Barcelona Nightlife Video

April 11, 2014

People have been talking about video as a way to gain traffic for many years now, and I’ve always had my reservations… but now that Google have bought the world’s second largest search engine, Youtube, and are showing video results on many searches, it seemed well worth at least investigating if I can use video to my advantage. So I decided to invest in a video shoot, which I am hoping will drive traffic to my website, Barcelona Life…

…Now, ever since I began Barcelona Life, I concentrated on making nightlife a major content theme, conscious that the likes of Booking dot com and Hostelworld were the go-to guys on hotel info and hostel reviews respectively. Then Tripadvisor came along and stole a march on Booking dot com in the hotels sphere, plus they also now dominate restaurant reviews, and even attractions. In fact there’s one or several major player in every travel niche pretty much, from car hire to activities and tours, driving small websites like mine down in the search engine results and making it harder to survive… that’s business for you! Anyway this isn’t a sob story, but rather an experiment to see if I can’t give myself an advantage by adding great video to my content and also, by hosting it on Youtube as well, drive some traffic to my site. I chose nightlife for the film’s theme, because despite competition, it’s one area where BL is still a leading resource, and I wanted to strengthen my depth of coverage on this field.

The jury’s still out on how effective an investment in time and money this mini-project will be, but the video at least has been expertedly shot by The Travel Vlogger and starred in by many of my amigos… including the lovely Jessica from Hola Yessica, now known as the Barcelona Blonde! (I’ll give her a big up for helping out as she has her own, high quality blog and Youtube channel which you might want to check out).

Anyway you can see the results here in our video on Barcelona’s wild nightlife! And whilst it was a pain in the arse to organise, in the end it was great fun to shoot. Getting lashed on mojitos and shots in four different bars, illegal beers on Las Ramblas, killing time on Plaza Reial and taxi to Opium Mar pretty much encapsulates what a night out in BCN is all about… so do check it out if you want a flavour of the city’s vida nocturna.

Making Money Travel Blogging

October 23, 2013

Remember when I wrote that post about the (un)truth on making money travel blogging? Well that was 2.5 years ago and things have changed a fair bit since then.

Firstly the bad news. On top of all the struggles that bloggers face trying to surface in an overcrowded sea of information, Google is pro-actively working towards destroying the one source of revenue that many small and medium-sized bloggers relied on to keep their blogs going: which was cash for links.

Why? Well there are plenty of reasons Google is against this, some more legit than others, but the bottom line is that Google doesn’t want companies giving their money to bloggers so that those companies then appear (un)naturally in Google’s organic results… Google wants that companies get their traffic by investing their money directly with Google on adwords. (Google argues, coherently, that companies who do this are cheating in the search results, but this kind of “morally superior” official line is also a major convenience for them, bearing in mind that if they can control their own search results exactly, with more accuracy, they can for example tweak them time and time again to force more companies to pay for their traffic via Adwords…. or so a cynic would argue at least).

Whether you hate or love Google (or a bit of both), one thing is for sure as Google’s monopolisation of the web and online advertising continues it will become harder and harder for anyone to make a living through creating content alone. Those bloggers who had some visitors but essentially relied on accepting dough for linklove will lose their income (sites who break the rules will be punished and removed from Google’s index, and Google, a bit like Big Brother in 1984, is getting pretty smart at guessing who is breaking the rules, partly by encouraging companies to snitch on one another) and thus be forced to stop blogging altogether or become amateur bloggers only, and only those websites with very high viewer numbers will be of any value to brands. Even then I suspect Google will find ways to either take a share of that revenue from those websites, whilst I also fear that Google will adjust its algorithm, as it seems to me to have done already, to ensure that the Internet consists of a several giant websites (which Google will partner up with) and then billions of insignificant ones, thus robbing brands of the medium-sized publisher and making it just far easier to spend their advertising/marketing budget directly with Google.

Partly because this has already started to happen, and partly because there was never much money in cashing in on link advertising, travel bloggers have been forced to become quite entrepreneurial in their outlooks, effectively using their blog as a CV/tool to provide other services or sell their own products. Those services might include freelance writing, copywriting, SEO or social media consultancy, branding or destination marketing, to name but a few, whilst typical products sold by bloggers include books, e-books, prints, comics and photos. It’s probably fair to say, just as I argued in 2011, that this not “making money through travel blogging” in a precise sense, but whilst it might involve a lot more than uploading photos of your holidays and scribbling a note or two about them, using your blog to live a self-employed entrepreneurial lifestyle would still allow many to enjoy the freedoms they dreamed about when they first left that much-maligned cubicle.

