World Hum’s 2009 Travelers of the Year: Travel Bloggers

Speaker's Corner: Yes, travel bloggers. Here's why they deserve our second-annual award.

12.28.09 | 10:58 AM ET

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When we surveyed the world of immersive travel last year, one person stood out for calling attention to the joy and power of travel: Matt Harding, creator of the beloved YouTube sensation, Where the Hell is Matt? So last December, we named him our first-ever World Hum Traveler of the Year.

This year, we haven’t been quite so moved by a video. No single person or piece of travel writing has captivated us in the same way. But we noticed a different kind of phenomenon taking shape in 2009: the rise of travel bloggers.

Sure, travel bloggers—like travel blogs—have been around for years. But this year, travel bloggers began organizing in new and increasingly prominent ways—and as never before, they were treated to many of the same perks (and some of the same scrutiny) as traditional big media travel journalists.

Travel bloggers were in the spotlight at major new media conferences—both at BlogWorldExpo in Las Vegas, where they convened a panel, and at SXSW Interactive in Austin, where Sheila Scarborough and Pam Mandel drew a standing-room-only crowd. Travel bloggers also saw the rise of a conference devoted entirely to their work: TBEX, short for Travel Blog Exchange, held in Chicago in July. Kim Mance and Debbie Dubrow presided over a group of more than 120 bloggers, whose energy and passion for travel was hard to contain in one room. (Next year, TBEX will expand to two days in New York City; World Hum will participate.)

Perhaps the most intriguing development of this past year, however, was the growth of fam trips, or press trips, aimed exclusively at travel bloggers and prominent travel Tweeters. Not long ago, these trips, in which the bulk of expenses are covered by tourism boards, airlines and travel companies, were offered almost exclusively to magazine and newspaper travel writers who were on assignment for big-name publications. No longer.

Travel bloggers and Tweeters this year lounged on Hawaiian beaches, traipsed across the Lido deck of cruise ships and explored Mexican villages at others’ expense like never before—experiences they chronicled on blogs and in Tweets. The trips revived old debates about the ethics of traveling at the expense of a travel operator—only now, not surprisingly, the arguments raged in new kinds of media and forums, including Twitter.

These debates highlight another notable development: the injection of many new and passionate voices into the world of travel storytelling. As much-loved publications fall by the wayside and change hands, travel bloggers are experimenting with publishing models and using rising technologies to push the boundaries of travel storytelling.

Finally, in 2009, travel bloggers gave back as never before. Passports with Purpose founders (and travel bloggers) Beth Whitman, Michelle Duffy, Mandel and Dubrow, who raised roughly $7,500 for Heifer International last year, this year generated more then $26,000 in donations for the construction of a school in Cambodia. Many of their contributors were other travel bloggers.

Conference panels, junkets, ethical debates, passionate storytelling, epic journeys, philanthropic efforts—for all of these reasons, we tip our hats to travel bloggers this year.

31 Comments for World Hum’s 2009 Travelers of the Year: Travel Bloggers

Trisha Miller 12.28.09 | 1:32 PM ET

Travel blogging is definitely a high-growth industry right now, one that requires little in the way of cost or technical skills to get started. I’m happy to see it, because I believe that travel bloggers - as a group - can do more to inspire travel and rejuvenate tourism than Matt Harding ever dreamed of when he set off with his video camera to dance around the world.  Go travel bloggers!

Caitlin 12.28.09 | 1:46 PM ET

Didn’t Where the Hell is Matt? turn out to be a hoax?

But yes, yay for travel bloggers!

Andrew 12.28.09 | 2:22 PM ET

Travel blogging has definitely blow up over the last 12 months. I had been doing a blog for a few years that I basically used a tool to showcase my trips to family and friends. Earlier this year I decided to put some work into it, purchase a url name and use

In March I debuted and within just a few weeks had many daily readers, interactions with travel experts and was even getting those aforementioned press trips. By year’s end I was even offered a full-time gig because someone saw my blog and thought I could contribute to their company. I am looking forward to what 2010 holds for travel bloggers. Thanks for writing this great piece.


soultravelers3 12.28.09 | 2:28 PM ET

Perfect choice!

I’ve been amazed at how many new travel blogs ( & the related digital nomad/lifestyle design/location independent blogs) have launched this year! Wonderful to see so many people passionate about travel and how it can enrich us all!

