Travel Bloggers Greece is a network of travel bloggers who write about their travel experiences, mainly in Greece. Most of them are expats who live in Greece. I met four of them, Marissa Tejada, Elena Sergeeva, Chrysoula Manika and Amber Charmei, in Lesvos during one of their trips as a group. I was inspired by the fact that they have created a network, they work together, they share their experiences and learn from each other. I met them again in Athens, at Mana’s Kouzina-Kouzina restaurant, and we talked about their blogs, the network and their travelling experiences, while enjoying delicacies from the Greek cuisine and a great selection of Greek beers from small breweries. New member Gabi Ancarola was also there, as well as Elena’s mother, Marina. Meeting them was such a fun experience, because above all they are good friends!
Marissa came to Greece initially with her first husband. It didn’t work out but she decided to stay in Greece. “I was going to stay for the summer and that was six years ago! So, I’m still here, I still love life here, I’m remarried, and I’m Greek!” she says. She started her blog Travel Greece, Travel Europe four years ago as an experiment out of her love for travelling and writing. She’s a journalist, corporate writer, travel blogger and novelist. She published her first book “Chasing Athens” two years ago. It’s a romantic comedy novel that takes place in Greece. “I hope to write another book ‘cause Greece inspires me,” she says, while the rest cheer and encourage her!
“I said ‘If the domain is available, then it’s destiny!’”
Elena’s family moved to Athens when she was a child. At first, it was only for a few years, but finally they made Greece their permanent home. “So basically I’m Greek now!” she says. She started her first blog in 2009, but she discovered the power of blogging and social media in 2011, while writing her dissertation for her master’s degree. She has a few blogs, under the “Passion for” concept. She is a passionate, young, full of energy and ideas woman. I ask her how she came up with this concept. “I was in a flight from New York and in the plane I was watching ‘Steve Jobs’ movie. When he said ‘I don’t wanna work for anybody else’ the idea of ‘Passion for Greece’ was born. I said ‘If the domain is available, then it’s destiny!’ So, I came in Athens, I searched and I bought a couple of domains. I started with Passion for Greece two years ago, my next chapter is ‘Passion for Dubai’ and I have more ‘Passions’ coming out.”
Chrysoula is the only one in the group born and raised in Greece. She studied tourism but she works in the marketing team of a newspaper. She started her blog Travel Passionate because her friends saw her passion and encouraged her. “Because I love travelling and organizing trips I give advice to my friends on travelling. They encouraged me to have a blog and write about it so I decided to start a blog about Greece, where I give advice to people who want to visit, on where to go, what to do, where to eat and drink, everything…” She hopes to make it her profession in the future.
“I teach the world on a plane, on a bus, on a train to my kids and that’s what I love the most.”
Gabi is the only one not living in Athens at the moment, but she’s planning to. She lives in Italy, where she used to be a translator for tourism, until she decided to start writing and have her own voice. She now writes on her blog The Tiny Book about her passion, which is travelling with her children. She educates them on the road. “I try to teach them how the world works by actually seeing the world and not by reading it in books. So I combine a lot of things and I teach the world on a plane, on a bus, on a train to my kids and that’s what I love the most.” She also works on a project about Greece through tourism books and travel guides for the Italian market, trying to promote Greece in Italy.
“Something we all like about Greece very much is that it embodies values, too.”
Amber came to Greece 17 years old in search for the sense of community she missed from New York city, when it became so big. “Where I grew up [in Manhattan] I knew the guy who made the mozzarella cheese, I knew the guy who made the bread, I knew the guy who made the sausage, I knew everybody. And I missed that kind of life. I missed that community and that connection. So, when I had the opportunity to move here [in Greece], I came in search of that: something urban but sweeter, something a little more authentic.” She started writing on her blog, Provocolate, mainly about food until she met the other members of TBG. “Now I write a lot more about things that make life real, authentic, special.” It seems that in Greece Amber found what she was looking for. She adds, “Something we all like about Greece very much is that it embodies values, too. I think that’s what drives people here, it’s not just that it’s beautiful, it’s not just that the food is delicious, but that it’s coming from a place very real. So I hope to try to capture that and share it as much as possible.”
After getting to know their stories, I ask them what they think makes their blogs successful and popular. Elena’s mother, who reads them all, immediately answers the question: “Because they are writing! They are writing all the time! Even me, when they go to a destination, I see it immediately! The more they write, the more they are on top!” She’s a dentist and she describes how she speaks about the blogs to her patients! She’s full of passion and joy – like mother like daughter!
“Now maybe I’m not 100% successful but I feel successful because I love it!”
Gabi explains her point of view, which is more or less the same for all of them. “When you love something, you do it with passion and you are there all the time. I remember when I was translating, I wasn’t doing it with passion. I thought, how can you get successful if you don’t love it? Now maybe I’m not 100% successful but I feel successful because I love it! And maybe I’m not earning as much as I was earning but I don’t care, I’m happy this way!” Everyone concurs with her last sentence. They make less, but they are happier.
“what makes bloggers special is their passion for the subject, nothing else.”
Elena says that “A blog is hard work. It’s not easy to be a blogger because it does take your personal expense, your own time, a lot of time, a lot of writing, photography, marketing skills, everything (Gabi adds “family time”) and it’s not something that pays up front. It takes commitment and everybody’s story is different because it depends on how much time you put in. How much time you spend on Pinterest is how much you’re going to get out of Pinterest, or Facebook or whatever. And there’s other things, not only Social Media. There’s writing and improving your writing, improving your photography, improving your SEO… As Gabi was saying the underlying thing is your passion for the topic. Whether you’re a travel blogger or a gardening blogger, a language blogger, what makes bloggers special is their passion for the subject, nothing else. And that is what drives the success of that blog. The success is totally measurable by the person who’s writing it, there is no industry standard. You can judge somebody by what you think is success, but the success for the bloggers is actually writing about their passion.”
