I have been blogging and traveling for nearly 10 years now and whenever I meet someone and they learn I make a living by traveling around the world blogging, they are excited and then their brow furrows in stress. It’s at this point I become a mind reader; I know what’s going through their head. They are trying to figure out how to ask the question they so desperately want to ask but don’t want to appear rude or overstep their boundaries. However, they normally opt to forgo social norms and just ask me anyway. It goes something like this…
Are you rich? Do you live off a trust fund? Does you have a husband supporting you? How do you get paid to travel? How can I do that too? How do you make money travel blogging?
The honest answer is that I’m not rich, no trust fund or husband, but yes I get paid to travel. However the “How do you make money blogging” question is much harder to answer. But the honest answer is “you don’t.”
I make very little money blogging, but it is my blog that gets me other work that helps me make a living. That’s an important distinction. If you are ready to start a blog and think you are going to have money rolling in with advertisers and affiliates, then you’ll probably be disappointed. Sure, there are some people who make money blogging – pure blogging – but they are in the minority. There are always exceptions in life.
First You Should Know Some Things About Me
I’m conservative, yet I like to take risks in life; but that doesn’t mean in money. I haven’t been out here for 10 years in my ‘important saving years’ just throwing away money and using all of my savings. I worked for 14 years in corporate jobs and from the age of 22 years old I have been saving and investing for retirement; something my conservative father taught me years ago. I might have thought it was stupid then to put my money in 401k’s and IRA’s, but not now. During these 10 years of travel where I’m making a small income, I’ve never had to touch my retirement savings or my investments, and the moment that I would have to touch them, I would quit this life of travel. That’s how financially conservative I am.
I get severely annoyed and turned off by people and ads that tell you how ‘easy’ it is to be 6-figure blogger – I call bullshit. I’ve turned into my father with the attitude of ‘if it looks too good to be true it is’. I get equally upset by the people who tell you that it’s easy to get followers on Instagram – just put up great pictures…also bullshit. They neglect to tell you there is a lot more to it and many often rely on programs to help them get followers. There is logic, strategy, a lot of hard work, and luck involved in everything. People who have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media had a lucky break at some point – but they seldom tell you about that aspect of being a social media influencer. We all had lucky breaks in this business – even me. All of these people who have been travel blogging for a year or two putting out e-books on how you can have this dream life of getting paid to travel too are also just used car salesmen to me. Most of it is bullshit.
Ok, now you’ve learned that I’m a bit negative when it comes to all the noise out there about how to live this life of travel and make tons of money. Which is probably why I waited so long to write this post. But I know people want to know how I do it – how do I make a living blogging and traveling. At a high level it’s about Expenses and Revenue.
Expenses and Being Nomadic
Since I just wrapped up my taxes for 2015, I can tell you last year is the most money I’ve ever made blogging and traveling – and it’s not over 50k. Yet I still managed to save money and put a chunk away for retirement. Everything has trade-offs in life and my biggest trade-off is I have given up having a homebase in order to travel and not eat into my savings or retirement. I am entirely nomadic. If I settled down and started paying rent somewhere, I would need to make much more money to sustain savings and myself. So it’s important to know that my expenses are low; no rent, no home insurance, no car, no cable/Netflix, no internet, no electricity bills, etc.
In addition, a great deal of my travel is paid for by Destinations, conferences, other projects (that also bring in revenue listed below). I am invited by many destinations to visit an area (for free) with the expectation that I will be able to provide some coverage in my blog, social media channels, or freelance writing outlets. This is where having a good diverse offering of coverage is important because they don’t just ask anyone to come visit. They vet me and look at my traffic, audience, and influence and decide to invite me. This is where years of hard work in building up that blog and social media channels come into play – it gets me invited on trips. I get about 1 invite a week, and turn down most of them. In fact, my favorite destinations that have hosted me are often the ones that I reached out and pitched them because I had an intense interest in going there – like my Alaska trip that I’m currently writing about on my blog.
