Taking Your Travel Blog to the Next Level

Last week in an article about various forms of travel blogs I mentioned that the most popular was the travel journal which are often written by travelers posting a blurb or two about where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with.

I wrote that “nobody cares about these unless they are the writer’s friends and family.” Boy did I get some criticism for that! Quite a few readers commented on the post and twitter that they in fact, love those types of blogs.  The most popular reason was that readers want an unbiased view from an actual traveler instead of a PR-fluffed piece or even info from a guidebook.

While I can admit when I’m wrong, I think many people took my opinion out of context or maybe we just weren’t on the same page.  I still find hundreds of blogs about travel with little value because the writer isn’t focusing on their audience.  In all honesty, I’m sure I am somewhat guilty of this as I used to jot down my trip reports as if they were happening to me then and there and never worried about who was going to read them.  Actually, I never expected anybody to read them.  Now that this site has a decent readership, for better or for worse, quite a few people read my old trip reports.

Who is your audience?

If you are writing a travel blog, publishing your trip reports, or doing any type of writing about your journeys, you want to take a step back and consider your audience.  Are you writing to keep your friends and family updated on your whereabouts? Are you hoping the public will come out of nowhere to read your blog? Maybe you want other travelers to use your experience as a springboard for their own journeys.  These are all things that should affect your travel blog.

If your family is the sole reader of your blog, you don’t have much to worry about.  Keep them informed and you’re doing your job.

If your audience is bigger than that, you have more things to consider.

First of all, your writing needs to be clean.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but attempt to at least use proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Nothing takes away from your writing than when it’s plagued with errors.  Also, it doesn’t need to be that colorful.  I remember when teachers would force students to consult the thesaurus on every writing assignment.  That helped build basic vocabulary skills and a bit of style when you were in junior high, but by this point, you should know enough adjectives to describe a person, place, or event from your travels without an abundance of colorful adjectives that some readers won’t even be familiar with.

Remember that you aren’t a public relations department.  You’re simply sharing your experiences with other people.  You don’t have to say that everything was perfect.  Nearly every one of my travel experiences has included some type of negative experience.  Not every place smells like roses, looks like paradise, or is filled with heaven-sent people.  That’s reality and there is no sense in hiding it.

The travel narrative

I have to admit, I don’t consider myself a great writer so I’m trying to stay away from simply handing out writing advice.  There are far better people who can do that.  Instead, I want to explain what I look for when reading travel blogs and what I feel makes one stand out from the rest.

If it weren’t for reading Rolf Potts‘ compilation book of travel stories, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer, I wouldn’t have been exposed to the travel narrative which has given me a new sense of writing.  As simply as I can explain, the travel narrative is a story created around your travel experience.  It’s not a list of what happened where and when, but instead a piece of non-fiction utilizing characters and experiences from your travels and turning them into a stylized story.  Often the characters become the centerpiece of the tale and form a personal connection between the reader and the story.

Travel narratives are just another option for publishing your travels and can appeal to readers whether they are interested in your location or not, whereas a standard journal entry likely only interested people already considering the location.

Uniqueness sets you apart from the rest

One thing I hadn’t previously considered was uniqueness, or niche travel blogging.  You hear a lot about niche blogging but not necessarily related to travel.

I received several messages from people who pointed out that the main appeal to their blogs were the fact that their travels were rather unique.  Heading to places like Myanmar or racing bicycles in Africa, Canada’s Adventure Couple’s blog really stands out.

Certainly, heading somewhere unique or even insane (Iraq anybody?) not only sets you apart from the thousands of blogs about Paris or London but your blog’s traffic will certainly benefit from being one of the few places for information on these places as well.

If you have. or are planning on starting a travel blog, I hope these ideas have you thinking a bit. If you have your own travel blog please feel free to share it by posting a link in the comments.

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed or following @HavePack on Twitter.

11 Replies to “Taking Your Travel Blog to the Next Level”

  1. You are right on target. Just as magazine writers must consider their audience, so do successful bloggers. If you only want to write for yourself–a journal that you leave lying open on the Internet table, so to speak–then ignore the audience, but don’t expect that audience to grow.

