I have no shame in confessing my love for reality tv. I mean, what better mindless entertainment than following along as a bunch of strangers are thrust together to live in a massive house where shenanigans inevitably abound?
It’s one thing to watch it, but it’s an entirely different thing to be a part of it. I’ve never had any desire to be on The Real World, but when the opportunity to apply for the next installment of Navigate Media Group’s BlogHouse popped up, I thought hey – now THIS is something I can see myself doing. Spending 3 days in a Chicago mansion, living with other up-and-coming travel bloggers while we learn from the best in the travel blogging biz, would be both entertaining and educational. Applying for this was a no-brainer.
I half-expected my application to be laughed into the rejection pile, what with my meager following on all social media platforms and general hot mess-ness in terms of what my long-term goals are, but apparently the travel blogging pros of Navigate Media Group believed in this ol’ blog enough to take a chance on me.
And so I cashed in some Southwest miles and booked a flight to Chicago to join 13 other newbie bloggers on the 4th season of BlogHouse!
The Blog House
I strolled up to the house on Day 1 in typical Lindsay fashion: lugging too many bags, fumbling over the door, standing around like an awkward turtle. But once I stepped inside this Lincoln Park mansion, I felt instantly at ease. The staff at Flipkey’s Villa d’Citta welcomed us with warmth and immediately showed us to our rooms. They had the 3 of us New Yorkers sharing the Milano suite, decorated with a nod to modern Italy. My first thought? Man, would this be a fantastic spot for one of my wedding photography clients to get ready in.
Brimming with excitement, we bounded downstairs to check out the rest of the house like kids on Christmas morning. We were greeted in the kitchen with freshly made cookies and a pot of Intelligentsia coffee brewed from beans roasted specially for the villa. And like any good Real World-esque house, ours was stocked with alcohol. We had a continuous supply of Goose Island beer and – wait for it – a WINE TAP. As in, wine coming through the wall, flowing as easily as water. Could it get any better?
Actually, yes. Add an outdoor patio with a jacuzzi to the mix and you’re practically demanding a party. We effortlessly obliged.
Between the gorgeously well-kept house and the tireless efforts of the staff, it’s clear that Villa d’Citta is worthy of its Best B&B in Chicago status. But what really puts them over the top is the food they prepare for guests. I indulged in homemade pizza, fresh pressed paninis, and the best french toast I’ve ever had in my life. Our foodie-laden travel blogging group was extremely pleased with the spread. It actually became part of our meal-time routine to wait until everyone had thoroughly photographed the food before we dug in. Such torture!
The Blog Stuff
We may have had a big fancy house and a fantastic city at our disposal, but we came to BlogHouse to LEARN, damn it!
From midday Saturday to Tuesday morning, the expert bloggers had us newbies attending their workshops, panels, networking events, and one-on-one sessions – plus a few Chicago excursions thrown in for good measure. Everyone came to BlogHouse with a unique background and skill set, and at varying points in their blogging careers, ready to learn about the world of travel blogging. The energy throughout the weekend was palpable and infectious.
We were exposed to an insane amount of information over the course of 3 days, covering topics like business, SEO, WordPress, photography, press trips, working with brands, social media, and more. Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed by Day 2. Rather than wear myself thin trying to absorb every detail thrown at me, I focused primarily on marketing and monetization: two gaping weaknesses of mine. The resounding message was that I need to stop ignoring social media and embrace it; after all, without an audience or a following, you can’t expect your work to gain popularity and earn you travel and money-making opportunities. So I’ve resolved to be less of a Facebook hater and to try to connect more with others on Twitter. On that note: help me do good on this by connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter, will ya?
I also quite enjoyed the panel discussions, where a few of the expert bloggers sounded off on their experiences and thoughts on blogging. It was interesting to see how differently they approached some topics, which helped drive home the fact that there is no one way to succeed at travel blogging. There’s no secret sauce or guaranteed recipe that will result in a fulfilling career as a travel blogger. It’s really about trying all sorts of techniques and experimenting until you find what works for you and your brand.
