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 graduate assistant and freelance writing and editing on the side. And after that, 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 both of my sites 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. (Or, you know, in case your entire industry shuts down for a while due to a worldwide crisis. Ahem.) Diversification is the name of the game.
How I make money as a Travel Blogger in 2023
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 2022.
At this point, I run two websites that make money: this site, A Dangerous Business, which I started back in 2010; and Cleveland Traveler, which is a niche site about Cleveland, Ohio, that I started in 2019. I report all of my income together, as I'm the only owner of both sites.
Here's a look at how my income broke down in 2022:
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% of my income. 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. Meaning when I take on paid campaigns, it's because I really want to do them!
(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-$5000 range when you add up website/business expenses and travel expenses, but can sometimes be higher if it's a big travel month.)
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 ever 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!).
My second site qualified for ads at the end of 2019, and so Cleveland Traveler is also monetized with ads now, and it's the main way that site earns income.
How much? Ad earnings were down slightly in 2022 when compared to 2021, but that was expected, as ad rates were absolutely bonkers in 2021. On average, I made about $12,000 per month from ads in 2022 (though of course some months are better/worse than others).
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 it's 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, tours, tickets, 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 personally spend money on myself.
How much? The amount of passive affiliate income I make varies depending on the time of year, and travel is still down from where it was in 2019. That being said, I still averaged around $4400 per month from affiliate sales in 2022, which is an improvement from 2021, mostly thanks to me being more strategic about adding valuable affiliate links to my content.
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, or promoting a new offering), 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 paid campaigns that involved travel in 2021, and just 4 paid campaigns in 2022 (my goal is usually one big campaign per quarter!). These made up 8% of my total income in 2022.
How much? When I do this kind of work, it can pay anywhere from $2,500-$10,000 per campaign, depending on the length and deliverables. (Some creators make much more, but those are the average rates I've personally been paid.)
(For more about this sort of work, check out my Work With Me page.)
4. 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 2022, it accounted for a really tiny portion of my income (just a little over 1%!), and I only said yes to the jobs that I was really passionate about.
Sponsored content can take various different forms on different websites, but most of my sponsored work in 2022 was actually on my social channels. This included a couple destination branded Twitter chats, some sponsored TikTok work, and an Instagram campaign with a travel insurance brand.
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 pretty high. In 2022, if you average it out, I made just over $260 per month – but actually only did a handful of sponsored things on my social channels.
The “other” category in my income breakdown consists of a lot of random things; things like course sales, product sales, consulting/speaking, photo licensing, etc. I don't make a ton doing any of these things, but they still factor in to my overall income.
a. Social media
In 2022, content creators were briefly able to earn money from Facebook and Instagram for posting certain types of engaging content. I got invited to these “bonus” programs on a couple of my social accounts, and made a bit of extra cash each month by mostly posting Reels.
I actually enjoyed the creative challenge of making more video content, but sadly they ended these bonus programs in 2023.
How much? I didn't make a ton – usually it was $100-$200 per month on each social channel. But it was still a little boost in income!
c. Product sales
I started selling some physical products on Cleveland Traveler in 2020, and 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).
In 2022, I also launched a Gumroad shop to sell printable versions of some of my more popular road trip itineraries, and that turned out to be a nice little pursuit that I'm planning to expand in 2023.
How much? It's still a really small amount, only averaging about $150 per month in 2022. But some owned-product sales are better than none!
I did two speaking gigs in 2022 – one in-person at TravelCon, and another for an online webinar. This is not a huge money-maker for me, but I AM available for speaking or consulting if anyone is interested! (I often speak about affiliate marketing.)
How much: It really depends on the project or event!
e. 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.
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? Only a few hundred dollars in 2022. My to-do list actually includes converting these to ebooks this year.
So how much DO I make as a blogger? 2021 was a surprisingly good year after the garbage fire of 2020; I didn't know if it was realistic to expect to make more in 2022. But, I still managed to have my most successful year ever in 2022!
I won't share exact numbers with you, but I made into the multiple 6-figures in 2022. (That's of course before factoring in business expenses, travel expenses, and taxes, which can reach into the thousands each month.)
And I don't share this to brag. Rather, I share it to prove that 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 income are not necessarily the ways that all other bloggers/content creators 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 13 this 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.
READ NEXT: Turning a Blog into a Business: 7 Things I Did Right
Did I cover all your burning questions? What else do you want to know about what I do?
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The course is geared towards travel bloggers anywhere. I obviously am in the US, but most of the programs I recommend are international, and the strategies are applicable no matter where you live!