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 to 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 still often work for other companies doing freelance writing, or on social media/content 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 2017.
And here's a further breakdown of all the ways I've made money in the past year:
I've worked hard in the last couple of years 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 2 years, 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 hotel booking sites, tours, and other items through other affiliate platforms and programs.
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 $2000 and $2500 per month.
In 2017, I signed up for Mediavine, an ad network that now places all the advertisements you see on this site. I was unsure about doing this (would the ads look awful? would people stop reading my site because they hated them?), but in the end it was by far the best business decision I made last year. I've been producing content on this site free-of-charge since 2010, and I feel like I deserve to be paid for all that work – and adding ads to the site was the easiest, least-intrusive way to do that.
I also still sell other types of advertising on my site (like the “Featured Blog” ads I sell to fellow travel bloggers), but dropped AdSense, Amazon's CPM ads, and one-off banner ads that I was previously running.
How much? In 2017, I made anywhere from $3000-$3500 per month from advertising. In 2018, those numbers are likely to rise to closer to $4000 per month.
Branded content (i.e. what we used to refer to as sponsored posts), is essentially another form of advertising. But I count it separately since it's not passive income – when I run sponsored posts, I write 100% of them myself. 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 from 2017 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 2017, if you average it out, I made just under $700 per month – but actually only ran about half a dozen sponsored posts on my blog.
In November of 2015, I launched my first travel blogging course in conjunction with Travel Blog Success. And in March 2017, I launched a second one. Sadly, Travel Blog Success was sold at the end of 2017, so my courses no longer exist on that platform.
The good news, though, is that I was able to move both courses over to the Teachable platform, and will now be selling them myself! Check them out here:
- Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships
- Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers: A Beginner's Guide
How much? This will change in 2018, but in 2017 I made just over $7000 total from both of my courses.
I participated in three major paid travel campaigns in 2017. These are usually longer trips that I take in conjunction with destinations/tourism boards and then am paid to produce an agreed-upon amount of content during and after the trip.
How much? I made just over $7500 from paid campaigns in 2017.
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!)
Another way I made money in 2017 was by participating in social media campaigns for specific brands. This usually consists of me sharing a post (or posts) on networks like Facebook and Twitter (and sometimes Instagram), often promoting a contest. These campaigns are pretty easy, and are a great way for me to get relevant content to share with my audience (because, again, I don't say yes to these campaigns unless they are a good fit for my followers).
How much? Paid social posts aren't a huge money maker for me (especially since I don't have huge numbers on Instagram), but they are something I will likely continue to participate in in 2018.
Lastly, I do a bit of 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. In 2017, I wrote 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 a couple hundred dollars per month. I'll be focusing even less on freelancing in 2018.
So how much DO I make as a blogger? Well, in my best month in 2017, I made $9,500 before subtracting taxes and expenses. In my worst month, I made about $2,000. 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!
Did I cover all your burning questions? What else do you want to know about what I do?