Freelance travel writer Helen Wright talks to Gorkana‘s Richard Caldecourt about launching consumer travel site passportstamps.uk, why she’s keen to showcase less well known destinations, what PRs should consider when pitching in content ideas, and the best destination she’s ever visited.
passportstamps.uk features aspirational travel ideas that are achievable for the everyday person. My aim is to provide content that will give people ideas and show them what you can do in different places. Rather than just tick off lots of famous countries and cities, (New York, Paris, London, etc), I also showcase less known destinations as well.
How did passportstamps.uk come about?
It started more as a hobby than anything else. I was lucky enough to travel to some fantastic places through my work as a freelance journalist, and there were extra things I wanted to write about but couldn’t, due to word counts or the specific briefs set by the publication.
I set up passportstamps.uk mainly so I could have an online platform to rave about the places I’d been to and wanted to tell people about. Since I worked full time when I was setting it up, I was lucky enough to have people in the industry who wanted to be part of the project even though there were no guarantees it would even get off the ground (no pun intended). It’s just grown from there.
How big is the editorial team and who covers what?
I am the editorial team, but I do have some very good contributors which are sourced from across the industry. One of the criteria that I give to freelancers is that they have to be published writers. I think that keeps the site professional and makes the content more engaging. I want the site to have a personal side and be opinion based, but at the same time I want it to be authentic, so that people know they can trust the advice on there.
Who is your target reader?
We get a mixture of ages (usually from 25 and up) both male and female, but we definitely have more female readers. This might be because many readers originally heard about the site through my Twitter and Instagram handles, and they’ll know me as someone who writes for women’s magazines.
A third of our traffic is returning visitors and I’m really happy with that as I must be doing something right! (Unless, of course, it’s my mum from different computers at the library…). It’s not really aimed at teenagers either – we target people earning salaries, who want to spend on travel.
What makes for good content on the site?
I have to like it! I don’t have to like it purely for me – the site wasn’t designed to be a diary of ‘Helen’s life’ – but I need to have a good opinion of a destination or activity and know that it’s relevant for our readers.
Content needs to have credibility and be a little bit different, offering something that you can’t get elsewhere. I was told about this little town in Nevada, USA the other day, where once a year they take bath tubs and race each other down a hill. That would be great for a visitor from the UK to watch. I like to cover things that are fairly unique, but that the everyday person is able to see or participate in.
I’m not really interested in covering your standard beach holiday – but if that beach has a monthly pyjama surfing championship then it makes it so much more interesting.
How would you describe your relationship with PRs?
Hopefully good! I’d hate to be a journalist that has a bad reputation, because we need each other. When I first started I didn’t fully understand the role of PR, but since then there have been so many times when a PR has helped me out of a sticky situation or done me a favour – they are invaluable.
I like to think I’m approachable. I always try to get back to people who tailor an email directly for me or for the site, but to be honest, it is impossible to reply to every email. I receive over 150 emails a day – but I do my best!
Top tips for pitching ideas?
I prefer to be contacted by email because it means I can still respond to something even if I’m travelling. I’m happy to hear from people through social media too, especially to give me a prompt if I’ve forgotten to reply.
One thing that does annoy me is when a PR company will send blanket emails and not research the site before they send a press release. You end up wading through lots of irrelevant stuff and that means next time you get sent something from the same PR you’re less likely to look at it. Equally, I understand that PRs don’t have the time to target specific blogs individually, because obviously that is very time consuming.
A catchy subject line is always a winner, and be clear about what you’re branding, sometimes I get emails and it’s not apparent who they’re working for or who the client is.
Any future plans for passportstamps.uk you can let us in on?
I want to double the amount of content that I’m uploading, so there are constantly fresh stories going on there. I’ve also found that 40% of my visitors come through social shares, so I’m looking to expand our social media channels, too. I’m about to head on an around-the-world trip, covering India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, New Zealand and the USA – which will be a slightly longer trip than I usually take, so I will be blogging about the extended journey as well as the individual destinations.
When it comes to Youtube I had never done vlogging before and it is all very new to me! The 20-year-olds I speak to have taught me everything. I love the way youtube / Vimeo allows you to speak directly to the audience and a video can really bring a destination to life. It’s definitely been a learning curve, but the reception has been great – I’ve had good feedback from brands who want to work with us, as well as a spike in traffic to the site. I’ll be creating a lot more video content this year on travel, tips and reviews, so if any PRs have ideas, definitely get in touch.
Finally, and we have to ask, what’s the best place you’ve visited so far?
Scottsdale in Arizona, USA. Some places you go will just leave an impression on your heart – sometimes you don’t even know why. This is one place I know I will always go back to.