Money. It’s a curse in that we all need it to survive. People work their whole lives to earn it, and it spends a lot faster than it comes in.
One of the biggest issues facing people who are looking into a life of travel or location independence as an expat is the inevitable travel fund. One way to go about traveling is to save up a nest egg before you head out, which is covered in our 10 Ways to Save $25,000 or More For Your Full-Time Travel article.
But that’s only your initial travel fund. What about once you are on the road? What can you do in order to avoid ever having to return to your old life, the 40 hour work week, the rat race, the cubicle torture, the <insert quirky Internet meme or phrase for working for someone else here>?
Passive income allows you the opportunity to take your ordinary, average blog and make it into an online business that provides you with enough funds to travel the world on a full time basis, or to establish yourself in another country where you can go the immersion travel route (which is my own preference) for long-term living as an expat.
One of the major differences between backpacking and immersion travel as an expat is that backpackers do not need to provide proof of income to governments around the world to apply for residency visas, since they are mostly only ever traveling on their passport or on the rare occasion a tourist visa.
Passive income, on the other hand, covers both sides of the coin. It can provide you with the funds to continually travel without ever having to go back to your former job, and it can be the basis for providing proof of income to a government that you have a viable online enterprise…and it will continue to provide you with funds after you settle down into your new digs, as well as paying for your cost of living over the years.
Getting that passive income going, though, that’s the part where a lot of people struggle. It’s not something you can just snap a finger and will into existence, but as long as you are willing to dedicate a few hours per day, every day, you will eventually build your blog or your brand into something that can provide you with enough funds to either travel at will or settle down in a country of your choosing. With that in mind, I’ve included an alternate version of the information you can find within The Expat Guidebook as to some of the ways you can generate a passive income for your travels.
Produce An eBook/Newsletter/Magazine
Everyone is an expert on something, and everyone has a unique point of view on topics. I meet a lot of people in my travels who claim that travel blogging is an over-saturated market and that there’s no way they can compete against the industry veterans who are selling $10,000+ per month in copies, so they don’t think they can get going or ever follow their dreams.
Do you think those industry leaders just magically appeared one day and started selling tens of thousands of copies per year? Absolutely not! They all started out at the bottom, just like everyone else, and built up from there. I know I didn’t have a lot of followers when I first started out; I only had about 30 friends and family. Now I’m over 4,000 (as of January, 2013) followers and continually rising.
There are seven billion people on planet Earth. Your voice is unique out of all of those. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you can find an audience. Will it take time? Yes. Will it take hard work? Yes. But over time you will build up a following and you will find readers who enjoy your particular take on things.
Which is where writing an eBook for your followers comes into play. You will notice the vast majority of travel bloggers have some type of book offered on their websites. That’s because it serves as one avenue of passive income. Once you can start selling your own book to your fans and followers, the sky is the limit.
From there, you can continually produce content that your readers find valuable. Of course, you first have to make sure you are offering quality content, but as long as you are providing something of value the sales will come. The goal is to make sure that what you are offering isn’t just to make money, but it’s something that betters everyone’s lives, something that benefits humanity as a whole. These are the projects people love, the projects that stir goodness in the hearts of your brothers and sisters and set them on the path to The Human Experience.
You can also consider starting a digital magazine, something that comes out as a PDF once a month or once every two weeks, where you can feature other writers, their stories and beyond. You can do the same thing with an online newspaper, such as for your local area, providing news for expats in their native tongue.
There’s a great list of existing sites to draw inspiration from at Escape Artist in their Expat Magazines listing. Not all are digital, but you can find something to get you started. Meanwhile, a great example of an online, digital magazine is here at the Expat News site. As you can see, they’ve got a massive list of resources for people who are interested in expat-related information. Which you can do as well.
Provide A Service
Similarly, you can provide a service via your brand/blog as opposed to writing a eBooks. This is especially true in the modern times where G+ Hangouts and other online features allow any of us to connect around the world with the click of a button, absolutely for free.
Start a podcast, make a web series, offer consultations, you can help people find real estate in destinations around the world, you can set yourself up as a rental agent promoting various properties for tourists, you can organize tours in your area, you can teach language classes, guitar lessons, blogging classes, web development…the only limit to the types of services you can provide is your imagination.