Chrysoula adds the other side of the story: “What I find that helped the success of my blog is that I’m trying to be helpful for people coming to Greece. Everything I put on my blog is for them, to help them.”
“Always tell the truth! When you know something, say it. Be true to yourself and to people.”
Gabi agrees very much with this point. “And tell the truth!” she says. “Always tell the truth! When you know something, say it. Be true to yourself and to people. You may make mistakes. I write in English, I’m a translator, I studied the language, but I’m not a native speaker. I know I make mistakes. But people read me because I tell them that I’m not native and that I write this way. And they keep coming because I tell the truth. This is who I am.”
“When you collaborate with people who are in the same field as you and have the same interest, you have something in common, it helps.”
I ask them about the network (Travel Bloggers Greece – TBG). How did they get together? Marissa tells the story: “It started two years ago when Elena and I met at TBEX Athens. It was my first travel bloggers’ conference and I was asked to speak about blogging in Greece and that’s why I went. We met the last day, at the very end. She asked me to go out for coffee and she presented this idea to me: ‘Let’s work together for a blogging network’. I said ‘I like this chic!’” We all laugh. – The food comes and goes and we enjoy the tastes, the Greek beers and the friendly conversation. Every time there is a new plate on the table, they all grab their cameras and takes photos of the food! – “We started to talk about it. I believe in professional associations, I belong to several in the States. When you collaborate with people who are in the same field as you and have the same interest, you have something in common, it helps. So, I thought that with blogging it could only help the country and me as a blogger to learn what other people are doing. So we started thinking of ideas, how we can make it a quality network, how we attract people with passion, but ethics as well. We were thinking of different things to make it something that people take seriously in a way that they contribute, they get something out of it. This is why we have two levels, a beginner level for those who just published their blog and want to learn from other people and a secondary membership where you have to have a certain amount of followers. This is a win-win situation for the Greek companies or tourism boards, because they know that the bloggers who work with have been in the game for a while and they have a certain professionalism.
Elena adds “Actually, now we don’t have only two levels but we’ve opened up to a new level, which is Travel Bloggers Greece Global. Gabi is our first member!” Everyone applause and we laugh, Gabi says how proud she is to be the first member of the new level! “The passion for Greece does not just end with bloggers based in Greece. There are grecophiles all over the world and they’re blogging about Greece. Gabi, for example, has a quality, beautiful blog and she’s blogging a lot about Greece. We can learn from Gabi, too.”
My next and final question is about their trips. I ask them which trips and destinations are their favorites.
Marisa’s answer is Lesvos, where I met them a few months ago. When I first saw them they were tasting ouzo and trying local delicacies. “it was an intense trip, the most tiring experience I ever had travelling and the most wonderful! I was with wonderful company, it was a wonderful host in a place with so much drama, passion, beauty, amazing cuisine, amazing people… It was one of the most memorable trips in my life,” she says. Without Lesvos in the picture, she really likes Crete. “Crete is something else!” she says and all the girls agree with her.
Elena replies that every trip is unique and she likes them all. “Every time I go on a trip, I wanna explore more – I think I wanna travel forever!” She also chooses Lesvos as her favorite trip with the girls. “Lesvos was absolutely amazing. We did so many things, we bonded in so many ways, not just the ouzo effect, but we had celebrations, we met some really great people, there was a humanitarian aspect as well.” I ask her about her favorite trip abroad. Although New York is her favorite city, she chooses her trip to Thailand. “I really enjoyed Bangkok and learning about Buddhism culture. I think there is a lot to learn from that and this is why I’m really looking forward to going back to Asia. The simplicity and hospitality Asia has is something unique.”
Chrysoula also chooses Lesvos from their trips together. “I didn’t expect the island to be so beautiful and it offers so many things to do. The people who hosted us were so good with us, and everyone we met was very nice.” But Crete has a special place in her heart because her grandmother is from there. She has spent most of her summers on the island.
“my favorite place, second to Buenos Aires which is my native city, is Athens. So, every time I’m here I feel at home.”
Gabi hasn’t traveled with them… yet. She emphasizes the word “yet” and we all laugh! She can’t wait to join them in their next trip. “Not being based in Greece, my favorite place, second to Buenos Aires which is my native city, is Athens. So, every time I’m here I feel at home.” Athens is for Gabi one of the places she would live in. Istanbul and London are her other choices. “London is in my heart because it’s the first place I traveled with one of my kids alone, mum and son. It was a prize for my little one when he finished all the Harry Potters. He was 7 and he read them all! So, I took him to London and it was fantastic!” She’s a proud mum!
Amber’s answer wasn’t a surprise! She also chose Lesvos as her favorite trip with the other girls. She was amazed by the culture and beauty but most of all she admired the way people deal with the crisis they face. “The fact that we were there to witness that I thought it was inspiring for all of us. That pushes it over the top. I mean, the culture, the cuisine, the nature were fabulous but that was very meaningful.” If she had to choose another place she would travel again, it would be Rome. For her it’s the most fabulous place in the world.
Then, Amber adds, “You know how they say that it’s not really the destination, it’s the journey? A ferry trip during the summer in Greece is the best thing! It’s wonderful to be on a boat, it’s part of the experience!” It’s funny that I ‘m listening to the interview and writing this piece on a boat travelling from Ikaria to Naxos. The sun is falling in the sea and it’s one of these breathtaking sunsets you only see on a boat. I agree with you, Amber!