Welcome to The Blogger Genius Podcast brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.
Jillian Leslie 0:11
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to The Blogger Genius. First, if you want a peek into my life, please follow me on Instagram at @JillianTohberLeslie, and Tohber is T-O-H-B-E-R. I just share about my life in Austin and what I’m up to. And if you follow me and message me, I will happily follow you back.
Today, on the show, I have Tammilee Tillison from Tammilee Tips. She is an old time blogger, an OG like me. And she is a travel blogger. She’s the first travel blogger I’ve had on the show. And she’s also a lifestyle blogger.
And I think you will be interested in what she has to say, what it’s like to be in the game for this long. The recording is not great, not bad. So just stick with it, because I think there are some real gems here.
So without further ado, here is Tammilee Tillison. Tammilee, welcome to the show.
Tammilee Tillison 1:14
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
Jillian Leslie 1:17
So we talked about this before we pressed record. We had met previously, a couple of years ago at a table. We can remember the table, but we’re not exactly sure what conference it was.
Tammilee Tillison 1:28
I think maybe Mom 2, but I’ve been making the rounds of blog conferences the past couple of years, so there’s a lot of options.
Jillian Leslie 1:36
There are a lot of and I have too, and then we got to reconnect at Mom 2 this year, and I said, “Hey, will you come on my show?” because I have not interviewed a travel blogger and I have been dying to.
Tammilee Tillison 1:52
I’m so excited. It’s such a fun industry to be in right now.
Jillian Leslie 1:56
Okay, so can you talk about how you got started as a travel blogger, and when you got started and where your business is today.
Tammilee Tillison 2:07
Of course. I started as a blogger 10 plus years ago. So, you know, super old school dinosaur some days.
Jillian Leslie 2:17
Tammilee Tillison 2:18
But travel blogging really evolved over time. My blog started as an online journal to really let out the angst and freak out of losing my corporate job, and all of a sudden, not knowing how to live life without being at a desk for 40 hours a week plus.
Jillian Leslie 2:36
Tammilee Tillison 2:39
And as I worked through that process of all of a sudden not having a job and learning to cook and be a homemaker and all of these things that were never part of my plan trajectory, the one constant in our life was how much I loved to travel.
And so I started sharing really how we were traveling while learning to live on one income and learning what life was like without a big corporate job.
And so now, today, 10 years later, which I still cannot believe it’s been that long, my full-time job is writing the websites. And we’re now an LLC, the S corp, all the fun legal things, and it’s really just one of those things I can’t honestly still believe is real life but love it.
Jillian Leslie 3:34
And you do this with your husband.
Tammilee Tillison 3:37
I do. We have two sites. He was writing on mine and then I kicked him off and had him start his own, so we have two different websites that we manage right now.
Jillian Leslie 3:48
Okay, what are they both called? So there’s Tamilee Tips.
Tammilee Tillison 3:52
Yep. That one’s mine, which is the old school one. And then his is Park Ranger John and it’s all about national parks from a park ranger perspective.
Jillian Leslie 4:02
Great. And now how much of the time are you traveling? So you’re based in Washington State.
Tammilee Tillison 4:10
Jillian Leslie 4:10
But then how much of the time are you traveling?
Tammilee Tillison 4:14
I would say we travel on average, 160 plus days a year.
Jillian Leslie 4:19
Tammilee Tillison 4:22
We just built a house, and so we’ve been in it a year. So we did slow down our travel a little bit just because we needed to get out of boxes, finally, and actually put our house together. But we just, I mean, we just got back two days ago and we fly back out Monday.
Jillian Leslie 4:40
Wow. And you don’t have children?
Tammilee Tillison 4:43
We do not have children. Well, we have five cats that are our children. But they handle us being gone a lot easier than real children.
Jillian Leslie 4:49
Okay, got it. Okay, now, how as a travel blogger, do you monetize? Are you guys able to live this nomadic life?
