Ways to Monetize a Travel Blog Without Losing Your Mind and Soul
This is nothing more than a ramble, disguised as an interview to myself. I hope you like it.
How does a travel blog make money?
The honest answer is that a lot of the time it doesn't. Take it from someone who has regularly created content since 2014, attended travel conferences, and worked with travel brands. It's a long journey, full of optimizing content for mobile, finding the right plugins, and explaining to your friends that this really is a job.
Wait, a job? I thought you said travel blogs don't make money?
They don't. Not early on, anyway. Simply starting a travel blog and creating content will not put a dime in your pocket. In fact, it will almost certainly cost you money. Hosting your website, designing logos, fixing technical problems, advertising content - all of this adds up.
So millions of people start blogs... to lose money?
Welcome to the dark side, my friend. Muhahaha.... hahahaha ....HAHAHAHA!! Sorry. I get a bit excited when I burst people's bubbles about blogging. Don't be mistaken, if you want to make money from a travel blog, it's going to be a lot harder than you think. We travel bloggers are to blame for this: we share pictures of the beach, and tag it: "#TodaysOffice #WishYouWereHere #DigitalNomad". Then we act surprised when friends think our job is easy.
There's that word again, "job".
A successful travel blogger has a job, though definitely not in the traditional sense of a 9 - 5 job. As much as travel blogging is touted as an escape from the working grind, most business-minded bloggers work much more than 40 hours a week. Especially for the first couple of years.
Business-minded blogger, what's that?
That my friend, is the difference between a blog as a personal diary and a blog as a source of income. That's not a rip on personal storytelling. Personal posts can be powerful narratives, and my own blog focuses on them heavily. It is rather an acknowledgement that sharing travel posts that are only about your trip and what you did can be overly self-indulgent and offer little value to the readers.
Those blogs are the worst.
They're like grandma bringing out a photo album and showing pictures of a bridge game with her friends. You don't want to see grandma sitting across from chain-smoking Janice. You want to hear cool stories from the olden days. Everyone has interesting stories to tell, but sometimes we get confused about what your audience wants to hear.
That won't happen to me. I'll tell the best stories and lots of people will read them. But I'm still wondering, how will these stories make me money?
Well, they won't. They might make you a few dollars from Google Adsense, if you want your site advertising cab rides in Baltimore. But payouts are minuscule, and with the rise of pop-up blockers, I do not recommended this way of monetizing a new travel blog.
But my last post was really good and it sort of went viral! Where's my money?
Running your own travel blog isn't like writing for a travel website. You don't pay yourself per article. What you do, over time, is create an established blog that can be used as a way to monetize through other means. For example, my travel blog uses affiliate advertising.
Affiliate advertising is when you link to another site that is selling something, and if a purchase is made you get a small % for sending the traffic. Amazon Affiliates is a popular option for beginners. Note that affiliate networks will require your travel blog to be an established site with thousands of views monthly before considering your application.
What sort of affiliate ads do you use?
So I don't need good content, I need affiliate ads?
NO! You should try to create a site with a foundation of good content that provides value to readers. Once that's established, you can use affiliate links to send your readers to relevant products and services.
Most of all, a blog should never hide the fact that is uses affiliate links, and you should never promote products that you don't genuinely recommend. Don't ever try to trick your readers - you should be grateful they're on your site, not the other way around.
How else can I make money with a travel blog?
The same way any business makes money: by offering useful products or services. This year I created an Ebook called The Truth About Travel. It's my best advice for overcoming fears of solo travel, and it's a product. I also offer services, by selling my written and video content to travel brands and other clients.
Just remember, no one wants to buy a book or pay for a review or get a blog post from a travel blogger with nothing but a site full of affiliate ads. It all comes back to quality content.
This all sounds like a lot of work.
Almost sounds like a job, doesn't it?
Okay, okay, you got me. But at least you're doing what you love, right? To write and to travel, it must be a dream!
There are aspects of being a travel blogger that are very nice, and there's an excellent community of travel bloggers out there supporting each other down this crazy path. Just don't underestimate the work and the grit that will be needed.
Running a travel blog takes countless hours of work. It takes staring rejection in the face. It takes learning about a variety of skill sets that have nothing to do with travel or writing. That's right Hemingway, you're going to have to learn a thing or two about SEO and Google Analytics.
So is travel blogging worth it? You sound like you're trying to talk me out of it.
I recently made a video called Why Start a Travel Blog in 2016? If you don't want to watch, here's the short version: if you understand how competitive it will be, how much you will have to learn, and if you can stomach the fact that your travel blog could get negative comments (or worse - no comments!) then I say do it. But if you are coming into this with an idealized view, or if you don't really, really, really like writing about travel, then you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.
But what about all the money travel bloggers make off product placement? I follow this one travel blogger on instagram...
Does she have 800,000 followers? That's not a travel blogger, that's an instagram model who likes to use the #travel tag.
What's wrong with that? If I build a big audience I want to make money however I can.
There's nothing inherently wrong with advertising. I'd be a hypocrite if I said that there was. But the deeper you get into internet marketing, you start to see that it's a dirty game. There are fake weight-loss pills out there just looking for people with big audiences and blogs to promote their products on. Would you stand in a picture holding their product if they named the right price? How about a banner ad on top of your blog? Do you want your audience to buy something that you know deep down they don't need? These are the questions you need to be willing to ask yourself if you get big enough, with a travel blog, or anywhere on the internet.
Aww, man. I just want to write a travel blog, not sell out.
Me too, friend. Me too.
Want to learn more about starting a travel blog? You may find one of these videos useful: