From traveling to exotic places around the world for free to the ways Instagram is ruining travel, this is the ugly truth about travel blogging.
At a young age, I knew my father’s career as an Army officer meant two things:
- I would be raised as a modern nomad, with regular moves around the globe as dictated by the United States government.
- My amazing parents would shape every one of those experiences into opportunities to learn and explore, both in the United States and abroad.
When I became a parent, I wanted my children to have the best of both worlds: a childhood with deep roots in one spot and the chance to travel so they knew the world was bigger and more diverse than their “bubble.” Although my family moved abroad for the first time when I was in pre-school and I traveled a lot with my kids over the past 20 years that I’ve been a mother, I’ve only been a travel blogger for a few years. But in that short time, paired with decades of pre-travel blogging experiences, I’ve learned these truths about travel blogging.
You can travel the world for free by starting a travel blog — and other monstrous lies exposed.
To help offset the costs of running Travel Blog Confessions, you’ll find affiliate links lightly sprinkled throughout the site. If you choose to make a purchase via one of these links, there’s no additional cost to you, but I’ll earn a teeny tiny commission. You can read all of the legal blah blah blah (as my little niece says) on the full disclosure page.
Let’s start by being honest about the word “free.” Nothing in life is free.
Okay, with the exception of a parent’s unconditional love. But even though I love my four kids unconditionally: I still expect them to take out the trash, vacuum, help in the kitchen, and otherwise earn their keep.
Everything else comes at a price or with strings attached. How do I know this? I have two marketing degrees, and I promise you — marketing people will intentionally mess with your mind to help companies make a buck. Seriously, they teach us this in business school. Here are some real world examples:
- Free Internet. It’s not free. It’s included with the price you are paying for your cup of coffee.
- Free Breakfast. Also not free. The hotel has added the cost to what they charged you for your accommodation.
- Free Admission. Nope, it’s funded by taxpayer dollars or provided via the generosity of donors.
The truth about traveling the world for free is this: no one does it.
To become a travel blogger, you must invest time and money into your website. There are costs to register a domain name, host a site, and purchase software. It takes time to research and write articles, promote your pieces, and learn new skills like record keeping, photo editing, and search engine optimization. And until you’ve written enough meaningful content, built a respectable number of monthly visitors, and garnered enough social media followers that brands, businesses, and visitors bureaus want to work with you, you’re doing this 100% on your dime.
Once you’ve put months and months (sometimes years) of effort into your travel blog, you may have the opportunity to work with a third party. But when this milestone happens, you can be sure they’re not going to cover a night in a hotel, provide admission to a museum, or offer a meal at a local restaurant for free. Nope! Understandably, they’re going to expect well-researched, well-written, well-photographed, and well-promoted content about your experiences in their fair city with the specific intent of attracting visitors.
Which brings me to . . .
2. The Ugly Truth About Travel Bloggers Who Spend All Their Time Traveling The World
Don’t underestimate the amount of time, energy, and creativity required to produce a meaningful blog article. In most cases, the travel experience — like the time spent visiting George Washington’s Mount Vernon or eating Kansas City barbeque — is the shortest part of publishing an article.
Even the most prolific travel blogger, with an English degree and shelf full of awards, spends four to eight hours (and sometimes more) researching, writing, and editing each article. In addition to that commitment, photos have to be reviewed and edited, videos must be created, and the finished piece has to be posted online with keywords and links artfully inserted. Then, the finished work needs to be promoted.
In addition to the work required to research, write, edit, publish, and promote a blog article, travel bloggers spend a lot of time doing the tasks of any small business owner. They have to carefully track earnings and receipts for tax purposes, network extensively to ferret out opportunities, and develop other skills to continue to grow their travel blogs.
3. The Ugly Truth About How Far Bloggers Have To Travel
Many people believe that travel bloggers must travel to faraway, exotic places. In reality, there are things to do, amazing dishes to try, and rich history to absorb almost anywhere, even in your own town, state, and country. In fact, some of the most interesting travel articles I read are about the lesser known things to do and see in cities that aren’t perennially on “most visited” lists.
If you’re visiting Chicago for the first time, you should absolutely gaze into the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, ascend Willis Tower, and visit Navy Pier. And searching the Internet for tips and tricks about visiting Chicago delivers about 2.1 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) results that recommend those same three things.
But what happens after you’ve checked the most popular attractions off your travel bucket list? Finding travel bloggers who have been there, done that and can expertly share richer advice is a lot harder. And it’s those experiences that really give you a taste of the town, not the most visited, touristy stuff. (In Chicago, be sure to check out my friend, Julie, who lives in the Windy City and can tell you that these are the best museums you’ve never heard of in Chicago.)
Don’t live in a town as big and sexy as Chicago? Let’s take a look at the little Oklahoma town of Pawhuska in Osage County. The area’s history was rich enough to inspire a New York Times bestseller, Killers of the Flower Moon. Today, the tiny community of 3,400 draws an average of 6,000 visitors each day thanks to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile. And while that’s one specific destination, my friends Steve and Ann over at Postcard Jar have written many blog posts from their experiences in this one, small Oklahoma town including 70+ Things to do in Pawhuska.
