Wanna Be a Paid Travel Blogger? Here’s the Bullshit Being Slung.
I know all 15 of you that read this blog religiously including my Mom (and by religiously I mean, you at least skim it to make me feel better by making my page hits go up by one) have been dying for the follow up to ‘How I made $0.21 as a Travel Blogger‘, just dying. Welp here it is:
How I’ve made $414.68 as a travel blogger
Before taxes of course.
Don’t worry, I have no qualms putting it all out there. My dignity died somewhere on the dusty trail between shitting my pants in public in the Ukraine, wedging my pizza-worshipping, cheese-loving dimpled ass into tight shorts in a number of steaming hot destinations and going shot for shot with people I just met in Kyrgyzstan and then vomiting profusely down the front of myself, followed by loudly announcing ‘Puke N Rally!’ whilst attempting to carry on like nothing out of the ordinary just happened. Blame it on the va-va-va-va-va-vodka. I’m living the messiest, puke ridden, shit-fest of a dream.
So to cut the bullshit and get to the point: in case you were thinking of quitting your day job to become a travel blogger, just don’t.
To break it down for you, here’s where my earnings that have come directly from my blog have come in from:
$200– One link to a brand I added to an old post. I guess, you could say it wasn’t a sponsored post and then became one.
$200– Review of a product.
$14.68– Google Adsense. But that’s not cash-in-hand yet. They don’t pay out till ya hit $100.
Mind you, it costs a little over $200 per year to host my website. So yeah, my earnings have paid for roughly 2/3 of my hosting fees for the last 3 years I’ve ran it. The web design I’m currently using cost me $59. A month ago I wasted $59 for a new design- The Highend Theme that I am not, and will not end up using. Good luck trying to set up that nightmare… Remind me to never buy a Mojo Marketplace theme again.
Now, I’m not saying there’s no money in travel blogging… but, good luck.
So many travel bloggers out there use click baity post titles touting how you can make fuck tons of sweet moolah travel blogging and to put it quite simply, those titles are fucking lying to you. There’s a very small group of travel bloggers that have managed to carve out a nice living for themselves directly from their blog, but that ship has sailed my friends.
You need to have some other marketable and in-demand skills to make money online. What I have figured out since delving into this dark, incestuous industry is that most travel bloggers these days that are living off their online earnings aren’t doing it solely on their blog. Some of these guys are running their own social media marketing firms, offer SEO services to other websites, sponsor social media campaigns, they sell their photography or videography, they offer online courses or they look amazing in bikinis*… and a number of other skills in this realm. Where yeah, a blog is a jumping off point… but the blog itself isn’t paying the bills.
*My body type could be more accurately described as sturdy. I was once told I look like I could get pushed down a set of stairs and would be completely unaffected by it. Sports Illustrated doesn’t put that body type on its Swimsuit Editions.
To be quite honest, I’ve made far more money off of Instagram takeovers, selling limited rights useages of my photographs to clients and the occasional sale of prints than I have done travel blogging. And let’s face facts here: I’m more visually impressive than I am in writing, no I’m not talking about my appearance* I’m talking about my photos. But let me just tell you that even with the revenue I’ve received through photography it is still nowhere near a liveable, consistent income yet. I still have months sometimes where I in fact make zip, $0, nada, nothing online. And if I were to total up all the money I’ve made via photography it totals to under $10,000.
*See back to above comment in italics where I describe myself as sturdy.
I have been fortunate enough to have been on a few press trips. This is a benefit to the travel blogger/travel photographer set up I’ve created for myself. However none of these yet have been paid opportunities. Basically in these cases so far, I’ve worked in return for an excursion. None of these have included airfare to the destination either, I know this is something people wonder. (Some offers do include airfares, just not the press trips I’ve gone on). Another thing to note is that I typically only accept offers that I see as a fit for me and my readers. Ever notice how I’ve never done a sponsored post for an accommodation or restaurants like many travel bloggers do*? Well personally, I don’t travel for the hotel/hostels or restaurants on offer. You can find me happily eating street food or at a local dive, sleeping in a tent or a homestay, and quite often inadvertently hitchhiking to get places (this usually starts out as walking and then a kind local offers to pick me up). What you have probably noticed is that the offers I do take up fit in the realm of adventure travel and unusual destinations. And if you haven’t noticed, the few press trips I have done have all went positively. I think this is only because I’ve accepted things that I saw as a fit, plus have been lucky to have partnered with some great companies. All in all, to be completely transparent here, I’ve went on press trips that would have totaled $24,705 had they been booked outright and I went to just enjoy it like a normal tourist/travler. Don’t let that 24,705 price tag fool you that I’ve received that as ‘free’ travel. I have worked in return for that. I don’t just get to kick back when I’m on a press trip. I’m constantly figuring out ways to capture the trip whether it be via photography, writing or video.
