What It’s Really Been Like to Run a Travel Blog During a Global Pandemic

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We're more than halfway through 2020 – and what a crazy year it's been.

What began as a year in which I was poised to have a lot of work and go on some of my most epic trips yet has devolved into a year where I've barely left my house, let alone the country.

The reason for this, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bedford Reservation in winter
We really had no idea what was coming back in January!

I first heard of this mysterious new virus in late January, when I was in New York City for a networking event and the New York Times Travel Show. This was when China put Wuhan into lockdown, and the global news services started to pick up on the story.

At that point, nobody in the US was really concerned. In fact, even when I got really sick about 5 days after getting home from NYC, I was more annoyed with our local news stations airing a story about a guy from Chicago who got the virus after visiting China while ignoring the fact that several local schools were closed because so many students and teachers had the regular flu.

(And, for the record, I don't think I had COVID-19 back in January/February; I'm just mentioning that I was sick because at the time I wasn't worried about it!)

February continued on more or less normally; site traffic was up, I was still making travel plans, and the general consensus was that the virus was more or less contained to China and people who had traveled there. Elliot and I took a trip to Puerto Rico, and people were more concerned on our behalf over earthquakes than the coronavirus.

Amanda and Elliot on a Vieques beach
On Vieques in Puerto Rico back in February

By late February, though, things had started to shift. While the World Health Organization and many experts were still saying that healthy people didn't need to worry, and that borders didn't need to close, COVID-19 was nevertheless spreading.

I think many of us were fairly apathetic about the risk until northern Italy went into lockdown in early March. That's when it started to get real.

I spent one of the most stressful weeks of my life trying to decide whether or not to cancel the tour I was supposed to host in Morocco in mid-March; I decided 2 days before I was set to leave that I wasn't going to go, and very swiftly afterwards the US closed its borders to the EU, and the tour got canceled anyway as tour companies halted their operations.

From there, it was a string of canceled plans, stay-at-home orders, and nosediving numbers when it came to both site traffic and income.

Amanda under cherry blossoms
I didn't leave my house at all from mid-March until early May; this was from my first venture away from home after more than 5 weeks at home.

In March, I was still fairly optimistic that this could be mitigated, and that maybe things could be “back to normal” by summer. But as March melded into April, and April faded into May, it was obvious that COVID-19 wasn't going to just disappear.

The tone of the emails in my inbox from conference organizers and PR reps changed from “let's just see what happens” to cancelations, rescheduling to 2021, and indefinite postponements. In some cases, the emails just ceased altogether as an increasing number of people in the tourism industry were laid off or lost their jobs altogether.

I am well aware that travel is a privilege, and that I'm very lucky to do something that I love as a job. But I've also worked for more than 10 years to build my own profitable business, and it was devastating to see everything basically evaporate overnight.

Amanda looking at the Cleveland skyline
Bye bye, steady income

Writing this now in July, of course, I can let you know that things are starting to improve. Even though COVID-19 is still raging here in the United States and I still have no travel plans on the horizon, traffic numbers and earnings started to slowly rise again as summer arrived.

As far as the blogging side of things goes… it's starting to get better. We still have a long way to go, but I hope that the worst is over.

Now that I'm not actively worried about the collapse of my business and loss of my livelihood, I thought I'd share a bit more with you about what it's really been like to run a travel blog during a time when the world was closed.

10 truths about running a travel blog during a pandemic

1. Mixed emotions are an understatement

A big thing I've been struggling with through all of this has been balancing conflicting emotions.

Some days I've felt hopeful and motivated; other days I've been depressed and sluggish. I've oscillated between feeling grief over the loss of a year's worth of work and travel plans, and guilt for being less adversely affected than many of my peers in the travel industry.

Back in April, these see-sawing emotions were more difficult to grapple with. As time has worn on, I've done my best to just accept that I may feel differently from day to day.

Stay Strong Cleveland mural

And of course now that we're a few months into this, I'm adding in daily feelings of rage to this mix as I read stories of people ignoring restrictions, arguing about wearing masks, and basically just making things worse in a lot of areas.

At this point, my business *could* be doing better, but selfish people are ruining it for those of us who ARE following all the rules – especially in the US.

