For anyone else like me who is inherently nosey, I’ve started this new interview series in which I ask my favourite professional travel bloggers ‘how do you make it work exactly’? First up is a blogger I’ve long known and admired who has a reputation for being one of the nicest women on the internet. (She’s a gem in real life too, might I add!) Over to you Monica…
Tell us about your blog and how long you’ve been working on it.
My blog is The Travel Hack. It’s one of the UK’s leading travel blogs (yey!) and I have a team of 6 other bloggers who also travel the world and blog about it for The Travel Hack.
I started the blog in 2009 when I was travelling around Asia and Australia. I wanted to be a journalist and I thought blogging was a good way to practice writing, share my stories and build up a portfolio of work to help my future career. I had no idea blogging would become my career but I’m so glad it did!
We’ve recently shifted our focus on The Travel Hack to really focus on weekend breaks and shorter holidays. More and more people are taking lots of little holidays throughout the year, rather than the old-fashioned two weeks on the beach holiday, so we really want to help people make the most of their weekend breaks.
Which aspects of blogging do you enjoy the most?
Almost all of it really – which is why I feel so lucky to call this my job! I love photography and capturing special moments I want to remember forever. I like making short videos now too! I love meeting new people and chatting to small business owners and helping to promote them. I like chatting to people on Twitter and spending way too much time watching Instagram Stories! I love writing blog posts, I find it really therapeutic and calming and it’s great to read them back a few years later and have all the memories come flooding back.
I like the business side of blogging too. I like creating campaigns and working on big projects with brands I love. I’m even a bit geeky and like reporting on stats!
I’ve recently designed a Travel Hack Suitcase and that has been one of the best experiences in my blogging career yet. I’ve been able to take all my experience of travelling and packing and rushing through airports and work with a very talented designer and a fabulous company to create a product I’m really proud of.
I have another side business to the blog too and I run an e-course called The Blogger Course to help other bloggers and I even love this. I love helping people to improve their blogs and show them little tips and tricks that can really help them grow!
(Editor’s note: I’ve done this course & it’s awesome!)
And the least?
I used to hate dealing with my inbox. I love getting emails from readers and lovely brands who want to work together, but I get a shit tonne of emails from brands who want to ‘collaborate’, which really just means they want me to work for free (I think we all get these!)
I used to spend hours every day replying to all these emails and putting together creative campaigns and exciting projects, only to find that 80% of the time they wouldn’t pay me. But I kept doing it for the 20% that would pay me. It was draining and a terrible use of my time!
I feel really lucky now that I have enough work coming in that I don’t need to bother with these emails. I spend a maximum of 20 minutes a day on emails now and I’m a much happier person!
What are your main revenue streams?
My main revenue stream is through brand collaborations. This covers so many different types of projects though. It can be anything from recording radio shows with brands, visiting and reviewing hotels, working with fashion brands or airlines, working with tourism boards or even lifestyle brands to promote certain products.
I love that these projects are always so different so no two days are ever the same.
Like everyone else, I’d really like to grow my affiliate sales. I worked really hard on my affiliates when I was pregnant with my eldest son, George. I did this so I could take a few months off without worrying about money because I’d have an income stream without even opening my laptop. By the time I had my second son I was doing pretty well and affiliates through The Travel Hack can cover all our family bills and the mortgage etc. It’s lovely to not have to worry about this each month and gives me some extra creative freedom to turn down work I don’t 100% want to do. But I think we all get greedy and always want a little bit more! Affiliates are such a fantastic source of revenue for bloggers and it’s definitely something we should all be focusing on!
What’s been your most popular content to date?
My Iceland content is some of the most popular content on the blog. I put this down to the fact that I spent months organising this trip! I researched everything and booked everything myself. I chatted with all the local businesses and worked directly with them all so this meant I had a really deep understanding for the place and I felt like I had a lot to blog about.
When travel bloggers go on blogger trips you often find that everything is organised for you. You’re all like sheep following your leader and you don’t have to think for yourself – which is kind of lovely but it doesn’t give you much to blog about! You haven’t researched the best hotels to stay at or the best bars in town or how to get from A to B, so you can’t pass any of that knowledge on to your readers.
One of my most popular posts is a packing guide for Iceland but when people read this they then go on to read about my itinerary, my tips, my favourite spots and the best activities.
It’s four years since my first trip to Iceland and I still get people telling me they used my guides to plan their trip!
What campaign did you enjoy working on the most and why?
I worked on a campaign with The Travel Mob to Llubljana in Slovenia and that was brilliant. There were about 5 or 6 of us went out to Slovenia together but we all arranged our own itineraries for while we were there. We all stayed in different hotels and did activities that suited our niche and what our audiences would be interested in. It meant that between all 6 bloggers we managed to cover virtually everything the city had to offer and together we created a really comprehensive city guide. It also meant that everyone loved their stay because we’d all chosen activities we wanted to try.
Everyday we’d go off and do our own thing and then come together for dinner and chat about what we’d done. It had that sociable, friendly vibe you get on a press trip without being herded like sheep!
With hindsight, what would you have done differently on your blog?
Hmm, it’s hard to answer that one because I’ve made lots of mistakes but I’ve learned something valuable from each mistake. I wish I’d started making videos sooner. I’ve still only made a couple but I feel like each one gets slightly better. If I started 10 years ago then I could be Quentin Tarantino by now, right?
What does success look like to you?
Success for me is when I meet someone and they tell me they’ve booked a holiday based on my recommendation. I went to Timisoara in Romania recently. It’s a place most people have never heard of but after our trip there I’ve had eight blog readers say they’ve booked to go. Eight! OK, I know that’s not loads but I’m sure there must be more people who just haven’t told me! I love inspiring people to visit somewhere new and also helping a destination I truly believe in to attract more attention.
Success isn’t about money or awards, it’s just about those genuine connections and recommendations.
Where do you see your blog in 5 years time?
You asked me this when you interviewed me for a position at Flight Centre, do you remember!? (Ed’s note: I don’t, memory like a fish me!) This was the final question of the interview and I panicked and couldn’t think what to say so I made something up about ‘the blogging and social media industry moving so quickly and it being such a new and innovative industry that we couldn’t possibly guess where it might be in 5 year’s time’.
But I actually do still believe this.
Five years ago I didn’t think I’d earn a living purely through travel blogging. I didn’t think I’d have a team of writers or I’d be working with such big brands. I also didn’t think I’d be able to manage doing this with two children!
In another 5 years time I’d like to have really established The Travel Hack as a ‘weekend travel blog’ and become known as weekend specialists. I want people to think, ‘I want to have a nice weekend break…oh I know, I’ll check out The Travel Hack for some ideas…’
That’s the dream.
Thanks so much to Monica for being the first to spill her travel blogging success story. Watch this space for more probing interviews with top female (and maybe some male, we’ll see) travel bloggers every fortnight.
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