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A few years ago there was heaps of noise around travel blogging and much heated debate amongst travel writers about these new kids on the block threatening their income and existence. I got pretty bored of those arguments as I'm sure many others did too.

Further down the line I wanted to come back to the topic – with older (and wiser?) eyes.

In particular after reading this post by Emily Luxton on whether it's possible to build a career from travel blogging - rather than just use it as a way to fund an extended period of travelling in low cost countries.

With very low barriers to entry, there's an ever-growing pool of young people (and it is mainly people in their 20s) setting up shop. It's been interesting to see events for bloggers like TBU and TBEX continue to pull in the punters. (Perhaps with less success that in the past though?)

So is it a viable career option?

Tourist boards in particular are paying travel bloggers to work for them. Sponsored campaigns for the likes of Visit South Africa, Visit Scotland and Visit Wales (who I've commissioned bloggers to work with myself) and many others have started to offer a genuine source of income for some better quality travel bloggers.

Other revenue streams look suspect to me. The SEO-industry was all over bloggers for a while effectively buying links with sponsored posts that weren't really about the content produced but were more about the link that they included back to a client's website. Google has stamped down hard on this practice. Gullible blog owners might still be welcoming SEO agency cash in return for posts, but they risk getting penalised. I imagine a lot of bloggers saw what looked like a promising revenue source dry up in the space of 6 months. They thought they were making it… but actually, they weren't. Banner ads look highly unlikely to provide serious income too – particularly with the way the market is moving towards targeting users wherever they are reading rather than working with specific publishers. I think the advertising bucks will become increasingly polarised around a few mega websites that are run by massively powerful organisations – like Mailonline for example. No way a blogger can compete with that.

Meantimes the pool of bloggers keeps growing. Emily's post suggests that the way to stand out from the crowd is to post heaps and heaps of content, work like crazy to build social following, do guest posts to build links back to your own blog. But wow, that must be hard. (Some of he people she quotes in her piece are working 70 hours a week on occasions.) And it must be really difficult to keep an eye on the quality of what you write if you constantly feel pressure to post something new.

I think the first mover advantage has come and gone now. A few high profile bloggers got in early and got established. Google likes their longevity and they crop up high in search rankings. People like Keith at Velvet Escape, Nomadic Matt, Melvin from Travel dudes, Gary Arndt, Nellie Huang. For me, they've made it. These guys are seriously entrepreneurial – they don't just blog, they network and they look for other revenue models like offering travel advice, setting up blogger trips for tourist boards, consultancy. If travel blogging hadn't been there, they'd have probably started some other kind of business anyway.

What about the rest though? The marketplace will become even more crowded. It will get even harder to stand out and make income.

Choosing to be a full-time blogger (in travel or any other category) is also choosing to be self-employed. This is something that's both liberating, but also restricting. A few people have successfully made a name for themselves as travel bloggers and then been hired by tour operators as digital content/social media specialiasts. But I reckon there'll be heaps of higher education courses in social media and digital content on offer soon (if not already) and people who have these ticks on their CVs are more likely to get hired than someone who has spent say 5 years travel blogging.

So here's my question. If you get to say 30 and you've realised you're only ever going to scrape a pretty modest income from travel blogging. Maybe you're thinking about getting married, buying house or whatever… what do you do? What's the exit plan?

29 thoughts on “Daddy – did you used to be a travel blogger?

  1. Is it possible to have a career at a travel blogger? Yes, in the same way that it is possible to make a career as a football player.

    Sports, music and acting are great analogies. There are tens of thousands of people who play sports, music and act at an amaetur level. There is nothing wrong with that, but only a small percentage of people manage to get to a level where they can turn it into a career.

    Of those people, most aren't getting rich. They aren't the Lionel Messi's or Brad Pitt's. They might make a solid income for a few years, and then they have to go back to regular job.

    This isn't that much different from travel writing, which was never really a lucrative profession. Those who chose to pursue it could eek out a living, but only the really entrepreneurial ones (Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, Tony Wheeler) could really get rich from it.

