Along with his wife Celine, Dan runs the family travel blogs Baby Can Travel and Family Can Travel. We ran into their family while we were visiting Rome, and since then we’ve kept up with one another through social media and e-mail. As fellow travel bloggers, Dannie and I were very curious about how their experience compared to our own, so we were very excited when Dan agreed to do this interview with me.
Jake: Can one of you tell our readers what what Baby Can Travel is all about?
Dan: Our slogan at Baby Can Travel is, “Because life doesn’t end after having a baby…”. We sincerely believe this and through Baby Can Travel we aim to inform, inspire and give courage to new parents who wish to travel with their babies.
Jake: Do you both have other careers? How do your backgrounds help you with your business?
Dan: Celine left her career when H was born in order to stay home and raise our children. I resigned from my job last year in order to spend some time with the kids while they were still small and to help grow Baby Can Travel.
Celine and I both have a background in Oil and Gas Supply & Trading roles. These roles are fun, rewarding and exciting, but they are very high pressure where failure to achieve your desired outcome is not an acceptable option. I think we were both attracted to this line of work as we both enjoy challenges and are very competitive. Travel blogging is obviously way less stressful, but I think that the problem solving skills we bring to the table help us understand our audience; what works, what doesn’t and what we can do to help our audience have successful travel experiences with their families. In addition, we are used to “failure not being an option” and this gives us the strength to continue doing whatever it takes to make our business a success, even when it seems like we are moving sideways.
Jake: So it sounds like the two of you are all in then. Had you had some success with blogging already before you took the plunge?
Dan: I’m sure Celine will laugh at me when I say this, but I barely knew what a blog was when we created Baby Can Travel. After our very first trip with our daughter, it went so well that we both knew we had to find a way to inspire other parents to travel with their babies as well, so we jumped in with both feet and just learned as we went. At first, we were very focused on our travel guides, but soon came to realize the importance of a supporting blog as well.
Jake: One of the best things that Dannie and I have done for our business is divide up our workload. What roles do each of you play in running Baby Can Travel?
Dan: Being business partners as well as spouses certainly comes with its unique set of challenges, so I completely agree that dividing up workload is a great idea. Celine and I both love creating content, so we both write blogs posts. Celine is very creative, so she handles all elements of our social media accounts. She creates fun, interesting and relevant content for our audience, while growing our followers and engagement. I handle the financial side of things; finding ways of generating revenue in a trustworthy and non-intrusive way which actually helps the user experience (relevant affiliate programs, advertising, etc).
Jake: Speaking of monetization, what revenue stream have you found to be the most productive? I’ve got a friend who would love to know.
Dan: The revenue stream which generates the most income is affiliate income, which makes sense given our audience. People who read our blog are typically searching for information and advice from someone who has already done what they are about to do. When we recommend a product on our website, it’s because we use it and love it enough to recommend it to our audience. If they see that we love a product, they are trusting us enough to buy one for themselves.
Jake: If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of numbers do you get for monthly web traffic these days, and how long did it take you to get there?
Dan: We launched BabyCanTravel.com in June 2014. By December 2016, we had grown our pageviews to roughly 3,000 per month. Since then, we’ve been growing at a healthy pace and are now approaching 15,000 per month.
Jake: I am both envious and encouraged to hear that timeline. Our numbers aren’t where yours are right now, but it sounds like we are on track for how long we’ve been putting in the effort. Having read your blog and seen the types of content you produce, I imagine that most of your traffic comes from organic search. Is that right?
Dan: Looking at your great content, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before you guys get the attention you deserve! As for us, your hunch is correct, our biggest acquisition source is Organic search.
Jake: Have you ever paid for advertising on Google, social media or elsewhere? If so, did you get good results?
Dan: We typically have some form of modest paid advertising campaign going at any given time. We’ve tried Google, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. We hope there is a long term benefit from these campaigns from an awareness perspective, but as individual campaigns, they have all been disappointing.
Jake: It seems that your growth really accelerated in the last year. Did you make a big shift in your content or marketing, or was it just a matter of hitting critical mass?
