Women Travel Blogging: Beth Whitman of WanderlustAndLipstick.com
Beth Whitman in the Himalayas
Beth Whitman’s writing revolves almost exclusively around a one topic: solo women’s travel. She has written two books on women’s travel, is the publisher of a third, and publishes the popular Wanderlust and Lipstick women’s travel blog. She’s also the women’s travel editor here at Transitions Abroad. It’s no surprise that she has been referred to as the “Guru of Women’s Travel”.
I emailed Whitman at her home in Seattle to learn more about her adventures, her views on women’s travel, and how she became one of the most successful contemporary travel bloggers.
Matt Gibson: Many of our readers are aspiring travel writers and bloggers struggling to start writing full-time. How did you make the transition from your regular job to writing full-time?
Beth Whitman: Saving some of the oodles of money I had made in my sales job allowed me to pretty much take a year off to work on my first book. That was making lemonade out of a sour experience!
MG: Do you have any jobs other than writing?
BW: I am self-employed, but in addition to writing I lead tours to Bhutan, India, Vietnam & Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. Making a living at writing is hard. One really must have multiple streams of income in order to make travel writing a part of their income if they are supporting themselves.
MG: Does the majority of your income come from writing or your other employment?
BW: My income is split between tours, book sales, writing, and ads and sponsors on my website(s).
MG: Was there a tipping point where your blog’s popularity really started to climb? If so, to what do you attribute the increase?
BW: Ha! I was just thinking about this recently. I’m still waiting for the tipping point! Yes, I have a fair amount of traffic on the site, but I’d like to see it quadruple. I consider my blog and site to be moderately successful. Until every woman in North America knows the Wanderlust and Lipstick name, I won’t be satisfied.
My experience in the online world is that there really is no tipping point – it’s a steady climb in growth over a long period of time. Few people create a website or blog that takes off really quickly.
MG: What is the single most effective strategy that a blogger can use to bring traffic to a blog?
BW: I think everyone needs to find their own path. I know some bloggers who’ve managed to bring in a tremendous amount of traffic through Stumbleupon, DIGG and other bookmarking sites. This tends to not be the most loyal of traffic. Personally, I think that creating quality content, understanding SEO, and building quality traffic over time is the best way to go.
MG: Social networking is a great tool for increasing blog traffic, but many people don’t know how to use it. Me, for example. I have 100 followers on Twitter. You have more than 5000. How on earth did you get so many? BW:
It just takes time to get your following going. I have a relatively high profile due to my books and I get interviewed in national and international publications. Every time Wanderlust and Lipstick is mentioned and/or linked, I get a bump in traffic and ultimately an increase in Facebook fans and twitter followers. I admit this is a unique situation because few travel writers have books in the bookstores and get mentions in large publications.
Others build their followers simply by tweeting a lot and retweeting other people’s tweets. Honestly, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to do either of those.
MG: How important is social media for generating blog traffic? Which social media sites do you think are the most effective?
BW: I haven’t seen a ton of traffic from Twitter or Facebook. But that’s not necessarily my goal in using those tools. I find that when someone inquires about one of my tours, they then spend time following me on these platforms. If what I say there resonates with them, they just might register for a tour.
MG: When did you first start publishing other people’s writing on Wanderlust and Lipstick? How do you feel that changed your blog?
BW: From the very beginning I included other bloggers and other writers’ stories on the site. I have always wanted the site to be more than just about me. (For the same reason, my books include interviews, tips and stories from dozens of women.) I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know everything and rely on others for their input!
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?
BW: First, just to clarify, my website is more than what you might consider a typical blog because it includes a dozen other bloggers as well as contributors to the tips and articles areas. Having said that, I know there are people who manage blog-only sites who have more traffic and more revenue from their single-person blog than I do (yeah for them!).
My main goal is to sell tours and books and I shy away from having too much advertising on my site. While I do make some ad and affiliate dollars, let’s just say it doesn’t quite pay my mortgage (yet!).
MG: What tools do you use to monetize your blog? Which works best for you?
BW: I do a lot of gear reviews and my affiliate sales are starting to increase as my following increases. I also sell sponsored links in my monthly newsletter (with a subscribership of about 6,000) and that’s been a nice steady income, too.
MG: What non-monetary benefits, professional or personal, do you get from blogging?
BW: My family knows what I’m up to.
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?
BW: I don’t think that blogging has improved my writing – I think that writing articles for other publications has improved that – but I think it has improved my photography.
Blogging, for me, is a way to jot down some quick thoughts and perceptions. I do some research and add facts into a blog post, but I don’t consider my posts to be very creative.
I have become far more aware of my photography skills, however, and really enjoy sharing these with people.
MG: What drawbacks, if any, are there to being a professional travel blogger?
BW: If you’re blogging regularly, you’re always on deadline.
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?
BW: From what I’ve observed, I do think there’s a lot of competition, which is unfortunate. I think we all have our own niche, voice, and readership. But I sometimes see travel bloggers pointing fingers at each in judgment, which is just ridiculous. We’re all just trying to share our love for travel and it really doesn’t matter how you do it – referring to both blogging and travel.
MG: How much time are you “plugged in” to your computer, smartphone, or other devices during the course of your travels?
BW: Often when I travel I’m leading a tour. And that keeps me very busy. If I can jump online for an hour every couple of days to check email, I’m lucky. If I’m traveling outside of the scope of being responsible for a group of people, I’m online more often. I generally travel with a netbook and have found wifi to be fairly reliable.