Being a Travel Blogger
As we’re in the midst of another busy and impressive summer tourism season in Scotland, I’ve been taking some time to take stock of what being a Scotland travel blogger is all about. With events coming thick and fast, I’ve had the chance to gab with some of my peers and industry partners and, before you know it, I’ve started to ponder just what on earth I’m doing with my life. But it’s got me thinking more widely too. What’s going on with blogging? What’s the state of play in Scottish tourism just now? And how do the two come together to form an occupation?
When I tell folk I’m a travel blogger, the reactions vary wildly. While a handful suddenly regard me as super cool, the predominant reaction is confusion, sometimes even derision. Somewhere between ‘what’s a travel blogger?’ and ‘that’s not a real job – who’re you kidding?’. You acclimatise to such responses of course and I do appreciate much of the dubiety. It’s an unconventional path and clashes dramatically with the idea of the 9-5 office circuit. You’re young (ish, I’m 30 now which is annoying), you have no boss, no set timetable, you’re always doing active, fabulous looking things. How can this be a job and how did you end up leading such a weird existence?
Scepticism is understandable. But the reality is that bloggers have transformed the world of marketing, with some becoming super-brands and amongst the most sought-after promotional tools since David Beckham. I’m a million miles from that incidentally – and very comfortable being so – but life on the road as a travel blogger is something I have wholeheartedly embraced.
So, me specifically, why do I do what I do? Writing, photographing, videoing and promoting one specific area. And this is why I’m writing this post really; passion, love and enough patriotic soppery to have you veering towards the ‘unsubscribe’ button. In truth though, if you’ve been following me a while, it shan’t come as too much of a surprise to you.
I’m Scottish. Scotland fascinates and inspires me more than my writing capabilities will ever do justice to. Learning more about my homeland – its history, its landscapes, its coastlines, its (at times warming; at times infuriating) people…all of this has me constantly yearning to write and to capture the emotions I feel towards the place. We’re as complicated a country as you could find. Centuries’ worth of conflict and our diametrically opposed views on most things say it all there. But, above all of that, Scotland has soul. That’s why people come from far and wide. Why they endure the dismal weather, the midges and deep-fried everything. The soul of the place.
I could waffle on here about there being “something in the air” and such and you would know what I mean – but it still wouldn’t do it justice. No, I’m talking about how a place reacts with you on a personal level. Whether it’s overlooking a Hebridean beach, wandering the closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town at night or having a lonely stroll in a misty glen, it’s just down to you and what triggers that oft-sought-after feeling of emotional impact. For me it’s the mountains. Of course there’s the physical excitement as you summit a great peak and the relatively superficial enjoyment of a great view….but you’ll know all about it if you get hit with something on a deeper level. When you can feel the force of nature (no, it’s not the gale-force wind, honest), the scale of the Highlands all around you, the knowledge that centuries worth of ancestors and like-minded folk have been on these lands ahead of you and the certainty that this is where you belong – that adds up to something special.
I try to bring all of that to anyone willing to listen, that’s why I blog. That’s also why I’ve done a lot of itinerary creating over the years (something I’ve had to cut back on unfortunately) and it’s a superb feeling when I hear that I’ve had an impact and been able to share the magic. When people tell me I’ve helped in their planning, made them fall in love with Scotland or to see the country in a different way. That was always my aim. That keeps me confident that my weird career is on the right lines.
Being a Scotland Travel Blogger
Having established that I love Scotland and that’s all very nice – so do loads of folk – how have I managed to turn it into a job? Mainly through hard work (I get maybe half a dozen days off a year between the blog and my consultancy work) and enormous perseverance. I don’t resent the workload, not at all, it’s part of the ticket when you go self-employed. Despite what my Instagram may have you believe though, I’m not constantly out and about and having endless fun. I still spend most of my time either behind the wheel, on a keyboard or glued to my phone – like everyone else basically. I am fortunate though that I am able to intersperse this with very regular trips to Scotland’s best places.
Each day is different. As in, extremely different. Some days I spend 12+ hours at home, in front of the computer dealing with clients, answering questions about Scotland, jumping between social accounts et al. After a day like that I tend to hit the hills, all the while still working, still promoting, still memory-banking. Then I could be at events, dinners, networking. I try to keep this stuff to a minimum personally but it’s still an important element. Then I could be away on an extended press trip, on the road for a weekend, a week, a fortnight even. Living out a suitcase and trying desperately to keep my clients at home happy all the while. Finally, once a week or so, I get to actually write about it all.
Does it get boring, always talking about the same wee place on the map? No. My god, no. Don’t I want to spread the net wider and travel to more exotic parts? No, I tried that, it wasn’t nearly as interesting or rewarding. I want to be writing about things that I’m genuinely able to call myself an expert in. And I want to always have a passion for what I’m writing – it’s very important to me that I can try to convey that.
Does it make much money? Nope. And that’s fine. I’m not money-driven by nature and like to keep my finances focussed on my other work as a digital consultant. I’m fairly certain that, in the first couple of years of doing this stuff, I made nothing whatsoever. Four years in, it would still not meet most peoples’ idea of an acceptable income. I struggle to see how it could ever be a full time salary to be honest and at the very least would require me turning into much more of a mercenary than I would ever wish to be.