Dan: You know how it goes as a small business… you hustle and hustle, hoping that something will stick, so with so many initiatives it’s a little hard to pinpoint what it was that caused the big shift. I’m tempted to say there are two reasons why we took off around this time: Celine does a great job with our social media and our Instagram account was growing rapidly, hitting 10,000 followers around that time. Also, around that time we published some blog posts (Fly-Tot review, Hiking in Sedona, 6 Baby Friendly All-Inclusives) that generated really good traffic right away. I’m tempted to think the combination of these things led to Google increasing our page rank, leading to more organic search results.
Jake: How many hours a week do you spend on Baby Can Travel? How do you balance that with spending time with the kids (and each other)?
Dan: Between the two of us, we try to work the equivalent of a full-time employee (i.e: around 40 hours per week). Typically one of us will work the morning shift and the other will work the afternoon. This rotation enables us to ensure we each get quality time with the kids as well as time to ourselves to work on things that are important to us. Our “work” time is mostly dedicated to Baby Can Travel, but we also squeeze in exercise, personal projects, etc. We love being an active, outdoor family, so we make sure to play hooky from work a few times a week to go for a bike ride, hike, etc. To counterbalance this, we typically work an hour or two after the kids go to bed during the workweek. We’re around each other constantly, but the quality of time is not always great, so we make sure to keep our weekend evenings free just for us as a couple.
Jake: 40 hours a week between two people might not seem like a lot to some people who are used to working full time jobs. But I can assure our readers that doing creative work at home requires a lot of self discipline, even if you love what you do. What do you tell yourselves when you feel low on motivation?
Dan: We are generally pretty good on the motivation front, as I never want to let her down, and vice-versa. But there are days where you just don’t have the motivation (usually when it’s nice outside), and we feel that’s ok. We have enough time for family fun set aside in our calendar, so if we don’t feel like working one day, we’ll simply advance the fun time to today and then work on the day when we should have been out.
Jake: I know you keep up with social media while you are traveling. Do you do other work (ie, writing blog posts and ebooks) while you are abroad as well, or is it all seeing the sights and gathering information?
Dan: I once had a friend who really enjoyed to golf. He decided that he’d try to make a career out of it and got a job at a golf course. Well, it wasn’t very long until he started to hate golf, simply because it was now “work” and not something that he just loved to do. I have always carried this lesson with me and have tried very hard not to turn travelling into a ‘job’. When we travel, having fun and rewarding experiences with our family are our top priorities. Of course, work does butt in constantly, making sure we get lots of good pictures & videos, always thinking about whether something is baby or toddler friendly, etc. But we do our best to have fun while we are out. We spend time each night after the kids are in bed, reviewing our pictures and taking copious notes on what we did that day. We’d like to get better at writing blog posts in real time while we are on the trip, but it becomes a matter of balance – we need time for each other too.
Jake: I completely agree that you have to keep your priorities in order. There’s no point in doing what you love if it causes you to stop loving it. In our case – traveling full time for a year – we’ve had no choice but to work on the road. But more and more we find ourselves falling into a pattern of exploring some days and blogging on others. If you were going on an extended trip with your family, what rules would you set for yourselves regarding work?
Dan: Hmmm… that’s a good question… The most important thing is that enjoying the travel must always come first. From there, I don’t think it’s practical to establish a work schedule while on the road as you need to be flexible to adapt to the weather, new & exciting discoveries, the kid’s moods etc. In the absence of a schedule, I think the answer is to establish weekly work goals, where we commit to each other the things we will accomplish. Then it becomes a matter of creatively finding the appropriate times to set aside time for work – rainy afternoons, while the kids are sleeping etc.
Jake: Obviously having children with you has changed the way you travel. How has working on your business changed the way you travel? Have you ever altered your travel plans because to get the material you needed? Do you ever plan your travel around your business?
Dan: This is a great question and an important one for any family travel bloggers. We were not travel bloggers when we took our 3 month old daughter to Barcelona. It was after the success of this trip that Baby Can Travel was born. We selected our next three destinations based around market size (NYC, London and Paris), which although was a business decision, was still ok as we saved Europe for this time in our lives. Our first trip as travel bloggers was to New York and it was a mess; easily our worst trip as a family! Ha-ha! It’s not because of New York, we love New York! It’s because we didn’t travel the way we typically do – everything was GO, GO, GO!! We put so much pressure on ourselves to see so much in a single day, we forgot to take time to enjoy it and most importantly, we forgot to take time for our daughter to enjoy it. And boy did she repay us for this… without time to play and be a normal baby, she was so cranky and miserable. Starting on our next trip to London & Paris, we changed our ways and started travelling for us again – taking time to enjoy ourselves and letting our daughter play in a park or a playground. After this trip we also changed back to picking destinations where we wanted to go, not where we thought the market was biggest. We feel strongly that if we are true to our style of family travel (active, outdoor) that there will be others who are of like mind and will enjoy our work.