It’s hard to know how these new threats and opportunities are going to pan out for the average (travel) blogger, but definitely a versatile skill set and flexible and entrepreneurial attitude will be required for the average Joe/jotter/jetter to survive… if you’re one of them say hello and let us know what you’re doing to survive in this big bad world of (travel) blogging!

Freelancer’s Working Timetable 2013

January 2, 2013

Holy sh!t… it’s 2013 already! Last time I updated this blog was to have a bitch about the cons of freelancing! And that was way back in May 2012. Safe to say a lot has happened since then. My main project Barcelona Life travel guide, made a nice recovery from Google’s Panda and Penguin updates and is flying again, after that little wobble, and there’s also been an uptake in interest from advertisers. I guess Spain’s economic crisis also means that more and more local businesses in Barcelona are relying on foreign coin, so obviously BL is a great platform for them in that respect.

Meanwhile Urban Travel Blog finally launched a new design and is now actively looking for premium partners in the travel industry to work with. We’ve got one almost signed up, so let’s hope others follow suit! Overall my strategy is simply to publish more and more of our flagship content, which are our (long) weekend guides to the world’s best cities, plus of course keep the travel stories coming and hope the traffic continues to rise! Hush hush but there’s also side project in development (idea phase only!) here, so let’s see how that goes.

After hearing that my favourite wine blog was about to close, I’ve also started helping out over at developing a new travel section, with gourmet guides to Barcelona and beyond, plus a tours section where we put their readers in contact with some of the best wine tour providers in Spain and Portugal and help them book a great trip or experience.

Get Sailing is another project I’m heavily involved in… 2012 was a slightly painful year of experimentation and possibly too many meetings and not enough action, but we’ve relaunched the site on WordPress which should enable us to dramatically increase the functionality of the site simply by using plug ins (rather than programming from scratch). Once we’ve got the site looking a fraction better I need to wave my magic content and SEO wand to get us much more traffic. We’ve got a good search engine but no where near enough visitors to take bookings just yet. Naturally I’ve got a good plan cooking how to fast track this a bit!

So 2013 looks to be one full of opportunities! The main threat being spreading myself too thinly. As I’m quite committed to all the above however there’s no chance to pulling out of any of them just yet – plus I can’t really afford to pay anyone to replace me anyhow – so what is needed is a good work ethic and maximum efficiency. In fact today, January 1st 2013, I’ve overcome my hangover to work out a daily working schedule which I hope will keep me on track, breaking down my hours into specific activities and ensuring that not too much time gets wasted on things like checking email and social media – or even worse pointless Facebook browsing etc!

A typical day might look like this, with three main windows for getting important tasks done.

12:00 – Get up! (Yes I like to lie in:).
13:00 – Check and reply to emails, social media if time
14:00 – Major task I
16:00 – Lunch
16:30 – Major task II
18:30 – Check and reply to emails, social media if time
19:00 – Siesta
20:00 – Dinner
21:00 – Major task III
01:00 – TV series / Spanish reading
02:00 – Reading
03:00 – Sleep

Importantly two of them are in the afternoon, so that if I do decided to go out or play football in the evening I still have two thirds of my usual working day to get things done. Last year, because I relied so much on my evening/late night work shifts, when I did take a break it was almost liking taking the whole day off. Ok, let’s see how it goes! I plan to write down motivational goals and rules as well and print them off, to keep me focused. Plus I also plan to have a work window on both Saturdays and Sundays, at least during January to April, when the summer fun and travels are not a major distraction.

Of course if you’ve got any tips on being super efficient in 2013 please do share them! Especially if you’re a fellow freelancer, who can get distracted easily!

Freelancing: Pros and Cons

May 22, 2012

Many people dream of the day they can go freelance. No more bosses, no more alarm clocks, live anywhere in the world you want… there’s a fantasy about freelancing that many office workers subscribe to, but – a bit like a week’s holiday in Faliraki – the reality is rarely up to expectations.

