What is a Travel Blog?

Matt Long Travel Writer

I don’t normally pontificate on LandLopers about travel blogs and social media, well not much at least. I usually save those not-so weighty thoughts for other sites and discussion groups. But this is a question I myself have been tossing about in my noggin and I think it’s a discussion that benefits all readers of blogs, because it speaks to the core of why they visit.

Blogs are strange imps of the online world. The term was coined in the late 1990s, but several individuals started websites with daily, personal updates a few years prior. 1999 was a banner year for the blogger, the term was coined and people around the world started experimenting with this new way of sharing their thoughts with the world, all in reverse-chronological order of course.

As technology made it easier for bloggers to emerge, a cascade of writing began to fill the inter-webs until we had the large, diverse population of bloggers we see today. Many blogs are only marginally considered blogs, by definition. The look of many sites, including my own, is decidedly unbloglike and while personal thoughts and impressions are imbued in every post, these sites ofttimes take on more of an informational role. Either way though, blogs are a form of social media as they encourage and depend on readers to interact in an online community of enthusiasts.

Bloggers on a boat

The travel world was slow to enter this universe, for a variety of reasons. The industry itself wasn’t in any hurry to encourage independent, non/quasi/sorta writers/journalists/thinkers and the individuals themselves lacked the technology to actively travel and maintain a site. There are exceptions of course, and many of the early travel bloggers still write and are in fact leaders in the industry. Industry. I bet that’s a term no one would have thought to apply to blogs in 1999.

And yet that’s where we find ourselves now. I’m not sure who’s to thank/blame for the emergence of the blogdustry, Facebook had a major role to play, as did simple word of mouth, the best way for any blog to grow. Facebook was an important instigator because of their insistence to create a world where everything a person wants to know, from which deodorant is best to where to vacation, is available online in a social platform. Facebook isn’t completely there yet, but in its attempts it has created an environment where it’s not only ok to accept such advice from friends, associates and influencers, it’s almost become the norm.

People are skeptical by nature, it’s just how we function. Corporate websites and ads are great, but ultimately there is an undercurrent of mistrust. As consumers we wonder if they are lying, always suspicious of anything they say. Corporations and other large entities work in their own best interest, that’s kind of how the free market works. But as a consumer, who knows what they say is real or not? Yeah, the hotel looks amazing on the web site, but what will it really be like when we arrive?

Bloggers in Mexico

This gets me to the real question of what is a travel blog. Through sites like TripAdvisor, the traveling public, I think, got used to the idea of accepting advice and recommendations from strangers. The entries look honest (whether or not they’re accurate is a subject for another time) and ideally they had nothing to gain with their reviews. Finally, there was an honest forum through which to make travel decisions without corporate or feel good PR rose colored glasses.

Travel blogs fill this same niche of wanting to hear from real people about the travel experience. People taking a year long break to travel the world began writing, travel agents began to write, travel writers began to write, random people who like to travel began to write until, finally, we have the robust travel blogosphere we enjoy today. Technology has helped, without question. It takes very minimal effort to at least start and maintain a travel blog. But to what end?

For many round the world, year long sabbatical travelers, it’s a way to keep friends and family updated back home. If others read it, that’s great, but after the trip finishes, the site usually does as well. (There are exceptions to every rule, including this one) Still others have a passion for the travel experience, be it from a professional background or not, and just want to share their thoughts and experiences to help others as they plan their own journeys.

At its core, this is what a good travel blog should be. Anyone can pick up a copy of Lonely Planet or Frommers, find the top museums, attractions, hotels and restaurants and go off on vacation reasonably well prepared. Why then do people read travel blogs at all? Because they want more.

Take Gary Arndt of Everything-Everywhere travel blog for example. His site generates more traffic than many mainstream travel sites and magazines. They have staffs, advertising, age and that all important veritas. What does Gary have? Well he’s smart, well traveled and likes to share his experiences. People flock to him more than the mainstream sites because he’s a real, breathing person. People can’t identify with entities or companies, but they can identify with other people. That’s the appeal, Gary is like them and because of that, his readers feel like they can achieve the same travel feats he has.

There is a natural tendency to want to classify and categorize things; that too is human nature. So many times I hear the question, are travel bloggers: writers, journalists, photographers, marketers, PR pros, techies, etc? The answer is we are none of these, but we are all of these. Travel blogs aren’t going to replace travel guides, the excellent writing in travel magazines or Sunday supplements, marketing campaigns or world class public relations; travel blogs are a separate entity and instead augment all of these institutions. We’re meant to inspire, to provoke and yes, to help in the actual act of traveling itself. We all stray from this sometimes, for one reason or another, but overall the travel blog is about people helping people, and that’s why I love writing my blog.

Industry is warming up to travel blogs as well. Destinations and companies are beginning to catch on to the return on investment of having real people talk about their cities, countries, products, etc. A great example is the Lanai New-Media-Artist-in-Residence program led by PR pioneer Roxanne Darling. You can read about the full program, which I was part of, in her post, but some important statistics are important to point out. After the effort, which was six months in length and involved seven bloggers, she was able to quantify the following:

  • 516% increase on Twitter for Visit Lanai
  • 2.5 million new Google results for Lanai
  • Visitor spending up 28%
  • 715% return on investment based on production costs

That’s real value folks. I would love to say that seven bloggers are responsible for all of this, but in truth it was done in conjunction with good marketing and good PR. Everything worked together in a cohesive manner.

