How do you create a successful travel blog? How do you make money from travel blogging?
BACK IN 2010, when Breathedreamgo was less than a year old, I took the MegaBus to New York City to attend TBEX New York (which I now think of as the Woodstock of travel blogging). Since then, I’ve seen many of the people who were there build very successful blogging careers. I’ve seen them develop their skills, adapt and change, hone their brand and image, take advantage of opportunities and kill it on social media.
The successful bloggers seem to me to have found their mojo, their voice, their secret sauce. They know who they are, and stay more-or-less true to their vision. They are talented, driven and hard-working — much more hard working than many people imagine. Here’s a short list of just some of the talented travel bloggers I met at TBEX NYC who are still going strong:
- Everything-Everywhere (Gary Arndt)
- Uncornered Market (Dan Noll and Audrey Scott)
- The Planet D (Deb Corbeil and Dave Bouskill)
- Legal Nomads (Jodi Ettenberg)
- Nomadic Matt (Matt Kepnes)
But what is it, exactly, that makes a successful travel blog, and how do you make money from travel blogging? I was asked to give a workshop on this topic for The Writers’ Community of Durham Region, near my hometown in Toronto, so I thought about it, reached out to the travel blogging community and read a lot of blog posts and articles. I’ve summarized the results here, and below there are loads of good how-to resources and inspiring travel blogs to peruse. But, first …
First, define what success is to you
I cannot stress enough the importance of defining your goals, objectives and what success means to you. Travel blogging is much, much harder than it looks and people who do it well, consistently, and over the long term deserve a lot of accolades.
There are as many types of travel blogs as there are travel bloggers. So, ask yourself what you want to achieve.
Here are some possible goals
- Become a well-paid celebrity blogger.
- Create a successful blog that allows you to travel for free.
- Build a platform/portfolio for your travel writing career.
- Establish yourself as a niche expert.
- Offer products and/or services via your blog.
- Inspire people, make an impact on people’s lives.
- Help people travel better.
- Promote responsible travel, ecotourism, voluntourism, sustainable travel and help make the world a better place.
- Seek and discover ways that travel broadens your horizons. Bring the world together a little.
- Improve your writing, photography, design, video and/or storytelling skills.
- Find yourself.
There is no “right way” to be a travel blogger, and there is no point in comparing yourself to someone else. You have to do it your way. So, be honest with yourself and make the decisions that will move you in the direction you want to go.
Second, read travel blogs and travel writers
Second, read a lot of travel blogs, and good travel writers (like my faves Don George and Amy Gigi Alexander), and find out what works. The best travel blogs are usually good at one or more of the following — and the more you get right, the better yours will be:
- Brand (consistency, clarity)
- Tips and advice
- Entrepreneurial spirit (good at making money)
- Visually appealing
Third, find your passion
Make sure your travel blog is built on a solid foundation of YOU. Passion is the secret ingredient to many of the most successful travel blogs, and passion is as unique as you are. Passion will not only make your storytelling better, it will be your fuel, and keep you going during the marathon of blog building. So find out what you love, whether it’s a place (like me and India) or a style of travel (eg solo) or whatever.
Do it with passion or not at all.
Fourth, develop a myriad of skills and create great content
It takes a myriad of skills to be a good blogger — mind-boggling, really — here are just a few:
- Writing, photography and / or video making skills.
- Sense of design, page layout.
- A fairly high level of technical aptitude is necessary for running a complex WordPress site, understanding the nuances of various social media platforms, and being able to track metrics and run reports.
- Ability to be a one-person media outlet and write headlines, decks, captions and subheads; plus copy edit and proof read your work.
- Marketing know-how, especially using social media and public relations.
- Ability to make a story out of a travel experience, and to tell stories on the fly, literally, as you are travelling (much harder than it looks).
- Taking selfies!
The whole point of developing these skills is essentially to enable you to create
good great content.
The key to a successful travel blog is to put your audience first. – Dave and Deb, The Planet D
You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? Great content is the tortoise. Yes, it’s a slower build than trying to razzle-dazzle with viral videos or uber-clever social media posts or SEO driven pap. Great content will get you more shares, better SEO, an engaged and loyal audience and respect. In the end, great content — like the tortoise — wins.
