What a Good Travel Blog Is NOT

st pauls london UK

The other day a reader, a blogger actually, left a message commenting that she didn’t like a restaurant recommendation I had made. To be honest, I don’t get a lot of complaints and so it made me pause. Had I made a mistake, was I wrong, was I sending people to the wrong place? Then I re-read the post, read her comments and realized that no, the fault was not mine. There was no fault actually, instead what happened was a fundamental lack of understanding about what a good travel blog should be.

Blogs are now commonplace, although I remember a day when I had to look up what the term meant. The trend started slowly and eventually blew up into the phenomenon that it is today. But throughout its evolution, one fact remained – a good travel blog is meant to be a personal reflection. Personal, about the individual, biased – these are all synonyms for a good blog. But in recent years we’ve gotten away from that, or at least folks entering the industry both on the corporate and blog side don’t really get what a good travel blog should be.

Not a travel guide

It sounds odd at first, but it’s true. A good travel blog should not be a digitized version of Frommer’s. This is the initial point where people get confused. They confuse a travel web site with a travel blog. The two are not the same and we shouldn’t expect them to be. If John Doe wants to start a web site with comprehensive recommendations on what to do and see in various places around the world that’s fine, but don’t call it a blog. It’s a travel web site. No, a good travel blog is all about the personality, it’s about following an individual with whom you can either relate or understand their unique voice and so you read their work. It all has to start with the person or in some cases multiple authors.

That doesn’t mean practical and useful travel advice can’t be imparted in a blog, it can. But it absolutely should be biased. I usually explain it this way: People don’t visit blogs to find the Top Ten Things To Do In London. That’s been done a million times and probably better than any new blogger will manage. No, instead, people visit travel blogs to read more about how a certain individual experienced London. What they saw and did, and what their individual takeaways were. Why? Because they like that person, they’ve developed an affinity for their writing and they can relate to the ways in which they travel. That’s ultimately why people visit travel blogs and we would all do well to remember that.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Not a complete travel resource

Sorry fellow bloggers to break it to you, but we don’t know everything. I feel bad when people email me asking somewhat complex questions about a place I spent 4 days in – this actually happens all the time. Travel bloggers and writers may travel more than the average person, but we don’t know what we don’t know. We aren’t travel agents, instead the value of our advice comes directly from our own personal experiences. That means then that if I don’t write about it, I probably don’t know about it. Someone recently asked me for a list of hikes in Iceland. I spent 4 days in Iceland three-years ago and completed zero hikes. In order to answer this question I’d have to Google it, which is probably what that individual should have done in the first place. I think though that all too often we try to be everything to everyone, which is of course impossible. We travel in ways that are similar to the average person, which is why people read us in the first place I think. Personally, I spend 1-2 weeks maximum in a new place, making it impossible for me to know everything about it. That’s not to say I don’t learn a lot during my trips, I do. But I can’t recommend things that I don’t know about.

That’s ultimately why I decided not to over-worry about the complaint I received. Why? Because it’s not the job of my web site to offer comprehensive options of hotels and restaurants in any given city. Instead, my site shares what I actually see and do and what I thought about it. So when I recommend a restaurant, might there be something better out there? Sure, probably, but I can only write from personal experience and I can only write as a travel blogger and not a travel guide writer. There’s a sharp difference between the two and we need to make sure to remember that if we want to continue providing great content to readers old and new.

What do you think? What are your favorite features of a good travel blog?

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.

42 thoughts on “What a Good Travel Blog Is NOT”

  1. I agree, blogs – the original meaning of it before it became a business platform, is an online journal. A personal perspective on things. Food, along with other experience are very subjective, as each person (travel bloggers included) has his/her own personality. One has to take that into account when reading or before going with recommendations (“ok, he enjoyed this hotel / tour/ restaurant. knowing what his personality/style is, would I enjoy it too?”) not only that, no 2 experiences are the same, so even if the reader and the blogger have identical tastes, no guarantees that something will be received the same way.

  2. I think, my page is a mix of both.
    If you start a blog in a personal way without giving much information, but more your feelings about things, you will never become known enough to a point, where you can start a discussion like this and actually get some answers, I think. Except perhaps for some very lucky people, who hit a nerve!
    I would put it that way: I would probably write a “best places to see in London” and my readers would like it, because it’s from me, perhaps, but my intention was to deliver information. Is that wrong? I want to be useful, not go off on some fantasies, that perhaps are just cool to me.
    Blogging, like everything, is in a permanent self-reinvention process anyway. Just recently a blogger colleague said, he will now focus on his Youtube Vlog, some Snapchat and perhaps an article on his blog once a month. So what would you say to that? Personal enough? :-)

  3. I have very recently retired as the manager of a travel agency. It was my third career and one I took up when I was over fifty. I travelled extensively both before and after becoming a consultant. As you can gather, I am older than many of your followers. When it came along, I embraced social media although I remain clumsy with the tech side of it. Through Twitter I discovered bloggers. If I was led to a travel site I aborted/ unfollowed. I just wanted to experience another’s experience of a place I had never been to or to see a familiar place through new eyes. I know that some of you have to make a living to finance your travels by going on trips with travel companies such as Insight and Viking Cruises but they take a risk in inviting you to do so just as they did when inviting me to go on a Familiarization Trip. I think this article is spot on. I am enjoying your articles very much. You are not in the business of finding customers hotels. Forget ’em!

