Success for Budget Travel’s blog

Since it was first launched in 2007, BudgetTravel.com’s blog This Just In has focused on breaking travel news, tips for traveling vacationing in high style on a low budget, new technologies, and highlighting reader tips about the joys (and occasional irritations) of modern travel.

In 2009, unique visitor numbers for the blog averaged 100,000 per month, and pageviews averaged 300,000 per month. It remains popular within its niche, drawing more unique visitors than most of its competitors, says Compete.

I’m the founding editor of the blog and have overseen about 700 posts a year. I think of each post as like a colored pushpin, and the blog’s overall content for the year is like one of the portraits that artist Eric Daigh creates out of hundreds of pushpins (see image, here).

eric daigh

Let me try to create a picture of the blog’s overall performance:

The most famous blog posts include one based on a Freedom of Information Act request I made that revealed the information that Homeland Security collects on me.

Other top posts covered the question of whether obese passengers should have to pay for more than one airline seat (which drew 368 comments), advice on how to buy euros ahead of time for future travels, and whether the TSA has stolen from passengers (213 comments).

For example, early in 2009, Transportation Safety Administration officers haphazardly began asking passengers to put their shoes on the conveyor belts at metal detectors instead of in the bins. But it wasn’t clear if it was a requirement or a suggestion. We asked readers, and received more than 110 comments with observations across the country. We then reached out to officials at the TSA, who responded to our readers’ questions. (It turns out that the shoes-out-of-the-bin idea is a suggestion but not a requirement.) ”

The same dynamic came into play when some flight attendants began telling passengers that the FAA had banned personal items from seatback pockets while others said there was no such rule. More than 150 readers wrote in with their experiences, and, through the help of a reader, we received an official response from the FAA.

Look through a few pages of reader comments, and it’s easy to see that our smart, informative coverage has found a like-minded audience. Their comments are often mini-essays of their own, and enrich the knowledge base of our entire readership—and of our editors. Classic examples are the detailed policy analyses that dozens of readers posted in response to our item “Amtrak loses $32 per rider” and our post “Should there be a law against 3-hour tarmac delays?

In 2009 our blog published 732 posts, and passed the 22,000 comment milestone. Some of the more popular and groundbreaking efforts included:
Mexico: The elusive truth about safety (about 270 comments) and TSA: Whole-body scanners to replace metal detectors (about 180 comments)

Meanwhile, one of the funniest posts we ever published was due to the comments of about 80 readers, who sounded off on the world’s most absurd tourist slogans: “Careful with those tourism slogans!

Last year, This Just In also began running guest posts from outside bloggers whose expert advice complements that of its own staffers. The popular Affordable Paris series, for instance, has tipped readers off about the best restaurants and bars to visit before and after the Louvre and other bits of up-to-the-minute, practical advice that’s rarely, if ever, dispensed by guidebooks, such as which museums are closed and which are open on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, where to find a public bathroom in downtown Paris (45 comments), and how can you save up to 40 percent on train tickets by using European websites instead of American ones.

The emphasis on original reporting and judiciously curated coverage of leisure—rather than business—travel make Budget Travel‘s blog different. We’re always on the lookout for under-reported stories that make a real difference in travelers’ lives. And where other publications pull back, we make the necessary phone calls and dig deeper—and then seek out the opinion of our super-informed readers.

In a separate eight-part series, we invited guidebook writers to speak the unspeakable: What are their picks for alternative destinations that may be better than well-known tourist icons? For example, what’s better than Stonehenge? and what’s better than San Juan?

Our blog also had old-fashioned news scoops in 2009 as well. To take two examples from a week in August, This Just In was the first travel blog to report JetBlue’s one-time introduction of an unlimited-flight pass. We were also the first to write about Bose’s first major update of its famous noise-cancelling headphones in many many years.

Typical of the community discussion on our blog, about 50 readers traded tips with each other on how to score deals to Hawaii in response to our post “Go on sale dammit! (Why Hawaii’s airfares defy gravity).” About 80 readers swapped strategies for vetting online hotel reviews in response to our post “TripAdvisor tries to respond to fake hotel reviews.”

Airport security is a hot topic with travelers, and we were the leading travel magazine blog to cover the topic, hands down. Some sample posts: A big push on passenger screening (34 comments), TSA to roll out whole body scanners (180 comments), and
Are swine flu fever scanners at airports worthwhile? (8 comments)

The blog bounced around the list of top 20 most linked-to travel blogs on the Internet, according to Technorati. It was recently in the #2 spot for both amateur and news blogs in leisure travel.

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