    I would rather give something of value to readers. And boy, howdy, do they let you know when your topic is NOT of interest–the readers just disappear when I get lazy and forget to consider what THEY want.

    I do have a travel niche–I talk about books and sometimes movies that inspire and inform travel. I weave a few stories of my own travels into the recommendations, but only if they give some extra sense of place and somehow provide value for the reader. You can see what I mean at http://atravelerslibrary.com

    Thanks for a good post. I hope some people take it to heart.

  2. Good thoughts. I think it’s a matter of content. The narrative style blog (which is my chosen format) can be entertaining and valuable, but only when it contains rich details and general guide elements integrated into the narrative. I’ve found that making the post relevant to the readers while entertaining them is a wonderful way to deliver value. Mix into that the more general guide-esque posts…what to pack, where to travel etc. and I think you can engage people in a way that is otherwise quite difficult.

    The standard narrative blog, however, is – as you noted – rather basic and rudimentary. Little more than a public version of the quick e-mails and letters travelers might otherwise be ending to their friends and loved ones. These have a short shelf life, do little to capture the essence of the experience and offer relatively little value to other visitors planning a trip.

  3. Hi Alex,

    You’re exactly right. There is little value in “went to the Eiffel tower today. It was pretty,” which is still what I believe MOST travel blogs out there contain. I think educated readers manage to skip those and land on quality sites though.


  4. Couldn’t agree more – I am tired of seeing travel blog posts where there are more Adsense Ad words than there are words in the post itself!

    My angle is all about the inspiration – helping people get inspired to get out of that armchair and book their next trip. So its more about bite-sized ideas for various places (although having said that our last interview about Mallorca was a long one…).

    Sorry to hear you took some heat least week but I totally hear you – it doesn’t matter what your format at, just add some value and not just noise!

  5. Nice post. I agree, you don’t have to always have a flowery ending (which is what I dislike about most travel memoirs), sometimes the trip didn’t work out as planned, sometimes you didn’t like the culture or the people, or maybe you just had a bad experience. Good and bad happens when traveling. I have a tag that I use for ‘bad travel stories’…and it actually seems to be popular! After all, if everything is perfect, what fun is that to read? We’re bloggers not travel agents!

  6. Ciao! Great thoughts and ideas! Thanks so much for sharing. I thought a lot about niche travel blogging and my potential audience before I started my blog on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. (You can check it out here: http://ciaoamalfi.blogspot.com/) I enjoy reading blogs that have a fairly consistent theme (or themes), and I try to do the same thing on my blog. I have a background in art history, and I weave that into many of my posts about the art and architecture here on the Amalfi Coast. Thanks for the thought provoking article!

  7. Well, thank you for the plug! What a surprise to see our blog Canada’s Adventure Couple mentioned while I was reading your very informative post on taking your blog to the next level. You have great advice, thanks. Deb and Dave

  8. I like the way you talk about finding the narrative around a travel experience. Not unlike digging for the real story behind every experience itself, as I write in meaningful experiences:

    Story: A credible and authentic story gives the product a social significance and content. I’ve recently started to discuss the fact that the best way to engage potential travellers into an experience is by immersing them into the ongoing story, narrated with all the artifacts of modern technologies (blogs, videos, photos, locals tweeting, etc). The more a person is exposed to the real thing before travel time, the more likely the experience will render the personal transformation expected instead of becoming a collection of awkward, unforeseen circumstances that kill spontaneity.

    So in two simple steps, every destination should have the power of making you part of its story, and every great story needs great writers to adapt it for a given audience. That makes perfect sense to me.

  9. Your tips are absolutely on the money. I am a storyteller. Several years ago I got on a motorcycle and started telling stories about what I saw. Then started my own blog. Then added pictures. The big surprise? People seem to get a kick out of my sense of humor. The biggest surprise? I love entertaining them, even more since I don’t have to get on stage to do it. So I would add don’t be stingy with your personality. No one can tell a story exactly like you can. Thanks for your article.

Comments are closed.