Monday, January 5, 2015

Google's top ten travel questions of 2014, answered

Sick of useless lists of things about last year that it's too late to use because... well, it's THIS year? Gotcha covered, babes. Here are my thoughts on the top ten questions the world asked Google about travel this year - and if I missed anything vital, drop it into the comments! Though I'm well aware that anyone who starts a website is an automatic expert, it's POSSIBLE that y'all know better than me... 

10. Do you need travelers’ insurance?
Anyone worth their salt will tell you "it depends." If your trip is particularly pricey, if your holiday time off from work is rigid, if your airline is particularly persnickety (ahem, United...), if you run the risk of health issues either from local risks such as tropical illness or preexisting conditions... basically, if there are factors that render your trip risky, it's probably worth the $20-$100 (£13-£70) it'll cost you to insure your trip.

I've talked about travel insurance before, but the times I remember purchasing insurance myself were when I was hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, backpacking for months on end, traveling to Bermuda during hurricane season, and my trip back to the US last week (it's illegal to be uninsured in the US these days, so I made sure to carry medical coverage as long as I was in the country). In general, though, I don't bother.
9. How do you apply for a travel document?
Passport: Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 - hop onto your home country's State Deparment/Home Office website, and you can usually apply there. You can also usually handle it at your local city hall or even post office.

Visa: Visit the website of the consulate for the country you are visiting, and it'll let you know if you require a visa. Fun fact: all passport stamps ARE visas, though the terms vary country to country (they usually last at least 30 days and don't allow you to earn money, though). Visas are a hilarious little wormhole, because some countries issue them for security reasons, some do it to protect against undocumented immigration, and some do it just to earn a little cash on the side. Many visas can be purchased at the airport when you land, but overland crossings can cause problems for some travelers, and for countries worried about security, you may ONLY be able to acquire them in advance. The upside is that then you have a pretty sticker in your passport (I'm shallow. What of it?).
8. What are the best times to travel to Asia?
I cannot believe this is a top question on Google. Look at a map. Asia is huge. Narrow it down for me - region? Are you worried about weather? Prices? Geez, Googlers, I'm disappointed.
7. What's the best way to fold a dress shirt for travel?
As if I own one (casual workplace FTW!)... I dunno, but I'd ask this guy.
6. How do you get paid to travel?
This question drives me a bit bonkers, because as they say, there is no such thing as a free plane ticket (or lunch, on most airlines these days). You can blog, sure, but you're likely to only get little freebies here and there (I've gotten a press trip offer to Anguilla that I sadly had to turn down, and a free guide book to Cambodia, and a couple of paid posts, but that's about it). No one likes a greedy blogger who asks for free travel all the time, because these days, you need some serious stats to justify that - it's a crowded market, kids.

But the industry is full of amazing jobs. I used to work for a tour operator, and was a member of IATA, the international travel professional association - travel wasn't free, but I got hotel discounts (and you CAN get airline discounts, but it ain't easy).

I think the better question would be, "How can I work travel into my regular life in a sustainable way?" And if folks want to chat about that, let me know and we can go more in depth in another post.
5. How to travel alone?
In the immortal words of neon ads everywhere, just do it. Seriously.

And none of this "start small" crap, either - sure, take some precautions (for me, that includes managing anxiety as best I can, rather than shrinking my plans), but I promise that you're more capable than you think you are. What's the big deal, anyway? You buy a ticket, arrive, get to the place you're staying, take yourself our for some meals, look at some art and go for walks and maybe see some shows, make some friends in whatever way feels safest to you (your hotel cafe?), and then head home. Basically, there is nothing about that schedule that is significantly different from home.

I don't believe, by the way, that women need to feel particularly vulnerable. Sure, we carry a unique set of challenges throughout the world... but heads up: We do at home, too. We just don't see it as easily. And there are plenty of risks that men need to be aware of; most mugging scams I've heard of specifically target foreign men. But again: Unless you live in Pleasantville (in which case, shudder), home ain't no safer.
4. What are jobs where you can travel?
Pretty much any skill can be turned toward a job in travel - the industry is huge. I got my first Official Travel Gig after starting this website, and my first piece of advice, whether you're a writer, photographer, engineer, travel agent, whatever, is to start a website, or at least contribute regularly to groups and conversations on places like LinkedIn. I wrote about some of the travel jobs of the future over on Virgin, but I've got plenty of other thoughts on this.

The industry desperately needs engineers at the frontiers of transport, architects and contruction workers with an eye to futureproofing their designs, and digital professionals from information architects, web and mobile designers, really anyone with a technical background. Frankly, tech is already how the industry survives, and I have to say the most useful skills I ever learned were basic HTML and CSS. Verbal languages are in huge demand, as well.

For the creatives out there, I'd say to really evaluate what you have to offer. Yes, the travel world is full of great design, compelling writing, gorgeous photography, slick videos, and there's a wealth of jobs for creative marketing folks. However, it's a really crowded market. Personally, having worked in the industry and also done some hiring myself, I would say to learn more than one thing. I can write, sure, and copywriting has often been my bread and butter. More importantly, I understand digital media, can do light design work, photo editing, and business analysis. THAT'S what's gotten me jobs, and also what I hire based on.
3. How do I start a travel blog?
Slowly. Write and write and write, and don't dive right into the "fun stuff" of making logos and designing everything prettily. If you don't know your niche (mine used to budget, now it's independent travel), write until you find it. I now work in search marketing and digital PR, and see this reinforced every day: Don't accept crappy, spammy guest posts or links from questionable sites, and don't focus on the money. Your website is a living portfolio, and your name is on it. Treat it (and your readers) with respect.

And if you stop blogging? That's cool. Just leave a note that you're on a break, and keep reaping the search engine benefits of having had a website. That's totally cool, too.
2. How to travel on a budget?
Oh, man... start here. I'm also happy to answer personalised questions and give advice - just give me a shout on the ol' Twitter machine!
1. How to travel the world?

With your own two feet. But I'll always support you - if you need advice, help, tips, or just a little encouragement, don't be a stranger! I'd love to help.

All right kittens, what did I miss? What are your questions about travel - the industry, how to do it, where to go...? Just call me your friendly neighborhood Julia, here to help!

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