I first published an iteration of this blog post in 2014. Back then, I was so proud of how I’d built this site into a successful business.
In 2014, I was pulling in around $2,000 a month from this site and happily working 90-hour weeks. Yes, from that data, you can conclude that I was rocking an hourly rate of $5.50. I was thrilled. I’m not being sarcastic here: I genuinely was!
This was mostly because I had never worked a full-time job in my life.
When I left to travel, I had just graduated college. And so, in order to save for said travel, I had 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, but earning very little.
It took years to build up my travel funds and I did so by earning a meagre amount and sacrificing as much as I could: I sold everything I owned, I lived off frozen meals, I even refused to put the heating on. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable but I had my eyes on the prize and I’d learned that every £100 I saved would allow me to spend a full week in Southeast Asia.
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.
I was breaking even, really. I spent $2000 a month on travel and I made $2000 a month from my travel blog. If I could make this last forever then what would I have to complain about? All I wanted to do was to travel forever.
Flash-forward to now. To 2023.
If have someone had told me that one day I’d be making five figures a month — multiple six figures a year — in passive income, I would have likely passed out from the shock. If someone had told me I’d occasionally spend an entire month offline 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 It still receives a decent amount of traffic, but it’s woefully out-of-date.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-$500, I’d copy and paste their link into one of my blog posts, and be paid a day later — it was the easiest money I’d ever earned.
As I said, it’s not the most ethical of income sources, and you run the risk of being discovered to be doing this by Google and losing your own search traffic as punishment. 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, which is 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 the now-defunct Hipmunk hired me for a few months to write a hundred-odd travel guides for their 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 being paid $500-odd for something that took me just one 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 $50 a month from them. That income slowly died out and I assumed that affiliate income was only for the huge websites. 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 for $300. I planned somebody’s trip for $200. 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.
I wasn’t motivated by money, and took the view that if I was breaking even and able to pay to travel the world indefinitely, I didn’t need anything else in my life.
And also, I was young. I started travelling when I was 23 — I wasn’t thinking about pensions or retirement or healthcare. I was super naive.
I did, however, have 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 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.
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, 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
- 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. These include:
- I pay $35 a month to host my site with Cloudways. As my site has grown, I’ve tried a variety of hosts over the years, sometimes paying as much as $300 a month in an attempt to make my site the fastest on the internet. In the end, I settled on Cloudways, as it offers an excellent balance of speed and price.
- I spend $100 a month for SEMRush. This is an SEO tool that allows you to see which keywords your site is ranking for in Google, determine which articles are best for you to write next, analyse your competitors’ websites, learn which sites have linked to yours, track brand mentions online, and all kinds of other useful stuff. It’s pricey, but I easily make that money back every year from the information it provides me with, so consider it an essential. You can check it out with a two week trial through this link.
- I spend $700 a year for newsletter services with ConvertKit.
- I spend $600 a year to schedule pins on Pinterest with Tailwind.
- I pay $400 a year for accounting software with Xero.
- I host my travel photos online with Crashplan, where plans start from $120 a year.
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.
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 mental breakdowns 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.
Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll answer them in the comments below!