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TRAVEL INTERVIEW: David Thompson of Dave’s Travel Corner

travel interview - Dave-Market-Brunei -DAve's Travel Corner

Dave at a local market in Brunei

TRAVEL INTERVIEW: David Thompson of Dave’s Travel Corner

Dave’s Travel Corner is literally one of the world’s first ever travel blogs, having been established way back in 1996. That also makes it one of the longest-standing travel blogs around, seeing as how most blogs got started around 2008 or later.

Needless to say, I’m very excited to interview the founder and author of such a long-standing travel website! Today Dave tells us how he got started traveling the world, how he got his travel website started and developed, and then shares some of his favorite destinations and types of travel. He also gives us tips on getting started as a travel writer/blogger.

Without further ado, I bring you Dave of Dave’s Travel Corner:

Dave's Travel Corner-Hawaii

Dave in Hawaii

Q1. On your site you explain that your trek to Everest Base Camp, Nepal in 1996 is what inspired both your world travels and Dave’s Travel Corner website. But what inspired you to take that Everest Base Camp trek in the first place?

My college was offering this trip (the last one that they offered like this – due to liability reasons). I was walking by the Recreation Center one day in the Student Union at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California and I saw an amazing color photograph of Mt. Everest and many other jagged Himalayan peaks. I started salivating and experienced a very rapid increase in adrenaline! My last international trip at that time was four years prior to Costa Rica (which was a very short trip). A call to the phone number listed on this simple flyer turned out to be one of the best phone calls I’ve ever made.

Nepal seemed so far away – I had never done a trip of that magnitude before – and I had no idea what I was getting into – plus as a college student, my budget was quite limited. Fortunately I was helped by the fact that my grandfather had stocks for his grandkids and the trip was being put together on a shoestring with some of it subsidized by the university.

 Q2. Did you do much traveling (either domestic US or international) before that Nepal trip?

Not much at all– I lived a fairly regional travel lifestyle – visiting some amazing destinations within California – the Canadian Rockies and Costa Rica. That’s it. My travels were mainly trips within either California or several nearby states. Looking back on my “childhood” I really didn’t travel that much – mostly because it is expensive to raise three children and we didn’t have the budget for International trips. With that said, I came to know California extremely well; I may live overseas at some point again but I will never leave this incredible state for too long.

Dave's Travel Corner-Levitated-Mass-LACMA-LA

Dave at the Levitated-Mass-LACMA-LA

 Q3. Holy Cow- you started Dave’s Travel Corner way back in 1996!

How did you even know about / think about making a website about your travels way back then? And how did you get started: Did you build a site yourself from scratch or did you hire a web designer or what?

I used to use Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) on a 300 baud and 1200 baud modem in the early 1990’s. Our family never had a television growing up (I’ve never owned one in my life) and I think by virtue of not watching TV that may have been the reason why I gravitated towards the still fledgling Internet in those days. These BBS “hubs” were the precursor to the Internet. They were text based – you would dialup your modem over a phone line to a phone number and connect to a server to play games, chat with others or generally goof off. I got one of my friends interested in these BBS’s – he then started one for himself. Eventually as times changed in the online world, he and a friend founded an internet service provider in early 1996.

Those were the days when your ISP was proud to announce things like “we’ve now upgraded our 24,000 baud modems to a 48,000 speed! Oh things were slow in those days – but then the websites were so much simpler! Big corporate sites looked the same as personal sites. Go to “Wayback Machine” and type in news sites like the LA times or the San Francisco Examiner to see what they looked like then.

Anyways, they invited me to work part time for them (we still run this small company) and financially it just made sense to host my site on our own web server.

I remember taking a basic website design class in 94’ or 95’ – I already had my own personal site at the time – so it was basically just “learning by doing”. I was coding or copying code as needed by hand – and then slightly later using a now ancient Microsoft program called Front Page. After a while I noticed more and more sites were registering their own www domain names and in 1999 I registered davestravelcorner.com and moved the content over. It has been called Dave’s Travel Corner since day one.

