Making a full-time income from a travel blog is a goal of many new bloggers, but is it realistic? More importantly, are there easier and better ways to earn an income to fund a travel lifestyle?
Blogging is a great way to keep a personal diary of your trip and keep family and friends updated, however if your primary goal is to earn a full-time income to fund your travels indefinitely, a travel blog is probably not the way to go.
Making money from a travel blog is definitely possible. On this site, I’ve interviewed many people who have created very successful lifestyles for themselves. However, they are definitely the exception. That’s not to say that you can’t duplicate their business models, however, it is important that you have a business model to begin with.
Rather than starting with the idea, “I want to make money with my blog,” it’s much better to begin with, “I’m going to use my blog to drive traffic and generate sales leads for my business.”
Content marketing (quality, informative, niche targeted articles) is a great way to generate targeted leads and convert those leads to sales. Virtually every business should have a blog, but not every blog is a business.
A Blog is Not a Business
If you’ve been researching blogging or internet marketing, you’ll likely have heard that “a blog is not a business,” but what exactly does that mean?
For many blogging newbies, there is the expectation that you can start writing about whatever you want, then put some Google Adsense on your website and the cash will start pouring in. With opportunities to market affiliate programs, sell ebooks and directly sell advertisements to companies, there will definitely be a way to make money online, right? Unfortunately, the answer is probably “not, really.”
That is precisely what the statement ‘a blog is not a business,” is about. A blog is a fantastic way to generate targeted search engine traffic for a product or service you have to sell. The problem is that most bloggers don’t have anything unique or valuable to sell.
It’s possible to be a general travel site and earn a livable income from advertising, sponsored guest posts and promotional tours, however, you need a sizable audience first. As competition intensifies in every industry, including travel, getting enough eye balls to your site is not a trivial task. It takes a lot of work, and very few will put in the effort over the long haul.
Making Money with Google Adsense
For many travel related search terms, you might only make pennies per click. Some higher value keywords might pay a dollar or more, but those are rare in my experience and are more likely on targeted niche sites where your readers come through organic search traffic.
Let’s consider a best case scenario. Imagine that you managed to build a phenomenally successful blog that gets 10,000 page views per day. (By the way, 10,000 daily page views is a massive amount of traffic for most bloggers.) Assuming a 1% click through rate (CTR) and an average 30 cent per click payout, 10,000 daily page views would generate about $30 per day. $900 per month is a decent amount of money for frugal travelers, but I want to emphasize that you would have to be a top blogger to get that amount of traffic on a consistent basis. It’s not impossible, but it would be a massive amount of work and probably take a couple of years to get to that stage with a full-time effort, and even then you would only be making a part-time income.
The worst part is that every time you make money, you are driving people away from your site. Every click means your readers are going somewhere else, rather than staying on your site.
Many bloggers hope to earn an income from selling their own ebooks. If you make $20 profit on an ebook and sell only 50 per month, you could be making an extra $1000 per month. The math sounds good, but reality is rarely so kind.
The problem is that half of all self-published books make less than $500 in total, never mind on a monthly basis. As with anything you are going to sell, a large readership on your blog is a necessity. Even then, most travel related topics have been written about extensively by other bloggers, so the market is very saturated. What are you going to write about? “How to travel the world?” “Teaching English Overseas?” “Overcoming Fears?” “Essential travel gear?”
It is not impossible to make thousands of dollars from a single ebook, but for the vast majority of travel bloggers, it’s very improbable.
Author’s from sites like WanderingEarl.com, FoxNomad.com, NomadMatt.com, Fluentin3Months.com and, of course, ChrisGuillebeau.com have had very successful ebooks. However, even these authors, have multiple sources of income, with the exception of Benny Lewis from Fluentin3Months.com. His single, language learning product has become his sole income source. However, I do think he is unique because of the language learning focus on his site and the large audience he has built over the years.
You can promote and sell products and services from other companies on your blog and make some decent money from it. Your success will largely depend on your total readership and how targeted your market is.
A superstar make money online blogger like Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com makes tens of thousands of dollars from affiliate programs every month, but again he is the exception. He has built a massive audience and promotes products directly related to making money online. In the travel niche, your choice of products and services to promote is more limited and you will still need large numbers of visitors to generate any decent income.
