Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 2
Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, then drop me a line. Hope you enjoy!
Meet Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil, by far the coolest adventure travel couple I’ve ever come across. They have traveled to over 35 countries, with extensive experience in southeast Asia and Africa. Last year, they cycled from Cairo to Cape Town and climbed Mt. Kiliminjaro!
Though as interesting as their experiences are, I am much more impressed with how they have completely transformed their Internet presence over the last few months. From knowing nothing about Google Adsense, Twitter, StumbleUpon, etc., Dave and Deb now maintain one of the more popular travel blogs on the web. You’ll hear it from them–that’s not an easy feat.
Read below to learn about how Dave and Deb met, about their recent trip to Africa, and about their strategies for building a successful blog. I look forward to following their upcoming adventures in Central Asia. Apparently they have all kinds of surprises for us.
Let’s hear it. How did Dave and Deb meet?! What are your respective backgrounds?
Dave and I have been together for 18 years. We met in college at the young ages of 20 and 21, and it was love and adventure from that moment on. After graduating, we settled in Toronto, but the wanderlust had already hit us and we packed up to move out west to Vancouver. We lived there for 3 years and that is when we started working in the film business. The industry was booming and it was easy to get a job at the ground level. We worked on such projects as Rumble in the Bronx, Jumanji and The X-Files. We had never been out of North America at that point and had listened to all of the older veterans of the film industry talk about their travels. They would work during the summer and leave for exotic destinations during the winter. It was inspiring and we wanted to have the life that they were leading. We have fulfilled that dream and for the past 10 years have been splitting our time between movies and travel. Dave works as a Rigging Gaffer which is the head of the lighting department and I am a Make-up Artist.
Tell us a bit about your most recent expedition, the Tour d’Afrique?
We took on the Tour d’Afrique with the intention of turning our part-time travels into a business. It is a 12,000km cycling expedition from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. We entered as racers with the hopes of raising our profile as adventurers. We had always been very adventurous, the rest of the world just didn’t know it. We are avid snowboarders, skiers, rock climbers and mountain bikers. We can paddle and navigate canoe routes and we love camping and the outdoors. Whenever we travel, we always make it an adventure. From Paragliding in Peru, climbing South East Asia’s highest peak; Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, or swimming with sharks in Belize, we love to add elements of adrenaline to our itinerary. People really seemed to enjoy the idea of a couple racing down a continent together and we gained a lot of publicity. We ended up having a great finish as well. I was women’s champion and Dave came 5th in the men’s race. Our intent before leaving was to pitch a travel adventure television series when we returned. Between our newspaper articles, television and radio interviews and our fabulous finish, production companies were willing to meet with us. It was much easier to pitch an adventure show when you had already received a lot of publicity as adventurers. It was a really brutal tour. We rode through the desert in Sudan, rocky mountain roads in Ethiopia, We had mud and rain in Tanzania and long mileage in Botswana. We would cycle for 6 days in a row and then have a rest day. This lasted for 120 days. Being on a bicycle for 5 to 8 hours a day was difficult, but since finishing, we feel that we can accomplish anything. There was civil unrest in Kenya while we were in Africa, so unfortunately we had to bypass that country. Our support trucks drove through without us as we flew ahead to Tanzania. We had 2 weeks to wait for them, so we decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro while we were there. It was an incredible experience, and another one of those moments that make you feel that you can achieve anything in your life. It also was important to us to add another adventure to our repertoire.
We started seriously blogging again about 2 months ago. We had been blogging while in Africa but stopped when we returned home. We felt that since our trip was over, we didn’t have anything more to say. It was while we were doing research on travel writing for our next trip that we stumbled upon some articles about blogging for a living. It never occurred to us to run our travel blog as a travel website that we can share information with people wanting to travel like we do. We realized that we had a lot of experience under our belt, and that we had a lot to say. We felt that we could reach a wide audience with posts on our favorite places, information on destinations and advice columns. When we saw other people actually making a living out of it, we decided to concentrate on having our blog up and running and making money by the time we leave at the end of this year.
What strategies did you use to revamp your blog and connect with new readers?
This has been a challenge. We didn’t know anything about SEO (search engine optimization) or monetizing our blog. We didn’t know about keywords or tagging. So we have had to go back through all of our posts and basically start from scratch. Our first order of business was changing our theme. Our theme was originally set up as more of a personal blog and we needed to make it look more like a website. We had to submit our site to search engines like Google, we joined travel forums like the Travel Blog Exchange and social networks like Twitter. We applied to Google Adsense and Commission Junction and others and put some ads on our site. And as time went on we refined our choices to fit our content. We learned how to connect with our community. We have found this to be invaluable. Speaking to and learning from other travel bloggers has been a huge help and we are building friendships that we feel will last for years to come. The support system out there is incredible, but you have to work at it. You can’t just expect people to help you out if you aren’t active in the blogging community. We have really enjoyed reaching out to other travelers. We didn’t know the first thing about Twittering, networking in forums and had never heard of StumbleUpon or Digg. It has been a lot of fun watching our community grow as we learn how to utilize these tools. The learning curve has been pretty fast because we have put in a lot of time. Almost every spare moment is spent at the computer, but we still have a lot to learn. Each day we find new ways to gain viewers. We just discovered Reddit and have found that our numbers have risen dramatically.
Have you run into any problems?
Yes, not having any Internet background whatsoever has been difficult. Editing HTML to change the website is a slow process for us. It has all been trial and error. We think that we have found the perfect set up one minute and then we discover that it could be better and need to change it again. Learning and understanding SEO is a big challenge as well. We have to rethink how to write our articles to optimize them for search engines and we are learning how to tag our posts properly. We are still not sure if we are doing everything optimally yet, but at least we have the general idea as to what we are doing and heading in the right direction.
You can expect to see a lot of us. We are taking this as far as we can and have no plans on giving up. We will be leaving on a journey at the end of this year for an indefinite amount of time. We will be traveling through Central Asia, Europe and Northern Africa writing about our adventures as we go. We have big plans on how we are going to travel, but you will have to wait and read about it once we are there. Expect a lot of adventures that are unique to each country along the way. Our travel show is still in the works and we have signed with a production company. They are still working on development and distribution at the moment. These things take time and we don’t need to be here for that so we can go off and keep the adventure alive until the first episode starts filming. We are jumping in with both feet and not turning back. We believe that if you give yourself an ultimatum and set a definite goal, with enough hard work and persistence things will work out in the end.
You can follow Dave and Deb’s adventures on their personal website, theplanetd.com, as they paddle, hike, climb, scuba dive and trek their way around the globe. You can also follow their micro updates and say hello at twitter.com/theplanetd. All images in this post come from their personal stash 🙂
*Update: Check out John’s interview at Jet Set Citizen to learn more!