Anyone monitoring the blogosphere recently likely noticed a surge in Toronto mentions. (And it wasn't all about Rob Ford.) Earlier this month, more than 1,000 hyperactive keyboard-tappers descended on the city for TBEX (the Travel Blog Exchange conference) to network, hone their skills and talk up T.O. in a blizzard of tweets, Facebook entries and YouTube videos.
While the "how to monetize" debate was on the lips of many TBEXers, not everyone aims to turn his or her online travel presence into a money-spinner. Blogging can also be the latter-day version of keeping a journal when you're on a great trip.
If you do it right, you might encourage more than just your mom to actually read it.
First up: equipment. "The biggest considerations on the road are size and weight," says Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travels (hecktictravels.com), husband-and-wife "digital nomads" who've been tripping the world and writing about it since 2009.
"If you're not planning extensive photo or video processing, swap the MacBook Pro for something smaller and lighter like a MacBook Air, netbook or tablet."
While images are key, don't blow your budget on a fancy Nikon D800. "The best camera is the one you already have. Learn how to use the buttons properly – get out of the auto setting – and invest in a small tripod to improve the quality and variety of shots. And with the quality of cameras on smartphones, they might also be just fine."
With hardware selected, choose your blogging platform. Heck says WordPress (wordpress.org) and Blogger (blogger.com) offer simple templates. Tumblr (tumblr.com) is an easy alternative for sharing posts, photos, videos and more: "It saves on some extra work associated with using the other platforms, but there is less flexibility in its blog design."
A social-media presence is also vital for announcing posts and connecting with fellow travellers. "You can also share extra pictures and mini-stories on Facebook when you don't have time to blog, and follow location-based Twitter hashtags to find other vagabonds in the area. Posting smartphone shots on Instagram or six-second Vine videos are also great ways to share experiences."
But don't forget about the writing. Composing engaging entries remain the cornerstone of good travel blogs, according to Cameron Wears, of the husband-and-wife blogging team Traveling Canucks (travelingcanucks.com).
"The most important thing is to entertain your readers and share something interesting. The Internet is overloaded with information and people have enough on their daily agenda, so your posts should be fun," he says, adding that he also uses interviews and guest posts – inviting others to write on the site (and vice-versa) – to keep things lively.
For Heck, a personal touch is key. "Write about your reactions to the places and people you meet, and reflect not only the good days but the bad as well. People respond to posts with honesty," she says, adding that "juicy photos" (of the PG variety, of course) are a good idea. Short, well-edited videos of less than three minutes can also work wonders, Wears says, especially if "you're not afraid to try new things."
Finally, both caution that balance is the secret to successful travel blogging. "Don't let the blog consume you. It can become a lot of work if you let it and this can take away from the pure experience of just travelling and enjoying the moment," Heck says.
Wears agrees. "We joke that travel is the worst thing for our blog because it's hard to carve out writing time when you're having fun travel experiences – and that blogging is the worst thing for our travels because we often can't shut it off. But don't let blogging dictate your trip: It's okay to turn off the laptop and camera once in a while."
OUR READERS WRITE:
Include names of restaurants, hostels etc. that you visit and share your posts with them. - @KylaK
Have a theme or central focus for the content. It's more enjoyable to read editorial than a "dear diary" type travel post. – @lisaJtoronto
My opinion as a blog consumer: take great photos and present them using a photocentric blog theme. – @wisemonkeysblog
Have guest bloggers contribute to the blog. It's more interesting for readers and shakes up the content. – @eatdrinktravels
Pick a niche you love and stick to it. Because if you don't love it, who will? – @CascadiaKids
Tips: Study other blogs. 3. Don't give up after three months. – @RealManTravel
Write yourself first and foremost. – @TheMarcSmith
Go to TBEX and rip off the seven people there who are successful. – @ryanvb
Post great photos – or at least interesting ones (not the same panoramas that every tourist takes). Take notes on your iPhone or notebook so you don't forget. If you feel like you HAVE to write something versus being excited to blog about it then it's probably not worth sharing. Blog about people you meet on your travels – and basically all the stuff people can't find in standard guides. – @ugonnaeatthat
Send your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow John Lee on Twitter @johnleewriter.com.