*There’s nothing wrong with sponsored accommodation or restaurant posts, it’s just not my thing.
Lest us not forget, I’ve spent far, far, FAR more of my own my money than the $24,705 worth of travel-related press trips I have been on.
Is it me? Do I just suck?
Could I stand to make more money online? Certainly.
I have just finally started in on affiliate marketing- so let’s see where that takes me. If you don’t know what that is… It’s when say like in my Tajikistan travel guides I mention the EWP Fann Mountains Map & Guide as a must-have for trekking in the Fanns (that’s not a ploy just to make money, that map is a godsend for trekking in the area). If you click the link on EWP map & guide, it brings you to Amazon.com via my unique link. That link allows me to make a commission off the purchase of that map (if you so choose to buy it) and it does not cost you, the consumer a penny more to buy it through that link. I haven’t actually made any money through affiliate links as I’ve literally just began setting it up. Trust me, I don’t plan to make boatloads off of affiliate links either. I just would like to make enough to cover the cost of running this website.
I could also chase down potential clients to partner with, but I haven’t because I’m not that pushy and I don’t want to be annoying. I should probably just get over that and start being a pest. I could start writing for other websites. I could offer courses. You know how many times I’ve been asked to teach an Instagram course or write an E-book on how to grow you Instagram account? More times than I can remember. Wanna know why I haven’t? Because that algorithm changes so frequently that by the time I got finished writing the e-book it would be completely outdated.
I also do not believe what I did to get my Instagram account to where it is (believe it or not, just posting consistantly and focusing on posting amazing photos) works anymore. Instagram has turned into a dark world. People are gaming so hard on there now. For every 5 new followers I get, only one of them now will likely stick and the remaining 4 will unfollow me. Few comments come from human beings, mostly just from bots saying ‘good pic’, ‘nice shot’, ‘cool’ or some random string of Emojis. I’m pretty sure I’ve been spammed from time to time with fake likes and fake followers. Anytime I click on a new follower’s profile to find they have 1 posted pic, don’t follow anyone and have a decent number of followers I usually assume they’re fake. And now Instagram themselves are shadow-banning users from showing up under certain hashtags they use (I did the check, I’ve been banned from showing up on most hashtags) and Instagram is saying it’s a glitch, but we all know that’s a lie and is part of their greater ploy to force everyone into paying for their photos to be seen.
So here, let me just give you my Instagram secrets for free: Comment/liking pods don’t work and DO NOT GET YOU EXPOSURE, paying for auto comments do not get you any more attention and make you look like a tool, following and unfollowing people won’t fool people into becoming a fan of you, and buying likes or followers only gets you fake accounts interacting with you and fake accounts don’t equate into fans or potential consumers.
The kaleidoscopic colors a #backpacker’s dreams are made of.. This is my bff @tayzertravels standing in awe in front of #Vinicunca, also known as the #RainbowMountain. This trek that brought @tayzertravels and I just under 17,000 feet (5,181 meters for you metric users… AKA most the world) was the highlight of my #travels in Peru and one of my favorite memories of #SouthAmerica. If you’d like more info, check out @flashpackerconnect! © Nicole Smoot, 2016
I actually hate this photo of mine, I oversaturated it big time. I didn’t have that intent, but well that’s how it came out. But this is by and far my best performing photograph on Instagram. Now, I wish all those comments bitching about the oversaturation and how that somehow personally offended them were bot comments, but they’re unfortunately not. People get really butthurt over the strangest shit.
Do I make it look like my life is something it’s not?