Hip hip hurray for all travel bloggers!

Karen Bryan 12.28.09 | 2:35 PM ET

Yes travel blogs seem to have finally gone mainstream in the UK too. I’ve been on six press trips to Europe this year and had a regional airline sponsor a UK Blog Tour. I’ve given up my day job to focus on editing two European travel blogs.and ad revenue is increasing.

Don’t think it’s an overnight success though, I’ve been plugging away in online travel content since 2002, creating the Europe a la Carte Blog in October 2006.

jamie 12.28.09 | 2:40 PM ET

@Caitlin I think the hoax was that a rumor circulated saying it was a hoax.  Sort of a faux hoax.

Dave 12.28.09 | 2:49 PM ET

Great choice (says this travel blogger).  And I think 2009 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Go backpacking and you’re bound to meet normal people from a variety of countries doing extraordinary things, as though there’s no other way to live life.  I met so many people on my trip around the world from late 07 to mid 09 who were surprised to learn you can make money with a travel blog.  I think they’d be equally surprised to find out how inspiring their stories can be for those people who aren’t in a position to travel like them.

The word is just now starting to get out about what is possible with a travel blog, and as Trisha said, for very little cost.

While for many people, keeping a travel blog is about sharing their experiences, I think in 2010 we’re going to see more and more people try to leverage that effort into something more, whether a side income, full time job (like Nomadic Matt), or platform to get their writing seen by a larger audience.

Robin Locker 12.28.09 | 2:51 PM ET

Congrats to ALL travel bloggers!  Great job and well deserved.

Jim Benning 12.28.09 | 2:55 PM ET

Indeed, Matt Harding was legit, Caitlin.

Trisha, Dave, Karen, Andrew, Soultravelers3: Glad you liked our pick. I agree: 2010 holds great promise for travel blogging, both in terms of storytelling and new business models. It’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out in the coming year.

Mike 12.28.09 | 3:09 PM ET

I wonder if travel bloggers will eventually will plucked by big media companies and used to push their own products. Travel Channel is dropping the ball in my opinion, as I believe one big travel site with 5 or 6 bloggers would make for a hell of a site.

Happytimeblog 12.28.09 | 3:16 PM ET

I think we will see more and more travel bloggers breaking through as respected travel experts, it’s been almost ignored for a long long time but the travel blog is by far the best medium for travel related news. It can be instant and head up with breaking news, they have a community (so your not just restricted to one spoilt journalists views) and they can be fun. I’m a travel blogger and the whole reason I started was because I used to read other travel blogs while planning trips… They presented me with so much more information and accessible ideas than any guide book AND I had the luxury of being able to interact with the writer. The futures bright… The futures travel blogs!

Caitlin 12.28.09 | 3:32 PM ET

Ah it was a pseudo-hoax. Bizarre.‘Where+The+Hell+is+Matt?’+Pseudo-Hoax+Says+About+Us

I agree with whoever said blogs with 5-6 people are a great future model. Anyone want to team up with me?

Amaya 12.28.09 | 4:25 PM ET

It’s inspiring to know that blogging can evolve into something more than just a way to stay in contact. While biking through Africa I began blogging for family and friends.  It’s only very recently that I realized there’s a huge market eager for adventure tales and advice from real travelers on the road.

Sheila Scarborough 12.28.09 | 4:33 PM ET

Thanks very much for the note about the SXSWi (South by Southwest Interactive) travel blogging panel that Pam Mandel and I did; it was a gas to see a packed room and to know that even more people were watching the livestreaming by Todd Lucier (using Qik on his iPhone) and the live-tweeting by Shannon Hurst Lane and others in the room.

When I launched my first blog in February 2006, it was a “doodle pad” compared to the “serious” work of pitching print travel publications. Now, although I still write for print (hey, they pay well!) I would much rather blog for a publication.  When I’m published, the first thing I wait for is not the print copy in the mail, but the online version so that I can link to it and spread it across the Web.  The dead-tree one will go into a recycle bin, but the Web is forever.

I was bummed to miss the travel panels at BlogWorld Expo, but am looking forward to the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) travel blogger’s conference in New York in late June 2010. Come join us!