  2. Jeremy - why do you insist on trampling on all our dreams? There's good money to be made for some in peddling the myth that you can make a good living from your travel blog ( and let me show you how) . You are right in your analysis. If you want to make money from blogging you have to treat it like any job and do all the hard graft and boring bits as well as the fun. After a while you wonder whether there are easier ways to make a living that enable you to have nice holidays and remember why it was you enjoyed travelling in the first place.

  3. As one of the fewer, longtime since I saw my twenties, bloggers I feel lucky to be in the position that I've paid off my mortgage and don't have any children to support. I may work long hours but its work that I love.I may never be rich but my life has never been so interesting.

  4. Pretty much what Gary said.

    The "travel blogging industry" reminds me quite a bit of Amway. Close to zero barrier to entry and some of those that got in early -- and performed (by whatever measurement suits) -- have done reasonably well. Some who were late to the party, less so.

    I heard a comment a couple of years ago where someone in the industry said (paraphrasing here) "they didn't believe it was possible to make a living as a travel blogger, but it was quite possible to make a living out of travel bloggers who were trying to make a living as a travel blogger." In many cases that appears to have been borne out to be true -- there's still plenty of courses offering to "hit paydirt as a travel blogger" and there are the grand conferences and so on, plus plenty of swag. All this has probably helped to create the mirage of travel blogging being an easy ticket.

    Yet when I see some story about "top travel bloggers" most of the time it is the usual suspects -- the early starters and particularly those who are the more entrepreneurial focused. Where is the new blood?

    There was a good story yesterday in Mumbrella (an Australian media-commentary site) that talked about a desire to see more hard figures on ROI to come out of this segment.
    http://mumbrella.com.au/brands-set-shift-impact-blog-marketing-engagement-bottom-line-sales-262215

    That then spurned a convo on Twitter, from which I'll pull one quote - from Phil Lees who used to work with Tourism Victoria. In the context of talking about Tourism Victoria working with bloggers, he said:

    "In travel, I can confidently say the ROI is either zero or so marginal that any other marketing is better."

    https://twitter.com/phil_lees/status/532726282078142465

    Only when that sort of perception is addressed will travel blogging become a more viable opportunity for those just coming on stream.

    Lastly, re the post on BNA, starting a business is hard. Keeping it running is harder. Making is successful is harder still. It should be that way.

  5. I'm interested in what's going to happen next in travel media. We're at a point where many of the big, old-school media brands have died off or are in the hands of the digitally savvy. And we have success stories like Stuart, Gary, etc., who have figured out a way to create new models of publishing. I think most of the crap/noise will either move back in with their parents or figure out a way to create content that people (other than fellow bloggers) want to read.

  6. When I jumped into travel writing and blogging full-time, I knew that I would have to diversify (or in other words, look for other revenue models). For me that meant writing for traditional print, web, researching & guide writing, social media consultancy for travel companies/hospitality, offering one-on-one travel advice, etc.

    But time and time again, when people ask me "How do I become a travel writer?" my question back is "Do you write?" and often the answer was "Well…not really."

    So is it viable career option? You might not get rich from it but you certainly won't get noticed or go far if the writing is poor and you lack integrity in hustling for gigs. Both stink and readers can smell it. Take the writing and photography seriously, strive to produce quality work and content, and build from there.

  7. In 10 years I've seen many travel bloggers come, rise to social fame and then disappear or at least fade to grey as the raw reality of needing a regular job take hold.

    There are plenty who live off savings, parents, spouses and full time jobs that run travel blogs.

    There are also a few who write like they are making money but will never actually give you hard figures. I don't see these success stories, but I do see them in other genres.

    Stuarts point about a group of people who make money from travel bloggers in exchange for showing them the "magic pill" of making it by travel blogging should be reread a few times over by anyone thinking about it.

    Once you've swallowed that, then relate it to other genres where you see this happening. "Make $2,500 a day working from home!" ads remind me so much of this. And yes, people still click and sign up.

    There was a recent tweet from WTM about travel bloggers having a reach of 10,000,0000. So many people asked for the hard data behind this. Nothing substantial was given. This says a lot about the industry of travel blogging.

    Today it's good to see travel companies question their ROI on travel bloggers. Social reach is great but anyone can create a bot network or spend some cash on some fake traffic.

    This bubble is bursting and with it I hope there will be less generic digital ink on the internet.