2. The facts are fluid

Part of the reason people are so upset and resisting new recommendations and restrictions is that what we know about COVID-19 is constantly changing. Facts are still facts, but in this case we're continually learning new ones.

This isn't surprising, considering that this is a novel (i.e. brand new) virus. We are literally watching the scientific process unfold before us. Unfortunately that sometimes means that what was recommended 3 months ago may not be what's recommended now.

It's been important to acknowledge what we don't know, and also when we've been wrong. For example, early on I was very much in the “healthy people don't need to wear masks” camp, because that's what most experts were saying. But as we've learned more about how this coronavirus spreads, the recommendations have changed – and now I don't go anywhere without my mask.

Amanda in a cloth mask
Wear a mask, friends! If you need cute ones, check these out.

I believe in doing my own research, but I also am under no illusions that I know more than virologists, epidemiologists, and other actual experts. We need to pay attention to the people who actually know what they're talking about – even if we don't like what they're saying.

3. You play the “should I share this?” game often

Because recommendations are changing all the time – sometimes from one day to the next! – I've found myself agonizing over whether to share certain things or not, both on my blog and my social channels.

On the one hand, I'm not really actively encouraging travel right now – especially not international travel that requires plane trips, or that could bring the virus to vulnerable places. BUT, I also can't just stop running my site during all of this.

Harry Potter closet
We've gone to great lengths to keep entertained here at my house…

I've had to change tactics slightly; early on I was writing about ways to travel from home and how to keep supporting the tourism industry. Now, I'm writing about older trips on my blog, but making sure to be clear when sharing new posts that they're just for inspiration for that magical “later” time when we can all travel again.

On social media, I've oscillated between just turning things off entirely, to using certain hashtags like #TravelSomeday and #TravelLater to imply I'm not promoting travel right now, to only sharing certain types of content.

4. No matter what you share, you're wrong

Even though I've tried to be very intentional about what I'm sharing and when, it's impossible to make everyone happy all the time. Especially now when emotions are running high all around, people have been very vocal about telling me what they think of me and the content I'm sharing.

When I shared travel-inspired cocktail recipes to try at home, I got this comment:

Comment 2

When I write about old trips and share those new posts, I get comments like this:

Comment 3

The disclosure I've added to every post on my site pointing out that now isn't really the time to travel apparently isn't enough for some people who are landing on my site through Google searches. I'm sorry, folks, but I'm just one person and I cannot keep all 800+ posts on my site updated with COVID restrictions for every country in the world!

Comment 1

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to the type of content they like to read online, but let's please remember that I'm a real person trying to keep my business afloat in as responsible a way as possible!

(And, if I was in this just to make money, I'd be hopping on planes right now and telling you to do the same! THAT would be the best for my bottom line – but I'm not doing that right now, because I actually believe in science and care about other people.)

Amanda drinking in the shower
Yes, that's me drinking a cocktail in the shower, because what even are social norms any longer?

5. Social media is a minefield

Don't even get me started on how I decide what to share on social media! It's been a creative challenge to navigate around travel bans, conspiracy theories, social justice movements, and everything else in the last few months.

The upside is that people are spending more time on social media, and engagement is up! The downside is that the reason why engagement is up is because everyone has an opinion right now – and they're usually not afraid to share it!

I've done my best to provoke (usually thoughtful) discussions about a variety of topics on both Instagram and Facebook. For the most part, these posts are really successful, and I'm always glad to find I have so many smart and thoughtful followers.

Amanda at The View treehouse
The treehouse Elliot and I escaped to for a night in June

But of course feathers get ruffled by just about everything, since the pandemic has become so political (especially in the US). Last week, for example, I published my most controversial post ever on Facebook, which led to me banning several people from my page!

6. Bye bye, ad and affiliate earnings

Most users of the internet assume that monetized travel blogs make money through advertising. As a concept, this is true. But what most people don't understand is that, in practice, just because you *have* ads on your website doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make money from them.

When the world shut down, advertising earnings virtually disappeared overnight. Now, I will be honest and say that my earnings didn't drop to $0 – but they did nosedive by about 85%, and sat there for a couple months.

