AMA with Kate Strom: travel blogger

The DSN+DEV+OKC edition of Ask Me Anything features some of OKC’s most talented members of the creative community who share with us their advice, best practices, and things they’ve learned along the way.

This week, we’ve invited Kate Strom from Our Escape Clause to answer our questions. Kate is a travel blogger with a nomadic existence always jumping from country to country showing off sights, sharing adventures, and teaching how to plan the best vacations along the way. Kate and her husband have monetized their blog and excel at self-promotion, allowing them to travel full time.

We hope by now you’ve been following along in our #ama series on our Slack channel. If not, here’s what you need to know: AMA or Ask Me Anything is a popular Reddit format, where an expert who’s got something figured out, or took on a successful project, introduce themselves and what they’ve been working on and openly answers questions for an hour. We’ve taken this idea and formatted it to our Slack community.

Read on for our conversation with Kate as she talks topics such how she grew her instagram, how she makes business connections, how to take the perfect photo and working with her spouse.

 

 

Intro:

 

 

Kate Strom:

Hi everyone! I’m Kate Storm, the writer and social media voice behind the travel blog Our Escape Clause.

In late 2015, my husband Jeremy and I abruptly decided that despite our financial stability and outward success, we were going to ditch our house, our car, and most of our belongings to set off on a six month RTW trip.

As a lifelong writer whose creativity had been stifled by a job that I had grown to despise, I was also determined to blog about the experience.

We left the USA on two one-way tickets to Madrid, Spain on May 10, 2016… and other than the occasional visit, we have never come back.

The travel blog that started as a hobby has grown into an engrossing passion project and a business, and we are now focused on bringing in a full time income from it by the end of this year.

Jeremy and I both have Oklahoma roots: we grew up in Edmond (him starting from infancy, me from middle school), we met and fell in love here in high school, and attended OSU together. I hold a BA in Political Science (once upon a time, I planned to be an attorney), and he holds a BS in Computer Engineering.

Things I can talk about:

  • Making terrible financial decisions that are good for the soul
  • Turning a passion into a business
  • The back end of blogging, from search engine optimization to social media management
  • The logistics of managing a nomadic existence
  • Just about anything related to travel
  • Working closely with a spouse

 

 

Q&A:

 

 

Tiffany Lea:

How did you grow your IG following from zero to 18K? What are your IG goals for 2018?

Kate Strom:

Hi Tiff!

Kate Strom:

So, there’s a lot that has gone into it, but the main thing is that I spend ridiculous amounts of time on Instagram–like 2-3 hours/day, even now. When I started, things were different–the feeds were still chronological, the explore tab was different, etc. Today, what I would recommend (other than constant engagement) would be to do a ton of hashtag research to try to get into the top 9 of hashtags (easier with smaller hashtags–look for ones under 100k when starting out), to promote your IG across other channels, and to have a consistent aesthetic to your feed. That’s something I ignored for a long time, but have started trying to pay attention to in the last few months, and it makes a difference!

Cara Bell:

Do you notice your revenue going up and down with engagement?

Kate Strom:

Not at this point, because we haven’t really monetized our Instagram at all. It’s a selling point when pitching to businesses, but we haven’t advertised any specific products on IG specifically–it’s always part of an overall partnership that includes the blog, Facebook, etc. If we can find the right partners, we’d definitely be open to doing IG specific advertisements, but so far the ones who have come knocking aren’t appealing to us, and we haven’t had time to seek any out ourselves. Advertising particular products on IG has also fallen to the back burner so far (and may continue to do so) because of the limiting factor of where to send stuff–it’s hard to accept a comped product with no address!

 

 

Will Phillips:

Jumping in blindly wow! Did you guys plan to just come back and start over when you first left for Spain? Or was the plan always… no plan? Just figure it out? lol

Kate Strom:

Oh, we definitely planned to come back! When we left, we budgeted a 6 month trip split between Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America. After about 4.5 months, we were called home for family reasons, but knew that going back out even for a few months would never be enough. At that point, we sold our remaining car for extra funds, decided to give freelance life a try, and took off for Mexico (this was late November 2016). We never thought we’d want to travel this long, but our list of places to see is longer now that when we left!

