I bet the normal lifespan of a travel blog is probably 2-3 years. You begin blogging before you travel, you blog while traveling and you blog for a year after you return home, sharing all your accumulated travel content. Eventually you fall back into the life you had before you traveled, but hopefully with a better perspective on life. Travel blogging rarely earns you enough income to survive on, so inevitably, you abandon it.
I don’t fit the model above perfectly, but there are many similarities. Aracely and I did travel for a year and blogged about out trip during that time. In August of 2010 we returned from our first year long backpacking journey and decided to approach our jobs a bit differently. Aracely went back to working full time and I decided to spend another year blogging in an effort to take our blog to the next level. That next level consisted of many different goals, but most importantly it revolved around income.
Aracely and I didn’t stop traveling, it’s still our top priority and we make time for it in our busy lives. So, it’s not like we stopped traveling. I also created a second travel blog, focused on couples vacations which more accurately captures the type of travel we do today. There is plenty of fresh content to continue sharing with our followers.
Is it all about the income?
Income is a big factor. We currently live in Miami with family and plan to be here for several more years as Aracely plays a significant role in her younger brother’s life. It’s not cheap living in the United States. You will normally find bloggers living in cheaper foreign countries on minimum income.
Travel blogging is a flooded market
It seems everyone that travels these days starts a travel blog. Internet companies have sprung up providing online travel journals or travel blogs as part of a bigger travel community website. For those that want their own personal website, blogs are incredibly easy to create and manage with publishing platforms such as WordPress or Tumblr that take care of all the technical aspects. You really only have to write and upload media such as photos and videos. A smart phone and tumblr account and you are good to go.
Why are people still becoming travel bloggers?
Travel is one of the largest industries in the world, totaling several trillions of dollars, so there’s plenty of room. The question is, “what is the role of travel bloggers to the industry.” Today, the role is very little. Big companies such as TripAdvisor and the Lonely Planet dominate the travel resource landscape. Travel magazines like Travel and Leisure, AAA, National Geographic or Condé Nast dominate travel literature. Gary Arndt’s travel blog, Everything-Everywhere dominates the travel blogosphere, and in comparison to everything listed above, he is minuscule. Learn more about travel blogs and their roles from Gary.
In a trillion dollar industry most travel bloggers measure success by reaching an income level of $1,000 USD per month. That’s well below the poverty line and impossible to live on in the United States. We aren’t doing well to grab a share of that trillion dollars.
Is it possible to make a living travel blogging?
Yes, it’s possible and there are several doing it, but not many. My advice is to view your blog as a tool to gain an audience. It’s your platform, but not your product. First, you must build a large following through the tedious task of blogging and building a connection with your fans. Once you have succeeded at that, you then must sell them something. A book, subscription service, discounted trips, travel guides, whatever it may be, you must have that product. Trying to survive on website advertising is the most difficult of strategies to attain revenue. I can show you someone that is doing it, but they are also running 5-20 websites, not just one personal travel blog. You can dream of getting discovered and given your own travel show, but I wouldn’t base my business plan on it.
Where my blog ranks
I would say we have done pretty well with our travel blog. We attracted a large following very quickly in 2009. Being very active on social media such as Facebook and Twitter from the beginning helped us gain large numbers of followers relative to our competition at the time. Our design stood out and we were producing original content in the form of travel videos and photos of the day. I have had months were I earned over $2,000 USD and months were I earned $200USD. On average, I net $700USD per month from 2Backpackers.com only. Since this does not meet my income goals, I have began three additional blogs, one about travel. These blogs are new and will take at least a year before earning any income. All my income is derived from website advertising such as text links, banner ads and sponsored giveaways or posts. I have not created a product yet, which I believe is the number one reason I am not earning $2,000 USD per month.
We reach ~20,000 unique visitors per month, have over 1,700 RSS subscribers, 40,000 Facebook fans and 11,000 Twitter followers. In my estimation, in terms of visitors, followers and income, we probably rank in the top 50. I don’t have a method for ranking, I am just guessing based on working with travel bloggers over the last 4 years.
Lessons to be learned?
If you want to succeed at travel blogging, you have to be 100% dedicated. I know, very cliché, but in terms of time, it has to be a constant part of your life. It seems like a new travel face appears on Twitter everyday and they are engaged. You have to be active everyday if you want to gain an audience. That audience is most likely going to be the same people viewing other travel blogs, which are your competitors. How will you be better than them? What can you provide that is different from them? Most of us have toured the same places, so what can you share that is new?
