Here’s a jaw-dropping tidbit: August 2019 is my 13th blogaversary!
When I started my first blog in 2006 upon moving to Hell’s Kitchen, I never expected anyone but my Mom to read it, but then thousands of strangers did and it gave me opportunities I never would’ve achieved without it. I never imagined I’d leave the PR job I loved to create AngieAway.com and travel around the world by myself, but then I quit and never looked back.
And the biggest surprise of all? Thirteen years later, I actually get paid to do this thing that started as a creative outlet and a way to keep my family updated on my misadventures.
I am so grateful that the plan I had for myself and my career took such a deliciously unpredictable turn. I’ll be celebrating this milestone (y’all know 13 is a special number for me) all year with exciting trips, giveaways, my first blogging retreat, fun surprises and the OG Travel Blogger Series, so it’s a solid time to subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss out.
1. stands for original gangster
2. old school, founding member
Of the hundreds of thousands of hopefuls who started personal travel blogs since 2006, only the tiniest fraction remain. This handful of entrepreneurial traveling storytellers has changed the way consumers research travel information as much as any other factor. These are the trailblazers who have shaped travel blogging from hobby to something that you could get paid for.
We run into each other at conferences and on media trips now and then, picking up right where we left off on the last adventure. In the times between, we follow one another’s travel stories on social media, check in on DM and share war stories and tips. These folks are my unconventional water cooler buddies, even though our water cooler is often the deck of a cruise ship or a crowded hallway in between conference sessions. I’m honored to be in the company of these professional travelers and I can’t wait for you to get acquainted with the OGs and to learn from their 10+ years of wisdom.
Real talk: getting paid to travel the world was not even a thing when most of the OGs started. And anyone who began blogging within the past 5 years or so or is building a career as an influencer now stands on the shoulders of the folks in this series who worked (often unpaid) for more than a decade to turn blogging into a profitable business. Content creation is a job you can be paid for because of the OGs who went before and paved the way.
The OGs are a wealth of information, not just on the ins and outs of travel, but photography, entrepreneurship, SEO and what else? Life lessons. You don’t live out of a suitcase for years and build an industry where before there was none, and not come out the other side with some seriously helpful insights. So listen up, youngsters! The OGs are here to drop some knowledge in 2019.
OG Travel Blogger – Gary Arndt, Everything Everywhere
I’ll share much more about our 13th anniversary festivities as I firm up details, but in the meantime, I am so excited for you to get to know some of the bloggers who’ve been running this race with me all these years. My first intrepid volunteer is Gary Arndt, the guy who snagged the perfect, catch-all travel blog name — Everything Everywhere. The benefit of starting in 2007 and being one of the first on the scene!
He’s won just about every accolade – photographer of the year, blogger of the year, best travel blog, People’s Sexiest Man. (Ok, not yet, but I think he’s probably working on it.) But Gary isn’t one of those folks who rests on laurels and coasts on affiliate income from a repository of posts. I’ve been so impressed by his proactive efforts in SATW to the bring the blog community and the traditional journalists together as one talented bunch. I’ve been fighting that battle since my PR days when I had the fun task of trying to convince the OG publicists that bloggers weren’t all freebie-grubbing yahoos worth ignoring. (See how times have changed?)
Without further ado, heeeeere’s Gary!
ANGIE: Gary, you’ve been a full-time blogger for over a decade. What’s the biggest change in the industry you’ve seen from the early days to now?
GARY: The biggest change has been social media. When I started, MySpace was still a big thing. Twitter and Facebook existed, but they weren’t the big players they are today. Instagram hadn’t been launched yet.
The big thing back then was your website and if there was one metric everyone tracked it was RSS subscribers via Feedburner.
My website was my social media. Most of my blog posts during the first few years I was doing it was the equivalent of social media posts you’d make today. They weren’t written for SEO or for Google, they were written for people who actually read my website. Likewise, there were more comments as well.
A: And how about personal changes in the way you travel, how you choose locations, etc? What’s different since you started?
G: When I started, I was on one gigantic trip. I basically started going west and went from there. I was on the road full-time for about 9 years. I’ve had an apartment now for about 3 years.
The places I go are now based on opportunity and interest. I’m not interested in luxury resorts, even though there are probably more opportunities to visit those sort of places. I’m primarily interested in places I haven’t been before, or revisiting places that I’ve enjoyed and would like to see differently.
Having been to a large chunk of the world, I’m now much more attracted to more remote and obscure places. I’ve done Paris, Sydney, and Tokyo. Now I’m more interested in Uganda or Turkmenistan.
A: You’ve said you don’t have a formal background in journalism, which so many aspiring bloggers can relate to. What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into travel blogging who might not have a background in media, photography or journalism?
G: Take the time to learn how to do it well.
Just because you are literate doesn’t mean you are a good writer. Just because you own a camera doesn’t mean you are a good photographer.
Bloggers have a reputation for producing low quality work. This is a stereotype I’ve fought against for years. One of the reasons I’ve applied for and won so many travel journalism awards is that I wanted to break the stereotype, or at least to be able to say, “you can’t say that about me.”
A: Many OGs hire outside help, whether a virtual assistant, Pinterest manager, or something like that. What was the tipping point for you to outsource help to run your business and what tips do you have for bloggers who might like to do the same?
I’ve hired lots of people over the years, but for my website and in previous businesses I’ve run. I’ve made lots of mistakes. Here is what I’ve learned:
- Hire for the task. If you need someone to make Pinterest pins, then just get someone to do that. You can expand the role later if it works out.
- Do not hire full-time staff. Again, start out slowly and work your way up to that.
- Whatever you want someone to do, do it yourself first. Then is the only way you will know what you want them to do and how it should be done.
- Make sure the position can pay for itself. The revenue it brings it should cover the costs, or it should free up time to let you do more productive things.
- Pull the trigger if it isn’t working. Firing people isn’t easy, but you have to do it if necessary.
A: What trend in the blogging/influencer world drives you crazy? And what’s a trend you are excited about?
G: What drives me nuts lately are one trick pony Instagram “influencers.” People who put all their eggs into the Instagram basket and have no other following on any other platform.
They don’t bother me so much as the travel industry’s obsession with them. It is as if nothing else matters other than Instagram. My hope is that this is a passing fad.
A: Finish this sentence, “Before I started blogging, I wish I knew…”
G: SEO. I really ignored SEO for a very long time. I should have taken it seriously sooner.
A: If travel blogging as an industry abruptly ended today, what would you consider doing instead?
G: Stand up comic. No, I’m not kidding. (Editor’s note: Gary the stand-up comedian? I’d buy tickets for that.)
A: You’ve lived your life online for a long time, but I imagine you still have plenty of secrets. What’s something your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
- I lost 40 pounds in 2018, although few people have noticed.
- I can tear up easily when watching sappy romance films, which is why I avoid them.
- I’m more comfortable speaking before a large crowd than I am mingling at a party.
- I haven’t been on a date in 19 years.
- I own one of the few, original copies of Issue #1 of National Geographic from 1888.
- I’m part owner of the Green Bay Packers.
- I think professional wrestling is an art form.
- I knew nothing about photography when I started traveling. I never took a course or read a book on the subject.