Many aspiring digital nomads hope to fund their long-term global adventures with income generated from a travel blog. What could be better than doing what you love while traveling the world? The problem is that it is hard to make a living blogging, unless you do it right. Here are some examples of different permanent travelers who have a successful track record making money online.
Who is making money by travel blogging?
To start, I am going to combine lifestyle designers, digital nomads, location independents and travel bloggers all in the same group. While many of these people do not blog about travel exclusively, travel is certainly a major part of their lifestyle.
While it might be too simplistic to generalize, I am going to offer my opinion on why the following bloggers have had such great results in the ‘Success Factors’ section following each person. There is no particular order to any of the information below.
Chris Guillebeau – Author, Ebooks, Membership Site
Chris Guillebeau is the rock star of the lifestyle design niche. He set a goal to travel to every country before he is 35 years old and is almost done. He has several hugely successful ebooks and a popular travel hacking membership program of which many travel bloggers market on their own sites. Chris has a best selling published book and his second book is coming soon. He hosts the hugely popular World Domination Summits in Portland. These conference typically sell out in minutes because of Chris’s reputation online.
- Great Story – He is traveling to every country before he is 35. This is a great story that people want to tell.
- The Seth Effect – Seth Godin wrote a blog post about Chris’s popular free ebook, 279 days to Overnight Success. This instantly lead to thousands of new email subscribers. Of course, that meant writing a great ebook and marketing it well so that people like Seth Godin could find it.
- Consistency – He has been writing two blog posts a week since he started blogging four years ago.
- Quality – His products are very high quality in design and content. He doesn’t take short cuts on professionalism.
- Great Management – He hires talented people to assist with design, affiliate management, co-authors, etc.
- Broad Appeal – His products appeal to a mass audience, not just travelers.
Gary Arndt – Corporate Sponsors, Public Speaking
Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere is one of the most famous travel bloggers. His full-time travel since March 2007 was initially funded by the sale of his business and house, but he his now earning money from corporate sponsors, paid speaking gigs and plans to release an iPhone App and a published book.
- Longevity – Gary has been traveling for 5 years. He started blogging early and has built a huge online following.
- Consistency – He regularly posts every few days.
- Photos – Travel is visual. Gary has posted many thousands of photos on his sites.
- Authenticity – Focus on travel, not profits. Never had ads or paid text links on his sites, holding out for more lucrative sponsorships.
Matt Kepnes - Ebooks, Affliate Sales
Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt has been traveling full-time since 2006. He funds his travels primarily through the sales of ebooks, but also has niche sites and affiliate sales offers. He just finished rewriting his popular travel the world One of his ebooks has been re-written to be published as print book this fall.
- Longevity – Traveling for 6 years and blogging consistently for more than 4 years.
- Frequency - Posts new content several times per week.
- Social Media – Matt is very active on social media and is a prolific networker.
- Experimentation – Keeps changing his site and tests new ways of monetization.
- Controversy – Matt has a knack for writing posts that get attention. Great copy writing works.
- Hard Work – Matt is always creating new products, networking and trying different ways to make money. His efforts pay off.
Kirsty Henderson – Advertising on Niche Websites
Kirsty Henderson of NerdyNomad specializes in creating niche travel websites. When I first interviewed Kirsty two and a half years ago, she was making $1,000 per month. She has now built that up to almost $10,000 per month with 19 different sites. She provides monthly income and expense reports, so you can follow along with her progress over the years. Kirsty is one of the best examples of turning travel blogging into a passive income business. There is still work to be done, but relative to the income she earns, it is not anywhere near as being a straight blogger, churning out ebooks regularly. Her main blogs aren’t anywhere near as trafficked as the popular names above, but I suspect she earns as much or more and will continue to see increases as she adds new sites.
- Follows the Money – Travel related companies need exposure and back links for SEO. Kirsty is happy to provide these services for a price.
- Multiple Niche Sites – Building multiple sites diversifies your income and can improve your own search engine rankings.
- Search Engine Ranking – Kirsty focuses on getting niche sites ranked in search engines with good onsite SEO and paid tools.
- Transparency – People love to read exact income and expense figures. Kirsty has been sharing it all, every month for years.
James T. Clark – Advertising and Affiliate Sales on Niche Sites
James T. Clark of NomadicNotes is one of my travel blogging heros. I interviewed him last year, but hadn’t met up with him until Thailand this year. (James took the photo on the post.) He has been a fantastic mentor. Like Kirsty Henderson, James is quietly building out travel focused niche sites and is earning a small fortune. This to me is the difference between blogging as a job, and blogging as a business. Businesses scale, a job is lots of hard work that never ends. James’s sites will be constantly earning money long into the future, with many new ones on the way.
