Monday, 6 April 2015

5 Years of Travel Blogging: Lessons Learnt

I can't quite believe it's now been 5 years since the Sunday night when I sat down, decided to start a blog and didn't stand up again until the first post was online. Of course, this impulsive decision is how I ended up with the name Tales of a Brit Abroad, but that's been remedied now. Back then I certainly didn't think I'd still be putting fingers to keyboard in five years' time; I wasn't even thinking beyond post number two.

So what's changed since then? On the face of it, little apart from my blog's name and design. Oh, and I don't try and embed photos within the text of the post. Not sure what that phase was about. But in the past five years of blogging and four years of living in Spain (not concurrently), I've learnt plenty about being a blogger and about being an expat.

But before we get down to my lessons learnt, I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has ever read this blog, shared a post, subscribed or commented. I do this for the love of writing and sharing my experiences with everyone in the hope that someone somewhere will find it useful, amusing or entertaining. I really appreciate all the support my readers have shown me since 2010, and I hope you keep returning to Oh hello, Spain for many years to come!

Then: Posing with Madrid monuments

Lessons learnt: Blogging

1) Consider your reader

When you read blogs, do you want a thousand-word waffle peppered with pictures or a post that gets to the point, with useful information or a carefully-considered idea? Yep, the latter. At the beginning I definitely tried to do too much; now I attempt to keep to the essentials. It's still easier with some topics than others, though. As a general rule, I find that posts that range from 500–700 words are the most successful. 

2) Aesthetics matter

Bright, well-lit photos of an interesting subject draw the eye in. Which means people stick around to read the words. When it comes to blogging, images are practically as important as the text. It took me a long time to grasp this one, and it's still a bit of a work in progress. Even if you don't have a swish DSLR camera, these days you can do a lot with a simple smartphone. I edit my Instagram images with free app Snapseed, and my blog photos with Picasa. Picmonkey's great for adding effects and making collages.
It's not just photos that count, though: design is key. Since I switched to a simple, clean blog design my readership has increased. If people see a cluttered page drowning in sidebar widgets and a dodgy font fighting through a coloured background, they're going to click away. I don't have the time or inclination to get involved with Wordpress at this stage in the game, so I purchased a blog template from Etsy. Minimal outlay, maximum result. If you do want to pimp up your posts or shake up your design with some DIY, this site is really helpful.

Now: Still posing with Madrid monuments

3) Do what you feel comfortable with

Some will tell you that you need a .com address to be successful, that you need to post weekly or even daily and that you need a presence on every social media channel going. I say do what works for you as long as you're (reasonably) consistent. I still haven't got round to buying that domain name, and although it definitely looks more professional, people read my blog regardless. It definitely helps to publish on the same days of the week or the month, as I found out when I was firing out two per week in the later months of 2014 (no idea how I managed that). Even if you can't commit to a regular post, I recommend scheduling your posts for certain days of the week rather than churning out a glut of entries when you have time on your hands. If one or two a month is all you have time for, that's fine if you're a hobby blogger. Just post regularly enough to keep people coming back.
In terms of social media, I think it's best to pick the two or three you feel most comfortable using and concentrating on content for those rather than spreading yourself too thinly. The ones I prefer are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The latter may not bring me that much traffic, but it's a way of connecting more regularly when I'm travelling – and it's fun. For the sceptics, hashtags do work – just keep them relevant.

4) It doesn't have to be personal

One thing that put me off blogging for a while was the idea that the general public would have a window onto my life. Well, it's as personal as you make it. Some feel comfortable sharing details of their family, work and relationships – and I enjoy reading posts by bloggers who do. When it comes to my own blog though, I prefer to keep it factual unless my personal experiences are really relevant, such as in the expat issues posts.

5) Blogging can bring you opportunities

I'm not talking about those offers of poor-quality sponsored posts that pile up in your inbox, but the chances to go places and meet people. Expat and travel bloggers don't get as many freebies and flashy invitations as their fashion and beauty counterparts, but I have had a few great writing opportunities through my blog, and I was recently invited to be on a panel at the Festival del Viaje y sus Culturas. When I wrote food blog Girl Eats Oxford, dining invitations came creeping in from restaurants, and I was honoured to be selected as a food correspondent for BBC Radio Oxford. Blogging can open doors you don't expect and allow you to have experiences you never imagined you would. For me, it's also been a way of making friends and meeting people: most notably, my Brit Abroad series of guest posts in 2010–2011 introduced me to Kim of Becoming Sevillana who is now a close friend, and I also have regular contact with other Spain bloggers, both online and in person.

Not so much a lesson, but something else I have learnt is that I don't want blogging and writing to be my main source of income. In the last five years, I've found a job I really enjoy and realised I like the challenges working for a large company can bring, as well as the structure and camaraderie of office life. Right now, writing is a hobby for me, but if it were to become something I depended on for finances, it may become less enjoyable. This is obviously a personal realisation, and I admire those who have the dedication and skills to turn their blogs into a business.

If you're an expat or soon-to-be year abroad student considering starting a blog, I would recommend going for it. It's a great way of sharing your adventures not just with your family and friends back home, but also with those in a similar position who can learn from your experiences. It's also a great record of your experiences for the future. Depending on who you imagine your audience to be, I'd also recommend you have a good think about your blog name before you start – learn from my mistake! This post may be helpful to new and would-be bloggers.

Thanks for reading over the past five years!


  1. Congrats on 5 years of travel blogging!

    I definitely concur that blogging can bring about unexpected opportunities. (I was a blogger at a summer camp once--it was a nifty job to snag in Palma de Mallorca.) I didn't know that you got to be a food correspondent for BBC Radio Oxford thanks to your blog--how cool! Here's to many more years of networking and opportunities :)

    1. Thanks Cassandra!
      What a brilliant opportunity - I visited Palma last week and loved it, lucky you! Blogging really does open doors.
      Yes, it was a great experience - a bit daunting to do live radio at first but I soon got used to it. Indeed! Hope to see you soon.

    2. Yes, I also hope we can get together soon! Things have been very hectic since March but I definitely want to catch up. I will be in touch within the next week or so to compare schedules!

  2. Congratulations on 5 years Kate - and your blog is beautiful!

    1. Thanks Katy - can't quite believe it! And thanks, I'm happy with the result :)

  3. Congrats on five years of blogging! As always, love your blog. It's been such a great resource for me, and I'm happy we've been able to connect through blogging! :)

    1. Ahh thanks Paige! Very glad to hear it and glad you find it useful. If you ever want to meet up in real life, just give me a shout!

  4. Love this post Kate - so true and well done for 5 years. I´m a hobby blogger too, but I love it. If you head over this way then let me know it´d be lovely to meet up for a coffee x (lascallesdebarcelona)

    1. Thanks Angela, glad you liked it! Same here - sometimes people are surprised I don't do it to make money, but for me that's not what it's about. I will do, that would be great!

  5. I just stumbled across your blog today and have been reading non-stop. I love the tips you have in here. I've been thinking about starting a blog too but was put off by the thought of it getting "too personal". It's great to see you find your balance

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Parker! Really glad to hear you enjoy reading my blog. If you're thinking of starting your own, I say go for it - it can be as personal as you make it. Good luck!


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