If you can reach an audience outside of travel bloggers you are already succeeding. You will often find travel bloggers commenting on other travel blogger sites. This is common, but it’s not success. You have to tap into the market beyond the travel blogosphere. You have to attract the people that travel from their computers. They typically don’t travel, but like to dream of it. And that’s what you can fulfill for them, their dreams. Then, sell them something.
Don’t expect to make money in 6 months. With so many blogs in existence today you now have to expand your knowledge beyond just blogging. You must learn about SEO, social media and then network with your competitors. You have to wait out and out smart your competitors and hope half of them eventually shut down. You will find yourself working with your competitors and sharing sales contacts and splitting revenues. You might pay for link building services or start outsourcing blogging responsibilities. You might even stop writing all together and obtain free content in order to focus your time on projects that yield more income. These are all things that will eventually pop up in your email and make you wonder if you are ever going to succeed.
These are things that make me ponder travel blogging today.
Staying afloat with your competition
I communicate with a bunch of travel bloggers that find themselves in the same situation as me. We have similar business strategies and we are working together to make money. I view that situation as staying afloat with my competitors. If us travel bloggers are sharing sales contacts, referring sales to each other for commissions and guest blogging on each other’s blogs to improve our chances of succeeding as bloggers, aren’t we all going to remain equal? In this saturated market of travel bloggers we need to find a way to break free of each other. We need to leave the other in the dust. Today there is not enough travel industry dollars making their way down to bloggers in order for us all to benefit.
So, why am I doing these things with my travel blogging partners?
Are we playing the waiting game?
I guess I am partnering with other travel bloggers in hopes that eventually the money will flow down and there will be enough for us all to benefit. I think that is what most of us are doing. We are waiting out the travel industry. Honestly, that’s not a good business approach. We need to be more proactive, more inventive and more aggressive.
If travel blogging alone isn’t cutting it, then we need to think of something new. I don’t want to continue to improve my website’s SEO and write “Top Things to Do in…” articles in order to eke out a few more visitors to my website or hope an article gets hot on StumbleUpon or Facebook. That strategy won’t allow us to succeed. It’s actually a pretty weak and boring strategy that I find myself in today.
What about travel blogging benefits?
Sure, there are many benefits to travel blogging including the top perk of a press trip. These are trips we get to go on that are paid by a tour company or visitor bureau. In return, we must write, take photos or create videos of their destination, tour or restaurant on our website. They gain exposure and we get a free trip! It’s pretty awesome, but it still doesn’t earn you income. If reported correctly, you might even have to pay taxes on it.
Perks are great, but they don’t pay the bills.
My internal struggle
I enjoy traveling, therefore travel blogging just seemed to integrate so easily. Why not try to make money doing what I love? That’s our life goal right? Besides health and happiness. It’s been 4 years since I began travel blogging and one year since I approached it as my full time job (I am now maintaining the blog on the weekends only). I am now operating four blogs in an effort to find my niche in blogging and to make more money (I only maintain two travel blogs now). My focus is split evenly between content, social media and SEO. There is little creativity developing from these blogs.
I don’t want to compete on a yearly basis with my fellow travel bloggers. I am tired of waiting around for the travel industry to find benefit in working with travel bloggers. I am unable to produce travel videos that require 40 hours of my time and yield no money. I love taking pictures, but find myself breaking equipment and paying for more. I can continue to write, but I can’t compete with the likes of AlmostFearless.com or the adventures of ThePlanetD.com. I didn’t start blogging in 1999 like Gary Arndt. I wasn’t SEO and advertising savvy like NomadicMatt.com. I won’t unseat the Lonely Planet or create a better TripAdvisor. Yelp seems perfect to me. Online travel magazines like Matador Network have a strong foothold and continue to grow, while other travel bloggers converge, merging ideas and resources in order to break free of the travel blogging masses.
New ideas continue to shape our swelling industry, and I haven’t been responsible for any of them.
So what do I?
I don’t sulk, I analyze. Maybe travel blogging doesn’t excite me enough to spawn new ideas in the middle of the night. When I can’t sleep I usually think about the problems in the world and how I might attempt to solve them. I feel anger towards those in power and sadness for those exploited. I hate politics, in a way that causes me to follow them religiously. I am now conscious about what I eat because I care so much about nature and our environment. I feel a responsibility to stay abreast of current events around the world, but no obligation to read others’ travel articles. Travel is nice, but it’s not important.
I enjoy travel a lot, and it will most likely shape my life, but I am unsure if it’s where my mind is. If it’s not waking me up at 2am in the morning with an idea to break out of the mold most of us travel bloggers are in, is it meant to be? I don’t think so, but I am also hesitant to quit, as we know that is sometimes the worst move you can make.