We spoke to Nora ‘The Professional Hobo’ about blogging, travelling and how to build an established and loyal following. After starting out in 2007 she has now become one of the most well known travel bloggers out there. She’s a shining example to any blogger in any niche hoping to turn their blog into a full time monetized outlet. Most recently she’s released her latest e-book How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World.
So for those who don’t know tell us a little about your blog, and how long you’ve been blogging for…
I am Nora Dunn, aka The Professional Hobo. I’ve been traveling full-time since 2007, after selling everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in Canada the year prior. I’ve been on the road ever since, traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way. I support myself as a freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.
What made you get into blogging initially, in particular travel blogging?
I could barely define what a blog was when I started mine, and I certainly had no idea that it would eventually generate income (which wasn’t really on the radar for blogs at the time, in 2007).
So in the beginning, my travel blog was simply a tool to journal my travels and foster my love of writing, allowing my family and friends to follow along at their whim. Who knew other people would actually want to read my stories of adventure too!
You’ve built up a huge following, why do you think people have been so interested in following your story?
I think there are a few reasons The Professional Hobo has become big:
1) I was inadvertently involved in a few natural disasters (and the ensuing relief efforts), and in one particular case – Cyclone Nargis in 2008 (affecting 2 million Burmese people), I used my blog as an international fundraising platform. This brought a lot of new readers to the site.
2) My story is compelling. I think at some point we all like the idea of chucking it all in and traveling the world at our leisure. I actually did it – and I’d like to think my pontifications on the psychology of it all, in addition to my travel stories and financial travel tips, hit home for a lot of people.
3) I have seven years of content on my site! That is a heck of a lot of content; I’m part of a handful of travel bloggers who have been on the road this long (most travel blogs have a shelf life of about one year). Having gotten into the travel blog industry on the leading edge of the trend has been invaluable.
4) I make it all seem possible. I repeatedly demonstrate that the cost of full-time travel is cheaper than living in one place – and I put numbers to those theories, borne of personal experience. My techniques for getting free accommodation around the world have saved me over $65,000 – and counting.
You tend to go fairly in depth and personal in a lot of posts. How do you feel about people having a fairly detailed view of your personal life?
As my writing style developed, I noticed that my readers really responded to the personal posts. I realized that people were craving a real person, with real problems, trying to find their way in an unconventional life. So I kept writing: the good, the bad, and everything else.
By 2010, I started publishing my expenses for each year, and by 2011 I started publishing my income for each year. By then I had established myself as an expert on financially sustainable travel, and I figured I had better show that I can walk the walk!
Shy of the occasional stalker (!), there hasn’t been a down-side to revealing the more personal side of myself to the world. If anything, it’s therapeutic. There are also elements of my life that don’t get published at all, so I still maintain a sense of privacy.
Could you give us your 3 top tips for new bloggers on how to build up a loyal and relevant following?
1) Write content you’re passionate about.
2) Engage with other bloggers in your niche; read their posts, write thought-provoking comments, send them an email, connect on social media, and promote other bloggers’ good work to your audience.
3) Engage with your audience. Respond to comments, emails, and social media posts. Be a real person, and interact with your readers! If they feel like they know you or have a connection to/relationship with you, they’re more likely to follow you through thick and thin.
4) (Bonus Tip): Create a niche and work it. Having a plain-Jane blog won’t get you noticed amongst the throngs of similar blogs; but if you find an audience that fits a niche which you’re an expert in, you can develop your own personal army of followers.
What has been the highlight of your blogging career so far?
Just one? Oh gosh. Okay – I’m going to cheat and tell you to check out this post for highlights of the first six years.
More recently, I did an amazing 8-country, 3-week European extravaganza of a trip sponsored by Club Carlson. It was a great experience to finish off an awful year (among other dramas, I was in a near-fatal accident in early 2013), and they gave me 1 million Club Carlson points to give away!
And finally, who are your favourite bloggers at the moment?!
Oh gosh – don’t make me pick favourites!
The bloggers I’d refer to as my favourites at this stage of the game are the ones I have met in person and interacted with at length online. There are some I’ve traveled with (like Michael Hodson and Jeannie Mark), some I’ve visited (like Mike Sowden and Lea & Jonathan Woodward), others I’ve met while back in Toronto (like Janice Waugh, Mariellen Ward, Evelyn Hannon, Dave & Deb of The Planet D, and Dalene & Pete Heck, and Sherry Ott), and more. Having attended TBEX (a travel blogging conference) in June of this year, I was able to meet even more awesome bloggers in person and solidify lengthy online relationships.
There is a ridiculous number of travel blogs out there, but the professional travel blogging community is still relatively small. And it’s nice to have like-minded friends around the world; it makes for more interesting travels!
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