- Business Focus - He concentrates his efforts where they produce the greatest results. He is not attention hungry like other bloggers often seem to be. James is happy to be quietly building his empire under the radar.
- Multiple Niche Sites – Like Kirsty, many sites can be less total work, more lucrative and more stable than one main site.
- Search Engine Ranking – James knows how to get his sites ranking well in Google. This is essential to effectively monetizing niche sites.
Cody McKibben – Freelance Consulting, Membership Site
Cody McKibben of ThrillingHeroics.com is one of the first people I connected with in the location independence niche. He is a crack WordPress developer but has recently shifted his income focus to his Digital Nomad Academy, a $1500 per year membership program that is doing well.
- Connections – Cody is a great networker on and offline. This has led to numerous joint ventures and partnerships, getting mentioned in Chris Guillebeau’s book and being in the inner circle of the location independence movement.
- Authenticity – He has been living location independent and earning income online for years.
- Persistence – Cody keeps putting in the work and improving.
- Longevity - Working online since 2007 and traveling since 2008.
Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil – Corporate Sponsorships, Advertising
Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD.com are “Canada’s Adventure Couple.” They’ve cycled across Africa, did the Mongol Rally, climbed mountains and more. When I interviewed them, they were still earning money by short-term work stints. Now they have managed to secure sponsorships and earn a little through advertising on their site.
- Great Story – Branded themselves as ‘Canada’s Adventure Couple’ and they’re living up to the name.
- Authenticity – They live for adventure, so it is not a marketing gimmick.
- Frequency – Daily posts with additional photo updates.
- Social Media - Very active on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and StumbleUpon
- Hard Work – All the above amounts to a massive time commitment.
yTravelBlog.com – Sponsorships, Advertising
Caz and Craig Makepeace of yTravelBlog.com are very hard working bloggers that manage to get free trips and other sponsorships. While they weren’t earning much income from their site when I interviewed them, they recently seem to be getting more sponsored travel opportunities. yTravelblog is definitely a site to watch, Caz and Craig post almost daily, frequently guest post on other sites and are very active on social media. If you want to make a go of travel blogging, you have to out-work the competition.
- Frequent Posting – More articles bring more organic search traffic. Caz and Craig seem to post almost everyday.
- Guest Posts – Writing articles for other blogs builds back links and gets more traffic. I regularly see yTravelBlog articles on other sites.
- Social Media - Connecting with readers and other travelers online is essential to building support. Caz and Craig are very engaged online.
- Hard Work – All the above amounts to a lot of work. That is how you build a business.
Nora Dunn – Freelance Writing, Advertising, Affiliate Sales
Nora Dunn of TheProfessionalHobo.com earns most of her income from freelance writing on other sites. She utilizes her blog as a showcase for her other articles, and is also starting to earn extra income from advertising and affiliate offers. She is a good model for other aspiring freelance writers. You can read my interview with Nora Dunn here.
- Expertise – Nora was a finance professional in her previous career and she continues to focus on money issues with her travel writing.
- Prolific Writer – Write many articles online and you will be found more frequently. Nora writes for many sites and she gets noticed for it.
- Guest Posts – She frequently guest posts on other sites, including the hugely popular, ‘How to Travel Full-Time for $17,000 a Year (or Less).“
Dan Andrews and Ian – Online and Offline Businesses, Membership Site
Dan Andrews and his partner Ian of TropicalMBA.com and the LifeStyleBusinessPodcast are consummate entrepreneurs in every sense of the word. They are not travel bloggers but they are Asian based businessmen who have a popular website and podcast. If you are interested in making money online, the LifeStyleBusinessPodcast is essential listening. Dan and Ian started the Dynamite Circle, a membership site for nomadic entrepreneurs. I haven’t joined yet, but I have met many members who rave about the forum.
- Entrepreneurs – Dan and Ian start and run profitable businesses. They use blogging as a platform to advance their other businesses, not as a business in itself.
- Diversity – They have multiple revenue streams and are not afraid to experiment.
- Great Story – The TropicalMBA is another brilliant idea that is easy to understand and people want to spread. It also got them a steady stream of inexpensive and motivated workers to help them expand their business empire.
- Outsourcing – Great businesses are grown by creating systems and processes that can be scaled. Dan and Ian know how to hire and manage a large team of people.
