My 10 Biggest Mistakes As A Travel Blogger

The Blog Abroad

Look at you guys — falling over yourselves to read about my biggest mistakes and failures. Screw you all, I know why you’re here. JK.

But really, I always try to write posts like this every now and then for the sake of rare transparency in this field, especially if you look at my life or any other travel bloggers’ and think it’s perfect.

So I do my best to share the ups and Trumps downs of this full-time travel lifestyle. It ain’t all cute, and it’s a hell of a lot of work. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. #puns

I still can’t believe I’m going on year #3 of living out of a suitcase and being “fashionably homeless”. Who woulda ‘thunk’ I’d be living the life of my dreams, all while having my very Nigerian mother kindly remind me every chance she could to, “get a RILL jobe!” *Naija accent*

One of my favorite posts I’ve ever written is called The Price Of Living the Dream and I often refer people to it whenever I get an email about how “lucky” I am.

I’m still hoping that one day all this luck people give credit to finally introduces itself. We’ve never met. But let me show you my BFF hustle. Now that’s the homie.

So now, the reason you’re all here. I hope whether you’re an aspiring blogger, a budding freelancer, a part-time lurker, or just someone curious about how my life works, that there’s something for you to take away from this.

Alas, in no particular order. Here are my biggest mistakes, stumbling my way to the top of this travel blogging thingy. Regret numero uno…

1. Buying a drone

Just a sneak peek at everything that occupies one of my carry-ons, globe included, JK. Yes, it looks excessive, but if you’re a content creator of any sort, you need to carry the tools to create. It’s a necessity. At least some of them. I just travel with back-up.

If you’ve been following my social media this week, you know I recently sold my brand new DJI Mavic Pro.

I was back home in Arizona in December, because my passport was full and I almost got denied entry into Peru trying to beg them to stamp over my least favorite place (LOL) and just let me in one last country before I went back to renew.

Considering the political climate in the U.S. just one month after the neon nectar nuke ninja was elected, and still being nowhere close to wanting to settle down, I wasn’t sure when else I’d be able to be in a place long enough to get a drone delivered to me.

So I impulsively upgraded and updated all my equipment. Some were sponsored, others were investments.

But I knew while I had a physical address to receive packages, I needed to take advantage before I set off on my current indefinite trip around the world.

I was so excited for all the incredible aerial footage I’d be able to capture, and to use it to build my growing YouTube channel (11,000 subscribers whooo)! So it was a no-brainer that I should use it to enhance my content as I grew.

Fast-forward 3 short months, and it’s been flown maybe 7x. What an anticlimactic turn of events. But it made me remember, my content on the ground is pretty dope as it is, so trying to outdo myself, was unnecessary.

Also, as a carefree, glo-with-the-flow kinda gal, I sometimes finalize a trip the day before I’m set to be there. I love that spontaneity. I live for that kind of thrill. I come alive in those kinds of situations.

But I found myself canceling and turning down trips because I didn’t think my $1,000 drone would make it past the airport’s security.

While I have much more expensive equipment on me in my Macbook Pro, its applications, and my Sony camera and lenses, a drone is such a target because it’s just not as common to own one as opposed to a laptop or camera.

Did I mention how some countries require you to e-mail and request a permit before you’re able to enter the country with it?

You have to state your reason of use, the altitude at which you want to fly it, and maybe they will approve you. Just maybe.

I’ve had a handful of friends get their drones confiscated at airports around Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It terrifies me that they can get away with doing it lawfully and unlawfully, because the drone laws change almost monthly in some of these countries.

Let’s not get started on Nigeria, which requires a $2,000 USD application fee. Like, it’s creative suicide what some of these drone laws around the world are enforcing, but then again, I get it.

Allowing “foreign” objects to enter your airspace in countries with poor infrastructure or vulnerable to attacks, is another thing they have to worry about.

Before my drive to Namibia last week, which I confirmed a couple days before I left because #YOGLO, I got an e-mail reply from their aviation office practically laughing at me for seeking a permit with such short notice.

I apologized, stated my reason of use, and said I wanted nothing more than to show the beauty of their country. But it fell on deaf ears.

My e-mail circulated to a few people before they ultimately decided on not issuing me the permit. Which means I couldn’t book any ongoing travel from Namibia like I wanted to, and would have to return to Cape Town to pick up my drone.

I contemplated smuggling it across the border, but I really try to follow rules when and where I can. I didn’t want this to bite me later on.

For goodness sake, this isn’t drugs we’re talking about, it’s a harmless machine with a camera attached to it used by hobbyist photographers and videographers everywhere. But some countries refuse to advance with the times.

