How to Become a Travel Blogger
When I first started this blog in 2008, never in a million years could I imagine where it would take me.
It’s brought me around the world – across 100 odd countries and seven continents – and led to some epic adventures and lifetime experiences. From expedition cruising in Antarctica to overlanding the Silk Road, tracking gorillas in the wild to catching Northern Lights in Lapland, interviewing locals in reclusive North Korea and Iran.
Becoming a travel blogger changed my life – in every sense of the word.
Not only do I now lead a life of travel, but I also make a comfortable living doing what I love. I go on assignment to cool places for publications like Lonely Planet and I get to work from anywhere in the world, because of the flexibility and freedom that comes with my job. I used to hate every single one of my 9-to-5 desk-bound jobs. But now I absolutely love what I do and I’ve never been happier.
In essence, being a travel blogger is a dream job – after all, I get paid to travel the world – but it definitely isn’t easy. In fact, I’ve never worked this hard in my life – putting in long hours, working on my laptop while traveling, sacrificing time away from my baby to go on assignment, and being constantly “switched on”.
Needless to say, it’s been a rollercoaster ride getting to where I am. But trust me, it’s worth every minute of it.
Here on the blog, I’ve always focused on sharing stories from the road. In truth I rarely share the massive amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. But over the years, I’ve received so many questions from readers and friends who are curious about what I do that I decided it’s time I let you in on my personal journey.
How Do You Become a Travel Blogger?
Today I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about travel blogging in the past 8 years – what has worked for me and what you’ll need to do to become a travel blogger like me.
Know Your Purpose
Before you start a travel blog, the first question you need to ask yourself is: Why do you want to be a travel blogger?
For me, it has always been about travel and storytelling. From day one, I’ve always wanted to share my travel stories and hopefully inspire others to travel more adventurously.
I actually started this blog in 2003 (on blogspot then) as a means to keep my family and friends updated about my life abroad. It slowly evolved into more than a journal. Only in 2008 did I decide to transform it into a more professional platform to generate some income.
If you’re becoming a travel blogger with the goal of making money or getting free trips, then don’t even bother. Save yourself some time and find a more lucrative medium instead. Firstly, travel blogging will never make you a millionaire, and press trips really aren’t as glamorous as you think (nothing is free in this world). Even if you do manage to earn some money just months into launching your blog, having such mindset won’t get you far.
It takes a few years (may be less for some) to build an audience and readership before the money starts coming in. So think about what your motive is before you actually take the plunge.
Find a Niche
What are YOU all about? What truly calls to you? I know you love to travel, but what type of travel do you do? Budget or luxury? Epic adventure travel or beach vacations? Do you like slow travel or short holidays?
Back in the days when I first started blogging, it was enough to specialise in a general field of travel: budget, luxury, adventure, solo etc. Nowadays, you’ve got to be more creative and find a selling point that makes you different from the rest.
Are you an adventurer who leads overland expeditions of your own? Or do you like volunteering and have volunteered around the world? Maybe you have a reporter’s background and travel to war zones like Afghanistan?
I’m all about outdoor adventures and unusual destinations. I like to explore places in bold and exciting ways – like trying ice-climbing in Iceland or skydiving in Queensland – the cool stuff that I do definitely catch the attention of many and set me apart from the rest. As an extremely curious traveler, I also like to visit under-the-radar places, like North Korea, Iran and Palestine. Not many people go to these places, so somehow it’s developed into my niche.
It took me a few years of blogging to figure out my special interests. So be patient and take your time to find out what you are most passionate about and go from there.
When I first started blogging back in 2008, there were just a handful of professional travel bloggers (i.e. travel bloggers who make a full-time living from their blog). Fast forward to today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of us.
In such a saturated industry, competition is strong and it’s extremely hard to stand out these days. The only way is to be yourself and don’t be afraid to show your personality. Regardless of what your forte is (whether adventure travel or high end fashion), the most successful bloggers are those with personality and have got something to say.
Develop your voice and don’t be afraid to let your personality shine on your blog.
Most people read blogs because they want to read stories they can relate to; about people who are normal like everyone else doing incredible things. The one biggest thing that differentiates blogs from magazines or newspapers is this personal element. We travel bloggers have the freedom to express our opinions however we want.
Forget about writing generic city guides or top 10 lists (which I’m guilty of writing as well)! Readers can go to Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor for that. They want to hear your inner thoughts, your personal experiences, and your crazy stories. People follow you as a travel blogger because they like your style and your personality. Be open and transparent – and write to them like you would write to your best friend.
In all honesty, being completely open has been the biggest challenge for me so far. It was easy at the beginning as this felt like my private corner of the cyberspace and that nobody was reading anyway so I could be as opinionated as I wanted to be. But as my readership grew, I started becoming more self-conscious and I began watching every word I said.
Nowadays I just keep reminding myself, “Be myself and the world will follow.”
You Need to Love to Travel AND Write
Many people seem to think that all you need to be a successful travel blogger is to have a passion for traveling.
Yes you do need to love to travel and have some travel experiences (having backpacked southeast Asia once doesn’t make you a seasoned traveler!). Even before starting my travel blog, I’d traveled to 40 odd countries across 5 continents. I had plenty of materials to write about and I felt like I had some expertise to share.
