on other sites to increase that brand building and domain authority.
We have a large Pinterest community which happened by luck really. We were a featured user in the beginning stages of Pinterest which helped us grow quickly and also drove a lot of traffic to our site.
One of the biggest things that helped us was when we decided to road trip around Australia full time. The trip lasted for 18 months and our community loved being a part of our adventure. We had tremendous growth and were able to create hundreds of posts on Australia and become the expert authority on Australia travel. We discovered this was a formula that worked and are now replicating it with a road trip across the US.
If there’s one segment of the travel blogging world that’s especially competitive, it’s family travel. How have you stood out from that crowd and established a unique brand?
I think one thing that has helped us is that we walk our talk. Travel has been our lifestyle and focus since our children were born. We’ve been traveling with them since then and mostly on epic full-time adventures like our 18-month road trip around Australia and our current RV trip across the USA.
I think that gives us a unique and interesting story and brand. Those who follow us know that we can help them as we understand all aspects of family travel. We’re not just doing 1-2 trips a year, or even just traveling without the kids, yet still writing content from a family travel perspective. That’s a no-go for us. If our kids can’t travel with us on the experience, we don’t produce family travel content. It’s important that we can give the true picture of the family travel experience. Our community trusts that we can help them have similar experiences because of this.
I laughed so hard one day when someone who must have been new to our community left a negative comment on one of our photos that our children were too perfect and wouldn’t follow us. One of our long-term followers jumped out and said, “Are you kidding? Savannah’s hair is rarely brushed in any of their photos!” This is entirely accurate and speaks to how we like to share the real travel story. We just don’t have time to perfect anything. Parents especially resonate with this.
You spoke on e-mail marketing for bloggers at TBEX North America to a large crowd a few months ago. We’ll put a link to your slides here for those who couldn’t attend, but why do you think so many travel bloggers ignore or neglect this powerful outreach method as opposed to various social platforms? And more perplexing still, why don’t sponsors or advertisers seem to care about a platform where you routinely get 25% of your targets actually reading your message?
I don’t think many people understand the power of it because it remains so hidden. With social media, you can see instant results through likes and comments etc. So other bloggers and sponsors can be distracted by this bright shiny object, not really taking the time to think about how engaged, loyal and connected an email subscriber may be in comparison. It takes a lot for a person to hand over their email address and trust a blogger with it. It means they really want to connect with and learn from that person.
To be honest, I also think bloggers get caught up in the whole vanity thing of social media. There’s no vanity in email marketing because the rest of the world can’t see how beautiful you look or how popular you are. Email marketing, if used correctly, can be very raw and unfiltered. I love that I don’t have to worry about perfecting anything, or formatting things in a certain way, worrying about SEO and social promotion. It really feels like writing to friends, which means the community you can build through it can be very powerful.
Bloggers also feel quite overwhelmed by email marketing. It seems so cumbersome. Getting people into your list in the first place takes time and a bit of creativity. Whereas, social media may seem a lot easier. Throw up some photos, add some hashtags, ask a few questions, maybe even do follow unfollow. But, email marketing has a MUCH higher ROI and your list is something you own and can never be taken from you. I have made six figures off my email marketing list. I barely make anything from social media, yet my follower numbers are higher on social than my email list. The numbers just don’t add up in comparison.
I am still baffled as to why sponsors don’t care about email. I just don’t think they are educated enough on it to know how to utilize its power.
How do you make money from your blog? How many income streams do you have and which are the top three that really pay the bills?
We have a variety of income streams, which help bring us consistent and secure income. It’s important to diversify as blogging income can be seasonal and reliant on outside factors like social media algorithms and Google search results.
Our top three income streams are: advertising, affiliate income, and brand partnerships/ DMO marketing campaigns.
We also sometimes make money through freelance writing, speaking, sponsored posts, social media promotions, and our own products.
I run a course on writer productivity, but I just sent my daughter off to college so my schedule has gotten a lot less demanding. How do you and your husband juggle the business requirements of a full-time blogging company and the travel on top of homeschooling your two daughters along the way?
I find this question so hard to answer. Most of the time I don’t know. I feel I just get up and do things and don’t offer any excuses. I think that is super important to understand. If you approach your work with commitment and focus and the intention to make stuff happen no matter what, you’ll amaze yourself with how productive you can be. Excuses kill productivity 100%.
A few things that help:
- Clarity – I know exactly what I want, what my mission is, how I want to serve and why I am doing this. This helps me stay focused and allows me to quickly make good decisions. Most people fail or have slow progress because they can’t make decisions. I don’t suffer from procrastination like this. My big picture vision is always driving my action. If it doesn’t align with that or my values, I say no and put my time into what does.
- Prioritize. This is essential for everyone, but especially for those in situations like ours. Know what works and what doesn’t. Only work on those things that move you closer to your goal. And those things that will over you the greatest ROI and have the greatest impact. It’s so easy to say yes to everything. What is more important is what you say no to. Don’t be afraid that you will miss out. Opportunity will always come your way.
- Outsource This is something we’ve been able to do more of as our business has grown. It’s not something that will be a reality for beginners. Start by looking at tools you can use that will help you do your work. You may find some free or inexpensive tools to help you leverage your time. We outsource video editing, Pinterest management, website management, design work, and some SEO maintenance. And of course, I have Ontraport—my email marketing software that allows me to do the work of ten tools and ten people!
- Layer – I tend to look at this as a new form of multi-tasking. Instead of doing multiple things at once, you take one activity to give you multiple results. So if we are exploring a region, we’re spending time together as a family and pursuing our travel interests. At the same time, we are taking photographs and gathering information to later produce content for the travel blog. We’re usually incorporating outdoor experiences like hiking, kayaking etc. so we are taking care of our bodies at the same time. And we are using it as an opportunity for our girls to learn. Most of our homeschooling happens as a result of our in the moment life and travel experiences.
- Being effective with our time. We have a semi-routine we like to stick to. I wake up around 5am so I can meditate/journal/read something empowering. This is so important for setting my energy right for the day and allowing me to start it from a centered and calm position, which in turn helps me to be focused and productive. I will then focus on important creative work for the blog—mostly writing content—before the girls wake up. Once they wake up, I’ll do formal homeschooling with them (math and reading) for about an hour. The rest of the day can go in any direction! I do a lot of work when traveling in the car and the girls will do some of their school work then too. Craig and I will often tag team. One will go out with the girls while the other stays home to work. Then we’ll do a little more at night when the girls are asleep. I don’t have great evening energy, so it’s more Craig that works at night, while I zone out on the couch watching How to Get Away with Murder!
Caroline and Craig were recently granted a green card for their extraordinary ability in the Art of Travel Blogging. They’ve recently embarked on an extended USA road trip and will be living the RV life with their girls. You can follow their adventures on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.
Interview conducted by Tim Leffel, posted by Terri Marshall.