If you are one of the armchair readers of the world, you may think travel blogging is some sort of lucrative party gig, lounging beach-side with cocktails and bikini (or speedo)-clad deviants while you sip mojitos and your articles rack up thousands of hits while your social media platforms receive thousands of clicks and likes and shares and companies around the world pay you tens of thousands of dollars to travel the world on the company dime and your books sell tens of thousands of copies while you simply lay there, writing a few words here and there and taking a few photos.
The reality is that while you can certainly have all of those things, and there’s absolutely a lot of perks that come with the job, it takes a lot of hard work to get to the point where you start receiving comped trips, sponsorships and perks, and until you get to that point (and even after) travel blogging is a job just like any other, which means there’s a lot of hard work, long hours and strategizing involved, not simply lounging around and watching the views come in.
The vast majority of travel blogs that people read for entertainment are nothing more than hobby blogs. That is, they are platforms for travelers to write about their journeys around the world, but without actually earning any actual, livable income from said blog to pay for said travels. Behind all but the most successful of blogs is a truth that no one really talks about: hobby bloggers make the bulk of their income from other, non-travel-related jobs.
We’ve covered some of these bloggers in our Secrets of My Success series here at the website, talking about the variety of income sources that people use to fund their travels, from freelancing to day-trading to having an Airbnb property that they rent out back in their home country to running drop-shipping businesses and beyond. Everyone needs an income source to travel full-time. That’s simple fact.
Another simple fact is that a professional travel blog – that is, one which brings in enough income to pay for said blogger(s) to travel the world full time without needing an outside source of income – is a business, and like any other business it takes time, money and, more importantly, passion in order to make that business into a thriving platform that pays for itself.
Businesses are not born overnight. As a general rule, if you want to start a successful business of any kind, you need working capital and a good two to five year plan. If you want to build a 100k a year restaurant, you need to be prepared to spend 15 to 20k up-front on kitchen equipment, staff, supplies and, most importantly, advertising and promotion in order to get the word out that you have a new restaurant so you can get people in the door to help you recoup your business expenses.
A travel blog is no different. It takes a year or two (as a general rule) to build up a following of loyal readers as well as the traffic needed to land sponsorships and press trips; that is, companies who are willing to pay you to travel on their dime or tourist boards/tour agencies who are willing to pay for your trip in exchange for the publicity you offer them with your blog.
And how do you earn those followers and the traffic necessary to woo investors, advertisers and sponsors? By footing your own bill for the first year or two and paying for your travels, your transportation, your entry fees to ruins and museums, entertainment fees for scuba diving and hot-air balloon rides and camel treks and spelunking, your camera gear, your website hosting, your advertising to bring in the traffic and the viewers and so on and so forth.
For most “budget travelers”, that means spending 15 to 20k a year to cover the costs of travel, as well as the time it takes to write and publish blog posts, edit blog posts, take thousands of photos that are weeded down into the 10 to 20 that are used in a blog post, shoot hundreds of hours of video that is cut down into 3 to 5 minute segments, time spent learning how to code and run a WordPress or other type of website, basic Photoshop and other technical skills and beyond.
Blogging is a full-time job, or at least it is if you want it to turn into anything remotely resembling profitable. If all you want is a hobby blog where you post once a week just for the fun of it and you never expect to make money from the blog, that’s all well and good, but to build a profitable business with your blog you have to be willing to invest both time and money into the business.
If it takes two years for you to reach the point of earning sponsorships and press trips, that means potentially 30 to 40k of your own cash, time and effort into building up the business until you start seeing a return on your investment. That is, income from book sales, advertising, press trips and sponsorships which then fund your travels.
It’s simple business 101.
I don’t know of a single professional travel blogger (someone making a livable income with their blog and brand, not hobby bloggers who have an outside source of income) who magically snapped their fingers and was suddenly making 60k+ a year within the first couple months of starting. The vast majority spent at least a year or two traveling on their own dime, putting in 30-40 hours a week minimum while creating high-quality posts and working the social media gamut and building up a reputation, before they started seeing an ROI.
Speaking from our own perspective, and for the sake of full disclosure, we make a full-time income through the brand. But that took a full year of working for free (investing my own time + money) before I saw an ROI. I spent 2011 building the platform in my spare time, writing the three city guidebooks, filling the site with content and blog posts, launching the social media platforms, before ever taking it public just before Christmas of 2011.
I then spent all of 2012 putting in 80+ hour weeks continuing the blog, writing and launching The Expat Guidebook, working on social media, investing in advertising, press releases, networking and beyond, all while continuing to freelance with Complete Writing Solutions, where I had been working since founding the company in Bulgaria in January of 2008.