Let me give you a perfect example of someone providing a service. I’m a huge fan of Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income. This guy has come a long way in the past few years, and I’ve been an avid follower. How does he continually make 40-50k USD per month? By providing a service. He helps people create passive income, which in turn has generated a huge following, and offers up the vast majority of his information for free on his website.
By becoming a master of information sharing, by being the “go to guy” for tens of thousands of followers, his service of information is providing him a life of luxury with passive income. He’s just one example of dozens you can find on The Internet. You still have to build up your reader base, but once you have it, the income follows. Because you are providing value to your readers and ensuring that what you are sharing, the service you are offering, is exactly what they need and want.
Sell Advertising Space
This one is a bit trickier and can really only feasibly done after you have established traffic and can guarantee a certain amount of viewers per month. And it’s not for everyone, because not everyone likes “watering down” their blog by having ads up in the sidebar or in other areas.
I’m of the opinion that as long as what you are advertising is of value to your readers, you should absolutely do it, because every little drop in the bucket counts. This is especially true when you start getting to the point where you can go to your peers and ask them if they want to buy advertising space, because then you are recommending products and services that will not only benefit your readers, but also your peers and friends within the travel blogging industry.
There are a lot of different ways to sell space. Banners are common on websites (just check out the banners on the right sidebar we have here to see what I mean), but if you have an eBook or a digital magazine that you produce, you can also sell advertising space within the publications. The same goes for your newsletter, since you can customize your layout as you see fit to advertise products and services within.
Some travel writers sneer down their noses at Google ads. But you know what, I’m of the opinion that in the beginning, when you don’t have the clout to sell direct advertising to your peers and industry leaders, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with some well-placed Google or Chitika ads. They can bring in an extra few hundred per month once you get traffic going, and can help you leverage your way to private ads that have more relevance to what you are talking about on your blog.
You can also sell advertising space in your YouTube videos, offering up sponsorship positions in exchange for logo placement in your videos. You can look at any travel blogger website and see advertising in some form or another…usually products and services of peers.
Private Newsletter/Forums/Subscription Service
This is another one that takes time to get to the point where you can realistically offer it, but there are a lot of industry veterans doing it. I think one of my favorites is Simon Black from Sovereign Man, and his various programs that range the gamut from the free newsletter to the Confidential and up to the Total Access, which he just launched at the end of 2012. I have several friends who are members (I’m personally not, but only because I’m not into stocks/precious metals, which is the primary benefit of signing up to the Confidential and beyond reports) and highly praise the service. It’s just one example.
Everyone gives away free information to generate interest. As travel bloggers, we blog for free, we have free eBooks that we give away to inspire interest in our other products, we work in social media for free, we do YouTube videos for free…travel bloggers generally produce content for their blog on spec. That is, they are doing it for free with the caveat being being that a certain percentage of people who visit the blog will purchase products and pay for services or click on links.
Once you have established yourself and you have something unique that no one else can offer…it’s worth it to consider a private forum or newsletter, some type of subscription service.
This is where you can go above and beyond for your readers. Because they are specifically paying you for your time, you have to offer something of incredible value. Maybe it’s customized real estate listings in Bangkok. Maybe you are a medical tourism expert and you travel the world finding the cheapest dental services on the planet. Maybe you want to promote the world’s most comfortable B&Bs in the world, so you specifically set up a subscription service where you dig them up and refer people to them. There are a lot of different ways to provide clients with specialized services or information.
Affiliate Products & Programs
This goes hand in hand with advertising space, and for some people it can actually replace your banner ads entirely, if this is the option you prefer. Personally, this is my favorite option, and it’s what I currently do at Marginal Boundaries.
Many travel bloggers who have a product or a service for sale also have an affiliate program in place. Generally this is around 50% of the sales you make. It can be more or it can be less; this is the average. Wandering Earl has an affiliate program for his books, as does Anil from over at Fox Nomad. I also have an affiliate program for The Expat Guidebook + all Marginal Boundaries immersion guides and products.
If they are products you enjoy, find useful and think they will benefit others who are reading your site, then by all means you should be referring these products on your site so you can make a commission on sales, and at the same time benefit your readers with valuable content.
