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‘Beyond what I was dreaming’: How travel bloggers turn wanderlust into a way of life

'Beyond what I was dreaming': How travel bloggers turn wanderlust into a way of life


‘Beyond what I was dreaming’: How travel bloggers turn wanderlust into a way of life

Erin Holmes remembers the aha! moment that helped change the trajectory of her career nearly a decade ago. She and her family were attending a street festival in Malaysia when a stranger yelled out “Erin!””I turned around, and I was like, ‘I’m in Malaysia. How do I know anybody here?’ ” Holmes said. “This lady ran up to me, and she goes, ‘Oh my God, I read your blog.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God! You read my blog?’ “Like many of her peers, Holmes started blogging as a way to keep in touch with loved ones back home in Australia as she and her family traveled the world. She figured she had about a dozen readers. When she learned the number was in the thousands, she realized, “I need to make something of this.”Nowadays, her blog, Explore with Erin, draws over 180,000 readers a month.►’Adapted overnight’: How travel influencers’ worlds were changed by COVID-19 pandemic►Come explore with us: Subscribe to our Travel newsletterWhile many “wanderlusters” only dream of dropping everything to travel, Holmes is one of the few, but growing, number of travelers who have kept at it for years and turned it into a lifestyle.Have kids, will travelHolmes and her husband first started nomadic traveling with their two toddlers in 2012. After her encounter with that reader in Malaysia, Holmes dove right in. She’d always wanted to be a writer and her background was in marketing and social media. Holmes and her husband began reaching out to fellow bloggers, and she attended the TBEX conference for travel creatives, where she learned the business side of blogging.”I thought all of a sudden to change my blog around from being this online diary where I was going, ‘Hey guys I’m in Bali, and I’ve got no Wi-Fi, and there’s a chicken in my sink’ to ‘Hey guys, these are the 10 things I’ve done in Bali with my kids’ and really making it more about the audience, what they wanted to know,” Holmes said.While she changed her approach, she kept her focus on family travel, visiting 68 countries with her children over five years.Holmes said she started making a good income blogging part time that first year. Within four years, she was making six figures.Her husband eventually joined her in blogging full time. They sold most of their belongings and rented their home.►Millions of Americans are leaving jobs: Here’s why”We didn’t honestly think we would be back ever,” Holmes said, but they decided to return when the kids got older and she had to juggle their schooling with running the blog business, figuring out where to stay as they moved around and a turn in her health.Her family still travels when they can, and she still blogs, though Western Australia’s strict pandemic restrictions have limited her trips to staycations. She also helps other hopeful bloggers, sharing tips on her website.”Start off big!” she encouraged. “Don’t start off with ‘It’s just for my friends and family.’ Think ‘This is just going to go somewhere for me,’ and be prepared from the beginning because I had a lot of catch up to do once the blog became big,” she said of the business side. I’m OK, Mom”A lot of people who do what we did – uproot everything, sell everything and travel – a lot of people’s friends and families are not supportive or they think they’re kind of crazy or they think that they’re ruining their career,” said Auston Matta of Two Bad Tourists. “I distinctly remember, we didn’t face any of that.”He and then-husband David Brown were living in Chicago and planning to move to California after Matta finished grad school when they saw their window of opportunity.”You’re changing your whole life already by making that move, so we thought before we settle down there, we may as well take advantage of the fact that we’re leaving our jobs … and use that time to travel,” said Brown, who was working in a microbiology lab at the time.”I thought it was amazing!” Brown’s mom Sara McLaws said. “They told me what their plan was going to be … and I was like, ‘Yeah, do it!’ ” The couple spent three years saving up, but not just money. Matta, who described himself as “kind of an airlines miles geek,” had been storing up miles and used them to get plane tickets around the world, which cover multiple destinations for one flat fee.”I had actually saved up enough airline miles – 400,000 miles between the two of us – and so we literally flew from like 10 different cities around the globe,” he said. “And we paid like $200 each, just the taxes and fees.”They decided to start blogging to keep their loved ones in the loop and keep a record of journeys to countries like Guatemala, Peru, Japan and Germany. “It was always very comforting knowing what they’re up to and that they were OK,” said Matta’s mom Nancy Stearman. “I was always worried, but my excitement for them definitely outweighed the worries.” She and other family members were able to join the couple for different legs of their trip.Story continues below.Create a personal brand that allows you to travel the worldTravel and digital nomad influencers have tips on how you can use your skills to create a personal brand that allows you to get paid and travel the world.Buzz60When the 12 months were up, Matta and Brown weren’t ready to come home. After taking Spanish language immersion courses in Mexico, they fell in love with Spain and decided to move there.The two have since split up but still see each other as family. Though they have day jobs – Brown teaching English and Matta in marketing for IGLTA – they still travel and blog together part time. They also host LGBTQ-friendly travel tours, with trips to Spain, Greece and Croatia set for next year.”A blog is no different than any other business,” Matta said. “If you know how to run a business and can make it profitable, you can make a lot of money and earn a living full time. If you’re not a good business person and you try to monetize your blog, you will probably fail.”