Tammilee Tillison 4:59
We monetize with a couple of different revenue streams. I always want to make sure that all of my money isn’t in one bucket. Because the industry is changing so quickly that I don’t want to go “Oh, my God” and have to freak out.
Jillian Leslie 5:15
Tammilee Tillison 5:17
So we monetize through ad revenue, sponsored posts, sponsored social media. And then affiliates is growing. I did not learn affiliates 10 years ago when I started and I really wish I would have. So now I’m digging my way back and re-learning that skill.
Jillian Leslie 5:41
Got it. Right. Because I saw on your blog that you will have, you know, hey, if you want to travel here, check this out, like these are my favorite travel spots or travel packages. And I’m assuming those are affiliate deals.
Tammilee Tillison 5:57
Yeah. They’re a combination of affiliate deals and also internal links. I spent a lot of time over the past year also re-learning SEO because that wasn’t a thing. 10 years ago. And trying to focus on providing value to readers with internal links and thinking about, okay, if you’re reading this, or you’re looking at this recipe, these additional posts may help you also.
Jillian Leslie 6:24
Got it. So you’re able to make more money being a travel blogger than you did in your corporate job.
Tammilee Tillison 6:31
One hundred percent, which is so crazy to think about.
Jillian Leslie 6:33
Okay. And of those days, like when you’re traveling, how much of that time is work time? How much of that time is enjoying this new place you’re exploring? Like, how does that break down?
Tammilee Tillison 6:48
I don’t really know what downtime is. So it really always works. That’s one thing that I’ve learned is that I don’t ever shut it off. We were in Hawaii last week on what was supposed to be a “vacation”. And yet, I’m still taking pictures of food and signs and details, knowing myself that it’s going to become a blog post or it’s going to update an old blog post. And that that’s just how it works.
Jillian Leslie 7:20
Do you ever feel burnout because of that?
Tammilee Tillison 7:24
Oh, yeah, burnout is definitely a thing. I forced myself to spend eight hours in the lawn chair last week just reading and having to quiet down the thoughts of, we could do this and this and get these photos and go here and go there, and just breathe.
And I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions of travel blogging is when you look at Instagram or you look at the blog photos, it looks like most of us are super carefree, we’re having just the best time of our lives with no worries, and you know, the wind in our hair.
And while we are having an amazing time and hopefully enjoying it, there’s also just a ton of work that goes into it because you’re always cataloging the minutia that tells a story and not just being able to enjoy the moment.
Jillian Leslie 8:16
And also sometimes — this is hard to say but — almost fabricating the story.
Tammilee Tillison 8:25
Definitely some. I mean, the picture is like it’s hard because you want to encourage somebody to come to this destination, but at the same point, you’re like, okay, how do I tell the story within a single shot of a photo.
And so you are creating that photo. Because some of them are a spur-of-the moment. I mean, I post the pictures that were literally on the side of a car window, because I’m like, “Oh my God, look at this view.”
But there are definitely “staged photos” because you want to create that look that someone will enjoy.
Jillian Leslie 8:55
Right. Yes. Like, I know that especially when my daughter I was little, and we’d be doing all these food sponsored posts, you know, or food photography, you know, within the frame it would be beautiful. And then two inches outside of the frame would be the huge mess.
And I would say to my daughter, “see this, this is like real life.” And then I would share with a photo and I go, “this is not exactly real life” but it’s really great.
Tammilee Tillison 9:23
One hundred percent.
Jillian Leslie 9:24
So it’s kind of like trying to parse that out and understand the difference and recognize though that we are running businesses, and that is part of the business.
Tammilee Tillison 9:33
And I think as travel writers, we have to be really careful to not only show the beautiful but also the reality and to talk openly about that. Because the last thing I want to do is send someone to a destination and all they have seen is just a magazine beautiful, wonderful, amazing photography.
And they get there and there’s like, “Um, what corner is that? Because it doesn’t look like it’s all over the place.”