    1. Well yes and no. There is great value to be had in working with destinations and companies from both the blogger’s point of view and theirs. In order to make it work, they have to let us do our own thing and then let us write whatever we want to about it. I always, always have full editorial control over what I write and so it allows me an opportunity to see or do something I might not have otherwise, and for them to get that information out there to the general public. BUT, campaigns and trips that are overly or micro-managed won’t work for the very reasons you list. And I enjoy talking about hotels and resorts and aviation and all of that, but it’s always my thoughts and opinions out there. Sometimes they’re positive and other times they’re negative.

  4. Spot on Matt: Jounalism, advertising and indeed ‘blogging’ carry a sordid, almost furtive relationship. Now, ‘Branded Content’ takes the place of a true traveller’s voice; ‘native’ and ‘partner’ content is everywhere on the web, and sometimes showing up on our own personal blogs. Yes, we would all like to make some money from our content, posts, and sponsored trips but let’s never, EVER loose the single reason we love to do this: the opportunity to communicate and share our stories of that little boy, in India, no older than 5 or 6, who came hopping madly over, using a stick as a crutch, for his right foot was deformed and he couldn’t stand on it. He was filthy, but gave me the most beautiful smile. He asked for a Pepsi. I bought him a Pepsi. He asked for 100 rupees. I gave him 100 rupees. He didn’t ask for anything more – he gave me (again!) his beautiful smile and his thanks. It was all I could do to keep from breaking down right there. I wanted so much to save him, to get him good medical care, an education. I knew I couldn’t. And I remember later, crying. Crying for that little boy. Crying for India.
    (thanks for those memories) Much better than a hotel or restaurant recomend!

    1. That’s right and I do believe that they can coexist very well, but it takes a writer smart enough to know how to do it. Honesty is the only thing we have and we have to be true to that.

  5. Matt you so nailed it. The reason travel bloggers and travel blogs are my preference when it comes to travel content and research is that they bring you places from their own unique perspective. Eventually, I naturally gravitate to reading the blogs and bloggers who has a POV, travel style and appetite that is similar to mine. If I am planning to visit a city or country I use multiple sources for reference because as you said, it is nearly impossible for one person to cover every inch, or at least do it well. That is why there is room for dozens of bloggers in Paris, in New York, in Thailand, everyone has their own set of experiences and geography/neighborhood they know well, what they don’t know well, you can be sure that another blogger does. There is room for everyone and the readers and travel community benefit! (P.S. this post will be in my Saturday Six this weekend). Thanks for the great read – as always. You continually find fresh way to express your opinion and share your world!

  6. I find myself agreeing with you, which somewhat surprises me. This probably explains why I’ve always disliked calling my website a blog, since I do tend to focus more on in-depth visit recaps. My site sort of skirts the line between personal experience and practical travel information. However, for practical purposes, I think the term blogging is changing a bit to incorporate a lot of the how and why in addition to the who and what that blogging was a few years ago.

  7. I completely agree. I remember when I started blogging a year ago I was completely overwhelmed by the idea that I had to be the most knowledgeable travel blogger in the world to be successful. In that year I’ve learned that it’s much easier to simply write about your experiences and build a following within the arenas you naturally gravitate toward. People care about our stories so much more than our informational posts. We do still throw those in, but always with a personal slant, which is probably why our readers stick around.As with anything, I think the trick is finding the right balance between information and anecdote. People want to know your stories, and in hearing them they learn to trust your advice much more than they trust a bare bones travel guide.

    Great post!

  8. I actually disagree with you, which is surprising!

    I think one role of a travel blog is for our audiences to live vicariously through us and then learn how to do the trips that we do – where we enjoyed eating, staying, doing. It’s factual information, combined with emotion. The same way a travel website or guidebook doesn’t list every single restaurant available, a travel blog is a type of guide that is sometimes a little more emotional.

    There are also different types of articles within blogs – narrative stories vs non-narrative fact based articles (“the time my plane almost crashed” vs “how to navigate public transit in Moscow”), and many blogs (myself, and you, included!) do both. We travel more than the average person, which is why it’s totally natural for someone to ask for advice to a destination, even if we don’t always know the answer. I’m sure you have gone on trips and experienced things you haven’t written about – why be offended if someone asked on the off chance that you did actually go on a hike in Iceland?