If you don’t have many expenses, then you don’t really have to make a ton of money to live – and that’s how I’ve been living my life for the last 10 years.
Revenue and Making Money Blogging and Traveling
Revenue comes from different places all the time and much of it is not repeatable from year to year for me, which makes my life really exciting, or stressful depending on how you look at it.
Affiliate revenue is when I talk about a product or service I love and use and then link to it in my article – like this one on the Travel Gear I use. If you click on that link and end up buying something, then I make a small percentage of that sale because I’m marketing the product for them essentially. This costs the buyer nothing. I started this practice years ago and didn’t really make much so I stopped, but recently I’ve started again since my search traffic has been increasing. Plus people ask me all the time about the products, companies, and gear I travel with and I love to share the items I adore and use in the hopes that they will work for other people too.
About once a month I get contacted by complete strangers asking about my photography for sale. I often sell my images as stock photography for advertising/marketing campaigns. Sometimes my shots end up on brochures, in magazines, and even a book cover or two. I don’t have a specific stock photography site, but many people find me through my Global Photography Site, or I’ve worked with them before on a writing project or a press trip. The important thing here for me is networking and building relationships that may yield photography sales.
You probably see disclosures at the end of my posts. When a company hires me to write about them or mention them, then that’s considered sponsored content or advertising and it must be disclosed to the reader. This piece I did on My Best Days on Earth is an example of that. In fact – this post you are reading is sponsored. However I am VERY picky about whom I advertise with and I don’t accept articles not written by me. I must get 5 emails a day from companies who want to send me content to post on my website and pay me money to do so – but I don’t because to me it feels sleazy. And most of all, I don’t want to fill my website with crap content that has nothing to do with the way I travel or live. I accept about 1 advertising post a quarter and I make sure it’s about something I want to write about.
You probably know that I write 2 times a week here on Ottsworld, but did you know that I also do a great deal of freelance writing too. I do it because it helps me reach a new audience, and primarily because other outlets pay you! I write for some bigger online publications like (the now defunct) Yahoo Travel, AFAR.com, SavvyAuntie, Viator.com, Huffington Post, but I also write for smaller niche travel industry websites like InsureMyTrip.com, Intrepid.com, and Glamping.com. You can see all of the freelance articles I’ve done here in my freelance writing portfolio.
Influencer Marketing Projects
Sometimes I get hired by destinations or travel companies who ask me to experience their ‘product’ and write about it and share it to further their marketing strategy. An example of this was my #SeeSnowDifferently project with Travel Alberta for a month where I signed a contract to produce content about them. Once again – I do these only if I’m interested in the trip and content; and I worked closely with Travel Alberta on that project to come up with an itinerary that I was super excited to write about and experience. I would never go somewhere I didn’t want to just for money as that sounds agonizing; if I were that desperate for money then I would have stayed in my corporate career as that was much more lucrative!
Travel or Blogger Mentoring
In the last few years I have taken on some paid teaching gigs, as well as one-on-one consulting on travel blogging and consumer travel (helping people plan itineraries). The mentoring is something I simply charge an hourly rate for and we go through whatever questions you may have. I also do more workshops and teaching, like the upcoming Bloghouse Philadelphia, in the area of travel blogging which I’m also paid for. If you are interested in being mentored – email me at [email protected].
Running Social Media for Companies
This is the one thing that really has nothing to do with travel blogging – but I found this job via a trip I was on as a travel blogger! I run social media for LensCoat, a professional wildlife photography accessory company selling lens covers rain covers, and a myriad of bags/pouches. Since you know I love photography, this was a perfect fit for me. I have grown their Facebook page and just started them on Instagram. It’s been a great learning experience for me too and I have become much more interested in wildlife photography because of it! And honestly it’s fun to have a part of my workweek be nothing about travel; diversity is important for me in everything I do!
