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How Lucrative is Travel Blogging?

I have previously covered whether you should start your own travel blog. In the post, I pointed out some of the challenges involved in blogging and addressed some misconceptions. Let’s be bold for a second and admit that the reason most people get into travel blogging (especially points and miles) is because it is seen as a lucrative niche. Not only can you get sponsored trips and other free stuff, but if you play it right, you can even generate income from it.

Get this travel blogging thing right and this could be your office

Get this travel blogging thing right and this could be your office

There is a whole new breed of bloggers who are advocating quitting your “9-5 corporate job” and going out to travel. That sounds terribly romantic, and who doesn’t want to travel all the time and live a life free of material goods? A lot of folks apparently. There are some “lifestyle bloggers” who pull this off nicely and there are others who don’t.

I love this quote, which I think sums up why so many folks try their hand at travel blogging as a means of earning a living: “Make work play and you’ll be playing all your life.”  Unfortunately, travel blogging isn’t nearly as lucrative as some would imagine. You can still make a living as a blogger, but it takes a lot of effort and commitment.

Here are a few ways travel bloggers monetize their blogs, and roughly how much they can earn:

1. Ads. See those nifty columns on this page serving up ads catered especially to your tastes? They earn me roughly $5 per 1,000 impressions. There are folks who make WAY less than this and others who make much, much more. I’ll tell you, what I make from adsense barely covers my daily Starbucks habit, let alone any extravagant (or not so extravagant) vacations I might want to take in the future.

Some folks sell their ad space and make significantly more that way. I’m not savvy enough yet to go this route, plus I haven’t done the proper research to get this done. For now, I’m content getting a free cup of coffee and hosting out of this gig.

You’ll hear a lot of bloggers talk about hosting costs, which are really miniscule. Godaddy, for example, offers you a free domain (which costs about $13/year) when you sign up for hosting, which is just $3.99 per month. So, for around $50 per year, you’ve got a domain name and hosting covered. It really doesn’t cost anything to build a nice looking blog on WordPress, so ignore the chatter from bloggers asking readers to “help out” so they can cover their hosting expenses. If you want to fancy it up a bit, hire an artist on Fiverr for a cute graphic you can drop on the top of the page.

2. Affiliate Revenue. Of course there are the ubiquitous credit card affiliate links. If you’re in cahoots with one of the big banks, you can make a nice chunk of cash on this. It shouldn’t surprise you one bit if your favorite bloggers make six figures or more going this route. When I was part of Chase’s affiliate program (on a trial basis) late last year, I earned the equivalent of two weeks salary in a month, without writing a single post about credit cards. Since then, I’ve been part of Barclay’s program, though I don’t find it worthy to point out the virtues of the NFL card, so I’ve made just $89 off that program. My links are in the credit card tab, so if you want to use them (warning: there are better unofficial offers), that is where I hide them. 😉

I don’t anticipate that I’ll hit the jackpot with credit cards, which is fine with me. I’ve got a great job that let’s me read and write about travel all day long (which is something I used to do for fun). I’m grateful that I can make a living this way and truly have the best of both worlds.

Affiliate income isn’t restricted to credit cards: Some bloggers have affiliate links from popular retailers, earning them either a flat fee or percentage based on sales. If you have a large and loyal audience, you may do well in this category.

3. Free Stuff. The only time I’ve accepted anything free was from LoungeBuddy. They wanted my feedback about their app, which I was happy to give. Afterwards, they offered free download codes to readers, which I was happy to provide. I’ve gotten lots of offers for free app downloads from developers, but have turned them down either because it was unrelated to the blog or wasn’t something I thought readers would find useful.

Some bloggers get free products in exchange for reviews on their blogs. They get free vacations (which was a hot topic on Twitter recently), they get paid to endorse products or run giveaways; some get paid to make videos endorsing a destination, hotel, activity – you name it. For some, this supports their lifestyle while for others it only saves them from having to pay for this stuff out of pocket.

4. E-books/Guides. Chris Guillebeau has mastered this. In addition to his blog (which he runs ad-free), he sells guidebooks that cover everything from travel hacking to  starting your own business. He does well for himself and though he could earn more from the platform he’s built, he once revealed he earns just $75,000 per year from his blog. This sounds like a great living to some of us, but considering the huge platform he’s built, that number would be much higher if he sold ad space and threw in affiliate links.

Many other bloggers sell travel guides. While it’s possible to earn a nice income with guidebooks, I can’t imagine most bloggers will. Especially when the majority of travel information is free on the internet. It can certainly be done if you brand yourself correctly and build a large enough platform.

Some folks also land book deals or self-publish books. I imagine either can be lucrative with the right PR strategy.

5. Consulting Services. A popular way to generate income from a travel site is to run a consulting business. In the points and miles community, award booking services are a popular route. For about $100-$150 per person, bloggers will take the stress out of the award booking process for you.

I personally have tried to avoid customer-service related jobs since my stint working as a Macy’s sales associate in high school. So there won’t be a PointChaser award booking service any time soon. There goes another income stream…

Some bloggers kick it up a notch and offer themselves up as consultants. This can mean paid gigs at speaking engagements or to companies looking for expert advice. The more influential you are perceived and the bigger your platform (the two go hand in hand), the bigger your payday will be in this category. Most average travel bloggers will be lucky if they see any income from this source, as there are plenty of folks willing to do this just for the networking opportunities alone.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to generate income as a blogger. However, how much you earn from each source really depends on your platform and reach/influence. If you’re passionate about your niche and really want to make a living from it, you certainly can. However, focus on your content first and success will follow. If you monetize too soon, you may not see the profits you’re looking for and jeopardize future earnings.

