Travel in style – heels included…
Travel blogger Melissa Douglas is the living definition of what it takes to be a digital nomad. Saying adios to office life back in 2016, Melissa’s travel blog has exploded, allowing her to be a full-time travel writer. I speak to Melissa to find out what it took to become her own boss on the road as well as her secret weapon when it comes to travel blogging success.
Melissa, you kick started your blog back in 2016, and since then, you have achieved the dream to become a full-time travel writer. How did it all come about?
To be honest, it’s been kind of a strange route, and it definitely hasn’t been easy!
I was often going to weird places in my vacation time off work (like randomly going to live with monks in South Korea for a few weeks), and a friend suggested that I start a blog to document my travels. It was kind of a journal at first and a place to jot down witty observations but I started getting featured in places like the Huffington Post and Matador Network, and since I really enjoyed it, I tried to make it full time as a Writer.
I left my corporate job in strategic procurement and moved to Seoul to teach English so I could have more free time to write on the side. I started working with restaurants and spas in Seoul writing reviews for them in exchange for complimentary experiences. My blog was discovered by the Managing Editor of Forbes Travel Guide, and I became their Seoul expert, before then leaving Korea, building more clients and writing full time.
What was that light bulb moment for you to decide to take a step (or plane, or boat or horse ride) into the unknown world of travel blogging?
As mentioned, my friend suggested starting a blog, and I thought it would be a nice way to document my travels. I never really realised that you could make a living from a travel blog until I’d been doing it for a while. I wish I took it seriously sooner because it was only last year that I started monetising it and seeing more traffic.
The travel writing world ain’t an easy world to navigate. Tell us, what was the biggest thing you have learnt from it?
I wish that I had realised the earning potential from starting a travel blog sooner, rather than focusing on writing for external publications.
It may sound glamorous writing for magazines like Forbes but the work is sporadic, and you constantly have to pitch and search for new opportunities. One week you could make £2000, the next you’ve made £400.
On the other hand, once you have an established travel blog, you can make passive income through advertising and affiliate marketing. I mean, it’s not easy to grow traffic and an authoritative website, but it’s worth it. I wish I had concentrated on this more and not given so much great content away.
There are many avenues to get the word out, what social media and medium have worked best for you?
Honestly, I barely use social media, which may sound like an unusual choice for a Blogger, but I feel like it isn’t the best use of my time. I focus my efforts on SEO (search engine optimisation) and writing articles that will rank well on Google. A lot of my articles are the number one result on Google or at least feature on the first page. By targeting specific keywords and doing research, I can drive thousands of visitors to my site every day.
I mean I admit, I just read that back again and it sounds unsexy, but I feel like it’s the most sustainable option. I have over 30,000 followers on social media, but I found that sharing articles in this way doesn’t garner a lot of traffic. After all, if you want to find a travel itinerary or you want to find out if a destination is safe, you don’t go to Instagram or Twitter, you go to Google.
You have had many articles go viral – kudos to you – how did that affect your future work?
To be honest, I overestimated the value of viral articles. I mean, it’s exciting and all when you see that some of your articles have received thousands of shares. In the short term, you will receive a lot more traffic to your site from the publication, but it soon fizzles out.
It has been beneficial however to use these examples when pitching to new potential clients and there have been instances where marketing companies and tourism boards have found me through the likes of The Huffington Post, so I guess it did have some benefits.
What do you think sets you apart from other solo female travel blogs?
High Heels & a Backpack focuses on solo female travel in off the beaten path places.
Most of the content that I produce is about places that are considered unusual for a woman travelling alone. For example, Bhutan, Palestine’s West Bank, Oman, the Silk Road, etc. I wanted to create a resource that helped women push the boundaries of solo female travel.
You are the true definition of a travelling digital nomad, living in far-flung places such as Athens and Korea. What has been your favourite place?
Seoul is my favourite city. I spent several years living there and if I hadn’t moved to Korea and started writing for Forbes, I possibly wouldn’t be where I am today. South Korea is such an underrated travel destination and the different areas and neighbourhoods in Seoul are so diverse!
As a digital nomad, you spend a lot of your time hunting for the free wifi. Would you be able to tell us what is your favourite co-working space?
To be honest, I’m currently living in Athens, and co-working spaces aren’t a thing here. It’s unfortunate, because the low cost of living makes Greece the perfect spot for Digital Nomads! I work from a lot of different coffee shops here in Athens, and the locals are so laid back that they are happy for you to sit there for hours with just one coffee. My favourite is a spot called Monsieur Cannibale (nothing to do with cannibals!) that is a tiny, tucked away place with a sort of eccentric Great Gatsby style interior.
What is your favourite book for inspiration to make magic happen?
My favourite, favourite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Actually, I feel like that is such a cliche among travellers nowadays. I found it left behind at a hostel a few years ago when I was living in Australia, and I just sat and read it cover to cover transfixed.
It focuses on the importance of following what you want to do in life and not let hurdles affect you. That book got passed around everyone in the hostel like we were in some kind of cult! Ha. I recommend it to those who need a push into entrepreneurship/following their passion.
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