Dragon Slaying Lessons for Travel Bloggers


Are you running your business or is your business running you? Is your blog contributing real money to your earnings or does it seem destined to always be a sideline hobby?

Tim LeffelMost likely the answers to those two questions depend a whole lot on how much you get done each day when you open up that laptop. Do you use it to slay dragons or do you use it as your virtual water cooler?

“Slay your dragons first” is a common piece of productivity advice that applies across most jobs, but is especially key for anyone who is self-employed, like your typical travel blogger. It generally means to get your most important work of the day done in the morning before you do anything else, but if you’re at your most productive at night, then become a noctural dragon slayer instead, putting on your night vision goggles and seeking out signs of fire. The key is knowing which accomplishments have the most impact on your business and giving them priority over everything else.

A Velvet Rope To-Do List

In practice, this means having a to-do list, of course, but one that puts highly leveraged and high-impact tasks in a class of their own. Maybe there are 20 things you hope to get done tomorrow, but there are likely two on that list that will truly move your business forward. Meeting a freelance article deadline perhaps, or getting that guest post done you promised two weeks ago. Often it’s getting your latest blog post published and making sure it’s as good as it can be. Or perhaps it’s nailing down an ad agreement or following up with that promising contact you made at last week’s trade show. It could be a media interview where you’re the subject or one where you’re interviewing someone else to meet a freelance deadline.

In every case, the key one to three tasks per day that really matter are the ones that shouldn’t be postponed, delegated, or phoned in. Since we’re all content creators, there’s your first sign of importance: taking the time to create good content nearly always needs to be near the top of the list. Without income, your business whithers and dies, so tending the relationship with anyone who is paying you is also a high-impact, leveraged activity. Third, communicating with the people who allow you to get more done in a day is also an activity that creates tremendous leverage, so keep contacts with assistants and freelancers who may work for you in that high priority section as well. Last, there are long-term projects that require long-term focus over multiple days or weeks, such as books, presentations, partnership proposals, and feature articles. Carve out distraction-free time for those.

If the items on your list don’t fit into one of these four categories, they can probably slide. If your time is worth $40 an hour and you can hire someone else to do the same job for $8 an hour or less, it’s downright dumb to be spending time on those tasks. You can outsource nearly anything that meets this criteria, or at least postpone it to a less busy day. I’m not saying these things don’t have some marginal impact on your future, just that spending more than a fraction of your day on any of them is probably not a very good use of your time. It’s like using Excalibur to kill 20 rodents instead of going after the glory.

Are You Spending Time on Things That Matter?

Here are the questions to ask yourself for each item on your list that you want to get done tomorrow or this week.

  1. Is there a good chance it will earn me substantial revenue now or in the future?
  2. Will it help my relationship with someone who is paying me?
  3. Will it serve and grow my audience on a long-term basis?
  4. Will this promotion action send more than a smattering of visitors to my site?
  5. Will spending an hour on this accomplish any more than spending 10 minutes on it?
  6. Could I pay someone far less than I am earning (or deserve to earn) for this task?
  7. Is this something I’m doing because of a real business need rather than just because I think it’s fun?

Once you’ve applied these questions to your list and have your “yes” answer ones starred or circled, turn off anything that is going to interrupt your concentration so you can get real work done. Close e-mail. Close every social media platform. Turn off Skype. Turn off your phone. Those are sending you other peoples’ priorities and they can all wait.

Now do real work for two or three hours until you’ve really accomplished something substantial.

After that you can go visit that virtual water cooler, go for a walk, have a leisurely lunch, hit the gym, or go to happy hour. If you go knock some lesser things off your list, fine. But if you get nothing else done today besides these one to three key tasks, it’s not going to matter much. You’ve got a couple dragon heads to display and your business is moving forward.

Author Bio:  Tim Leffel is the publisher of Al Centro Media, a collection of six travel websites and blogs, including the Cheapest Destinations Blog (established 2003) and the award-wnning narrative site Perceptive Travel (established 2006). He’s also the author of five books. Tim will be discussing specific tactics for becoming a more productive blogger and writer at TBEX Europe 2014 in Athens.




TBEX: What’s That?


Ironically, the first time I heard about TBEX was just after it had wrapped up in my hometown of Toronto in June 2013. One of the bloggers I was following had attended and written about it. Although it would have been economical for me to attend, since it was in my own backyard, it was too early as I hadn’t yet launched my blog, BigTravelNut, a website about budget travel for women. It wasn’t until the second time that I heard about it , that I decided to seriously consider joining hundreds of other bloggers and travel industry professionals at TBEX.