 

Dave's Travel Corner-Jamaica-Ocho-Rios

Dave in Jamaica at Ocho Rios

Q4. As you mentioned on the site, Dave’s Travel Corner started out as your own personal travel journal. Nowadays it’s a community of world travelers, photographers, videographers, travel writers and tech people. Please tell us about the development of your site.

The site started out as a sub domain – meaning it was hosted on another website which was very common to do in the early to mid 90’s. Having it hosted internally on its own web server was nice as at that time it gave me more control over the site. The site was so simple – it was one page with some links – one to some family property for sale, some pictures and thoughts from my Nepal trip journal and then over time links were added on the main page to “articles”.

After languishing a while on an old server (very slow) and old software – I decided to take the site to the “next level” this year – we bought a dedicated server and installed Linux and WordPress. The entire site is in the middle of being converted over to WordPress – with much of it already upgraded. 

Q5. I noticed on your site that you have the following categories of articles: blog, guides and journals. Clearly the guides are like mini guidebooks of select destinations. But I’m slightly confused about the difference between the blog and journal articles. Could you straighten me out on that?

Sure! The blog is typically reserved for my personal travels – although you will see a number of guest posts from time to time (part of what brings in money for the site). The journals are more experiential in nature – definitely longer than the blog entries but shorter than the guides. We also use the Journals as an outlet for our contributors – often travel writers I’ve met online or on trips or those just looking for additional exposure for their travel writings.

Q6. You’ve been a professional travel writer since 1996. How did you get started? Did you have an education in writing / journalism? How’d you start getting paid assignments?

My degree is in Biology – I have no formal background in writing or journalism. I think writers are born with the passion to write – you either love it or you don’t. I used to write poetry and keep an online journal; I loved the outlet that the early days of the Internet provided. Rather than many travel writers who have focused their careers on almost exclusively writing for others and getting assignments I have focused my travel writing career on building up my own brand and my own website – and then turning that traffic/visitors into advertising revenue, hopefully without compromising my content (it is a balance – a fine line).

My writing started with my website – today there are thousands and thousands of high quality travel blogs and travel sites – back then, not so. People would find my website and email me – in the early days I had no advertising revenue, rather I would be hired on occasion to write content for other startups – mostly travel related websites.

Dave's Travel Corner - Montenegro

Dave with his wife in Montenegro

 Q7. What advice would you give to those of us who would like to break into professional travel writing? -in terms of training, pitching, finding assignments and writing quality

This is a good question – First and foremost is to travel and write. Write a lot.

Many writers trying to break into travel writing have other careers or other sources of income. A number get into travel writing after a long career. What I’m trying to say is it really helps to have other sources of income when you are getting started – especially if travel blogging is going to be your main focus for eventual income.

I will focus on the online world as that’s what I have the most experience with. Even if you can’t afford long distance trips or haven’t yet made contacts for hosted trips, or contacts for paid jobs – write about your home town or city or region. Over the years I’ve never focused on one set travel niche – perhaps more budget oriented but I love all types of travel so my site is broad based. However, I’ve noticed that niche sites can be extremely popular and perhaps are easier to gain traction more quickly (whether it’s a particular region, certain type of travel, how to’s etc).

There are a number of ways for travel bloggers to make money online – and all take time and often unfortunately most do not pay very well. You must use a combination of ways to make money. Once you’ve built up your brand and have some traffic – direct advertising is one way to make money. Stock photography, online writing gigs – I’ve even seen successful businesses on sites like Fiverr (where an individual is up selling many services above and beyond their normal $5 rate). You need to love what you are doing in this business to keep running a website for many years.

