I invited knower of many things, Tim Leffel, to be on my podcast this week to talk in depth about the state of travel blogging in 2021.
This came about because Tim published a post called “Ideas Matter, But Successful Travel Bloggers Get The Work Done” on his Travel Writing 2.0 blog. The post points out that travel blogging involves surprisingly little actual travel blogging and more time doing the “janitorial work.” Social media programming, back-end website maintenance, accounting, advertising, SEO keyword tweaking, and writing insider ball blog posts about travel blogging that only about 50 people will intently read from start to finish, among many other tedious chores.
Tim’s post wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was a timely reminder for people considering (or reconsidering) a future in travel blogging and served as a personal check-in for me as I work to revive this blog from its seven-year fugue state. I’ve been hard at work on my days off and weekends, resisting the crippling urge to play Fortnite, writing new content and fixing (or simply just doing) SEO for 15 years worth of old Killing Batteries content. After six weeks of this work, my average visitor stats haven’t budged. In fact, they may have even fallen, possibly because the Google bots don’t understand exactly what I’m trying to accomplish here yet and therefore how to categorize me.
But six weeks is nothing in the slow roast world of travel blogging. As Tim points out, “You’re probably looking at a year or two of effort just to get some traction, three years or more to make as much as you could from a routine day job in an office.” Even for a legacy blog like mine, it’s going to take years to make this thing as, or more, lucrative than even a minimum wage day job.
You can listen to the interview below.
So what is the state of travel blogging in 2021?
As with all previous declarations that travel blogging is dead, the pandemic-fueled death of travel blogging has been greatly exaggerated. As Tim points out in the interview, though travel blogs that mainly focused on international travel took a big hit in 2020, as did presumably hundreds of now former travel Instagrammers, travel blogs that focused on, or were able to pivot to, US domestic travel didn’t actually suffer for long after COVID shut down the planet.
Never mind that it probably wasn’t safe, and definitely wasn’t necessary, people hit the road (literally) in droves in summer 2020 for road trip vacations, visiting relatives and so forth. While this reckless activity almost certainly worsened the US infection, hospitalization and death rate, travel blogs with a US domestic travel legacy not only recovered, but flourished only a few months after the entire travel industry fell off a cliff. The summer of 2021 is shaping up to be a full-on neck-snapping rebound for US domestic travel, though not without some recovery pain.
So, while it may still be in a slow, uncertain recovery, travel blogging in general is going to come out of this leaner and probably meaner. I don’t have actual data to back this up, but there’s no way the pandemic didn’t force at least some, if not vast numbers of travel bloggers to abandon their babies. Perhaps they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the necessary pivot to keep their visitor numbers up, hoping things would return to normal soon. Perhaps they were burning out on travel blogging even before the pandemic and it provided a convenient exit strategy. Or perhaps they were just too stunned to do anything after helplessly watching years of their audience-building work melt away in a matter of weeks.
Even one of the most successful travel bloggers in history, Gary Arndt, abandoned his travel blog, Everything Everywhere, to launch a daily, short-form general interest podcast. (It’s a great podcast, by the way.)
What does this mean for the travel bloggers who waited (and are still waiting) out the storm? Well, they’ll probably be fine, eventually. If they stick to their guns, they may even benefit down the road from the Great Travel Blogging Downturn of 2020, as they inherit the visitors from abandoned travel blogs. And later, inherit their advertisers.
In fact, if one were so inclined, one might even track the abandoned travel blogs and try to hijack their hard-won SEO superiority of certain keywords, as the lack of updates causes their search engine rankings to fade. If one were so inclined.
This may also be the best time in recent memory to start a new travel blog. For years, new arrivals to travel blogging have been lamenting that the first mover dominance of legacy travel bloggers means less pie for everyone else. The roller coaster ride of the pandemic could mean a re-balancing of the industry as a whole.
Again, I have no data to support this, but common sense suggests that while travel media resets, there will be openings for new blogs to fill. If they, as Tim describes in the interview, “take a long walk” and carefully consider a travel blogging niche that isn’t too general, or already saturated, or a niche that just became roomier due to pandemic exits, new bloggers might not have as large a mountain to scale to get a toehold in Google search results.
Then again, my current situation, course-correcting a blog that, when not totally abandoned, has just been place for me to drop climate crisis warnings, book launch info and juggling videos for the past seven years, may have instilled me with a hopeful bias about the reality of what I’m trying to achieve.
Whatever the case, spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t listened to the podcast yet, travel blogging is probably fine – though it may be finer in 2022. There’s still the matter of how/if travel media can endure while the planet succumbs to climate chaos, but for the sake of its own survival, one hopes the travel and tourism industry will coalesce over the need to stop the climate crisis bleeding that threatens to end travel as we know it over the next 20-30 years.