I realize that I live in the world’s third-largest country, both in terms of area and population. So even if I traveled non-stop for the next 50 years, I still wouldn’t see it all. But I write my travel blog from America’s heartland in Kansas City, not from one of her coasts. To be a great travel blogger, you just need to be curious, seize every travel opportunity possible, and share your perspective and experiences in a meaningful way.
4. The Ugly Truth About Traveling On A Budget
Go online and search for the next place you want to visit. You’ll likely find articles like Where to Stay in _______ on a Budget, How to See ________ on a Budget, and Eating in ______ on a Budget. Although there is no adjective to modify the noun, the word “budget” in each of these examples suggests a tight budget or a low budget. And that makes me cray cray. Budgets are like butts. Everyone has one, each is just a different size and shape.
So, the ugly truth about “budget travel” or “traveling on a budget” is that everyone is on a budget, from my 20-year-old daughter to English royals Meghan and Harry. It’s just that the size and structure of travel budgets vary.
When my daughter Juliette has time off from her two jobs, she travels via public transportation, hikes in national parks, and eats at least one meal a day from a food truck or by visiting a local grocery store. She went online to find a free budget template and uses it to manage the costs of her trip where her accommodations are often a basic campsite, a friend’s couch, or a rented room in someone else’s home.
Meanwhile, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex honeymooned at Canada’s Jasper National Park, their more substantial budget allowed them to travel by private jet, stay in the Jasper Park Lodge’s Outlook Cabin for $3,500 per night, and dine on five-star cuisine. But, they still had a budget. No matter how convincingly Meghan batted her beautiful Bambi eyes at Prince Harry, there was ultimately a limit to what they could spend on their trip.
At Everyday Wanderer, I do my best to incorporate the current costs of the activities I recommend at the places I’ve visited so you know that admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida is about twice as much as it is to visit Space Center Houston in Texas. And, I regularly remind visitors that there is no admission fee to visit the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, DC. (Did you notice I don’t use the word “free”? Thank you taxpayers and Mr. Smithson!)
But I do not write articles like How to Visit _______ on a Budget, because only you know how many figures are in your travel budget. And only you know what type of experiences you want to pay for and at what rate.
5. The Ugly Truth About Instagram And Travel
It wouldn’t surprise me if every reader under the age of 35, especially the four Gen Zers that call me “Mom”, roll their eyes at this next statement, but I agree with the folks who believe that Instagram is ruining travel. With smart phone cameras and selfie sticks, the increasing desire for travelers of all ages to get the perfect shot for Instagram is ruining travel. And it’s ruining travel in several ways.
First, there is the over-tourism. From the Galapagos Islands to the island nation of Iceland, iconic bucket list destinations are suffering from too many visitors. As double-digit increases in tourists happen year after year, each person focused on snapping the perfect pic with a blue-footed booby or soaking in the Blue Lagoon puts another nail in the coffin of these delicate ecosystems.
Then, there are the tourists behaving badly. This ranges from disrespecting local people and customs, rudely hogging prime photo spots for too long, and even death. I watched a tourist back up next to a guard outside the Prague Castle for a selfie while slowly reaching over to put his hand on the guard’s gun. (Let’s just say the guard’s reaction likely resulted in the tourist returning to his hotel for a fresh pair of underwear.)
There was also the young woman who sat on a wall along a hiking trail in Oregon and posed for selfies for more than 15 minutes straight, not allowing anyone else access to the beautiful photo spot. And there are the people who fell to their deaths in Arizona recently while snapping selfies at the Grand Canyon.
6. The Ugly Truth About Being A Travel Influencer
I believe this universal truth: The faster you have confidence in yourself and don’t give a damn about what others think, the happier your life will be. Some people figure out this concept at age 10 while others are still struggling with it at 100.
And, I think this philosophy is more important today than ever before. When I was a kid, I felt inferior to the beautiful actresses on my favorite television shows and to the pretty models in magazine ads. But back when years started with a “1”, Photoshop didn’t exist. And the only famous Kardashian was attorney Rob during O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.
From people who are famous for simply being famous to average Janes with mad photo editing skills, I hate that Instagram has made many American kids — like my middle schooler, Louise — feel inferior for not having more than a million Instagram followers or for looking like a real pre-teen person.
Call me crazy, but I absolutely, under no circumstances, want to be called a travel influencer. (And it’s not just because this video is seriously every travel influencer ever.) I’m happy to let the professional models pose in perfect yoga spots on the beach or sit in a luxurious hotel suite surrounded by ten different plates of decadent dessert. I’ll let others pose for shots in front of a green screen. I’m not a model, and I don’t work in the advertising industry. I also don’t fake things.
But I do hope that by fully consuming each of my travel opportunities, taking detailed notes, capturing photos, and sharing my experiences, I can inspire you (not influence you) to travel to expand your horizons, be a citizen of the world, and create amazing travel memories of your own.
What Do You Think Of These Travel Blog Truths?
Do you love traveling? Have your experiences on the road been negatively impacted by travelers behaving badly? Are you a travel writer, travel blogger, or travel influencer? Do you agree or disagree with these travel blogging truths? Are there any others you’d add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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