Welcome to my blog on growing a YouTube travel channel. I’m a Teaching Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the owner and presenter for Wolters World. My passions are travel, teaching and family. I’ve been lucky to combine all three in my professional endeavors. I’m currently living in Illinois but have lived in a number of other countries.
I’ve visited over 70 countries and have taken my family to over 50 (my wife even birthed one of our children abroad), and with all of that I can’t say that I have one favorite destination. We tend to choose our places by continent or region. Therefore in Europe it is a toss up between the food and culture of France, and the history and craziness of Italy. In Africa, Rwanda was one of the most incredible travel experiences my family and I ever had.
We still talk about our Rwanda trip, and my oldest son and wife fight over who gets to go back first. In South America, Brazil is the closest country to my heart. The passion that Brazilians have for life is amazing. Whether you are exploring the nature that the country has or dancing until the wee hours of the morning during carnival, it is so much fun. In Asia, the contrast of futuristic funk and historic culture makes Japan my go-to spot.
The Beginning of my YouTube Journey
I started making travel YouTube videos (channel link here) for my wife when we were dating. We knew we were going to get married and she was going to move to Portugal with me where I was doing my PhD. I wanted her to feel more comfortable with our neighborhood and Lisbon in general, and I also wanted to help her learn some Portuguese, so I started making Portuguese language and culture videos to help her prepare for the move.
The real turning point of my YouTube channel came when I was visiting Italy and bought a guidebook that turned out to be just a fluff piece on every city. It did not really help travelers understand the pros and cons of visiting any of the travel destinations. I ended up visiting one of the towns that the book recommended and it sounded incredible by the description, however when I arrived in the town it was a complete disappointment.
I couldn’t get over how unfair it would be for someone to go on vacation and visit that town after having read a stellar review, and it being a let down. I thought of my friends who might visit Europe once in their life and would waste 10% of their holiday because of an overzealous guidebook. That was when I decided to focus on honest advice, and giving the pros and cons of a destination. That way they could make educated choices.
When I began on YouTube I had no idea about editing, thumbnails, titles, etc. I would just stick my Nikon Coolpix camera on a rock or garbage can and film. I would film the video in one take and upload it. I look back now and realize that editing would have made a huge difference. Occasionally I get people commenting on my older videos mentioning how much thinner I was, how much more hair I had and how bad the audio was.
It was fun doing it though. Honestly, I never thought my channel would go anywhere. It was just a hobby I had to go along with my travels. I remember people telling me that my channel would never succeed because I was fat, old and going bald. I feel that my success just shows that anyone can make it big on YouTube if they are true to themselves and produce videos that can help people solve their problems in the best way possible.
Creating Videos that the Audience Love
When I started making videos I tried all kinds of topics. I had the language and culture videos for my wife but then expanded to teaching various languages, making summary videos for my students in Portugal and top 10 lists. Over time I watched my analytics and saw that no one was watching language videos. They preferred the “5 Things You Will Love & Hate” series I produced that covered the best and worst parts of a destination.
The “5 Things You Will Love & Hate” video series really began to resonate with my audience, so we focused on making this type of content instead of simple top 10 lists. You can browse through this video playlist on my YouTube channel here. I have made over 100 of these videos now. This was a game changer for us as I could use my experience living all around the world and bring that into context with travel, and helping other travelers.
I think what makes our videos different is that my family and I have gone to so many destinations around the world. We have made it a point to get to know the culture and understand the people, and share those experiences. It is not about us traveling, it is about us helping other people travel better. The honest advice from a family who has gone there and done that is what resonates with people who want to travel to those places as well.
I have a few words of advice for those starting a YouTube channel, one: you should do it! Start one today. Go make a video on your favorite restaurant or the most fun thing to do in town. It will take time to learn how to make and edit great videos, as editing plays a very important role in how your videos finally turn up at the end. So you might as well start with one and see how it goes. To make your editing task simple go for a free video editor available online, it will help you create a pro-level video for your audience. The second word of advice I have for all the aspiring YouTubers out there is to be yourself. If you want to make this work long term, you need to be you.
