Travel Blogging Today: It’s Complicated

Last year, he planned a trip to Cape Town with a handful of other bloggers and pitched it to the local tourism agency, which agreed to foot the bill. He estimated that the resulting itinerary — including a stay at a villa with ocean views, shark-cage diving, visits to wineries and spa massages — was worth about 5,000 euros (about $6,440) but ended up costing him little beyond the nerve it took to board a ferry to Robben Island. The tourism office later told him that he and the fellow bloggers he’d invited had kicked off its most successful social media campaign to that point, featuring a Twitter hashtag — #lovecapetown — that is still in use.

Initially, Mr. Jenkins said of his blog’s focus, “I didn’t really think of it as luxury travel. I just thought this is the way I like to travel.” Mr. Jenkins, who worked as an investment banker before turning to travel blogging in late 2008, added: “Backpacking is something I did as a student.”

Mr. Jenkins’s approach to blogging — and travel — speaks volumes about the state of a medium that began as intimate and creative. The paradigm has shifted across the board, in areas like food, parenting and so-called lifestyle blogs. But nowhere has the shift been as jarring as it is for travelers. “I want to travel the world” is no longer an idealistic statement, it is a transactional one.

It’s impossible to estimate the number of independent travel blogs. Thousands of writers and photographers now travel the world registering their thoughts through platforms like WordPress and Blogger. But there is indication that the ranks of the bloggers whose aspirations are not just creative have grown: blogger attendance at the annual conference known as TBEX was about 1,000 this year, more than double that of last year’s event in Keystone, Colo., and the “speed dating” sessions in which bloggers seek sponsors grew to 3,629 from 206 last year.

The proliferation of these blogs, and what is becoming a go-to way of financing them, would seem a boon to the daring people who want to keep logs of life on the road and the readers who want to consume them. But as travel blogging comes of age, the landscape has become vastly more complicated and more fragmented. It can all be daunting — and increasingly difficult for both bloggers and readers to navigate.

Travel bloggers tend to be independent-minded and passionate about their areas of interest. The best of them also tend to be on the cutting edge of the travel world, making them a valuable resource for readers frustrated with out-of-date guidebooks and what is often a morass of user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. But they also face unique challenges; for one, they have to be not just their own editors in chief, but also their own directors of marketing and Web developers. And, ideally, they need to stay objective despite all the sponsorships.

To figure out how to navigate the mountains of online content available from various bloggers, and to answer the question of how they manage to travel amid all these demands, I turned to the bloggers themselves, and found a broad spectrum of approaches and advice.

If there is a single rule of thumb for how to choose which blogs to make time for, it is to measure them on a scale of how driven they are by business concerns. The recent TBEX conference in Toronto, with its rah-rah keynote speeches and panels on “Content Strategy” and “The Intersection of Marketing and Blogging,” made one thing clear: those waters are increasingly murky.

Nowhere was this more evident than the popular speed-dating sessions. Bloggers signed up for eight-minute sessions with 138 sponsors. At the end of each appointment, chimes sounded and a mellifluous female voice echoed across the sprawling convention hall: “It is now time to move to your next appointment.” With that, bloggers said their goodbyes and thank-yous and scrambled to get to their next potential sponsor.

Amid the scrum was Michelle Holmes, a travel blogger (wanderingoff.ca) and writer — her day job is as a parks manager in Toronto — who went on about 20 speed dates in all, which led to a handful of follow-up conversations with marketers and a couple of probable sponsored trips. It put her one step closer to her goal: “to be able to balance a work-slash-writing career without selling my soul.” The weekend, she said, amounted to a success.

Dan Saltzstein is an editor of the Travel section of The Times.