ADB March 2020 income
Here's where the nosedive happened in March

They're starting to bounce back now that many parts of the world are opening back up and economies haven't entirely collapsed, but it was pretty anxiety-inducing for a while there.

And as for my #2 income-driver? Well, affiliate marketing in travel is faring even worse than advertising, as you can imagine. I make money through affiliate links when people buy/book things that I recommend (like hotels, tours, gear, etc.). But with few people planning trips right now AND many big brands suspending their affiliate programs through all of this, my affiliate earnings have taken the biggest hit of all.

7. We weren't really all that diversified

They always tell you that you shouldn't put all your eggs into one basket. And, before the pandemic hit, I felt like my income streams were pretty diverse. I wasn't overly reliant on any one income stream, and was confident that if one failed, I would be okay.

Well, as it turns out, when all your income streams still revolve around one specific industry or niche (i.e. travel), it can still all fall apart at once when a global pandemic hits!

Lakewood Park from above
Like a drone falling out of the sky, it can all go wrong quickly! (Though don't worry… our drone hasn't fallen out of the sky.)

No one could have predicted this, of course, but it has made me look more critically at how I'm making money.

8. It's not easy to pivot

When travel first disappeared, a lot of travel bloggers started talking about ways to pivot. In fact, the topic of pivoting to new blogs and different topics was basically all people were talking about in all sorts of blogger groups.

After all, not every niche was hit by the pandemic – food, DIY, homeschooling, pets… there were plenty of topics that weathered the lockdowns just fine.

But it's not really as simple as just starting another website. Growth takes time, and you also need passion for new projects if you want them to actually be successful. I had a second niche site already – but it was in the travel niche, too.

Luvin Lavender Farms
The only “pivoting” I did was exploring closer to home, like this lavender farm in Ohio.

I briefly considered ways I could pivot to other topics or other income streams, but at the end of the day my heart just wasn't in it. Travel and tourism is what I know, and it's what I love. Pivoting to something completely new just didn't seem like the right move for me.

So, instead, while I took some breaks from this main travel blog of mine and started publishing less, I ramped up things on my Cleveland Traveler blog. There's been more interest in traveling locally and supporting local businesses during the pandemic, so focusing on my local area seemed like to better place to spend my time and energy.

It seems like it was a good move, as traffic on my Cleveland site is the highest it's ever been, and I'm also about to launch a shop with some specially-designed Cleveland products!

Amanda by the pond
Cleveland merch coming soon!

But basically, the point I want to drive home here is that it's not okay to tell people who've lost income or an entire job that they should just go “find something new” (yes, I'm looking at you, Ivanka). That's a very flippant response, and not always feasible. Not to mention that it seems to place all the blame on people for losing their livelihood.

Before the pandemic, I was doing everything “right” as a small business owner. My income was steady and diversified, I had a good amount of savings, I was investing back into my business… but I was still hit really hard by the pandemic. Telling me to go find a new job isn't really helpful, and only makes me defensive!

9. I know I'm actually one of the lucky ones

Having said all of that, I'm actually one of the really lucky ones. Since I work for myself, I never had to worry about furloughs or getting completely fired from my job.

And because 2019 was a really good year for my business, I had enough money tucked away in my bank accounts that I knew I could survive for months with no new income coming in. I didn't need to apply for loans or grants – and believe me, I 100% know how privileged I am to be able to say that.

Amanda at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens
Me, a very privileged woman

But it's entirely possible to be really grateful and really concerned at the same time. The first couple months of the pandemic were especially stressful, and I know we're not past it yet – I'm watching my bank balances very closely and making sure I still have a nice big cushion, just in case.

10. People are paying attention

I guess if I had to sum up the things I've observed and learned during all of this, it's that people ARE paying attention; it turns out that bloggers and influencers actually DO have some influence (ha!).

But that means that those of us with any sort of audience have some degree of responsibility to and for that audience.

This should be true ALL the time, of course – I would never, for example, recommend a product that I haven't tried, or write about a place that I would never tell people they should visit. But right now, I think it's even more important that influencers keep in mind that people are paying very close attention.

Guardian of Traffic in Cleveland
Someone is always watching…

Yes, people are quick to publicly “cancel” people and brands behaving badly (and yes, I've ruffled my fair share of feathers recently for standing up for things I believe in), but I think they're also open to listening to people they trust.

