Becoming a travel blogger is one of those jobs that most of us dream about. Getting paid to travel the world, take photographs of stunning vistas, write about our experiences eating culinary delights and meeting new people? Where do we sign up?
Thanks to the changing nature of the internet and the increasing democratization of the tools of content creation—becoming a travel blogger is now easier than ever. Think about it, you can easily self-publish your writing, take fantastic photos, and promote yourself through social media.
And today there are more travel blogs floating around the web than ever before. Thousands upon thousands of blogs, of varying quality, promise to help you plan or inspire your next trip. But is becoming a travel blogger a viable business? What are the economics of becoming, and remaining, a travel blogger?
Not surprisingly, there’s plenty of grit underneath the glamour: Travel blogging in and of itself is rarely the kind of money-maker that can support an itinerant (or even settled) lifestyle, and a successful travel blogger has their hands in a number of revenue streams that require constant monitoring, updating, and expanding.
Basically, it’s a job, just like any other.
Becoming a Travel Blogger: Do It for the Love
If you like writing about your travels and want to get paid to do it, expect to do it for free for awhile. Becoming a travel blogger isn’t a fast track to becoming a millionaire.
Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere, a long-time travel blogger and photographer, is one of the few who has turned his passion for travel into a business. But even he understands the uncertainty of the profession.
“It might take years to make money and it might never happen. You should do this because you love to travel, not because you want to make money,” says Arndt. “There are much better ways to make money than starting a travel blog.”
Arndt’s journey started in an internet company in 1994 and sold it in 1998, eventually deciding to travel around the world for “a year or two” and starting a website to document his travels. What started as a whim became a full-blown venture.
“The website became popular, my audience grew, and more importantly, the travel industry became more accustomed to working with people like me, which allowed it to become a business,” he says.
Turning It from a Blog to a Business
Anyone can blog about traveling. You can do it on a personal Medium or WordPress page, or deck out a Squarespace site with a custom domain name. The question is, how do you turn your blog into a certified business?
For Arndt, this change came as a result of a slow-burning evolution.
“There was no single turning point. It was an evolution and it is still evolving,” he says. “Print media is dying. Many travel magazines have closed, publish less frequently, or have significantly fewer pages than they did 10 years ago. Small publications like mine are in many ways competing directly with large publications online, oftentimes having audiences as large or larger than big publications, but with a fraction of the costs. Very early on, I realized that it could be a business, but I’d have to wait for the industry to catch up, which it eventually did. I made no money they first four years I did this.”
Things have changed significantly on the web since Arndt first started blogging, however. There is a greater ecosystem in place for writing and monetizing that writing, through sponsored social media posts or brand ambassadorships.
So, you have two options for becoming a travel blogger: Go the Arndt route and create quality content, at a consistent pace, for a long time, and build your readership (and thus your brand and influence, which leads to other paid opportunities). Or, similarly, do those things with a mind toward what kind of monetization infrastructure you’re hoping to embrace. Knowing how you’ll monetize your content will inform what kind of content you’ll create and how best to measure your success—even if it’s not exactly the kind of content you’d make if money were no object.
Invest in Yourself and Your Business
As mentioned above, becoming a travel blogger is a business like any other, so you’ll need to spend money like with any other venture.
According to Arndt, monthly expenses can include:
- Web hosting
- Email hosting
- SEO monitoring services
- Podcast hosting
- Graphic design
- Webinar subscription
- Course hosting subscription
Another expense for Arndt at this point is salary for those he hires to do project work, which might become an aspect of your business you can outsource. If you’re not as big into programming, graphic design, or managing your social media accounts (which can get involved, especially when it comes to responding to readers and fans—a must, in this industry), you can pay others to do those tasks for you.
Annual and other major expenses include:
- Professional organization membership (NATJA, SATW, ASMP, ATTA)
- Domain names
- Contest entry fees
- Equipment—such as a quality camera and lens, the better to take pictures of those steaming bowls of pho or the sunrise over Machu Picchu
- Travel expenses—which feels almost obvious, but it should be said that this is often the biggest ongoing expense. Plane and train tickets (or car or bike rentals) aren’t cheap, and neither is lodging or eating out often, and they can add up.
How to Monetize Your Content
Most web publishing newbies might expect that advertising on your website is the primary form of revenue for travel bloggers. That might have been in the case in the early days of the internet and what eventually became blogging. Not so anymore, says Arndt.
“Display advertising rates have dropped all over the internet. Supply is much greater than demand,” he says. “Most money comes from brand ambassadorships, social media marketing campaigns, affiliate marketing, product sales, tours, etc.”
Create Other Interrelated Forms of Revenue
You need many forms of revenue to make it while becoming a travel blogger.
Another popular and likely necessary way to actually make money from being a travel blogger is to use your knowledge, experience, and connections in web publishing to create additional revenue streams.
For example, Vicki Garside of MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld says she makes money “directly off the site through display ads, affiliate marketing, sponsored destination campaigns, and the occasional sponsored post.”
Additionally, however, she runs a Pinterest consultancy business and a three-month Pinterest kickstart program to help other people use the power of Pinterest to drive traffic to their websites. She was also recently contracted to host a seven-day paid trip to Myanmar in December.
How much can these gigs net you? For Garside, who says she averages over 50,000 page views per month, display ads and affiliate marketing net her $800 monthly. The occasional sponsored post goes for $400-$550 per post. Her Pinterest services start at $125 a week. And her most recent destination campaign paid her $2,000, which included 12 days of travel and accommodation, meals, transfers, and a local SIM card, among other expenses.
Other possibilities for additional revenue while you’re becoming a travel blogger include other travel-related websites, Amazon book sales, and conducting training courses or offering consulting guidance for other bloggers, or writers, or photographers, or web publishers.
The Changing Role of Social Media on Becoming a Travel Blogger
The importance of social media in the blogging game can’t be overstated. Some people have built empires off their Instagram and Snapchat fame (Facebook, not so much anymore), selling ad space or promoting products related to their brand. You need to commit time and energy (or money, so someone else can do that for you) to building and cultivating your social media presence.
Do it enough and you’ll become a sought-after “influencer,” which is becoming an increasingly important part of major brand marketing campaigns.
However, being a top-level influencer isn’t solely about garnering more followers than other travel bloggers (with whom, remember, you’ll be competing for every sponsorship dollar). According to Arndt, “we’ve reached peak Instagram,” and the future will be more about audience loyalty than big numbers.
Research backs up that claim: According to marketers surveyed by Bloglovin (via Adweek), “Quality/authenticity was the most important factor in choosing an influencer. 70% also selected for audience size, 64% for engagement and more than one-half for the influencers’ aesthetic.” That means that staying true to your brand (which is, in essence, yourself) and only promoting products or services that jive with that brand is more important than amassing sheer eyeballs.
Becoming a professional travel blogger will remain a pipe dream for many. It’s unclear just how many of the web’s travel connoisseurs turn their passion into a business, and those who do will likely find their travels consumed with the tasks of their job—taking notes, photographing, planning, interviewing, creating sponsorship opportunities, and so on. It can be a mixed bag to find your passion turned into a commodity.
That being said, there are certainly worse endeavors you could spend your time on than exploring new places and documenting your findings for friends, family, and eventually a larger audience. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll still probably have a good time. And if it does? Even better.