Thou shall not gloat
It’s not nice when a tweet or Facebook post appears on my timeline with a beautiful view and a smug exclamation proclaiming: “While you are sitting at your desk, I’m gazing at this total #amazeballs view!” Yeah, we get it; you’re lucky and you get to travel for a living. To amazing places. For free. No need to rub it in. Your readers are already crying about their shitty office jobs into their instant Ricoffee, while you get to savour the best coffee beans, passed through the bowels of a civet cat in an Indonesian jungle. And live tweet about it.
Thou shall not be a freebie whore
Yes, we know that you use your blog to fund your travels. I do it and there is nothing wrong with it. We’re not Condé Nast Traveller. But you need to ask yourself, is that helicopter flip, followed by a $1 000 stay in a luxury suite really relevant to your readers? When I feature luxury properties on my blog, (and I do quite regularly) I always ask myself: Is this relevant to my readers? Is this a “someday when I’m big” destination, opposed to a “someday when I win the lotto” destination? Unless you know the Motsepes, the Ruperts and their kin are part of your regular audience, rather say no. You aren’t being fair to your readers or your hosts.
Thou shall not make false promises
People waste time and productive man hours so they can read your blog. It’s your duty to reward them with great content and not mislead them with dodgy, clickbait headlines. I always feel a little bit cheated if I click on a link, only to be confronted with boring copy that has nothing to do with the headline.
Thou shall not steal
Plagiarism is not nice. When I write a story or share my ideas with someone, I do not appreciate it when I see it a few months later in somebody else’s story. That goes for press releases as well, kids. I have written pressers for freelance work and it really irks me when the content that I’ve gathered gets published under another journalist or blogger’s name. Obviously I can’t say anything, because the client is only glad to get the exposure. I’m not asking for a byline. Just don’t put your name to something if you didn’t create it.
Thou shall stay away from clichés
If I read about a ‘breathtaking view’ one more time, I’m developing a nervous twitch. The worst is “literary, a breathtaking view”. Did you gasp for breath, clutch at your throat and did someone wheel in an oxygen tank? Does your blog post have a disclaimer for asthma sufferers? The same goes for the good ol’ “bustling, colourful markets” and “friendly locals”. I’ve been guilty of a few myself. The thing about clichés is that it kills good, original writing. It’s what lazy writers reach for. Invest in a thesaurus. Read the greats, like AA Gill, PJ O’ Rourke and Paul Theroux and prepare to have your vocabulary expanded.
Thou shall be original
Yes we all know Victoria Falls is “the smoke that thunders”, Reykjavik and greater Iceland is the land of “fire and ice” and most tropical Indian Ocean islands have “azure waters, fringed by powder white beaches and palm trees swaying lazily in the sea breeze.” If I want to read brochure copy, I’ll go down to my local travel agent and pick one up. The thing is, I’m a child of the internet. I’ve got a short attention span. You’ve got a hundred words to draw me in and amaze me with your writing skills. Or else it’s off to be amazed by the next time waster. (Ooh, is that a farting panda?)
Thou shall share the love
I had to make the transition from newspaper journalist and editor to blogger and it was scary. I had no idea what SEO, plug-ins, unique visitors or any of that blogging jargon were. I was a luddite and a dinosaur. By the looks of my comments, I’m quite popular with the purveyors of fine counterfeit goods. (Air Jordan sneakers, anyone?) However, there were some great people that was willing to help me out, even though they didn’t know me from a of loaf bread. Dawn Jorgensen, from the Incidental Tourist, Di Brown from Roaming Giraffe and Kate Els from IndiKate gave me invaluable advice. It’s good karma, returned in tweets, mentions and follows. I always make sure I pay it forward to newbies in the blogosphere, especially if they have great content. And share anything if I find it relevant and entertaining.
Thou shall update regularly
I get a bit miffed when I start following a blog, get into the whole vibe, only for the author to get bored after a while and post sporadically. Updating your blog regularly not only ensures a steady flow of visitors to your blog, (which translates to higher unique visitor rate, yay!) it also tells me the author of the blog cares about his followers to supply them with decent, regular content. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. The same goes with your Facebook, Twitter and blog posts. If I don’t see you on my timeline, you don’t exist.
Thou shall take care with spelling, grammar and fact checking
I get it. We’re not all sub editors, nor do we have the luxury of a word whizz to copy edit our posts. It terrified me the first time I published a blog post that hasn’t been massaged by a sub or copy editor. That’s why I’m always a bit sympathetic when I spot a lone typo or a misplaced ‘was’ where ‘were’ should have been. I’ve been “exited” to visit a new destination. The thing is, I can spot sloppy writing. I get upset when people misspell the names of a destination or person. I cringe when people call a leopard a cheetah and vice versa. Double check your facts and run your copy through a spell checker. You don’t want a grammar Nazi troll questioning your intelligence in the comments section.
Thou shall write a blog post, not a high school English essay
I’ve read content by both journalists and travel bloggers that remind me of my high school “What I did last summer” essay. I don’t want a “dear diary” entry that tells me where you stayed, what you ate and drank, how much you looked forward to this trip and how lucky you were to experience this amazing destination. I want to know what it smelt like, the exact colour of the ocean (not azure blue) and why exactly I should fork out my savings money to come and experience what you did. If I read a blog with the intro: “I received an invite to go and review John Doe’s Seaside Village and I was so excited,” my eyes glaze over. On to the farting panda.
Carla Lewis-Balden is a former lifestyle features editor and staff writer at Media24 turned freelance travel writer. She’s the editor of reismier.com, a travel blog geared towards the Afrikaans market. Every time she reads about something ‘breathtaking’ she develops a nervous twitch. You can also catch up with her on Twitter by following @DieReismier.