On many levels freelancing sucks, and here are some things you should consider before you decide to chuck in the corporate gig, with its free gym membership, health insurance and generous pension.

1) Money. Many freelancers think that they will earn more if they leave their job and service their clients directly. In fact the chances are they will earn considerably less. What you have to bear in mind when you go freelance is that you won’t get paid a single cent for work you haven’t done… unlike with standard employment where you get 25 days holiday, bank holidays, bonuses, benefits, pensions etc. etc. And sick leave. And just days when you can’t be arsed. Your boss may not be impressed if you do bugger all all day, but unless you get sacked you’ll still get your full pay at the end of the month… hangovers, colds and even bad moods are all expensive if you’re a freelancer. To have the same perks and bank balance as a freelancer you’ll probably have to earn at least 25% more than you did as an employee (statistic sourced from the Duncan Rhodes School of Rough Guessing), and if you ever get seriously ill/injured, you’re completely screwed.

2) Admin. Imagine a world where you go to work every day, bust your balls, and then at the end of the month the money owing to you appears in your bank account. Now imagine a world where you go to work every day, bust your balls even harder, and then look at your bank balance to find no one has paid you. In fact you still have invoices outstanding from 6/12/18 months ago. Imagine a world where every day you get up knowing some mofos owe you money and it’s gonna be a major pain in the arse to get it from them. Welcome to my world!!! Not only that but you know those nice girls in accounts. They don’t give a shit about you any more. You’re going to have to try and work out, despite a complete lack of training, how much tax you owe the government every year. And yes it’s a lot more painful paying it back to the tax man in one lump sum after Christmas, rather than have it arrive, minus the amount owing, every month. As time is money, you’d better go back to point one and factor in how much extra time you’re now going to have to dedicate to arduous, tedious, soul-destroying invoice-chasing, general admin. and tax returns.

3) Escaping the office… not as good as it sounds! I always used to think to myself if I ever went to jail I can’t see why solitary confinement would be that bad. I’d rather that than be shut in a cell with a load of rapists, madmen and murderers. But if you’ve ever read the Count of Monte Cristo you’ll realise this is simply not true. Man is a social animal and even bad company is better than no company. Freelancing is a lonely world, and whereas I enjoy sleeping in in the mornings, what I wouldn’t give for a few colleagues I could joke with, flirt with, gossip about etc etc ever day of the week. The office is also useful for helping you maintain a work life balance. You’re in the office you’re at work. You’re out of the office. Fuck work! When you work from home (as with most freelancers) it’s hard to know when you’re at work and when you’re not… and for me at least, I tend to feel I’m always at work. There’s always something important I could be doing. It may sound strange, but the office and the office environment is the thing I miss most about my previous life as an employee. No cuties wear a short skirt around my house, no one cares about the latest Arsenal results and there’s no one to call me “Rat Boy” and throw paperclips at my head when I’m on the phone.

I guess the proof is in the pudding though. Despite all of the above I’m still freelancing, and not planning on changing any time soon. I get to spend a lot of time in cool cities, like Barcelona and Krakow, I can go on (working) holidays whenever I want (even if I rarely do), I can sleep in, I am always available to party if some hot girls want to go out on a Monday night. I am free to work on the projects that interest me most, and take them in the direction I want to take them in… without having to ask anyone for permission. Freelancing = freedom, basically. But the life of an employee is a cushdie life of slavery alright and that’s something you should bear in mind when you’re taking a corporate cockshafting this summer. You may have sold your soul, but chances are you got a damn good price.

Barcelona Activities

January 17, 2012

Right, happy new year y’all. Thought I’d better lay down the first post of 2012 and I think it’s going to be a busy year. If you’ve read any of my previous posts about travel writing as a job then you’ll know that I’ve got my reservations about round-the-world blogs that naive backpackers assume are somehow going to make them millions, or in the very least fund their travels. In fact I am working on a global blog, but it’s a little different in concept… more on that in a later post!

