Do I want to be a travel Writer or travel Blogger?
By Michael Melville
One of my favorite things to blog about is travel. I love writing what I hope are interesting and unique blog posts that I like to call articles (to seem more professional) about the places I’ve gone, things I have seen and done on trips. In fact, outside of being a novelist getting paid to travel and write about the places I’ve gone or will go is my “other” dream. There are a few magazines I would love to write for when it comes to travel. I have no idea how to really make that happen. Journalism wasn’t my major in college but given how much I write for the internet; I wish that it was.
I follow a lot of travel blogs, travel bloggers and read a lot of travel posts online and in print (like actual magazines). I’m in awe of all the places these people have been with or without families and kids in tow.
There is a difference between a travel writer and a travel blogger. I suspected there was one but didn’t realize how much. Simply put travel writers typically work for a newspaper, sometimes a magazine or are freelance. They often make more money but have less control (and fewer perks according to one post). They usually write what they are told to write. They use a more professional tone and voice. For them, it’s about writing an informative article not necessarily connecting with readers on a personal and emotional level.
Travel bloggers, on the other hand, have more freedom, write from their point of view with attitude and feeling so they connect with readers. There is a truthfulness in their words. Travel bloggers work harder one could say since it’s a business of its own. Between writing, traveling, finding advertisers and sponsors, maintaining websites and being on social media there is a lot for the travel blogger to handle. They do this on their own with little or no help. People now have a tendency to remember the travel bloggers they follow from the internet whether it be their blog or Instagram, or other social media. Most people can’t recall the name of a travel writer, however; I sure as hell can’t. I could name 5 travel bloggers off the top of my head that I follow on a regular basis who have huge followings and there are more than that.
Travel writers tend to have a lot of time for writing their articles. A week, sometimes a month or more if they write for a magazine. Their articles go through a number of hands, editors, copy editors and such. There is a lot of involvement. A travel blogger writes on the go. They do all the work from writing to publishing and are almost never in an office. An article I read before writing this was written by the well-known and respected travel blogger Gary Arndt. He wrote it at a McDonald’s while he was at Blog World Expo a few years back. Most of the travel bloggers I follow write on the go from their home, hotel room, airplanes, cruise ships and even taxi’s from what I have seen. The internet has helped exciting travel bloggers get their name and experiences out there faster than a travel writer for a paper could ever dream and to a wider audience.
In the time a travel writer writes and publishes a single article, a travel blogger, on the other hand, could write and publish several if they are on a trip. Traditionally, though, Travel writers are viewed as the more professional of the two. I think that really has to do more with who they write for than the authors name and recognition itself.
A quick example of the difference between the two would be a newspaper article saying something like Things you must do in Disney World. A travel blogger covering the same exact subject might say, 5 family friendly things we did in Disney World. The later connects to readers who have families and kids. It interests them on a personal level because the writer actually did those things with their family for the purpose of THAT article. That is why the “WE” is in there. A reader might think, “Oh if his kids liked that then mine might also.”
Did they really go there?
Then I found out a sad truth. Not everyone travels to the places they are writing about. Most travel writers don’t travel to places they are writing about for their pieces. Travel writers write their articles for whatever newspaper or perhaps magazine they work for based on research and interviews (phone, skype, emails) and not often based off of personal experiences. These travel writers are like traditional journalists in that respect. The pictures you see in these articles are usually stock pictures or done by a professional photographer. But you rarely actually see the articles author in the pictures when it comes to a newspaper article. Magazines sometimes have articles written by firsthand accounts and original pictures.
Sometimes though travel bloggers don’t actually travel to the places they are writing about either. This is what I found really upsetting. The difference from what I can see is economics. Bloggers, at least, the moderately to better-known ones are sometimes given free or heavily discounted trips, flights, hotel stays, dinners and tickets to special events so they will blog about them. These bloggers might write about, say, a weekend they spent in or near London England where they stayed at a new boutique hotel in Surrey or Knotting Hill. The hotel comped the rooms, drinks and dinner (inside the hotel) so the blogger would write a post about it on their website so it would be seen by thousands and thousands of readers who follow that blogger all over social media. It’s relatively cheap advertising for the business owner. This blog or article will have personal pictures and videos showing the readers that the writer was indeed at that place. Bloggers make money in various ways but more often it’s from advertising on their website and sponsorships.
I know one travel blogger who focuses on hiking through mountains all over the world and is sponsored by a major outdoor gear outfitter. He gets cash money and free products that he uses. This, in turn, advertises those products to his readers and help sales for the sponsor. It’s just like the advertising on the side of a stock car in NASCAR. This process funds the trips to places most people never heard of and the bloggers lifestyle.
What some new or up and coming travel bloggers do though is steal a bit from how travel writers do things. You see, the key to any successful blogging site is writing informative and interesting posts that are published on a somewhat regular basis. It’s called content and if you are going to have a blog you need interesting content right?
If you are an up and coming travel blogger with limited funds you might not have the chance to travel as often as what you would like. You won’t be able to do it as often as what your more well-known contemporaries are and not as far. A trip to Maine for an article about this year’s best lobster joints might not be in the realm of possibly for an upcoming travel blogger who is living in Arizona with kids but it’s still interesting to them. It still would be interesting content for their new readers. With the need to have consistent content for search engines so readers can find new travel posts, bloggers need to sometimes skirt the lines between writing and blogging. New travel bloggers might only be able to travel a few times a year, maybe only once a year. They are doing it under their own funds with no or little advertising. So, what they do is pepper their blogs with various travel posts that are very well researched and perhaps interviews were even done for insight in order to make the blog posts sound like they had actually been to these places. Then when they are finally able to take a trip they have authentic things to post in their blogs and Instagram and the typical reader doesn’t know a difference.
They are not breaking rules since there are no real rules with blogging. They are basically, as I said, doing what the paper and magazine writers do to get by and become relevant. Most people who read the travel sections of their local newspapers, USA Today or various travel magazines just assume that the writer of the article they are reading has actually been there. That’s where being a good writer comes in.
So, what now?
So where does that leave someone like me who would like to write professionally about travel related topics? I don’t really know yet. I suppose I would lean more towards travel blogging for the sake of being unique but I can’t justifiably add one more struggling business to my already hectic life as an up and coming novelist, father and fiancé. I get having to cross boundary lines between travel writing and travel blogging. However, I would like to be authentic about the posts I write when it comes to this subject for the sake of honesty and believability. I wouldn’t mind shearing a sheep in Ireland if it meant I could write a unique and interesting article about it and maybe get a free sweater out of the deal. But a trip to Ireland is not in the near future (It’s so depressing).
That being said, I don’t know that readers, let alone advertisers would be interested in following and advertising with a travel blogger who can’t travel very often. You can’t be one thing without doing the other right? How to get myself recognized as a travel blogger seems like even more of a daunting process since I’m still trying to figure out how to get myself recognized as a novelist. TBEX 2016 is just a hop skip and a jump away from me this year in Minneapolis. I would love to go at the very least so I can connect with other travel bloggers who are doing it successfully, get educated on how to do it right and figure out If it’s actually feasible.
But then again I’d love to attend the BEA (Book Expo of America) or some other author and book convention. I’d probably die if I could go to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany but what author wouldn’t. The AWP Conference would be cool but I’ve been to that and wasn’t much impressed. My (unpublished) writing professors at GVSU were all about it because you know…MFA’s, writing journals and awards no one really cares about. Just thinking about it makes me tired.