I haven't done any real “travel” since February, but when I do venture out again, I'm going to do it very thoughtfully, and will be sharing what the experience is like with my audience. I want to promote safe and responsible travel in whatever form that takes, and I firmly believe in leading by example.

So what's the *real* point of this post? Well, if I'm being completely honest, it's been tough to find the motivation to write about travel recently. It's getting harder and harder the longer borders remain closed.

Instead of just letting this blog go silent, I thought I'd give you a little behind-the-scenes look at what it's been like to try to run a travel blog when the whole world stopped traveling.

Hopefully you found it interesting, and hopefully this will be something I can look back on a year from now, happy that it's all behind us.

Amanda at Luvin Lavender Farms
And cheers to you if you've read this far!

And, in case you missed some of my lockdown-related content in the past few months, here are a few highlights:

How has the pandemic affected YOUR job, routine, and life?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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22 Comments on “What It’s Really Been Like to Run a Travel Blog During a Global Pandemic

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  1. Such a thoughtful and reasonable take on things, Amanda! It’s truly a crazy time in the world that no one could have ever predicted–very hopeful we will be able to get back to traveling soon in a safe and sustainable way! Sending you lots of good vibes!

      The only consolation is knowing that many of us are in the exact same situation right now. I hope that the worst is behind us!

    You’ve absolutely been amazing through all of this — and YAY BIG UPSIDE, social platforms are showing me your content again when they haven’t been for years and I’ve had to manually come see what you’re up to. I was horrible at it too, and I apologize. But I’ve never lost my respect for what you do and now more than ever, I’m inspired by the example you set! <3

      Thanks for those kind words, Kirsten! The extra time at home has definitely given me the opportunity to catch up and reconnect with people, which has been nice. But what a weird world social media has become!

    I agree with your thoughts.
    In this pendemic situations traveling is not possible. In this situation we have to stay safe. Good things will happen soon

    I feel ya! I was super happy to see my blog’s growth early this year and suddenly the income was all gone. Crazy times!
    Luckily I already had an online course for content creators so I ended up updating and relaunching it. I am grateful for having something in another niche which isn’t travel related, I never thought of how helpful it could be.

      It’s great you had that to fall back on! I have some courses for bloggers, but they’re for travel bloggers, so obviously nobody’s been buying them when they aren’t making any money!

    Not to be too blunt, but those are some really rude “readers.” (Assuming they just visited once and decided to be nasty, because everyone thinks they’re anonymous on the internet.) I just wouldn’t approve those comments ?

    Your site has been a guiding light and I think the vast majority of people appreciate what you’re doing. I hope our paths cross again soon!

      These sorts of comments are definitely in the minority – most of my readers are great! But I do sometimes like to publish these comments, if only to get the satisfaction of writing a snarky response back. 😉 I hope our paths cross again soon, too!

    I’m sure it’s been hard! One thing I would love to see is a post about study abroad, or a college student traveling Europe alone or in a small group during the summer. It’s something I want my kids to experience and my daughter was planning to do just that (next summer) when this all hit. Now who knows? However we are still looking for affordable ways to do this kind of traveling. And info is harder to get than one would think. At least real life experiences. Love your blog!

      I studied abroad in college, and it was probably one of the best decisions I made in my university career! (It was before this blog, though, so I haven’t written about studying abroad; maybe I should!) One thing I did in my 20s was to spend a summer traveling around Western Europe using Busabout, which is a hop-on, hop-off bus that travels all over Europe. I stayed mostly in hostels, and had so many incredible adventures. You can read about my experience with Busabout here: https://www.dangerous-business.com/whats-like-travel-around-europe-busabout/

      Posting pictures of our local-ish travels on our personal social media channels right now feels like we’re inviting controversy. I can’t imagine trying to navigate that as a travel blogger. We’re staying within an hour or two of our home base and primarily hiking. We put on our masks when we’re near other hikers. I’m just waiting on people on one side to chastise us for leaving our house (we’re living in less than 300 sq ft in our RV as we travel with my husband’s job; we HAVE to get out for our own sanity) or deride us for wearing masks, especially in an outdoor space. So we haven’t been posting much at all. Which means that others are messaging us to tell us that they miss our pictures and ask for more! And, again, this is just our personal profiles! You keep doing what feels right and responsible to you. You’re aware of real, scientific facts as we currently know them and trying your best to find a balance between health, income, and the traveling bug that works for you. That’s all anyone can ask.