Jillian Leslie 10:00
Got it. Can we talk about travel bloggers and how a lot of people decide to be travel bloggers because they want free travel. And I would say that those people, one, I think give the business a bad name. And also, that, you know, you can get free travel, but it can be then difficult to actually make a living as a travel blogger, even if you call yourself a travel blogger.
Tammilee Tillison 10:29
And I think the word “free” is so hard because it’s honestly never free. You may get a hotel comp, you may get a tour comp, but there are always expenses. And your airport parking, drinks at the air, they all add up.
And so a lot of his people are like, well, I just you know, you live free. And I’m like, my business expenses are over $60,000-$70,000 a year when you look at the fact that we’re carrying $10,000 in camera equipment, all of these different things. And that doesn’t even take into the cost of the time.
Jillian Leslie 11:10
Okay, so if somebody were to say, |I want to be a travel blogger, because I want to travel the world for, you know, for free,” what would you say to them? “And I want to stay at all these great hotels and stuff and just put it on my Instagram.”
Tammilee Tillison 11:25
I would say I hope that works for you. Not in a snarky way but truly like if that’s your dream, that is an option, you can travel to amazing hotels. I mean, I have been on almost every continent as a travel writer, but Antarctica and Australia. And it’s totally an option and availability, but you have to understand that there are pros and cons.
And just because you see the beautiful and amazing and glorious pictures, take the time to ask somebody who’s in the industry longer than six months, longer than a year who has passed the honeymoon period about what life is really like and what the ups and downs are. And both sides of it where there’s jet lag and burnout.
And I mean, oh my gosh, the number of times we’ve been sick and different things like that. There are two sides to the story. And while the travel is amazing, you have to be prepared for both sides of it.
Jillian Leslie 12:26
I think that’s really smart. Now what about how does it work? Like let’s say you go, “you know where we want to go? We want to go to Greece.” How do you figure out who to contact? Like, do you get free hotel rooms? Do you get free packages? Or do you wait and go, “We don’t know where we’re going next.”
But then somebody reaches out to you from Mexico and says, “Hey, you want to go to Mexico?” How does that work?
Tammilee Tillison 12:55
I think it depends on where you’re at in your cycle of being a travel writer. I could definitely reach out and pitch a hotel and say, “I would like to come and write about your hotel and experience it.”
This is what it looks like. Honestly, right now, we do a lot on our own. Because I want to be able to tell a clear story and create my own itinerary. And we’re very focused on building my husband’s site and so we’ve been doing a lot of Park stuff on our own.
A lot of times I do get emails offering a hotel or a tour or different things. And it depends on what the offer looks like whether or not it’s a story I want to tell, what my calendar looks like, and whether or not it fits something that’s worth the cost of leaving the house and what the ask is.
Because the one thing that’s not talked about a lot is you may get that $150 hotel night, but then you get this 12 emails of all the asks. And all of the “but I want your photos, I need you to do this.” You need, you know, the five-hour tour of every room you’re not staying in while you’re in a room that looks over a dumpster.
Jillian Leslie 14:22
Yes. In fact, I would argue that brands have become more demanding. Back in the day, it was kind of like they were so happy if you just took some photos and put them up on your blog. And today, the asks are much more onerous.
Tammilee Tillison 14:43
And I get the brand’s asking because they’re getting pitched. Oh my gosh. I mean, I have friends that represent brands and the emails that they get are so painful. And the asks, I mean, I know it’s hard to hear.
But if you have 100 Instagram followers, you’re probably not going to get a $5,000 night hotel room. The ROI isn’t there for the brand. But they’re getting asks that every day where, I mean, they’re literally getting emails of people with 100-200 combined followers across all channels saying that they are an “influencer”, and they can get people to buy a $5,000 hotel room.
The ROI isn’t there for a brand. And if someone’s thinking about starting into this industry, they really have to be honest with themselves about what are you bringing to the brand, not just what you are getting. Not just this dream vacation, this dream hotel, whatever that may be, but what are you truly getting to the brand because they have to have an ROI or these industries fall apart.