For now I’ve been concentrating on my travel franchise, Barcelona Life, and trying to add to the revenue streams. When you start a travel guide the hardest markets to tap into – on the grounds they are the most competitive – are hotels, then apartments and then hostels. You’re fighting a losing battle if you think you’ve ever going to make any discernible income from hotel bookings when the likes of Tripadvisor, and countless other heavily funded global brands out there are sweeping these all up, dominating both the Google search results and bidding heavily on Adwords as well. So what’s left for the little guys? Activities for one, and that’s where Barcelona certainly gives you a helping hand… there’s a million great things to do around here, and if you can help people find and book those activities then there’s a little money to be made.

From this leading article about nightlife in Barcelona I make a bit of money selling both VIP nightlife tours and pub crawls, whereas this page about food and drink tours is the perfect place to sell cookery classes, wine tasting tours and even cheese tasting why not!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg concerning what’s possible, but in order to make any money you need great Google rankings and a reliable provider who you can trust! So brush up on your SEO before you get going and make some local contacts and meet them in person if at all possible.

Interviewing Celebrities

November 3, 2011

There comes a time in every journalist’s life where he has to interview someone rich, famous, successful, talented etc. and generally – apart from the “guess who I got to meet?” factor – it’s a pretty unenviable task.

(There is actually some practical advice at the bottom of this rambling article by the way, if that’s what you came looking for!).

My number came up earlier this year when, on the back of the Barcelona cocktails article – which I nailed – the editor of Easyjet Magazine called me and said he wanted me to go and interview Ferran Adria and sample the cuisine at El Bulli, arguably the world’s best restaurant of all time. Hahaha, I actually told the Editor I was pretty busy and I’d have to think about it… but of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity in the end… even if the food I was to eat was not the avant garde stuff that made Adria and El Bulli famous, but rather the staff or ‘family’ meal.

So up I go to Roses, hitching a ride with the photographer, her assistant (how much can a freelance photographer earn that they can afford an assistant for f@ck’s sake? One thing that pisses me off about travel writing is that the photographers always seem to get paid much more money than the writers, whose work takes far longer. And with the amount of photographers kicking around I really can’t believe there’s a skill shortage of snappers vs. talented writers), plus an interpreter. The interpreter spent most of the journey noisily filing her nails, and making sure we all understand how much better she knew Ferran than all of us (having worked with him before) and I half fancied she thought she should be writing the piece.  She also emphasised, as the photographer’s assistant proceeded to get us lost, how much he hated people being late. So I was more than a bit pissed off when she then insisted – with 5 mins before the interview was due to start – that we take a 25 minute break for a sandwich.

She was right. Adria was pissed off that we were late. When the photographer didn’t seem to know what the assignment was (we’d been invited to talk specifically about the Family Meal and she was supposed to be photographing the process) he got a whole lot more pissed off. And so it was that I finally sat down with an irritable Adria and the interpreter to start the piece. Adria turned out to be a complete nightmare to interview. He is a nice enough and respectful enough guy, but he clearly has no idea what a journalist wants from him… or doesn’t want to offer it… and getting anything vaguely quotable seemed almost impossible. We weren’t helped by the fact that I was terrified he would end the interview prematurely, on account of his bad mood, and I so I rushed through some of the most important questions on my list.  Things settled down after a while and we managed to get a bit of rapport going… but overall the exercise was a bit of nightmare trying to balance what a) Ferran and the publishers of his new cook book, the Family Meal, wanted to talk about and b) the Easyjet Editor wanted me to write about, all through the medium of a translator and with an irate subject with an aversion to concrete answers and a love of vague abstractisms.

Anyway the article got published this November, but it kind of sucks. Some ugly editing didn’t really help… I hate being edited! (But not quite as much as this guy ;). Even if an article is flawed, adding new stuff in or changing things around always throws out the rhythm of the piece and 90% of times makes it worse.  Anyhow if you can be bothered you can go to the fancy online reader thingy at the EJ magazine site to read the piece…

So there you go. Celebrity interviews. Don’t do them! Ok do them, but just be prepared… here’s some advice for interviewing not just celebrities, but ordinary mortals as well:

a) Do your research! I scored some brownie points with Adria by at least having read all about him and going through the El Bulli website in detail (clearly most journalists he’d spoken to hadn’t!)

b) Know your assignment! Editors can be vague bastards at times, so pin them down about what they want. Obviously you should have a question list before you go. It helps to have the questions in a logical order and to memorise them, to minimize panicked flicking through notebooks.

