Starting a travel blog was my first online venture. It was called “Think Travel Lift Grow” and I grew it to over 100k monthly readers. At its peak, it made me over $2k/month in passive income and also got me opportunities that lead me to become the head of SEO at Foundr.
So, it may seem that right out of the bat I would seem like the typical person who’d have an article titled “how to start a travel blog and make money”. However, I never wrote that article because the truth is that I don’t think most people reading this should start a travel blog.
Why You Shouldn’t Start A Travel Blog To Make Money?
If you read most travel blogs and google shit like “how to make money travel blogging”, the easy step by step guide can make it sound that all you have to do to make money traveling is write about your adventures and you’ll make millions.
But the truth is that most people just don’t care about your adventures.
“So, you’ve been to Bali and explored the cliche areas and wrote an article about it” Well, guess what? No one cares.
There are 1000s of people who’ve written the exact same article and done the same things you have done. What’s so special about you?
Just join any Facebook group on travel blogging and you’ll see that they’re 1000s of articles that get shared daily that end up getting less than 100 readers in the lifetime of that article. They get lost into the void of the internet.
If we look at the most popular travel bloggers today the people at the top ie the NomadicMatt, ExpertVagabond, etc all of them have been around for nearly a decade and hence are successful mainly because they were here first (and also cause they’ve put in the work to grow)
However, in 2020 the competition is much fiercer, which means that if you start a general travel blog about general travel shit. No one’s going to follow you because it’s just too general.
They’re a few new general travel blog over the past few years that I’ve seen succeed. PracticalWanderlust.com is one of them. This blog was started only 2 years ago and currently makes over $10k/month.
But…to achieve that success the people behind that site works “12 hours a day minimum, haven’t had a weekend off in months, and vacations no longer exist because wherever I travel, I’m also working.” Now, as you can see not many people who want to start a travel blog would actually want to live that way right?
If you’re working that hard on writing about travel you just aren’t going to enjoy it. It’s a sweatshop, not a fun adventure as most travel bloggers make travel blogging sound.
Why do you have to work so hard to compete as a general travel blog?
Well, most of the popular travel articles are the “best things to do in XYZ city/country” “best places to visit in XYZ region”, etc basically cookie-cutter articles.
Also, the Travel space is filled with big companies like the piece of shit ie CultureTrip that writes articles like that WITHOUT even going to the places.
Ever wonder why your “top-rated” restaurant you visited sucked? Well, the reviewer probably never even went to the restaurant and just pushed out the article by reading a bunch of Google and TripAdvisor reviews.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Travel Blogging.
Is there any hope?
Well, this article until now may have been completely gloomy but here’s where I am optimistic.
While starting a general travel blog is terrible, targeting a super-specific niche isn’t.
To illustrate this example I’ll use a few businesses based around the travel niche (disclaimer: some of the owners of a few of my businesses are my friends.)
TheRemoteNomad: It’s a blog targeted towards remote workers and digital nomads. However, the money grabber ie. The retreat WiflyNomads that’s is targeted at a specific group “people with jobs/careers that want to go remote”.
TooManyAdapters: A blog that focuses on tech for travel.
Hobo With A Laptop: A blog run by a friend of mine that’s focused on educating people on becoming a digital nomad and launching online businesses.
GetMadData: A blog to help digital nomad who need a lot of data while traveling.
See the trend?
Most of you reading this would be like ‘some of those don’t really travel blogs’
Because travel blogging as a niche is dead. If you want to survive and make money with travel blogging you have to serve a very specific function and a specific audience or your writing will die in the oblivion of the internet.
“But Jeremy I just want to share my story, all this is way too intense”
Well, then just start a travel blog and keep it as a hobby and do it cause you enjoy it not because you hope to make money off it. Just because some blogger told you to make money off your blog doesn’t mean you have to make money from it.
For example, my girlfriend has a travel blog at Hogare.org (it’s in Swedish). She has no intentions of making money from it and she just runs it to share her stories with her friends and family.
If you want to start a blog just click here and follow my article on how to start a blog. (It’s simple and easy to follow with screenshots)
Having a travel blog like the above isn’t really an expensive hobby.
So the total cost of running a hobby blog can come down to only around $4-5 bucks a month! That’s crazy cheap.
If building travel blogs are so hard why do travel bloggers keep on telling you to start one?
Sadly the answer is the all to a simple answer: money.
Every time someone starts a blog following all the guides out there on how to start a travel blog the blogger earns a commission.
Now that’s are good, and not the problem at all. That’s how I earn most of my income. However, at least be honest with the fact that you aren’t saying that travel blogging is easy just to make money.
To make things worse almost every travel blogger recommends the all too famous “Bluehost” which is a company you should stay the hell away from.