I don’t believe in competition. I think it’s possible to find working relationships with everyone on the planet, and for those of you who follow along you know that I always promote networking with others. Some people don’t like to refer other products because they have the mentality of “well, I want people to buy my product, not someone else’s”.
That’s the capitalist/old school mentality. The “us versus them” mentality. It’s antiquated. In the new age, in the digital age, it’s all about win/win scenarios. And with affiliate sales everyone wins. When you are making 50% of the sales you refer, how is that a bad thing?
50% of something is better than 100% of nothing, and by referring other people’s products you not only help establish your own financial independence through passive income, but you also boost your own credibility with your readers. When you show your readers that you are all about equal opportunities for everyone, not just your own profits…well, it’s karmic principles 101.
People trust those who are helping them just as much as they are helping themselves. No one likes a greedy bastard, and by sharing and sharing equally, everyone wins, we all profit, there’s no 99% versus 1%, it’s just one, big happy family of passive income earners!
As far as the how goes, well it’s really up to you. You can write reviews on eBooks and then include your affiliate links with the associated posts, or you can set up a specific page on your website that has all the products and services you recommend, complete with banners and links. Wandering Earl and Anil from Fox Nomad both have good examples of this at their resource pages. The other option, which is what I’ve done, is include banners on the sidebar which have my affiliate code buried in, so if someone clicks on those ads they go straight to the associated sites and if they make a purchase, it’s all tracked via cookies.
Develop A Program/Run Tours
This somewhat goes hand in hand with “providing a service”, but it goes above and beyond simply referring people to other products or the simple “transaction based services” such as rental agencies, affiliate sales, basic language courses and beyond.
Programs take a lot of time and effort to put together. They go above and beyond simply having a product to recommend, because programs tend to be large-scale projects that take months of planning and a lot of time in advance taking care of logistics. It’s like being the director of a film; everyone is working on it, but you are the one bleeding sweat and tears for months on end making sure that everything goes off without a hitch.
For example, language programs are one way you can leverage your brand to generate a passive income for you. Yes, it will take time to set up, and there will be some initial investments, but once things are going you can generate that income perpetually simply by setting up something that is always renewing.
Language programs are popular with expats, but the flip side is that you can also offer your program to locals, provided you speak the language. An example of this is Latin Immersion, which are language immersion programs offered throughout Latin America. You can find language immersion courses all over the world. I have a couple of online writer associates who went to China in 2010 to spend two years in an immersion course, teaching English in exchange for free living and Mandarin classes, and another friend who did the same thing in Japan. If you can put together some type of a language program and offer it to your readers along with an eBook or service of some kind, this is another way you can make passive income from your blog.
Adventure tours are also popular. Wandering Earl is another example of a guy who is combining his eBook sales with affiliate sales and adventure tours as well. Another excellent example of tours you can run from your blog if you know your area and can organize things via your brand is Running Buffalo Journeys, down here in my part of the world, with their Mayan Heartland Tour.
All of these are examples of programs you can develop and market through your blog/social media platforms to generate income that will eventually turn passive as you spend more and more time developing a following and a reputation in your niche.
Some Final Thoughts
Growing a brand and developing passive income is not something that will happen overnight. You can’t just snap your fingers and have income magically start coming in. It takes time. Consider your first three to six months as training. You are like an actor who has been hired to play a role but is required to spend six months in the gym putting on 25 pounds of muscle and achieving godlike, chiseled abs.
You don’t get the godlike physique by wishing and hoping and thinking about it. You restrict your diet, eat only the healthiest foods, you push your body and your spirit and your will three, four and five hours a day at the gym, relentlessly pursuing your objective. And once you reach it, once you are “camera ready”, it’s all about going into maintenance mode during the actual shoot.
The first few months will be challenging. It takes time to build up a following. But with the right mentors, and the right resources, you can streamline your own growth to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that most newbies make. Don’t forget to take a look at our Other Resources page for a full list of other travel bloggers and social media experts, all of whom have excellent advice and are worth looking into. And please check out all the links throughout this post; all of the aforementioned people have amazing products and services that can help you with inspiration and ways to monetize your blog to establish a passive income.
And remember, this is by no means a master list. This is my own personal take on five of the best ways to monetize your blog. There are literally dozens of ways to choose from, not just these few, so if you happen to have anything to add please just let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to add them to the list over time.