By the way my posts jump around, especially on Instagram many of you assume that I’m living off of travel blogging. I have a list of DM’s 10 miles long to prove it. And every time I write back: honestly, I’m not. When I come home to Alaska I go back and work as a dental hygienist at least a couple days a week to stuff money away for necessities and travel. Oh and let’s not forget I go back to my unpaid work of maintaining/catching up on this blog. I’m not trying to give people the false idea that at 5pm Friday I’m in the Maldives and by 10am on Saturday I’m now at base camp at Mirador Del Torres. That’s not my aim at all, I’m just showing you beautiful places.
With all the moaning about not being paid… have I declined offers for paid opportunities? Fuck yes I have. Have I said yes to an opportunity at a certain per-word rate for content writing for another website (falling well within the industry standard on per word rates, and not even close to the high end) only to have some nimrod travel blogger be awarded the offer because they responded to the client’s email to do the job for less than 1/2 the rate I was charging? And then to top it off have the client then treat me like I was charging and extortionate amount, in which I wasn’t? Yes. Does that mean the client got a better deal out if all? Probably not, you get what you pay for. But also, these bloggers taking writing gigs for peanuts are undermining everyone who writes for a living. It’s probably those same bloggers who in a year or two will be wondering why so many companies want to just pay us in exposure. Pretty soon at this rate, working for exposure will go across all avenues and everyone will expect you to do your job, whatever it may be, for free.
And remember in my original post where I had mentioned that I’d joined a number of travel blogger groups on Facebook? I’ve since left almost every single one of them. Most of it is useless bullshit. Plus it seems that many of these groups just lead to sharing your posts with other travel bloggers to read because everyone’s been fooled into thinking that if I get this ‘insert big name blogger’ to comment on my post then I will be able to climb the rope ladder into travel blog stardom! Let me just tell you now, you want real people- normal people, travelers looking for recommendations & tips, and people who can’t get out and travel at the moment but want to travel vicariously though you reading your blog. Not other bloggers. Although with that said I have a couple bloggers whom I speak to regularly, some I’ve even traveled with that I think the world of. But you know what? You don’t see us circle jerking each other left and right, just on occasion when I feel the need to share something awesome one of them is doing with you all.
Why don’t you just quit already?
I have thought about it, trust me.
It’s not all complaining I’m meaning to do here. Sometimes I really enjoy how my posts turn out and when people comment back and say that I’ve helped them. I wanted to do this because I thought I had something to offer to people. Who else is writing a Tajikistan Travel Guide? Or a Guide for trekking and traveling the Fann Mountains? How about a Cheap Cusco Day Trip? Or how to get to the Figure 8 Pools? Sharing personal experiences in the amazing country of Yemen which in reality isn’t a travel option for 99.9% of the population right now? Not many bloggers are writing about the destinations I tend to. I guess what it boils down to is actually telling you the reality of this all. That Tajikistan Travel Guide took me days of sitting in front of the computer and not to mention the on-the-ground research I did while I was there. I have a series of tattered envelops I scribbled all my Tajikistan expenses on. Same can be said for my Fann Mountains Guide. My friends all know that this is a full time gig, just without the paycheck or the benefits. Oh and don’t get me started on how painstakingly long it takes to produce a video, to edit* and caption the photos I throw up on here and on Instagram and deal with social media bullshit.
*Don’t worry, I’m not that skilled at Lightroom or Photoshop. I do minimal edits, I shoot RAW files, which therefor need editing. I’m not going to explain why you have to edit RAWs, you can use your fingers and google that yourself. What I’m trying to convey is that I’m not making bogus photos: I’m not putting fake reflections in the water, adding a person to a scene for drama or inserting a new, better, more intense sky.
But yet again let’s just circle back into why I got into this, hint: It wasn’t for the money or the notoriety. It was to help people travel plan, show people hacks I’ve learned over the years, show people destinations they would have never thought to visit, show you that you don’t have to be rich or a trust fund baby to get out there and travel, that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns* and perfectly manicured beaches and not-shit in white pants, and of course the occasional rant. If I wanted to get into blogging for the money, I definitely would have delved into a niche that’s a money maker, not travel. So if you’ve made it to the end of this 2,828-word mishmash of ramblings and rantings: Congratulations and well, thanks!
*In my original post I did make reference to unicorns shitting rainbows. But today, thanks to Starbucks it’s almost become a possibility with their new frappicino that has unicorn in the name because it will probably make you shit a Rainbow, with all the food coloring in it. Although I think this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to gum drop forests.