Diversity is Key
As you can see, making money blogging and traveling can be a bit of a grind, and every year I add new things to my revenues and expenses. Just like investing your money, diversity is important to my work as a travel blogger too. For me, it’s not important that I’m the best travel blogger, or Instagrammer, or have the biggest portfolio of writing outlets. Instead, it’s important that I am solidly represented in each of these things, that I’m the ultimate ‘utility player’ and can bring the most amount of diverse exposure to a travel client.
Other Resources that will teach you how to make money blogging:
Superstar Blogging Online Class offered by Nomadic Matt:
- A super class on how to start your own blog and run it like a business. Matt’s been in the travel blogging business longer than me and has written a few books about travel too. This is a great course for people who want to hit the ground running and are looking for a blogging revenue stream. He’s also offering a Travel Photography online class and a Travel Writing class.
Here’s How to Turn Traveling into a Business via Buzz Feed:
- A fun article I was recently quoted in a few times and it includes great advice from other bloggers too.
Matthew Karsten, of www.ExpertVagabond.com, is one of my favorite travel bloggers because he runs his blog and business like a well oiled machine as a one man show. He recently wrote a great article on how to make money travel blogging so you can get some insight into his strategy compared to mine. Read How to get Paid to Travel the World.
This post was brought to you via Fisher Investments, however all opinions expressed here are my own.
By Cecilia S. April 12, 2016 - 6:53 am
Very good and really interesting article. I always wished that someone explain to me the dynamics behind the gain through blogs.
By Keith April 12, 2016 - 3:52 pm
I enjoyed this post but was wondering why travel blogger all seem to encourages other people to join them?
By Tammy Mahon April 12, 2016 - 4:59 pm
Thank you for this, it is one of the most honest blogs I have read about this subject. I am new to reading all these travel blogs, and I read as many as I can because I too want to quit my job and travel the world forever. However I feel when I read travel blogs that everyone of them are trying to sell me something, to get money out of me. They are all talking up travel blogging as a way to travel the world and trying to make it sound so easy to become a blogger. I have stopped following some bloggers as I feel that in some ways they have sold out to the money. They are trying to tell me how to backpack on the cheap, but they have not travelled cheap in years. They are like you getting free trips to advertise a product, and then selling it to me as a cheap option. I was at one stage only following the big ones, you know the top 100, now I am also looking for the little guys. You know the ones just starting out as I believe they are doing it real. I am still trying to decide if I will try blogging myself, I do have a small blog that I started, but I feel I don’t have the passion for writing that I need. Or at least at the moment the content to write on a weekly basis as I am still at home in the hum drum life. I am thinking I may opt for the English teaching if needed and just blog for family and friends, as I don’t want to spend hours of my day concerned with getting my blog done. Sorry for the ramble haha I just wanted to say great blog really enjoyed it.
By Laura April 12, 2016 - 7:15 pm
It’s so funny that you posted this article today. My husband and I are starting full time domestic RV travel in a couple weeks and we just published our blog this past weekend. It’s not our intention to monetize it (not that I’d fight anyone if they wanted to pay me, of course, but it’s just not the plan right now.) BUT, I would like to have some readers (other than my mom). The articles take a really long time to write and it would just be nice to know someone was actually reading them. To that end, I’ve been reading up on various blogging sites to devise some strategies to attract readers.
In doing so, I’ve come across numerous “get rich quick by travel blogging” sites and it’s exactly what you talk about. Total BS. I was on one last night where the girl claimed to be making $7K per month. All I could think as I was checking out her site was “Who’s paying that much for this level of writing??”
I also started an Instagram account and noticed the people with 300,000 followers and thought “Wait, what?? How is that even possible?” Then I got pinged by some company wanting me sell me followers. Suddenly, it all made sense….
In any case, I imagine it will just take a while and we’ll need to be patient and consistent. In the meantime, it’s valuable to remember, as you said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
By Sherry April 16, 2016 - 8:35 am
Yes things can take a while in this field and yes there are plenty of people who are just average or bad writers getting rewarded- just like in any big corporation! I just think they seldom tell you the whole truth and I think it takes a kind of arrogance and confidence that I don’t have to promote themselves as experts. I’ve been doing this 10 years and still barely make a living financially but there are other awards involved that make it worth it to me. Good luck with your RV life – sounds exciting!
