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If you’ve read your umpteenth post on how to start your own travel blog, you might be thinking that having a blog is the latest must-have travel accessory.  If you’re not uploading your photos and latest adventure from a Thai internet cafe, you’re missing out.  Right? Or could most things accomplished with a blog be done faster and easier elsewhere?  Have bloggers, in their zeal for the medium, over-hyped the usefulness of the tool?

To me, deciding to blog (or not) comes down to one thing: what you expect to gain.  I definitely wouldn’t suggest every traveler start one.  After all, most blogs are under-read, poorly maintained and eventually abandoned.  Did I say most?  Yes.  I read hundreds of blogs, and every month another one bites the dust (even mid-trip).  Why is that?  It’s a lot of work.  Would you start a magazine or newspaper to document your travels?  It’s not exactly the same, but hopefully the analogy helps to show blogging for what it is: a medium, not a destination.

So while I’m not anti-blog (hello, I’m a blogger), here are some things to consider from a veteran travel blogger, before you register your domain.

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If you want to keep family and friends updated.

You’re planning a trip for 6 months, a year or more, but you know at the end of it you’ll be returning home.  You’d like to share photos and stories with friends and family and if your blog made you famous or got you a book deal, well then bonus.

Should you blog? Probably not. The process of setting up a blog, learning how to format posts, uploading photos one-by-one, formatting photos to fit inside your post and dealing with spam comments can take a lot of time, for not much added value.  If your audience is limited, then this ramp up time and maintenance hassles may be more bother than they are worth.

What to do instead: Set up an account with a photo site like Flickr or Photobucket.  Sites like these make uploading photos much easier.  With mass uploading,  tagging features, auto resize and tons of built in tools, it makes managing hundreds of photos streamlined.  For keeping friends and family in the loop, social media sites like Facebook, Friendfeed or Myspace let you share your travel stories, easily link to your online photo albums and offers controls over who sees your content.  And the part about getting famous?  More urban legand than fact.  Most “discovered” over-night sensations have been toiling for years before their big break.

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If you want a memento of your trip.

This is your big trip, and you know it’ll be an amazing adventure, especially if this is your first time traveling around the world.  You want something that you can read in 30 years from now and remember exactly how it felt to see Machu Picchu for the first time.

Should you blog? Probably not. Again, the process of blogging is a lot of added work, but more importantly, a blog isn’t a great memento.  If you’ve been online for a while, you’ll know how quickly blog platforms change.   If you’re hosting it yourself, that’s a commitment to pay hosting fees until the end of time.  Will your 2009 site even work in a 2039 browser?  Or what happens if the travel blog site you use goes under in the next 10 years?  At the end of the day, you’re better off having something in your hot little hands, that is not dependent on the whims of emerging technology.

What to do instead: Keep a hand written journal during your trip.  Bring an acid free glue stick with you (about $2 bucks and doesn‘t turn yellow with age) and you can glue in ticket stubs, labels, crushed flowers, or whatever else you find on your way.  Use an archival pen for your notes (doesn‘t fade), but don’t be afraid to try sketching your favorite paintings in a museum or an amazing vista too.  The bonus is that you’ll be free of internet restrictions to record your thoughts, and because it’s your personal journal, you’ll be more candid– an invaluable trait in a travel journal.  After the trip is over, you can select your favorite photos from your trip, have them printed and create an accompanying photo album.

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If you want to write your first novel about this trip

Yes, you’re excited about traveling abroad, especially since you love reading travelogues like Rita Goldman’s The Female Nomad or Bill Bryson’s many books or anything about restoring Italian villas, living in Spain or getting drunk in the South Pacific.  And now is your chance to write the next big thing.

