If you asked many travel fanatics what their dream job would be, chances are the words ‘travel blogger’ would crop up more often than not. But exactly what makes a successful travel blog and what tips do you need to get you started? We caught up with blogger Robert Schrader from travel blog Leave Your Daily Hell for his pearls of wisdom on all things travel blogging:
Why did you decide to start writing a travel blog?
I moved to China four years ago to teach English, and since social media and many other websites were blocked, having my own blog was one of my only ways around the "Great Firewall" to stay in touch with my friends and family. When I became location independent and started travelling full-time, it seemed natural to transform Leave Your Daily Hell into a proper travel blog.
How do you decide what to write about once you've visited a certain location?
I blog during and also after travel, so this is a two part answer. When I'm in a city or country, I usually blog more esoterically – lots of photos and energetic impressions/meditations, as oppose to keyword-filled "content" that Google is going to like. When I get home, I tend to go back and write articles of a more informational sort, that are not only going to rank high in Google, but are also going to be practically useful to my readers, and not just interesting. I mean, the goal of my blog is to inspire people to travel, not to say "Look at what I did – aren't I fabulous?" Although of course I am!
What sources of inspiration do you look for in locations - culture, people, natural beauty etc?
My first source of documentation is always photographic – I must look like a Japanese tourist walking out into a city with my camera and multiple lenses! – so my first inspirations are always visual, be they natural beauty, people or architecture. I begin every trip by simply going out as an observer, trying to put my finger on the pulse of a place, and allowing myself to be guided more by the energy and my intuition than my own judgments and preferences. Using this method, it's not a matter of "looking" for inspiration, but allowing the inspiration to wash over me.
What has been your favourite travel destination and why?
It might sound cliché, but I am very partial to Southeast Asia – amazing people and landscapes, delicious food, cheap costs and relatively good infrastructure. Thailand in particular is a place I love. The energy is very strong, and – no joke – I have had past life regressions in Bangkok. Many of them.
I love nature a lot, but I am also very much a city boy, and other favourite cities of mine include Tel Aviv (where I am right now), Rome, Stockholm and São Paulo, to name a few. And again, as is the case with Thailand, I like these places not just because of the architecture or the people or the attractions, but because they feel good, because there's an energetic current that connects with me.
How did you make travel blog writing a full time viable career?
Magic! No, just kidding. Um, it took a long time, because when I first left China and started blogging, I was actually working as a "content writer" for a huge digital media company. Glamorous, huh? To be honest, it was just a lot of perseverance and "faking it until I make it" – I had my travel blog over two years before I made my first dollar from it! But once I did (through ads, of course), keeping it going became easy.
Where do you see Leave Your Daily Hell expanding to in the future?
I like this question! I would love to incorporate more technology into my site. For example, if someone hovers their mouse over an experience I've had or a place I've stayed or whatever, allowing them to book it in a couple clicks, and allowing for more useful monetization opportunities for me, that aren't shameless selling out.
I've been shifting my brand to focus more on myself lately, not because I am particularly egomaniacal (OK, that's a reason too!) but because I ultimately would like to become a global travel personality. Maybe like Anthony Bourdain, but more attractive, younger and all around pleasant? I want a TV show, and I would love to work with larger travel brands as well. I would also like to be able to hire staff so that I can assemble a truly comprehensive guide to the best of travel in the world – I can't be everywhere at once!
Offline, I would love to start a hostel in my home city of Austin, TX, and I would also love to lead tours.
What tips would you give to travellers looking to start a blog? What makes a great travel blog?
To me, a great travel blog requires more than great travel, and the majority of travel blogs I read talk about great travel, but document it very poorly – crappy photos, horrible writing and late 1990s-ish Web design. If you want to start a travel blog, don't be one of these people. Familiarize yourself with basic photography techniques and read reputable publications to augment your vocabulary and influence your writing style. If you don't know how to code or can't afford a premium theme, go for something simple, rather than tricking out a photo of you in some exotic locale in MS Paint and using it as a header. Most importantly, try and make your story transcend "This happened to me, therefore it is important."
At the end of the day, travel blogging (and, to a larger extent, blogging as a whole) is bounded by two opposing realities: (1) That traditional journalism is dying, and bloggers are largely inheriting their duties but (2) Many bloggers lack the writing, photography and design chops to accurately convey credibility and authority, which creates a dangerous information vacuum that corporate media can and will easily fill if we don't get act our together. So if you start a travel blog, above all, make sure it doesn't suck – we have plenty of those already.
Which other travel bloggers are you most inspired by and why?
I actually try not to be "inspired" by travel bloggers, per se, because I don't want to accidentally borrow anything, subliminally speaking. I'm also reticent to mention one person in particular, because I don't want anyone to get offended that I didn't mention them – I love a lot of people in my community! What inspires me are the people that manage to have incredible travel experiences, document them very well and stay grounded and humble – I have trouble with that last part.
What do you think are the benefits of travel whilst you’re young?
That if you eff up, you still have ample time to make up for it! Beyond this, being physically fit makes travel easier; the world is ageist; and I think it's much easier to share accommodation at 20 than 30 – the latter age is approaching for me, and I'm almost ready to swear off hostels!
If you had to choose one, which Contiki tour would you choose and why?
I can't choose just one! But if I had to do a coin toss, it would be between The Latin America Galapagos and Andes Tour and the New Zealand Big Tiki tour.