A brief history of Urban Travel Blog and the philosophy behind why we do what we do, and how we do it, as introduced by our Editor-in-Chief, Duncan Rhodes. For more information about us, including contributing and collaborating, please head to our About Us page.
A Brief History, 2009-2016
Urban Travel Blog began life in 2009. It might have begun even sooner, as for several years I’d been bugging my IT friend to give up the vast sums he was earning in London during the dot com boom to help me start a top quality travel magazine, covering cool urban experiences around the world with guides by people who really knew the city (not by those just passing through!). By 2009 however it was clear I didn’t need him any more. Blogging had become a “thing” and even a technophobe such as myself could, just about, buy a domain, upload WordPress technology and start publishing. I was already working on another travel website at this time and was also freelancing as a Poland and Spain travel expert for a myriad of magazines and newspapers, so in the early days Urban Travel Blog was very much was a project of love and discipline, spending spare Saturday afternoons writing and editing articles (when I could have been on the beach playing volleyball).
A bit of SEO know how helped the blog grow quickly to around the 10,000 visitor a month mark, and convinced me to shell out for our first professional design, which was launched in 2011. From then to the end of 2014 things gradually grew more serious. Companies regularly got in contact, our traffic reached 20,000 visitors a month and destinations started inviting us to visit them. All the while our network of travel experts kept growing, and well over 50 travel writers and photographers have now contributed to the blog, with many continuing to do so on a regular basis.
We have always focused on the quality of our advice and the style in which we deliver it, considering ourselves (rightly or wrongly) purists of the travel journalism world; the ink-slinging equivalents of jazz musicians riffing in the basement whilst Justin, Taylor and Rihanna sell out stadia next door.
In the spring of 2015, after a lot of work behind the scenes, we launched our completely bespoke new design – and since then our traffic has grown over 100% (it’s currently 40-50,000 readers a month). The stats and growth are encouraging, but here’s the truth of it… we have never chased traffic for traffic’s sake. Not for us the interminably long list posts complete with click bait headline that have dumbed down virtually every journalistic sphere out there, nor the self help and “blogging for bloggers” posts which get plenty of views from aspiring writers but are not about travel, nor do we
waste spend too much time on social media chasing spurious validation all in an attempt to generate a hit factory at all costs. In short we don’t measure the value of our content in visitors alone. Rather we have always focused on the quality of our advice and the style in which we deliver it, considering ourselves (rightly or wrongly) purists of the travel journalism world; the ink-slinging equivalents of jazz musicians riffing in the basement whilst Justin, Taylor and Rihanna sell out stadia next door. We may never be the biggest travel act in the world (although we’re undoubtedly one of the largest travel blogs in the UK!), but we take pride in our work and we never compromise our ethics, our approach or our values.
Why Focus on “Urban” Travel?
When people think of travel probably their first thoughts are of sandy white beaches, misty mountaintops, lush forests and magnificent lakes, preferably with a nice 4 or 5 star resort to return to when the day is done. Absolutely fine by me, I love that too… but I call that style of travel going on holiday. Climbing mountains and swimming with turtles may be wonderful, invigorating and even spiritual, but such pursuits don’t teach you anything about a local culture. They are merely leisure activities, that happen to take place in a foreign country.
Cities are where humans live and congregate, where culture is richest and creativity is ripest, and exploring is at its most rewarding…
Any novelist will tell you that if you take out humans from the story then you don’t have a story any more, and I feel the same way about travel journalism. Cities are where humans live and congregate, where culture is richest and creativity is ripest, and exploring is at its most rewarding – whether it be at museums that peel back the intricate layers of history that create a sense of place, or in galleries, concert halls, cafes and bars, or simply on the streets, where the chance to meet with, or at the very least observe, locals going about their business, expands our understanding of the world and the people in it. This for me is the essence of travel, that feeling of being abroad – not in a superficial sense (like the weather), but in a deep and cultural sense – and of discovering new customs, traditions, ideas and approaches, and revelling in that sense of difference.
Many may disagree, as they update their blogs from their sunbeds, and good luck to them… but we’ll spare you pink umbrella cocktails and hot dog legs on Instagram (*) and allow the world’s mindbogglingly-amazing metropolises to continue serving as our collective muse.
(*well not 100% entirely, as we do have our Escape posts!)
Why Multi-Author Blog?
Our multi-author philosophy is at the heart of Urban Travel Blog. Why? Because the world is a big place, so as an individual to hope to give anything but superficial advice on more than a small part of it is unrealistic, almost arrogant. I would never insult our readers by writing a guide to a city as layered as Paris after spending just a weekend there, as myself would not want to read one written by such a person – it wouldn’t tell me anything that I wouldn’t find out myself by going.
By having a large network of destination experts around the world we really can deliver a genuine insider scoop on a city…
By having a large network of destination experts around the world we really can deliver a genuine insider scoop on a city, whether we are publishing the latest in our series of Long Weekend city guides, one of our Secret Seven things to do posts or a feature article where in depth destination knowledge is required. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited a friend who was living abroad but if you have you probably discovered it was a completely different experience to your normal city break experience. You skipped the overhyped attractions, your friend took you to much cooler ones instead and you ended up eating at better (and cheaper) restaurants than all the tourists and hanging out at all the coolest nightspots that only locals know about. Of course it’s not possible to have a friend conveniently stationed in every great city in the world, but that’s where Urban Travel Blog comes in. We want to be your friend in the city, and even though we can’t be there personally to show you around we’ve written down all our best tips to make sure you have an amazing time. The vast majority of our aforementioned City Guides have been written by a local and if not (as is often the case in the smaller cities we’ve covered) by someone who is an expert on the destination and region. The result is a depth of experience and tips that I really believe will bring your weekends away to life. Check them out before you go and let me know how we are doing!
