Wanna Be a Paid Travel Blogger? Here’s the Bullshit Being Slung
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 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, 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. In fact, if you are simply looking to make a bit more money you should look elsewhere.
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 run it.
The web design I’m currently using cost me $59. A month ago I wasted $59 for a new design that I ended up not using because it’s slow and too big of a pain in the ass to use… 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 clickbaity 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 usages 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 the above comment in italics where I describe myself as sturdy.
I have been fortunate enough to have been on one press trip, and a handful to semi-sponsored 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 about. (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 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/media 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 gone on press/sponsored/photography trips that would have totaled $24,705 had they been booked outright and I went to just enjoy it like a normal tourist/traveler.
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, I mention a product that’s a must-have for going to _________ (it’s not just a ploy to make money, most everything I recommend on here I use and love).
If you click the link it brings you to the website to purchase from using a unique link. That link allows me to make a commission off the purchase of that product (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 begun 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.
Do you know how many times I’ve been asked to teach an Instagram course or write an E-book on how to grow your 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 consistently 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 delete them.
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.
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 of 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 5 pm Friday I’m in the Maldives and by 10 am 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 an 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 through you reading your blog. Not other bloggers.
Although with that said I have a couple of 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 to trekking in the Fann Mountains? How about a cheap, self-guided 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 envelopes I scribbled all my Tajikistan expenses on. The 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 therefore 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 moneymaker, 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 frappuccino that has a 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 gumdrop forests.
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43 thoughts on “How I’ve Made $414.68 as a Travel Blogger”
Thank you so much for this article, had me laughing the whole time. I often wondered what the reality of blogging looked like behind the scenes…
Yeah there’s a few that make it out there, but blogging hasn’t proven that lucrative for me so far!
Hahahaha this one had me laughing the whole time!
I often wondered what the reality of travel blogging as a career was. It just seems to good to be true.
There’s a few people that have done quite well… but just a few out of millions! Its a pretty saturated market anymore 🙁
Keep doing you! It’s nice to see a travel blog of this size that every other post isn’t sponsored. Makes me trust you so much more over many others.
Aw thanks Emily!
I actually don’t take that many sponsored post offers. I try to only take them when it’s a brand that I think readers would be interested in, or from brands that I already know and love. That’s why I do like affiliate programs, that way I can recommend things that I trust to you guys.
I can honestly say you’ve helped me prepare for my first southeast Asia trip so much Nicki! From the gear recommendations you’ve made over time and responding to e-mails I’ve sent with questions, thank you so much. It makes me happy that you’ve found a way to make a little on the side from avengers related to your travel blog, even if blogging doesn’t make you much money.
Oh girl, you are hilarious!
Haha, I try!
Refreshing to see an honest take on this lifestyle choice
Sounds a bit like you’re just a bit jealous of those making at living blogging since you can’t do it through yours.
Jealous? Well of course, I’m just getting at the fact that I’d like to see a little more transparency on where the money trickles in from. A lot of people think that just because you write a post you get paid, and that is not how this industry works.
Oh Instagram, what a nightmare that’s become. So glad you brought it up, I’m not even an influencer or blogger and it’s become so contrived.
100% agree with you Xiu!
Such a good post, had me entertained!
Oh this is great, had me laughing the whole time!
I wondered how bloggers actually made money, thanks for the insight.
I follow quite a few travel blogs, though not religiously, and wondered how much money people were making as bloggers.
Finally, a post about blogging income that seems, well, quite transparent! Thanks for the insight into the field.
Oh Nicki, you always keep me laughing.
Ha! After reading this I do remember reading your first blog post about how you made 0.25 or whatever it was 🙂
Lawd? Girl you always got me laughing, please don’t stop!
Hahahahaha. Your honesty is so pure!
Please don’t stop blogging, I’ll always be a fan. Keep it up!
You legend ?
Long time no see! It’s funny to read your journey through this while travel blogging experience.
This is pure gold 🙂
Haha thanks Amy! How’s you travels and everything going?
This made me laugh so much Nicole. Your brutal honesty is awesome and hilarious at the same time. Ps: my Rainbow mountain photo has a bit different colours than yours and is my most liked photo. That’s why there are thousands of people going every year now.