Many travel bloggers promote products by bloggers such as Derek Baron, Chris Guillebeau, Matt Kepnes and Anil Polat. If your site is generating hundreds of thousands of page views every month, you might be able to make several hundreds of dollars through these affiliate sales. Remember, that out of the thousands and thousands of travel blogs out there, only a small fraction will have enough traffic to make any meaningful income.
The most profitable way for more established bloggers to make money is through selling guest post advertisements or text links. While this is technically against Google’s policies and can lead to your site being punished in search engines, selling text links is still a very common practice and is difficult for Google to prove.
On this site, I get many inquiries every week about placing a text link on my site in some way or another. Some want it for free, others are willing to pay a one time fee of a couple hundred dollars, while some companies are willing to pay a monthly rate. You could earn more if your site is really popular and has a high page rank.
The problem with these paid links, is that the intermediate companies brokering these links don’t really care about your site or your content. They just want the link as cheaply as possible, so they have outsourced writers that will write a generic post that is of little value to your readers.
Even dealing with emails and negotiating with these companies can be very time consuming, and often not worth the effort. I don’t post those text link posts because I don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of my site and risk losing readership, just to make a few extra hundred dollars per month.
If you are going to go this route, then make it a focus. Create lots of content, build a strong social media presence and market products your readers will care about. Many travel bloggers are pro-active and approach companies directly. This can lead to free gear or hotel stays, sponsored trips and other great opportunities.
Advertising is not going to disappear in the travel industry. Websites that can provide a good return on advertising dollars will get business, but most general travel blogs are not a good vehicle for advertising.
A luxury New York City hotel is not going to get much value from advertising on a backpacker travel blog. At the other extreme, a discount hostel is not going to have the budget to do much advertising on general travel blogs.
In order to make advertising a key income generator on your site, think about it from your advertisers point of view. If a company is going to spend $100 advertising on your site, they need to make more than that back in net-profits. How can you deliver those results?
Specialization is key. Hotels and tour companies in Bali are much more likely to advertise on a Bali focused website. It would be even better to focus on a particular city and create a comprehensive resource for everything a tourist might be interested in there.
Stages of Travel Blogging
Planning for Travel
Consider how most travel bloggers start. When planning for long-term travel or to move abroad, most people will do a lot of online research about the destinations they hope to visit, how to book transportation online, where to stay and what to see. With all this time spent reading about the adventures of other bloggers, this is typically where the impetus to start blogging comes from.
At this stage, the novice travel blogger typically has little travel experience so they talk about where they hope to go, the gear they are going to buy and other general information about their preparations. The content is all very aspirational, as they do not have any real experience.
For a personal diary, this information is great. It can be very rewarding to document your thought processes and progress for future reference, however the value to your readers is very limited. At the pre-travel stage, you don’t have the experience or knowledge to solve any real problems that a travel audience would likely have.
Also, a new blog will have limited traffic, so it’s unlikely that you are going to earn much revenue from any source. In fact, virtually all sites will make close to zero in revenues in their first year. You just won’t have the audience or page rank to make money from a general interest travel site.
Once the new travel blogger begins their journey, a whole new world opens up. Everything is exciting. Everything is new. They want to get all their experiences written on their blog. The type of content that typically gets added includes first experiences with new food, architecture, transportation, sight-seeing destinations, etc.. This country is really clean. That city is really crowded. This bus trip was so uncomfortable. That temple was so beautiful. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Again, that content is great to keep a running diary of experiences and to keep family and friends updated, but how much value is it to a general travel audience? What are you going to sell on your site? What problems are you solving for your readers?
When I go to a travel blog, I generally want information on a specific destination I’m going to. I want to know where to stay and eat, what to see and do, which scams to be on the look out for and what to avoid. Most of all, I want it to be a comprehensive travel guide focused around a specific issue I need answers to. Some of those examples will be:
- directory of apartments with photos and costs
- accurate cost of living information
- museums and art galleries
- what restaurants offer the best value
- tour options and prices
- travel to and from the destination
- volunteer opportunities in the area
- online groups or meetups for travelers and expats
If you had a comprehensive site with this type of information, travelers would visit often. Local businesses would see the value in advertising and you might earn commissions for hotels or tour sales.
