When I first started working in the travel industry two years ago, I started consuming everything I could get my hands on about the South African blogosphere. It was through one of these binges that I ended up discovering The Travel Manuel - one of South Africa's first ever independent travel blogs!
Founded in 2009 by Lauren and Vaughan Manuel McShane, this travel power couple has been travelling the world, winning awards, calling tropical paradises home and most recently, welcomed their first child into the world.
With my ultimate goal being location independent, I decided to get in touch with Lauren and Vaughan to find out how their blog has allowed them to achieve just this.
So if you are curious about what it's like to be one of the best travel blogs in South Africa - read on!
1. What inspired you to start travel blogging all those years ago?
Lauren: Whilst living in South Korea in 2008, I found myself constantly scribbling down all the funny, weird and wonderful moments and encounters I’d have whilst not the bus, train and around the city.
I’d write on anything I could find including till slips until I carried a notebook. I eventually started a blog to share my experiences and back then blogs were still fairly new concepts.
Over time it’s changed from being a travel diary to more of guide for newbies and more seasoned travellers, families as well as expats wanting to explore the globe. Along with the travel tales, photography and experiences we offer tips and advice for those wishing to start embarking on outdoor adventures.
2. How did you start building an audience for your blog?
Vaughan: We started building an audience by learning what people wanted. We asked ourselves whether people want to know more about us or more about the destination and information related to that destination. The answer was obvious, so we started (and are still) focusing on building more resource orientated content. Then we dug into things like SEO and Social Media.
3. How do you make a living from your travel blog?
Vaughan: Adsense, sponsored posts, freelance writing and photography, plus we run a digital agency (Speckled Egg Digital), which offers services from Social Media Management and Training to Influencer Marketing.
4. How long had you been blogging before you started making money?
Lauren: Years and years of hard work. Everyone imagines that success and money will be instant, but in our case( and most of the time) running a blog and building an audience is very time-intensive.
Advertisers will only start approaching you once you have adequate traffic and most brands will only work with you once they see that you either have the eyeballs and/or the engagement with a trusted audience.
5. How has guest blogging factored into your success?
Vaughan: Guest blogging is great when you first start out, we blogged a lot for Wild Junket Magazine in the early days and that gave us access to accommodation and destinations that we couldn’t have reached without their bigger audience. It’s also a great SEO and community building strategy if used wisely.
6. How do you find work with brands and destinations? Does it come to you or do you approach them?
Vaughan: It’s a combination. These days we pitch a lot whereas, before our son was born, we used to rely more on work coming in organically
7. What does a typical day look like for you when you are on the road?
Vaughan: If we’re working for a DMO then things can be very busy depending on the itinerary. Days are chock full of activities, meetings, orientations and all the while juggling several social media platform updates in-between. Then at night it’s dumping photographs, editing the good ones and recharging everything for the next day.
It can be hectic. On a recent trip, I worked from 6 am to midnight every day.
But when it’s just us and things are more story-line focused, or when Lauren is writing for a magazine, then we try to take it fairly slowly.
8. What gear do you use for your travels?
Lauren: BIG question.
Our gear is always changing but right now we have beautiful Samsonite luggage, which is so light and so stylish. I never go anywhere without my “tech bag” (which is a Vanguard Uprise II 48 litre backpack) and I use it to carry my MacBook, hard drives, chargers, power banks, adapters and cables and most importantly, our Nikon DSLR and lenses (basically everything). We also travel with a Vanguard VEO monopod.
We go nowhere without sarongs too, they’re awesome as towels / blankets etc. We also love stocking up on gear from Cape Union Mart.
9. What were your goals when you started travel blogging and how have they changed over the years?
Vaughan: I think that initially we were drawn to the idea that we could spend more time travelling and also to start building our own dream into a reality vs working for someone else and building their dreams.
Our goals are basically the same: to be able to have the blog fully support our lifestyle while providing quality tips and resources for people who are travelling.
10. What advice would you give to newbie bloggers who have just started out?
Vaughan: If you are passionate about blogging, buy your own domain as early as possible and focus on your strengths. Also, try your best to maintain a healthy balance between life and blogging, because, in an industry where everything revolves around sharing, it can get quite “all consuming.”
11. Which travel bloggers do you look up to and why?
Vaughan: Ah. So many. But off the top of my head (and sorry for all you guys I’ve left off):
- Nelly from Wildjunket
- Keith from Velvet Escape
- Melvin from Travel Dudes
- Josh and Erin from Travel With Bender
- Nick and Dariece from Goats on the Road
- Jared and Alesha from Nomadasaurus
- Jonothan and Kach from Two Monkeys Travel
- Sara from This Girl Loves
- Justin from True Nomads
- Shivya from The Shooting Star
- Kathryn from Becoming You
- Dawn from The Incidental Tourist
- Meruschka from Mzansi Girl
- Heather from 2Summers
And lastly my wife Lauren the original The Travel Manuel. There are HEAPS more I’m forgetting.
Why? All these people are great bloggers and great story tellers, they’ve worked flipping hard at their craft, like us they’re pioneers of an industry that never existed up until recently, and they faced the battle of uncertainty without knowing whether blogging was even a thing.
But the biggest reason I look up to these people is modesty. I’ve named some of the best bloggers in the world here and none of them have let it go to their heads.
12. What was your big break in travel blogging or some of your major achievements so far?
Lauren: Have we had one yet?! I feel like a big break would be when we can finally start living off the blog entirely without relying on the income streams such as freelance writing, content production, social media management etc. Alas, we’ve only see massive international bloggers achieve that and given their big audiences ( US, UK, Australia) they easily earn a living, can save and travel- The Dream!
But that being said we’ve achieved some wonderful milestones when it comes to social media followings as well as being awarded:
Africa’s Top travel blog for two years running and also named one of TripAdvisor’s ‘Top 25 travel blogs to follow’ to name a few.
We are also one of two blogs invited to join the elite global blogging network of iAmbassador which was a complete honour and surprise for us as we’ve admired the work of the founders for ages and love the way the network works to bring bloggers paid campaigns.
We’ve been invited to share our experiences on radio, TV and for magazines which is always exciting and really allows us to take a step back from the madness and realise we must be doing something right and that all the hard work hasn't been in vain.