Will Phillips:

Right on. Do you share this “wish” list so people can follow as you cross them off?

Kate Strom:

Ha, no, but maybe we should! I think it would be about 500 places long, though…

 

 

Hannah Schmitt:

How did you grow site traffic enough to start generating income?

Kate Strom:

It’s been a long, slow road–our site will be 2 years old in March. Pinterest helped a lot at the beginning, but the goldmine of traffic is in Google. We really hit a turning point when I got serious with SEO (search engine optimization), and more importantly, purchased the tool Keysearch to do keyword research. That allows me to see not only how many people search for a given query in Google each month, but how competitive it is and what the stats are of the sites currently ranking on Google’s front page. From there, I can plan how to beat them, and write an article specifically designed for that query.

 

 

Will Phillips:

At what point did you agree to make this a long-term thing and just stick with it? And biz-wise, how did you find a sustainable biz model/regular income from just traveling? Living the dream?

Tiffany Lea:

x2 please. Like, how do I financially support this plz give tips.

Kate Strom:

It has been a long development process! My husband/backend web person/photo and video editor is a software developer, so that income (both freelance and full time remote income at different points) has absolutely given us freedom and time to grow the blog. Our blog our “travel income” so to speak–the income derived from our travels. That income primarily comes from ad income and affiliate links (ie, if someone books a hotel through a link on our site, we get a cut of the profits), but also from sponsored activities and travels. Most recently, we went on a short trip to Romania that was completely covered in exchange for our content. Long term, though, we’re much more interested in developing independent income from ads, affiliates, and perhaps eventually a product or two than relying on sponsorship for our travels.

 

 

Erin Cooper:

RE: working with your spouse. How do you define roles / create boundaries / deal with conflicts?

Kate Strom:

I feel like we actually got off easily with this one, because our skill sets are completely different! He’s a tech guy, so he handles our back end web development. I’m a writer and love social media, so that’s my role. Since he’s been working on other projects for most of our travels, I take the leadership role on the blog and we’re both comfortable with that. Where we butt heads is with photo and video editing–he handles the bulk of that because I simply don’t have the time, but we have different styles and have to work hard to collaborate and come to an agreement on what direction to take those things in!

Erin Cooper:

so — stick to your strengths and compromise when needed. :slightly_smiling_face: I like it.

Kate Strom:

Right? Pretty standard marriage advice lol.

 

 

Tiffany Lea:

What are one to three places people should visit that are totally underrated? What about one to three places that weren’t worth it and you wouldn’t recommend?

Kate Strom:

Hmm… underrated is hard, but I would say that Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico (other than the Yucatan and resort areas), Slovenia, and Romania all make that list (I know, I know–more than 3).

Kate Strom:

As for places that weren’t worth it… well, they were all worth it to us, but I would say that we found both Prague and Costa Rica overrated. Costa Rica literally felt exactly like Nicaragua for twice the price, and Prague felt like Disneyland for adults–way too many tourists in a small place, and we’re not usually the types to complain about that. Malta is another place we feel no need to go back to–too expensive for what it was. We’ll stick to the Balkans (like Croatia) and perhaps finally make it to Greece next time instead!

 

 

Will Phillips:

You ever miss having one place to call home? What’s it like justing living on the move long-term like that? Do you have to manage a lot of luggage of everything you own with you? Or do you keep it pretty simple when it comes to what you own and carry with you?

Kate Strom:

We occasionally miss having a home, but only in a shallow way–like, I miss having a kitchen with MY stuff in it and having a place to put souvenirs. Ultimately, when we think about renting somewhere and being committed to one spot for a year, we start to itch. We have slowed down a lot since the beginning–for example, we rented an apartment in Florence for a whole month this fall (basically a lifetime for us). That helps us keep things in balance, especially because we have to spend so much time on our computers these days.

Kate Strom:

We don’t carry too much luggage–I have a 55L backpack and Jeremy has a 65L one, though neither is usually full (this fall in Europe was an exception–sweaters take up more room than tank tops). We also carry a day bag with all of our electronics and camera equipment–that’s never out of our sight on travel days. Our extra clothes and what’s left of our possessions are stored at my dad’s house in Edmond, and it’s so nice to have that option.

