More and more backpackers are now able to sustain their travels through blogging, filmmaking and/or photography.
Hanna and Zach are two of them. Hanna is from Poland, Zach is from Australia, but they met and lived in London. In October 2016, they decided to pack up their cameras and other essentials and set off first to Asia, then Australia, USA, and finally Africa, where they are now. On their website, HandZaround, they share travel stories, tips, photographs and films from their journey. They’re all about independent travel, off-the-beaten track destinations and ‘slow travel’.
In an exclusive interview, they tell us how to start working with brands and more.
You are the founders and editors of the travel blog HandZaround. What inspired you to start the blog? Can you provide some essential tips for aspiring young travel bloggers?
Deciding to start a travel blog was supposed to help us give our travels more purpose than just being tourists. We were, of course, inspired by other travel bloggers, but we also wanted to have a memory of what we do and keep our friends and family updated.
It has slowly grown into something more serious and sustainable. Nowadays, it is a platform not only to share our personal stories, but also to inspire people to travel independently, off the beaten track and really immerse into visiting a place.
We constantly think how to turn our experiences into written stories, photo stories or travel films to make them more attractive to our growing audience.
For aspiring bloggers, we would say that the key to creating a website is for sure hard work, but also persistence, finding a niche and creating your own style.
It took us a while to get consistent traffic to our page, and it takes even more hard work to keep people on it. Posting regularly (2-3 times a week) and writing from a personal perspective seem to create the most engagement for us. Learning SEO techniques so that our blog posts actually appear in search engines is something we didn’t even consider when we first started posting online, so it may be useful to learn more about this aspect of online presence even before you start blogging.
Looking back to when you started as travel bloggers, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes! At the beginning we focused too much on the visuals, and not on the content. ‘Done is better than perfect’ should’ve been our motto a lot earlier – we now know that we should have had more quality content and build the look of our blog as we go.
We also stayed emotionally detached from what we’ve been writing but we realised that our audience enjoys a more personal touch to our posts, so since we’ve been keeping it balanced between informative and personal tales, our audience has started growing.
Our readers would love to know more about your love for vlogging, photography and storytelling. What equipment do you use? What recommendations do you have for those interested in getting started as travel vloggers?
Photography has always been Hanna’s passion – she is a graduate from University of the Arts London and has all the technical skills of actually taking the image and knowledge of post-production, but now both of us can’t get our hands off the cameras.
As we evolved with our website and our travels, our perspective has developed too and we also started to create travel films. Vlogs act as a behind-the-scenes of our travels and travel projects.
When it comes to equipment, it’s always a hot topic when people see our works. We don’t have all the possible equipment there is (and that we would want!), but we have quite a lot of compact things that we learnt to optimise in the best possible way.
We started with 1 laptop, 1 compact camera for filming, 1 DSLR camera for photography with 1 portrait lens, and a light gimbal to stabilise our shots.
Over the last 15 months our equipment has evolved into 2 filming cameras (one DSLR and one compact), 1 drone, 1 DSLR photography camera with 4 lenses (portrait, tele, kit, wide), same light gimbal, a lightweight tripod and a laptop each.
For vlogging, we simply use our iPhones and then add some shots, we captured with our filming cameras or drone, in post production – our vlogs are meant to be a bit more candid and give our viewers an insight in to what we are actually doing…nothing too serious here, just behind-the-scenes of our travels, travel film & photography projects and collaborations.
We think the key to starting a vlog is to start small. Tell a small story – something along the lines of getting a coffee at your favourite café, a day at ‘somewhere’, a journey from A to B. Focus on something that has a definite start and end, and remember to talk to the camera! Once you nail it, go bigger.
To have engagement on social media is crucial nowadays. You have almost 6k followers on Instagram and more than 1k on Facebook. Do you have any social media tips and tricks for beginners?
Social media – we love it and we hate it! With so many bots and automated accounts, it can be hard to know what is genuine engagement and what isn’t – that’s why beginning on social media may be tough. You might get lucky and have a post go viral but we are often scratching our heads to understand how the algorithms for different social media actually work.
Our accounts have been growing steadily over the past 15 months of travel – we see a lot of results when we are engaged.
Try looking for people in a similar niche to yours and comment on their work. Try to build relationships within your niche and you will surely notice your platforms and their engagements grow.
You have worked with brands like Watamu Treehouse, Elegance Hospitality Group, Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary, Intercontinental Addis, Go Addis Tours and Travel (Number 1 on TripAdvisor in Ethiopia), amongst others. How did you start your collaboration with these brands? How much can travel bloggers expect to get paid for collabs?
Initially we did a lot of barter exchanges (which we found by sending tons of emails to businesses all around the world) and offered our photography and film skills to collaborators so that they actually got something out of the barter, since we couldn’t offer them exposure as we were still growing. This helped us to build a portfolio of work, bring traffic to our website and create content for our blog. Travel films that we now make also spread the word about our brand quite well.
We think that at the beginning, when you’re starting, expecting to get something for free or getting paid simply because you have a website is a bit naive. It also creates a bad name for people who seriously work in this business because often, inexperienced people talk themselves up and promise things, which then they can’t deliver. This leaves travel brands unwilling to take the risk again and agree on collaboration with someone else in the future.
When you start small and don’t have much following, you need to offer something else in exchange for accommodation/trip – it can be film, photography, website or graphic design. As you grow, you can offer your exposure.
It is important to have a portfolio of your works so that people can see what you can offer. Expecting to get paid is a difficult one – you need to feel confident in your field and offer unique and professional skills.
If you’re expecting to be paid simple because you are a travel-blogger-wannabe, then you need to change that perspective and focus on developing skills that will turn you from a wannabe into a professional. Once you get to that level, you may get paid in experiences – an awesome trip with all expenses covered, worth anything from 100USD to 2-3k USD (or more!), or if your following is massive and content really good, you can think of doing sponsored posts, reviews or promotions for anything between 150 USD to a few thousand USD.
You have been featured on Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Travel + Leisure and published in The Rolling Home journal in print. What advice do you have for aspiring travel bloggers on getting the word out there about their blogs and getting featured in big-name magazines?
Engagement is key! Let them know that you exist. Post in forums, read their articles and comment on them, submit your work, send emails, write guest posts.
Most of the big travel sites have so much content coming at them, that the likelihood that they will be actively searching for your page is pretty close to zero. Many of these pages have some sort of submission program that is worth checking out. Our most successful travel film was ‘Ethiopia’ that was reposted by large media platforms and it brought our HandZaround brand a massive boost, lots of traffic, and the motivation to keep creating more content.