While traveling the Pamir Highway, we met a group of travel bloggers led by The Travel Camel, Shane Dallas. Originally from Australia, Shane now lives in Kenya and is the founder of the weekly twitter chat #TRLT (The Road Less Traveled). He has about 8K followers on Instagram and over 54K followed on Twitter. The group he led were comprised of an intimate group of travel bloggers from all over the world: Australia, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Germany, and the US. We first met them at the Horse Festival in Murghab and then ended up at the same home stay with them in Lake Karakol.
They were friendly, deeply passionate about travel, and very welcoming to us. We learned a great deal from them, it was like a Master Class in social media and travel blogging so I thought we’d jot it down in case it may be useful for others. 
First with the exception of one individual, this was a older group compared to our own demographic, primarily in their 40s-50s. A majority made their income through travel blogging and only one couple did it for pleasure. They seem to be the “first wave” of travel bloggers and are reaching an older demographic than what we represent as we target primarily late 20s to 30s.
Second, we aren’t looking at making travel blogging / social media our careers, we’re just doing this to learn a new skill during our gap year. Most of the advice they gave us were focused on building your social media presence into income that could support you in the long term. We also took this into account when considering which of this advice to follow.
With that said here is what we learned:

  • Influence (aka large number of followers) is mattering less and less. This is largely due to the rise of bots & people buying followers. Tourism boards and brands are aware of this and place less emphasis on the value of influence. It is becoming harder to get free stays simply for large follower base.
  • Never call yourself a travel blogger. Market your skill, not your blog. Are you a great photographer? Do you write compelling stories? Offer your target brand skills that they do not have. Shane’s business card lists his title as “Social Media Specialist. Social Media Trainer. Travel Photographer.”
  • If you want to monetize come up with a product offering. Examples: social media training course, photographer, tour organizer. There is much more work/ effort involved with producing content for a free stay vs charging to stay for free in exchange for a skill. Find a niche and pitch that to your target hotels/ tourism boards. Shane was working at the country tourism level partnering with regional airlines (Air Canada) and regional tourism boards (Dubai). He offered them strategy and training for attracting mid to high end travelers. 
  • Don’t forget about Google Plus to improve search results for your blog. He gave us some great stats also on how to use Google Plus. He found much higher engagement if he posted photo galleries “Faces of Kyrgyzstan” with the link to the blog post in the caption VS simply posting the link to the post. People want to see content and then get pulled in, don’t make them work for it.
  • YouTube: Several of the individuals on the group monetized by selling their video content. They had high end video equipment and focused on producing quality raw footage of landscapes and culture in remote places. They told us they got around copyright infringement issues with music by buying music from local street artists. They were primarily from outside of US (Australian & European) and noted that they typically use English language caption (because Americans click through ads at a higher rate than Europeans) than their native language caption to improve SEO.
  • As with any profession, if you are serious about travel blogging invest in personal development. Shane is the Director of TBEX Africa and Middle East. He told us the first year will typically be overwhelming as it’s information and people overload. It will take a few years of targeted networking to develop a TBEX strategy to help grow your business.  

So that’s what we learned in a nutshell. We are very new to this- just one month in. Would love a dialogue here on which of the above works or doesn’t work for you as well as other strategies that have been effective in growing a travel blog.
Thanks for checking this out!