Lessons Every Travel Blogger Can Learn from TBEX
Last weekend’s Travel Blog Exchange conference was all about learning – from experts in the industry, from those who’ve been writing for decades or blogging since the medium’s inception, from peers making their own way in the community, and maybe even from newbies just getting started. More than 72 hours after the conference ended, I’m still trying to process all the tips and advice offered both during the sessions and from people I met at the event. Of all the points made throughout TBEX, these are the ones that I think everyone can benefit from.
1) I said it before, and I’ll say it again: there’s room for many different styles of writing in the travel world.
One thing that struck me at TBEX was the vast variety of travel blogs and websites on the internet, and I firmly believe that there is room for them all. You don’t have to be the best at every style; write your best in your own way. Whether your style is long narratives, service pieces, or personal stories mixed with travel tips, play your strengths and find your own voice.
2) Working with PR is not about getting “free stuff,” it’s about utilizing additional resources that can help you tell the story you want to tell.
Every site, large or small, should have an editorial calendar and a press page that lets PR people and advertisers know the policy on press trips, paid reviews, and advertorials, and that clearly states what you write about on your blog, and what you don’t. Bloggers should reach out to PR companies with researched ideas and story angles and be clear about what they need. PR folks are more concerned with finding a relevant audience than the biggest audience, they just want to know that you can deliver a ROI for the client.
3) Add quality visuals to every post.
According to Gary Arndt, travel porn is “pictures of people doing things you’ll never do in places you’ll never go.” Readers travel vicariously through your stories, and people are very visual creatures, so always use big, beautiful photos. Learn how to use your camera. Gary says the best camera is the one you have and (to paraphrase) that asking a great photographer what camera he uses is like asking a great writer what keyboard he uses. Gary also says that cropping photos and adjusting exposure are two simple things that can make your pictures better.
4) Producing good travel videos doesn’t have to be difficult.
Likewise, a few simple changes can make your travel videos drastically different. Hold the camera steady, backlight the shot in low lighting, and add an external mic. Storyboard your shots before you set out, and always get three shots – up close, wide, and over the shoulder. Use characters to tell your story.
5) Honesty is the best policy.
Despite the presence of a staffer from the FTC on the panel on ethics, the rules on disclosure of freebies and comps still seem muddled. The best policy: if you receive any kind of freebie or discount, disclose it. You’ll protect yourself, and earn the respect of your readers with your transparency.
6) Don’t hog the mic on Twitter.
BootsnAll’s resident Italy guide, Jessica (@Italylogue) said Twitter is like a cocktail party – you need to do equal parts engaging and listening. Remember it’s not all about self-promotion, Twitter is a community, and an ongoing conversation between you and your followers. And as Annemarie Dooling (@TravelingAnna) said, we need to live in a “thank-you” economy. We can, and should cooperate with fellow bloggers to help promote and support one another.
7) Travel isn’t always “perfect.”
In fact, Spud Hilton says he’s banned the word from the travel section of the San Fransisco Chronicle (along with nestled). He said if you claim something is perfect, someone will inevitably be disappointed. Instead, embrace the mistakes, missteps, and even disasters that go along with travel. As Alison Wellner put it, “panic has its narrative uses.”
And if there was one uniting theme of the stories read at the Community Keynote, it was that bad experiences make for great stories. David Farley added that conflict and desire makes a story more interesting; had the characters in the Wizard of Oz just said, “So, what do you want to do now?” the story wouldn’t have been very memorable.
8 ) Travel writers need to arrive in a place more prepared than the average traveler.
David Farley says pre-trip research, including reading scholarly works on the destination, is key. He also says writers need to be more conscious of their surroundings, noting the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of a place. Good travel writing includes all five senses.
9) Good travel stories are good stories. Period.
You can argue the differences between travel writing and travel blogging all day long, but legendary writer Don George says they both come down to good stories. To find your story, Alison Wellner says you have to go beyond the “situation” (the set of circumstances) to the “story” (the sense the writer makes from what happened). She also says writers should take their experiences seriously, but not personally. Writers should be self-aware and keep in mind the role they play in the greater scope of the story.
10) Write for humans, dammit!
SEO is important for driving traffic to your site. But it’s not the most important thing. Above all, Shelia Scarborough says, write for humans. The amount of traffic on your site is secondary to the quality of traffic on your site, and quality writing attracts quality traffic more than poorly-written SEO content.
Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s one last lesson. BootsnAll’s CEO SeanKeener says pick your battles. Start with doing one or two things well, rather than doing everything poorly. Sean said it in regard to SEO practices, but I think it can be applied to all aspects of blogging. Whether you are a new or established blogger, choose just a few tasks to focus on and do them extremely well.
All photos via GalavantingGals on Flickr