Polar Bear Blog

Top Forbes Travel Influencers return to Churchill Wild to see polar bears. In the snow.

Elite travel bloggers Dave and Deb of the The Planet D are returning to Churchill Wild to see the polar bears, but this time they’ll be doing it in the snow!
Elite travel bloggers Dave and Deb of the The Planet D are returning to Churchill Wild to see the polar bears, but this time they’ll be doing it in the snow!

by George Williams

Elite travel bloggers Dave and Deb of the The Planet D are returning to Churchill Wild to see the polar bears, but this time they’ll be doing it in the snow!

Named one of the Top 10 Influencers in Travel by Forbes Magazine last year, and multiple winners of the Top Travel Blog award from both the Society of American Travel Writers (2014-2015) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (2015-2016), the talented couple from Toronto, Ontario was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in August 2015 for our Hudson Bay Odyssey. This November they’ll be at Seal River Heritage for the Polar Bear Photo Safari.

“We really enjoyed our trip to Nanuk,” said Dave. “It was absolutely fantastic and our readers really loved the stories and the photos. The mothers and cubs were exciting to see together, but I’m anxious to get out to see the males in the winter landscapes, in the real polar bear weather. That’s always been the association that I’ve had with polar bears. Seeing them in the snow. When we saw them in the greenery at Nanuk that was very special, but I’m really looking forward to seeing them in their natural habitat with snowy background. I’m looking forward to seeing the contrast between the lodges too.”

The seascapes will have become icescapes by the time Dave and Deb arrive at Seal River in November, and the rocky coastal landscapes will be much different from the soulful windswept summer landscapes they experienced at Nanuk.

“We loved the atmosphere at Nanuk,” said Deb. “And not just on the safaris, but back in the lodge afterwards. It was such a nice cozy experience. We’d sip wine and listen to everyone’s travel stories. Everyone up there was so like-minded, which made the stories that much better. And the guides were just outstanding, so in tune and careful with the environment and the polar bears. They just knew so much about the north and the polar bears.”

“I loved the lodge at Nanuk itself,” said Dave. “The big huge common room with all the windows, you could always be out there spotting wildlife. And it was great being able to go out and see the black bears at the fence. It really was a luxury five-star experience.”

Dave and Deb started working full time as travel bloggers in 2009 and by 2011 they were already making money at it. In 2012 they started to make a good living.

“It was just a matter of getting known,” said Deb. “When we first started we were blogging every day and we were traveling full time. We were always going to really new places, writing about epic adventures. It was a time when the Internet was really exciting, social media was new and people were just starting to follow Twitter and blogs. We started building a following by raising our online profile and that’s how we were found by the companies we work with. They approached us and said they’d been following us, liked what we were doing and wanted to work with us.”

“I think we came in at the point when the definition of an adventurer had changed,” said Dave.  “Before you had to be an uber athlete, summiting huge mountains or something along those lines. As more soft adventure came in and the definition of being an adventurer changed, we changed along with it. And that really appealed to people who were following us and partnering with us to grow our audience. They were extremely interested in people who were out there doing that. I think that really contributed to our success. And there weren’t a lot of people writing and photographing and doing video about that kind of travel at that point.”

“And we were relatable,” said Deb. “People felt that they could do what we were doing. We weren’t speople who came from money or who had trained all their life for this.”

Dave, a big smile and a polar bear, at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2015. Click image more photos from the trip.
Dave, a big smile and a polar bear, at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2015. Click image more photos from the trip.

When they first started travel blogging, Dave and Deb marketed themselves as Canada’s adventure couple, but they noticed a shift in the market and over the course of three years decided to rebrand themselves.

“I think it was a lot of couples in the beginning,” said Dave. “But we could see our audience changing. Adventure is for everyone, and there were a lot of young people and single people interested in what we were doing. We weren’t just couple specific anymore. In order to continue to grow our audience we decided not to put ourselves in a micro-niche.”

The couple also had a unique set of skills and they learned early on that one of them shouldn’t try to do what the other was already good at. Deb did the writing and video editing and Dave took photos and managed the back-end technical aspects of their website. The combination of skills led to more and more business, and interestingly, travel is likely what held their marriage together and made it stronger than ever.

In the year 2000, Dave and Deb had been together for nine years. They were working in the film industry in Toronto, focusing on their careers, but also basically living separate lives.

