My name is Charlotte Beauvoisin. In 2009, I left a good job in London to move to Uganda to work as a professional volunteer in conservation. I had a good life in the UK but yearned for something different. I see myself as ‘an immersion traveller.’ For me, travel is not just about ticking a place off a list; it’s about getting under the skin, and getting a real sense of the place.
Uganda has been home for almost 10 years now. I’m incredibly lucky to have turned my skills (marketing and writing) and passions (conservation and travel) into a lifestyle that I love. I’ve worked very hard and made lots of sacrifices to get this far. I was lucky that I started my blog when few other people were writing about travel or conservation in Uganda. I write about travel, conservation and everyday life in Uganda (the funny stuff, the quirky stuff, the annoying stuff!) as seen through the lives of an expat.
Between 2009 and 2012 my blog appeared on Lonely Planet. This gave me a real confidence boost (and traffic!). For 3 years, I was one of the co-hosts of #Africhat, a monthly chat dedicated to promoting travel to Africa. These Twitter chats are fantastic fun (but a lot of work to organize – eh Sam?)
In 2015 and then again for the second edition in 2017, I was awarded Best Digital Tourism Media in Uganda’s Tourism Excellence Awards. This was a real honour and led to me being invited to take part in digital training programmes.
I am a Chartered Institute of Marketing Manager by trade. My first degree is in politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. I’d wanted to live in Africa since I was a teenager (although I don’t even remember why!). I only write about places or activities that I have experienced. The more personal your tone, the more people trust you. People relate to real people more than they do a corporate brand.
ABOUT ME – NOW AND FUTURE
I now specialise in online communications for tourism. I write e-newsletters for lodges and train tour operators on managing TripAdvisor and developing Facebook pages. I particularly enjoy training. In September I will be launching a brand-new version of my website. I can’t wait to show it to you!
I’m hoping to travel to West Africa for the first time in November to take part in Nigeria Travel Week. But man, you guys want to charge me two months salary for a visa! Last time I looked, it was going to cost me over £350 (which might explain why I’ve never visited Nigeria before!)
WHAT I HAVE DONE FOR FREE
I’ve travelled extensively across East Africa researching content for my blog and doing promotions for airlines, hotels and tourism activities, such as gorilla tracking.
Activities I have done for free in return for travel writing / blogs
⦁ grade 5 white water rafting on the River Nile, Uganda
⦁ hot air balloon safari over the Maasai Mara in Kenya,
⦁ dolphin watching in Watamu, Kenyan coast
⦁ safari game drives across Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, to see “The Big Five” – elephants, buffalo, lions, rhino, leopard – and more – cheetah, ostrich, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes
⦁ gorilla tracking in Uganda and Rwanda. I’ll be tracking for the 4th time in September. Every encounter is different
⦁ Golden Monkey tracking,
⦁ birdwatching with expert ornithologists – Uganda has over 1,000 bird species
⦁ canoeing (in a traditional wooden dugout canoe) across a lake
⦁ sailing in a catamaran on the Indian Ocean
⦁ experiencing community tourism projects
⦁ playing a xylophone made of wood
⦁ hiking a volcano
⦁ train http://bit.ly/2F3dNzW
⦁ promoting live music festivals, such as the 3 day Bayimba Festival in Kampala, Uganda
⦁ promoting religious tourism such as Uganda Martyrs every June (estimated 1 million people attend from across the world)
⦁ a tour of the ancient Stone Town in Zanzibar, off the coast of mainland Tanzania
⦁ met the Batwa, the indigenous forest dwelling tribe
⦁ reported on an international chefs’ competition (and had to taste 32 dishes in two days!)
Media trips are hard work if you do them properly. These trips are a lot of fun but they are very demanding as well. They are normally fully catered: transport, accommodation and meals – but you need to watch out for the extras, and be clear about what is covered.
Who is paying for your visa? How will you get to the airport from your home? Who pays for your drinks?
In my experience, I often make my own way to the airport, sometimes pay for my travel visa and sometimes buy my own drinks. If I want to tip the staff where I’m staying, that comes out of my own pocket. Of course, many people will say “she’s getting a free holiday!” The reality is that these great experiences are no holiday at all. The project sponsor wants to squeeze every minute out of you and make the most of the money they have invested in you.
If you get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, travelling and interviewing people all day, between taking photographs and checking in online, should you have to put in your own money to work those long hours? I’ve been in the situation where I’ve been sent on a wonderful 4 or 5-star trip, only to wonder how I’m going to find the money to get to the airport!
While these trips are fun and glamorous, they create a lot of work too back home. There are 1000s of photographs to edit and share. In addition to the blogs, articles and social media, I always share feedback – good and bad – with management as well. This is always appreciated and helps build relationships.
But seriously, we should be paid for these trips. A journalist who writes for a newspaper or magazine may get a monthly salary. Freelancers are expected to sell their stories. Bloggers find it harder to make ends meet (unless you have a ‘day job’ as I have for the last few years). Even so, if you don’t get paid by the project sponsor, you may effectively be taking several days unpaid leave to take part on the trip. It’s your choice whether that works for you. It depends what your ultimate goal is.
⦁ Can you extend an official trip? I frequently do. Once you’ve visited a country, you will have a local network. Otherwise try AirBnB or Couchsurfing. Can you connect with local travel writers or bloggers before your trip?
⦁ Get to know the hotel staff. Porters, reception and bar staff give the best local detail to your story.