In the fall of 2013, I was told by Mike Richard of Vagabondish that bloggers’ conferences are a good place to meet lots of people and find business opportunities – even relatively young bloggers (less than a year old) could snatch sponsored activities or trips through speed networking. Soon after, I subscribed to the TBEX newsletter. I looked forward to the announcement of a TBEX conference in 2014, and in early April I decided to lock in the super early bird price and booked myself a spot at TBEX Athens!

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Not only will this be my first TBEX conference, it will be my first bloggers’ conference.

Getting Ready – Plan and network

As the date draws nearer, there are many things for me to do to prepare for a travel blogging conference like TBEX. I’ve already designed new business cards for my blog. My next step is to put together a media kit (both online and in print).

This worries me a bit, as my numbers (from Google Analytics and social media) are not where I would like them to be. They are gradually and consistently inching up, but not fast enough. It is tempting to get discouraged when you see other bloggers’ numbers, but there is nothing I like more than travelling and writing so I have decided to take it as far as it can go!

I also plan to establish clear goals for the conference. This shouldn’t be too difficult: learn as much as possible about the business of blogging, meet new people, and try to establish a few partnerships with people in the travel industry. How often do you get dozens of representatives from travel companies and tourism boards all in one room? Even though you do “meet” a lot of people online through comments, e-mails and social media when you’re a blogger, nothing beats meeting people in person and establishing real relationships. I believe this is the quickest way of becoming known and being remembered: good ol’ fashion face-to-face meetings. Attending a conference also proves that you’re serious about your craft and can help distinguish you from the hobbyists.

Building Anticipation

I have already signed up for a pre-conference day-trip, Cultural and Culinary Sailing in the Saronic Sea. This will be my third time in one of the world’s oldest countries but attending the conference gives me reason to explore a new area of Greece I haven’t yet explored. Cape Sounio is high on my list.

I expect the conference itself to be exciting but exhausting. As an introvert, large crowds and noisy environments sap my energy, so I will need to make sure to get a lot of sleep and find a way to take quiet breaks every now and then to re-energize myself. I have heard many people say that they came out of TBEX buzzing with new ideas and renewed energy. I really hope this will be the push I need to take my blog to the next level, to create better articles, grow my traffic, and monetize.

Athens here I come!

Author Bio:  Marie-France Roy is a travel blogger, freelance writer , photographer, and member of Travel Massive (a TBEX partner). Her blog, BigTravelNut focuses on budget and independent travel for women. Since 1992, she has travelled to 55 countries and seven continents. She officially resides in Toronto, Canada, but now spends about six months of the year abroad. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Live from TBEX Cancun: #TravelSkills Chat


Are you a travel blogger or someone who dreams of being one?

If yes, then pop in on our “pop-up” #TravelSkills chat with @Gogo TOMORROW at 8 am CT (9 am ET).

Topic:  How to Live the Life of a travel blogger!

Chris and Johnny are live at the Travel Blog Exchange in Cancun this week with 500 of the best travel bloggers in the world! Chime in on the chat to gain inspiration and learn about how to get started as a travel blogger, how to grow your blog, dealing with travel burnout, find advertisers or other partners, and more!

We will be live from #TBEX so if you are attending TBEX Cancun, you’re invited to come to the Speed Networking/Expo Room (rooms B And C) where we will be having a Twitter party with breakfast and prizes!

Exploring the Parks of Cancun Mexico

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Apart from the white, sandy beaches and turquoise waters of the Hotel Zone in Cancun, what could you possibly want to do in your down time? If you plan on spending any length of time in the city, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the local haunts, and there’s no better way to do that than by exploring the parks of the mainland.

When most people hear “parks in Cancun”, their instant reaction is the theme parks that line the highway south of the city along the way to Tulum: Xcaret, Xplor and the like. And while those Disneylandesque attractions certainly have their appeal, the city parks and plazas are what bring the Mexican culture to life in the downtown district. It’s at these local hotspots where the culture truly comes alive and gives you a chance to explore the festive nature of the Mexican people.

Most of the parks are fairly empty during the daytime hours. You’ll find the random few hanging out underneath the shade trees during the heat of the afternoon, or passing through on their way to work, but if you really want to see what’s going on you have to come after the sun goes down. Especially on the weekends.

Mexico is still a mostly cash-based society, which is why the local parks continue to thrive as they do. This isn’t an X-Box or Playstation culture; rather, families still spend their free time going out and doing things, spending their hard-earned cash on activities for the kids and the carnival-like atmosphere that springs into place once nightfall comes and the temperature cools down.

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Parque Las Palapas is the main park in the heart of downtown Cancun, also known as the zocalo. It’s also the busiest, and during the daytime hours the food stalls stay open with antojitos for any random person passing by. On weeknights it’s the same, but Friday, Saturday and Sunday is when you want to be here, because that’s when it transforms into a carnival of food vendors, local artists and performers and beyond.