Gary Arndt 12.28.09 | 5:05 PM ET

This reminds me of Time Magazine picking “You” as the person of the year.

Hal 12.28.09 | 6:47 PM ET

“Travel bloggers and Tweeters this year lounged on Hawaiian beaches, traipsed across the Lido deck of cruise ships and explored Mexican villages at others’ expense like never before—experiences they chronicled on blogs and in Tweets. The trips revived old debates about the ethics of traveling at the expense of a travel operator—only now, not surprisingly, the arguments raged in new kinds of media and forums, including Twitter.”

Also known as biting hard on the hand that feeds you, or throwing a stone from a glass house, or even the pot calling the kettle black as far as hating on travel writers for having all those Horrible Expense-Paid Press Trips but leaping instantly to go when they came up with bloggers-only trips.

Keith 12.28.09 | 8:16 PM ET

@Dave: agree about 2010 being big for travel bloggers parlaying their work into new opportunities.

While there are oodles of travel blogs out there, the group of people dedicating themselves to traveling the world and blogging seems to be comparatively small.

Rachelle 12.28.09 | 9:48 PM ET

It’s also been really interesting this year to see how Twitter has changed travel.  I’ve tweeted my way through 5 trips this year and not only had the opportunity to share my experiences and photos in “real time” but also received awesome advice from other tweeters on where to go and what to see.  It will be very interesting to watch social media continue to evolve and change the way we see the World.

aka @Travelblggr

custom desk 12.29.09 | 2:48 AM ET

It seems that travel blogging is a nice way to make money while you are enjoying the place! It is a fast growing industry and I know some travel bloggers that earns a lot while traveling.

lara dunston 12.29.09 | 5:18 AM ET

Great piece! It’s going to be very interesting to see where things go in 2010.

I started as a guidebook author so wouldn’t call myself a “traditional big media travel journalist” even though most of my income in 2009 came from magazines, then guidebooks, digital content, and lastly newspapers. But nor would I call myself a ‘travel blogger’, although I’ve blogged for years, both on my personal travel blog, and as a paid blogger for a couple of years for lifestyle/shopping site ‘Charles and Marie’, and periodically for Viator’s blog.

I prefer to think of myself as a travel writer who writes/blogs across many media forms, and I think increasingly the boundaries are blurring so that more traditional journalists are blogging and more bloggers are doing pieces for traditional mediums, such as magazines (eg. Budget Travel). It’s also been fascinating to see how many blog projects there are at the moment which aspire to ultimately form the content of a book.

The issue of ethics has indeed surfaced a lot this year, and I reckon we’re going to see it continue to do so in 2010 as travel blogging increasingly evolves from a hobby into a ‘profession’, where travel bloggers are earning the majority of their income from blogging, giving up day jobs, and increasingly participating in traditional travel media industry activities, such as press trips.

What I’m most interested in seeing is how the travel writing/blogging community reacts to my and husband/partner Terence Carter’s announcement in a few days: we’re entering into a year-long contract that’s more stable than any our guidebook publishers have ever provided, and embarking on a full-time project with a client of a kind that I don’t think has been attempted before… I think it will get a lot of travel companies thinking about the unique opportunities, potential relationships and wealth of possibilities out there, and I’m hoping it opens lots of doors and lights go on, not just for ourselves, but for all the bloggers/writers out there looking for new models of working now that many of the old ones have dissolved.

The blog won’t go live until January 1st, but here’s the URL, where all will be revealed in a few days:

Happy New Year everyone!

(P.S. sorry for the novel!)

Leigh Shulman 12.29.09 | 11:42 AM ET

I agree. This is the perfect choice. Pam, Debbie, Michelle and Beth pulled together all the resources and capabilities of social media and the travel blog community in the most wonderful way.

Definitely something I think about when thinking of future projects.

Congratulations to PwP, and I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

Leigh Shulman 12.29.09 | 11:45 AM ET

Oh, and @caitlin. I love the idea of compound blogging, and for some silly reason I’m happy Matt Harding isn’t a hoax. That would really take the jam out of my donut!

brian 12.29.09 | 12:48 PM ET

Travel blogging will become more and more important as the information becomes more and more scattered. Just like other news and commentary, there is no central place for reliable and timely travel info and I think travel bloggers will fill in that gap nicely.

