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An Interview with Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere

Gary Arndt

Ranking travel blogs is a tricky business.  There is no way of knowing exactly how much traffic a blog gets, and how long visitors stay for, unless you’re the administrator of the blog.  There are several tools you can use to rank other peoples’ blogs, but none are completely accurate.  However, whenever I read a travel blog toplist, search on Google, or compare blogs using any of the afore-mentioned ranking tools, one is almost always on top: Everything-Everywhere.com. Gary Arndt is, by my best estimate, the most popular solo travel blogger in the world.

After interviewing Gary for my column at TransitionsAbroad.com I asked him a few more questions about social networking, travel gear, and unique trips he’s taken.  Here’s what he told me.

Matt Gibson: You’ve been traveling and blogging for about three years.  Did you start Everything-Everywhere.com with the intention of making money?  Or did that occur to you later?

Gary Arndt: Technically, I’m still not making money on my site. I have no doubt I could if I made it my priority, but my priority is building an audience. My goal isn’t to get rich, it is to be able to continue what I’m doing indefinitely. So long as I can cover my costs, I’m happy.

MG: What single change to your website had the biggest affect on it?

GA: There were two things: 1) introducing the photo of the day feature in November 2007, 2) investing in a professional custom WordPress theme in March 2009.

MG: You document the progress of your Everything-Everywhere.com in detail on your second blog, Garaphernalia.  What are your current goals with regards to traffic?

GA: I try to set goals every year that are above and beyond what I think I would achieve via natural growth. I have no idea how I’m going to achieve them. In 2009 I set a goal of getting 100,000 visitors over a 30 day period. I was doing about 20,000 per month when I set that goal.  I really had no idea how I’d increase my traffic 5x.  I didn’t achieve that goal until December. For 2010 I set a goal of 250,000 visits in 30 days. I achieved that in February. I’m not resting on my laurels, however. I have goals for RSS/email subscribers and Facebook fans as well that are very important. Those will take much more effort.

MG: How do you plan to achieve those goals?

GA: I wish I could say I have some sort of master plan to achieve every goal, but I don’t. One goal I have is 2,000 daily visits from Google. That is really just a matter of creating more content and getting more links. It is possible I could write one killer article that ranks well and that could get the entire 2,000 visits per day. That probably isn’t going to happen. Realistically, I’ll get a few visits every day from a bunch of articles. Achieving that goal will just be grinding away at normal blogging activities. Another goal I have is getting 10,000 Facebook Fans. That has required me to experiment with several things including widget placement on my site and marketing on Facebook.

MG: Do you ever have guest bloggers post on your blog?  How do you feel about guest bloggers?

GA: I have a few times in the past, but as of now I usually do not allow guest posts. My new rule is that if you want to do a guest post on my site, you have to meet me in person and share some adventure with me. My site is a travelogue and that is the only thing which really fits.  Almost 100% of the requests people send me to guest blog are just companies that are just looking for links for SEO. I’m very, very fussy about keeping types of links off my site.

MG: About how much, on average, does it cost you to spend a month on the road?  Does your blog cover your expenses?

GA: Costs are totally dependent on where you travel. Costs in SE Asia or Central American can be anywhere from 1/3 to 1/5 of your daily costs of being in Europe. My overall goal when I started my trip was to have a budget of $100 per day. That has gone down since I’m slowing my rate of travel and don’t have to buy as many plane tickets.   My blog isn’t currently covering my expenses, but I am only now starting to monetize my site. My focus until now has been building an audience. I’m quite confident I’ll be able to cover my costs with my current audience once I focus more on monetization.

MG: What equipment do you carry for working on the road?

GA: I have a 15″ MacBook Pro, bluetooth mouse. Nikon D200 with three lenses, three USB external hard drives for backing up photos, and a Manfroto tripod. I have a bunch of wires and other small things as well.

MG: Does blogging make you want to read contemporary or even classical literature more or less? Is there a sense that living in the moment supersedes any study of traditional forms of writing?

GA: To be honest, I hardly ever read fiction. I read a lot, but it is almost always non-fiction. Usually books on history, economics or current events.  That is just a personal thing with me.

MG: Is the old distinction between the “tourist” and the” traveler” completely moot at this point? Do you ever find yourself annoyed by the actions or behaviors of tourists?

GA: We’re all tourists. I have never, ever seen a local who thinks of me as a traveler. Traveler is a word that people use to describe themselves because they don’t want to be lumped in the same group as the guy wearing the Hawaiian shirt with dark socks and sandals.  I totally understand the desire to separate yourself from people like that, but the fact is if you are visiting a place, you are a tourist. I have no problem calling myself a tourist. It doesn’t bug me and I hope I am not so pretentious that I need to come up with new terms to describe myself. If I did, I’d like to call myself a “voyager”, just so I can lord over people who call themselves “travelers”.

