When I started this blog back in 2010, I started it entirely as a hobby. I never expected anyone except my parents to read it, and I certainly never dreamed that one day I would make money from it. And that was perfectly fine with me – I just needed an outlet for my travel stories, and a blog seemed like as good an option as anything else.
But as time went by and my audience miraculously began (and then continued) growing, I was faced with a decision: Was my blog going to remain just a hobby, or was it time to start thinking about it as a business and eventually a career?
It's not a question anyone else could have answered for me as every blog/blogger's trajectory is different. And I didn't make a decision right away. I kept traveling. I kept working. I eventually went back to school with the goal of getting a job in tourism.
But after I finished grad school in 2013, I decided that I DID want to keep traveling and blogging and I DID want to work towards making a full-time living as a blogger/freelancer.
It was one thing to make that decision. It was another entirely to put it into practice.
After grad school, I traveled a bit more before finally settling down in Ohio and finding some contract work outside of the travel sphere to help bolster my bank account while I experimented with different ways to make money.
I wasn't ready to fully dive in and rely on just my blog and freelance work right away – I had tried that once while traveling, and it had been a massive failure. Instead I took my time and slowly found my way to viewing my blog as a business.
Throughout the long process of going from hobby blogger to professional blogger, I did many things wrong. But I also did quite a few things right and thought now would be as good a time as any to share them with you:
1. Teaching myself things along the way
I didn't go to school for marketing or to get a business degree. I studied journalism and then tourism management; I knew absolutely nothing about running a business when I started.
But I'm a curious type of person, and I'm always up for trying and learning new things. One major thing that I did right was being open to learning skills along the way. I taught myself about SEO and affiliate marketing. I learned how to leverage and grow my social media accounts. I did my research on how and where to find freelance gigs. And I was okay with the fact that I didn't already know it all.
The thing about this industry is that it's always changing and evolving, so the learning never stops.
2. Constantly trying new things
As with anything new that you're learning, you have to be flexible and open to trying new things. I started to monetize my blog back in 2011/12, when selling text links was the ideal way to make quick money. Most travel bloggers I knew did it, and back then it wasn't viewed as unfavorably as it is now.
As Google has updated its rules, though, selling text links for cash has fallen by the wayside; it's no longer a sustainable monetization method. This has meant that I've experimented a lot when it comes to ways to make money as a blogger. Some things have worked (like advertising and affiliate marketing), while others might not be for me (like selling products or running tours).
It can be exhausting always trying to come up with new ideas, especially when you're relying on those ideas for your income while still wanting to please an audience of travel lovers who really don't care if/how you're making money. But you can never find out what works without trying a lot of different things.
3. Diversifying my income
Trying new things year after year has helped me diversify my income streams. The number one question I get asked when I tell people that I'm a blogger is “How do you make money doing that?” And the answer, of course, is not a simple one.
I don't make money in just one way any more – but that's actually a really good thing. Having a series of income streams means that if I lose one, I won't go broke or have to stress too much about how I'll pay next month's mortgage.
These days, I make money the following ways:
- Advertising (I'm with Mediavine, which serves up all the in-content ads on this site)
- Affiliate marketing (I earn commissions when people buy/book things I recommend)
- Paid campaigns (when I'm hired by a brand or destination to create content about a tour or place)
- Branded content on my blog (i.e. a company pays me to write about a product, destination, etc.)
- Consulting (with other bloggers on things like affiliate marketing, and with destinations about influencer marketing)
- Influencer campaigns (usually on social media)
- Course sales (these ones!)
- Speaking (usually at blogger-focused conferences and events)
- Freelance writing (for other travel websites, though I don't do this very much any more)
My income still fluctuates month-to-month, but it's far steadier now than it ever used to be!
READ MORE: How I Make Money as a Travel Blogger
4. Not undervaluing what I have to offer
When I first started to monetize my blog, it was really difficult to know how much to charge for certain things. How much should a sponsored post be? What about a banner ad? Are you supposed to charge to do giveaways? Again, it was an educational process for me, and one that I'm STILL learning about. Thankfully my fellow travel bloggers have always been willing to help and offer guidance along the way.
In the end, I settled on the sorts of income streams that I felt comfortable with, and then had to consider how much each of those was worth based on the time/effort involved on my part, the size of my audience, etc. The toughest part has been not undervaluing myself.
When I went on my first paid campaign for a destination, I WAY underpriced myself simply because I had no benchmark to set my price against.
The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that access to my audience is valuable (and closely protected!), my content is strong, and I 100% deserve to be paid for the hard work I pour into every project.
As a female entrepreneur, it's far too easy to feel apologetic about wanting to make money – but we all need to get over this!
5. Learning when to say no
Especially when you're first starting out, it can be really tempting to say yes to everything – every press trip, every text link, every offer of a free product to try out. But you have to learn when to say no.
Like no, I will not place a link to your spammy online gambling site even if you are willing to pay me $800. Or no, I am not interested in writing a sponsored post about a destination I've never visited, no matter how easy it would be. Or no, sorry, that super luxury food-focused press trip just isn't quite the right fit for my audience.
Even though it would be great to say yes to everything (and potentially make quite a bit more money), you do have to decide where to draw the line and then stick to it. It's not always easy, but is so important to running a healthy blog-as-a-business.
As time has worn on, I also sometimes just have to say no for my mental health and well-being. I don't want to always be on the road, and need to force some balance into my life at times by saying no to trips and projects that I'm just not super excited about.
6. Investing in my website
I was just as cheap as every other travel blogger out there when I was first starting out. I got the cheapest web hosting possible, was using a free WordPress theme, and was reluctant to shell out any money that I didn't think I could immediately make back. Why? Well because I wasn't *making* much money, of course, and so it was difficult to justify spending any.
But I've learned what every business owner at some point learns: you have to spend money to make money.
It starts out slow: maybe purchasing better web hosting, a new theme, an online course or ebook, productivity tools, etc. And eventually it will turn into spending money on team members and premium services to help you work smarter instead of harder.
And of course I spend more money on traveling, too, which is equally as important for a website that's all about traveling!
7. Staying true to my voice (even as it has evolved)
Lastly, through all the experimenting and learning and monetizing, I've tried really hard to stay true to my voice and ever-evolving travel style.
When I was strictly a backpacker traveling around Europe, I wasn't accepting super luxury press trips or hotel stays. Now that I'm a bit older and enjoy more comforts when I travel, I still focus on realistic travel – meaning I go to destinations and book tours and stay in accommodation that the average reader of my site can still afford and enjoy.
And I always keep my readers in mind when accepting anything sponsored on this site. If I'm going on a free trip, you'd better believe it's going to be one I would 100% pay for myself. If I'm going to write a branded post, I'm going to write it my way, in my voice, and in a way that (I hope) my readers will still enjoy.
I try to stay real – hopefully it comes across!
Want to read more about the business of blogging? Check out these posts:
- The Business of Blogging: What I’ve Learned After 10 Years
- How Blogging Has Changed the Way I Travel
- How I Make Money as a Travel Blogger
And don't forget that I run my own blogging courses, too! I have courses on working with brands and getting started with affiliate marketing – you can check those out here.