Fifth, become part of community
There are lots of travel blogging communities online and offline. I am an active member of the TBEX community, Travel Massive, the Professional Travel Bloggers Association, Travel Blog Success, a Canadian group, and several Facebook forums for travel bloggers (including a couple specifically for travel bloggers in India). Here I will highlight four faves.
1. Superstar Blogging
I was a long-time member of Travel Blog Success, which was merged into Superstar Blogging, a course, community, and resource developed by Nomadic Matt Kepnes.
Superstar Blogging is a multifaceted school that can teach you all aspects of running an online travel website. They have courses on travel writing, photography, videography, and most importantly, the business of actually running a business. Whether you want to turn your hobby into something more or find a way to move your career forward 10 steps, Superstar Blogging courses will give you that insider’s depth of knowledge you need.
Featuring industry experts, renowned writers, photographers, marketers, and YouTubers, the programs offer knowledge from some very successful and talented people.
2. Travel Massive
After I returned from TBEX New York, in the summer of 2010, I held a travel tweetup on a King Street patio in Toronto. One of the people who showed up, Alicia Taggio, had just returned from a Travel Tribe meetup in Sydney, Australia. While I was introducing her, we looked at each other and at the exact same time said: “We should start a Travel Tribe in Toronto!” And so we did, and the rest is history.
Toronto became the first chapter of what is now Travel Massive, a global initiative to connect people working in digital travel. There are now about 80 Travel Massive chapters around the world. Travel Massive is great for networking with other travel bloggers and also with people who are looking to partner with travel bloggers — people who work at travel companies, brands, start-ups, etc. I know there have been lots of deals struck and many friendships made within the Toronto Travel Massive community, that’s for sure!
So when you travel, check out the Travel Massive site to find out if there’s a chapter in your destination city. (P.S. I went on to found Delhi Travel Massive, too.)
3. Professional Travel Bloggers Association
The Professional Travel Bloggers Association was formed to help legitimatize travel blogging. I believe in it because I think there is a need to separate the travel bloggers who are (or want to be) operating at a professional level from hobby bloggers.
The travel industry wants to work with good, effective, and successful bloggers, and they need to be able to identify the professionals. Benefits of joining include being listed on the website and partaking in events like the excellent TBC Asia conference in Sri Lanka, one of the best press trips and conferences I’ve ever been to. It’s also great to be part of this community, and rub shoulders with the best in the business. You can’t help but learn.
The TBEX Conferences are probably the best travel blogger conferences in the world (there are three each year: one in Europe, one in North America and one in Asia). They’re a great place to learn and network.
There are other travel conferences (like WTM and ITB), and other travel blogger events (like Traverse, TBC Asia and the Social Travel Summit). If you get involved in the community, you will learn about all of these and more.
Sixth, market your blog and build your audience
Marketing your blog and building your community are ALMOST as important as creating
good great content.
Content is king, but marketing is queen, and runs the household. Gary Vaynerchuk
This is a huge topic. There are virtually limitless ways of marketing your blog, as vast as your imagination and ingenuity.
Using social media effectively is a great start. Platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Periscope, Google+ are ideal for connecting with like-minded people, sharing and discovering great content, building rapport with your readers and keeping on top of happenings that interest you, and that are part of your niche. Travel blogger Legal Nomads has an excellent guide to social media on her site and Young Adventuress shares her thoughts on social media here.
Guest blogging is another good way of marketing your blog, especially if you blog on a really popular site with lots of traffic; and commenting on popular blogs is good for gaining back links and building relationships.
Knowing *enough* about SEO can help (but this one is tricky as Google is always moving the goal posts … and not telling anyone where they are). Write for humans, not search engines, but do keep common and popular key words in your headings, subheads and first few paragraphs. Read SEO for Idiots for a quick overview and make sure you sign you sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and install Google Analytics on your blog to track traffic.