c) Check your equipment at least two days before the interview. This means you have some time to repair/replace anything that doesn’t work, or buy batteries or whatever for your voice recorder (you should carry some spare anyhow! Once mine ran out mid-interview and I had to go back and do it all again… embarrassing and a complete waste of everyone’s time!).

d) Don’t be nervous. Who cares if they’re famous? They’re not saving the planet and you’re probably smarter than them anyway. Just look them in the eye and ask them the questions!

e) Let them talk about what they want. Never interrupt them if they’re on a roll, even if it feels irrelevant at the time. So many times I’ve been typing up a transcript only to hear myself stop someone talking at just the moment things start getting interesting, to steer them back on course. Let them go off course and bring them back when they run out of steam.

f) Turn up on time;)

Ok if you yourself have any more sagely pearls of wisdom on the art of interviewing then allow me to refer you to the comments section below…

My Reputation Precedes Me…

August 31, 2011

Apologies for the pretentious post title, but if I was inclined to feeling smug (which I might be if I wasn’t so poor. It’s hard to be smug when you are 33 and still can’t afford to pay off your student loans) then I might be doing just that now.

For this summer, rather than spend ages desperately coming up with new ideas about Barcelona and frantically polishing pitches to submit to the usually deaf inboxes of various impossible-to-contact editors, for a very welcome change they have been coming to me. It started with the Editor of Easyjet Magazine, who heard about me through my regular work with Ink (the media company that seemingly publish half of all budget airlines inflight magazines) contacting me and asking me to research a piece on Barcelona’s cocktail revolution. In fact the said revolution had pretty much passed me by up until now, but thankfully some research did reveal quite a few new places, most famously Albert Adria’s new venture 41 Degrees. And then continued when the Editor of Yeahbaby (also by Ink) asked me to pitch her some summer-themed stories. Hey pronto two feature article commissions and half the effort as usual as I hadn’t had to come up with five different pitches just to land one piece.

The cocktails article was particularly fun to write as it meant checking out some of the most exclusive and expensive places in town, and blagging quite a few free drinks en route. Luckily – after find this post online I was able to track down a knowledgeable and extremely polite gentleman by the name of Albert Montserrat, who kindly agreed to help with the article purely out of his love of cocktails (what a guy!). He promptly introduced me to Jordi Otero of Banker’s Bar – the city’s most prestigious bartender (and younger than me I might add), as well as taking me to Muti’s, a speakeasy cocktail bar known only to a lucky few. Anyway much merriment ensued and you can possibly track down the article here. (Unfortunately the Easyjet Magazine website keeps getting worse). Naturally I also used some of what I learned to bash out a handy text on the best cocktail bars in Barcelona for my own site.

The article that got commissioned in the end for Yeahbaby was about street parties or ‘festes majores’. Basically during summer every district in Barcelona has its own ‘Festa Major’ or Grand Festival, which is usually little more than 4-7 days of drinking on the street, live music, dancing and the odd street decoration. Cheap, authentic and fun for me they are definitely some of the best festivals in Barcelona (hint: La Merce is biggest and best!). I had to write it from memory, which is always tough, but luckily I had the good sense to make just a smattering of notes one year which I kept on my phone and miraculously still had. It’s good to have those first hand concrete details… personally I find them hard to replicate using my imagination alone (guess I’ll never make it as a novel writer after all!). To read the piece you’ll have to navigate their website’s tricky ‘magazine reader’ thingy. Good luck –

So there you go prospective travel writers. Get your foot in the door, build your expertise around a destination (or several destinations) and do a great job on every commission and after a while it seems the editors start to come to you… in fact since then Easyjet have come back to me and sent me up to El Bulli to interview none other than Ferran Adria… now that’s what being a travel journalist should be all about!

Travel Websites Franchise

April 6, 2011

…which brings me, untimely, to my next post. If making money with travel blogs is next to impossible, what’s the alternative? (Apart from selling your soul to some Blue Chip monster of course).

Well the people that make money in travel are not round-the-world bloggers rattling off peremptory posts about the status of their digestive system from far flung corners of the globe. They are people who live in great cities/countries and take the time to build a fantastic resource for tourists/travellers to use whenever they plan on visiting.