The more I tried to plan my travels around Africa, the more complicated and stressful it became as I had to plan it based on the countries that would issue me a permit, which ones didn’t require 3 months of advance notice, or where I could potentially drop it off with a friend somewhere.

This expensive piece of metal was racking up a burden fee pretty quickly.

Longer story shorter, I made the mistake of assuming the ease of travel with it. It was an investment with good intentions, but it became more of a liability than an asset.

My strength is in my storytelling, and drone footage to accompany that wasn’t a must for my brand.

Lesson: Keep building on what you’re already good at, and don’t feel pressured to keep up with trends, especially if they inconvenience you more than help you.

2. Not blocking people sooner

While I’m very much introverted when it comes to my business, and find it hard to trust the morale of most bloggers/vloggers, there will always be a handful that I genuinely love and follow because they’re the epitome of DOPE. Those people are – Awesomely Luvvie, Asiyami Gold, The Blonde Abroad, Nas Daily, Adventurous Kate, Legal Nomads, Erin Outdoors, and BC Serna.

Unfortunately, high school drama doesn’t get left in high school. You’d be surprised how much pettiness and jealousy exists in the travel space.

Between the amount of travel bloggers still pathetically buying followers and faking their numbers, it’s hard to weed out honest people.

There can be so much drama when it comes to people clawing their way to the top. It’s one thing to look at someone as a competitor, it’s another to try to drag their name, chase after their sponsors, or straight up steal their style.

It’s happened to me over and over again, from newbie bloggers copying my articles word-for-word, or someone trying to duplicate my voice.

It got so bad, that there were several mutual followers of another girl and I who would send me photos and screenshots and ask, “Glo, why is she trying to be you?” “Glo, didn’t you just say this?” “Glo, I swear you just posted that too.”

It is so annoying to see someone continually try and take your ideas and credit it as their own. But I put up with it for the sake of being cordial. For the sake of keeping the peace. For the sake of hoping they would come to their senses and find their own style along the way.

But with every copied tactic and mimicked pose, I found myself getting more agitated until one day I figured enough was enough and I went on a blocking spree of all the toxic people I’ve come across in this industry (there’s a few, lol).

People want you to do well, just never better than them. And once you start peaking, they can’t stand it, and the energy is something you need to be deliberate about distancing yourself from.

Lesson: Don’t apologize for curating your online space to protect your mental space.

3. Starting a Facebook page 3 years after starting my blog

For the longest time, I denied that my blog was a business. I denied the idea that I’d have to divide my energy into two places on one platform. I denied the importance of building a fanbase outside of my personal profile.

My Facebook profile has always been used as my business page. And because Facebook didn’t recognize it as a business, my algorithm and engagement was always PAWPIN’.

The “pay-to-play” model the Facebook Business Pages go through annoyed me, but sure enough, when those big sponsors came knocking and asking for my numbers on Facebook, I had nothing to show for except my profile. Oops.

I love my profile and the network it’s built. But I’m maxed out at 5,000 friends, with 1,005 (also the max) pending friend requests, and another 7,000 following my public posts.

Facebook recently started sending me daily notifications to remind me to respond to my requests — as if I don’t already delete around 50 a day. I just can’t keep up with the ratio. Delete 50, 100 new people add you.

Delete 10, and 30 new people find you. IT’S LIKE THEY KNOW.

Some are people I might’ve just met at an event or bar, others are eager blog readers. I just want my friends and followers to coexist in the same space, but Facebook is stingy.

I love that my Facebook profile’s network is made up of people from over 100 countries, and that on any given day we can have a controversial or thought-provoking conversation. And people will weigh in from so many different backgrounds and perspectives respectfully. It’s beautiful.

But I knew I didn’t want all that attention all the time. And posting something under my blog’s name rather than mine is a bit more convenient for whenever Racist Randy and Deplorable Debra come around telling me to “go back to my own country” (oh, the same one you were born in? Ha) and I can sass them back as a business, rather than my personal name. #profesh

Lesson: Establishing a presence as a business on a reputable network should be a priority.

4. Not having a logo

To this day, I still don’t have one! Why? Because my hairstyles change too much, for one. But seriously, I’m so indecisive, and my creative juices are so conflicting when it comes to concrete decisions.

I’m waiting for an idea to spark or a designer to approach me with something that will just WOW me and I’ll have no choice but to buy it. So yes, if you’re a designer reading this, I’m looking to buy a logo, so if you’re up for the challenge, I will pay you well.

Nonetheless, I’ve managed to have a pretty chic looking site that doesn’t need one as long as I keep posting my sessy @$% photos and whatnot. A logo’s presence will merely be a cherry on top.

Lesson: If you can’t make yourself known by a logo, make sure you stand out in other ways.