It would be too easy to say that we live in an age of cynicism and distrust and shy away from anything institutional. The truth is that humans have always lived in such an age. What’s different now is that we have the tools to respond to this cynicism in unique ways. In the travel world, travel blogs are the ombudsman to an industry that needs it. We offer a true voice, a real voice, an honest voice. Travel magazines and newspaper articles will always exist and they will always have fantastic content. Travel marketing and advertising with amazing tropical beaches and palm trees will always exist and they serve to inspire. But bloggers bring it all together in one package. Are we perfect, do we all write well, do we all have helpful and useful information? No, of course not. But over time the community will refine itself and grow stronger as each site stakes its claim and serves its audience.

What do I intend to do? I intend to do as I have done for almost two years, to travel as I can and share those experiences with you all. Hopefully you find inspiration and useful information, but more importantly, I hope you have fun reading the site. Now that’s a travel blog.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

14 Responses

  1. Gerard ~ GQ trippin

    Q & I started our blog just to share our travel experiences. But it’s turned out to be so much more than that. So many connections and inspirations shared, really looking forward to 2012

    Reply
  2. Andy

    You summed it up well Matt. My view is that you can get the basic information from a guidebook (how to get from the airport, getting around, background info and contexts, the classic sights etc.) but a blog can offer you something extra. I look for those real experiences (it is essential that bloggers make it clear when they are on sponsored trips) and more up-to-date news and views. It goes without saying that a blog can offer far fresher ideas than a book published every couple of years or even a magazine with its publishing schedule.

    In addition you have the blogs which are basically extended travel journals. While these can be of interest, I have to say that I can happily live without reading yet another diary entry by some Australian couple on their RTW trip following in everyone else’s footsteps…

    Reply
  3. Andi

    Very insightful and thought provoking. I actually spent time over the holiday break contemplating this very topic. I was doing my own soul-searching as to whether I can really label myself a travel blog when I compare myself to others who are on the road extensively. But then I remembered the adage: Blog like there’s no-one reading…and for me my blog is a creative outlet that I never knew I needed but could not now imagine my life without. I am passionate about travel and food, always have been and always will be, and that should be enough to satisfy the label of travel blogger – at least that I what I told myself over the weekend! Right, wrong or indifferent, there are always going to be bad blogs out there but there are always going to be good blogs out there that people gravitate to because the person behind it is real. Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  4. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    Loved this post! Very, very insightful and I couldn’t agree more. I’m totally convinced now of the power of bogs and social media.

    Reply
  5. Melvin

    That is a very nice article about travel blogging! Very well described!

    Reply
  6. fotoeins | Henry

    Matt, thank you for your post – there’s a lot to consider and evaluate. For me at this time, my blog allows my friends to follow what I’m doing, especially now that I’ve left job and (past-)career behind. However, one thing that has come through consistently from many posts and travel blogs is writing and delivering the best content possible, whether it’s words and/or with images. Thanks again!

    Reply
  7. Audrey

    Well put and well written – thank you. Dan and I recently spoke at the IOETI e-tourism conference in Egypt about the benefits of working with bloggers. We emphasized bloggers as storytelling agents, people who are able to get your story out (or find stories you never knew existed) with the added bonus of providing practical information and resources. But what makes bloggers unique in getting this message across effectively is that we are just regular people – our readers identify with us and can imagine themselves in the same experiences. This is a special kind of bond.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Audrey, thank you, that means a lot coming from you. You’re right, when it comes down to it it’s all about the connections and it’s important to keep that in mind.

      Reply
  8. Erik

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here.

    For the people who use it to make money to enjoy the nomadic lifestyle, it’s a job & a passion. For me, a truly small time amateur, I do it as a hobby, something to get me from trip to trip. I love that people read it (I am surprised by this everyday) but it’s really just for me.

    Reply
  9. El Boquerón Viajero

    We´ve been writing our blog since May, and its really opened up our eyes to the importance of blogs in the travel industry. I think we all start our blogs for fun and because it intrests us, but its true that we are gaining more and more recognition. In Madrid, this week is FITUR (International Tourism Fair), and bloggers have a free pass to enter the fair. Up until now, anyone besides industry professionals had to have a special connection to be invited, but the door was opened to travel bloggers…must mean things are advancing. Good luck to all those who share their experiences! We´re having a great time, and its even better that people are taking our hard work seriously!

    Reply
  10. Leslie (Downtown Traveler)

    I wonder how the courting of travel bloggers by tourism boards will be influenced by Klout; I just read that Seattle’s CVB is using Klout.com to target social media influencers– and these are not necessarily bloggers. In my experience, some PR reps/destinations/companies are eager to deal with blogegrs while others are still skeptical of our value.

    Reply
  11. Scott (WorldFamilyTravellers)

    Dan,
    I just found your site today, through twitter if you’re curious, and have really enjoyed it. I like your style and delivery. I started my own travel blog, thinking that information for the family travelers, would be helpful. It started out as hotel reviews and travel jornals and to be honest was quite bland. I finally feel like I’m being honest in who I am in my writing (sadly lots of sarcasm and directness). What I’m finding is that people are now commenting and interacting with me, when all along that is what I hoped for. I’d love to find other families that try to do the things we do and get suggestions from them, but doing boring hotel reviews wasn’t working. It’s a long haul to find an audience, but I’m happy to be finding my voice. Any tips you have for gaining traction with additional readers would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Scott

    Reply
  12. Jodi of Florida Bliss

    Awesome article! I recently started a blog about my vacation to Florida. My original thought was to use it as a way to display the more than 1,200 photos I took. Then I came up with the idea to take the photos and write about the images I captured; share not just my experience, but a little history or interesting fact about what’s in the photo. Wasn’t sure whether or not I could classify it as a travel blog, but after reading your article I think I am safe to say it is.

    Happy travels!

    Reply

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