7 Components in My Travel Blog Strategy for 2021

I’ll be honest: I did not want to write this post at all. I wondered if anyone would read it, and looked at my traffic to determine that very few people saw my 2020 post on the same topic. But when it came time to sit down and organize my thoughts, I realized I had a lot I wanted to say. Reading my 2020 travel blog strategy post again – which I have done several times throughout the year – it helped me process what a crazy year it has been as a travel blogger, and what I want to bring with me in 2021.

Last year, this post about my planned travel blog strategy nine parts:

  1. Set Goals (Eyes on the Prize)
  2. Get a Mentor
  3. Having an Email Strategy is Key
  4. Be Willing to Get Personal
  5. Build Tools Google is too Lazy to Tackle
  6. Learn from Your Rainmakers & Iterate to Build Expertise
  7. Optimize Your Income at Any Traffic Level
  8. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify (Your Income!)
  9. Take Care of Yourself & Value Your Time

As you’ll see, some of those strategies are part of my plan for 2021 too – others didn’t serve me well this past year and I want to try something different. After finally writing this post, I can say I’m feeling excited again; I’ll be trying new things, continuing things that worked last year, and stopping anything that just doesn’t work for me and my business.

If you’re a fellow blogger considering what you want to do with the new year, read on for the pieces of my travel blogging strategy in 2021!

1. Become a Travel Blogger, not Travel Writer

I’ve thought about this one a lot in the second half of 2020, and I decided to start with it as it’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve been very fortunate that my blogging career has developed alongside a healthy freelance writing career. I was lucky to be writing for Lonely Planet through much of my early years, and that opened the door for amazing projects like Dark Skies.

Over the past 12-18 months, I’ve noticed that the freedom freelance travel writing brought me has begun to hobble my travel blogging work. Destinations don’t want me for this site, which I’ve worked so hard to grow and create value with – they only want a single mention from a big site that brings them no guarantee of visitors or revenue.

(Never mind the fact that there’s still a big drama about whether or not travel bloggers can be credible sources of travel inspiration and information when compared to travel writers. I’m so over that.)

That’s why I’m taking a stand: I’m no longer a “travel writer.” I write about travel on my travel blog. I am no longer going on trips that require freelance coverage. My heart isn’t in that part of the business anymore.

As I mention later, I’m going to be much choosier in the trips I take and work I do, to focus on where my passions lie. (I’m also going to continue to write about astrotourism and science, which is something I’ve discovered I love doing this year!)

Takeaway: It’s okay for your blogging career to change trajectories over time. You don’t have to do it all – and you don’t have to do any one part of it forever. Let your passion and interest guide you to develop a career path that fulfills you.

2. Set Goals & Keep Them Updated

Lewis Carroll said, If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. But I’m not sure that’s true when it comes to travel blog strategy… My philosophy is more If you don’t know where you’re trying to go, how will you get anywhere?

I started setting goals for my blog in late 2017, and you know what? I’ve exceeded 90% of the goals I have set since then. But I’m not sure I would have even hit those goals – much less celebrated them – if I hadn’t set goals in the first place.

After setting complicated goals in 2020 – most of which were more or less chucked out the window repeatedly as the year went by, I’ve decided to simplify my goals a bit for 2021. I used to set 3-5 quantitative goals each year; this year I have 2 quantitative goals and a number of qualitative goals.

Takeaway: I highly recommend the Goal Setting Challenge from Digital Nomad Wannabe. Sharon’s five-day email sequence is super helpful; it’s what I used back in 2017 and I’ve done it so many times I no longer need to refer back to the emails or videos.

3. Learn from My Rainmakers & Iterate to Build Expertise

This was one of the components in my blog strategy for last year; I am planning to double-down on it in 2021 as I’ve seen Google reward this strategy so far.

I define “rainmaker” posts as those that bring me the big traffic and big moolah on my current income streams, which come in two categories

  1. All-Time Rainmakers – the best performing posts across my site, for example, The Ultimate 10-Day Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide and How to Make the Most of a Weekend on the San Juan Islands
  2. 2020 Rainmakers – there weren’t as many this year, but I did find a few including 9 Epic Seattle Road Trips to Plan Right Now and How to Visit Arches and Canyonlands in One Day

I especially paid attention to the overlap between those two – 2020 posts that are among my all-time top performers.

As I did in 2020, I looked for patterns: new post types that have performed well (such as road trip ideas from major cities) and past rainmakers that I’ve been able to repeat success on (such as one day in X national park).

Using these patterns and past successes, I’ve been able to build out on last year’s content strategy to have a bunch of new ideas for 2021 too – and trip inspiration to fill in gaps in my own experiences that I can write about later.

