I never expected to become a travel influencer. When I entered college almost two decades ago, I had grand visions of changing the world. Although I knew I wanted a career in travel, I didn’t know what that meant exactly.
For years, I thought that changing the world meant doing something big. I joined the Peace Corps, and volunteered in West Africa for two years. I went to grad school, and embarked on a career in international development. And I worked on more than 15 projects in at least eight countries around the world in my ten year career in global health.
Yet, I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough to make a difference in the world. I wasn’t using my voice in a way that impacted people.
Discovering the world of blogging
I started blogging in 2004, before the term “travel influencers” was even a part of the common vernacular. My blog, which I built on Tripod.com, was an online diary of my experiences in the Peace Corps. I had no intention of becoming a travel influencer.
But I knew I wanted to write. In 2007, I switched over to Blogger and created The Wandering Daughter. It was nothing like the site it is today. Just like my very first blog, it was a collection of my personal musings. It wasn’t until 2014, seven years after I had started the blog, that I decided to take it into the direction of family travel. And only in 2016 did I realize I could potentially lead an influencer lifestyle because of my blog.
A lot of people ask me if starting a blog is easy. The short answer is yes. Anyone can put together a website and start publishing their thoughts and photos online. But making a career out of blogging, is tough.
I recently came back from the fifth annual Women in Travel Summit in Portland, Maine, and met hundreds of women influencers who can tell you that blogging as a career is hard work! Especially in the world of travel, it’s a hustle to make it as a travel influencer.
Building a career as a travel influencer
As I mentioned, despite blogging for more than a decade, it’s only in the last few years that I started focusing on building a career as a travel influencer. Before I quit my career in global health, I was blogging on the side. In my spare time, I published blog posts about our family’s travels. I followed other travel influencers. And I engaged with other bloggers on social media, in the hopes of creating a community of families who love travel.
The myth behind the influencer lifestyle is that growing a following and getting brands to sponsor you is easy.
“As long as you create great content,” the blogging coaches say, “people will find you.”
The truth is, it’s a slow build. There are over 4 million blog posts created each day. The odds of your blog post catching the attention of someone who is not your mom or your best friend are slim, unless you know a thing or two about how search engines work.
Like in any career, there is a learning curve. I spent years learning the ins and outs of being a travel influencer. I learned about search engine optimization (SEO), I learned how to properly pitch to brands and magazines, and I learned techniques to grow my social media following.
Today, I feel more confident about my knowledge and skills than I did even a year ago. But I know there’s still a lot more for me to learn.
Connecting with a community of women influencers
One of the things that helps me immensely is connecting with other travel influencers. And it’s not just sending a tweet at someone or commenting on their Facebook page. I mean really connecting. Face to face.
In my opinion, the best way to connect with others is at conferences. And for women influencers, one of the best travel conferences is the Women In Travel Summit.
The first WITS I attended was in 2016 in Irvine, California. I remember how terrified I was walking into the ballroom for the opening keynote.
“I don’t belong here,” I thought to myself, “I have a nothing blog. How can I even call myself a travel influencer or a blogger?”
Yet, that first year, I connected with women who were in the same stage of blogging as me. And I connected with women influencers who had followers in the thousands. They all accepted me as an equal, and I loved how inclusive the conference was.
I learned so much from that first conference that I signed up again the following year. Again, I met women influencers who I now consider friends, and who have taught me so much about the business of blogging.
By the time my third WITS came along, in Portland, I was practically a veteran. In fact, I even led a panel discussion on family travel with my fellow family travel influencers at the conference, and offered mentoring sessions to new bloggers. The realization that I now have valuable knowledge that I can pass on to others brings this whole travel influencer journey full circle for me!
The reality of the travel influencer lifestyle
People often think the influencer lifestyle is easy, especially for traveler influencers. All you’re doing is traveling and taking pictures, right? In reality, being a travel influencer takes real work.
In many cases, especially for really successful travel influencers, it’s a full-time job that requires a team. While I’m not at the level of having a staff, I do spend about 15-30 hours a week on The Wandering Daughter, especially since becoming a digital nomad. At this point, it’s my job. And it’s what helps sustain our family’s travel experiences.
It’s a business, not a hobby
The thing that sets real travel influencers apart from hobby bloggers is our commitment to our blogs as a business.
One of the big turning points in my blogging career was when I started treating my blog as a business rather than a hobby. I acquired a business license. I registered my blog name as a trademark. And I began to look at my activities and expenses with an eye towards its potential return on investment.
At the end of the day, travel influencers are marketers. What we market is travel. So if I’m working with a brand, I always try and show how our partnership or collaboration can help bring more potential consumers to their brand.
Travel is only part of the job
Another myth about travel influencers is that all we do is travel.
“It must be nice,” people say, “to be on vacation all the time.” In reality, travel is only a fraction of what we do!
For every blog post I publish, there is at least twenty non-travel related tasks that go into it. This includes researching relevant keywords, editing photos, pitching brands or destinations, scheduling social media posts, and tracking traffic analytics on that particular post.
As I said before, being a travel influencer is a 15-30 hour a week job for me, and travel is just a fraction of that job.
Travel influencers get a bad rap! The stories of the hotel and resort owners publicly shaming influencers who request a free stay in exchange for a social media campaign make it seem like all travel influencers are lazy people looking for a free trip. It’s such a pervasive problem in our industry that one of the keynote sessions at WITS this year was titled, Is ‘Influencer’ A Bad Word? Authenticity And The Future Of Our Industry.
In reality, travel influencers are hard-working professionals. For those of us who live the influencer lifestyle, we know that so much of what makes us successful relies on maintaining a level of professionalism. If we’re working with a brand or a destination, we show up on time, we are respectful, and we make sure that we maintain a good relationship with our brand or destination partners.
Using our voice to make a difference
The most important part of being a travel influencer is understanding the power of our influence. We have a voice, and a platform to use our voice, and it’s up to us to use it responsibly.
To me, this means educating others to travel in a more sustainable and ethical way. It means using my words to shape the travel industry and how people, especially families, view travel. And it means giving voice to others who may be marginalized or overlooked. The beauty of being a travel influencer is that if you are up for the challenge, you literally have the power to change the world!
Not all travel influencers are bad!
Let it to be known that not all travel influencers are bad! The majority of us are hard-working writers, photographers, and storytellers, trying to encourage others to explore more of the world. It’s a shame that the few who are only in it for the freebies are creating a negative view of travel influencers for others.
As I continue on my blogging career, I know that I will need to keep learning and evolving. Like my fellow women influencers that I connected with at WITS, I am constantly dreaming up plans for new projects for The Wandering Daughter. I even have plans for reviving old projects that have fallen to the wayside.
So stay tuned to see what I have in store for you! And let’s stop making “travel influencer” a bad word!
Are you a travel influencer? Share what it’s like for you in the comments.
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