Jillian Leslie 15:57
Now in terms of social media, I’m assuming that Instagram is the platform that everybody, all of your sponsors want to be on, want you to be on promoting their products. Is that true? Like what does the social media landscape look like from where you’re sitting?
Tammilee Tillison 16:17
I mean, Instagram is definitely the player right now. I don’t know that that’s always the best decision, but it’s definitely the poster child of social media right now. I think that that, I mean, at some point, the bubble is going to burst and something else will take its place. But for now, it’s definitely Instagram.
There are sponsors that understand that someone coming in with multifaceted social can reach different audiences versus someone who’s only an Instagram player. And so that part’s nice, because I think that every social channel has a different type of audience and you can cultivate stories differently to them.
Jillian Leslie 17:00
And are you also active on YouTube?
Tammilee Tillison 17:04
Jillian Leslie 17:06
Okay, I like that.
Tammilee Tillison 17:10
I have it. I won’t say I like it. My brain doesn’t work video. I’m much more creative in photography and travel photography that I am in travel video. That’s a whole different skill set that I have not taken a ton of time for. But we have it.
Jillian Leslie 17:28
But that’s nice, though, because what it says is, you can be successful and not be doing a lot of video.
Tammilee Tillison 17:36
Yeah, I mean, I hope so because, ugh…
Jillian Leslie 17:39
Now, are you doing then a lot of Instagram stories or Facebook stories or anything like that?
Tammilee Tillison 17:47
Yeah, we do Instagram Stories. I also do a lot of Facebook Lives where I can show people in the moment. Some places have really bad Wi-Fi, so that doesn’t happen. But I love the power of a Facebook Live and being able to say, “Look, this is where I’m at. You can see a full 360. You know, I’m not hiding anything through edits.”
Jillian Leslie 18:09
Interesting. Okay, and will you announce “I’m going to be live”? Or do you just pop in and you’re live>
Tammilee Tillison 18:15
I just pop in, I get a little scared announcing because sometimes you walk five feet and you think you’re going to have Wi-Fi and then it’s gone for the rest of the day. So I just prefer popping in and being like surprise, here I am.
Jillian Leslie 18:29
Now, are you finding that brands do want you to be doing blog posts or don’t even care now about blog posts and only care about social media?
Tammilee Tillison 18:41
Both. It really depends on the brand and also how long the person has been in their position.
So I find newer PR, this is going to sound bad and it’s not meant to. but maybe younger PR who are just getting started, social or die, but people who have been in the industry and know the roller coaster of the industry and the continual changes, want a little bit of everything because you never know what’s going to peak or what’s going to die.
Jillian Leslie 19:16
Got it. That’s interesting. Now, this is my next question, which is we are continually taught to niche down. You’re travel blogger, you know, you’re a craft blogger or DIY, whatever. But going to your site. you really are a lifestyle blogger, you’re not just travel. And what is your thought about that?
Tammilee Tillison 19:42
I have the benefit of 10 years plus of making all the mistakes, building an audience. They’ve seen me screw up, they’ve seen me have good days, bad days, horrible. Pinterest fails, all the things. So I feel like a lifestyle site works well for me because my audience has grown with me over 10 years.
If someone’s starting today like my husband’s site we started two years ago, his is fairly niched. It’s coming from a park ranger background, national parks, camping, camping recipes, those type of things. His, I’m not going to broaden out too far, because I think it needs to be niched.
Today, I think if you’re starting, a niche is the way to go and then years down the road, expand.
Jillian Leslie 20:37
Got it. Well, you know, you are one of the like old school bloggers like us all where we were just, you know, a lot of times we fell into our businesses as bloggers. So we were more broad because it wasn’t about being so strategic and figuring out what your lane is and sticking in your lane and making sure that everything made sense and, you know, was so narrow.
So that’s interesting that you’re seeing it from both sides. Now because you have a bunch of recipes, would you say that you are a travel slash food blogger?