Dave's Travel Corner - Ethiopia

Dave in Ethiopia

A pure travel blog can and often should be personality driven – it is you, your thoughts and emotions. Despite the name of my site, I’ve never really turned it into an “about me” site, rather building it into an International community and providing much more than a pure blog. However, with that said the most personality driven websites often are the most successful in terms of traffic and recognition. And those bloggers often parlay their success into paid speaking engagements or sometimes into television.

Be creative, don’t just limit yourself to travel writing – explore some of your other interests through writing. When your writing is engaging and speaks from what you enjoy, you will connect with readers.

Find a niche – something that perhaps sets yourself apart from other writers, whether its humor, an exceptional breadth of knowledge about a particular region, or about a particular subject matter.

Dave's Travel Corner - Oslo

Dave in Oslo

While contacts certainly are easy to make online, there’s nothing quite like making a face to face introduction for “more value” in the long term. For example, I am a member of the Los Angeles Consortium of Online Travel Writers (LACOT), which is an invaluable organization for mostly LA based writers that hosts meet-ups, helps member writers and provides a social venue for writers to bounce ideas off of each other as well as offers additional opportunities.

There are many other organizations focusing on travel writing. Several to consider include:

the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA), the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Assocation, and the International Travel Writers Alliance.

Consider attending one or more of the annual travel blogger conferences. Several worth looking at are:

Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX), Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU), and the Travel Blog Camp.

The UK is the hub of the online travel writing world – specifically London. If your focus is on online advertising or guest posts, concentrate your efforts on ad agencies in London. Start by searching for these agencies and introduce yourself.

 Q8. Are you currently based in California or do you wander about the globe or?

My home base is California – I’m based near the Napa Valley and find myself in Los Angeles quite often for various events and activities. With a home base in California, I always have a place to return to between trips. But yes I do wander the globe for a good portion of the year 

Dave's TRavel Corner-Egypt

Dave and wife, Syy, in Egypt

Q9. What’s your ideal trip? In terms of destination, activities, accommodation, length of trip, who you’d travel with? Why the preference?

My ideal trip is to spend quality time in both an urban and a rural environment – leaning more so towards a rural environment. I love mountains especially rugged impressive snow covered ranges such as the Andes and the world’s greatest range, the Himalayas. An ideal trip would include trekking or mountain climbing. I love experiential activities whether its hiking, Scuba diving, biking – anything outdoor related. I think six months to a year would be an ideal amount of time.

In regards to accommodation I enjoy staying in a wide range of places. I enjoy a place that has either character or class, whether it’s a funky hostel or a standout hotel. I enjoy all that travel has to offer and that includes various types of accommodation. I don’t restrict myself to just one type of lodging experience – although budget accommodation certainly fits my budget better 

I am not a big fan of solo travel – I’ve certainly done enough of it over the years. I prefer to share my experiences with someone else whether it’s my wife, my brother or good friends.

 Q10. Have you ever done long-term travel, like wandering the globe nomadically? If so, when / where / how long? Or do you generally have a home base and travel out from there. Which do you prefer and why?

It’s always been a dream of mine to travel nonstop for years at a time – but I’ve been making do with being on the road for 4-6 months of the year (its been that way the past few years). I lived in Thailand for one summer and my “longer” trips usually run 6-10 weeks. Regardless of where I travel and the weather – I live out of a small school sized backpack that I always carry on the plane.

Dave's Travel Corner-Malealea-Lesotho

Dave in Malealea-Lesotho- Africa

 Q11. You might hate this question, so sorry, but I can’t help myself. You’ve been traveling the world for so long that I just have to ask: What are your 3-5 favorite destinations in the world and why?

This question is like asking me about wine – it depends on my mood, time of day or any number of other factors! However the following are definitely some of my favorites.

Jordan; this country has an impressive array of outdoor natural attractions. Petra is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited. You need two full days; it’s not just the jaw dropping “Indiana Jones façade” – but rather a huge complex of ruins and hiking trails. There is so much history here. Then you have the Red Sea and some of the world’s northern most corral beds. The Dead Sea – you can’t sink if you try! Oh and Wadi Rum – a vast desert of unique rock often colored formations.

