Publisher Interview: Lia Garcia of Practical Wanderlust

photo of Lia Garcia

I know we say this often, but it’s true: Our Mediavine publishers are incredible!

Besides being hard working, they are often willing to provide tips and advice, while sharing their expertise to help others learn and grow.

Our Publisher Interview series focuses on sharing success stories of how our MVPs started their blogs, increased site traffic and grew their audience, plus the ways Mediavine has helped shape their businesses and personal lives for the better.

We have shared so many motivating success stories already from publishers, like Fittoservegroup and Hand Luggage Only, just to name a couple of our over 6,100 and constantly growing list of publishers.

Join us on a practical, down-to-earth and wanderlust-filled journey, as we share our interview with Lia Garcia of the site Practical Wanderlust, a blog that shows you travel doesn’t have to be perfect – sometimes it’s a complete disaster and that’s OK!

We are excited to have Lia on the blog, so please say hello and learn about how her leap of faith, year-long honeymoon and sharing her travel mis(adventures) has helped her create a path to success!

Lia Garcia of Practical Wanderlust.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and your everyday life.

My husband and I live in Oakland, California! I grew up on a farm in Kentucky, but I’ve lived here nearly 10 years now — well, minus our year-long honeymoon.

When I’m not working (or traveling), you can usually find me at the gym powerlifting while making loud grunting noises, walking through my beautiful neighborhood with my nose buried in my phone playing Pokemon Go, watching some terrible trashy reality TV (what up Bachelor Nation?) or yodeling my heart out at one of my favorite karaoke joints!

How did you get started blogging?

I started Practical Wanderlust in 2016, just before my husband and I quit our jobs and took off on a (disastrous) year-long honeymoon. The blog was just supposed to be something I did for fun, but I got hooked and spent the entire year working on it obsessively! It became my full-time job when we returned back home.

This isn’t my first rodeo with blogging though. I started my first blog way back in 2006, when the word “blog” was still weird and new and blogging was on the cutting edge of technology.

Over the years I’ve run a fashion blog, a budget/frugal/couponing blog for college students, a craft blog and an e-commerce business that I ran for six years. Who knows, one of these days I may pick up one of my old niches again!

Lia Garcia walks towards an AirPanama airplane.

How long have you been a Mediavine publisher? How did you first hear about us? What drew you to Mediavine as a partner for display advertising?

I applied for Mediavine in our first year of blogging. Back then, there weren’t very many travel bloggers on Mediavine! We were all still slumming it on Google Adsense, where to this day I have like $97.53 that I’ll NEVER be able to cash out.

I actually spent two whole months after hitting the Mediavine threshold waiting to hit that $100 minimum so I could walk away with no regrets, until finally biting the bullet, which pains me to think about now!

I actually don’t recall where I first heard about Mediavine or what made me want to apply. The days of my blog pre-Mediavine were dark, cold and sad and I don’t think about them very often. (Kidding… ish)

Describe your experience with Mediavine. What do you love about working with us?

I LOVE MEDIAVINE! I shout my love for Mediavine from the rooftops to everyone I know (and sometimes to random people who have no idea why I’m shouting at them).

It’s been love at first click, ever since the first time y’all reviewed my application and we bonded over our mutual love for Disney and karaoke. (Psst: The Mediavine team is incredibly fun at karaoke and I highly recommend.)

Mediavine treats their advertisers the way I treat my readers: Every single decision is made with our best interests in mind. To me, that’s not only smart business that creates hordes of rabid, obsessively loyal fangirls (see: me), but it also moves the needle forward for the entire advertising industry.

Mediavine has truly raised the bar and created a supportive community of bloggers with the best tools to grow and thrive.

I learn so much from not only the Mediavine team and their tireless efforts to educate us and put more money in our pockets (even though I’m still a year behind on video, whoops), but from so many other bloggers in the Mediavine Facebook Group.

It’s one of the only places I ever get to interact with bloggers and business owners in niches other than travel, and that’s been SO eye-opening and valuable for me.