        Yeah, it’s a constant balancing act! I still obviously want to talk and post about travel (even if it’s just previous trips), but I want to do it in a way that’s still responsible. Some days I just don’t have the energy to think that hard about it and just don’t post at all. Haha.

    Sad thing is that people are so critical of others who don’t agree with there point of view, and it goes both ways, especially right now.

    Love your blog, your Oregon a number years ago helped me plan a weeks travel in a state that I thought had very little to see!

      It’s especially hard when some people also believe they are entitled to their own facts. Opinions are one thing, but I believe in science and logic and actual FACTS, and no one is entitled to make up their own, especially not now during a pandemic.

    I never post anywhere, but I just want to say I genuinely love your blog and think you are doing a great job. You’re a talented writer and your content is always interesting. Thanks for keeping me entertained and for allowing me to live vicariously through your adventures.

    i always love reading your blog. you will find trolls everywhere. i’d seriously trade MY job for yours, though. my goal right now is to find a coach or course or something that starts at the bare bones beginning. like…i have a go pro…how do i use it??? lol. i need video editing skills, how and where to get info on even starting a blog or youtube channel, etc. this would not be a primary source of income for me, but a way to ease into retirement. did i mention i swim in covid from 12 to 16 hrs a day in florida in critical care settings travelling between 3 different hospitals. in full protective gear. but i have a job, right? lol. ok, we all have something to kvetch about for sure. you are always inspiring. always. even to old folks like us who are mainly pissed off because we have so little time left to travel anyway…lol. oh well….keep on keeping on. and i am looking forward to your cleveland merch!

      Yes, we all definitely have something we can complain about. I try to keep things positive here most of the time, but because many people don’t really know what my job even entails, I thought this might be interesting for some people to read!

      As for learning how to start a travel blog, there are definitely courses out there for it, but I’m afraid I don’t know of them all! I know Nomadic Matt has blogging courses.

        thanks so much, amanda! i will check him out. i have given your courses a look, but at this point it is way beyond what i even understand about my computer and blogging. lol. it will more be a hobby. i know we have had this convo before. anyway, girl…yep. everything you have to say is interesting. i like your suggestions about places and “stuff”. keep up the great work! hope the money will soon follow its way back to you…

    I think you’ve done an amazing job of keeping up with your blog and coming up with ideas for posts that work while people can’t actually travel. Seriously, way better than lots of bloggers. I personally went into a nosedive emotionally and simply decided I couldn’t focus on blogging. My blog was never something I needed to publish on regularly anyway since the audience is really different from sites like yours, so that helped.

    I’m totally with you on the grief of this whole thing. I’m really proud of my business and what I’ve been able to make out of blogging and a passion for travel. And to see it all go down the drain almost overnight was devastating. My lowest month was less than $400, which is so painful! I’m like you though, my blog has been doing well for quite some time and I have savings, plus Andy’s work is still going strong.

    I didn’t do well with the idea of pivoting either. I had always wanted to try doing a recipe blog, and I already bought a domain shortly before everything fell apart, but like you said, it takes time and lots of work, and I didn’t have energy for all that. So I’m still working on it slowly when I can, but I’m ok with it never turning into anything huge. And I did just buy yet another travel-related domain because travel is what I know, and I do really hope things will pick up again in the future.

    Europe is doing better…but it’s still not ideal by any means. We did actually take a short 2 day trip this weekend to Dresden (2 hours away) and it was nice but super stressful. Masks are mandatory here, so most people wear them, but there are still who don’t, and it makes me anxious in certain situations. I think it’ll be awhile before I travel again…I need the world to feel a little better.

      Thanks, Ali. I think the only thing that’s really kept me going is knowing that I’m not alone – and also that it WILL get better. Eventually. It just seems like it’s going to take a lot longer to get there than anyone originally thought.

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