Unfortunately, a new travel blogger typically doesn’t have enough experience to answer any of these questions in a meaningful way. Also, focusing on a single city or topic is boring to write about over the longer term, so most travel bloggers tend to write about new experiences in different locations.
On the other hand, there is a market for a general travel audience. For every real traveler, there are probably a hundred armchair travelers that will likely never do much traveling and hope to vicariously experience your adventures through your writing. If that is your focus, you’ll have to be a great storyteller.
These readers don’t want to hear about how beautiful the architecture is, how cheap your breakfast was or how the trains are so comfortable. They want insights into your feelings and motivations. They want to read content that makes them laugh or cry. They want to be entertained. The best travel bloggers are those who have extensive travel experience AND can tell a great story. Unfortunately, those bloggers are rare. I admit that I don’t tell stories very well, although it is something I hope to improve.
The problem with focusing on general travel stories, is that you really need a massive audience to earn much income because there is little to sell. You are not going to get targeted organic search traffic, so you’ll have to rely on selling text links and the promotion of mass market products and services. Some bloggers do this very profitably, but I personally get turned off from advertising focused general travel sites.
The Experienced Traveler
After a few years of travelling under their belt, the long-term nomad really understands the day-to-day issues of travelers and how to solve them. They know what information deficiencies there are online and start seeing marketing opportunities.
Veteran travellers know which websites are the most and least helpful. They know the best accommodations, restaurants and wi-fi spots for many cities around the world. They know what sight-seeing destinations are most and least worthy of your time. They know exactly what to pack and how to take care of finances on the road. They have learned how to deal with virtually any problem on the road.
By this time, the experienced traveler will likely have a great deal of blogging experience and will probably have diversified to multiple blogs and/or revenue sources. Better yet, they will have developed specific skills or services to sell to paying customers. These services are typically not related to travel and are more focused on blogging skills like search engine optimization, WordPress development or graphic design. Once you start traveling for a while, you’ll see that the vast majority of digital nomads don’t have a blog at all and instead focus 0n freelancing a particular skill they have or operate some other business.
Know What to Expect
I don’t want to discourage aspiring travel bloggers from starting. There are will always be new ways to make money online, however, competition will also continue to increase, so it is not going to get easier over time.
Having a popular and successful travel blog requires a massive amount of effort. Many of the popular sites like YTravelBlog.com, UncorneredMarket.com, NeverendingVoyage.com, MarriedWithLuggage.com and GlobeTrotterGirls.com are run by couples because it is generally more than a full-time effort for an individual.
Writing posts is only a small fraction of the work involved, you’ll also need to master:
- Taking, sorting and uploading photographs
- WordPress development and design
- Search Engine Optimization
- Online and offline networking
- Social media – Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Pinterest
If you are travelling full-time, it can be very difficult to keep up with all of this work. That is why many long-term travellers will stay in a single location for weeks or months to make time for the business of blogging. Blogging can also get in the way of enjoying your travel. It’s hard to really experience foreign destinations if you are always in a café working on a computer.
It’s somewhat of a catch 22. Earning enough income from blogging requires a full-time effort, yet, the lack of immediate income requires bloggers to do other work to pay the bills, so they don’t have enough time to get their blog popular enough.
What a Travel Blogger Should Do
I’ve read that 95% of blogs are abandoned. That statistic doesn’t surprise me at all. Blogging is a lot of hard work with very little returns. If you calculated the hourly income received from all the hours travel bloggers have put in, they most certainly could find better ways to earn a living.
If your primary goal is to make an income online, I would first look to selling your services online. You’ll have to work by the hour or by project, but the work is reliable and the income is generally immediate. Some examples of these types of services are WordPress development, smart phone app development, search engine optimization services, content writing, graphic design, etc.
Visit a site like oDesk.com or Elance.com to see the types of work that companies are hiring for to get a better idea. What areas do you have expertise in?
It’s best to attract customers and sales leads in your home city before you leave. If you only market your services online, you will be competing with the entire world.
