How to Become a Travel Blogger ft. LAKSHMI SHARATH
On the second episode of the Podcast Exploring Career Opportunities, OPJ converses with one of the top travel bloggers from India, Lakshmi Sharath who has travelled to 5 continents, 25 countries and many more to go.
Listen to the entire conversation below.
She is a multi-talented personality having a great experience in the field of travelling, travel vlogging, blogging, photography, story-telling and content creation.
She has worked in media houses for 15 years, launched radio stations like Mirchi and Big FM, produced TV shows, however, she never failed to dedicate time for her passion as well. Travelling and writing was something that fascinated her and eventually, she stepped in to make a career in it. And now, she has built her unique brand in this niche.
A Jill of many trades and genuinely, a master of all of them. Speaking about the achievements, her blog has won Indibloggies - India’s best travel blog of the year, she has been a brand ambassador for Marriott International, worked with more than 50 clients, tourism boards of Canada, Spain, Germany, Jordan, Poland, South Africa and Indian tourism boards of Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP and MP.
She has been a key influencer for brands like Make My Trip, Thomas Cook, Lufthansa, Jet Airways, Nokia Lumia, Nissan, Lenovo and the list keeps ongoing. Her articles and travel photographs have been published in popular newspapers, publications like The Hindu, National Geographic Traveller, Hindustan Times, Deccan Herald and many more. Her list of achievements keeps going as she has well established herself into this field.
Let’s have a look at the conversation.
While working with media houses and launching radio stations, how did you figure out your passion and how did your journey as a travel blogger begin?
Travelling is something I have always been interested about even as a child. My mom used to tell that I have wheels under my feet. I used to be curious about new places. Having grown up in a joint family, I would usually go on excursions and trips with my family and cousins.
Both of my late grandfathers were avid travellers. They used to tell us stories of forests, their encounters with wildlife and my father also took me on trips to Ooty, temple towns and many other places. I used to write essays about my travel trips and the food I had there during school days. So all these little-little things stay in my mind even today.
Media was one passion, and travel was another passion, but the passion for travel was more than that for media. I then took a sabbatical from my media career and went on travel, and I started my travel blog, consequently, writing articles and columns for The Hindu. So many things happened in a sequence, and then it became the journey of life.
Never did I think in my childhood or my twenties that I would make a career in it. I loved travelling and storytelling and I would tell the stories on different platforms be it blogs or columns or newspaper articles or social media. So it’s like these stories spurred me to travel or rather I travelled in search of stories.
What were the challenges that you faced initially when your journey as a travel blogger just began, and how did you tackle them?
I started blogging quite early in 2005. Nobody knew what it exactly was or how to make a career in it. It was like a group of like-minded people with similar interests coming together from across the world. We would interact with each other’s blogs via comments and share our stories. That time social media was hardly there as it is today. Only the blogs existed and even that only people who were very much passionate about it were doing.
When I started blogging, I was very much in media, like I was setting up radio stations for Mirchi and Big FM later, so I just blogged as a passion rather than a career. It was much later that blogs were getting popular as they are today.
Writing then on the Internet was like building my own brand on it, having my personal space but eventually, things moved very fast, and people realized the importance of content marketing, using stories to market their brand; influencers came up, and I call these influencers as story-tellers because they influence people and create strong narratives through their stories.
Whenever we read your blogs and articles we find them so fascinating, and the reason behind it is that you beautifully weave stories into your blogs which makes the content more fascinating, and that’s also your USP. So, how did this whole idea of integrating storytelling into blogging come?
For me, storytelling and blogging are not two different things. Storytelling is my forte, and it is an integral part of the way I write. I believe that stories resonate with people, stories sell, stories connect, and it is also said that stories release a certain amount of oxytocin, the happy hormone. I feel happy when I narrate stories, listen to stories and share them.
Stories are the best way to communicate, the best way to sell a narrative that even the brands are using storytelling technique to sell their products. Storytelling builds an emotional connect with people; there is humour; there are nostalgia and a lot of emotions. Moreover, as I love stories, storytelling comes naturally to me.
While making a career in travel writing, there arises a confusion of what differentiates travel blogging from travel writing or writing articles?
Travel blogging is like your own voice; it is your identity on the Internet, your portal to write stories of your experiences. Hence you can write in a casual style, it could be simple, and you have a lot of flexibility in the formats and write whatever you wish to write.
In travel writing, what happens is it is definitely writing of your experiences, but you also have to bring in a lot of objectivity. When you write for a publisher, you have to keep in mind their guidelines, their format and writing style. So you tend to keep their readers in mind when you write for them. I am not telling it is good or bad but I have listed out the differences on my blog “Why travel blogging is not just about travel writing?”
The fundamental difference between the two is that when you’re doing travel writing, you’re focus is on looking out for a publisher to get published but when you’re travel blogging, you are the publisher.
Travel blogging is something more than just writing. It is more of a business. You have to focus on who is your target audience, what content interests your target audience, and you have to market it accordingly. You have to think of it as an entrepreneur and not just a writer.
While travel writing for a publisher, you get a pitch of what their audience likes and write accordingly and leave. So these are two different careers.
I keep doing different workshops on travel writing, travel blogging, storytelling, content marketing, personal branding and a few more. People can tune in to my social media channels be it Instagram, Twitter, Youtube channel to know about it.