Should you blog? Maybe. Think carefully about this.  If your goal is be a novelist, then the number one most important thing to work on is the writing.  Writing a blog is a great way of forcing yourself to have a daily writing habit, but it’s not the only way.  It’s also a great way to get feedback as you develop your voice that can be invaluable to your development as a writer.  But it’s not the only way to get feedback.  It’s also an excellent platform for promoting yourself, once your book comes out.  But don’t forget, you’re adding a job on top of writing a novel, and since you will be represented by the quality of the writing on your blog, you’ll have to maintain the same level of quality as your book.  Also any promotional benefit for future books could be years away–after the trip is over, book written, agent landed, publishing deal signed, editing completed, book scheduled for release– there should be plenty of time to start a blog after you cash that big fat book advance.  The biggest thing to consider for a writer is this:  do you have the creative stamina to think of smart, funny, engaging posts and write your book at the same time?  Will you be stealing ideas from your novel for blog posts?  Will you feel like you have to hoard your best content for the novel and throw up less than stellar work online?

What to do instead: I’m not saying would-be-authors should avoid blogging, just think carefully about whether you really want to commit to it.  Most of the travel novelists that you love didn’t establish an online presence (if they have one at all) until after they became published authors.  As a writer, I can offer this advice: keep a detailed personal journal.  The names of places, food you ate, the details that will hold your writing together will fade so quickly.  These details will likely not make it into blog posts, but as time passes and you find yourself writing about the quirky waiter in Lisbon, you’ll thank yourself a million times over if you know the name of the restaurant, what you ate, or any details about the décor.  If you’re going the offline route, be sure to find an online writing group or someone you trust to give you feedback on your writing.

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If you want to fund your travel with a blog

You’ve saved up some cash for extended travel, but what you’d really like to do is fund your travel with your blog.  You’re attracted to blogging because it’s online, doesn’t cost anything to start up (or very little) and you like the idea of writing about your travels sans editor as you jet set around the world.

Should you blog? Yes, but not exclusively. While it’s absolutely possible to make a living online, via a blog (or a few), it does take some ramp up time to get there.  Some of this has nothing to do with how good you are at your job, but more about the time it takes to be listed in google (and build up page rank), the time it takes to build up enough back content to earn significant revenue and your standing in the community (relationships take time).

What to do instead: If you want to blog go for it, but be informed.  Nomadic Matt, who makes anywhere from $3000-5000/mo on his blogs (yes he has many) has written an ebook that basically gives away everything Matt has done to make his blogs profitable.  I’ve read the ebook and in my opinion it will likely cut your ramp up time in half, saving you a good six months– a great deal for $27 he is charging.  I would suggest reading the ebook before you even start, because it covers such basics as picking a domain name, a decision that can haunt or help you as your blog grows.  If you need cash now, try blogging for a big network or corporation, wherein you can learn more about what works on their dime.  Also, don’t forget, blogging isn’t the only way to work online.  There are lots of remote jobs (from IT analyst to customer service rep), often making much more per hour then you ever would in your first six months of blogging.  For more resources check out the job board at Almost Fearless: Work Wirelessly or this post on Making Money While Traveling: the Quick Guide.

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If you already have a blog, or you just really like the idea of having one

You’re traveling around the world and nothing sounds like more fun that writing posts, uploading pictures and sharing your travel with the world.  You already have a blog, or you’re tech savvy enough that you’re not going to be mired in WordPress hell for the next month, and everything you just read didn’t make you want to blog less, but rather more.

Should you blog? Yes! If you want to do it, do it!  What I’ve tried to express in the above points, is not that people shouldn’t blog, but that some of these false expectations can set you up to be disappointed.  If you’re blogging for the right reasons: you love it or you just want to (regardless of outcome), then how could you go wrong?  Welcome to blogging!  Send me your link.

Other great reasons to blog:

  • Creating an online presence to establish yourself as an expert, to break into travel writing, establish your business or brand or otherwise showcase your work.
  • Folks who love having an online network and being part of a community.
  • Would-be writers, wanting to give writing a try.
  • Anyone with realistic expectations, and wants to see what it’s about.

Should you blog? Whatever you decide, don’t forget that blogging is just another tool, no different than Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop.  It should always be about what the tool can do for you, not a destination in itself.

Good luck!

Pics: williamhartz, hexodus,

timothy.merrill, ed yourdon,

voxeros, stevegarfield