By Edwina April 12, 2016 - 10:04 pm
Word. Diversity is the key and also be conservative with your money. I admire your patience in this post, not to mention how rude and arrogant people can get when they realize that they don’t have any talents to make money on the road. I for myself knew how to promote and advertise travel blogging , find customer etc. but I am to lazy to invest so much time without knowing how much I will earn, therefore I do translations, proofreading and freelance writing, and lots of other stuff. But hey Diversity as you said! People sometimes start to look down on me and ask things like “So you’ll do that for the rest of your life? – you won’t be able to survive when you are older” Unfortunately I am a qualified teacher with M.Ed. that really makes them stop to bother me with their dissatisfaction.
I like your enthusiasm that you show for many things and its the same for me, I love the diversity, I am addicted to it. Right teaching is divers as well, but too much commitment for now.
Once I met a girl and she was ridiculously rude (even if she was a freelance translator). I told her I am about to write some finance articles and an academic paper on psychology. Then she ask if I pretend to be everything when I apply for writing jobs, if I pretend to be a psychologist, engineer and banker. I was so shocked how aggressive she got and just respond – unsure what to say and think – hum no psychology was part of my studies and you often do research for those topic ….encounters like that made me stop talking about how I make a living and way I travel so much and live in countries. I avoid people like that….and love to meet people who are like me. ? nomads.
By Sherry April 16, 2016 - 8:27 am
Congrats on finding a way that works for you to make money on the road! The key is that you have to really pick finishing that you like to do else you’ll be miserable and give up.
By Leigh | Campfires & Concierges April 15, 2016 - 11:53 am
Thanks for this – as much as I love pretty pictures and reading about new destinations, I also love the behind the scenes, nuts and bolts posts. I just blog “for fun” – (OK, really I have a terrible memory so I hope to preserve some memories that I can read back on someday) – but the thought it always there if I could turn it into more. Right now, my corporate life isn’t interesting enough to warrant a following, haha!
By Sherry April 16, 2016 - 8:22 am
Glad you found it useful! Are you planning to escape from corporate anytime soon?!
By Leigh | Campfires & Concierges April 20, 2016 - 4:33 pm
Yes – 1 year, 3 months and 15 days…not that I’m counting, LOL! It seems like a long time, but it will go really fast. Planning to first head to Spain for the Camino del Norte, then back to the States to get my dog and my car and we’ll hit the road until I run out of money 🙂
By Sherry April 21, 2016 - 9:37 am
that sounds like a fabulous plan! Dan and Audrey of UncornedMarket.com just started the Camino Norte – check out their FB!
By Nadine April 23, 2016 - 12:09 pm
Sorry to barge into this conversation, but I did the Camino del Norte last year (the Camino Frances the year before that), and it was fabulous. I posted regularly on my blog while I was there, and some info could be useful to you as you plan: https://singlestepcamino.wordpress.com 🙂
By Tony and Thomas April 22, 2016 - 5:44 am
This is the best post we’ve read on earning as a travel blogger. This is why we love you… honesty. Travel blogging is NOT the field to go into for easy money. We always tell people this because we are afraid to tempt people into a decision that might financially destroy them. It would be much more profitable for us to sell that fantasy. Unlike most readers out there, we know exactly how much work you have to do to achieve what you have achieved. And we have watched in awe at the pace you have maintained over the years. Travel blogging is WORK. Hard work. But also enriching, exhausting, creative, repetitive, unpredictable work.
By Sherry April 22, 2016 - 1:31 pm
Thanks guys for the kind words and also being truthful about the work levels. It’s crazy isn’t it. But I look at the things I get to do and places I see and that is certainly part of the reward for the hard work. And of course – the fact that I get to meet cool people like you guys! Where are you off to next? There’s a slight chance I may be back in Germany this summer – but not near Berlin. We need to rendezvous again soon!