You could say they build a travel website, rather than keep a travel blog/diary, but then again the difference between a website and a blog is artificial at best… the main difference is that, by focusing on one place the websites of these (far smarter) travel writers become a useful resource which they can brand and sell, and one will perform much better on Search Engines for their niche (although ‘niche’ is a rather broad term for those that cover every aspect of visiting London or Paris for example). Write a 100 pages of content about a small town in Italy and you’ve quite possibly got a leading website on your hands (and suddenly every restaurant, hotel and bar owner in town will want to talk to you). Write one post about every night out you had in South America, Australia and South East Asia and you’ve got an enjoyable, but ultimately next to worthless, site.

The example I am going to cite of a successful travel site is one I used to work for – By learning a bit about search engines, and by ranking well for key terms like Cracow hotels, Cracow apartments, Cracow restaurants, Cracow stag weekends (the list is endless!) you can make money either from advertisers, or – slightly more complicated – via bookings. Eg. tourists book a hotel via your website and you make 5-20% commission (depending on how much work you do). If you’re top of the tree for the term ‘City Hotels’, you’ll be very very rich in no time at all. (Ok, maybe not for ‘Yerevan hotels‘ but for any mid-sized, vaguely touristy destination).

Unfortunately a lot of people worked this out a long time ago. Which is why with any major destination you’ll be swimming uphill… esp. on key commercial terms like hotels/apartments etc. Being a glutton for punishment that hasn’t stopped me from trying to take on one of the biggest tourist cities there is – Barcelona. I’ve been working on Barcelona Life for nearly two years now and it’s more less been paying the rent on a small room in the city (half the time I work in BCN, the other half in London) for most of that time. It’s been tough and I have been effing poor most months. Really effing poor! But now I have over 25,000 visitors to my site every month and I’ve got great positions on for loads of key terms like restaurants in Barcelona, Barcelona guided tours and Spanish courses in Barcelona, all of which are potential money earners if you can back that up with some sales skills. You can also make money on strange niche terms – like “Barcelona deep sea fishing” or “Opium Mar VIP guestlist“… the opportunities are, well not quite endless, but much more than selling a few links on a travel blog.

So there you go! The good news is that, back at the HQ of Cracow Life they’ve been busy working on a franchise model which means anyone can take advantage of their great brand, technology and know-how. Of course you need to pay a bit for the privilege (yeah, there’s always a catch!), but if you’re serious about making money with travel websites the headstart working with them with give you – over going it alone – is enormous! (Think a brand that already exists across Europe – check Berlin Life and Moscow Life; great technologies, including Google maps, social media links, embedded videos and, coming soon, iPhone apps; lots of links to help you with your SEO… your site will quickly be visible on, which is vital to your chances of success; and a community of other team members across the world sharing knowledge and tips).

My advice to anyone looking to start a business in the travel media industry would be to pick a city that is perhaps a little lesser known and get in contact – only an idiot like me would attempt Barcelona, but somewhere like Valencia even might be very lucrative much quicker. Drop me a line if you have any questions and I’ll put you in touch with the head honcho, who is looking for franchise partners right now:)

(Not) Making Money: Travel Blogs

January 28, 2011

Right, apologies once again for a chasmic gap between posts… the reason being that I’ve been busy trying to make money.

Whilst some travel writers might be blissfully content slumming their way through third world countries with only a hammock and a lucky charm to their name, I’m definitely of the variety who likes to be able pay rent on a flat, eat a meal that costs more than 5 euros occasionally and fly to the places I’d like to visit (rather than hitchhike). I do admire the hardcore travellers mind you. I’m just not one of them. Which brings me of course to the sadly considerably less than 64 million dollar question… how do you make enough money, not just to survive, but earn a living as a travel writer?

Yes it’s hardly an original question, and many column inches have been written in answer to the topic already. Most of those inches have focused on the rich potential of travel blogging (shortly before trying to flog you an expensive book on how to realise that potential). The emergence of a handful of ‘celebrity travel bloggers’, the prime example being Nomadic Matt, have got people thinking that it’s actually possible to survive by dossing around India and occasionally getting to an Internet cafe to scribble up your latest adventures… personally I don’t buy it. Some of what follows is conjecture, as naturally I’m not privy to the vast majority of travel bloggers’ accounts sheets, however I have dipped my toes in most of the travel writing revenue streams – and in my experience blogging is arguably the toughest way to grind out anything near a living.