How has your Mediavine ad revenue changed your life for the better?

Mediavine is like my fairy godmother. My Mediavine income has changed everything. Absolutely everything.

It’s made it possible for me to work on the blog full time. It’s made it possible for my husband and I to spend all summer traveling together. It’s made it possible for me to work under 40 hours a week. It’s made it possible for me to make smart, strategic decisions that strengthen my business long-term.

Mediavine is the financial stability that our entire blog is built on: I think of it like my salary. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it!

(But, like, literally: I actually couldn’t afford to live here in the San Francisco Bay area without it. *cries in overpriced rent*)

Lia Garcia visits the famous Painted Ladies in the Bay area.

How do you think the blogging industry has changed since you started your website?

Although it’s only been three years since we started the blog, it definitely seems less crazy these days to hear about bloggers, like me, who earn a 6-figure income (I didn’t even know bloggers COULD earn money when I started my blog!), to tell people that I get paid to travel for a living or to ask sponsors to pay me to review their products. Those things used to feel like a huge ask and now they’re fairly standard.

There’s also been a switch from the appeal of monetizing through sponsorships to the appeal of passive income.

I’m constantly grateful that I made the decision early on to focus on growing my passive income rather than chasing after shiny, exciting brand sponsorships.

What are the best and worst parts of blogging for you?

Blogging fits into this weird space between “entrepreneur” and “solopreneuer” and that can be a really confusing place to exist in.

I both love and hate the autonomy of blogging, and being my own boss is both a blessing and a curse. It means that I answer to nobody, call my own shots and have a whole Spotify playlist filled with songs about making money and being a general bada$$ boss-lady that I listen to in my PJ’s on a Wednesday.

Like don’t be mad cuz I’m doin’ me better than you doin’ you!

But it also means that when things get really tough, when I’m feeling overwhelmed or when I’m not sure what the next step is for my business… that can be really isolating.

It’s difficult to delegate to my helpful virtual assistants when my entire blog and brand is built around my personality, or when I don’t have time to train anyone on how to do the zillion different things I do.

It’s difficult to find out what it is that I don’t know — like, I can Google all day long, unless I don’t know the right questions to ask.

Some days it feels like I have 85 different jobs all at the same time, and I’m constantly juggling them trying to make sure nothing falls, and also my jobs are knives and they’re on fire while I’m on a unicycle trying to sing the alphabet backwards.

My metaphor got away from me here but if y’all ever feel like that, just know that you’re not alone!

Lia Garcia living on island time.

What has been your biggest success as an influencer?

I think my biggest strength as an influencer is portraying myself and my relationship in a way that’s honest and relatable. Practical Wanderlust is not meant to be aspirational — we want our readers to think, “We could totally hang out with these guys,” not, “I wish we had their lives!”

We want to show our readers that imperfection is OK, that travel disasters are inevitable and that it’s OK if your travels don’t look like picture-perfect Instagrammable travel dreams.

We write the way we talk to our friends, we embrace our screwups and imperfections and we speak candidly about our shortcomings and struggles.

One of the blog’s biggest successes has been passive income. The blog has grown from a brand new baby blog (that we started on Blogger, bless) to earning multi 6-figures in less than three years, and 80% of our revenue comes from passive sources, split evenly between affiliate marketing and Mediavine.

That’s not the easiest to do in the travel niche, and it gives us an enormous amount of flexibility and freedom when it comes to making strategic decisions, like turning down a brand partnership that isn’t a good fit or deciding to take a day or week (or month…) off of work to avoid burnout.

Figuring out the key to driving traffic — and driving traffic that converts into affiliate sales — has been a huge part of our success.

Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s also one of our best assets for landing brand partnerships: Being able to speak to and deliver KPIs allows me to create customized deliverable packages that are tailored to brand’s needs — and of course we roll all of those KPIs into a beautiful campaign report to delight my brand partners.

(Psst: I shared all of the details about those campaign reports at the Mediavine Conference in November!)

Who are your FAVORITE bloggers. Who inspires you? Why do you like them?