⦁ Don’t be nervous of traveling on your own (it’s impossible to be on your own for very long). Conversations are more interesting.
⦁ Leave luggage space. On my last trip I came home with 2 new bags, two T shirts, a baseball cap, notepad, 4 pens, a bottle of wine, (plenty of hotel soaps and shampoos of course!) not to mention magazines, leaflets!
⦁ The downside of media trips is we usually stay in expensive hotels. The meals may be catered for (but drinks are very pricey, especially if you’re a freelancer).
⦁ When I stay in a hotel, I like to leave a small tip, especially for the maid. If you’re staying at a few hotels on a trip, the cost of tips can add up. You can’t expect junior hotel staff for not ‘getting the bigger picture’ about how media we are helping to promote a place.
⦁ Have money for massages / treatments if there is a spa. Many hotels or lodges that have spa treatments employ a 3rd party company to manage their spa so will not give complimentary spa treatments.
I’m frequently invited to attend events or promote a restaurant but getting payment can be a struggle. The occasional free tweet is fine but I’ve stopped writing blogs for free. I wrote a lot of content for free while I was developing my skills as a travel writer and to build my portfolio. Also, as Uganda is a developing country, people don’t always have the cash to pay you. Sometimes building relationships and a reputation are more important.
I’ve made very little money from travel writing (yet!) – but the experiences are priceless.
When I started blogging, I was a full-time volunteer. I spent most weekends and evenings blogging. Since then I have been freelancer. The ‘day jobs’ have supported me while I have continued to blog in my spare time. Some people watch TV – I don’t, I write, I research, I plan my next trips. I always reply to emails and have had some interesting commissions come out of nowhere.
Last year I was commissioned to work on two travel guides. ‘Walking with gorillas’ is a guide to mountain gorilla tracking in Rwanda and Uganda. It’s a subject I know intimately. I travelled (a day and a half) to the gorilla tracking area to make sure I had the latest facts and figures to hand. People may travel half the world based on your recommendation. It’s therefore critical that you give them up-to-date information. If I were promoting a destination in Europe, I would confidently link to website.
Few East African websites are kept up-to-date so ‘on the ground’ fact checking in person, or through reliable contacts, is very important. [link to my gorilla guide on blog]
Last year I was commissioned to update the Uganda section of “Fodor’s Complete Guide to the African Safari” a popular guidebook in the USA. It was super exciting to have an introduction letter from them that could get me free stays in all kinds of lodges and hotels in Uganda, but it was poorly paid. It gave me lots of content for my blog but back at base, the work involved in updating the guide was tedious and nowhere near as creative as travel writing.
Writing a travel guide e.g. for a destination is a colossal amount of work and it quickly goes out of date. I’ve also written a guide for expats who want to move to Uganda.
What’s the secret of a good travel guide?
It must be well researched and thoroughly checked. Get the input of local people. What’s trending? Can you tie your article to trending topics. Share personal experience and travel tips to give added value.
HOW TO MAKE MONEY / ADVICE
If you follow success stories of global travel bloggers, there are a number of patterns. Either, they have existing revenue streams (completely independent of what they do on the road). Many others earn their money from their work off-line. The days of the full-time travel writer or journalist are numbered. ‘Zero hour’ contracts and freelancing are common.
This year I will start to sell tours via my website. Tourism is picking up in Uganda and potential visitors find my experience and stories very helpful. I believe this offers me the best way of earning a living – through travel – in the future.
Travel writing marks a complete change of career for me, so who knows what the future holds?
I’m a big fan of WordPress, although my first blog was on Blogger. We are about to launch the fourth version of my blog. You won’t get very far unless you spend a lot of time promoting. Experts say that for every hour you spend writing, you should spend 3 times that amount promoting your articles – (so I should start doing that then! LOL).
A travel writer or blogger needs good proposal and report writing skills. You need to keep a record of reader statistics and be ready to prove your value. Timely replies to clients are important. Always acknowledge and reply to reader comments and enquiries. If you have a blog, install a spam filter!
Keep innovating to remain relevant. What worked five years ago probably doesn’t work today.
Many clients don’t understand how much is involved in writing a travel piece or hotel reviews. To do it well is a time-consuming process. Who and where is your audience?
I live in Uganda. Internet power can be a big challenge at times – today has been a case in point, I tell you!
How to promote a lodge, etc.
I never publish press releases on my blog. They can be useful for fact checking but I have to visit a place in person to give an honest opinion. Sometimes I only get the chance to have a meal and a hotel or restaurant. Ideally, the longer you stay the better. Two nights or more is recommended.
How comfy is the bed? Do they change their menu throughout the week? A dish that you really enjoy soon gets boring if you find out it is on the menu every day of the week.
Do they have events? Enjoy the view – the morning view will be different at dusk. How it looks in the sun will differ from how it looks in the rain. Not only does this affect the quality of your photos, it also has a big impact on your overall impression of a place.
Despite all the challenges, being a travel writer is the best job I could possibly hope for. I regularly reread my old stories. This way I carry on enjoying my adventures for years … every time I reread them, I’m back up the mountain, still in the bush, dancing at a festival – whatever!
Charlotte Beauvoisin has won many awards including WINNER Best Tourism Digital Media 2017. She can be reached on: +256 (0)774 802319 / (0)758 802319. She blogs at www.diaryofamuzungu.com – What’s it all about? Uganda & East Africa travel blog.
She shared these thoughts on #NigeriaTravelChat – a monthly tweetchat moderated by Sam Adeleke.