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 how I monetize this site and which projects to say yes to, and in most cases get to set my own rates. But I still sometimes work for other brands and companies, and make money in ways that aren't “traditional.”
To fully answer the question of how I make money as a travel blogger, I have to write you a list.
I don't make money in just one way. In fact, 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. Diversification is the name of the game.
How I make money as a Travel Blogger in 2021
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 2020.
Last year was obviously a really weird year to be running a travel blog, but this is still a good illustration of all the different ways I make money.
This pie graph of mine is always changing, since the ways I approach my business are always changing. For example, back in 2017, advertising only made up 29%. I was selling more courses (10% of my income), doing more freelance writing, and posting more sponsored content.
These days, I'm trying to work smarter, not harder. I've dropped most of the low-paying freelance writing work I was doing, and am very picky about the sponsored work I do now. My passive income streams are strong, and so I spend more of my own money to travel these days.
(And, PS, these income charts never tell the whole story. It costs money to run a business – especially when you're in the business of traveling! My monthly expenses in a “normal year” usually tally in the $2500-$4500 range when you add up website/business expenses and travel expenses.)
To get a better idea of how this all shakes out, here's a more detailed look at all these different income streams:
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've made.
I've been producing content on this site free-of-charge since 2010, and I won't apologize for wanting to be paid for all that work. Adding ads to the site was the easiest, least-intrusive way to do that (and still keep everything around here free for people to read!).
How much? Ad earnings were really up and down in 2020, but I still made around $6,400 per month from advertising when you average it out.
2. Affiliate sales
I've worked hard in the last couple of years to increase the amount of money I make passively each month. And one of the best way to earn passive income is through affiliate sales – which basically means that I often earn a commission if you click through to something you see linked on this site and buy or book it. It doesn't cost you anything extra, but is a steady income stream for me.
Over the past few years, I've been growing the amount of affiliate links on my site, and have happily seen an increase in sales, too. While I used to rely heavily on Amazon links (like in all my packing posts) to recommend products that I use and love, I make more now through recommending hotels, Airbnbs, 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 – and I only recommend things that I have tried or would spend money on myself.
How much? The amount of passive affiliate income I make varies depending on the time of year, and it was hit heavily by people traveling less in 2020. In 2019, I averaged about $4,400 per month from affiliates. In 2020, it was barely half of that, with some months being close to zero.
3. Paid campaigns
As this industry evolves, brands and destinations have started to hire people like me to promote them. Contrary to popular belief, these campaigns do NOT mean that someone is paying me to spread or promote a specific message.
During a paid campaign, there are clear marketing goals defined (like maybe brand awareness), and a certain amount of contracted deliverables (like a specific amount of blog posts, photos, social media posts, etc.). I NEVER promise positive coverage, and usually have complete freedom in what I want to write about and how.
These campaigns are usually well-paid, but I don't do very many of them throughout the year because they are a TON of work. Like, we're talking at least 12-hour days during the campaign, and then days or weeks of work after the trip in order to complete all the deliverables.
I did 6 of these campaigns in 2019, and they made up 13% of my total income that year. In 2020, I didn't do any because, well, COVID, but I did get paid for a couple campaigns I finished up in 2019, which is why you still see this item in my income breakdown.
How much? When I DO do this kind of work, it can pay anywhere from $1,500-$5,000 per campaign, depending on the length and deliverables.
(For more about this sort of work, check out my Work With Me page.)
In 2020, I continued offering affiliate consulting services to fellow travel bloggers, and also did a couple speaking engagements.
I would love for this part of my business to continue growing, as I love teaching people all the things I've learned over the last decade. (If you're interested in any consulting work, definitely get in touch!)
How much: It really depends on the project or event! There was less of this for me in 2020; I only made $2150.
5. Sponsored content
Branded content is essentially another form of advertising or advertorial content. But I count it separately since it's not passive income – when I run sponsored posts or participate in a sponsored social media campaign, I write 100% of the content myself.
I’m really picky about what branded content I will agree to run these days (my audience always comes first!!), and turn 99% of it down. In fact, in 2020, it accounted for a really tiny portion of my income (just 1%!), and I only said yes to the jobs that I was really passionate about.
I also sometimes participate in social media-only 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 or specific message, or participating in a branded Twitter chat.
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 2020, if you average it out, I made just over $135 per month – but actually only did a couple of sponsored things on my blog and social channels.
5. Course sales
I launched my first course in 2015 and my second in 2017. They were originally sold through Travel Blog Success, but moved over to Teachable in 2018.
I've had trouble figuring out how to market them (they're for travel bloggers, but bloggers aren't my main audience here on this blog!), so my earnings have been sporadic.
This is something I need to continue to work on!
You can check out my courses here:
- Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships
- Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers: A Beginner's Guide
How much? I only made about $780 on my courses in 2020.
6. Product sales
I don't sell any physical products here on A Dangerous Business, but I do sell some products on my other travel blog (Cleveland Traveler). I also usually make a little bit of money each year selling photo prints in my Smugmug shop (here are all my most popular images, in case you're curious).
Which means that product sales now make up a very small portion of my income, too.
How much? It's still a really small amount, but I'm hoping to grow this number in 2021!
7. Freelance writing
I used to do more freelance writing for other online outlets, but have cut back to almost none.
While other creators still make a significant portion of their income from freelancing, I've decided that it makes more sense for me to focus on monetizing my own websites rather than spending time working for others.
How much? Not enough to really even factor in here!
So how much DO I make as a blogger? Well, 2020 was a really weird year, and certainly fell short of what I hoped it would look like.
For example, in 2019, my “worst” month brought in about $9,000, and my best month was nearly $20,000. In 2020, while my “best” month brought in more than $15,000, my worst brought in just over $3000.
That's of course before factoring in business expenses, travel expenses, and taxes, which can reach into the thousands each month. But this is definitely a viable, successful, full-time career for me.
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 – my blog turned 10 last year!!
If you're thinking about starting a travel blog, just know that you have to be in it for the long haul; success (and money) definitely does not come overnight, and I still work incredibly hard each and every week to keep learning and growing.
Did I cover all your burning questions? What else do you want to know about what I do?
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