Personally, I’ve worked with a ton of websites on every hosting provider and used a ton myself and Bluehost is one of the worst (there’s a huge rabbit hole you can dive into about how it’s part of a big conglomerate)
But why do bloggers still recommend them? Cause they pay bloggers more. For example, I recommend Siteground because I use it for many projects (#skininthegame) and if someone signs up for the SiteGround link above and starts a blog I earn $50. If I were recommending Bluehost I’d earn $65.
That being said, affiliates are not bad. It’s a great monetization strategy as you the reader doesn’t pay extra. #winwin
However, it’s not a win-win if a blogger lying about services they recommend and also act like travel blogging is easy just to make more money.
In the travel blogging space, it’s easy for it to start to seem that if it’s not working for you then you’re the problem! Also then they can sell you on courses on top of courses.
“Oh you took my blogging course but now you can’t get people to your site! Here buy my $199 Pinterest course that will show you how I got lucky with Pinterest 2 years ago”
Fuck that shit!
How to Make Money Travel Blogging
There are two different paths you can take once you’re started a travel blog to make money.
Build it to sell or build it for the cash flow
Why is this important?
Well, if you start a travel blog that’s based around you and your personality as my first travel blog was, you will NEVER be able to sell it as you are the product.
Going back to my example before of TooManyadapters and GetMadData. Both of those blogs are focused around tech and travel however GetMadData is in the sub-niche of travel tech data making them a great buy for TooManyadapters if they grow to corner the market.
Similarly starting city brand sites are a great idea. The TexasMonthly.com site was recently sold for $25 million. Similarly, you can easily build a niche site for particular cities and corner that market.
For example, I’d thought of making a niche site for the city of Istanbul but never got around to it (so feel free to steal this idea).
I would basically go around and find the easiest topics that I could corner eg. “how to go from the airport to the city center”, “best kebabs in Istanbul” etc. Also, it’s easy to cross-promote, and do things like work with local Airbnb hosts and recommend their Airbnb’s for the cut, etc.
Being a super niche in a city in that way can cause you to easily beat the CultureTrips and the vague travel blogs that just don’t have as much on-ground information as you.
Do a Google search of “*Your city/region name* things to do” if you find that all the articles are shit, then that’s a great opportunity for you right there.
On the other hand, if your blog is something like this one ie Jeremynoronha.com your focus is on the cash flow and usually selling isn’t an option.
In 99+% of cases, I would always recommend you sticking to a brand name.
Have a particular angle
Unless you plan on working and toiling for hours at hopes of success, you will need to have something special.
How do you get there? Pretty simple. Follow this rule.
Pick a topic, change that topic until you are in the top 5% on that topic.
For “built to sell” once of the best skills would be that you have better data and information than the CultureTrips of the world cause you actually live in the city and not in your ivory tower writing bullshit.
For personal brands, my advice is always to do something different.
If you want people to talk about? Do something worth talking about.
3 years ago when I started my blog I got featured in newspapers and got a lot of interviews on a lot of guest posts because of the fact that I was an “18-year-old college dropout who makes money traveling”
In the category of “18-year-old college dropout who makes money traveling” Or even the category of an “Indian digital nomad” I was instantly in the top 1%.
Similarly, just be different. They’re so many opportunities out there to just break free from the status quo.
For example, if I google “Indian digital nomad” right now there’s not really a personal brand that I can point to as the person I could follow for my “Indian digital nomad inspiration”, there’s no one making YouTube videos or having an active Instagram. eg. Videos like “how do Georgians feel about Indians” etc
I could’ve been that guy but I’m lazy (and don’t like YouTube/social media) and felt it wasn’t worth it but it’s something someone in India could easily brand themselves as and get a large audience.
Pick something you want to be known as then get good at that something until you are worth knowing.
Master one medium
One is the worst advice given to most bloggers is that they have to do everything. They have to spend hours writings, then spend time interacting with social media then also do outreach, etc.
That’s a pile of garbage. Most successful businesses I know and have worked with mastered and got really good at one single medium before there moved onto something else.
You’ve got SEO, Instagram, Facebook groups, Pinterest, forums, communities. Pick one as your core competency and work mainly on that for a couple of months.
For exposure to black swans use the 80/20 principle. Spend 80% of your resources (time) on your core competency and 20% on the rest.
After a couple of months (min 6) based on the results switch or double down.
Personally, I focused on Facebook groups + forums like Quora, then to SEO and now technical SEO where I really found the strides that lead me into becoming the head of SEO at Foundr Magazine.
Here’re a few basic resources to get started with each one. Based on responses to this article I may write my own guides.
SEO: How to Learn SEO in 2020 (NEW Guide) – Backlinko
Pinterest: How to Achieve Explosive Growth on Pinterest – Buffer
Instagram: How to Get More Followers on Instagram (A Step-by-Step Guide) – Foundr
So there you have it, I hope by now I’d helped you find a better path towards making money with a travel business vs the “just share your story and people will come” bullshit that most travel bloggers push down your throat.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!