Have I found myself annoyed by other tourists, of course. Especially when it comes to taking photos. It is just one of those things like the weather you learn to deal with.

MG: Do you consider yourself an outsider wherever you go no matter how long you stay and participate in the life and cultures about which you write? Is this reflected in your blog posts?

MG: Social networking is a great tool for increasing blog traffic, but many people don’t know how to use it.  Take me, for example. I have 40 followers on Twitter.  You have 80,000.  How on earth did you get so many?

GA: I made a decision back in January of 2009 to focus on Twitter as a marketing tool instead of just a communication tool. It was a good move. Since then I’ve soured a bit on Twitter. There are a LOT of garbage Twitter accounts. Accounts that were activated but never used, spammers, etc. I’d say that easily more than half of the accounts that follow me are garbage accounts like that. Most people with large numbers of Twitter followers have large numbers of garbage accounts following them. Twitter is great for communicating with other bloggers and industry people. It is horrible for reaching the general public. Facebook is proving to be a much better platform for that. There are 400,000,000 Facebook accounts, half of which are active every week. It is much harder to market on Facebook than Twitter, but that is just part of the challenge.

 

MG: Do you consider yourself an outsider wherever you go no matter how long you stay and participate in the life and cultures about which you write? Is this reflected in your blog posts?

GA: Of course I’m an outsider. I anywhere I go I come with my background and baggage. Thinking you can become a local somewhere is a fantasy. You can observe and participate in certain cultural things, but don’t ever for a moment think you are a local, because they sure as hell don’t consider you one. You could move to Japan, learn fluent Japanese, marry someone Japanese, but you will never really be Japanese. That’s just the way it is.

When I write, I write from the perspective of an American who has lived most of his life in the midwest…because that is what I am. I can’t be anything else. I try to learn and understand, and to some extent I can be influenced by the people I meet, but I am under no illusion that I am always an outsider. That is not a bad thing, either. Most of the places I travel to, many people have never left their own country. Meeting tourists is their best opportunity to learn about other people.

MG: We all have certain expectations when we visit places.  It’s easy for a place not to live up to what we imagine it to be.  What was your most disappointing trip?

GA: My most disappointing trips have been due to weather. I cut my trip to South Korea short because of cold weather and my entire time in Vanuatu it rained, causing me to cancel my trip to Tana Island.

MG: What trip was the nicest surprise?

GA: Probably Mulu National Park in Borneo, Malaysia. I hadn’t heard much about the park but I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. I also was pleased by my experience in Oman. I wasn’t planning to go to Oman originally, but really enjoyed the experience.

MG: What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you on the road?

GA: Probably when I stumbled across the moon rock in the Solomon Islands.

MG: The growth of backpacking has resulted in an increase in rave-type parties in travel hubs and destinations worldwide.  Along with this has come an increase in drug use among travelers. How do you feel about drugs and backpacker culture?

GA: I have never done any illicit drug in my life. I haven’t even smoked a cigarette. However, if people want to do that, it is their business. I’ll be honest, there is much about the backpacker culture I’m not that clued into. I’m much older than most backpackers so I don’t go to raves, I don’t go to nightclubs and I’m really not interested in partying. It doesn’t appeal to me. If I was younger I still wouldn’t be into that scene. If 20-somethings want to go and sow their wild oats, that’s fine, but it isn’t something I’m interested in.

MG: Does your constant travel cause problems for long-term romantic relationships?  How do you deal with the issues that inevitably arise from your work?

GA: You are the first person who has ever asked me that question. Yes, it is very hard if not impossible to have any sort of relationship with people you meet while traveling. The only way I can see doing it is if you travel with someone you met before you began traveling.  As much as people fantasize about traveling like I do, it is not a lifestyle for most people.

MG: Is there a particularly good book, article, or author that you read recently you’d like to recommend?

GA: What I read is usually associated with a place I’m visiting or about to visit. I’d suggest people read recent non-fictions books about the culture, history, and economy about the places they are planning to visit.

MG: What is the most popular post on Everything-Everywhere.com?  Why do you think that is?

GA: I haven’t actually looked at the stats. It would probably be the one I wrote on the Solomon Islands moon rock. It was an oddball story that resonated with people. I’ve actually had people from NASA follow up with me and other people who have visited the Solomons have followed up on the status of the moon rock.

MG: What’s your favorite post on Everything-Everywhere.com?  Why?

GA: Probably my posts on visiting Preah Vihear in Cambodia. I like it just because of everything I had to go through to get there.

MG: Which travel blogs, if any, do you read?

GA: I have about 50 travel blogs in my RSS reader.  I have add sites to that whenever I find one that I like.

MG: What do you look for in a travel blog?

