Lessons From a Failed Travel Blogger

Tales of fear, embarrassment and straight-up laziness

I’ve started a lot of blogs. I’ve abandoned A LOT of blogs. With every new blog I started, I vowed this time would be different. It never was. Because I was the same and I didn’t learn from my mistakes after I made them. I blamed everything and everyone around me instead of recognizing that I wasn’t doing things in a right or honest way. I so badly wanted to be COOL and have followers and get free stuff. I saw what other travel bloggers were doing and thought “I can do that better than they can.”

I tried a lot of different routes to be a travel blogger. I started a few blogs of my own, which upon seeing no traffic, I abruptly abandoned. Then I guest blogged for a handful of websites that paid me a whopping $10 per post. My logic was that at least I was getting my name out there, which I was. But what I didn’t know was that these sites were only using my content to make their own affiliate income.

A few of my articles on a now-scammy affiliate travel site.

The thing is, I never wanted to be a travel blogger. I just wanted to travel and make money while doing so. But in my mind travel blogging was a quick way to do both of those things simultaneously. I grossly oversimplified the work it took to build an audience, create content and generate enough traffic to actually earn money travel blogging.

But where I failed to actually get a blog off of the ground, I learned some important lessons in authenticity, discipline and what NOT to do if you want to be a successful blogger.

Don’t pay attention to what anyone else is doing

There are places that are made exclusively for travel bloggers. I’ve been in Bali for months and everywhere I go people are setting up the perfect shot. It’s a travel blogger’s heaven. Cafe’s are designed to be photographable and everywhere you look are perfectly painted murals, walls, and unnecessarily decorated plates. I regularly see bloggers setting up their shots and have petty thoughts like “that’s so basic, I can do that.”

I’m convinced that this cynicism and tendency to compare myself to others is my biggest shortcoming.

When I was trying to blog, I constantly compared myself to other people. Most of the time the people I compared myself to had spent years building an audience and sharing their experiences authentically and I came in with blazing cynicism convinced that I was a better writer and photographer than them which somehow meant that I deserved more recognition even though I had put in significantly less time and energy.

I was very resentful of people who were successful because I thought it was “easy” to do what they did. I lacked consistency and a real “why” other than the fact that I wanted to make money and get paid to travel.

At the same time, I wasn’t creating anything new that a million other bloggers hadn’t already done. I became vapid and my head was truly in the clouds trying to think of the next idea.

Photo by Mesut Kaya on Unsplash

Don’t forget to experience life while finding opportunities for content

The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive but I had a really hard time staying present and grounded when everything I did became an opportunity to create content for my blog. I would get increasingly frustrated when on trips because I wasn’t getting the right shot, or my friends weren’t taking good enough photos of me. I thought less in terms of things I wanted to do and more in terms of what would make for the most viral photo or article.

Fun activities turned into photoshoots which then turned into sadness and frustration when I was unsatisfied with the outcome. The experience was muddled by trying to capture everything in a way that I could share it and I missed out on a lot of what was going on around me trying to curate the experience through my phone and camera.

You need confidence, or the ability to fake it

Statistics boost my self-esteem. When no one was liking my photos or reading my posts, my ego took a serious hit. Beyond that, I wasn’t a good enough actor to fake the confidence I needed to actually appeal to an audience.

I also realized I care way too much what people think and it made me really uncomfortable taking photos in places where it didn’t seem like I was wanted. I wasn’t confident in my approach because I didn’t really take the whole blogging thing seriously. I saw it as an easy way out of a boring job and didn’t confidently believe in my ability to make an impact or inspire people.

It’s embarrassing to put a lot of effort into something and so visibly fail. I was afraid of looking like I was trying too hard and my efforts weren’t working. I was afraid of being judged and afraid people would think I was pretentious for being able to travel.

Prepare to be vulnerable AF if you want to build an audience

I bought into the idea that all it took was having a marketing skill and a good phone or camera to build an audience. I hid my real self. I curated what I wanted people to see and so what people saw was fake and I’m certain people saw right through my attempts. I wanted to maintain my anonymity but have the same level of fame as people who whole-heartedly put themselves out there on a daily basis.

Some people scoff at the level of transparency in which a lot of influencers live their lives. I used to be one of those people until I tried to put myself out there in that same way. It’s not easy, to say the least. Being open with strangers on the internet, even on your worst days, is something I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with. But it’s also necessary for building an audience that will drive a career as a full-time blogger.

‘Oversaturation’ isn’t a real thing

If you don’t get followers or readers, it’s not because the market is too saturated. It’s because you’re not bringing a unique angle, and you’re probably not being real with people. I bought into the dream that all you had to do was to go to beautiful places, take photos and slap a filter on them. Then just create a basic listicle of all of the places you went and the followers would roll in.

When a post didn’t take off, instead of looking at how I could improve it, or where I went wrong, I blamed the industry. I blamed other bloggers for over saturating the market and I blamed the platforms and algorithms for not displaying me enough.

Documenting fun experiences is emotionally draining

I wasn’t ready for the emotional labor that went into documenting every moment of a trip in order to create content that was actually valuable for people. I never treated it like a full-time job. I treated blogging as a hobby and then expected it to make me rich while I put in minimal effort. I lacked the discipline to put in the work and show up every day, even on days when I didn’t want to.

I thought I wanted traveling to be my job, but really I just wanted a job that would allow me to travel. Now I write full-time, working remotely, and travel whenever I want, but rarely post photos or share my experiences.

I have so much respect for the people putting themselves out there every single day to share their experiences with strangers online.

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Occasional writer, and serial project-starter/abandoner. I have a lot of feelings. I also have a newsletter: sarahaboulhosn.com/newsletter

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