Tammilee Tillison 21:12
It depends on the day what I am. Honestly, it also depends on the audience that I’m talking to. If I’m talking travel, then I’m primarily travel. If I’m talking food, I’m primarily food, and we really interweave between all the different channels. I mean, there’s tech stuff on there, our cats show up. It really depends on the day and my mood, what I call myself.
Jillian Leslie 21:37
interesting. So do you think about it that way, for example, you’re doing a recipe, do you think, Oh, I’m going to really focus on the people who come to me for food? Like do you have different lists or email with the people who love your food, the people who love your travel? Or is it that people just kind of love you And therefore whatever you’re serving up that day, they’re going to want to consume it?
Tammilee Tillison 22:01
I would love to say it’s because people love me that I have an integrated list. But I honestly don’t have separate lists because I’ve just been lazy and have them.
And it’s just honestly easier after 10 years to have one list and send it on out there to the world and people can decide which links they click on.
Jillian Leslie 22:23
Interesting. Okay. That’s really interesting. It is interesting to hear your perspective again, having been in the trenches for 10 years and how it has evolved more organically, I would say.
Tammilee Tillison 22:38
Yeah, I mean, over the past 10 years, like when we started, there was no masterminds. There was no like learn-the-blog classes. There was none of that. It was the wild west of “Oh, oops, that really did not work.” And “Oh, maybe this is gonna work.” Nope, nope. It was created.
I don’t think there was conferences really my first few years. It was just hoping you met somebody on Facebook and they would share a secret and you share the secret Facebook groups and tried to lift each other up.
Jillian Leslie 23:10
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, what tool Would you say that you use in your business that you could not live without?
Tammilee Tillison 23:18
Oh, goodness. Outside of my phone, which is the lifeline to the world, I love Tailwind. That when I’m jet lagged or I don’t know what day it is, there’s still content being shared out.
CoSchedule. I have CoSchedule set out where you can designate like a plan or roadmap. I have them set out for a year in advance of social shares. So that’s a super lifeline that I can publish a post and know that for the next year, it’s going to have almost like a drip campaign, the social set out.
I don’t know what life would be like without that. I hope to not know.
Jillian Leslie 24:00
And I would say this now too, on the flip side, what is the one travel tool you use that you can’t live without? It doesn’t have to be like an app or anything. It could be. you know, I love the suitcase or I love. you know, like, what have you given that you know this world so well, what would you say, Gosh, people should invest in X.
Tammilee Tillison 24:26
If somebody is going into it, something to invest is a really good phone with a killer camera.
Jillian Leslie 24:32
Okay, what kind of phone do you have?
Tammilee Tillison 24:34
I use the new Samsung. I think it’s the S10+, whatever, the newest one came out past couple months. Because I find, I mean, we carry Canon 5D4’s, all the super high end lenses.
Jillian Leslie 24:49
Tammilee Tillison 24:50
Okay. But I still take pictures on my phone because there are moments and travel and really moments in life that you don’t have time to pull that bulky DSLR up and get it set up and set the settings because the moment happens.
So have a phone that’s instantly in your hand, grab that shot, can make all the difference in telling the story of that mobile.
Jillian Leslie 25:17
Now here’s a question. Do you find that you’re using your DSLR less? Because phone cameras have gotten so good.
Tammilee Tillison 25:28
Yeah. And it also depends on where we’re traveling. If my husband’s with me, he was in law enforcement for 20 years so I feel safe pulling a $5,000-$7,000 camera gear out because I know he’s always watching.
If I’m someplace by myself, I’m incredibly careful about pulling the camera out of the bag, because I know the moment I’m seen, I’m a target. So it really depends on where we’re at. If we’re shooting bears in Alaska, the cameras out with the lens, all the things.
If I’m shooting a farmer’s market, I’m using my phone.
Jillian Leslie 26:04
Got, it interesting. Because I just did my last sponsored post with just my… I don’t want to tell the brand, but like just my phone, you know. And I was like, Oh my god, these photos on my phone are so much better than my DSLR photos from four years ago.
