Today we continue our “4 Cheapo Questions” interview series with one of the pioneers of travel blogging, Michael Yessis.
Michael, along with Jim Benning, founded the highly regarded website World Hum in 2001 with the stated goal of publishing “the best travel stories on the Internet.” Their plan seems to have worked out well, as World Hum has gobbled up numerous awards and accolades over the years, and is a 2010 Webby honoree for best copy / writing.
World Hum is now part of Travel Channel Media and continues producing excellent travel narratives from its network of talented contributing writers. We’re big fans of World Hum and we think you should be, too.
1. Please tell us about World Hum’s early days and what led you to start the site with Jim Benning.
Jim and I became friends in college. We shared a love of travel and took similar early career paths. I started out writing for newspapers, and moved into magazine editing. Jim wrote for newspapers, and then for magazines.
We lamented that few publications featured the kinds of travel stories we like to read and write, stories that we weren’t seeing – and still don’t see much — in most travel publications and websites. Stories about how travel can change you, how travel can change the way you see the world. Stories full of voice and terrific writing. Salon.com’s late, great Wanderlust section was a big inspiration. Don George, the editor of the section, really showed some of the possibilities of publishing high-quality travel writing online.
So, in 2001, we embraced the possibilities of the Internet. We scrounged up $35 to buy a domain and created a crudely designed but, we like to think, lovable site. We focused primarily on finding and featuring strong travel essays. In fact, there wasn’t much on World Hum besides text. Hard to imagine a travel publication without images, but that’s pretty much what we were. It was truly a labor of love, with me and Jim working on the site during early mornings and late nights and during weekends, and writers from all over the world sending in what turned out to be the backbone of the site – great travel stories.
2. What do you think are the most visible trends in the travel writing industry since World Hum’s inception?
The biggest trend: The explosive rise of travel blogs and travel bloggers, particularly in the last year or two. When World Hum launched, I could find only a handful of travel blogs. Now there are thousands. And it’s a vibrant, engaged community, fueled in part by the explosive rise of social media.
I think the next few years are going to be very interesting, as travel bloggers experiment with new approaches and new ways to make money.
3. How often do you travel and where are you heading to next?
I don’t travel much as I used to these days, which is good and bad. The good: I like spending time with at home my family – I have two boys under two years old. The bad: I have an international travel itch that I need to scratch.
My next few trips: Baltimore, Dover, New York, and Chicago.
4. What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received?
Say yes. You don’t have to be like that guy who said yes to everything for a year, but it’s good to be curious and willing to try new and different things.
Bonus question: What are your top 3 picks for summer reading this year?
I’ll start devouring Carl Hiaasen’s “Star Island” the day it comes out in July. I’m also looking forward to reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot and “Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World” by Seth Stevenson.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Michael. And best of luck to WorldHum at the Webbys in June!