    Then, hopefully we'll see some innovation.

    1. I'd be more convinced that there were people making a good living from travel blogging if there were more bloggers who had the conventional metrics of success: eg, stepping up from hostels to, let's say, guesthouses, or flashpacker spots, owning home bases, etc.

  8. In a recent chat on Outbounding (started by Dave @TLWH) a few people noted the growth of a new class of travel bloggers emerging in populous Asian countries, who are all blogging in English. I think that alone should be pause for thought for anyone who sees being a B-list or below travel blogger a viable career move.

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. Makes me want to post more often here than I do these days. Really appreciate it.

    I agree with all of this. My motivation for writing the piece was I guess to trample on dreams a little (sorry Heather) but also to pose a question that doesn't get posed enough. To wave a warning flag maybe.

    Why? Well this situation isn't dissimilar to my own one. I made enough to get by for a decade or more as a freelance travel writer (as a single guy with a spare room I could rent out). I had a great time and did some amazing stuff. I'm sure I could have worked harder, but one way or another I had to take a long hard look at things eventually and make a choice - as the pay wasn't getting any better. (I now work part time for a digital marketing agency - I do still freelance a bit.)
    I wrote for national newspapers, I wrote guidebooks for a major publishing house, I presented for mainstream TV. I think I tried it all. I failed to make more than about £20,000 a year.

    I know some travel writers who are prolific and I know they do much better. But they work damn hard. It's a job, not a lifestyle. And they're a tiny number of people. 20? 50?

    I think travelblogging is worse. Anyone can have a go. At least with freelance writing you work out pretty quick if you can do it at all - you either get commissioned... or you don't. The revenue streams are totally vague too - at least with freelance writing there's a fee you know you will get paid. And, people are out there pushing the dream like that. (These are the guys making the money, of that I'm pretty sure.)

    The internet is full of people pushing unrealistic dreams. It is in fact a dream factory. People like to pretend it the web reset everything, that it introduced a whole new world of amazing possibilities with revenue streams attached. Not true. Utter crap.

    The truth is that most of the old immutable laws remain. Regardless of what people with their own agendas to push will say. (I'm thinking of Silicon Valley in particular)

    To be a successful entrepreneur (and that's what a travel blogger is) you need huge drive and ambition, genuine writing talent, real business skill, technical talent and you need to be happy to live a quite unusual lifestyle that's not all that compatible with the rest of society.

    1. I'm not sure you do need genuine writing talent to cut it as a blogger. What you do need, which many of a certain generation don't have, is the ambition and the will to lovingly chronicle your life on social media, to never be off camera, to be always-on and always-working.

      I'm working on a post in a similar vein - hell, I may even write one tonight! Deadlines, schmeadlines! - but the bit's that not compatible with the rest of society is not the constant travel to me.

      It's the constant sharing. It's not eating a meal or drinking a drink without photographing it first; it's being always on in a way that travel writers, old school, aren't, and foregrounding yourself in a way that many people aren't comfortable with.

      For me, quite often, I'm like "Ooh, that'd be a fab photo. Shall I stop the bike/move 200m down the beach/get the camera out and lie down on my tummy?" And the answer is generally, "Nah, fuck it." Ditto with photographing food. I'd rather eat it, while it's hot and yummy and in front of me, than fuck around photographing it from nice angles so it looks good while it gets cold.

      I think travel bloggers have even less work-life balance than other types of freelancers, because of the need to post consistently and often to social media. But I'd love to hear thoughts from the big guys.

      1. Great comment. Very thought provoking. Thank you.
        - When I refered to 'unusual lifestyle' I wasn't thinking specifically about the constant travel - though that's certainly a part of it. More just the fact that seriously successful enterpreneurs (whatever they do) often have patchy success at relationships/'normal' life. I've interviewed a good number for a recent project. Most put so much of their energy into the business there was none left for kids or spouses with inevitable consequences.
        - Now, (more on-topic) - I can't speak as a 'big guy' of course... I'd love to hear what they think too... But from my perspective... I don't know that you 'have' to share everything actually. There's certainly a pressure to keep posting, tweeting 'feeding the beast' as I've heard it called to get somewhere (where exactly?) quicker.
        But - another 'immutable law'(?) - success does not come overnight -even if you blog, tweet and instagram all night long and don't sleep for a second of it. Lasting success builds bit by bit. You build a genuinely engaged audience by creating great stuff. Great stuff for a travel blogger comes from doing amazing trips and writing really insightful, interesting, useful stuff about your experiences. Writing compelling insightful stuff is only achievable if you give yourself space and time to observe, think, reflect. You resist the urge to tweet the crap out of every moment. And filter, sift, add context.
        Will that make you rich? Probably not.
        (Love your blog by the way. :-) )