One of the best things about BlogHouse in general was how approachable and candid the expert bloggers were. Whenever we weren’t in sessions, they were happy to answer our questions and even sit with us to go over topics in more depth. In fact, I don’t think Michael had a minute alone the entire weekend because he was so busy helping everyone with their Wordpress setup! As for me, I got my site audited by Steph, got schooled on all things marketing by Ayngelina, and picked Sherri’s brain on how to make it as a travel photographer. This extra attention from them really helped me process all that I learned in the group sessions and think about how I could apply it to my blog.
My big takeaway from this mentoring was: I am a photographer, and I need to make it clear that I am an expert. Did you guys know that I’ve been photographing weddings professionally for over 4 years? Other than a brief mention of my photography business on my about page and perhaps the prettier-than-average photos embedded in every post, I really don’t drive home the fact that I’m a professional photographer and that it’s the picture-taking more than the writing that guides and illustrates my travel experiences. In the future, you can expect a few subtle transitions on Frugal Frolicker: some site layout changes, more photo essays, and perhaps a few ‘how to’ posts related to taking photos while traveling.
The Blog Fun
You can’t keep a bunch of travelers cooped up in a house for too long, so thankfully we had a few excursions planned.
On Sunday night, we did some networking and drinking at Vertigo Sky Lounge. Wine and sushi with a view, yes please!
On Monday night, we did a boat trip on the Chicago River with Chicago Electric Boats, followed by dinner at Mercadito (courtesy of Gogo). If only this actually was The Real World – we’d have had highly entertaining footage between us partying on our boat and bemoaning boys after a few cocktails.
The general consensus was that this was pretty much the best night ever. Getting to see the city in a golden hour glow, then indulging in some of the best tacos and margaritas outside of Mexico, was just an incredible experience.
We may not have “had our lives taped” a la The Real World, but rest assured we had just as much footage in the form of instagrams, tweets, and photos as documented by us 20 bloggers! (see: #BlogHouse)
And when we weren’t learning or excursion-ing, you could find us hanging out in the villa making good use of the wine tap and plentiful Goose Island beer, swapping Tinder stories and swiping for each other. I woke up one morning to a message from some Chicago guy named Jake who I’d apparently been matched with, saying that no, he didn’t have any ab or tiger photos to share with me. Don’t drink and tinder, folks!
Pardon the cheese here, but I have to say it: the best part of BlogHouse is the bloggers. It was so refreshing to be around people who just GET IT. They get that travel is everything. They get that the key to happiness is being free and adventurous. They get that it’s more fulfilling to go against the grain and make your own path in life. It’s not always easy to find people at home with the same mindset.
I have so much love and admiration for all of the bloggers below. If you’ve got a blog reader, be sure to add every single one of their sites to it so you can follow along with their travel adventures! Some are nomads, some travel while working a ’normal’ job, some are teaching abroad, and others (most of the experts) are full time travel bloggers.
- Lisa Lubin – LLworldtour.com
- Cailin O’Neil – TravelYourself.ca
- Ayngelina Brogan – BaconisMagic.ca
- Stephanie Yoder – WhyWaitToSeeTheWorld.com
- Michael Tieso – ArtOfAdventuring.com
- Sherry Ott – OttsWorld.com
- Francesca Mazurkiewicz – TheWorkingMomsTravels.com
- Anne Lowrey – PartTimeTraveler.com
- Ryan Zieman – RyanZieman.com
- Brad Bernard – MyWanderlist.com
- Susan Schwartz – BestBitsWorldwide.com
- Mindi & Daryl Hirsch – 2foodtrippers.com
- Jenny Marshall – AThingForWords.com
- Nick Huggins – NicksTravelBug.com
- Lindsay Buckley – FrugalFrolicker.com (that’s me!)
- Beth Williams – TravelsInTranslation.com
- Amber Hoffman – WithHusbandInTow.com
- Chanel Brown – CulturalXplorer.com
- Kristin Francis – SouvenirFinder.com
BlogHouse is the brain child of Navigate Media Group, and is made possible by FlipKey, Gogo, Megabus, and Goose Island.