Howard Blount is founder and editor of Backroad Planet, a road, river, and rail travel website. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet with his travel partner Jerry Woods in search of anything rare and remote. Howard is a writer, consultant, social media influencer, and has published with Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill.
What first led you to the world of travel blogging?
Backroad Planet came about because I needed a second chapter after retiring at age 56 from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher. My pension was calculated at approximately half the salary I was making at the time of retirement, so I knew I would need to supplement my income.
Two of the great loves of my life were travel and writing, and I had extensive experience in both. I had traveled internationally since childhood and had published several educational books with major houses, so it only made sense that I combine the two activities into a new career. I had done a bit of hobby blogging, so I was semi-literate in the mechanics, but I knew virtually nothing about the business of blogging, monetizing my work, and becoming a social media influencer. No matter. I jumped in with both feet, and thanks to several wonderful mentors, I began organically learning the ropes.
How did you choose your niche, and what factors influenced your decision?
Choosing our niche at Backroad Planet was easy because roadtripping is our favorite mode of travel. Jerry and I had been doing weekend drives and holiday road trips for many years, and we always preferred the backroads to the highways. Our river cruise niche developed when Viking Cruises reached out to us and we began an ongoing partnership. Train travel also intrigues us, and we hope to do more of it in the future. At Backroad Planet, we love road, river, and rail travel!
You do an amazing job of building followers through social media and maintaining traffic on your blog. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or someone struggling to build their blog presence?
We launched Backroad Planet in September of 2013, but because I was still teaching, I could only work on building our brand in the evenings, weekends, and spare moments throughout the day. Growing our organic social media following was no easy task. I learned early on that you can create and publish stellar content on your website, but if no one knows how to find it, it won’t be read.
Driving traffic is still a struggle, and so I am always experimenting with SEO and social media to become more effective. Travel blogging is an all-consuming way of life, and newbies should be prepared to work longer hours than ever before. But if you love to travel, write, conduct social media, deal with website problems, do correspondence, and handle untold issues that arise daily, then go for it!
When it comes to monetizing your blog, what works best for you?
Successful travel bloggers monetize through many income streams. The opportunities are vast, but each of them require separate skills and time commitments. I monetize primarily through sponsored content creation, meaning travel brands and destinations pay me to publish articles and engage in social media promotion. We also partner with an advertising platform that places discreet ads throughout our website. Like I said, there are many avenues for income, but travel bloggers have to determine which ones work best for them.
If you had to pick three favorite travel experiences since you started your blog, what would they be?
In the past, when someone would ask me this question, I would respond that travel destinations are like your children. You love them all in different ways. That said, I have to confess that Iceland has become my top destination. Jerry and I did a 7-day road trip along Iceland’s Ring Road, and we were overwhelmed at the stunning beauty of this island nation. It is truly nature on steroids, with iceberg lagoons, black beaches, and waterfalls around every bend.
Our travels with Viking Cruises come in a close second because their signature longships have carried us to many amazing locations along Europe’s great rivers. Travel purists may not care for pre-designed itineraries, but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the work.
My third favorite travel experience would probably be driving across Kansas on my birthday. Riding the midwestern plains may sound boring to some people, but I loved the expansive views, roadside discoveries, and peaceful solitude.
You’ve been given $10,000 to travel wherever you want. How will you spend it?
I would love to have $10,000 to design a dream itinerary, especially if my travel would be without work requirements. I think rather than blowing it all on one lavish trip, I would do fly-drives to several destinations. My current dream destinations are the Balkan states, Scandinavia, and the far reaches of Northern Canada. My dream cruise is the Viking Homelands cruise on the Baltic Sea.
Through the Backroad Planet travel media group, Howard Blount promotes the philosophy that taking scenic routes, scouting offbeat sites, stopping for roadside discoveries, and getting immersed in local flavor are the best ways to travel. He is the founder and lead admin of the Travel Bloggers Influencer Network (#TBIN) and the Backroad Planet Travel Community. You can connect with Howard on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.