So in answer to the thousands of posts about how to make money as a travel blogger, packed with encouraging comments about how ‘with a little luck and a lot of hard work you can do it too’, here are a few reasons why you can’t…

1) Who are you?

That’s not a philosophical question, but a football crowd style taunt by the way. No one’s heard of you. And the chances are no one but your Mum cares what you had for breakfast in Bali.

2) What can you bring to the already overcrowded table?

There are a billion travel bloggers out there. 99.9% of them aren’t making any money, 90% of them aren’t any good. But they are all standing in your way. Have you really got something that they haven’t? Apart from that venereal disease you contracted in Cuba.

3) How much savings do you have?

In the unlikely event that you are one of the world’s best travel writers (who has been cruelly overlooked by the well-paying travel press/newspapers/guidebook publishers) and you have the discipline to update your blog at the very least once a week (minimum!) and are able to slowly build a gathering of followers (I’m taking it for granted you’re an expert in social media and relentless comment spammer) then your dream still isn’t going to materialise over night. Google won’t even rank your pages for the first six months after you launch your site, and even posting two or three times a week your blog will still be relatively tiny and worthless for two maybe three years… meanwhile you’ll be haemorrhaging cash as you gallivant around here there and everywhere, probably not adding any new insight to what’s already been written about those places. In short don’t expect to make any cash for your first year, more than a few hundred dollars in your second and no where close to a (meagre) living before your third. Yep the life of the travel blogger is the preserve of someone with a large savings account to get started.

4) What do you know about SEO?

I’m guessing there’s a decent chance you don’t even know what SEO is… no shame in that, but it does pretty much put the nails in the coffin of your travel blogging career at its embryonic stage. Search Engine Optimisation is what (successful) bloggers apply to every page on their blog to give it the best possible chance to appear in search engines (ie. Google) for any given search terms. In truth it’s not overly complicated, but it’s absolutely vital to be much better than average at it in a very competitive market. Clever vs. rubbish construction of URLs, page titles, meta tags, descriptions, key words in your texts are the difference between actually getting a trickle of traffic and sinking without a trace. Good link building (from external sites) and internal linking are also vital.

5) Traffic does not equal cash

Even if you do get a tonne of traffic, how are you going to convert that into cash? Your followers might love your witty blog about your life as an Entomologist in Cambodia, but apart from the odd insect repellent manufacturer who is going to advertise with you? What’s your sales strategy? Google Ads bring in pennies not pounds.

This post isn’t supposed to discourage anyone from travel writing. It’s just supposed to put paid to the idea that fortunes are waiting everyone who kickstarts a travel blog. Let’s go back to Nomadic Matt’s website (even if that means giving him another free link! Oh well I’m sure he’s a nice guy). It doesn’t look like a website that’s raking in the cash to me… and here’s why:

1) His front page has a Google page rank of 3. Google ranks every page between 0-10. Pretty much only Google has 10, maybe Facebook and Twitter have 9, BBC front page 8, a big newspaper 7 etc etc. PR3 isn’t exactly embarrassing but I’d be surprised if he’s getting much traffic directly from Google… to put into perspective my friend’s local bike rental company has a PR3. (To put it into even more perspective I have two sites with PR4 and I’m still very far from rich! Even this little blog you’re reading now has a PR2, with all of its 14 odd posts!).

2) Looking again at his front page, the main products he sells are books which tell you about how to make money as a travel writer. What does that tell you? That he makes more money from writing books about making money as a travel writer, than he actually does as a travel writer. (I’m not saying his books are bullshit by the way, but there’s a difference between making some money as a travel writer, which is no doubt what he promises, and making an actual living).

3) He advertises, quite heavily, the fact that he offers advertising. Always a sign that you could do with some more advertisers!

4) He offers a consulting service. Similar to number 2) this. You’ll see he’s obviously developed a healthy sideline in SEO consulting and other blog-related fun stuff. Why? Well in my experience people only develop a sideline when the mainline (?) doesn’t pay the bills!