From local bands and school groups on the main stage, to the Mayan vendors selling clothing in the wheeled-carts on the outskirts, to the ice-cream vendors, the children’s playground, the mimes and clowns and beyond, there is always something to see here. And during official festival days, like Independence Day and Mother’s Day or Halloween/Day of the Dead and the like, the zocalo is shoulder-to-shoulder packed with local families.



Just around the corner past the church is the Parque del Artesano, or Hippy Park to the locals. It’s a mostly dreadlock-and-patchouli crowd that make up the vendors here, but if you are into hand-crafted clothing, pipes, incense or street piercings and tattoos and recreational, under-the-table stuff, this is the place you want to come.

Slightly down from there is the Parque Bohemia, also known as the Salsa Park due to the fact that every Sunday there is a gathering of salsa enthusiasts who take up around the gazebo and spend the evening hours dancing away. During the weekday afternoons and evenings you’ll also find local students using the park as one of the primary practicing areas for their own dance presentations.

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If the market scene isn’t to your liking and you just want to get away from it all and kick back with nature for a few hours, the Parque Urbano Kabah is across the street from Costco. With outdoor exercise equipment as well as jogging and walking paths plus plenty of local flora and fauna, you can get a taste of nature even within the city landscape. Bear in mind that the park is only open from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m., and there aren’t any vendors inside, so bring plenty of water or a pack lunch if you want to have a picnic or spend more than a couple of hours wandering around.

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There are dozens of other parks spread throughout the overall urban sprawl that makes up Cancun, such as the Jardin del Arte and the Parque Folklorico just south of Las Palapas, and most of them share the same aspects of the Parque Las Palapas in the sense that during the daytime hours not much is going on, but at night they transform into open markets and carnivals with activities for the kids and numerous street vendors.

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The big difference you’ll note between here and many other countries of the world is that the Mexican culture is all about getting out of the house in the evening hours and enjoying  festivities with friends and families, not staying indoors and logged into the Internet or a console game. Cristina can tell you that if there’s one thing Mexicans enjoy more than anything else, it’s beers and festivals at the local park, any chance they get.

If you really want to blend in and experience Cancun the way the locals do, you’ll be spending most of your downtime at the parks of the city as opposed to some random nightclub. The real culture is here.

Passports With Purpose: Helping out in Honduras thanks to TBEX

Honduras carrots SHI

Bloggers and travel brands:  Have you ever wondered how you can use your social media platforms to give back?

The TBEX team knows. Their ongoing generous support of the travel blogger’s fundraiser Passports With Purpose has helped us to reach hundreds of bloggers and brands over the past four years.

We call ourselves the travel bloggers’ fundraiser for a reason – each year members of the online travel community come together and donate prizes that we raffle off in $10 increments over a two-week period in December. The entire fundraiser takes place online – in the halls of Twitter, the corridors of Facebook, and of course on the blogs of our supporters.

Each year since 2008 the board of Passports With Purpose has chosen a different global charity project to fund. We’ve helped build a school in Cambodia, libraries in Zambia, wells in Haiti, and a village in India among other projects.

This year all donations will go to Sustainable Harvest International, an organization that has worked in Latin American since 1997 to help families grow their own food in ways that don’t further degrade the fragile tropical ecosystems there.

For every $5,000 that we raise, Sustainable Harvest can help one family in Honduras for five years. And because their approach is designed to be long-term, this hopefully means the benefits of their work will last for generations to come.

The board of Passports With Purpose took a slightly different approach when choosing our charity this year. We went out to our past participating bloggers and asked what they thought of our top three choices. Their endorsement of helping out in Central America was overwhelming. And Honduras needs aid now more than ever – not only is it one of the poorest countries in the region, it has the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s highest murder rate per capita according to Reuters and the United Nations.

So it’s especially exciting to us that TBEX North America is taking place so close to the country we will be raising money to help. Better still: The conference is featuring a session on blogging in Latin America. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to learn right from the bloggers themselves what it’s like to live and travel in this part of the world.

We’re also looking forward to sharing our message with all of the TBEX attendees. We need you – all of you! – to participate and make our fundraiser a success.

Thanks to TBEX’s generous sponsorship Passports With Purpose will have representatives in both Cancun and TBEX Europe in Athens. Our social media coordinator Jessica Glynn of the website The Gap Year Guru will be in Greece and I’ll be in Mexico. Interested bloggers and sponsors can come and meet us at our table during the speed dating sessions.

Whether you’ve participated in Passports With Purpose in the past or are a complete newbie, we hope you’ll stop by, say hi, and find out just what you can do to make a difference in Honduras with your blog and Twitter handle this year.

(Not attending TBEX? You can still help. Learn more at passportswithpurpose.org.)

