I first published this blog post in 2014. Back then, I was so proud of how I’d built this site into a successful business.
Five years ago, I was pulling in around $2,000 a month from dubious means, happily working 90-hour weeks. Yes, from that data, you can calculate that I was rocking an hourly rate of $5.50.
But guess what?
Before I started travelling, that had been my hourly wage.
When I decided to take a gap year, I was still in college. I worked various retail jobs, earning £4.20 an hour, or $5.40 as I did so. Once, I scored an eight-week internship over my summer break, coding particle accelerator simulators in Python and making around £3 an hour. I squeezed in my retail jobs at the weekend and worked 60 days without a day off, earning very little.
But to me, I felt like I had so much money for travel. I was working my ass off in order to see the world for as long as possible, so I didn’t care how little I was making for so much work. I just wanted to travel for a year.
I’ve never had a full-time job; a corporate job. After I graduated, I set out on my round-the-world trip and planned to return to the U.K. to get my PhD a year later.
So back in 2014, after three years of travel, I was stoked to be making what I believed to be a decent income for what I thought was a typical amount of work.
If have someone had told me that one day I’d be making five figures a month — six figures a year — in passive income, I would have likely passed out from the shock. If someone had told me I’d occasionally take an entire month off from work to travel or work on my mental health and that my revenue wouldn’t change in the slightest when I did so?
Man. That was the dream. That was the goal that I thought was unattainable.
It turns out it’s now my reality.
So I figured it was time for an update to this post. It still receives a decent amount of traffic, but it’s woefully out-of-date.
So let me kick this post off by telling you guys all about my original blog post.
In 2014, I was making money from several different sources: link selling (what I called “advertising”), freelance writing, freelance editing, and affiliate marketing.
The bulk of my income came from selling links. It was pretty much the only way for a mid-tier travel blogger to make money back then — or at least, it was the only way that I knew how to make money.
It was pretty shady.
Selling links was all about helping companies manipulate their ranking in Google — the more links you have pointing to your site, the higher you’ll rank, in theory. And so, I’d be contacted by people everyday, asking if they could buy a link to their site from my blog. For $200, I’d copy and paste their link into my site, and be paid a day later — easy money.
As I said, it’s not the most ethical of income sources, and you run the risk of being caught by Google and losing your own search traffic. I stopped selling links as soon as I began making money in other ways and it was such a relief to do so.
Freelance writing was my saviour for a while.
I landed a gig with About.com Travel, now Trip Savvy, in 2013, and it gave me a guaranteed income of roughly $1,000 a month. All I had to do was publish eight articles a month — all about student travel — at a word count of around 800-1,200. It was simple work and would take me a week or so to bash out all the content.
I did occasional freelancing for other sites, too — writing travel technology articles for Too Many Adapters on occasion, putting together guides on Latin American food for the Latin Kitchen, and Hipmunk hired me for a few months to write a hundred-odd travel guides for the site. I was even hired to write travel guides for Facebook at one point, although they never did anything with the content. .
Freelance editing was something that fell into my lap.
A magazine reached out to see if I wanted to edit their travel section and I leapt at the chance. It wasn’t huge money, but $300-odd for something that took me a day to do felt incredible.
I wish I’d put more effort into generating affiliate income — promoting products and services and making a commission from any sales made through the link. Back in 2014, I had two packing lists on my site and I’d make around $30-100 a month from them. That income slowly died out and I assumed that affiliate income was only for the huge sites. I ignored it for the next few years.
And that was about it for how I made my income. I had a few odd jobs here and there — a fellow travel blogger hired me to help with SEO work for around $500 a month. I sold a photo to a magazine. I planned somebody’s trip. And a random reader emailed me to ask for my Paypal address and sent sporadic donations through to buy me a meal every now and then.
During a typical month, I’d make around $1000 from link selling, $1000 from freelance writing, $300 for freelance editing, and maybe $50 from affiliates. Sometimes I’d have a good month, where I’d make $2,500 from selling links and $3,000 from freelancing. It varied all the time, but probably averaged out at around $2,000 or $3,000. That was case from 2011 to 2015.
Most importantly of all, I was happy about it.
Most importantly of all, back then, I had control over where I lived my life.
Had a series of bad months? I could move to Vietnam, spend a month in a homestay for like, $150 rent, eat $1 meals, and work on my site. I was able to travel full-time while earning so little because I was able to reduce my costs by living in cheaper parts of the world.
I think it’s important to mention that when talking about income from travel blogging. Because while it can take a long time to start making good money, you can spend that time living in inexpensive parts of the world, spending very little, and still building up your savings.
In 2015, though, things began to change.
I landed a book deal through my travel blog, for starters.
And that kind of changed my mindset when it came to success. Suddenly, I started to view myself as a successful travel blogger — one of the top travel bloggers — and I realised I could be doing a lot more with my site. It was time to start experimenting.
While I was writing my book, I began to experiment with affiliate income. As I mentioned above, I’d always believed that you could only make money from affiliates if you were pulling in a ton of traffic. But I decided to try it out anyway.
I started with Agoda.
I went through every blog post and at the end of each one, I added a small paragraph mentioning where I stayed and linking out to the guesthouse with an Agoda affiliate link. The first month I did this, I made $700.