Takeaway: By learning from and iterating on your own rainmakers, you can double down your expertise on certain topics – which Google loves – and gain more traffic (and income).

4. Optimize My Email Strategy

2020 was the year I focused on email; 2021 will be the year I continue to optimize and improve my current system.

Even with all my focus and work, I’ve struggled to make email a meaningful percentage of my total traffic (as you can see in my monthly recaps), but that doesn’t mean I think you should give up on it. Email is still the best way to reach your audience because it’s not affected by an algorithm like social media – once you get someone’s email, it’s up to you to figure out how to provide enough value that you earn the “open” and the “click.”

I’ll be continually tweaking my existing email funnels, and adding new ones where it makes sense based on my traffic. I’m also planning to launch a new type of sequence for Alaska travelers specifically, which will hopefully provide them more value – and give me more opportunities to sell my Alaska trip planning services and products!

Takeaway: Spend time looking at where your traffic enters your site, and design at least 2 funnels this year that help provide value and keep your subscribers engaged. Focus on 1) providing information in your emails, 2) driving people back to your website, and 3) plugging in natural sales opportunities for any products or services you have.

5. Build a Social Video Strategy

Man, what a year for social video. 2020 was the year TikTok took the world by storm, probably because we were all stuck at home, bored out of our minds!

I’ll be honest: I haven’t yet figured out how TikTok or even Instagram Reels will work for my business, but 2021 is the year to experiment and try to find something that works. There’s also a ton of sponsorship/brand money in these platforms for influencers, so it’s still worth putting in the effort to try and get a piece of that big pie.

I’m also hoping to get back to creating new videos for Youtube; I’d love to start producing interesting video content that’s search optimized for Youtube and becomes a new income stream.

Takeaway: Video isn’t going to take over – but it’s part of the future of content creation. If you don’t have a strategy yet, 2021 is the year to experiment and try to find one that works for you.

6. Value My Travel Time More Highly

This is one I’ve been verbalizing to Mr. V for a while now: I want to be a lot pickier in the trips I take in 2021 and beyond. Here are my thoughts on why:

  1. I’ve been on some amazing work trips in my life, but probably less than 50% of them have ever “paid for themselves” through stories I’ve produced or freelance assignments I’ve been able to secure afterward.
    • As an aside, I’m actually going to stop doing any trips as a freelance journalist.
  2. I’ve really struggled to reach the level where I get paid for trips. I’m not going to go on any trips in 2021 that don’t pay me for the time I lose on other work, in addition to the work I deliver.
  3. Some work trips have been fun, but haven’t really fit into my content strategy and the destinations I want to be an expert about (one great example is Central Asia or Jordan – both destinations were fantastic to visit but they just don’t help my business).
  4. I rarely/never take trips for fun anymore, and I was feeling a big depletion in the joy I feel about traveling in general as 2020 began. I want to start planning and taking trips just for me (and Mr. V) and what we love to do while traveling.

All this to say, I’ve fallen out of love with travel as a hobby or a profession, and I hope that by being more conscientious about the trips I do take, I can start to rekindle my love of the exploring the world.

Takeaway: If you’re feeling the same about travel, you’re not alone. Feel free to re-set your boundaries about travel that work for you and your business.

7. Continue Working on My Other Sites

2020 was the Year of the Niche Site, eh? Everyone and their cousin started a second, third, or fiftieth site this year trying to diversify away from whatever industry they are in that got pummeled by COVID/toward an industry that didn’t.

My own journey with niche sites continued this year. While I started Space Tourism Guide in 2017, I added a new bundle of joy to the “family” when I launched Follow the Butterflies, my Harry Potter blog, in April 2020. I also tried to launch another site about my local town (Sausalito, CA) which flopped with the pandemic, but that’s just a learning experience in my book!

I am also launching a brand new niche site in just a few days to kick off the new year, London on my Mindand I have four other totally-unrelated-to-travel sites ready to launch throughout 2021.

All this to say that V&V is no longer my only child – and I can’t imagine it any other way now. Diversifying the projects I work on keeps me interested in all of them, and helps me manage burnout.

Takeaway: Travel blogging was hard this year, and it’s not over yet. It’s okay – in fact good – to pursue other projects in 2021 to help keep your mental health and motivation up.

Okay, that’s it for me: what about you, fellow bloggers? What’s your strategy for blogging in 2021? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie has been blogging since 2001, and has been running her oldest travel blog for a decade. You can find her across the internet on her various niche sites, but she started Site School to help fellow bloggers grow and create better content.

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