I like to keep this blog as BS-free as possible and that also applies to talking about how I make a living from travel blogging.
There are heaps of great guides online about how to start a travel blog and make money from travel blogging but sometimes I feel like they have jumped ahead a few steps or, dare I say it, held a few things back.
After recently advising a friend over coffee who wanted to transition from fashion blogging to travel blogging, I realised that my site was just the same. So, for the sake of clarity, here’s what I told that friend it takes to make a living from travel blogging in my unfiltered (and heavily biased) opinion.
15 things you need to understand if you want to make a living from travel blogging
1. What happens offline is just as important as what happens online
Ask any long-standing blogger what was the turning point in their career and 9 times out of 10 it won’t have anything to do with something they wrote. For many bloggers, myself included, shit started to get real after winning an award, speaking at a conference or being featured by a big-name media outlet. So..
2. You need to PR you
Having a blog these days is not enough. You need to be marketing yourself as well as your content and hustling for all the opportunities I just listed above.
3. It ain’t what you know it’s who you know
Clichéd but true. Ain’t no one gonna offer or recommend you for work if they don’t know who you are. If content is king then networking is his queen!
4. People work with people they like
Often a travel blogger is picked for a campaign not necessarily because they are the best fit but because the person making the decisions likes them. When brands work with bloggers, especially if it involves travelling with them, they are going to go with who they like. It’s just human nature.
5. Forget niche, find your story
‘Find your niche’ was a blogging buzz phrase for ages because Google loves expert content and there were too many blogs on similar topics making it hard for newbies to stand out. I believe you can stand out by writing about more than one specific thing though if you have an overall story tying your content together and hooking the readers in.
6. What’s your thing?
Many of my favourite bloggers have one thing that they’re really good and/or consistent at and it’s become the thing they’re known for. It could be a specific photography or writing style, a passion for soup or totalling nailing Instagram Stories. Find one (or two, you over-achiever you!) thing you think you can ace and go with it. Struggling to work it out? Ask your friends to describe you or get a reader to sum up your blog in 1 line. You may already have a ‘thing’ and not know it.
7. What you charge & who you work with is up to
Lots of people, especially bloggers because we like to be vocal, will have opinions on what you should or shouldn’t do in exchange for travel and renumeration. One of the best things about being a blogger though is that you are your own boss; what you charge, which projects you take on and what you offer in return is totally up to you.
If you feel like you could do with some guidance (because yes, pitching can be like playing tennis in the dark) reach out to a blogger who has a similar audience to you and ask if they are open to discussing rates/giving feedback on yours. Facebook Groups for travel bloggers are also a great place to get a sense of industry rates, but they can also be full of noise and opinions that are distracting.
8. Keep it real(istic) when talking to brands
When I worked in blogger outreach I learned that when you dig down into the nitty gritty of Google Analytics, the overall traffic of many blogs is being boosted by a handful of posts that hit the jackpot on Google. This isn’t a bad thing (I salute you SEO gurus), it just means that sometimes brands don’t understand what they are buying into.
For example, they see a blog gets 50k+ page views a month and think that their campaign is going to get a similar reach. Nuh ah. If you want to give a brand a clearer idea of what it means to partner with you perhaps share how many page views similar posts and/or your last few posts received and explain how the content has more value (and hits) over time. That will give them a much better idea of how many eyes are landing on your content and will lead to less questions about why their post ‘didn’t perform as expected’ down the line.
9. Comparison is a waste of time
Mainly because you don’t actually know what goes on behind the scenes of someone else’s work/life. Don’t compare your reality to someone else’s highlight reel. (Someone clever said this on the internet. I’m not sure who.)
10. Cash doesn’t start rolling in from day 1
Unless there is something majorly fishy going on, a travel blog doesn’t start making money from day 1 – not in my experience anyway. These days, because there is a wealth of information and some great beginner courses for bloggers online, bloggers are building an audience and making money much faster than I did. But I’d say give yourself at least 6 to 12 months of writing consistent content before expecting results or you’re going to drive yourself crazy.
11. Diversify or die
Speaking of the bank balance, there are many misperceptions about how travel bloggers make money, including how for most of us it involves having multiple income streams that can go up and down at different times of the year.
12. People don’t offer you money, you have to ask for it
Very, very rarely does an email land in my inbox saying ‘Hey Jayne, we want to work with you and we have a budget of x’.
What’s more common is a brand getting in touch offering a contra agreement or asking me to work for exposure. (Yep, that still happens!)
I always politely ask the question about budget and explain professionally (with stats and examples of previous campaigns) about why I’m worth investing in. I try to ‘upsell’ every offer of work that comes in as I’d rather form long-term relationships that work for both of us and in order to do so I research the company approaching me and come up with ways I think I can help them.
It doesn’t always end in a project (I’m still hurt by the person who replied, ‘I just can’t see where you get your prices from’ after I’d sent much evidence to back up my proposal) but I just take that to mean they weren’t right for me anyway.
13. Many of us have a side hustle
There are months when no matter how many proposals, pitches and good vibes you’ve sent out into the internet the work will not come in. That’s why many bloggers, myself included, have side hustles such as freelance consulting, social media management and content writing contracts to keep the dollars coming in.
14. Not everyone is a fan of bloggers
Sadly, there are more times than I can count where I’ve met people on my travels, been asked what I do for a living and they look at me like I just farted when I reply travel blogger.*
*I was advised by the same people to just say travel writer in future. I know of some bloggers who make up job titles to prevent this scenario.
Some people (and let’s be frank, it’s often the older generations) have very low opinions of travel bloggers and in some instances they may resent you sharing their holiday because they paid for it and you didn’t. I’ve met people who’ve asked me directly what I earn and had others tell me to my face there is no value in what I do. Which was a nice way to spend an evening in the Gambia, not!
I’ve also met wonderful people who have been intrigued and impressed with this relatively new line of work and became firm friends and long-term readers after meeting me on a work trip. So it’s swings and roundabouts really.
15. It’s not too late to start
If some of the awesome new blogs I’ve discovered lately are anything to go by, it is most definitely not too late to get into travel blogging.
Granted, those of us who got in early have domain rankings and reputation on our side but that doesn’t mean it is too late for someone to start now. These days it’s easier to hit the ground running because of all the resources people like myself who learned by trial and error (mainly error) have shared.
No doubt you’ll have to graft to get a lot of decent content up quickly but I reckon if you’ve got writing flair, passion and persistence the travel blogging world is your oyster. So don’t let anyone put you off giving it a shot. Come join us!
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Main image thanks to Pineapple Supply Co on Unsplash
This post was updated in March 2018 and contains some affiliate links