      2. It frustrates me to no end when I am with people, and they spend 5 minutes framing their shot of food or a good view, for social media. Far too many people give a sh*t about what their social media friends & acquaintances think about them. The truly successful ones, who are genuine...don't care. And that's precisely why they succeed. They are experiencing the real world, and happen to have real stories to tell.

        I can tell for certain, nothing magical in life happens while staring at your computer screen. The world is better when experienced face to face, and it's our goal w/ Horizon to enable that to happen.

  10. I received an email with a link to this post inside - your headline really grabbed me Jeremy, so I decided to take a look.

    You do hold some valid points about the internet being a "dream factory" and that people will peddle these ideas to people who will then gobble them up and that it's not always peaches and cream like it's being presented.

    I would like to back up Gary however, sure you can have a high flying career as a travel writer, you can be the Mick Jagger of travel writing but yes, like in music this doesn't happen as often as people would like.

    I'm new on the travel blog scene and am just learning. I see this as an oportunity to stretch my entrepreneural wings and hopefully fly. If I cannot earn a living doing this then I will at least learn some new skills and have experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise. Perhaps I can apply myself more effectively in the future to other buisiness persuits.

    I know this is a tough biz, but if you take a look around all buisiness is tough. I expect that the people who're beleiving this will be an easy ride are not going to make it because they don't understand buisiness, not because this buisiness is tougher than other buisiness. There's not a whole lot we can do about these people, they will learn the hard way as everyone else has to.

  11. Hi Stacey
    Glad my title hooked you. ;-)
    Thanks for commenting. Have a look at some of the other stuff on here too which might be useful
    Like these posts:
    http://www.travelblather.com/2011/05/google-adsense-how-to-make-money-from-travel-content.html
    http://www.travelblather.com/2012/07/what-is-quality-travel-content.html

    As long as you see blogging as a way to learn a bunch of new skills that you could use in other career paths (WordPress, social media, selling etc etc) cool. That's cool. Just have other options in mind too. If you are serious about it though - I'd keep a dictionary handy. (see Pandora's comment above)

  12. If you can't take a decent happy shot of your kebab in five seconds phaps leave your phone in your pocket (or eat more photogenic food).

    I dunno how you are gauging "social media success" but personally i think the feelings and thoughts of others do matter. They matter a lot.

    1. Why does it matter so much? Sure, I care what my close friends and family think; those are people that actually know me. But why should I care what the whole world thinks?

      "What other people think of me is none of my business."

  13. What "they think of you" and "what their feelings and thoughts are" are two pretty different things, but sure, sometimes they can be related.

    Take, as an example, someone on Twitter who uses it as a broadcast medium rather than say to engage with people. if you're broadcasting you're not really taking into account the feelings and thoughts of your followers which may, in turn, affect what they think of you, and so perhaps not give an assist to what you're doing.

    It's a two way street, i'm not suggesting manicuring your online persona, as i think that can get pretty bodgy, but i'd say followers' feelings etc are very important.

    Anyway could say more but boarding & AirAsia dont wait!

  14. As Gary and others said, there is always people who rise to the top of any field. Any industry is a pyramid of success.

    But what I wonder is why there are never new people in travel? In any field, stars rise and fall as there is always the new "it" person. In travel blogging, there rarely, if ever, seems to be someone who just shoots right up there and is a success. It's always the first movers you hear about. After so many years, there should be someone who did something new that corners a niche right?

    I think that what makes travel blogging just awful sometimes is that people never treat it as a business or try to take it seriously as a career. They are always off chasing the next it money making scheme - links, sponsored posts, and now paid press trips. Few people ever sit down and think "What is my site about? What do I want to accomplish? How do I best do that?"

