Travel bloggers and travel writers The charm of dog-ears

Biesalski - Lebe deinen Reisetraum
Biesalski - Lebe deinen Reisetraum | Photo (detail): © Conni Biesalski

Travel blogs have become increasingly popular, but what differentiates them from a traditional travel book? What do they have in common? To find out, we talked with two charismatic travel authors: publishing house founder and travel writer Stefan Loose and travel blogger Conni Biesalski.

In 1978, Stefan Loose and his wife Renate opened their own alternative publishing house for globetrotters. Their first edition was called the Southeast Asian Manual. “Trips to Asia were still something very adventurous back then,” recalls Loose. “It was really hard to get solid information about faraway destinations.” An author at the time was hunter, gatherer and pioneer. For Loose, the early days of his travel guides in the 1970s and 80s was the most exciting of his publishing career. “We were constantly discussing new content, ways of life, and self-realization. Money played a subordinate role. We were trying to follow our ideals and capture them in the books. We were discovering the world with a great sense of curiosity, openness and an interest in foreign cultures. We wanted to send travelers off the beaten path.”

In 2002, the couple sold their publishing operation but has been working solely as authors since then. Their hopes of sending people down roads less traveled are similar to those of travel blogger Conni Biesalski, who has been traveling the world for more than 10 years now. Her experiences are posted on the Planet Backpack site and compiled in her e-book Live your Travel Dreams. “I want to inspire people to finally take the extended trip or round-the-world journey they have been dreaming about,” she says, “and discover a life in which experience is more important than what you own.”

Tips for dreamers

As a travel writer, one is confronted by both the abstract longings of readers as well as their need for practical information. At the same time, authors are the ones who inspire and even shape these expectations, and that applies to both guidebooks and blogs. They recommend what readers should go see, where they can get a cheap meal or find a place to stay, all in a world turning faster than ever before. Despite a range of high-end technologies, however, the work of these authors hasn't really gotten any easier. “A travel guide author always has to react to changes, has to be present in order to fact-check and discover new trends,” says Loose. “The infrastructure for many travel destinations has improved. They are easier to reach. Information is easier to get. But the offering for tourists is also bigger, more specialized and in constant flux in order to serve every possible target group. That makes the local research required for a good guide book even more difficult.”

Blogging is a bit different. Reader expectations are a bit less concrete. The author's personality, style and perspectives play a larger role. Planet Backpack is a mission. “Blogging is my mouthpiece. I use it to reach and inspire a broader audience,” says Biesalski. “I want to tell my readers about the opportunities our world and travel can show them.” She places great value on helpful information and a lively exchange with readers and other bloggers. “I am extremely grateful for the comments and tips that readers post and appreciate it when they know more about something, show me new perspectives or simply share their own experiences.”

Travel, write, live

The Looses and Conni Biesalski all live from their work as authors and bloggers. “Most travel guide authors can't live from this job,” says Stefan Loose. “When we were writing in Thailand and Malaysia we still had the other income from the publishing operation. The costs for authors have gone up while income has remained steady, if they are lucky. It is rare that a travel blogger's income actually covers the costs of all that research,” he says. Full-time travel bloggers are the exception to the rule. Biesalski's Planet Backpacker reaches nearly 30,000 readers a month, and that number is rising, but she still only earns about 60 or 70 percent of her income from her blogs. “It would be enough to survive,” she says, but she also works as a social media consultant for companies and individuals as well as designs blogger campaigns.

Status quo?

Travel has changed along with the media that report on the subject. “These days the children of the globetrotter generation are still using our books for their wanderings,” says Loose, “and thanks to young co-authors we are now able to serve their needs, in the form of tips for school holidays, shopping, mountain bike tours or adventure climbing parks, to name a few. The Internet and smartphone apps are playing a larger role but if you're looking for a hotel in Bangkok, the recommendations of professional Loose authors and a detailed map of the city have proven themselves more practical. We also offer our travel guides as e-books now.”

Biesalski believes that in the future, print and online will merge even further. “More digital content like videos, photos and updated information will be referred to in links within the books.” She is also very careful about how much weight she has on her back. “A two-kilogram book on South America or India can be pretty annoying to carry around.” Still, she doesn't believe the traditional guidebook is dying. “A book doesn't rely on electricity, the Internet or digital technology. You can just open it up and use it any time. And you can't dog-ear a blog page.”