Please tell us a little about your background
My first independent travel experience was at 21, after graduating college. I joined friends on a backpacking trip around Europe for the Summer, and had an amazing time, even after most of them went home early. After that, my attention turned to finding a job, apartment, car, and so on. Despite learning how easy it is to travel abroad, I wasn’t making it a priority, until I lost my job at 25. The layoff gave me a chance to reassess my priorities, and I decided my next job would be a means to take my dream trip around the world. I had to make up for lost time. I made a commitment to keep the same standard of living, and as I earned more at my job, I’d save more, instead of spend more. I feel lucky to have achieved a personal dream by age 33.
Please tell us about your travels?
I left home on my trip around the world November 29, 2007, and traveled continuously for 15 months. During that time, I spent no more than 3 weeks in a single location, and that only happened twice (Pokhara, Nepal and McLeod Ganj, India). My trip began in French Polynesia, and then I headed to New Zealand, Australia, Asia, southern Africa, Egypt, western Europe, and finally Colombia. I returned home to Virginia in July 2009 as I’d exhausted my savings and wasn’t yet earning enough from my travel blogs to keep going.
You stopped in Colombia for six months, why Colombia?
Colombia was to be the last country on my trip around the world before going home, however once I reached the city of Medellin, I knew I wanted to live there. I figured that if I went home, it might be years at best before I had the chance, so I decided to seize the day. All around the world, people said I was lucky to be an American because native English speakers are always in demand for teaching jobs. I decided to test the theory out in Medellin, but without any prior teaching/tutoring experience, a lack of Spanish, and naturally introverted nature, I only managed to make about $50.
Instead of pouring my energy into learning how to become a teacher, I decided to build a new blog about what it’s like to live in Medellin (Medellin Living). I also started to see an increase in advertising revenue from Go Backpacking which was encouraging. In 2009, you could live comfortably for $1,000 per month in Medellin.
Are you back in the U.S permanently now?
Good question! The longer I’m back in the USA, the more I’m learning to appreciate it. After more than a year of constant travel, I wanted to live in Colombia to experience a new culture and build lasting relationships with locals and other travelers. Now that I’m home again, I’m still appreciating the feeling of building friendships and dating to cycling through new travel friends every day and week.
While I’m looking for a full time job as an online editor for a travel site, I’m also focused on building my web income so I have options, either to travel or live abroad, or to support myself doing what I love here at home.
Why did you end your round-the-world trip?
My goal for the ’round the world trip was to be abroad for a year or more, and travel until I ran out of money. I accomplished that goal, and thus had to return home to take stock of the whole experience, spend time with my family, who was missing me a lot by then, and figure out what to do next.
Also, by about the 9th month abroad, I was not as excited about my new destinations as I had been during the first half of the trip. The whole adventure had become a way of life, and as a result, it was becoming harder and harder to feel awe-inspired. I decided to skip a tour of eastern Africa because I knew I would appreciate it more if I left it for a future trip.
Are you still traveling regularly now?
Since returning home, I’ve taken several short trips to New York City to meet people from the travel writing and blogging community. I would also like to live and work there as my family is originally from the area. My next international trip is coming up in late March; I’m going to Rwanda for about 10 days on my first press trip. I’m very excited about the opportunity, the chance to see endangered mountain gorillas in the wild, and to learn more about the genocide that occurred there in 1994.
How do you earn an income?
I began the blog at GoBackpacking.com in January 2007, which gave me a full 11 months to figure out effective blogging and monetization strategies before I hit the road. Most people start a travel blog a few weeks to a month or two before leaving home, and that’s not a lot of time to learn everything you need to know to make a big impact and build a following. Also, most people abandon their travel blog after their trip ends, which is unfortunate as it can take years to build the kind of following necessary to support one’s future travels.
In 2009, I earned a little over $10,000 from my travel blogs. Most of the income was derived from advertising and sponsored posts on Go Backpacking, though I did start to sell some text links on Medellin Living () toward the end of the year. I also made a little money from my first freelance writing work (for AskMen.com).
In 2010, my goal is to triple my income, at least, so I am trying to focus on affiliate marketing, and the launch of Travel Blog Success, my new membership site.
Please tell us about your new Travel Blog Success program?
Travel Blog Success is the culmination of what I learned from 3 years of blogging and traveling around the world (at the same time). I wrote 12 core lessons that cover topics such as selecting a smart domain name, SEO, strategies for time management while traveling, and of course, how to make money from it all. In addition, there is a forum where members can ask questions, request site critiques from myself and their peers, and network with other likeminded bloggers. Along with the forum, the audio interviews with well-established travel bloggers are proving to be very popular.
Anyone who is passionate about travel, and wants to share their experiences through a blog, can benefit from the Travel Blog Success course and community.
How many hours of work does it realistically take to build and maintain a travel blog and fund your travels?
Blogging and social media can take up as much time as you’ll allow it. While traveling, I’d typically spend one to two hours per day writing, uploading photos, and responding to e-mails from readers and potential advertisers. At that time, my trip was my first priority, but I still felt a responsibility to try and ensure one blog post was published per day, with plenty of photos and video when possible.
At home, I can easily spend 12 hours per day (every day) on my laptop, editing and scheduling contributions, writing posts myself, interacting with readers via social media, and supporting the members of Travel Blog Success. You have to be passionate about your topic if you want long term success in the blogging world. Persistence can pay off, even more so than raw talent.
Is the travel blog market getting saturated?
Compared to 3 years ago, there are certainly a lot more independent travel blogs, however I think we are far from being saturated with them. In fact, I envision a few years from now, backpackers heading off on trips of a few months or more will almost always invest in their own domain and blog, as opposed to relying on communities like BootsnAll or TravelPod. It’s not because they don’t offer a great (free) service, but because to stand out, you need to establish your own unique brand and presence on the Internet. That’s the key to making money, and standing out from the crowd. And if you can build a big enough audience over time with it, then you can begin to earn enough money from advertising and marketing your own products to fund your travels, or at least take advantage of offers for free press trips.
What are your future plans with your blogs and career?
My goal for 2010 is to begin earning a full-time income from travel blogging. To do this, I’m focusing on building traffic on Go Backpacking and membership in Travel Blog Success. I also hope to update the design of Medellin Living, as I think the site hasn’t yet lived up to its full potential. I’d rather focus on building these three high quality sites than risk stretching myself thin with a lot of little ones.
Travel Blog Success
Follow Dave Lee on Twitter