I’m a huge fan of Gloria Atanmo from The Blog Abroad. Her content is incredible and her personality shines through in everything she creates and shares. Also, her hustle is unreal and she’s hilariously entertaining!

I’ve watched her ascend to ultra-success over the past few years and I find her insanely inspiring.

Meg Cale from Dopes on the Road is another one of my favorite bloggers. She runs the largest lesbian travel blog in the world, has been featured everywhere from the UN to the BBC and has spoken at just about every major travel conference in the world. Her success is fueled and informed by her activism, and every decision she makes both grows her personal brand and gives back to her community.

I’ve been fortunate enough to rely on Meg as a mentor and friend for a few years now, and it’s been a joy and an inspiration to see her drive, ambition and commitment to her business as well as her community.

My third fave is Christina Guan from Happy to Wander. I fan-girled Christina hard when I was a newbie blogger: Her writing is hilarious and her blog is so much fun to read, whether it’s a list of dorky travel pick-up lines or a story about the time she wore a banana costume in Munich for a day. (Yes, those are both real posts on her blog).

She also writes some of the most well-researched, comprehensive travel guides of any blog I’ve ever written.

Humor and informative, practical advice are the two strengths that I’ve built my blog on, so I was thrilled when we started chatting and decided to join forces and start a business together!

For the past two years we’ve been co-running Slaying Social, a resource for travel bloggers seeking to both grow and monetize their blogs while simultaneously using their platforms to drive positive social change.

What are the most popular 3 posts on your blog?

One of my most popular posts for 3 years running is about my Disney Parks Strategy. I’m a former Cast Member so I sprinkled in just enough Cast Member gossip to make things more interesting than the typical list of Disney tips (and added some highly illicit backstage photos to boot — way down at the end, of course).

I think a lot of Disney fans are dying to know what it’s REALLY like backstage, and while I can’t publish most of my best Disney stories (mainly because they’re all incredibly morbid or gross), my insider knowledge gives me plenty of blog fuel, AKA excuses to re-visit Disney time and time again for ~research~!

My other most popular posts tend to change seasonally: Certain months of the year, it’ll be spots in the USA like Nashville or Denver, or other months of the year it’s Copenhagen or Bali.

Travel is ever-changing and the destinations that are most popular from one year aren’t necessarily the same the next year. (Well, except for Disney. Thanks, Disney!)

Lia Garcia and her husband stand in front of a colorful mural.

What are your 3 personal favorite posts on your blog?

One of my all-time favorites is called 25 Things Nobody Tells You About Traveling While Fat. I talk about body positivity a lot, especially on Instagram. I struggled for years with an eating disorder, but today I’m a loud, proud, self-loving, body-positive fattie.

This post is dedicated to candidly, joyfully and lovingly discussing things that are only relevant when you’re a fat girl out living her best life all over the world.

That post has gotten so many incredible comments and messages from folks who appreciate its unapologetic honesty, humor and positivity, and it makes me SO happy to think that I can help make someone else feel confident and empowered to take on the world no matter what society thinks of their body. (Spoilers: It’s none of society’s business, and society can shove it.)

When we first started the blog, we wrote a lot of long, narrative-based storytelling posts. This was way before I knew what Keysearch was or how to figure out what keyword to use, and I was writing purely for the enjoyment of it. (I kinda miss that carefree, SEO-be-damned life.)

During our year-long honeymoon, we kept having these absolutely ridiculous travel disasters that resulted in some of my favorite blog posts and stories that I tell again and again.

Like, the time I had to get rescued off of a giant waterfall in Colombia. Or the time my husband and I attempted to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and had to turn around and hike back on Day 2. Or the time my husband ran a BMW into a medieval castle in southern France. Or the time my 93-year-old grandfather faked his own death in the middle of our year-long honeymoon. (Yep, really, and, for the record, he’s still very much alive and we just celebrated his 95th birthday.)

We have SO many ridiculous stories from our travels! To read all of them, just visit the “Travel Stories and Fails” section of our site — it’s under “About” in our menu!