Instead of spending your time blogging with some vague hope of generating advertising revenues or selling ebooks, focus on servicing the needs of paying clients now.
Instead of writing a general blog, focus on a keyword focused niche that is going to maximize your chances of ranking highly in search results. If you can’t get on the first page of Google for a profitable search term, you won’t make much money.
Some examples of good niches would be comprehensive city guides, where you could sell advertising for local hotels, short term apartments, tour companies and restaurants. Kirsty Henderson of NerdyNomad.com is an expert on this and also openly publishes her revenues and expenses. She often makes ten thousand dollars a month or more.
Travel as a Business
If you really want to make money in the travel sector, start a real business serving a particular market. Ask yourself questions like:
- What problems can you solve for a niche?
- What information or services do tourists want for a particular city?
- What would attract hotels, tour companies or restaurants to advertise?
- What information and services would be helpful for longer-term travelers?
- Is there a product or service for a travel audience that you could develop?
- What problems do you encounter on your own travels? Is there a business in solving that problem?
TravelFish.org is an excellent example of a travel business. High quality travel guides for South East Asia are something that travelers are willing to pay for. WanderingEarl.com has recently started selling personally guided tours. That is a great example of using a blog to generate interest for a real world service.
I also love the entrepreneurial retreats from TropicalMBA.com and ProjectGetaway.com. TropicalMBA.com also has a great business with their Dynamite Circle private forum, however, you need to have other successes to be able to attract people to a paid discussion forum.
Some other potentially lucrative travel business opportunities might be:
- a directory of short-term apartment rentals around the world
- selling travel gear
- marketing adventure tours for a fee
- running your own adventure tours
- directory of luxury spas around the world with reviews, prices and photos
- art, music and culture travel guides for cities around the world
Travel Blogging as a Business
Blogging about your adventures can be very personally rewarding and offer great opportunities to connect with other travelers and expats. If you just want to document your experiences, than I highly recommend blogging about any subject you are interested in.
If you are willing to invest hundreds, probably thousands, of hours of time with little return, you can build an audience and start making money, but it is a monumental effort with minimal returns, so make sure you know what you are getting into. Statistically speaking, almost all bloggers will never make any decent return on their time invested. The vast majority will give up long before any substantial success.
If you do decide that you are going to try to make your travel blog your sole source of income, it helps to start with a great story. Chris Guillebeau is travelling to every country in the world. Pat Flynn made a quarter million dollars per year on only a few hours a day of work. Brandon Pearce‘s hugely profitable Music Teacher’s Helper, allows his family to travel the world, working only a few hours a week. Dan and Ian from TropicalMBA.com built a million dollar business selling real products. Justin and Joe from AdsenseFlippers.com make tens of thousands of dollars a month selling micro-niche websites and they tell the world how they do it for free. Those are all unique stories that attract attention.
After the general blogging advice applies:
- Get a good blog design that makes your site look professional.
- Regularly publish search engine optimized content with catchy titles.
- Write great content that people want to share. Tell meaningful stories. Don’t just document your positive and negative experiences.
- Include lots of images with properly labeled tags and descriptions.
- Write dozens of guest posts for popular travel blogs.
- Spend many hours every week building a social media following on popular sites.
- Share the content of other travel bloggers ten to one.
- Comment on the blogs of others in your niche.
- Network with other travel bloggers online.
- Attend conferences and meetups with travel bloggers whenever you can.
- Create a podcast and/or videos to reach a broader audience.
Do all of that on a regular basis and you may likely become a top travel blogger. The reason most bloggers give up is because it’s a lot of work. If you are willing to put in the hours, you can achieve good results. Just don’t expect it to be fast or easy. It definitely is not going to be passive income either.
In my view, it makes much more sense to start a business that solves real problems for people. Sell a real product or freelance your services. That type of business scales and offers the potential for much greater profits. Even the top travel bloggers in the world will have trouble making a six figure salary. That income is much easier to achieve from a well run small business.
Bloggers Mentioned in this Post
(Subscribe to all their sites and follow what they do. They are the experts. Remember that their main travel blog is not their only, or even primary source of income.)