►What US travelers need to know: New COVID rules for international flights don’t just impact foreign touristsManaging Two Bad Tourists part time earns him and Brown around “five figures a year,” Matta said.”If you had told me 15 years ago that I’d be here in my ex-husband’s apartment, planning this gay trip to Barcelona … speaking Spanish – because that was always one of my dreams, too – and that I live in Spain … I would have never believed you,” said Brown. “It’s beyond what I was dreaming.”His McLaws joked that she’d prefer her son to be next door in Phoenix and missed him “like crazy,” but “I couldn’t be more proud.”‘I assumed … I’d go back’Kien Lam of Where and Wander said he was surprised his parents were so “cool” with him quitting his finance job during the Great Recession to travel the world.”I’ve always kind of had my head on straight,” he said, adding that financially it “made sense” for him to quit and come back.He’d saved up money to travel and expected to earn even more when the economy turned around. He also noted that due to the cost of living, it was more expensive for him to stay in San Francisco than be almost anywhere in the world.”I assumed after six months or a year, I’d go back for another job,” he said.In the meantime, Lam was off to London and “following the sun” to places like France, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Indonesia. Along the way, he blogged to keep up with loved ones and took photos and videos of his destinations. When he got back, he created a nearly five-minute video of his journey around the world to show friends and family what he’d seen. “This is before YouTube really took off and Instagram and all of that,” he said. “So it wasn’t like there (were) tons of photos floating around every day … about some of these cool places in the world.”The video, which he wound up licensing, went viral and ultimately paid for the cost of his trip. Lam said it also provided “some validation” that photography, which he’d always loved, was worth pursuing.Story continues below.Lam has since gone on to shoot weddings and collaborate with major companies like Coca-Cola and Mercedes, but he still takes photos and blogs when he travels, as a way to “offset some of the costs.”For example in New Zealand, he grabbed travel brochures at hotels and emailed each company offering to create content while he was there. “They all just invited me to come and do their activities,” he said. ” And by the end of the trip, I calculated that between me and my friend, we saved about $6,000.” He said he’s found companies prefer content that stays online over fleeting social media stories from influencers.His advice to hopeful bloggers is to “provide something of value” and “slow down.””I think there’s a lot of FOMO when it comes to the Instagram photos that you see,” he said. “You (go) there, and you realize there’s like 200 other people standing, waiting in line to take the same shot … You keep doing that from place to place, and then you come back and don’t really remember what you really saw. You don’t have any interesting stories.”Going at it soloLora Pope is carving her own path as a solo traveler. The Canadian travel blogger behind Explore with Lora took her first solo trip to Dublin when she was 19. She was craving a much longer trip when she took a year of unpaid leave from her HR job with the Canadian government in 2018 and started traveling on savings she’d been building since college.Like Holmes, Matta, Brown and Lam, she started blogging to keep in touch with family and document her world travels.”It was definitely more of a diary format, like ‘I’m here; I met these cool people,’ really long paragraphs, typos everywhere,” Pope said. “I no idea about search engine optimization, any of that stuff.”►From Belize to Brazil: Travel restrictions across Central and South America due to COVID-19►’Slim pickings right now’: Why travelers may have to settle for alternative vacationsShe said something switched in her brain toward the end of her trip. Pope started researching and joining blogger community groups on Facebook. She also took blogging courses.”That was when things really started to change,” she said. “I try to have all the information that would be helpful to someone – so that they could go to these places, too – but then also within the post, share my own personal stories, like a tip that you really wouldn’t know unless you went there.”Pope did go back to her job in Canada for a few months to save up more and continue working on her blog before quitting to blog full time.”It takes a long time to build up authority of your website, get link backs and stuff,” she said. “I was really focused when I had gotten back home to Canada. I was working in the day and then I was working on my blog completely nonstop.”Slowly Pope began to see traffic grow and passive affiliate income come in. It wasn’t a steady income, but it was enough to prove she could make more. She’s still going, now living in Lisbon and traveling through the pandemic.►Which EU countries are open to Americans: A breakdown of European Union travel restrictions by country”There’s tons of countries that are open now, and they want you to come,” she said. “They want the tourism back, and it’s definitely possible. It’s easier if you’re vaccinated.” Nowadays, she has tens of thousands of social media followers tagging along.Her advice to aspiring travel bloggers is: “Get out there, see the world and follow your dreams if you feel like something is calling to you. It’s the best thing I ever did.”

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