These days we rarely write story-only posts, so instead we’ve started working on a Practical Wanderlust podcast to share our favorite stories. I’ve also been wanting to write a book, so if anyone knows a good publisher who might be interested, hit a girl up!

What tools and resources do you use to manage your blog? What could you not live without? Why?

I have a team of contractors and freelancers that help me manage my business, and I manage their work flow using Asana. I LOVE Asana! There is no better feeling than creating a task, assigning it to one of my amazing team members, and then getting a notification that they’ve completed it. Asana makes it easy to manage a team that’s spread out over the entire world!

A few of my other favorite tools:

  • Keysearch for SEO: Simple, easy to use and incredibly powerful for growing organic traffic.
  • ConvertKit for email marketing: Thanks to ConvertKit, we’ve got nearly 16,000 highly engaged customers and can generate thousands of clicks from a single email. Sure, it’s a bit pricey, but if you can monetize your email list, it’s WELL worth it!
  • Performance Foundry: I love my managed hosting! Everything is taken care of for me: Plugin updates, theme updates, routine maintenance, even minor CSS tweaks and changes. For bigger projects, I trust Performance Foundry to do an incredible job and keep my site running quickly and smoothly.
  • Adobe Lightroom: I spent the first year of the blog editing photos we took with my point-and-shoot camera in free online apps on a tiny little Chromebook. Oh, how inexperienced and naive I was! These days we shoot in RAW and edit with presets in Lightroom — it’s faster, it’s insanely better quality and we’re able to tell better stories visually. Plus, having high quality visual assets results in much better treatment and pay from brands and sponsors!

What is your biggest traffic source? What strategies have you used to make that your top traffic source?

Google. I don’t spend a ton of time on SEO — I do kind of the quick and dirty version. I make sure that all of my photos are optimized for both appearance and speed. I do extensive keyword research for every post.

I grow backlinks using social media and link exchanging with other bloggers’ overlapping niche posts. I also make sure to stay on top of internal linking.

But really I think the biggest reason why I have so much traffic from Google (around 120k monthly sessions) is my content: It’s always incredibly long, incredibly detailed, well researched and STUFFED with helpful links and resources.

My average length for a blog post is around 5k words, and I never mention a place/business/destination without providing a helpful, external link. I think Google likes that!

Lia Garcia working on Practical Wanderlust.

Do you have any advice for bloggers on how to grow their traffic?

SEO takes a long time to grow, so be patient!

If you want to grow your traffic more quickly, my favorite secret weapon is Pinterest. Pinterest drove the initial boost of traffic I needed to get my site to Mediavine just 6 months after I started blogging, and to this day it drives about 50k sessions to my blog each month even though I spend almost no time on it at all.

Pinterest is a visual search engine, and a blog post that ranks highly in Pinterest will bring just as much reliable, long-term traffic as a post that ranks highly on Google!

I’ve created a few comprehensive Pinterest courses over on Slaying Social for those struggling to drive traffic from Pinterest.

Anything else you’d like to add to help other bloggers grow?

All of my blogging secrets, tips, tricks and even detailed income reports, since 2018, can be found on my travel blogging resource site Slaying Social!

What actor would play you in a movie based on your life and career?

Jennifer Lawrence. She’s from my hometown (Louisville, Kentucky) and we’re both clumsy and awkward in, like, an endearing way (only she makes it look much cooler).

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

I have a whole PLAYLIST of karaoke favorites! Here are my faves:

  • Don’t Bother by Shakira (yes, I low-key yodel a little)
  • Tearing Up My Heart by N*SYNC
  • Gimme More or Piece of Me by Britney Spears. Or any other Britney Spears song, really. Bonus points if it’s from Blackout!
  • The Wire by HAIM
  • Corn
  • Fake Girl by Tori Amos
  • Radioactive by Marina & the Diamonds
  • Time of my Life from Dirty Dancing, but only when my husband can duet with me! This was our first dance/performance together as a married couple at our karaoke reception. Yep, we did the lift! No, I did not get more than 2 inches off the ground.

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