That was when things began to change.
Suddenly, I realised I could be doing a hell of a lot more with my travel blog.
I turned my focus towards affiliates and made it my primary source of income. Whenever I stay in a hotel, buy a flight, pick up travel insurance, or fall in love with a travel product, I mention it on my site and link out to it. I love this way of making money because it allows me to run my site exactly how I want to — I can travel wherever I want and write about whatever I want.
I tried my hand at advertising, too, –proper advertising, rather than link selling — signing up with Mediavine and falling in love with the company. I make good money from ads now, and as long as my traffic doesn’t tank, it’s a stable form of income.
My book, How Not to Travel the World, launched and I’m so proud of how well it’s done! It’s tough to make money in the publishing industry, and I definitely haven’t become rich from the sales, but there are more benefits to publishing than making money. Four years after my book was released into the wild, I still spot it in bookstores all over the world. It’s a feeling that’ll never get old.
I even launched a course, about how to overcome travel anxiety. I’ve been travelling with anxiety from day one, and I believe I know more about how to do so than anyone on the planet. I put together a 60,000 word guide on how to get out and see the world and also offer a mentorship and access to a private Facebook community. Again, this isn’t something that’s made me a ton of money, but to hear nothing but praise from the 100 participants has meant the world to me. I’m always thrilled when somebody pushes through their anxiety to explore a new country.
An unexpected income source for me has been chasing down copyright infringements with Copytrack. It turns out people like to steal my photos. There are photos of mine that are all over the internet. Tour companies use photos of me to sell their products, pretending I was a participant of one of their offerings. Thirty African tour companies have used my photo of Zanzibar to promote their experiences. Twenty Brazilian news outlets used one of my photos of Brunei to cover news about the sultanate. That’s just scraping the surface.
And so, I uploaded every photo I’ve taken to Copytrack and then they scour the internet to find out where those photos are being used. I take a look and decide if I want to pursue a claim against the website or not. I make a surprising amount of money from this.
What about the freelancing life?
If I’m being honest, hated it.
I hated spending time working on somebody else’s business instead of my own. I hated that it was a constant source of stress for me. I quit my editing job when I landed my book deal, and when TripSavvy let me go several years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I could have gone rogue and started pitching outlets rather than waiting for them to come to me, but that honestly sounds like my idea of hell.
My income breakdown in 2019:
- Advertising: $2,000 a month
- Affiliates: $9,000 a month
- Course sales: $100 a month
- Book royalties: $600 a month
- Copyright infringements: $1,000 a month
Take note, of course, that this isn’t profit, but revenue. These figures don’t include taxes, blogging expenses, and the cost of travelling for 3-6 months of the year. Many of these can be substantial.
Want to try your hand at travel blogging? Check out my detailed guide on how to start a travel blog the right way.
It’s Not As Amazing As it Sounds
I mean, it is amazing that I’ve managed to turn my travel blog into a lucrative business — especially when you consider my background is in particle physics, not writing or being creative. I love travel blogging and hope I’ll be able to continue with it for many years.
But, there are downsides to making money this way.
There’s little job security.
Fun fact: this year, a Google algorithm update hit my site and I lost 30% of my traffic overnight. As someone whose income has a fairly proportional relationship with traffic, that meant taking a hit to my finances. And who knows? Next month, Google could release another update that takes away an additional 60% of my traffic. It happens. It’s happened to people I know. It could happen to me. Overnight, my business could be destroyed.
Of course, sometimes the algorithm benefits you, and your traffic might skyrocket. You never know.
Other people target you, too, when they notice your success. When one of my blog posts started ranking first in Google, I suddenly discovered tens of thousands of links to that post from porn sites — probably bought by a travel blogging competitor that wanted to see Google penalise me. Somebody bought a dozen one-star reviews of my book. People see a post of mine is doing well and basically rewrite it themselves to try to outrank me. It’s disheartening.
This is a stressful career and there’s very little I can do to secure my future.
Two years ago, I developed an auto-immune disease that’s known as one of the most painful conditions a person can deal with. Combine that with my propensity for anxiety and depression and you find yourself with someone who’s sometimes unable to work for months on end.
I don’t have access to sick pay or disability pay. And sure, my income comes in when I’m not working, but at the same time, Google penalises you for not updating your site. If I get really sick and can’t work for three months, my traffic will start to drop and so will my income, until I start publishing again.
I try to make sensible decisions because of this.
I put almost half of my profit into my pension. I invest as much as I possibly can into low-cost index funds. I’m saving for a house deposit. I spend very little on clothes or going out. I try to prepare for the worst because nobody knows what the future holds.
Doing what I do is tough, but possible — I tell everyone that who messages me about making money with a travel blog.
While the market is more saturated than ever, there are more opportunities for making money, too.
The key is to always keep evolving.
I’m already planning on trying new things out over the coming year. I’m going to start offering a travel blog critique service, write a book on how to make money with affiliate marketing, and I’m even thinking about starting a new blog. I’m toying with the idea of setting up a Patreon where I offer readers rewards, from postcards to monthly video Q&As to stories I’ll never share publicly.
Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll answer them in the comments below!