Jake: Your experience in New York sounds a lot like our first experience in Paris. We worked so hard that we were almost collapsing by the end. We took a lot of great photos, but it just wasn’t a lifestyle we wanted to create for ourselves. Now that we’re slow traveling, we get to approach a city at a more comfortable pace without feeling like we’re going to miss something. How long do you typically spend in a city when you travel?
Dan: Isn’t that funny that we had similar experiences on our first trips? I’m glad you have also discovered a style of travel that works for you! Prior to having kids, we weren’t really fans of big city travel. A typical trip for us would entail spending a just a few days in the city, exploring it at an insane pace (usually from 7am to 10pm straight), then we’d leave the city to go do the things we really enjoy like hiking, snorkeling, etc. This changed when we started travelling with our babies and a typical trip would be 7 full days in a city. We’d go a little slower and try to find the outdoor activities we crave within the city limits, instead of seeking them elsewhere. This hasn’t been a problem as all great cities have great outdoor places. As our kids get older, we are excited about the prospects of returning to our old style of travel. This style will be the primary focus of our sister site, FamilyCanTravel.com.
Jake: Going back to your previous response, when you want to make sure your kids are enjoying travel, what kinds of experiences do you seek out, other than playgrounds?
Dan: It varies depending on where we are, but other activities which are always a hit with the kids are aquariums, beaches, markets, easy walks, bike rides and even rides on public transportation (locals always fuss over little kids on the subway!).
Jake: I read your ebook Baby Can Travel: Paris, and I was surprised how in depth it was. In all of our travels we’ve spent a total of a month in Paris, and I don’t think we saw as much of the city as you did. Granted, we have different priorities. How much time do you spend researching – before and after your trip – in order to get all the information you’ll need?
Dan: Being “professional” travellers, you’d think we’d spend a ton of time researching our trips ahead of time, but with two small kids and a small business to run, we don’t spend as much time researching ahead of time as we perhaps should. We have travelled so much together that we have become very adept at planning on the fly while we are on our trip. Before we go on a trip, we generally get a good idea of our logistics (getting around without a car seat, etc) and the attractions we must see, but everything else (secondary attractions, playgrounds, etc) is done while we are there, usually after the kids go to bed.
During our trips we take lots of pictures, videos and notes hoping to capture all the relevant information we feel our audience needs to know. We will do post-trip research on an as needed basis, but this is mostly to get very specific details (dates, sizes, etc)
Jake: That’s twice you’ve mentioned getting work done after the kids go to bed. I tend to do work work early in the morning from 5:00-7:00, and Dannie tends to work in the evenings. What time do you go to sleep at night, and what time do you get up in the morning?
Dan: We’re typically up at 5am and go to bed around 10ish. This allows us a few hours in the morning and at night while the kids are in bed. We’re pretty focused in the morning, exercising, working etc. At night, we also try to get stuff done, but we also make sure we have time for ourselves too.
Jake: What has been the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn to get to where you are today?
Dan: To be true to ourselves and our style of travel. We strayed from this in the early days, designing our trips around what we feel our audience would like. As a result, travelling became less fun than it should have been. But this is a rookie mistake and soon learned to have confidence to be ourselves and to travel the way we like to travel, knowing that there will be other parents out there who will share our style of travel and who will benefit from our site.
Jake: What steps are you planning on taking in the future to help build on what you’ve already accomplished?
Dan: We’re in discussions with investment bankers to raise funding to buy Lonely Planet. Ha-ha – kidding of course! The biggest thing we are doing for the future is developing Family Can Travel as the big sister to Baby Can Travel. We will definitely keep Baby Can Travel alive, active and relevant, but as our kids get older, we’ll need to collaborate with other family travellers more for fresh baby travel content. While Baby Can Travel will always be our “baby” (bad joke – sorry), we are excited to build Family Can Travel, which is focused on outdoor, active family travel – our favorite kind of travel!
