(This article is published in TheJakartaGlobe.com on June 1st 2014)
There were times when people only looked to countless editions of Lonely Planet travel guides and National Geographic magazines for travel tips and inspiration, but travel bloggers are quickly becoming a more engaging alternative to reading about all things travel. The personal approach to blogging may make it look easy, but for Indonesian online writers, it takes more than commitment to keep a good travel blog.
Adam and Susan Natalia Poskitt, the Australian-Indonesian couple who regularly write about their globe-trotting experience at pergidulu.com, started blogging in 2012 as a project while they were on a cruise. For them, the hobby quickly became a form of personal branding. Since the beginning, they wanted their blog to be diverse; a mix of travel pieces, restaurant reviews and general interest stories about traveling. “You have to start looking at the blog as an investment,” Adam said. “It could open many opportunities in the future,”
They are also aware that blogging in Indonesia is very different than in Western countries, where the activity can turn into a full time job. “Indonesians ought to be more creative on figuring out how to make money from traveling,” Susan said.
Still, the task of setting up and maintaining an online journal of one’s global adventures is easier said than done as it all relies on luring in a loyal stream of readers. Writers have to make sure each story is strong enough in reflecting their personality. Travel and photography aficionado Wira Nurmansyah said a blogger’s task is similar to a journalist’s due to the same moral burden of having to interview people in order to write interesting stories.
Wira has proven that lists are gems. Some of his most popular posts on his site come in the form of a list, in which he gathers travel tips and destinations. Apart from posting photos and writing stories, Wira also reviews backpack and cameras as two main gears for travelers.
For Marischka Prudence, her own selling point is in providing content in both Indonesian and English. Travel is a very different field from her previous job as a political reporter in a local TV station, but covering news on the ground brings her to places beyond Indonesia’s borders, such as Angola and Afghanistan. In 2012, she quit her day job to become a full time travel writer at marishckaprudence.blogspot.com, where she also hosts open trips on her by providing a travel itinerary and budget. Anyone who is interested is welcome to tag along.
Earning money from a blog does not come easily because every blogger will have to establish strong, continuous readership. Obviously, there is no rule of thumb for accomplishing such a feat, but on average, it usually takes a couple of years until the blog can be a promoting tool. Once the site steps into this phase, income comes in the form of widgets for ads, sales of photos to publishers and freelance writing jobs.
Sometimes, writers also earn money from collaborations with companies who see their popularity as a promising platform to promote their products.
Another offer that popular bloggers usually receive is sponsorship. When such an offer comes through, they are also putting their own perspective at risk; they will get paid to travel and try new facilities, but in return, they are required to add promotional details into their articles. On a good year, a writer might receive three to four offers.
A large stumbling block Indonesian bloggers must pass through is the frustrating task of obtaining travel visas and sponsorships. Susan said when she and her husband lived in Europe; Pergi Dulu was never approached by any sponsors.
“But, when we were back in Indonesia where most of our readers come from, sometimes we’ll get an invitation to collaborate,” she said.
Trinity Traveler, one of Indonesia’s pioneers in travel blogging, said most collaborations with sponsors come in the form of short term projects. Trinity, who is now an author of four books, said bloggers should focus on assignments that last longer.
Trinity, who started her site because of her hobby in photography and travel, said bloggers should also avoid being too advertorial. She is likely to reject a proposal if she doesn’t feel the rules are aligned with what she has achieved on her blog. Sponsored posts usually require a set of rules dictating the way the story should be written and a number of mentions of products in the story.
“In the end, it’s not about how many sponsors you can attract, but how you can stay true to yourself,” she said.
Marischka has a good tip of keeping the circle small. She prefers to work with one sponsor at a time, instead of juggling two or three clients at once.
“It helps maintain the quality of your blog,” she said.
But in the end, these travel bloggers enjoy what they do and would not trade their experience for anything else. Agustinus Wibowo, famous for his travel column in Kompas newspaper, which was published into books, said that surviving, as a travel writer is not easy. Competitors continuously come out of the woodwork, but writers shouldn’t change their style or get distracted by them.
“Ultimately, a travel blog is bigger than just a tool to earn money,” he said.