5. Not being more assertive with payment policies

Ask any full-time blogger how much fun it is to chase down money you’re owed from companies for weeks, even months after you’ve completed the tasks and sent the deliverables.

You try to be lenient the first time it happens, and then you realize you’ve just given them permission to make it a habit.

It wasn’t until I found myself chasing five paychecks from five companies at once that I realized, okay, the problem here is ME.

How did I put myself in this position? What didn’t I add to the contract? What made them feel like they could treat me like this?

You’ll get every excuse in the book from the finance department being backed up, to the system being down, to my favorite, straight up ignoring your e-mails. Good times.

Okay, so now I have to guess when I’ll get paid after we’ve both signed a contract stating when the deposit should’ve been made? MONTHS ago?

Got it.

So professional.

This week was a busy one for marketers, and I don’t know how my site gets passed onto so many of their lists, but I received dozens of offers these past few days and I only said yes to two.

Why? Because they were the only ones who agreed to either pay me 50% up front, or the full amount at the receipt of the deliverable.

How are companies still able to get away with treating their freelancers like sh*t? Do they realize we make up the entirety of the content that helps their product sell?

I may lose out on work this way, and I might even come off as a diva in my e-mails, but gone are the days of chasing down companies who don’t respect me enough to honor our signed contracts.

Lesson: Stop agreeing to unfair contracts and respect yourself enough to say NO and demand your payments upfront or on time.

6. Hosting on Cyberduck

Okay, so way back when, this was actually how my blog looked. So raggedy. Sure, it was cute back in 2013, but what company is going to take this seriously?

My first rejection e-mail still haunts me — “Hi, sorry we cannot support your escapades.” HAHAHAHAHA. Like, sir. Huh? Apparently my blog looked like I was just off gallivanting with no sort of direction. Actually, I kinda was. Whoops. I digress.

How did people even read through this elementary font and composition-papered crap in the back?

Good Lordt.

It was a cute layout I was proud to have designed but it needed to go take a seat somewhere.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 when I finally said, hey, I’m actually making money with this ol’ hobby of mine, maybe I should invest in a proper-looking website, and voila!

I love the way it looks now, but it’s only a matter of time before I make it even more interactive and user-friendly. One day. Just not this one. #lazy

Lesson: Leave Cyberduck in the 19th century. Advance with the times. Always.

7. Not going to a travel conference earlier

TBEX, WTM, ITB, WTF (JK), but holy crap are there so many options! I had no idea these were a thing!

Shout out to my good friend James who I met while living in Barcelona and was always looking out for ways to elevate and grow my baby of a brand.

He passed along the link to register for my first TBEX that I attended in Costa Brava in 2015, and I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, I didn’t know.

I never knew there was a community of travel bloggers who got together and networked in this fashion.

All of a sudden I’m in a room full of people who can empathize with my complaints of fluctuating Instagram engagement and annoying marketers.

THEY SPOKE MY LANGUAGE! I was hooked! I went on to attend the first TBEX Asia in Bangkok that year, and even had my first speaking engagement at a separate conference in Koh Phangan, Thailand.

I’m just now coming off a few days of attending World Travel Market Africa here in Cape Town and it’s incredible how much this industry is evolving.

Lesson: Never underestimate the power of surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

8. Writing so infrequently

You ever visit my blog and go, hmm, she hasn’t written any new posts in like a month, and wonder what’s up? Hell, I ask my own self what’s going on sometimes. The ideas are there, but the motivation just isn’t.

Did you know my first year of blogging, I could count on two hands how many posts I published?

I was (and still am) juggling life on the road, networking, planning my future baby daddy, and not knowing that this hobby of mine would one day turn into my full-time income.

I didn’t give it the nurturing and care I should’ve from the beginning, and who knows where I’d be now if I did.

But that’s not important because all it took were a few strong posts to get me going.

I’ve been called the “black millennial voice of travel” by some, and as flattering as that is, I never owned that because I knew I didn’t publish nearly enough articles to be given such an accolade.

I wondered why I couldn’t get myself motivated long enough to post more often and then I realized I was writing so much already! I mean, have you ever read one of my Instagram captions? NOVELS, BRUH. Best-sellers.

I also try not to force a topic if I’m not inspired to write about it. If I know I want to write about a city, I go to the city first, and let the story write itself organically.

I let my conversations build the skeleton, and I fill in the blanks with my observations and conclusions.

I have a notepad in my phone of over 700 sheets — a new sheet for each country, city, and blog post idea.

I write a lot. But I don’t share everything.

I keep more to myself than I actually publish online, and for now, I’d like to keep it that way.