    Everyone says there is no money in travel blogging and they are right. But there is money in travel and too many bloggers seem to ignore the travel part of "travel blogging" they they continue to spin their wheels and then wonder why they aren't getting anywhere.

    Then they complain about how long it takes to work and how little money they make. I also agree that if you're 35 and still living off free press trips, you need to re-evaluate but for many, they want to believe the dream is right over the hill and since they sell the dream without the work they box themselves in.

    I recently spoke to the head of a big tourism board that has funded blogger trips. He's not at all impressed with the ROI of most bloggers, thinks this "10,000,000 impression" stuff is BS, and isn't that excited to pay a wage to bloggers on top of the free trip. His organization was pulling back a lot and only doing more limited partnerships with high level bloggers.

    If this guy is already rethinking it, it's going to happen en masse in 12-18 months I think.

    Travel blogging is an industry that rewards itself but never bothers to look at what makes long term success.

  15. Refreshing to hear this subject being discussed in these circles as it has been discussed in this light from travel industry side for a number of years now.

    I'd like to offer some thoughts from my perspective as someone running a travel brand:

    As a business we want customers to buy things and in turn we aim to blow those customers away with the value we offer for their purchase. If you want to work with us - work out where you fit into that process. Mere words at the top of the inspiration funnel are worth zero.

    If you going to pitch reach, know you are competing against Google and Trip Advisor for reach. Compare your numbers to theirs.

    If you are running a blog as a business, keep your business model top of mind. What are you selling and to whom. Work out what you genuinely love and would happily purchase with your own hard earned money and work towards selling that through your blog. Note - you are selling stuff. 95% of bloggers I've come across can't or won't sell. No sales, no business.

    In 5 years no blogger has ever come to me and asked what areas of our content strategy are we behind on executing? If you want to help a business and make an earn from it - knowing exactly what help is required would be a good starting point. I've never seen a blogger offer their time to come in to an office that houses 5 major travel brands and ask if they can spend some time to understand the culture of those businesses or sit on the phones and listen to our customers.

    Finally if I were starting out today my advice would be aside from the above, is to forgo the keyboard and go spend some time becoming a master with a video camera. If I were going to take a year out travelling and thinking of a blogging business as part of that, I would focus on video. Spend your time before going on the trip shooting, editing, watching music videos and recreating that vibe into travel imagery. Pick 5 brands you love and set yourself 3 or 4 days in your hometown to pull together enough footage to the edit and represent each of those brands in their style and befitting their audience. Be bold. Send off your results with you travel plans and see if there is something you can work out with a few of those brands. The pitch video needs to be brilliant and show you know and understand the brand values. If you don't know what they are - find out or simply ask them.

  16. Blogger since 1996 here. Yeah, that's right. Listen up, whippersnappers...

    As a person who loves great writing about travel, I hope the medium hangs on. I found something new to me and totally great the other day, and I was so delighted to find that look, people are still out there writing and self publishing great stories about travel. I LOVE that. LOVE IT.

    But I think there's a coming sea change. As analytics are demystified, PR, CVBs, DMOs can see that the presented ROI on blogger projects is snake oil. "We got eleventy billion impressions!" is more and more met from the with, "Yeah, swell, but we got four inbound clicks." "But the AWARENESS!" "Four. Inbound. Clicks."

    What this means -- I HOPE -- is that we'll see the end of the vanity blog that's designed solely as a home for marketing content from travel partners who can't read WebTrends or Google Analytics or MOZ or whatever the kids are using these days to see whether their investments are driving conversions. That's going to be interesting. And it's going to kill off a bunch of hopefuls much earlier than than it did a decade ago.

    Not that it matters to anyone, but my strategy was never to be a celebrity blogger, brand mouthpiece, platform for other peoples advertorial, the main channels for making money have always been unattractive to me. But my blog allowed me to find people who wanted to hire devoted writers and that worked really well for me. I don't need an exit strategy because "Be a travel blogger" was never my career plan.

  17. Interesting post. Coming from the travel seo side I think there is still room for agencies to work with travel bloggers and help them monetize their sites. Many of our clients are more interested on brand awareness and conversions, especially if they are startups, opposed to simply link building.

