You spent 22 months traveling through Asia, Australasia and South America, how did you ended up taking that trip. What motivated you to travel?
I’d always wanted to travel from the age of about 17-18 but didn’t have the money. After finishing university I had some debts to pay so they came first before saving the money for travelling. It was really when I moved into a shared house and was working that I realised I hadn’t actually travelled that much but my house mates had these amazing stories such as learning Spanish, living with locals in South America or even taking a tour and meeting interesting characters in the US. I realised I hadn’t experienced it and wanted to, so I set about organising myself and planning. About a year later I quit my job and left.
If you could single out the best experience from those 22 months, what would it be?
Everyone asks this question and it’s really difficult to pick one experience. Probably when I first arrived in Beijing it was all pretty alien to me. It was the first place I’d got to and after about half an hour of being there I found myself cycling through the Hutongs (traditional Chinese narrow streets and alleys) and out on to main roads. Needless to say the traffic was pretty manic. We were heading to a park to watch the locals flying kites but I hadn’t expected to be dodging the Beijing traffic on a rusty old bike. After a while you start to understand the strange rules of the road that are totally different to back home, either that or it was the influence of the local Beijing beer.
So you started TravMonkey back in 2006, why did you start a travel blog and can you remember how the whole idea come about?
I did a lot of research before I started my trip, mainly using forums. I wanted to put all the things I had learnt or didn’t know before I left down somewhere. In the beginning it was very blog like and experimental. I tried various different approaches to make the blog engaging such as being slightly controversial to letting people vote on where I was going to travel next. At the time their didn’t seem to be that many travel blogs around, it felt like there was only about 20 or so blogs. Some are still around, others have completely disappeared but most like TravMonkey.com have evolved and developed in terms of content and approach. To the extent that I wouldn’t even class TravMonkey.com as a blog any more.
These days you’re based in London and take shorter trips, does that suit your style or do you ever wish you could take off on another long adventure?
London is a great base for weekend trips to Europe so at the moment it’s perfect for me. I haven’t been to a lot of countries in Europe so I’m making up for that. I’m always thinking about taking another long term trip and I’m pretty sure it’ll happen soon, when the timing is right.
You work in SEO and run your travel blog, how do you find it managing both?
I’ve always used my travel blog as a kind of test bed for innovation. So it’s a great place to be able to test new ideas and to roll out campaigns and changes without having to go through red tape.Running your own website especially with an SEO/Social Media focus means you can learn quite a lot in a short period of time. Managing the site and having a full-time job is extremely time consuming and I can find myself spending many evenings and weekends coding, editing or writing content. It requires a lot of work.
An interesting feature you’ve started on your blog is the Live Blogging- tell us about that and what makes it cool.
Live blogging isn’t really something new, bloggers have been doing it for a while using Twitter, Foursquare Facebook, blog posts, Instagram etc. But one thing I noticed is that it’s really difficult for people who aren’t so geeky to follow one or all of these channels in one place. So I decided to create the functionality to be able to follow a trip via text commentary, Foursquare check-ins, Twitter and Instagram photos all on one landing page and make it so simple that even my mum could follow it. The functionality really gives a great overview of what’s happening, live. I haven’t seen it done before by any bloggers so I thought it was a unique opportunity to cover a press trip in real-time rather than just posting the bog standard article a week later, it really adds value and user engagement.
Where do you see travel blogging going in the future? What should travel bloggers be watching out for?
I think travel blogging will definitely become more real-time, especially with the increase of mobile usage and development of new location based apps. Just experimenting with my own live blogging functionality you can see that it adds so much more value on top of a standard written article. I think video will eventually become part of this. I also think in the near future travel bloggers will become much more savvy in terms of content they produce on trips and it’ll move beyond simply publishing an article here and there to much more of a campaign approach.
To grow the number of inspiring writers who publish great articles and give them the best platform possible for their work.
To create an inspiring and innovative travel platform.
Do you have any more trips planned for this year?
I always have trips planned in my head but not booked, I actually hate planning things in advance.
I have a weekend to Copenhagen in the pipeline as well as a trip to Rome.