    Lastly, don’t all our readers take our suggestions with a grain of salt? Meaning, just because we had a great meal once doesn’t mean it would be equally as great the next time, which could be said for any restaurant anywhere in the world.

  9. I sometimes make special recommendations if I have a fabulous experience somewhere but for the most part I try to write entertaining stories that make people laugh while they’re also learning some about a place. I don’t write comprehensive guidebook types of things – I would have gotten a job doing that if I wanted to do that. I share my impressions and people can use Trip Advisor or Google for specific recommendations (I do)!

  10. Thanks for writing this post. This is definitely a great reminder. I’m finding it’s easy to let the pressure get to you in the beginning stages of travel blogging, but when you stop concerning yourself with appealing to everyone all the time and just be yourself, it’s much more effective!

  11. Word. The way I curate content for my online magazine is by inspiring writers to share their unique perspectives on a place or experience. Over time, this process paints a collage of different opinions and recommendations, providing ever more value to the readers. I believe that the value in a good travel blog lies in the depth and diversity of those shared experiences.

  12. Telling a good story is the main reason I read blogs! What we are reading is just one interpretation. I don’t think we should take whatever a travel blogger says as ‘gospel’. Also the internet is written in ink so sometimes information is out of date.

  13. Thank you! I am new to travel blogging and it is so far a hobby and passion to me rather than a career. But communicating my experiences while abroad is what I strive for. I get easily tired of those countless lists of where to go and what to do. Why not let the travelers decide for themselves based on the experiences of others? I don’t know how well I transcribe my travels and make the reader escape, but it’s definitely my goal.

  14. Matt – this post blew my mind. Honestly. Believe it or not, in the 5 years I have been blogging, this concept has not occurred to me. I am in a constant battle with myself to simply write about my experience from my heart and researching enough to make my posts appealing to people researching travel in the places I’ve travelled.
    Thank you. Truly. Thank you! for saying this and explaining it succinctly. It has changed my life – as a writer, as a blogger, as a travel blogger. I look forward to following you from now on!

  15. Hey, Matt. Thank you for writing about this. I had this question in my mind sometime ago, and in fact, the interesting timing as well is that someone else asked me what the difference was between a travel blog and a travel website. I showed one of my posts to highlight essentially the primary differences you stated above. I’m going to have to bookmark this URL to follow the comments’ thread, but I wanted to say: yes!

  16. While we travel, my husband submits thorough reviews (good and bad) to TripAdvisor for the places we visit. As a senior contributor he often gets contacted for more information. I don’t include detailed reviews in my blog that duplicate his reviews. But when I visit something that really enhances (or detracts from) the travel we are doing, I will include my more subjective observations. I hope people can as you say put the comments in perspective with what else we are writing about. Not everyone will like everything we do – and that is ok.

  17. They have to impart real value … we’ll have heard the same old tired tips … give me something new. That’s what I want to hear!

  18. I completely agree, Matt! Anyone can find the basic information they need on many different sites, such as Frommers, or the tourism site for the city or country in question, but no one can tell YOUR experience in that place. It’s the same for food bloggers: the recipe for gnocchi can be found on Epicurious, or La Cucina Italiana, but you won’t get a good old cat story and know where the recipe originated from unless you check out my aunt’s recipe on my site. It’s the stories that make the blog. Great post! :) CC

  19. I’m not a travel blogger but I totally agree with your article, especially this bit: “No, a good travel blog is all about the personality, it’s about following an individual with whom you can either relate or understand their unique voice and so you read their work.”I think it should be expanded to include all blogs. There has to be a voice else it’s as good as reading a “copy-and-paste” article.

    I often get asked why I don’t know all the new cafes or restaurants in town since I’m a food blogger. My food blog is a hobby, not a job. I like to work hard at my job so I can pay for food and maybe write about them if so inspired / if I find some energy on weekends.
    Whilst I enjoy sharing my experience, I’m not driven to be the first person to write about a new establishment nor am I one to only follow the masses. I’m drawn by what interests me and if the establishment is not listed on any guide…all the better, as I think it’s more exciting to uncover hidden gems.

  20. I agree in part, but travel blogs can also be a travel resource. The happy balance is a site that allows the voice and personality of the blogger to come through, while also providing visitors with information that they are after. Nice post!

  21. Love this! I started a blog about 2 years back with the intention of sharing my experiences and stories. Along the way, I’ve come across many other blogs that are more travel guides, so I’ve always wondered if I was doing the right thing and if what I was sharing was enough. Thanks for the reminder about the true meaning of a blog! For me, a blog has to have a voice, a personality. Otherwise, it loses its essence and what makes it special. Excellent post, Matt!

  22. Thanks for the great write-up. I really agree with your points and feel that many travelblogs are too focused on quick writes, SEO, top somethings and do not give enough of their personal account to their blog. They make it seem they are objective while their choices and everything about it is subjective. We share our stories about cycling in a place and hope people like the story and find the info useful as well.

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