GA: The best ones are usually by people actually traveling or people with an interesting personality. Things like top 10 lists might get some traffic, but it isn’t going to really define someone’s personality. There is this mantra out there that, “content is king”. I don’t think that is true. Most people who read blogs can probably name the bloggers they follow more easily than they can list articles written by those bloggers.  Content isn’t king, personalities are king. For the most part (and there are some exceptions to this) people follow bloggers, not blogs.

About Matt Gibson

Matt Gibson is three-time Canadian expat who splits his time between Tainan, Taiwan and Cranbrook, British Columbia, and traveling, all the while working as the About.com Snowboarding Guide and freelancing as an inbound marketing consultant and travel writer and photographer.

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16 Responses to An Interview with Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere

  1. Colleen Friesen April 30, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Good interview. Great questions and wonderful answers. Thanks for sharing this lovely conversation with us. It was nice to ‘listen in’.

    • Matt Gibson May 2, 2010 at 12:18 am #

      Thanks Colleen. I checked out your website. It’s really nice. Good to see somebody from back home on my website. I did my undergrad at UVic and lived in Vancouver for several years. My uncle is actually a pharmacist in Sechelt. Small world.

  2. Colleen Friesen June 25, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Hi Matt
    Not sure why I never recieved your response but just found it now.
    Too funny about your uncle.He’s probably my neighbour:)
    If you’re ever up this way, pls drop me a line. I’d love to meet you.
    Take care…

  3. Ant Stone August 25, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    Nice interview, Matt. I mostly like Gary’s no-nonsense approach.

    I think he’s often perceived by new bloggers as a kind of King of travel blogging, so it’s good for people to realise that his online success is based on achievable and ethical goals, and his travels are the main source of inspiration (as oppose to making money). Kudos.

    Great interview.

  4. Matt Gibson August 26, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    I agree Ant. You’d be hard pressed to find a travel blogger, or a blogger of any kind for that matter, who worked as hard and long on his blog without trying to make money as Gary Arndt.

    He’s also been very smart about it. Have you seen his new forums? If they catch on, he may well become the most read travel blog by a large margin, and leave all the other travel blogs behind.

  5. Ant Stone August 26, 2010 at 2:45 am #

    I have seen them, again, very smart of Mr. Arndt.

    I’ve contributed a couple of things. I’m interested to see how they pan out. Some people seem to passionately hate LP’s Thorn Tree (I think Gary might be one of them) but I personally like them and use them quite often. Obviously forums depend so much on the users, so it’s down to the community to make them a good resource.

    Is Gary’s blog not already the most read travel blog out there then? At least among the amateurs.

  6. Matt Gibson August 26, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    Although I think Gary is probably the most read independent travel blogger out there, it’s too close a race between Everything Everywhere and Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site to say definitively that one or the other gets more traffic. Today, Gary’s Alexa is 31K while Matt’s is 27K. They shuffle around in the number 1 and 2 positions in many blog toplists. I’m sure that the traffic champ varies from day to day and week to week depending on what’s happening.

    That’s why I’m very interested to see how these forums turn out. If they catch on well, they could give him the push that makes him the undisputed heavyweight travel blogging champion.

  7. Ant Stone August 28, 2010 at 5:26 am #

    According to Compete, Gary smashes Matt out of the water with double his readership (and back in May he had six times as many readers).

  8. Ant Stone August 28, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    I hasten to add, I don’t believe either Compete or Alexa are known for their accuracy!

  9. Ant Stone August 28, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    I hasten to add to my hastily added comment — Compete only takes into account USA traffic too. But seen as they’re both American, and writing for American sites I’d say it’s accurate for comparison (but not statistically factual)

    • Matt Gibson August 28, 2010 at 8:55 am #

      Damn, I’ve never seen compete before. If that site is anywhere near accurate, then Gary is the king by helluva long ways. Does he really get that much traffic? Holy shit!

  10. Ant Stone August 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    I wouldn’t take it as read. You can get the lowdown, in Gary’s own words in the comments here: http://caroundtheworld.com/2010/06/02/the-prblogger-relationship-cont-notes-from-prsa/

  11. Matt Gibson August 29, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    Wow, I thought I had looked into the subject well, but you have really done your research on this. Hat’s off to Gary. I’m going to go inspect his blog very closely to see exactly what he’s doing–and then copy all of it :-)

  12. Will - Gap Daemon November 17, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    I like Gary’s stuff but it’s a bit sad to see him closing up shop to guest bloggers if they only meet him in person. Wouldn’t his goal of growing an audience be better suited to stretching his sphere as far as possible by allowing the voices of new bloggers?

  13. Andärin December 1, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    This interview really reinforced why I like Gary so much. He’s so refreshingly honest, open, and easy to talk to; and he’s very happy to share what he’s learned.

    Very grounded.
    And I love his “personality is king” mantra. I may adopt it as my own…

    • Matt Gibson December 2, 2011 at 3:37 am #

      He is very forthcoming about his blog and his success. I also really appreciate that as a working blogger.

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