Lis Carpenter 12.29.09 | 1:35 PM ET

If I had to choose a job, travel blogging would be it.
People have to invent ways to get out of their ruts.
People are using the bad economy as an excuse
to get off their butts and do what they’ve always
wanted to do. I know I am.

Craig Guillot 12.29.09 | 3:27 PM ET

As the traditional media downsizes and changes its business model, I also think more travel journalists will also move to independent blogs. As for being a reader, I think many solo blogs have the capabilities to offer more detailed and diverse stories than you’ll find on sites run by big media companies.

Nancy D. Brown 12.29.09 | 8:01 PM ET

Agreed World Hum; 2009 goes down as the Year of the Travel Blogger.

It was wonderful meeting fellow travel bloggers, including World Hum’s Michael Yessis, at TBEX in Chicago. I had the pleasure of moderating and speaking on a travel panel at BlogHer09 in Chicago the day prior to TBEX. Hard to believe that BlogHer didn’t have a travel track until this year.

As a print journalist and blogger, I am pleased to see the travel blogging industry gaining credibility.
Thanks, World Hum, for the shout out to Travel Bloggers.

Meg Keough 12.29.09 | 8:20 PM ET

Hurray for Travel Bloggers!

One of the most interesting things was watching journalists moving from salaried or steady positions in mainstream media to blogs (as their employers cut them loose) and bloggers moving into mainstream media with online content.  While it is a big change for some, I think the audience of both will benefit. As the “blogger” model allows for on the road content and real time feedback, I think people used to reading the sunday travel section will get much more excited about destinations.

Here’s to making 2010 the year of travel!

pam 12.29.09 | 10:55 PM ET

I’m still kind of swooning over this. Thanks, WH, for the shout out. And yeah, what a shift in the landscape, eh?

I enjoy the way travelbloggers have taken the spotlight and I love love love the community, see also: Passports with Purpose was awesome this year!

But ultimately, what I love is good writing (and photography) about travel. It’s awesome that many fine writers—so many of my favorites I’ve found via World Hum—have carved out their own space for stories in this collapsing market for travel writing. Here’s to great stories about travel being the currency for our continued collective success.

Mary Ann Grisham 12.30.09 | 12:36 AM ET

Thank you, World Hum, for a great article, and congratulations to all the travel bloggers in 2009.  While we all have different interests and angles, and different levels of expertise, the common thread that ties us all together is that we are passionate about sharing travel experiences. 

I agree with Tricia that travel bloggers can rejuvenate tourism, and inspire people to travel more.  I hope at the same time we’re encouraging travelers to learn more about different cultures and promote tolerance, and appreciation of those differences. 

I greatly admire what Pam, Debbie, Beth & Michelle have done with PWP, to use their technology skills, audience, and reach to raise money for some of the most underprivleged. 

And hats off to Kim, Debbie and Shanna for organizing TBEX09, and looking foward to TBEX10.  The mood in the room that day was effervescent, especially for me, as a newbie blogger.  I’ve been working in the travel industry for the past 25 years, with lots of great content & ideas, but just started my blog a year ago, and have much to learn on the tech and business side.  That venue was a perfect opportunity for me to network & learn. 

I am also so very touched by how generous all of you have been to offer advice and share your wisdom and experience.  Trisha, I think I’m “Suzy’s” new best friend.

The impact of Twitter on travel bloggers cannot be overstated.  Twitter has expanded our reach and created community that was unimaginable to me only a year ago.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year….filled with travel!!

Claire Walter 01.02.10 | 6:25 PM ET

One thing we travel bloggers can do for each other is visit each others’ blogs now and then, write a comment and even click on an ad now and then. Right now, I am going to and will visit those blogs I can ID as travel blogs, and if I have something pertinent to add, I’ll do that too.

My travel blog is at

Happy traveling, blogging New Year to all.

Devin 01.07.10 | 2:07 AM ET

Hi all,

For me, travel blogging has always been a labor of love of cultural exchange, personal education and sharing that it is okay for you to experience the same. I know that sounds ridiculously lofty, but it has always been at the core of what I am doing—even if it is at three a.m. It has never been a career endeavor, but I have a wild amount of perks over the last several years. It is nice to know some folks are doing well with travel and the Internet

My blog
and newly launched

Best of luck to all.

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