I cannot forget to mention Wadi Al Mujib one of the most interesting outdoor places on the planet. It is a small river with a trail that starts harmlessly enough right above the Dead Sea. You walk along the rocky banks and soon there are no more rocky banks – rather you are wading up the river surrounded by 100 meter plus steep often colored rock walls. Soon you are swimming upstream with little fish nibbling your toes – then you are clambering over large boulders and eventually you must rope in to bolts stuck into the sides of the canyon and pull yourself through the extremely strong current. You are rewarded at the end of the swim upstream by a bowl shape with three waterfalls cascading down above you – there’s nowhere else to go and you just bask in the moment of this awesome place.

 Greece – especially the Greek islands. I love renting a motorbike in the spring or summer and driving around one of the islands – Naxos or Paros come to mind. There’s nothing as invigorating as taking a bike on the windy roads with the smell of wild oregano in the air stopping at village after village and popping into outdoor cafes for Mediterranean food. You can’t beat the Greek salads!

 Sub Saharan Africa is a huge region – I’ve been several times – the latest was in much of January and February of 2012. I love the unpredictability of travel here – it is raw and it is mostly outdoors. We avoided the cities as much as possible – preferring to visit as much of the natural beauty that this part of the continent offers. The wildlife is prolific from parts of Tanzania and Kenya to southern Africa. We swam with pods of dolphins in Mozambique, drove right up to prides of Lions in Botswana, got drenched in the sprays from Victoria Falls and hiked in the remote back country of the mountains of Lesotho.

Dave's Travel Corner - Sri Lanka

Dave’s Travel Corner – Sri Lanka

 Q12. What’s up for you and Dave’s Travel Corner in 2013?

I’m starting out the year with a bang – my wife and I will be in Sydney Australia (looking forward to watching the fireworks on the 31st over the opera house) and then flying to Papua New Guinea – where I am really looking forward to a village home stay and some cultural activities as well as snorkeling or diving on one of the world’s best preserved marine environments. Then it is up to Thailand to my wife’s village until sometime in February – where we always try to spend as much of the winter as possible.

It has been a huge project to convert the entire site over to WordPress from static html pages and outdated programs (basically 16 years of content spread over a bunch of fragmented software). We started in May of this year. We continue to work on converting some final sections of the site over as well as setting up “contributor” accounts to make contributing content easier.

I want to add more videos to the site this year. I’m starting to work with a ventriloquist based in the UK – these will be short humorous webisodes called “The Dave & Jim Show” focusing on travel and other wacky exploits. The “puppet” in the show is myself; I am writing the scripts for all the shows. I’m having a lot of fun writing these scripts – because they are basically comedy and I can have a puppet say things that I’m afraid to say in real life!

And we will resume our annual travel writing contest this year – probably in March. Look for that!

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Thanks so much, Dave, for sharing your travels and blogging journey with us. Hope to meet up with you on the road! cheers, Lash

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4 comments

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  1. Dave

    Thanks for the interview Lash – I look forward to reading some of your other interviews as well.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hey Dave,

      Thank YOU for the interview! Great to get to know you and how one of hte internet’s first ever travel blog got rolling! I sure as H*** didn’t know about making websites way back in 1996, despite a University degree in computer science! true.

      thanks again, cheers, lash

  2. Cathy Sweeney

    I always love finding out more about my favorite travel writers. So fun to see pics of him with his wife on travels they’ve been able to take together, too. Dave was certainly a pioneer in the industry and has such an interesting story. Great interview.

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Cathy,

      Yes, Dave was certainly a pioneer in the travel blogging field!
      So Glad you enjoyed the interview. It’s always great for readers to learn more about their fav travelers /writers .. and see new photos.
      thanks for stopping by to read and to comment.
      cheers, Lash

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