I enjoy promoting businesses that offer excellent value and that would add to my readers’ Scotland experience but I’d never promote anything that I wouldn’t use myself. That’s why you’ve never seen pop up ads on my sites, why I don’t accept guest posts from writers that haven’t the foggiest about their subject matter or why I’m incredibly picky about where I stay, what I wear and who I promote. That’s not to say I’m a charity either and I’ll fiercely champion the case for good bloggers being financially compensated for their hard work all day long, more on that later.
Who do I work with? What are my criteria? Why am I such a fussy bugger?
Working with brands is a key part of being a blogger. You’re in a position where brands want to work with you to get their message out there. But I don’t want to work with rubbish brands, whether big money’s being offered or otherwise. What’s the point in that? It completely contradicts why I’m doing all of this. I’m proud to work with VisitScotland as one of their ambassadors, proud to work with Slaters (I’ve been buying my kilts from them all of my life anyway), proud to support new outdoor start-ups like WildBounds. It’s great to team up with these guys, and great that they get my niche. I also take my responsibilities to you good people (who are taking the time to read this) very seriously. I want you to trust me and get added value out of any partnerships I have.
If you want to know more about kilts and buy your own clan tartan? See Slaters, they’re the best. Want groovy, useful gadgets and gear for mountain climbing? See WildBounds, they’re new and one to watch. See Wilderness Scotland for outdoor trips/tours and Photo Walk Scotland if you’re looking for expert photography guidance. I work with these guys and promote them because I value them myself and can endorse them with confidence. I turn down the vast majority of partnerships that I am offered, precisely because they don’t give me that confidence and they don’t understand what I’m all about.
The Scottish Travel Industry
I’ve worked in numerous industries, sectors and countries since graduating nearly a decade ago. I jumped around a lot while trying to gather loads of experiences and take on new challenges. So, I’m in the fortunate position in which to make comparisons aplenty. What I can say for sure is that the industry is full of passion. I am far from alone in being someone not motivated by making big bucks – and I can think of dozens in the industry that work their backsides off for very little cash and do it with a smile. When I’ve had the chance to meet and engage with like-minded Scotland-lovers, it’s one of the best feelings there is.
But, we’re not without issues. As with other industries in the UK in my experience, things are more cumbersome than my fairly impatient nature is ever happy to accept. Getting things done can often meet with resistance. Barriers to change exist in abundance as our very traditional nature clashes with new technologies, ideas and innovation. I’m sorry to say that every other country I’ve worked in has shown more support for innovation than here. That’s disappointing. My inner entrepreneur has clashed with a wary mentality that sees problems before they see opportunities. But, there are positive signs and more and more offers are coming in as the message resonates that digital marketers can be the difference-maker in lifting the whole industry and raising the bar across the board.
In addition to my own travel musings, The Scotlanders collaboration sums up much of the above. Shared frustrations with the industry’s cautious reluctance to embrace the future – fortunately overpowered with that shared passion for Scotland. Starting in 2014/2015, 6 Scotland travel bloggers got together with the idea that the industry needed a shake and that blogging needed to be better understood. Enormous trepidation existed as brands didn’t know what value bloggers brought, what we actually did and how they should go about approaching us. I’ve tried to address these issues in depth here by the way if you want some further reading. By joining forces we cut through a lot of the uncertainty, delivered some of the best and most successful digital campaigns the industry has ever seen and helped move digital marketing towards the forefront of the industry mindset. I can’t go to an event now (I’m increasingly invited to speak at them too which is nice) where blogging and social media in particular are not high on the agenda. This is wonderful news and a big step along the never-ending road.
The Scotlanders line-up has completely changed over the years and it’s been great to welcome aboard new bloggers with their own passions and niches. Every Scotlander, old and new, has thrown in buckets of enthusiasm and effort to promote Scotland to their followers and the wider digital world. These are guys that give up their free time, work weekends and evenings and generally burst a gut to showcase Scotland, often for next to nothing financially. Money has never been the primary motivator and this has allowed us to take on campaigns that we are truly passionate about – despite frustrating budget limitations and red tape that may have scuppered them otherwise.
That being said, as our offering has become more refined and we have developed greater expertise, I’m delighted that brands, boards and businesses are now finding space in their budgets to work with us. Directing resources away from tired and ineffective methods and towards digital promotion. Resultantly, we’re able to spend time on projects, meet specific targets and address defined priorities for those that we work with. Our partners benefit, we benefit, the industry benefits.
The purpose of putting all of this down in words was to address the questions that I’m asked with ever-increasing frequency while doing this job. It’s grown arms and legs as I’ve written it. Marketing is complicated and dynamic, Scotland itself is much the same. So it’s not an easy job. It’s a hell of a rewarding one though.
I try to think big, to see past the immediate term and look towards the future. But I don’t pretend to have much more than some educated guesses as to what direction travel blogging will take. As a long-term marketer and writer I’ll adapt with the changes. For those of you who read my stuff, thank you. For those that have taken the time to let me know about your successful trips, thank you. It keeps me doing what I do and I hope to have you along with me for the next stages in my Scottish journey. Sláinte.
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