She flies, brands thrive: How a travel blog creates engaged audiences in a crowded space

Traveling the globe for half a decade, Kate McCulley shares her experiences, advice, and guidance across the world. She runs the top traveler blog, Adventurous Kate, that many look to for daily advice and solo travel tips. At age 26, McCulley quit her job to make travel blogging her full-time position.

ZOG Digital spoke with McCulley about her role as a key influencer for the travel industry and the impact of her voice. She’s been featured in Hello Giggles, Buzzfeed, Vogue, and partnered with several tourism and travel-related companies. We were able to snag some of McCulley’s time and chat about her escapades — past, present, and future.

ZD: You’ve traveled the globe for quite some time now. What inspired you to begin this journey?

McCulley: Yeah, well I did move to New York last year. I have been traveling in total for over five years now. But when you add up all the time, it’s the seven-year anniversary of the blog!

At first I didn’t even know until after I graduated college that it was possible for someone to quit their job and travel long term on their own. I’d heard of families doing this. But it never even occurred to me that a person could do that. One day, when I was at work at age 22, I came across this site called Ground Walkabout and it was the online travel diary of a guy who traveled long-term in the 90s. As I was reading that, my heart kept beating faster and faster, and I thought, “I could totally do this.” From that moment it was set. And so I started saving money.

ZD: And your first big trip was to Asia, correct? What made Asia your first pick?

McCulley: Yes, I was in east-Asia for six months. It turned out that I originally didn’t save up as much money as I had wanted to and I was working a job I didn’t enjoy. I wanted to quit, but didn’t have nearly enough money to go on the dream trip that I was thinking about.

I wanted to start in New Zealand and Australia and go across the world for an entire year. There was one other possibility of me being able to go over to Korea and teach, but that still was a tad pricey. So it just hit me, ‘why don’t you just go somewhere inexpensive?!’ So from there, it was a very easy decision. It is an amazing place to travel and also fairly light on your wallet.

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ZD: Did you always plan on blogging about your travels?

McCulley: I’ve been blogging since I was 18 years old, probably when the word ‘blog’ didn’t even exist. And I’ve been blogging consistently since then.

And back in the day when I first started blogging and thought the only way to get money out of it was to get a book deal or some sort of TV deal. As time went on, I realized that people were making money from advertising. So I thought, alright, I’m going to see what I can do.

My drive for it was to be one of the most popular travel blogs in the world. It wasn’t actually to make money, in the beginning. So it was really a desire for the blogging and not the money.

ZD: How did you feel when your followers on social media and the blog took off?

McCulley: I don’t know if there was any point in particular that people were following within my footsteps. I think it just felt very natural. I don’t think I ever had a moment of ‘oh my goodness, this is crazy.’

I will say that I have noticed over time other writers copying me. Haha! So there are some moments like that.

ZD: When did you realize that you were an influencer in the travel space?

McCulley: I do remember the first time I ever got recognized though. It was in Bali. It just blew me away. Now I get recognized by people all the time. It’s a little scary, but it’s okay. People are continuously showing me ways that I influence them. On Snapchat I talked about how I wanted to give blood, but I couldn’t because of my travels. A reader and follower of mine went and donated blood for the first time ever after that and let me know.

I have another reader who reached out to me after they read that I had a concussion in Germany. I was telling people all about it and how important it is to go to the hospital. A few weeks later, this reader told me that the same thing had happened to her and that she would have not gone to the hospital if it weren’t for me. Who knows, maybe I help save some lives unknowingly.

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ZD: In the U.S. there tends to be a stigma about women traveling on their own, but many women with those passions to travel as an individual turn to women such as yourself. How does that make you feel?

McCulley: Thank you! It’s kind of crazy because Ethiopia has double the percentage of female lawmakers than the U.S., when you look at it proportionally. We still live in a country where there’s a bit a sexism. It does tend to spill over onto every aspect of life, including travel.

I actually wrote a piece a while ago about why travel is different for women. It talked about how everything comes back to being afraid of sexual assault and these awful stories that have been thrown around. That’s why women are oftentimes encouraged not to travel alone or do anything out of the ordinary. It goes deeper than the example of travel, but I’m happy to be there and encourage women to pursue that passion.

ZD: Which platform do you feel is most impactful and why?

McCulley: It’s hard to say. I don’t think I could pick out one in particular. Every platform has their own strengths and weakness, and at the moment everybody is trying everything.

With that said, I do like Facebook, because you’re hitting people where they live. I know a lot of other bloggers that don’t like Facebook due to the algorithm, but I happen to like it a lot. Several people tend to say that whatever platform happens to be their best platform is the single most impactful platform. If there’s anything that isn’t as valuable to me, I would say Twitter. It’s a little past it’s time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for certain things. It’s great for breaking news, getting in touch when you can’t find the appropriate email address, and customer service. Other than that it’s a bit of a cesspool.

ZD: What opportunities has this passion opened up for you?

McCulley: Wow, I mean that’s hard to nail down to particulars, because it really did give me everything. Being an entrepreneur is a big thing. All my working life, I realized that I’m just not a career person. I’m not someone who just focuses on her career. Looking back, I realize that I’ve found something I can do consistently. I can’t work for someone else, it’s just not in me. I’m an entrepreneur, that’s just who I am. And this passion truly brought that to light.

Newswise, it was cool to be in the New York Times. It was a nice surprise to be in Vogue. In terms of partnerships, I like that I’m at the point where I can work with brands that I like. For example, the city of Savannah reached out to me recently. I love Savannah and was able to go back there and do a really nice three-day news campaign for them. I’m just glad that I’m able to do that and focus on things and places in particular that I really love.

ZD: Where’s one place you still need to visit?

McCulley: I’ve been to 67 countries. Haha! There are still a ton that I haven’t been to. Probably at the top of the list is New Zealand. I still haven’t made it there, but I will! Just keep an eye out.

Follow Kate’s journeys on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat(@AdventurousKate) and Facebook.

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