Then in 2013 we launched the brand boot camps in the early part of the year after my brother’s suicide, I published Beyond Borders – The Social Revolution in April, and over the course of the year we’ve continued to build up, earning sponsorships and press trips, teaching gigs within the Internet marketing & social media industry, more and more individual and brand consultations, marketing our social media advertising for travel partners, as well as offering social media management through the brand, and working on commissioned projects, such as my ongoing “Life on the Road” series for Carolynne from International Travel Writers.
There’s also side ventures that have sprung up through the brand, such as Cristina’s apartment finder service, which eventually reached a critical mass point where there was enough business coming in to warrant the launch of its own brand and website: Cancun Apartment Rentals. That’s her part-time job apart from her Spanish-language duties here with Marginal Boundaries. And we have our fingers in a lot of other pies here in the Riviera Maya with presentations and more, all within the startup and blogging/social media/travel/tourism communities.
It’s also grown from just myself, to now including my wife Cristina, and my friend/personal assistant Devlin, who works as my graphic designer (he designed our press kit and the 10 Steps to Brand Domination graphics, for example), social media assistant (he handles the bulk of our Pinterest, Twitter and StumbleUpon) and WordPress hacker who handles the code side of things. And helped reduce my own hours from 12+ a day to 6 – 8 hours a day. (By the way, he’s always on the lookout for graphic design gigs and social media management clients. You can reach him through his Dream In Reality brand).
Running the blog is by no means a walk in the park. I’m passionate about it, and it’s more than just my work: it’s my life. Which means I enjoy the hell out of what I do and I never get tired of it. But there are a lot of man-hours that go into running a profitable blog.
Such as: writing and editing two to three blog posts per week; shooting, cutting, editing and post-processing (adding music/graphics/etc.) two to three YouTube videos per week; shooting hundreds (if not thousands) of photos per week to be used in blog posts + social media photo albums; running the social media; consulting; managing our own PPC ad campaigns via Facebook, StumbleUpon and other outlets; managing the PR for the company (which includes writing press releases as well as continually seeking out new opportunities); sending out proposals for press trips; answering emails; answering comments on social media outlets; researching and investigating for new articles; working on new content for future books and other products; working on the social media advertising for other clients (ads which are ran through the Marginal Boundaries social media network of 10,000+ readers and 1,000,000+ monthly views); creating infographics; creating Pinterest uploads and fliers and posters; and much, much more.
Bottom line, running a travel blog is a full-time job. And while yes we get free meals, free accommodations and free tours from partners within the industry…in order to get to the point where we had enough traffic and the loyalty of our reader-base to be able to earn sponsors and advertising, we had to pay our own way, work our way up, and put in a lot of hours. And we still put in a lot of hours.
And even though there are beach-side days with mojitos and ceviche and plenty of eye candy, the whole concept of “passive income” and toes-in-the-sand-while-I-rake-in-millions is mostly a marketing myth promoted by people trying to promote the dream of a four hour work week. Even Tim Ferris spends full-time hours every week managing his online empire, whether it’s signing new contracts and book deals, to working with his assistants and team to create new products and campaigns, to flying around the world so he can promote his lifestyle through pictures, video and new content.
A successful brand is not a magical money-making dream-come-true. There are a lot of working parts that need to be regularly oiled, and it generally requires a team of people working together to achieve the greatest levels of success. That’s not to say that a single individual can’t make it on their own, but there does come a point where if you want to achieve greater levels of success, you have to have other people helping to manage the work load that is associated with content production, press, social media management and beyond.
A profit-earning travel blog is not a hobby. It is a brand. It is a business. And like any functioning business it requires hard work and active management to function. While a certain portion of your income may be passive (such as long-term book sales beyond a book launch based on residual traffic over time), the vast majority is (in my opinion) based on your ongoing, active management of the brand…as the face of the company, as the head officer and so on and so forth.
I’m presently covering the nuts-and-bolts of the full-time travel blogging business in the aforementioned Life on the Road series from International Travel Writers. You can head on over to Carolynne’s website for the latest updates, as well as a ton of other content; she’s got several decades’ of travel underneath her belt and there’s a lot of high-quality information at her site from other writers as well. You can also stay tuned to our social media channels for the weekly updates; the first one came out last week and the second one is coming out later this week.
It’s a 12-part series complete with YouTube videos and I’ll be compiling the information and expanding upon it more for a new book coming out in March of 2014, called Life on the Road – The Business of Travel Blogging. I’m covering in great detail exactly how it is that I make my money, how we arrived at the point we are at now, tips from other professional bloggers, and more information on how to successfully run an actual, profitable blog that survives on more than just advertising and sponsored posts/travel.