Seventh, learn about monetization options
Virtually every blogger has their own unique mix of income sources, based on their strengths, interests, numbers (how many readers and followers) and niche. These are some of the more common income options. Direct means the income comes directly from the blog; indirect means the blog is a springboard or platform for other activities and income sources.
- Paid blogger campaigns
- Paid press trips
- Selling links
- Online shop
- Affiliate sales e.g. Amazon
- Donate button
- Product and hotel reviews
- Brand Ambassador
- Ad networks eg Google Adsense
- Freelance writing
- Selling skills such as content marketing, social media consulting, video making, graphic design
- Content creation for brands
- Selling photographs to brands
- Hosting tweetchats
- Teaching, mentoring, coaching
- Leading tours
- Selling travel
This a brief overview of what it takes to be a successful travel blogger. There’s a lot to learn, it requires a lot of hard work, and you have to constantly adapt and change. I haven’t even mentioned some of the many soft skills like packing and handling the rigours of travel (eg airports, jet lag, delays, etc).
My bread and butter are my readers. I will never jeopardize the trust they have placed in me. – Gary Arndt, Everything-Everywhere
Most of all, I think it takes honesty. Being honest with yourself about who you are, what you have to offer and what you want to achieve; and being honest with your readers. Though I mostly write about travel, I regularly write about the challenges of my own journey facing loss, depression, financial difficulties and a nagging lack of self-confidence, plus my personal spiritual path. And I hope to do more of this.
Good luck, dream big, and go out and see your world!
Resources, Links, Blogs
1. Blogging tips
Problogger: Build a better blog
The Planet D: So you want to be a travel blogger?
The Planet D: From trailer park to travel blog, our path to success
Nomadic Matt: Build your own travel blog
Copy Blogger: 7 Potent tips for creating a travel blog unlike the rest
Hecktic Travels: How we do it
Finding the Universe: How to become a professional travel blogger
A Dangerous Business: Travel Blogging 101 Course
Adventurous Kate: Reality of being a travel blogger
Alex in Wanderland: On blogging
Travel Blogger 101: 21-day course
VickyFlipFlops: Blogging category
Problogger: 60 ways to make money from your blog
Problogger: Advanced techniques for making money
The Planet D: Our journey from travel dream to professional bloggers
Xpat Matt: How to start a travel blog and make money
Y Travel Blog: How to make money travel blogging
Chris Guillebeau: The $100 start-up (and other books)
Expert Vagabond: This is how I get paid to travel the world
Expert Vagabond: 11 Secrets to becoming a professional travel blogger
Twenty-Something Travel: How I make money while travelling
Wandering Earl: How I can afford my life of constant travel
Young Adventuress: Make money travel blogging
Hippie in Heels: How I make money from travel blogging
JetSetCitizen: How to really make money as a travel blogger
The Savvy Backpacker: How to create a successful and profitable travel blog
Going Awesome Places / Travel Blog Breakthrough: Income Report
Just Oneway Ticket: How I can afford to travel and how I earn money from travel blogging
3. The rules
BlogHer: Rules for bloggers
4. Writing and storytelling
Fevered Mutterings: Free course on Storytelling for Bloggers
Tim Leffel: Travel Writing 2.0 Blog
5. Technical Help
If you’re like me, you need a webmaster — someone who can take care of the more technical aspects of running a WordPress blog. I can personally recommend both Chris Richardson of RTW Labs and Dave, Michael and the team at Travel Blog Success. They’re the best in the business, and they both offer a range of services to help you from feeling like this guy.
I pay a monthly fee to Chris Richardson of RTW Labs (my current webmaster) for a managed WordPress solution, which includes taking care of technical issues, updating, back-ups, speed auditing, security and more. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
6. Professional Associations
- The PTBA requires its blogger members to have being blogging for a minimum of nine months and to have had more than 3,000 page views in the last 30 days. The annual fee is $75 to join.
Society of American Travel Writers (SATW)
- 10,000 UVs per month (average) to join as a blogger
- Can amass enough points from blogging to join
7. Canadian Travel Bloggers
A list of Canadian travel bloggers, and how they make money here.
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