Not someone who you think people will like. It is too hard to maintain a fake personality on YouTube. Eventually people see through it and you lose authenticity. So be yourself. Have a plan for what you want your channel to be, but be open to changing that plan if you see it is not working. When I started I wanted to make videos to help travelers and I thought teaching people languages, and the top sights to visit, would be the best way to go.
Well, after a year of language videos and top 10 lists I saw that people didn’t like those topics all too much. They preferred topics which talked about the pros and cons of travel so that they were better prepared for trips. That meant I needed to stop the top 10 lists and the language videos, and focus on what our fellow travelers wanted: honest travel advice on culture and people, not a list of sights that they could find anywhere like on Tripadvisor.
Start YouTube as a Hobby or Side Hustle
The great thing about YouTube is that you can do it all as a hobby or a side hustle if you would like. It doesn’t take thousands of dollars saved or a trust fund to be a YouTuber and that is what is so amazing about this platform, anyone can do it! I have met teachers, plumbers, housewives, stay at home dads, and retirees who have all started doing YouTube on the side and they ended up making incredible amounts of money off of their fun side hobby.
Having said that, I would want everyone starting out on YouTube to realize that it takes time before you make money and even longer to get to a point where you can make it your full time job. So, it is best to start off like a hobby, then when it starts to make money in a few months or years turn it into a side hustle, and then if it really takes off you can have the discussion on quitting your job and giving up your benefits for the YouTube life.
Consistency is key to long term YouTube success. I mean that in two ways – consistency in terms of you need to be putting out content on a consistent basis whether that is daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, however it works for you. Also, you need consistency within your videos. People watch videos from the same creator over and over again because they know what they are going to get. Find your voice and deliver on that in your videos.
No matter what topic we discuss, we make sure we are always honest and upfront with our viewers. That way they know, no matter what video they watch. they are getting the truth about travel. In terms of developing your own style I think it is important to find your voice. You have to be you. YouTube is not easy, and if you are trying to play someone else all the time that gets hard. It is easier to be yourself and have your true self show.
Practical Tips for Growing your Channel
My filming setup is simple. It is me, my tripod, my camera and my script book that is clipped onto the tripod. That’s it. This makes it easier to have a steady shot and I don’t feel like I need to ask the tripod every 30 seconds if I am doing OK. For years I did all the editing, but a few years ago I started hiring outside editors to help me cut down my videos. They would take the raw footage and cut it down, then I would put in the B-roll and text.
About a year ago I felt comfortable enough to let my team do the text and B-roll as well. That is one thing I would tell new YouTubers, don’t be afraid to let an editor help. They won’t know exactly what you want at first, but tell them everything you like and don’t about the videos they edit, and they learn and eventually you get on the same page. However, if they don’t get on the same page after a month, perhaps you should look for a new team.
Also, go to Canva.com and make thumbnails. It is a free (or paid) online service that gives you tools to create great thumbnails. Those thumbnails will make all the difference in getting people to click on your videos. Don’t go and buy the fanciest camera or most expensive editing software – you can film from your phone. Whether you have an Android or an iPhone, they typically have excellent cameras and some even come with editing apps.
You could just buy cheap video editing software instead of an expensive one, as most are watching your videos on their phones and won’t notice the details that an expensive software package delivers. Don’t forget your audio. Lots of people don’t watch videos, they listen. Therefore, the quality of your audio is crucial. Make sure you are not filming in loud locations or if you are, have a good microphone that can tone down outside sounds.
Best Memory from my YouTube Journey
I would like to leave you with my best memory from my YouTube journey. It was when I was filming the “5 Things You Will Love & Hate” about Germany. I placed my camera on a park bench and I was sitting on the ground. While I was filming, two friends of mine started to pretend fight behind me and, as if on queue, my three year old son at the time came up to me, smiled and proceeded to steal the camera with this high pitched laugh.
I got the camera back but as I didn’t know how to edit properly, I just uploaded the video as it was. When people watched it, you could tell when they went to that part as his high pitched laugh made them jump. I still smile when thinking about that video (it was 12 years ago). All in all, having the chance to travel the world and create videos that people find both entertaining and insightful is pure joy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.