I'm going to be completely honest here: I sometimes avoid telling people that I'm a travel blogger when I first meet them.
This isn't because I'm ashamed of what I do, or because I try to keep it a secret. I just hate the inevitable follow-up question that always comes whenever I tell someone that I blog as a career.
It's the number one question I get as a travel blogger:
“How do you make money doing that?”
Sometimes it's phrased more delicately. Like, “Sooo… you, like, make a living doing that?”
Sometimes it's much more blunt, like, “How much do you make doing that?”
To be honest, I sometimes want to tell people that it's none of their business. I don't go around asking my accountant or nurse or teacher friends how THEY make money, or what their paychecks look like.
But I get it. My “job” is an unconventional one, and people are curious.
So my short answer is, yes, I make a living doing what I do. But as for the larger question of HOW I make that living, the answer is not so short or simple.
Up until late 2015, I almost always had some sort of steady income coming in along with what I was making from my blog and other related side-gigs. When I started blogging, I was working full-time at a newspaper as a copy/layout editor. Then I was in grad school working as a grad assistant. And up until November 2015, I was working part-time for a social media startup.
It wasn't until late 2015 that I decided I was comfortable enough to leave behind the safety net of a steady paycheck and fully work for myself.
Though even that is a bit misleading. When I say “work for myself,” I mean that I am fully in charge of how I make money. I get to choose which projects to say yes to, and in many cases get to set my own prices. But I often work for other companies doing freelance writing, or on social media campaigns.
To fully answer the question of how I make money as a travel blogger, I have to write you a list. The thing I've learned from building this sort of career is that it's important to make money from a variety of sources, in case one of them suddenly dries up.
How I Make Money as a Travel Blogger
In order to give you a true overview of my income streams, I made this nifty pie chart to show you how my income broke down in 2016.
And here's a further breakdown of all the ways I've made money in the past year:
I've worked hard in 2016 to increase the amount of money I make passively each month. And the best way to earn passive income is through affiliate sales. Over the past 12 months, I've been growing the amount of affiliate links on my site, and have happily seen an increase in sales, too. I have Amazon affiliate links in some key posts on my site (including all my packing posts), recommending products that I use and love, and also link to advertisers through the CJ platform (like hotel booking sites, attraction passes, etc.).
I only recommend things when they are relevant and fit in naturally with the content I'm writing.
How much? The amount of passive affiliate income I make varies depending on the time of year, but is usually between $1000 and $1700 per month.
When people learn that I make money from a website, they usually assume that most of it comes from advertising. And it IS true that a large chunk of my monthly income comes from the blog itself – usually from branded content (i.e. what we used to refer to as sponsored posts), which is essentially a form of advertising. I’m really picky about what branded content I will agree to run these days (my audience always comes first!!), and therefore usually only publish about one branded post (or less) per month. (Examples of branded posts can be found here and here.)
How much? This one varies a lot, since it totally depends on what kind of offers I get each month (and which of those offers I accept – which isn't many. I purposefully set my prices really high). In 2016, though, nearly a quarter of my income came from this type of content. If you average it out, it's about $825 per month.
I also sell other types of advertising on my site – everything from mini reviews of products and apps to the “Featured Blog” ads I sell to fellow travel bloggers.
I used to run banner ads on my site, too, but these days mostly rely on both Amazon CPM ads and Google Adsense instead. “CPM” basically means you earn a set amount of money for every 1,000 visitors to your site who see the ad. This is great for a blog that gets a decent amount of traffic, since you're basically getting paid just for having people visit your site. I could make more by adding more ad slots in my posts, but I don't want to hit you guys TOO hard with all of that. I try to make any ads on my site as unobtrusive (and as relevant) as possible.
How much? Generally speaking, I make $400 to $600 per month from advertising.
I do freelance writing on the side, too, which usually means writing travel pieces for other websites. This isn't directly related to my blog, but I often get offers/am able to pitch for jobs thanks to my site. I currently freelance regularly for The Journal by Intrepid Travel, Ohio.org and the Barclaycard travel blog, with a few additional one-off posts each month.
How much? I don't make a ton from freelance writing – usually $300-$700 per month.
In November of 2015, I launched my first travel blogging course in conjunction with Travel Blog Success. The course teaches travel bloggers how to pitch and work with travel brands and tourism boards. And in March 2017, I launched my second course, which is all about affiliate marketing for travel bloggers.
I make the most money from these courses when TBS has its quarterly sales (there's one on right now!), with a handful of courses being sold in between.
How much? Since courses always sell the best during sale periods, it's hard to quote a monthly figure. In 2016, though, I made just shy of $7000 total from my partnerships course.
Another way I made money in 2016 was by participating in social media campaigns for specific brands. This usually consists of me sharing a specific amount of posts on networks like Facebook and Twitter (and sometimes Instagram), often promoting a contest. I love this sort of work because I never say yes to it unless I really like the brand and would promote it anyway. This means it's a win-win, since it means I have new content to share with my followers that I'm also getting paid for!
How much? I've only done a handful so far (and the majority were in the second half of 2016), but I hope to make a more regular earning from campaigns like this in 2017.
Lastly, I did a few paid press trips in 2016, too, though it was one of my smallest sources of income for the year. This will (hopefully) change in 2017, though, as I'm going to focus more specifically on paid campaigns.
And there are of course the unpaid partnerships I strike up with brands and tourism boards, too, that allow me to travel slightly cheaper than normal thanks to things like free tours, activities, transport, etc. I set up most of these partnerships myself, which means I never accept anything free if it's not something I was planning to pay for anyway. (And these sorts of relationships are always disclosed to you, too!)
So how much DO I make as a blogger? Well, in my best month (so far) in 2016, I made nearly $6,000 before subtracting taxes and expenses. In my worst month, I made about $2,700. I'm by no means rich and I'm always looking for new income streams, but I'm making enough to pay my bills each month and still travel frequently. (Though part of my ability to do that is thanks to me living in very budget-friendly Ohio!)
So now you know.
I do want to point out, though, that the ways I've decided to monetize my site and make more income are not necessarily the ways that all other bloggers go about it. Blogging is a relatively new field as far as careers go, so there's no “one size fits all” way to go about making money.
There's also no guarantee that another blogger who tried to make money in the exact same ways would have the same amount of success. I'm very lucky that I've been able to turn what started out as a hobby into my career, but it's taken a lot of time and patience – and I STILL don't know if it's sustainable in the long term.
Long story short: Don't start a blog if you just want to make money. It's not as easy as you might think!
Travel Blog Success Spring Sale
If you've been reading my site for a while, you'll know that I'm a big fan of Travel Blog Success. Travel Blog Success is one of the most comprehensive travel blogger membership programs I’ve come across online, and its currently having its spring sale! Membership to TBS gets you two different full-length courses (one on travel writing, and one on travel blogging), as well as access to a kickass secret Facebook group, perks and discounts on conferences and blogging tools, free webinars, and more.
TBS also has some more specialized courses, too, such as ones on affiliate marketing, freelance writing, videography, Facebook marketing, and how to work with travel brands/tourism boards – and these are all on sale this week, too.
If you’re interested in upping your blogging game (or perhaps learning more about freelancing or brokering your own partnerships), this is the time to take the leap. Check out the sale!
(And yes, if you buy through my affiliate link I’ll get a commission from your sign-up at no extra cost to you. But I legit think TBS is awesome – and I’ll see you around in the Facebook group!)
Did I cover all your burning questions? What else do you want to know about what I do?