Maybe I’ll release them in an intimate diary later, but I’m protective of my voice, and sometimes the only person who needs to read and understand them, is me.

Lesson: Writing is just like anything else in life — it requires practice so you can keep your brain sharp. If you’re not publishing often, find ways to still be writing, and always document your raw thoughts as soon as you can before they are forgotten.

9. Letting my massive subscriber list lie dormant

What would you do if you gained about 300 new emails to your subscriber list every week?

This is a serious question — because I honestly need to come up with a better email marketing strategy.

Sure, I could do the occasional newsletter, which by the way, once you pass 5,000 email subscribers, you’ll have to start footing the cost per newsletter, which is roughly $75 a pop, so yay growth! #SIKE

I started my email subscriber list really late, about a year and a half ago, and it only takes a couple viral articles for another 1,000 names to pile on overnight.

That many people getting a notification that something I wrote will be in their inbox terrifies me. Let alone I get notified when they unsubscribe — the horror! THE NERVE! Ha.

While I believe in quality over quantity, I’m definitely looking forward to really offering something valuable to my subscriber list, outside of a notification that I published some new posts.

I want them to get excited every time they see my name in their inbox like, yay my online bestie Glo has some exciting news! Naw’mean?

Lesson: Your subscriber list is the ONLY thing you can rely on if Facebook or Instagram were to crash tomorrow. Cherish, nurture, and use that list responsibly.

10. Ignoring really sh*tty marketers

Depending on where you are as a blogger, perhaps $150 is a decent amount for the time you would take to write an article.

But I value my time too much, and I know I’m worth 3 to 4x that amount to other brands because of my reach and audience.

I now get about a dozen sponsored offers a day and depending on my mood, I mass-spam them all without reading or giving a second thought.

They’re lazy, inauthentic, and you can just faintly hear the whisper of “I don’t have a budget” as soon as you read their first line.

But sometimes if I’m bored, I’ll entertain their poor pitches and SHOCKER! It turns out, at least HALF of these people actually DO have budgets. They just won’t mention it until you do.

I learned that they’re just waiting to see who does and doesn’t bite on their stale bait. But once you lay out your rates, they’ll either oblige or try to negotiate.

By the way, they’re horrible negotiators and will try to make it seem like they’re losing out on money by paying you what you’re actually worth. Or that you’re crazy to actually charge what you’re valued at.

Here’s an industry secret — when dealing with big PR firms or agencies, they’re given MASSIVE marketing budgets.

Let’s say an agency is given $20,000 to hire 30 bloggers for a series of sponsored posts.

If one blogger asks for $100, another asks for $500, and another does it free, while they had $500 to pay for three people, congratulations, they just pocketed $900 from just the 3 of them.

Once they hire their 30 bloggers while pretending they don’t have a budget for most, getting through to some for free, and barely paying the others a couple hundred bucks, they’ll then pocket the remaining $10,000 that the other bloggers didn’t know were in the pie for their taking.

They screw bloggers over daily and you really have to be assertive and unapologetic about your worth.

Your brand isn’t just the number of your page views or social media following.

It’s a cumulation of many years of hustling, investing, learning, re-learning, failing, and overcoming to get where you are today.

Your brand and your worth need no explanation, and there are companies who will pay you exactly what you deserve PLUS tax.

Wait on them.

Every now and then I’ll get work I don’t even feel like doing, so I’ll throw out a ridiculous number, and next thing you know, they’re sending over a contract. It’s a win-win.

Be confident and a bit ridiculous every now and then.

I’ve been fortunate to be in a position to send travel industry friends on free trips on my behalf, with me to help with a project, or in place of me because of a scheduling conflict.

I can happily turn down trips that I don’t think will challenge or inspire me to deliver better content now, and that’s a powerful place to be.

I can be a bit pickier, and just like my dating life, I’m okay if that means less action (hey ohhh!)

As there’s no blueprint to chasing your dreams, I hope you find inspiration and encouragement through my mistakes that anything worth having in life won’t come easy.

My story, my journey, and my circumstances are always changing, but I’m loving the lessons I’m learning along the way.

There’s no failure when there’s evidence that you’ve tried. And trying to chase a dream is perhaps the most courageous journey of them all.

Lesson: Have a generic response to every sh*tty pitch instead of getting annoyed by them, and you’ll be surprised to find there is actually decent work masked behind their horrible delivery.

If you made it all the way to the end (you really oughta get a hobby), then I applaud you and thank you for listening to me vent and share what I hope both inspires, and enlightens you all on some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of this full-time travel lifestyle that not many are willing to share. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Gloria Atanmo is a world traveler and author of From Excuses to Excursions: How I Started Traveling the World, available here!

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