Tammilee Tillison 26:23
It’s amazing. I mean, the phone cameras, and the editing apps for your phone. You can do sitting in a car in a parking lot somewhere, that would take me so much time to get hooked to my computer.
Jillian Leslie 26:39
I totally agree. Okay, I have to ask this. Your three favorite places you have visited that you think people should see before they die.
Tammilee Tillison 26:50
Oh, goodness me. I’m going to do it two different ways now. One, I think should travel someplace that makes them nervous or that they have preconceived notions about and allow themselves to be surprised.
Jillian Leslie 27:11
Tammilee Tillison 27:13
I went to both Israel and Uganda in the past couple years. And both places, I had pretty serious preconceived notions from things I’d seen on the news and movies, and all the things. And I came out with such a different perspective of both places. And loved them.
I also think people should go to that bucket list destination, that place that’s been on their vision board that every time they see a picture of it, they’re like, “I have to do it.” Make it happen. I like that.
And then I think you should go someplace that has memories, a place you went as a kid or a place that your family has talked about so that you have that connection to it.
Jillian Leslie 28:03
Oh, I like that. I really like that. That’s terrific. Okay, if I’m a travel blogger or I want to be a travel blogger, and just starting out, what piece of advice would you give me.
Tammilee Tillison 28:15
My biggest piece of advice would be to find your tribe of people who will help you push through the hard days.
Jillian Leslie 28:26
And what does that mean? What does it look like? What does your tribe look like?
Tammilee Tillison 28:30
My tribe is oh my gosh, unbelievable. And it consists of everything from my husband who’s helped me through the worst food poisoning of my life.
Jillian Leslie 28:41
What country were you in?
Tammilee Tillison 28:44
Oh, my gosh. Which ones have? Mexico, Europe, there’s been a few. There’s a few. Even both of us had food poisoning together in Sagaro National Park and a park based on cactuses is not the place to have food poisoning.
And then most of my tribe is a lot of women who are doing similar building their businesses and really trying to live their best life and who are willing to share the good, bad and the ugly and who are investing in their future and willing to invest in your future.
Jillian Leslie 29:25
Oh, nice. So it’s like all, what is it, rising tides lifts all the boats.
Tammilee Tillison 29:35
Yeah. You know, I mean, I think sometimes and especially in this industry, there’s this weird undercurrent of competition and this undercurrent of like, you can’t have it, I want it. But I truly feel like when we’re all working together and we’re strengthening the community, and we’re strengthening the industry, that we’re all helping each other.
Jillian Leslie 29:55
I like that. I like that.
Tammilee Tillison 29:59
And hopefully, that’s the way it continues. It’s been a little funky, I guess, in the past couple years as the industry shifts and the old dinosaurs that knew what it was and what we put into it, are now seeing new come in, which is amazing and there always used to be that evolution.
But we’re also still trying to kind of help fit that morals and standards and the why — the why we put the blood, sweat and tears.
Jillian Leslie 30:33
Yes, and what would you say your “why” is?
Tammilee Tillison 30:38
My “why”, my hope is to inspire people to live their best life, whether that’s making an unbelievable meal for their family, going on a trip that just changes their perspective of the world, or gives them a little break from the craziness of high-end stress jobs.
Jillian Leslie 31:00
I like that. What about your business are you most excited?
Tammilee Tillison 31:05
Right now, it’s twofold. I was excited to build my husband’s site because I love that he has the opportunity to give 20 years of park ranger experience a voice and help people maximize their time in the parks.
For my site, I’m really excited to go back through 10 years of content and then find those pieces of content that maybe didn’t get shared the way they should, or didn’t get written clearly or fully, and really vet those out and bring new eyes to them.
Jillian Leslie 31:45
I like that. Okay, Tammilee, if people want to reach out to you, learn more about you, follow you on social media, how can they do that?
Tammilee Tillison 31:56
I am all over the social media under Tammilee Tips.
Jillian Leslie 32:01
Tammilee Tillison 32:04
T-A-M-M-I-L-E-E and then tips is T-I-P-S.
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