Meet: Tim Leffel from Cheapest Destinations Blog

“I’m an American travel writer and blogger who has won dozens of awards and has a variety of books out as an author, including Travel Writing 2.0. I own a home in Mexico and that’s my home base now. I’m one of the longest-running travel bloggers out there, online continuously with the same site since 2003. I also serve as North American Conference Director for TBEX.”

  • How would you describe your blog to a person that has never visited it before?

The Cheapest Destinations Blog is all about traveling better for less, whether that’s on a shoestring round-the-world budget or on a two-week international vacation. I give hard-won, evergreen advice on the cheapest places to visit and how to stretch your budget in other ways.

  • What made you decide to create a blog?

I had just put out the first edition of my book, The World’s Cheapest Destinations, and starting a blog seemed like a good way to get noticed by journalists for articles. I figured it would give me an outlet to and to go into more depth on the countries I had included and a place to put articles that I hadn’t sold to any editors.

  • Was there a moment when you thought, “I could do this professionally”? If so, what triggered that desire/realization?

Many things we take for granted now didn’t exist when I started in 2003: no Adsense, affiliate programs, social media, or streaming video. So I was a couple years in before monetization was even something people were talking about. At first I put on Adsense to pay my happy hour bar bill and Amazon affiliate ads to earn a few coins back when someone bought my book. I launched several other sites in the years after this first blog though and the first month I earned more than $2,000 I decided, “This can become my real job.” I’ve been full-time for 13 years now.

  • What fuels your passion for creating content?

I hate to see people blow money for no good reason just because they don’t have the knowledge to do better. So first, I want to provide good advice that allows people to travel longer or more often. Next, I like to share tips and stories on places that I think more people should visit. I also want to show people how they can live a better life abroad and be happier by changing their address.

  • Are there any blogs or publications that you follow closely? What makes them successful in your opinion?

Not as many as I used to. One of the downsides of Google killing off its RSS reader years ago is that people stopped using RSS to collect their favorite sites and see updates. Including me. Now people just depend on Twitter and Facebook, which are seriously flawed for keeping up with what people are writing regularly. I tend to dive into a place or subject deeply when needed more than keeping up with weekly posts from anyone. I think we put some great stories out from book authors on my Perceptive Travel site though and I read a fair bit from other places with good narratives like Roads & Kingdoms, Outside, and Wired, plus newsy sorts of things from Lonely Planet, Skift, Atlas Obscura and a few others. Probably the one I read the most is not travel though: Seth Godin’s blog on business and marketing.

  • What has been the biggest challenge in maintaining a successful blog?

After 16 years, sometimes its tough coming up with new takes on old subjects and I’ve been writing two posts a week (for a while it was three) for more than 12 of those years. Really though, I enjoy creating content a lot more than all the technical work and keeping up with social media, so I guess the biggest challenge is keeping all the plates spinning without dropping anything.

  • What is your favorite post that you created? Why?

Oh wow, that’s going to generate a different answer every six months probably. My most popular ones aren’t necessarily “the best,” but they are often the most useful, which is what I’m striving for. This is one of my recent favorites though and ties in well with this interview: 25 Thing Travelers Couldn’t Do 25 Years Ago.

  • How much does social media influence your writing? This might be a commentary on the posts you read or the way that you tailor your posts for those channels.

I am much more influenced by reader comments on the blog than I am by social media posts because the blog readers actually read. Social channels turn people into flitting butterflies with no attention span and since those channels send such a small percentage of traffic compared to search, I’m mostly in the social game to keep the brand people happy and hopefully reach some new readers now and then. It has influenced my photography more, especially framing good vertical shots that I know will work well on Pinterest.

  • What is your favorite social media channel? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, other? Why?

Pinterest from a business standpoint because it actually sends traffic to the site. Facebook for the actual social aspect, especially groups and keeping up with friends.

  • Do you have any last piece of advice for aspiring bloggers?

Be unique! So many travel bloggers pick a me-too blog name, write me-too posts, and put themselves in photos in front of backdrops like they’ve seen a thousand people before them do. Then they wonder why nobody is reading their blog. Pick a unique space you can own and write articles nobody else is writing that adhere to an angle or theme. Find a way to stand out or you’ll get stuck in neutral and won’t grow. The market is way too saturated now to just write about your travels and hope that people will notice and then come back.

  • Lastly, what is something that you could share with us that we wouldn’t learn from reading your blog?

My first job out of college was working for a record company in the music business. I spent seven years with RCA Records in marketing in Nashville and New York before I hit the road as a backpacker.