My former university schoolmate recently completed a round-the-world travel to 35 countries that lasted 15 months. But no, she is not a wealthy person, just an ordinary Singapore travel blogger who holds a real job.
In 2016, Jaclynn Seah, 33, left her corporate communication job to go on the epic travel that brought her to exotic countries like Kenya, Romania, Colombia, and Bolivia, just to name a few.
“I wanted to see new things, different things,” said Jaclynn, now a freelance writer.
“Singapore is so small; people tend to have a very narrow view of what life is and how things are. Sometimes we forget that the world is a lot wider,” she said.
“When you travel you get to see some of these things and sights, and the sense that the world is so much more than what you know, what you are comfortable with.”
“South America is just so far away, people there don’t even know about Singapore. There are so few asians there to begin with,” she said.
Funded by savings
Jaclynn had saved up “quite a fair bit” of money from nine years of work since graduating from university in 2007.
“When I looked at my bank account, I knew that I shouldn’t have a problem to travel for one year, given that I’m not into super expensive luxurious extravagant travelling,” she said.
She also defrayed some of her travel cost by doing freelance travel writing for various travel websites and publications.
Jaclynn documents her travel adventure on her blog The Occasional Traveller (TheOccasionalTraveller.com). It was voted one of the top ten travel blogs in Singapore Blog Awards 2013.
As the name The Occasional Traveller suggests, her blog helps busy people like herself to travel more.
Said Jaclynn: “I was working in a full-time job. I only had 14 to 18 days of leaves so I only travelled occasionally.
“You can see from my blog that I round up my travels for each year, just to see how much travels I have actually done.
“It’s like accounting to myself, how much travels I have managed to squeezed out of 18 days of annual leave.
“What I found out is that you can squeeze out like almost a month of travels. If you have work trips you can squeeze even more. A lot of people say they have no time, but it’s a matter of priorities.”
A reminder to travel
Jaclynn started the blog in 2010 when she realised she had many days of leave remaining at the end of the year.
With the realisation that she had focused too much on her career and forgotten to travel, Jaclynn started blogging about her old travels, with the intention of reminding herself to travel more.
“But you only have so many old travels so it spurs you on — ‘Hey, I need to go travel again to have more stuffs to write about.’”
Her blog is a starting point for travellers to do their research. She writes about what they can do in a particular place.
Rather than trawling through multiple websites, it’s easier for people to ‘follow’ their favourite travel blogger who shares a similar travel style, she said.
Jaclynn sees herself as an independent female traveller who likes to get more bang for the bucks — but not the super ‘budget, budget’ kind of traveller.
She likes major tourist destinations — as well as places “that are just off the road”. Take for instance her last trip to Hong Kong, she spent two days in Cheung Chau island and Lamma island, not your standard itinerary.
“I like to turn a different corner, take a different route, do something a bit different,” she said.
Monetising her blog
Her travel blog helps to defray some of her cost of travelling. She has done sponsored posts for travel companies in exchange for free tickets and allowance.
An avid writer, she has written for various travel publications, including Turkish Airline inflight magazine.
When asked why she did not turn her travel blog into a business, Jaclynn said: “It’s a lot of work, I don’t have a business mind. It’s just to cover cost.”
She actually started a travel blog shop in 2011, selling travel-related memorabilia. In 2012 Singapore Blog Awards, the travel blog shop was among the top ten in the category.
Despite her success, the small business experiment left her exhausted more than anything else. She wounded down the e-commerce venture to focus on her travel blog.
“Don’t go into travel blogging for money,” she warned.
“A lot people think that it’s very easy, just write and take a few picture. And suddenly everybody will come in and read your blog posts, you will be famous and get a lot of free travels.
“Let me tell you this: Just because you put it up on a blog doesn’t mean anyone is going see it.”
She said it takes a lot of hard work or a big team to succeed. This is the reason why she has not been keen to blog full-time for a living.
Nevertheless, I think it’s already very cool to be able to get a few free trips or defray some of your travel cost via travel blogging. Don’t you think so?
Here are some blogging tips from Jaclynn:
1. How do you blog?
It depends on my mood! I don’t have a fixed schedule; I don’t tell myself, “Today I will write for 3 hours.” Otherwise, it becomes like work.
I blog as and when I feel like writing. What I have learnt is not to try and force out a lot of posts all at one go.
I usually write a lot on my phone because I don’t want to pull out my laptop. When I have super long bus rides, I will do some writings on my iPhone.
When I get to my WordPress (with Wifi), I just plonk it in. I usually have many saved versions of the draft before I publish it.
I break it up into smaller do-able bits because it’s less stressful than churning out a post in 3 hours. I actually have a ‘zillion’ half-finished drafts.
When I feel like writing, I write. If I don’t feel like wrting today, maybe editing picture will be good. On other days, I may not want to look at my picture, I may want to work on my videos.
But I blog a lot less when I travel.
When you are working and you have to choose between blogging and working, you pick blogging. Then when you actually have to pick between travelling and blogging, of course you pick travelling!
I want to be able to wake up the next morning to see the sun rise. And when I come back after a long day, the last thing I want to do is edit my photos.
I kept a detailed record of how much I spent on food and stuffs in different countries. This is more for blogging so that when people ask was it expensive to travel to this place, I can tell them. I used to use Google Sheet but I am now using a really good app called Trail Wallet.
