Everything Everywhere’s Gary Arndt on Travel Blogging
Gary Arndt is a man of broad and eclectic experience. He has a triple degree in Mathematics, Economics, and Political Science, is just a few credits short of a degree in Geology, yet, according to his website biography, has never worked in any of those fields. He didn’t see the ocean until he was 21, but has compiled one of the largest private collections of National Geographic magazines in the world. He has worked as an Internet consultant and helped to found a business software intelligence company. He has visited 75 countries, crossed the equator eight times, has been as low as 442 meters below sea level and as high as 4.2 km above it.
Now, after three years of traveling and working tirelessly on his blog, Everything-Everywhere.com, he has become one of the most-recognized travel bloggers in the world. Matt Gibson caught up with Gary in Thailand via email to uncover some of the secrets of his blogging success.
Matt Gibson: What goals did you have when you first started Everything-Everywhere.com? Have they changed over time?
Gary Arndt: Believe it or not, my original goal was to start a video podcast. That proved to be very difficult with one person, especially since my first camera used tape. I gradually moved into still photography and building a blog audience. I fully intend to go back to video someday. It is just a matter of how and when.
MG: Can you recall a time that you were surprised by a large unexpected increase in traffic to your blog? What happened?
GA: I've never had a link from a huge website that brought in a ton of traffic. My traffic has built up slowly over time with large increases in traffic over the last 4 months from social media sites. I've been willing to work for every subscriber over the last 3 years. It has really been a war of attrition.
MG: What is the single most effective strategy that a blogger can use to bring traffic to a blog?
GA: There is no one answer to that question. I'm sure most bloggers would like to have a golden rule that would lead to success, but it doesn't exist. If it did, everyone would do it and you'd be back to square one. In the last 3 years I've seen many travel blogs come and go. The #1 factor in becoming successful is to don't quit. That sounds obvious, but there is a great deal of truth to it. Looking back on the growth of my site, I was 2.5 years into it before things really started to take off. I don't know how many people are willing to stick with something for that long before you see any payback.
MG: Part of this article series focuses on the earning potential of travel blogs. Does your blog earn money? If so, may I ask for a ballpark figure to give our readers and idea of how much a successful travel blog can make?
GA: I haven't put any effort into monetization yet. I realize that is the big question for most blogs, but I don't have a direct answer to that question. It depends on audience size, niche, and a bunch of other factors. I know one guy who does quite well owning the niche for a particular Mexican resort town. He thinks like a business, not a blog, which I really think is key for people.
MG: What tools do you use to monetize your blog? Which works best for you?
GA: My plan for monetization is going to be multi-pronged. I don't think you can just slap Google Adsense on a site and expect to make a living. Advertising will be part of it. Sponsorships will be a part of it. I will also be selling photographs, books, and maybe travel gear. I might do some freelance photography/writing if the opportunities present themselves. I will also be doing some consulting. The blog is just a part of me. The blog is not the business, I am the business.
MG: What non-monetary benefits, professional or personal, do you get from blogging?
GA: There are tons of benefits. I genuinely enjoy teaching people things and talking to people when I travel. I really do. That isn't just cheesy marketing spin.
MG: Do you think that blog and blog posts follow the literary tradition as, say, short installments of a larger story? Or do you think that blogging as a medium has completely changed the way we write?
GA: I don't think that blogs are literature. Literature is long form story telling. I suppose you could serialize a story, but that isn't what most blogs are about. Blogs are more like newspapers or magazines. Shorter form content updated more frequently. If you want literature, write an ebook. You can still do that. Blogs haven't replaced any forms of writing, they've just added to it.
MG: Do you think that blogging has improved your writing, your perception, your photography, or any other skill? If so, was creating the blog in part a conscious way to develop these skills?
GA: I certainly hope so! If you do anything enough you should get better at it. I think the improvement in my skills is most evident in my photography. If you look at the photos I took in Hawaii, which was the first stop on my trip, they are terrible. Since then I've learned a lot, but I still have a long way to go.
MG: Do you think that the line between blogging and traditional writing will continue to be blurred such that journalism schools and even conventional educational institutions will become less important in the development and appreciation of travel writing?
GA: Travel writing is not journalism. I suppose you can cover the travel industry as your beat if you are a reporter, but traditional, narrative travel writing isn't journalism any more than poetry or writing a novel is. You certainly don't need to go to journalism school to be a travel writer. Where blogging differs from traditional travel writing (for me at least) is that it allows you to follow a person and interact with them while they travel. It isn't about digesting a single story, it is about a much richer, more interactive way of following an adventure. Twitter, email, and blog comments are all ways that people can communicate with me and ask questions. Video and photography are other media I use to share what I do. That just wasn't possible before the Internet.
MG: Is there competition between bloggers out there, given that new blogs keep springing up with often similar themes (and occasional downright rip-offs)? Or do you think that many are driven more by the need to express their own passions.
GA: I suppose to some extent competition is natural, but the reality is that the travel blogging niche is not that big. Compared to other niches like technology, marketing, sports and politics, travel is small potatoes. As I note below, I follow about 50 travel blogs. Reading one blog doesn't mean I can't read another. Whenever I come across another independent travel blog on StumbleUpon, I will almost always give them a thumbs up. If I see a link I like on Twitter, I'll give them a retweet.
MG: How much time are you “plugged in” to either your computer, smartphone, or some other device during the course of your travels?
GA: Quite a bit. Given the nature of what I do it is sort of necessary. Almost all of my connectivity is via Wi-Fi. I have a mobile phone but seldom bother to buy a SIM card for it when I get in a new country. I've been in Thailand for almost three months and haven't bothered to get a Thai phone number.
MG: Who, in your opinion, is the most successful travel blogger (from a business perspective)? Why do you think that is?
GA: The problem is with the term "blogger". The most successful people from a business perspective don't get most of their money blogging. They run larger travel sites with content that isn't in blog form. Johnny Jet and Stuart MacDonald of TravelFish.org both do well, but they aren't "bloggers" per se. I think just thinking in terms of a blog can be very limiting. Nomadic Matt is making a living from blogging, but even his is moving more towards creating a site with content, not just having a blog. Beth Whitman also is making a living, but not just from her blog. She writes books and leads tours to Bhutan and India. Her blog is part of her business, but is not the whole business.