Finally the simple fact of having more contributors means we can cover more stories in more locations as well, and our contributors range of ages and interests means we can bring a trained eye to nearly any activity. Some of my favourite ones in recent months have been Mary Biles overview of the intimate culture trend happening in Seville right now, Marissa Tejada’s examination of an Athenian art tour that introduces you to the artists themselves and Ben Rhodes’ attempt to escape from a booby-trapped booth in Budapest.
Content: Our Style & Substance
Despite being nominally a “blog”, Urban Travel Blog was always intended to be a magazine in style and content, with the same publishing standards of some of the world’s most recognised travel publications. We are not a diary, or a lifestyle guide, but rather we publish guides to cities and hip districts with genuine insider tips, as well as cover new and original travel trends and experiences worth writing about. (And if you haven’t worked it out by now the editor is also a bit of a fan of exploring the local nightlife and cool festivals too – hence our gonzo style reports!).
…reading UTB was always intended to be a pleasure akin to opening the Sunday travel supplements.
Whilst in the Internet age of information overload, the joy of reading good prose is increasingly deprioritised by the will to ingest the desired info as quickly as possible (damn you millennials with your short attention spans!), reading UTB was always intended to be a pleasure akin to opening the Sunday travel supplements. If it was merely about transmitting travel tips from our brain cells to those of our readers’ with no style and flourish I would never have started this. And I whilst I won’t take any credit for the excellent writing skills of my fellow contributors I am very glad I found them (or as is often the case, they found me) and I’m satisfied that we’ve collectively met my original goal in this regard. In short whenever the Urban Travel Bulletin arrives in your inbox, please make yourself a cup of tea, take your time and relax into a journey with us.
Role of Travel Blogs, Collaboration & Autonomy
To run a successful blog one has to understand how travel blogs and magazines fits into the travel industry. Good travel content inspires people to travel, whilst informing them, and therefore three parties benefit whenever a good travel story is published. The first of course is the reader, who is inspired, entertained or informed, or hopefully even all three. The second are the destinations themselves who can realistically expect more visitors according to how much is written about them (assuming that most of the press is good). The third of course are the service providers operating in those destinations who sell more airfares, hotel rooms, tours, taxi rides etc. as a result… and even better for them if they are mentioned in the publication.
To be successful as blog you need to tally the benefits you bring to the travel industry with those who benefit from them and win some small share of the profits. Readers are one party that benefit from travel blogs, but we live in an age where people expect information for free (not to mention movies, music, news etc.); ergo a successful blog needs to work with either destinations or service providers or both – all the while of course without betraying their audience’s trust or compromising their publishing standards. For that reason Urban Travel Blog is proud to have worked with the likes of Visit Ljubljana, whose support enabled in depth reports on, for example, the heritage of the Soviet-era Rog bike on the capital, and this look at what really happens on a night out in the ribald Metelkova autonomous zone. Or private companies like Blue Air who recently flew UTB to Romania and enabled us to report on how Bucharest’s book stores are staying solvent by transforming into curators of cool. More recently we reported on the rather unique opportunity of dining out on paella with Spain’s most notorious gangster, an activity now possible in Barcelona thanks to innovative peer to peer platform called Trip4Real. One of our most successful partnerships in 2015 was with Skrill online payment systems who gave four of our local bloggers €500 each to spend in their home city – the resulting travel tips on Barcelona, Rome, Paris and London were chronicled in a new section Holiday Like A Local, creating a fun new well of information for our readers to complement our city guides. These collaborations help us create great stories – unique stories in fact, as they don’t exist anywhere else on the web – so I really hope you enjoy some or all them.
…it’s crucial to remember, as bloggers and travel journalists, that our duty is always first and foremostly to the reader.
Of course working with destinations and brands does raise questions of objectivity and bias. That’s why it’s crucial to remember, as bloggers and travel journalists, that our duty is always first and foremostly to the reader. Without them no destination or company would want to work with us, so for that reason alone at Urban Travel Blog we vow never to push people towards a destination or experience that we wouldn’t visit / do ourselves or recommend to our closest friends. Nor, from an aesthetic point of view, would be publish content that has no or limited value in order to plug a company or place. If there isn’t a great story in it, then we won’t write about it. As always, with whomever we work, our opinions are always our own.
Our Mission, In A Nutshell
I was writing this page and considered it finished, when I realised that I had not mentioned our Mission Statement. Reading between the lines you might have guessed how it might go more or less, but let me state it here so that both you – and we – can remember it clearly:
Urban Travel Blog’s mission is to encourage our readers to experience as many city breaks around the world as possible, whilst providing them with the tips, info and insight that will raise their travels from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Keep In Touch
If you would like to keep in touch with us, the best way is to subscribe to our Urban Travel Bulletin, a (roughly) fortnightly newsletter in which I introduce all our latest stories. Alternatively find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you need to contact me my address is: firstname.lastname@example.org