By Izy berry May 1, 2016 - 6:26 pm
That’s so true if you don’t have home you have that money that everyone use in that and use that for travel around the worl
By Sherry May 2, 2016 - 5:59 am
If I had a home, then I certainly couldn’t keep doing this – I just don’t make enough money to support rent and all the stuff that goes along with it.
By Jessica May 24, 2016 - 10:38 am
Great post. Also appreciate your realistic approach to the subject. As a full time travel blogger myself, I cringe when I see those “become a travel blogger, travel for free” posts. There’s a lot of hard work and diversification that goes on behind the scenes. Thanks for sharing.
By Gabi June 2, 2016 - 2:28 am
Sherry, I’m so glad you put this up here, because while bloggers in many other verticals explicitly break down their income, it always seems to be the elephant in the room at travel blogging conferences, and in part because many people make their money, as you say, from freelance writing, social media consulting, and other services like that.
I’ve often seen your social posts and wondered how on earth you have time to do income generating things apart from the beautiful content you are producing for your own channels and partnership agreements, and, frankly, reading this, I am really blown away by all of the writing that you are doing in a freelance capacity that I didn’t even know about. You are extremely prolific, and that’s simply a must in this economy to earn a living. But I think travel, social media, and writing for pay are each such time consuming things that it can be an incredibly hard balance to spend as much time as you want (especially on the first one) and have enough time for the others, and when you have a blog of your own, the first two can be more of a priority than the third. I know for myself I was always able to maintain a high income writing about travel by traveling at a pace that allowed me to not be out all day every day exploring because I had to move to a new city the next day, completely ignoring social media, and not writing anything that didn’t pay and that I couldn’t write fast enough that I was earning at least $100 an hour.
You incredible insights and transparency I hope will encourage more people to take a hard look at why they are blogging, and if that is the right outlet for them, because if travel and being able to support yourself is the goal, there are a lot of other things that can be done, like the freelance writing and social media management you mentioned, that earn more quickly. Travel blogging successfully is incredibly hard work composed of a long, unglamorous slog of late nights scheduling social, editing photos, and keeping up on the latest plug ins and email marketing aps long before the luxury hotels come calling.
By Sherry June 2, 2016 - 3:04 am
Yes – I don’t sleep much – each year it gets harder and harder to do it all as there’s always more to do. Never sure how long I will keep it up or if I’m cut out for it – but I’ll stop when it no longer becomes fun! The good thing is that running my own blog and everything else has certainly taught me some new skills that I can utilize in any type of position! Thanks for adding your comments to this…they are very valuable!
By Muhammad amjad November 5, 2016 - 11:15 pm
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By John March 17, 2017 - 1:52 pm
Only just came across your blog today via a search for Malta and their wonderful balconies. We are currently here in Malta and loving it.
My wife & I sold up and gave away our “stuff” so that we could travel. That was over three years ago and we are still enjoying our life with gratitude everyday. I’ve blogged consistently over these past years, not to make money but more as a journal of daily life. If I needed to rely on blogging for a living then we’d be broke. Thankfully Monika has many ways of making money online in the digital world that keeps us going. No huge pot of gold for us either.
The hardest part I find about this blogging world is the loneliness. The travel is great and meeting so many wonderful people lights up our lives. But online behind the screen and keyboard it’s lonely. This year I hope to build up more of a presence and actually get some comments to the blog. Anything stand out to you in your ten years plus of blogging that really made a difference to your comments and interaction with others?
Thanks for a great post here, now I’ve got some more reading to do and another post to begin.
By Sherry March 19, 2017 - 2:40 pm
That’s so interesting – I always talk about the isolation of my lifestyle choice (being nomadic), but I’ve never thought about it from a couple perspective. I found that I had to really make a point to reconnect with friends and family regularly so that I could be a bit more grounded. But it is a challenge as sometimes you feel like you have so many friends…but they are merely acquaintances – and that’s what makes me feel isolated. Hang in there and enjoy the balconies and wonderful food of Malta!