Will Phillips:

Yeah – but you were on your computer in FLORENCE! Im on mine at Panera near a highway. LOL Thanks for the great answers! :clap::skin-tone-3:

Kate Strom:

It did help! Lol. Cappuccinos in the morning and chianti classico at night led to a lot of productivity. Happy to answer!

 

 

Cara Bell:

How do you make business connections? Who do you try to connect with, how do you know who will pay you or connect you with people that pay you? Has anyone ever surprised you as a valuable contact?

Kate Strom:

A lot of our connections come from getting plugged into a community of other bloggers–Facebook groups are very popular in this niche, and I’ve met people through them who have become great IRL friends. While the industry is competitive, people can also be helpful–a friend suggested I apply for what turned into our sponsored Romania trip, for example. I’ve also made many connections through cold-emailing people–a lot of businesses are eager to work with bloggers, but don’t really understand how to go about it. When I contact them with a detailed media kit and a pitch, many are receptive.

Kate Strom:

This spring, we’re going to be attending our first travel blogging conference, and I’m looking forward to the new challenge of meeting with brands and destinations in person!

 

 

Cara Bell:

What are some principles specific to travel blogging someone who is very stationary could adopt for their career?

Kate Strom:

Oooooh, great question. I would say that SEO (search engine optimization) is a big one. Most businesses have an online presence these days, and having a basic understanding of how and why Google chooses the content that it does to hit the front page of any given search query can help customers connect with your business. To use Tiffany’s and Emily’s business for an example, being the first hit for the Google question “toast oklahoma design firm” is wonderful, but being the first hit for “okc design firm” is even better.

 

 

Will Phillips:

What’s the long-term plan now? Where do you both see yourselves in 1yr, 5yrs, 10yrs? etc?

Kate Strom:

Ha, good question! Um, let’s see: one year, hopefully we’re still traveling at least 50% of the time (maybe living abroad somewhere the other 50%). Central Asia, the Middle East, Nepal, basically all of Africa, and South America are calling us, and that will take up at least a few years. 5 years: idk? 10 years: even more idk? Not knowing is very uncomfortable, but we’re trying to get used to it. Something we discuss a lot is whether we want to settle long term in the USA or somewhere else, which is a very difficult question to answer.

Will Phillips:

I imagine living in the face of uncertainty adds to the excitement somewhat. Maybe write a book of all your adventures when its all said and done. Make it a best-seller. 😉

Kate Strom:

Who knows! A book definitely hasn’t been ruled out. 😉

 

 

Hannah Schmitt:

What are some of the general pros and cons you’ve noticed about living abroad vs US?

Kate Strom:

Hmm… for pros, I’m tempted to write all about food, but cheaper flights (especially within Europe), the lack of necessity of a car in most parts of the world, and FAR cheaper and more accessible medical care all make the list. Cons would be being further away from family and friends (being away really does take a toll on your relationships), always being an outsider, and a lack of queso. Seriously–NO ONE does Tex Mex right outside of Texas. They put cucumbers on my chicken tacos in Bangkok and I almost cried. #mostlykidding

 

 

Jenn Clore:

Your IG pics are amazing. What camera do you use. Any tips to capturing great photos?

Kate Strom:

Aw, thank you so much! We use our starter DSLR, a Nikon D3300. We’d love to upgrade our camera this year, but it has been the perfect one to learn on! The biggest tip I have for capturing great pictures is patience–the right light and time of day makes a huge difference, but so does waiting around for 10 minutes waiting for that annoying family to clear out of the frame. :stuck_out_tongue:

Jenn Clore:

Are you self taught in photography, just trial and error? Or have you read books or taken classes on the subject?

Kate Strom:

We are both self taught! Neither of us had done more than point and shoot before purchasing our DSLR in April 2016 (a month before leaving for full time travel). Now, we shoot in manual and love experimenting with different lighting and techniques. We watched a couple of Youtube videos at the very beginning, but that’s the extent of our “training” (other than taking 10,000 bad pictures and slowly learning what works). I’d love to take some workshops and develop those skills more at some point!

 

 

Emily Smart:

What’s your strategy for transitioning the blog from partial to full income? Do you have any specific goals set during the next year?