“We didn’t even have anything in common anymore and we didn’t even realize it,” said Deb. “I think that’s how so many people fall apart. You just end up not working on your marriage any more and the next thing you know it’s not even a marriage. It was taking a trip to Thailand at the beginning of 2000 that changed everything. That was the first major trip we’d ever done.

“We got there and we realized we didn’t even know each other. We had nothing in common. We were there for five weeks, going through all the emotions, the ups and downs, but by the end we came out excited about life again, inspired by each other, realizing why we fell in love again. In Thailand we went rock climbing, and we’d never done that before. Then we went kayaking, then hiking, and we realized that, ‘Wow’, this was what had been missing in our lives. That’s when travel really became important to us. We realized  travel and adventure was what made us bond together.”

The Thailand trip changed everything. When the couple got home they signed up for scuba diving lessons, joined a rock climbing gym and bought mountain bikes. They started making their lives an adventure at home. Instead of going out with friends separately on their days off, or doing nothing but laundry and shopping, they would go camping or go on an adventure together.

“When I look back now, if that trip didn’t happen, I don’t know if we’d be together today,” said Dave. “We were definitely going in separate directions. Travel changed our lives, and our relationship.”

Dave and Deb’s blog post on How Travel Saved our Marriage and Transformed Our Lives marriage and travel is still a cornerstone piece of popular content on The Planet D website, and on the business side the couple have definitely been on an uphill swing over the past few years. Along with their recognition by Forbes Magazine as one of the top travel influencers in the world and their 2014, 2015 and 2016 top travel blog awards, Dave and Deb have built an incredibly enthusiastic following on their adventure travel blog, they’ve grown The Planet D Facebook page to over 195,000 followers, and their The Planet D Instagram page now has over 223,000 fans. They’re now also starting to build up The Planet D YouTube Channel.

 

Black bear watching us at Nanuk. Photo courtesy of The Planet D. Click image for more.
Black bear watching us at Nanuk. Photo courtesy of The Planet D. Click image for more.

With regards to recent travel, one of their most interesting trips was Searching for Happiness at the Highlander Festival of Bhutan. So was it happy?

“The rest of the world goes by GDP,” said Deb. “Bhutan goes by the happiness index. They’re known as the happiest country in the world. They make sure everybody has food, education, health and well being. From what we saw, it works. They all seemed very happy. It’s a tiny little country in the mountains surrounded by India, Nepal and China. They’ve done a really interesting job with tourism. They charge tourists a fee of $250 per day per person. You can’t just come in and go backpacking there. They want to keep it clean. They are a country that is very much about a 0-carbon footprint.”

“And we got to meet the King of Bhutan!” said Dave.

At the end of August, Dave and Deb will be leading their first photography tour in Tanzania. They’ve partnered with Discovery Photo Tours, who will look after all the logistics on an adventure that will take them from the southern Serengeti to the Great Migration of the Wildebeests in the north and on to the mysterious tropical island of Zanzibar and its beautiful turquoise beaches.

“Fans of ours, who like our photography, will come in our jeep,” said Dave. “I’ll give them instructions on how to best photograph wildlife, landscapes and post production. It’s a small group trip with four people per jeep, but we can add one depending on demand.“

And before heading for Seal River, in September Dave and Deb have speaking engagements in New York. They just keep getting busier.

“I think people want to work with us because we can offer a variety of options,” said Deb. “We offer professional photography, writing and video and we also have a large social media following and a very popular blog. We wanted to make sure we developed a well-rounded media company. People hire us for different reasons. To make a video, do an Instagram post, do a blog post. There’s a different type of audience for each platform, but the adventure appeals to all, in different ways.

“And we really care about what we do, too. We’re not just there for a free trip. We’re there thinking about different story angles, getting up early in the morning for photos, trying to think of something unique to write about.”

Dave and Deb were among the pioneers in the travel blogging space, and they’ve now had the opportunity to develop a proven track record working with numerous brands and destinations.

“The work with all the different companies and destinations has been very successful,” said Dave. “Word gets around. We went into this as a third career because we loved it and we do our best to make our posts and video a success. Word gets around and we have a lot of repeat customers.”

“When we love something we want people to do it,” said Deb. “When we have a great time, it’s exciting for us to share with our readers. We want to share it with the rest of the world and say go out and do this because you’re going to love it.”

As they did long ago, Dave and Deb will be going in a different direction this year, from Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge to Seal River Heritage Lodge. But this time they’ll be doing it together.

With a happy repeat customer.

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