Thanks Maya! That Rainbow Mountain really took off! Glad you got to go, I’m sure it’s crazy now!
Good post! I can say you have helped me from your writing. I am about to use the Scrubba right now as I am halfway through my latest trip to Italy and it is time to do laundry. Pus I still dig the backpack and you gave me good advice on that as well. Thanks and keep up the work you are doing THE WAY you want to do it!
Oh thanks Carl,
Laundry time! That Scrubba does come in handy. I always bring it now that I have one. Have fun in Italy!
Haha this one was a good one. I wish people would read this before they decide to live a life of a travel blogger. It always amuses me when people who just started blogging expect to get paid gigs in the first few months, I have been travel blogging for the past 1.7 years and I have only started making a small income out of it. Like you, I reject most of the offers if they offer something less than what I deserve. Thankfully I have another job that pays for my travels.
I wish I could figure out Instagram. But I just couldn’t. Left all comment pods and hate people who use automated bots.
I totally agree! I remember seeing blogger groups on FB when I first started that people were saying okay, I made my blog 3 days ago. Why am I not being paid? And I’m over here like people get paid to blog?!? ???? that’s me with my mind blown haha. It’s crazy to me how many people start into this thinking you start making tons of money.
I get rejecting the offers and good for you for standing your ground. It’s appalling to me how many massive companies don’t want to pay up for content creation. It’s mind boggling.
Don’t worry about not getting Instagram. I did pretty well on there for a while and thought I knew what I was doing but I’m back to feeling like I’m blindly feeling my way around it again. I’m even more blind to the the social medias. Like how do I get people to like my FB page? What the fuck is the point of Twitter, I have a decent following on there and I post things but I don’t even know what I’m doing there. And then Pinterest I kinda get, it’s a great traffic driver. I’ve gotten so many subscribers to my blog from there because they clicked a pin looking for travel info for Alaska, Peru and Tajikistan. But Pinterest is mind numbingly time consuming creating the stupid pins.
Good on you leaving the Instagram pods. At first when I very first started out I thought they were gonna be a good thing. Like helping like minded people out… then it turned to just a greasy pain in the ass that doesn’t benefit you and there’s always that one asshole in the group that takes all the comments they can get and doesn’t do their job of commenting on other’s work. I had this whole realization in about the course of a week haha. So I tried for 7 days before I realized it was a waste!
I am glad you wrote an honest piece about this lifestyle choice for anyone who is thinking of quitting their day job and making this their new lifestyle. You really need to be an Entrepreneur to succeed in this lifestyle, and unfortunately, most people don’t have that Entrepreneur mentality nor the desire/discipline to run their own business.
However, I do find your stories in far off places, like Tajikistan and Yemen, to be fascinating. You are a talented writer, so don’t be afraid to demand compensation from third parties asking you to blog for them at what you feel you are worth. Like you said, that money could help you with your annual maintenance costs for this site. Good luck and keep up the great work!
Oh thanks Ray!
I actually enjoy writing about the unusual destinations more than anything else. It’s exciting to me. Of course I’ve visited super famous spots like Pisa, the Eiffel Tower and NYC and they were fun but I have zero motivation to write about it as it’s been done a zillion times before.
You really gotta be pushy to make it in the blogger realm, and willing to piss off some people on your way up the ranks from what I’ve seen, and write some controversial posts, that seems to take a lot of people’s careers off.
Ideally I’d love to make a living off a business I built myself online. I’ve just been racking my brain trying to figure out a need not met out there that I have applicable skills to run.
That made me laugh in a good way. Especially when you see my post coming out soon 😀
It’s so funny, because the first photo I posted from the Rainbow Mountain was normal, and it didn’t do well, I oversaturated another one, posted it and boom – that one was doing well! Noone wants to see the ‘real’ photos on Insta these days LOL
Yeah you got the e-book coming out any day… but you’ve by far surpassed the 100k mark and you’re growing at a better pace and I’m sure you’ve probably tracked your progress way more in depth than me… I wish I could be that organized but I just can haha. I did the same with the Rainbow Mtn, went more natural and no real interaction and post one oversaturated photo of it and boom you’re pretty much insta famous overnight! It’s a weird world on the internet haha