3. How did you get your blog noticed by travel companies or airlines?
It probably started with my blog shop actually. They used to have the Singapore Blog Awards. I was in the top ten in 2012 for the shop; not for travel blogging.
That’s what put me on the radar. In 2013, I got into the top ten for travel blogging. From there, you know Singapore is such a small place, marketers just look at certain things, “Oh, there are ten bloggers that I can talk to!”
4. Do you actively talk to them to get sponsorships?
I know of people who pitch to companies whenever they travel to cover their costs. I tried once or twice when I knew the people and what they offered.
But pitching takes a lot of work. You need to have certain statistics to be able to command the pay or get certain sponsorships out of it. It’s not easy.
If you do sponsored posts, it’s a job in itself — you need to produce blog posts and ‘live’ video feeds when you are travelling.
People say, “Wow, you get to go on so many free trips a year!” Yes, they are fun, but it’s still work.
On these sponsored trips, the company usually keeps you on a tight leash because they want you to see everything. I would be like, “Oh my god, I just want to take a nap.”
At the end of the trip, I’d be so tired, I need a holiday from a holiday! After that you still have to churn out all the blog posts.
I am a fairly small-time travel blogger. I have done trips with the professional travel bloggers. On the surface, it looks like a lot of fun but they are actually working hard.
When we trekked up a mountain, they were carrying drones. Sometimes, they even brought clothing to change; the ‘lifestyle’ girls especially, they must change clothes. I was like, “Must bring all these things? I am just trekking in my ‘whatever’ attire!”
Sometimes when I want to go to walk around to explore, they would say, “Sorry, I got to take a video of this, do this and that.” I don’t want to be in that position.
There was this girl who just wanted to go to this place to take that one picture. “I just need to come here, get a shot, and I’m done!”
But that’s not the way I want to travel. She’s not into culture and stuffs, but I wanted to go into the castle and look at stuffs.
It’s just very different when you become a business person and when you doing it for fun. I am straddling somewhere in between, but I still hold on to my blog as a personal thing.
If people ask me to do certain posts, I want to be able to say no. For example, this thing is shitty but the money they pay is good. How? Integrity vs money: Which is more important? As a business, money is more important.
You are also sort of subjected to what the sponsors want because they are paying for your trip.
5. So you can’t do a bad review since they are paying for your trip?
Not necessarily. If it’s really bad, I usually don’t talk about it. But I work in public relations, (I know) there is usually a way you can write about it — that is either neutral or reflects your point of view.
The important thing is you are not lying or deceiving anyone. For example, “This is what it is like, you decide for yourself whether this is something that you are keen to try.”
6. So can I say that your travel blog is more for defraying your cost of travelling?
A little bit.
My blog is not a business so I don’t have a five-year plan for my blog. I really want to help other people to travel more and travel better.
If I can get free trips out of it, or if I get work out of it, I am happy for that. But it’s not going to be my be all and end all.
In the last 15 months, I did a lot more freelance writing because I had more time.
When I was trying to build my portfolio, I contributed articles for other websites. Right in the beginning, it’s really for web traffic and experience. Now I am at the point where I have my own blog, I can’t write for you unless you are paying me.
The Turkish Airlines approached me to write for Skylife, their inflight magazine. They actually paid pretty well, (but) this is not an opportunity that come along all the time.
Many people often think that these writings should be either be free or cheap. I was paid only $50 for my first article. It’s a super extensive article, a lot of work but you have to start somewhere.
8. Where did you learn about travel blogging?
I picked up blogging along the way. In 2013, I went for a travel blogging conference in Dublin, Ireland. The ticket cost about $120.
Travel bloggers got together, and companies that were interested to work with bloggers came as well. They shared about best practices on how to approach the companies, on the latest social media like Instagram and Facebook back then.
Travel blogging in Europe and America is much more like advance compared to Asia. In Asia, we are starting to realise that we need to pay the bloggers. In Europe and America, if you don’t pay, you don’t even get to talk.
Last year, I went for the Travel Blogger Exchange in Philippines. They talked about how to grow your audience on Snapchat, and why video is the next big thing.
I got to network and see what others are doing out there. That was where I realised there was a whole range of bloggers from the super amateurs to super serious people who run their blog like a business.
9. Any advice for the aspiring travel bloggers out there?
There is a statistic that states 90 percent of the bloggers quit in the first year. That’s because people go into it, thinking that it’s easy.
But you either treat it as something that you are really passionate about or you treat it as a business. Either of these two ways — that’s how people last.
If you treat it as a business, you are putting investment into it and you own it. If you treat it as a passion, then you know it’s something that you enjoy doing it and you will keep it going.
If you try to do it for the money or fame, to be an influencer, it’s not going to work. By the way, please don’t call me an influencer!
Jaclynn was my schoolmate at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication in Nanyang Technological University from 2003 to 2007. I knew that she had started a travel blog in 2010 but I was surprised that she’s still actively blogging today. Like she said, 90 percent of bloggers gave up in the first year. Her blog is now seven years old; it speaks volume about her dedication and passion for travelling.
Her 15-month travel around the world is an amazing feat. She has shown how ordinary people like you and me can travel more. And travelling is important for our well-being and happiness. We all crave excitement and adventure to feel alive.
I hope you are inspired by Singapore travel blogger Jaclynn’s travel adventure and tips on blogging. You may also want to check out another story on Alisha Chiu, a full-time travel blogger for another perspective.
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