Overall you have to think that Matt is a guy who’s making some valuable cash from travel writing (he’s sold a few links – see bottom of home page, got a few banners on his travel guides, etc etc.); but at the same time one who has either been forced, or chosen (because of better profits), to branch out his operations, into book-writing and consulting, in order to make real money. That’s obviously completely speculative, but I’ll let you make up your own minds as to whether what I’m saying makes any sense.

This certainly isn’t a post about “dissing” another blogger (us writers are far too mild mannered for that), and I’d definitely say fair play to him – he’s definitely doing all right for himself! On the other hand (and I’m thinking now from the perspective of a would-be newbie travel blogger) this is the guy who’s often wheeled out as the top example of a successful travel blogger. His traffic stats – if true as quoted – are certainly fantastic (120,000 visitors a month. About four times my sites.) and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not making as much money from travel writing alone as a sub-editor at a lowly inflight travel magazine. In fact I’d be really surprised if he was making more. Plus he won’t get any paid holidays, pension, sick leave etc for his efforts. (And trust me that adds up to a lot of cash!).

So there you have it. Not a definitive, packed full of hard evidence, case that travel blogging = poverty, but some tough realities to consider if you’re thinking about going down that route. But what about other routes…

… well despite me arguing that there’s no almost money to be made in travel blogging, there’s the accompanying paradox that the online travel industry is VAST – and still growing. In fact there are thousands of people making small fortunes from writing online about travel. (And normally by writing really badly I should add!). How they do it, and – perhaps more pertinently – how I’m going about doing it (very slowly), is the subject of another post however…

Stay tuned kids:)

The Trouble With Skateboarding

September 27, 2010

As a travel writer it’s important to have flexible principles. For example, just a few months after I mocked the intellect of Barcelona’s skate community, I found myself pitching an article about the little cabrones for Ryanair magazine… There was a buck to be made after all.

If I thought that maybe confronting these misfits I would grow to love their ill-judged body ink and respect their determined pursuit to knock their own teeth out, then I was sorely mistaken. As it happened they were, for the most part bigger ****s than I was expecting. Starting with the bare-chested moron who took himself too seriously to help with the piece (although started trying to get in the back of photos the minute we found someone else), through to the pseudo-punk who thought he was much too cool as he abjectly failed to land any of kick flips outside the MACBA. I wasn’t too impressed with the skate shop attendant either who did his damned hardest to avoid help market his shop for free to millions of readers… they’re really not the brightest specimens (pl.?) in the species. Lucky I did meet one or two friendly and helpful folk who did something to redeem their sub culture and you can read about them here… (apologies for the dodgy online editing, not much I can do about that).

Anyway having just about cajoled enough ‘street riders’ into deigning to speak with me and have a photo done, I wrote and submitted the piece and started the several month waiting process to get paid. A couple of weeks before it was due to be published however the Editor emailled me up and said there was a big problem with the piece and I should contact him immediately. I foolishly mentioned in the article that skateboarding is in fact illegal in Barcelona and now the client – ie. Ryanair – were throwing a hissy fit in case they were seen to be encouraging illegal behaviour. I was shocked. It was skateboarding for f@ck’s sake, not drug taking. Then again, I could see their point too. Naturally the Editor was having babies because if he makes a bad call, as per the whole Easyjet debacle (where they ran a fashion shoot without permission at a holocaust memorial in Berlin) he could lose his job. In the end the fact that they had spent ages preparing a huge spread with photos illustrations and all meant the Editor went to special lengths to get the green light from the city… he phoned the tourist board and they confirmed, what we all knew, that well-behaved skateboarding is tolerated.

A bit of a scare because if they had pulled the article then they would have only paid me a so-called ‘kill fee’, or half the original commission. It’s probably against European law, but until some travel writer with enough money to pay a lawyer challenges this arrangement I’m sure it will long continue… as such travel writers don’t exist the magazines hold all the power.

It did get me thinking though, how many travel articles are in fact about illegal activities? From ruin bars in Hungary, to squat venues in Barcelona, or even guerilla gardening in London, some of the coolest trends often stray the wrong side of the law, even if they are largely tolerated by a society that probably has better things to do with its time than give a sh!t. Anyway it will make me think twice about what I pitch to who in future…


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