You have visited so many countries and continents and as you’re a vegetarian, so is the vegetarian food and Indian cuisine available at different corners of the world that you have visited? Or how do you manage with the food at different destinations?
There is no issue in finding vegetarian food anywhere in the world today. There are plenty of local cuisines having a vegetarian version of the food. A lot of people are turning vegan, so we do get a vegan version of the dishes at most of the places.
Indian cuisine has also become quite popular and is available all around the world. For instance, I was amazed to find Indian food served in the upscaled and high-end restaurants in Poland, and it was so crowded that I couldn’t find any vacant table there.
Another instance I remember is when I travelled to Japan. Somebody had recommended me a restaurant in Kyoto run by a Japanese and I thought it would be serving the vegetarian version of Japanese food. But I was surprised to find authentic Indian food cooked by a Japanese. I was fascinated that the kind of food he cooked was similar to the one my grandmother used to cook. I asked him how did he get the authentic taste of traditional South Indian food, and he said that he had visited Kerala and TamilNadu, stayed with the families there and learnt.
While I was in Sweden recently, they had a vegetarian Christmas feast constituting the local Swedish vegan food. So, you can very well find vegetarian food in most parts of the world.
How do you communicate with the natives of the various places you visit? Does the English language suffice or did you have to learn any foreign language to converse with the people there?
I have so far been able to manage with English, but I do think that if you’re planning to stay for a little longer in some these destinations, a little knowledge of European language helps. Even in Japan, a little bit of Japanese would help. But mostly English is enough to communicate with people.
However I remember my first Europe trip of many years back in time, when I was in the countryside of some of the towns that I visited, I found that a little knowledge of French or German or Spanish would have been of more help.
But these days there is Google and other tools that help you to communicate well in local languages. But yeah, you can pick up a few keywords, a few commonly used lines of the local language to help you better.
As you visit various places with different climatic conditions, what health measures do you take to keep yourself healthy and fit?
A lot of walking, ensuring that you don’t eat or drink too much, staying disciplined, slow travel where you’re not rushing, without having FOMO, taking it easy. You indeed have to take proper care of your health because travel can be demanding, you have to take long flights and schedule your sleep and exercises well. Take sufficient breaks and ensure that you eat at regular interval.
Any travel hack that you would like to share?
One of the travel hacks I usually follow is that I travel to a destination during the off-season or just before the primary season starts. So, I get a sense of the buzz that the season brings in, and I also get a lot of off-season rates, there are fewer tourists, and I get to spend a lot of time to spend at a particular place.
For example, if a season starts in September, I travel there in July or August. Also when you travel during the off-season, you get to experience a destination in a very different feel which is not possible during other times.
So far of all the places that you have visited which has been your favourite destination and why?
That’s a tough question indeed! Every destination is special in its own way. For instance, I had a great time in Laos and Vietnam last year. And Japan, it is my all-time favourite. I have been fascinated by Eastern Europe, the Balkans like Bulgaria also Croatia, Slovenia, even by the Nordic countries.
In India, I love all parts of India. I feel that one lifetime is never sufficient to explore India. Every time I visit my backyard, I fall in love with it. I love travelling in TamilNadu and Karnataka, the places where I live. I just like the diversity of India, the monuments. Every street in India tells a story, I love markets and like to meet people because people make stories. So it keeps changing and cannot pick one particular destination and say that I like it.
Please do elaborate on how can someone manage to stay financially stable and independent while making a career in travelling?
There will be a lot of brands willing to work with you in terms of offering a sponsored post or free trips, you can also look at running ads to affiliate marketing. You can also look at promoting yourself in various other works. Like if you are a good photographer, you can do some photography for your clients or if you’re good at designing or you have a good understanding of social media marketing, you can collaborate with brands.
You have to understand that post-COVID-19, regular channels of income have either stopped or will take a long time to come back. Having said that, this is also the best time for you to invest in yourself, in your content, in good marketing, invest in upgrading your skills, invest in building a very robust product. Instead of thinking about monetization at this time, your focus must be on these things. Monetization will happen when markets open up again, and opportunities will come your way.
Post-pandemic what will be the future of tourism and according to you what changes will this pandemic bring to the regular travel trips?
Domestic tourism will become more popular, people will become more sustainable and responsible tourists. People will start focusing on their backyard. I think there will be a lot more opportunities on promoting local talent, local guides, local brand ambassadors, local historians and local places to stay.
A lot of focus will be in your own region, and I feel people will like to do more of staycations, they would like to go and relax at places instead of just jumping around and ticking off things in bucket-list. I think travel will become a lot slower and mindful than it was before.
What would be your message to everyone out there, aspiring to be a successful travel blogger or a blogger in general?
I would say focus on your craft, focus on building a good product, from day one have a clear purpose and an intent, find your niche, upgrade your skills, don’t get worked up on monetization so more at this point of time, have a good understanding of who your target audience is and how will you market your content to them and what kind of business plan do you have and how long can you sustain.
This conversation sums up the criteria to become a successful travel blogger. You can find more about Lakshmi Sharath on her blog, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube channel.
A lot of opportunities are available out there, and we have to just focus on our forte, and try to match the opportunities available with our skills.
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