Kate Strom:

Hey, Emily! We have tons of specific goals, mostly relating to traffic and affiliate income. Ultimately, we want those two things to make up the bulk of our income. In addition to raising traffic through SEO, we’re planning to write more posts designed specifically for affiliate income (packing lists are a big one for that), and to work on our internal linking strategy to keep people on our site longer–I’ve started messing with that this month and have seen some great results. We also want to really learn email marketing–sorry to say so far, we’ve mostly been collecting email addresses and sending out a weekly update, without any thought to monetizing those emails further.

 

 

Emily Smart:

For sponsorships and partnerships, have you reached out in those situations or have sponsors/partners come to you? (Like with your Romanian partnership)

Emily Smart:

Follow up: was your experience more positive or negative, and why?

Kate Strom:

A little bit of both, but generally we’re the ones pitching to companies. I’d love for that to change one day–maybe that can be a goal for this year, too! We do get “offers” regularly, but like in most creative fields, many are insultingly low or simply things we’re not interested in. Some partnerships come about from a give and take, as well–for example, we worked with a bed and breakfast in Tuscany this fall that was actively looking for a blogger to work with, and when I found out about that and saw we would be in the area, I contacted the owner to say we were interested.

Kate Strom:

Re: follow up–positive or negative on the Romania trip? Mostly positive–the trip was focused on Bucharest, which is a very fun city, and there were several other bloggers there we became friends with. However, it was a reminder in what we already knew–big, sponsored group trips aren’t going to be a regular thing for us–we love controlling our own schedules way too much!

 

 

Will Phillips:

BALANCE > How do you balance getting to just enjoy traveling (which is how you started out) without it becoming too much work, and chore-like? IOW, how do you keep work from taking over and burning out?

Kate Strom:

Great question, because this does come up a lot. There are definitely things we do that are for our business that we wouldn’t do otherwise–like waking up at 6am to make sure we get good Venice pictures, for example. But we make sure to take breaks, and that really helps. This spring we spent two weeks in Granada, Nicaragua in a nice Airbnb. We knew we were getting tired and burned our, so we got a fancier-than-usual place with a plunge pool, bought some groceries, and then binge watched The Good Wife and barely left the apartment. True, we didn’t have much to write about Granada because of that, but it was instrumental to our sanity and meant that when we picked things up again in San Juan del Sur, we were ready to work.

 

 

Cara Bell:

Who’s the most interesting person/people you’ve met so far on travels

Kate Strom:

Oooooh, boy, I could write a book on that! Some standouts: the guy on the small island on Inisheer, Ireland who told us that there wasn’t electricity on the island until he was an adult and then apologized for his (perfect) English because he was a native Irish speaker, the Mexican librarian who asked my (blue-eyed, very European looking) husband “So, what do you think of the White Supremacy movement in America?”, the former fisherman from Tennessee who moved to rural Honduras to open up a bird sanctuary 30 years ago and is still there, the very sweet owners of our hostel in Siem Reap, Cambodia who cooked us dinner on our last day for no reason, the traveler in Morocco who embodied every stereotype imaginable by declaring that he didn’t believe in showers or shoes… it’s hard to pick! Lol. People stand out for their quirks, but our overall takeaway is always that people are mostly good, mostly kind, and mostly helpful. We have met a few jerks along the way, but for the most part, we trust people more now than we ever did before traveling, simply because so many people have gone out of their way to help us when we are lost, frustrated, confused, or just looking for a new pal.

 

 

Emily Smart:

And that’s a wrap for today’s AMA! Thanks for joining us @Kate Storm and sharing all of your travel, blogging, and social media knowledge :blush:

Kate Strom:

Anytime–thanks guys! This has been lots of fun. :slightly_smiling_face:

 

 

Kate Strom:

This has been so much fun, everyone, thanks for all your questions! If you think of any more, feel free to email me at kate@ourescapeclause.com, and of course we would love for you to join us on the blog at https://www.ourescapeclause.com or any of our social media channels–we’re @ourescapeclause on Instagram/Facebook/Pinterest/Twitter!

Happy travels!

Kate

 

 

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Cara helps consumer brands connect with their customers through ecommerce and digital content strategy. She's owner at steedokc.com and also founder here @dsndevokc.

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