The truth about travel blogging + advice for newbies

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Honest thoughts on the industry from a travel blogging veteran, plus advice for those hoping to get started.

On any given day, I get someone telling me that I’m living the dream, that they’re jealous of my travels, and that I’m lucky that I get to globetrot as much as I do.

I get a slew of emails and DMs asking about the travel blogging industry. There are some requests for tips on getting a blog started, other requests for growing an audience.  But mostly people cut straight to the chase– they want to know how to get paid to travel the world.

And I’ve gotten these comments and questions a lot more lately, mostly because of my recently completed round the world trip with Star Alliance.  And don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the interest.

After all, what I’ve accomplished via travel blogging is pretty awesome.  There are sponsored press trips around the world, lucrative contracts with major non-travel brands that have seen me starring in internationally broadcasted digital and radio ads, interviews on major outlets and opportunities to speak in front of audiences about my passion.

And of course, most importantly, there are the actual memories and experiences from the road.  Documented in pictures and video for everyone to see.

I never dreamed that the little blog I started on a whim to keep family and friends abreast of my adventures living in France would grow into what it is today. I make no bones about it, it is awesome.

BUT. It’s super important to put things into perspective and remember that this life isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

For this reason, I felt compelled to post the following picture and caption on Instagram last week:

In an effort to be more transparent, I want to share my thoughts on the business of travel blogging and my particular personal situation.  I also want to share some basic tips for those hoping to break into the industry.

Firstly, a few truths of travel blogging:

You’ll likely need multiple income streams to stay afloat

The road to professional travel blogging is one that is winding and convoluted; if only it were as simple as writing a blog post and watching the cash and job offers roll in! While some bloggers live off the sales of sponsored blog posts alone, nearly every travel blogger I personally know has multiple income streams that include affiliate marketing, consulting, guest speaking, freelance writing/photography gigs, and sponsored campaigns (my friends Kate and Jayne have exceptionally detailed posts about how they get all of these these). And from what I’ve seen, going full-time in this industry is a HUSTLE. Securing those gigs requires patience and hard work: hours of pitching and negotiating are par for the course.  It’s also important to remember that building an engaged audience is key– no company or brand will be interested in paying or sponsoring you if you have no influence, or if they don’t see a clear return on investment.


There’s not a lot of money in travel blogging

Looking to strike it rich?  Don’t be a full-time travel blogger.  With a few notable exceptions (Johnny Ward, I’m looking at you), very few professional bloggers are making 6 figures from recounting their travel tales and dispensing travel advice. While sponsors in fashion and beauty pay big bucks to work with bloggers in those industries, getting brands to pay travel bloggers similarly (or at all!) is an uphill battle. Why? Well, many bloggers are so grateful to have a “free trip” thrown their way they wouldn’t dare request payment, or the promise of “exposure” and future paid work compels them to work on a barter basis. Given this, many sponsors have no real impetus to pay travel influencers cash money on top of the perceived dollar value of the “free trip”. This isn’t a huge problem if you have another job that provides you with an income, but if travel blogging is your full-time gig, low/no pay will quickly become an issue.  When have you ever been able to pay rent with a sponsored trip to the Maldives, I ask?

It’s more about clicks, less about quality

More and more I’m finding that the travel blogging industry favours clickable content over compelling storytelling. Clickbait-y titles and half-baked travel logs are the order du jour at the biggest junkets, with listicles about 5 top restaurants in Paris trumping narratives over encounters in the far reaches of Tibet. I understand why– I myself have seen how many clicks a quickie post on 5 things to do in Bali gets versus a reflective piece like Egypt: A lesson in friendship— but it’s still sad to see editorial scope so governed by what will get the most views.


Forget traditional blogs– social media is where it’s at

The blog as we know it is going the way of the dinosaur, soon to be completely replaced by micro-blogging on social networking sites.  Some of the biggest influencers in travel only exist on platforms accepting updates of 140 characters or less; others write the occasional blog post but their sites are, by and large, landing pages that redirect to their Instagram or Snapchat feeds.  This isn’t a bad thing, but something to keep in mind if you’re a newbie hoping to break into the biz. For an old school blogger like me it’s interesting to see how drastically the landscape has changed in the last decade.

You’ll need to work hard to build an audience

Just because you have a meaningful voice and a solid platform, doesn’t mean followers will flock to it or engage with it.  And sometimes, it’s not even about you:  competition is stiff in this saturated market, and internet algorithms often dictate whether or not your work will be seen at all.  It can be disheartening to see your excellent work go unnoticed by the masses, but those are the breaks. Growing and cultivating an audience can take years.

When travel is a job, it can start to lose its lustre

Like any job, travelling and producing travel content full-time can be a bore, a chore, and woefully soul-sucking. However, his is natural when what was once a passion becomes an obligation and a way to put food on the table. With that said, to avoid burnout it’s necessary to balance travel assignments with leisure travel where nary a photo, tweet, or status change is required.


Where I’m at

The biggest misconception about me (mostly from new followers) is that travel blogging is my livelihood and my bread and butter.  But the truth is that, save a few months here and there, I have worked full-time in the education field for 10 years.  If it looks like I travel often despite by day job, it’s because I do– I just do it on the weekends and during the very generous paid vacation time afforded to education professionals!

So why aren’t I a full-time travel blogger? Well, while it seems like a glamorous gig, the lack of financial stability + hustle for work + low/no pay is primarily what keeps me at a day job. And the way my life is set up… I’m in my mid-30s and just not about that starving artist life.  

But technically I’m not working at the moment. I’ve *just* moved to New York City, so am exploring other full-time opportunities (either in editorial or education consulting) while I settle into the city. I freelance on the side, doing paid campaigns and selling stories but make nowhere near my full-time teacher and middle manager salary. And I make no illusions– this is a privileged position to be in.  I came to NYC with a large amount of savings, my husband has a well-paid full-time job, and we have no dependents or debt to speak of.  I am blessed.


My advice for newbies

I get asked all the time for advice on starting up a blog. Here are a few of my tips.

+ Do it because you’re passionate about it. Readership, press trips, cash money… They may take time to happen, or not happen at all.  Start a travel blog because you love documenting and sharing your experiences.

+ Write prolifically and be authentically you (if you have a personality blog). In the beginning, blog at 3-4 times a week and adhere to a schedule– it’s a great way to grow an audience.  If you’re running a single-author blog, let your personality shine through! Readers come back because they like your unique voice. Develop a niche and stick to it.

+ Find a community. Other people doing what you’re doing are the best resources. Seek on groups online and off (Travel Massive comes immediately to mind).

+ Grow your reach and get out there. Become a social media and SEO samurai. Be proactive, not reactive. Pitch, pitch, and pitch some more to get your work in front of more eyes. Become a Huff Post contributor and link back to your website. Speak at conferences both in and out of the travel industry.

A few more parting notes

+Beware of those trying to sell you the dream. Soooo many travel bloggers only present the enviable aspects of the job.  This often results in those at home feeling inadequate about their lives, or having a false and romanticized view of this unconventional career path. For this reason that I admire bloggers like my friend Gloria, who is super transparent about both the highs and lows of the hustle.

Lots of travel bloggers also make money selling courses to their followers… about how to make money travel blogging.  Notice that all of a sudden all your favourites are touting writing courses like Travel Blogging Success? Every time you click “purchase” they get a cut.  There’s nothing wrong or illegal with this, to be fair.  But it’s ironic just the same, and something of which to be aware.

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