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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.