Travel blogging may look like the ultimate in dream jobs to many people. But I've been a travel blogger at my site Hippie in Heels for more three years now — long enough to both find success and also learn more than enough about the challenges and pitfalls. Here are some things I've learned on the job that might surprise you.
1. You're in this alone.
Travel bloggers are some very secretive people. When you start out, try asking the successful blogger whose work inspires you for some time to pick their brain — and your message will be lost in a sea of those. No one is going to tell you how they made it big (not in a transparent way, anyway) but they will give out loads of tips... if you spend time clicking around the step-by-step guides on nearly every travel blogger's website. There are tips about social media, SEO, and working with brands. So you'll have to look out for those resources and put the time in to learn it as you go. And I promise you this: No one will hold your hand to help unless you pay them.
2 . You have to be a great negotiator.
As someone who went to school as a nurse and had regular paychecks all my life (OK, fine — I was a nurse for 11 months, but still), negotiating was a big learning curve for me. When you first start out, brands and PR firms know you're new. They will offer you whatever ridiculous rate they can get away with — but you won't necessarily know it's ridiculous yet.
As your blog grows, you'll learn what you can charge. Negotiations on sponsored content from your favorite brands can take weeks to finish. It's not just about the money, but also the exact deliverables you'll give the brand on your blog and social media. You can only earn what you ask for, and you alone set your rates, so you have to learn what you are worth by experience (and it will change as your platform grows).
3. It's not just about pretty pictures.
Sure, you love glam travel — and maybe you're a great photographer and writer. But there's way more to the mix — for instance, knowing how to max out your SEO potential, and how to generate social media engagement. It doesn't happen by luck or by accident. (I personally use two pieces of SEO software alone to check keywords before I publish a blog post.)
4. The competition is crazy fierce.
Travel bloggers hate to say that they got lucky. But I'll go there: I admit I was lucky that I was writing about India off the bat, because my basic posts on how to dress, how to ride the train, and more started showing up in Google since few others were writing about those niches. I wasn't the best writer or the best photographer — but I was becoming a known blogger when it came to the topic of India.
There are some amazing storytellers and photographers in the travel blogging world. There are some who made it big, and some who haven't gotten that lucky break, but should. It's not always fair and that is what usually frustrates new bloggers.
But, if you are authentic and work hard, you can get noticed no matter your metrics. Case in point: The Blog Abroad. It's not the biggest, but it has a unique and hilarious voice — and because of that everyone in the travel-blogging world knows it, and brands are falling over themselves to partner.
5. It takes time (and you'll be broke for a while).
It took me six months to make my first dollar from my blog. That's a long time to put effort into something. I knew it would take hard work, but I didn't know how much. For a whole year, I wrote six articles a week about my past travels, travel tips, and how to travel in India. I thought that was the hard part. But, as your blog grows, so do job opportunities, responsibilities, and stress. You have to balance traveling, writing content, editing images, responding to followers on social media and email, posting on social media every day at the right time, hours of emails each day with possible partnerships, and keeping up to date on changes trends online so your blog doesn't get left in the dust. But now that it's been three years, I can happily say that I'm making much more money blogging than I was as a nurse, which was my goal all along. I just didn't know how hard it would be to reach!
6. Travel bloggers' income comes from multiple sources.
Step one: Create a blog. Step two: Start earning money from the blog. If you make that the end of your revenue journey, you're missing out. While passive income on your blog through affiliate links is great, and brand partnerships are good when they come along, you should be working hard to make more opportunities outside your blog. This was something I was clueless on!
Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are great places to make money by putting up sponsored posts. Write freelance for other outlets. Sell your photos, write e-books, sell courses on photography or blogging, get paid to travel to promote tour companies or tourism boards, speak at conferences, and any other clever thing you come up with. It's really quite limitless — and it's about diversifying and getting creative.
7. Eventually it can indeed become your real job.
Suddenly, you'll realize you're doing taxes and jumping up to a new income bracket. You'll hire an accountant to help you figure out what you can legally expense. You're investing in better camera equipment and paying a lot more for a better web-hosting service. You'll hire web designers and developers and invest in your blog. You'll have virtual assistants and people on your payroll. It gets real! You have to learn how to blog... and run a business. And it is fabulous.
8. The job gets harder every day.
That said, I had no clue travel blogging was going to get so huge. When I started blogging in October 2013, it was less of a thing. Within six months, my blog was on the "top 50 travel bloggers" list, which ranks travel bloggers based on monthly readers. Back then, I made that list with just 65,000 page views per month; now, I barely make the list with around 300,000. Travel blogging has boomed and is therefore getting harder to stand out every day. But if you ask me? Totally worth it. (And now you know way more than I did when I got started.)
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