Author Bio: Mara Gorman has participated in Passports With Purpose as a blogger since 2008 and has served on the board since 2013. She is also the founder of the blog The Mother of all Trips and the annual #backtoski online campaign. She is speaking in the panel “Pay to Play: Crafting Compelling Campaigns” from 12:00-1:00 pm on Saturday, September 13.



7 Phrases That Make Me Ignore Your Guest Post Query


This post about guest post mistakes was previously published on the NMX blog, but I wanted to share it here as well, since travel bloggers aren’t immune to HORRIBLE guest post inquiries!!!

Doesn’t it just make you cringe when you see a subject line in your email inbox about a guest post?

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No, don’t get me wrong. I love guest posts. The world of guest posting might be changing, but here on the TBEX blog and on the NMX blog, we’re guest-post-friendly! But the problem is that 9 out of 10 people who send me queries about guests posts are unoriginal and off target. What can I expect from a guest post if you can’t even write a 100-word email properly?

I do try to reply to everyone, even these poorly-written emails, but there are only so many hours in a day. So, if I don’t reply to your guest post query, it probably included one of the following phrases and made me wrinkle my nose. Don’t make these guest post mistakes in your next email!

“Our writers will create…”

If you’re not the person who will be creating the guest post, I probably don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to your writer. Now, occasionally, I do work with agencies and others who relay information to a writer, but most of the time, people who email me regarding what their writers will do submit horrible posts from a team of “writers” (I hesitate to even call them that) who clearly do not have a grasp on the English language.

For a guest post to be beneficial to me, it has to be your BEST work. Your best work. If you’ve hired a team of writers to create 100 guests posts a week, I’m not going to get something high-quality from you.

“We are offering this to you free of charge…”

I didn’t come to you asking you to post on this blog. You came to me. Noting that what you’re offering is free sounds extremely arrogant, almost like you expect me to say, “No, no. Let me pay for it.” If you approach me, you aren’t doing me a favor by guest posting. I’m doing you a favor by giving you access to my audience.

Some blogs paid for guest posts, but it’s our philosophy that guest posts are freely traded in exchange for promotion. If you think you deserve to get paid, apply for a freelancing job or find a blog that pays guest posts. No hard feelings. We all gotta eat.

“All we ask is…”

If you’re asking me for a guest post spot, please don’t make demands. That’s like asking a neighbor to feed your fish while you’re out of town and then saying, “In return for getting to feed my fish for a week, all I ask is that you also clean his tank.” Yes, I know that there are benefits to having guest posts on my blog. But you are approaching me. You don’t get to make demands.

Furthermore, we have rules. If you cared enough to read my guidelines, you’d know that. Most of the time, what the person is asking for breaks the rules. No es bueno.

“Please reply in…”

I receive this “threat” all the time. If I don’t reply in x number of days, then they’re taking their ball and going home.

Listen. I’m a busy gal. I try my best to respond to all guest post queries in a week. If I don’t respond to you, by all means, follow up with me, and note that if you don’t hear from me you’ll be pursuing other opportunities with the proposed guest post. But giving me a deadline in your initial email when you have no idea about my schedule is just rude. I almost certainly won’t reply if you make a demand like that. It just tells me that working with you will be too stressful, and I hate stress.

“Let me know what you’d like me to write about…”

I have no idea what you’re an expert on. The biggest advantage of having you guest post is that you’ll provide insight into a topic that I haven’t covered (or perhaps don’t have the skills to cover). If you don’t know what you want to write for your guest post, it tells me know of two things:

  1. You aren’t really an expert on anything in this niche.
  2. You haven’t reviewed the blog at all to see what kind of content we publish.

Usually both. If you’re pitching me on a guest post, PITCH ME on a guest post. Don’t half-heartedly ask if you can write something for me and then expect me to tell you what you are capable of writing.

“…high-quality, well-researched article…”

First of all, they are blog posts, not articles. Second of all, if you have to say something is high-quality and well-researched, it usually isn’t. The vast majority of the emails I get regarding guest posts include this phrase (or something very similar) and it is always a red flag for me. It’s the biggest of the guest post mistakes, in my opinion!

“Dear sir/madam…”

This is ridiculous, but I get it all the time. If you can’t be bothered to find my name, am I really going to believe that you read through the blog to see what kind of content I publish? Half the guest post queries I get don’t even know if I’m male or female. Come on, people.

Beyond telling me that you didn’t care enough to read my past posts, it also tells me that you’re taking the “spray and pray” technique to this whole guest blogging thing. Which means you are probably writing crappy, quick posts for everyone and maybe even “spinning” low-quality copy to take one piece of content and create dozens of versions, each worse and more generic than the last.

So those are my seven most hated guest post email phrases. What would you add to the list?

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