    1. Agree. Link building with bloggers is an increasingly challenging game. Most difficult to do without risk of potential penalty. A lot of bog standard bloggers who thought they were making a real income from this kind of stuff are running out of options now I think.

      1. I'm totally okay with that. I don't think anyone is adding any true value to the world by adding a few links to their site. People should start thinking about value creation, rather than the easiest way to get cash into their bank account.

  18. I think quality bloggers do have value to add (shock horror - Jeremy coming out in favour of bloggers!?).
    I agree with the comments Matt and Tony make about the BS around 'millions of impressions' totally. But I've worked with some great bloggers from travel and parenting sectors for one DMO I work with a lot. The crucial thing here is we set ourselves some targets and we chose audiences we wanted to influence. Only then did we decide what our strategy should be. We wanted to reach young families... Mum bloggers were the obvious choice for part of the campaign. Use the right tools to assess their value and you find there are *some*bloggers out there with genuine influence who can make a real impact. Then make sure you sign a contract with them that ensures you get what you want. As part of the marketer's toolbox, bloggers do have a role to play - but it's just one tool and you need to use several to create something of real impact and value.
    There's a huge supply of bloggers though... Choosing the right ones to work with is very important.

  19. Hi Jeremy! Thanks for an interesting follow up to my article. Although, in spite of your twitter baiting, I have to say we're mostly in agreement with each other.

    If you read my article right up to the conclusion I hope it comes across that the point I'm making is that, in general, you can't make a career just from travel blogging. What a lot of people are doing, especially the people I've interviewed as I was researching the post (and a couple of those are working full time in western countries and earning decent incomes) is using blogging as the basis which brings in various other incomes. For some it's proof reading or freelance writing, others sell their photos or act as consultants for other bloggers or businesses. They're all earning full time wages doing something which they only found and built through their success as travel bloggers. So, like I say in the article, the answer to the travel blogging career question is a complicated yes and no!

    You're entirely right that there is a huge pool of bloggers out there, which has caused the market to become convuluted, making it harder for a new blogger to get recognised and stand out. But I have to say, this is true for many careers, and that doesn't mean no one new is ever going to stand out. I can't believe that the industry has been sewn up by a select few and will stay that way forever.

    Just to comment on one of your points about me, though. You've said that my suggestion to stand out from the crowd is "to post heaps and heaps of content, work like crazy to build social following, do guest posts to build links back to your own blog". But that wasn't my point at all. I mentioned all that hard work (although, for someone wanting to become a writer I don't think that my suggestion of writing one post a day could be considered hard) - but I mentioned it only to 1) point out that this job is not the dream career so many 'Become a Travel Blogger and See the World' type posts and workshops promise it to be, and 2) initially, there is a lot of work involved to build a strong enough online presence in order to become considered recognisable, influential and therefore worth investing in. In the post, my recommendation was always about building a strong, successful brand - preferably something niche and marketable - as that's what advertisers will be hunting out. Perhaps I didn't spend enough time on this as it doesn't seem to have stood out to all readers. And foolishly, I neglected to mention that you also need to be a very talented writer (or photographer or videographer) as I thought that would be implied! So, no - working hard isn't the only way to stand out, you need to focus on a clear brand and also be very, very good at writing. You also need to love blogging as a hobby before you can even think about making it a career. Yes, there is a lot of hard work involved over the first year or two - but isn't that the same with any freelance career, or with starting your own business?

    But, like I said, we're mostly in agreement about this! No one is going to make a full time wage from travel blogging alone - or at least it's very unlikely and it's certainly not the get rich quick scheme that many travel bloggers seem to think it will be. But blogging is a good way to open doors into other things - for example I've recently been commissioned to write freelance articles which is something that would never have happened (unless I accepted the $3 per 500 words assignments on elance) before I started blogging. So travel blogging, for someone who is talented and savvy, adapts to the market changes quickly, and who is able to use their blog as a platform to seek out other opportunities, could well be a viable career option. It's not a dream career and it'll probably never make you rich, but I can't see how blogging and using that blog to launch additional online projects couldn't form a full time career for those who work hard enough to make it.

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