Jake: Good idea. H and L probably won’t want to be the stars of Baby Can Travel anymore once they hit their teens. Which reminds me, I’ve noticed that on your website you never use your children’s full names. How did you make the decision to go with H and L?
Dan: I wish it were more exciting, but it’s simply the first letters of their names.
Jake: Ha ha, I meant why did you decide not to use their full names? Are you worried about their privacy?
Dan: Ahhh… I get it now… Ha ha! For us, we didn’t want strangers to know their names. Travel has taught us that the vast majority of the people on this planet are good, honest, decent people, but there are always a few nutballs out there and we simply didn’t want to take the risk.
Jake: H and L seemed to be enjoying Rome. What do you think is their favorite place in the world?
Dan: Yes, H and L loved their time in Italy. I’m sure they were extra excited the day we met up as they loved playing with Lisa. The pictures you took of us that day will always be treasured in our family and I hope that other travellers will be lucky and smart enough to hire you as well.
H is old enough now, so I just asked her what her favorite place in the world is and she said “Pisa, because they have the Leaning Tower of Pisa there”. She really thought that tower was pretty cool! My recollection of where she enjoyed herself the most was Kyoto. Being a cute little girl with long, blond curly hair, she was treated like a rock star in Japan, literally! The best way to explain it is to visualize the Beatles getting off the plane in the USA – hoards of screaming schoolgirls. This is not an exaggeration. I think she liked Kyoto because of the attention, but also because it was so different than anywhere else we took her; there was a huge novelty factor.
L is still young enough to be happy no matter where he is.
Jake: Would you ever let the kids pick a destination?
Dan: Absolutely! Celine and I used to take turns picking our next destination, which was great as this guaranteed we’d each get to see the places we wanted to go. At this stage of life, we have windows of opportunity outside of the kids activities (swimming lessons, etc), so we try to find the best destination to match the available time window. But, once the kids are old enough to have their own (reasonably) informed opinions, I’d love to let them pick a destination. I imagine that’d make the trip so much more exciting for them. When the time is right, I’d really like to go back to having a rotation where we can each pick a place we really want to go, and it’d be wonderful if the kids could participate.
Jake: Do you try to get H and L excited about travel? If so, how?
Dan: Travel was a very important part of our lives before kids, so we certainly do our best to make sure that the kids enjoy travelling as well. We tried to capture some of our ideas in a blog post entitled, “How to Raise a Little Traveller”
Jake: I’ve read that post, and I can confirm that they love looking at travel photos! How do you think that travel has changed your children? Any specific observations?
Dan: Without question travel has changed our children. I can think of three specific ways, but I’m sure there are more: 1) In her non-travel life, H approaches every new situation with confidence. I’m certain that exposing her to so many different places and experiences has given her this ability to try new things without being afraid. 2) H thinks that all people are good – she stops and talks to everyone. I’m certain this comes from her travel experiences where she is continually stopped by locals who wish to talk to her. 3) Related to #2, I’m grateful that travel has shown her that people of all colors are good, decent people who are all the same. Growing up in our little part of Canada, which is dominantly Caucasian, I’m glad she gets the chance to learn that the world is full of people who look different, but who are all the same.
Jake: Lisa had a blast with your family. Where should we meet up with you next?
Dan: We all had a great time cycling the Appian way with you guys and would love to have another chance to visit! We’re still trying to nail down our 2018 travel plans, but the top contenders are Australia, Indonesia and Croatia. We are lucky enough to live in Canmore, Canada, a world-class travel destination located minutes away from Banff National Park. Perhaps this Rocky Mountain scenery could attract a few world class photographers such as yourselves?
Jake: You’ve seen our blog, so you know that we recommend Croatia. But our best bet for another meet up would be on the other side of the world since we’re spending 2018 in and around China. See you there in the Eastern Hemisphere!
Dan: That’d be so great if we could meet up again somewhere new. China is so beautiful, I’m looking forward to your amazing pictures!
Jake: Okay, that’s all for now. Thanks so much for taking the time out of your day to talk with me.
Dan: It’s been a pleasure. Happy travels.
If you’re interested in loads of tips and resources for family travel, go ahead and visit babycantravel.com and familycantravel.com. We also have been known to touch on those subjects in our posts about childhood abroad and slow travel. If you don’t want to miss out on more interviews full of great stories and advice, go sign up for our newsletter for reminders about what’s happening on Jake and Dannie.