I began blogging in September 2012.  I focused on producing good content and somebody liked it so much they offered me a job managing travel blogs just a few months later. It’s not the mainstream way to earn a living off your blog, but I’m doing it nonetheless.

My advice to those wanting to make a living is take your time, write great content, and the rest will follow. And have a back-up plan in case your blog doesn’t do as well as you thought it would. That terrible corporate job will start looking mighty fun when the bills come in and your bank account balance displays a single zero.

Are you a travel blogger? How do you earn a living from your blog, and is it your only source of income?

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Ariana Arghandewal

31 Comments

  1. I would add one thing to the above. There is 1 real scenario where hosting costs do add up. That’s sites like First2Board, Upgrd and Boarding Area. When you host a multi-site wordpress solution it is a hog of space and memory. When you have 17-25 bloggers posting with 5-7 images per post (and not shrinking the file size) you’re talking about a much bigger hosting solution than a self-hosted site.

    When F2B was using Go Daddy, we crashed a lot. We moved to a much better hosting provide who knows how to work with multi-site wordpress solutions (much like when Boarding Area migrated) and that costs hundreds of dollars a month. Not a hundred dollars a year.

    I agree w/your post, great stuff.

    • Absolutely. But most bloggers who are hosting a single site should get by on $50/year in hosting costs. I actually use Godaddy and have no issues, but I can imagine with a blog that size it’s tough to sustain.

  2. To follow up on Stacey’s comment, even as a single blogger you will have increased costs and growth pains should you have a popular blog. A small site with just a few (hundreds to thousands of) visitors per day can live on $3.99 hosting, but the top sites are probably paying a good bit to keep their site up. Those that are getting on TV and quoted in articles likely have more professional hosting. Once you start dealing with word press and high volume traffic it does become a pain if you are trying to do it yourself. Obviously if you are on one of the larger shared platforms like First2Board or Boarding Area someone else is helping get around those problems (that costs money, but I don’t know how the platforms cover those costs).

    • Iolaire, if your audience grows that much that you need professional hosting and you’re being featured on tv, you can probably afford it. But a start-up blog w/ a small audience can get by on $3.99 per month. All in all, the cost of hosting correlates to audience growth and profitability, so it shouldn’t be a huge expense for most blogs, unless it’s a platform like F2B or BA.

  3. Well written blog post! I think one of the biggest misconceptions to writing a travel blog is the idea that if I start writing, I’ll start making money immediately – despite the fact that I have no credibility in the marketplace, no developed audience, or no direction in my blog. So far, I’ve already invested +/- $75 in my blogging experiment, and don’t intend to see a ROI anytime soon. Mostly because I’ve accepted the fact that this blog is just as much for me as it is for anything else, and that as long as I keep my quality of writing up, everything else may or may not fall into place. Thanks for this very introspective and honest view of travel writing!

    • Thanks Joe! Glad you enjoyed the post. Your approach is dead on. Keep focusing on your writing and that is ultimately what will open up opportunities and expand your audience.

  4. I may save my comments for TBB…if I get around to it.

    I wish you had stayed here and gave it more time and did not choose to go to FTG. It’s all about credibility. Or is it about da money? 🙂

    Need to go score some goals tonight, see ya!

    • Thanks for commenting, George. I’m now editing both FTG and the FlyerTalk blogs. That is a huge deal for me, as I’ve admired both sites and also saw room for improvement. My new role allows me to implement these changes. Now that I have my daily work load under control, it gives me much more time to work on PC. This blog is something I do for fun (as you read in the post, I don’t earn much from it), and something I will continue to do regardless of the financial outcome. I’m really in a win-win situation and have the best of both worlds.

      • Just what “value added” do you provide that a zillion other blogs don’t do better? Answer = none.

        • Thank for commenting, Paul. This is a creative outlet for me, as I enjoy writing and telling stories. The fact that people are reading it is a mere bonus. What value does it add? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my readers. The fact that people continue reading seems to indicate they do get some value out of it.

  5. This is a great post, and I’m thinking about writing one of my own to piggy-back on this topic. It’s been a while since I wrote something like this!

  6. Great post. Travel blogging or blogging in general is not too different from a tech startup, which everyone has been going nuts over since Facebook. Many are drawn in by the success stories and ignore the statistics. Like you said, in the end, blog about something you enjoy and pick a niche that you can be considered an expert in. From there, if you offer something people find useful (much like a tech startup), you will attract readers.

    • Great analogy! Many startups fail, others thrive and become Google. How far you get depends on how committed you are to it.

  7. I’m a little late to the game in responding here. Monetizing a blog is an interesting dilemma for me. Haven’t made an attempt to do it yet, but I feel that it is possible to make money and not sell your soul in the process. The key is to remember why you wanted to do it in the first place and stick to the items you know. For me, it’s all about getting to dream destinations without spending a lot of money to get there. If I can inspire others, fulfill my dreams and make some money off of it, then that is what I consider success. I agree that it’s likely not something to quit your day over in the short term.

    • Feedback is always welcome, Jeff! It can be a tough balancing act, unless your original intent was solely to make money. 😉

      The cc affiliate game is the most lucrative option and you can definitely make a full time living from it. Except, it’s tough to get approved with the major banks these days. You should chat with Rick some time. He’s got alot of great insight about this stuff.

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