Derek Earl Baron – Ebooks, Affiliate Sales
Earl Baron of WanderingEarl.com started his travels off my working on cruise ships and teaching English. He later wrote his own ebooks, which were earning him $2500 per month when I interviewed him in 2010.
- Longevity – Constantly traveling for over 12 years.
- Authenticity – Earl is a real traveler that has visited more that 70 countries and spends time in each to really learn about the culture.
- Niche Focus – Working on cruise ships provided the expertise to write his first profitable ebook.
- Connections – Strong focus on connecting with readers. Goes out of his way to answer questions and help.
Anil Polat – Ebooks, Advertising, Affiliate Sales
- Expertise – Anil is a former technology professional so extensively writes about IT, security and electronics.
- Niche Sites – He runs several focused niche travel sites.
- ‘How-to’ – Businesses make money by solving problems. Anil writes many detailed ‘how-to’ posts to solve common technology and security issues while traveling.
Benny Lewis – Ebook Sales
Benny Lewis of Fluentin3Months.com is one of the most interesting and charismatic people I have interviewed. He started off as a technical translator but now funds his travels completely from the sales of his popular language learning guide.
- Great Story – He travels to different countries around the world and learns the language in 3 months.
- Authentic – He can speak dozens of languages.
- Unique – He is perhaps the only blogging digital nomad with a language learning focus.
- Charismatic – He is great in front of a camera and in person.
- Connections – Benny is a great networker, always making a superhuman effort to befriend new people around the world.
Adam Baker – Affiliate Sales, Ebooks
Adam Baker of ManVsDebt.com focuses his blog on debt reduction, while at the same time traveling the world with his wife and child. Adam first came on my radar a couple of years ago through his extensive online networking and guest posting. When I interviewed him in early 2010, I knew he was going to one of the top location independence/lifestyle design bloggers.
- Hard Work – Massive amounts of networking and guest posting paid off.
- Clear Focus – He focuses on the critical components of anyone considering a travel lifestyle, getting out of debt and getting rid of stuff.
- Innovative – Adam, along with Karol Gajda, run the Only72.com promotion a couple times per year which earns them hundreds of thousands of dollars by bundling many popular ebooks into a heavily discounted package for only three days. Sheer Genius!
- Connections – Another fantastic networker. Adam knows everyone worth knowing in the blogging world.
Is Travel Blogging a Good Way to Make Money?
Travel blogging is a ‘job’ that requires countless hours of ongoing work to maintain and grow. Even then, only the top people make a livable income. If you don’t have a specific product or service that you want to market, it is hard to make money from any topic, let alone the saturated travel industry.
That is not to say there are no opportunities travel blogging. If you have unique expertise like Benny Lewis, Anil Polat or Earl Baron, focus on that niche and become known as the expert. That is how you solve problems for people and earn money in return.
Overall, I would recommend following the model of Kirsty Henderson or James T. Clark and continuously create new niche sites for marketing affiliate sales, paid posts and advertisements. This seems to provide the best return on your time and offers the potential for a semi-passive income stream.
I am no expert, but if you are set on becoming a travel blogging rock star with a single authority site, then you need a unique story like Chris Guillebeau, Benny Lewis or Canada’s Adventure Couple. There are far too many boring and generic travel blogs. Narrow down your focus to a specific niche and become the expert.
Here are some ideas:
- Traveling Wine Connoisseur – Travel the world sampling the best wines.
- Spa Travel – Write about high-end spas around the world. You might even find yourself with free spa and hotel visits in every country you visit.
- Volunteer Travel – Focus your opportunities around volunteer work around the world.
- Adventure Travel – Do crazy stunts and adventures and you will get noticed.
- Travel Products – Write reviews of travel gear and services. You will likely start getting free promo gear and you can earn commissions from sales.
- Video Travel Guides – There are plenty of text travel guides, but how about high quality video guides that get you acquainted with new cities. This would be very time intensive, but could possibly lead to your own travel TV show.
- Luxury Travel – The biggest opportunities are where customers spend the most money. High end hotels, tours, restaurants and designer shopping stores are all competing for wealthier travelers. Connect with this market and you will have abundant income opportunities. Imagine earning commissions on rentals for luxury cars and yachts, sales of expensive jewellery or designer clothes and top quality hotels.
All of these areas already have established competition, but so did most of the people I mentioned above when they started blogging. A narrow focus, intensive networking and good old-fashioned hard work are still requirements for success in almost every business.