So you wanna be a travel blogger? You can do it — here’s how

Editor’s note: Want to be a travel blogger? Almost every day, someone asks me how it’s done. So I’ve decided to spend the next week answering that question. Comments? Please send ’em along or leave one below.

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You can launch a travel blog right now, in the time it takes to read this post.

But not so fast! Just like every house needs a blueprint, you don’t want to build without a plan.

The blogosphere is littered with great sites that started with passion and fanfare and then flamed out. Why? They had no foundation, no plan, and ultimately, no reason for being. You don’t want to become a statistic.

I can help.

Before you pick up your mouse, put on your thinking cap. Anyone can write a general travelogue and pick up a few readers, or a few hundred. But true blogging success — which is to say, earning money and having an active and engaged community — is not easy.

Why are you reading this?

Why should you take my word for it? Because I’ve been writing online since 1996. (Check the blog archives if you don’t believe me.) I’ve made every mistake in the book — if, indeed, there were a book — and lived to tell the tale. I’ve suffered zero-revenue years, and have had one or two reasonably good ones.

I know what it takes, and I can help you get there quickly. In fact, I’m about to reveal everything that I know so that you can do it too, if you want to.

There are more than 133 million blogs out there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a good percentage of them were travel blogs, or had at least a travel component to it. Not to worry, though. Only a fraction of them are updated regularly, and an even smaller number are successful by any measure.

You might luck out and succeed as a general-interest travel blogger. But it’s a crowded field, with lots of big players, and it’s easy to get lost.

You’re much better off finding a sub-niche and having no competition.

How to do it

Everyone is an expert at something. For example, if you’re a business traveler, you may know a lot about every aspect of the travel experience. So do a lot of other really good bloggers. But what do you know the most about? Is it a particular loyalty program? A destination? Maybe you’re good at strategies, like getting an upgrade?

One of the best-known collections of business travel blogs is Randy Petersen’s Boarding Area. Each has its own unique point of view and special knowledge. They have all found their subject matter expertise, and many of them are the only ones who write about their topic with any regularity.

When it comes to travel rights, your choices are pretty much limited to Edward Hasbrouck or Charlie Leocha. Same thing goes for consumer advocacy and travel (um, that’s mine — get yer own!).

But hang on. You want to travel the world, not be stuck in an office poring over fine print. You want travel companies to like you, not avoid your calls. (Welcome to my world.) Even there, the field is still wide open. The trick is finding a genre that fits your area of knowledge. If you have kids, check out Lynn O’Rourke Hayes’ Family Travel site. Solo woman traveler? Look at Journeywoman. Travel photography? Stuck in Customs or Intelligent Travel come to mind.

Point is, you can do this without making everyone hate you.

Now that you found your genre, it’s time to pick the sub-genre. For example, technically Stuck in Customs specializes in HDR photography and Journeywoman doesn’t just cover solo women travelers, but also tours. Drill down until you find a sub-genre where there’s little or no competition. Now you’ve found your topic.

How do you differentiate yourself?

What is the one thing you do better than anyone else? What are you an expert at? If you’ve picked the right topic, you’ll have the passion to make any topic interesting. Notice that I haven’t said anything about the commercial feasibility of your blog. I’m not saying that isn’t important, but for now it’s a secondary consideration.

The reason: If you have a topic that advertisers are interested in, but you aren’t, the blog will fail. I guarantee it. But if you are truly interested in the subject matter, you’ll attract readers and advertisers.

Differentiating yourself means being more interested in the topic than anyone else.

You’re curious. You are always asking questions about the subject, even when no one else is. You’re never leaving well enough alone. Curiosity is infectious. It makes for fascinating reading, too.

You’re passionate. You’ll hear that word a lot — passion. If there’s no burning desire to wake up every morning and blog about your topic, you’ve chosen the wrong subject. Readers can pick up on that, and they’ll stop reading your site if they think you’re not interested anymore.

Damn, you’re good! This is not time for false modesty. If you’ve found your sub-niche, occupy it with your whole body and don’t let anyone else muscle in on your territory. If you’re asked about your topic, respond authoritatively, even if there’s a chance you might be wrong. It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

By the way, travel blogging isn’t for everyone. If you find the right topic, it will find its audience and it will begin to make money and you’ll become a slave to it. The site will take over your entire life. It could define you.

This is the time to ask yourself: Do I really want that? (And “no” is an absolutely acceptable answer — there are plenty of other things you could be doing with your time.)

If you want it, stay tuned. Tomorrow, I’ll reveal the first step to becoming a successful travel blogger.