But it’s not enough to just have a passion for travel.
To successfully become a travel blogger, you need to love BOTH travel and writing.
At the end of the day, your expertise may be in travel but writing is your craft. If you want to make your career as a travel blogger last, you need to have a love for words and all that comes with blogging (which includes a whole spectrum of skills from digital marketing to social media). Don’t worry if you’re not a techie person (I’m not either) – you can always learn; but having an interest in writing is something that you can’t inculcate.
For those who aren’t convinced if writing is your calling, I’ll advise you to take a course in writing and find out if it’s your thing. During my early years of blogging, I took a guidebook writing boot camp in Guatemala organised by VIVA Travel Guides — it gave me all the foundation I needed to be a writer, and most of it, it made me realise how much I actually love writing.
I also landed my first guidebook writing gig when the company selected me to stay on and research/write a few of the chapters in their Guatemala title. It was an excellent way to build up my portfolio and also make some money while traveling. Sadly they don’t run these workshops anymore, but read further and I’ll share with you a few courses worth checking out.
Make Building an Audience Your Priority
I cannot emphasize this enough: building an audience should be your top priority as a travel blogger especially if you are new to this. Not SEO, not how to monetise your blog, not pitching companies and getting freebies.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve been approached by a new blogger to share my contacts when they barely have any readers besides their mums. I’m always happy to share (this is what the community is about) but I get really pissed off when people don’t get their priority right.
From what I’ve observed in a few Facebook blogger groups, this isn’t just isolated to one or two cases — many bloggers seem so caught up with getting free trips that they don’t seem to think it’s important to build an audience.
It took me two years to get my first press trip invite and earn a steady flow of income from this blog. For some, it’s happened much faster, and for others it’s taken even more time. The important thing is to know that success doesn’t come overnight — work hard at building your readership before expecting to reap any rewards.
Work hard at what you do and the money will eventually come.
Keep Writing and Don’t Give Up
To be a professional travel blogger requires TREMENDOUS hard work and commitment. Don’t expect to make money immediately after starting a travel blog; if you are not ready to dedicate all your time and effort to it, then it’s best to just treat it as a hobby.
Many bloggers I know give up after a year or so because they had no idea how much commitment was required. Besides putting in long hours, you need to keep at it for a long time (talking years, not weeks!) before you see any kind of return. Again, if you haven’t got the patience or determination to make it work, don’t even start.
I remember the days when I first decided to take a shot at travel blogging in 2008: I would rush home after a day of work at my full-time job and get all excited to work on my blog. On weekends, I was happy to stay home and write for hours on end. I didn’t care about anything but my travel blog. That’s the kind of dedication you need.
Being a travel blogger is like running a marathon — you need to have stamina, go slowly but steadily and conserve your energy to last through the race. Keep writing and don’t give up; success only comes to those who wait.
TAKING IT A STEP FURTHER:
Join a Blogging Community
In all honesty, I owe much of my success as a travel blogger to my friends in the blogging community.
Back when I first started travel blogging, the community was a relatively small and tight-knit group. I made close friends right from the start and we often helped each other out, offering support and advice whenever needed. I still talk to these friends once in a while to keep updated on what we’re doing and discuss exciting things happening in our circle.
These days, the travel blogging community is a rather sizable one, and it can be quite overwhelming to make genuine connections in the crowd. Thankfully, there are plenty of Facebook groups created to discuss specific aspects of travel blogging. Here are some groups that I’m a part of and that I’ve found rather useful:
- Travel Bloggers — general topics
- The Business of Blogging — more technical and business aspects
- Travel Press Trips — for press trip alerts
- Professional Travel Bloggers Association — only for members
- Travel Photography Community – photographers will find this useful
Before joining each group, I’ll advise you to read the rules or guidelines first. Feel free to ask questions and respond when someone offers you advise. Always take the advise with a pinch of salt, as something that has worked for others might not work for you. Try to get a variety of opinions and test them out to see which works best for you. Lastly remember to give back and help others out when it’s a topic you’re familiar with.
Our community is all about sharing.
Take a Blogging Course
Every job requires you to know some skills — so does being a travel blogger. Besides knowing how to write, there’s also SEO, web developing, digital marketing, social media management, graphic design and so on. It took me years to pick up all that on my own and I feel that I STILL have so much more to learn.
If you’re serious about making money from travel blogging, I recommend investing in a blogging course to learn all the skills you need. The best course in the industry is definitely Travel Blog Success, created by veteran blogger David Lee.
Their in-depth course covers everything you need to know about the business of blogging: from the technicalities of building a blog to what to charge for advertising and how to approach companies. You’ll learn everything about optimizing your site, networking with potential clients, negotiating for deals and getting press coverage on major publications. What’s best is that you’ll have support from some of the top travel bloggers in the industry along the way.
The online course can be taken at your own pace. You can work on it at your own flexibility and you can read the detailed tutorials as many times as you want. Besides the tutorials, you’ll also have access to audio interviews and webinars. There are also job opportunities on their job boards and forum.
My favorite resource is probably their secret Facebook group where over 1,000 members swap and share interesting tips and experiences.
Here are the courses offered by Travel Blog Success:
- Travel Blog Success Main Course
- Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships
- Blogger to Bylines: A Guide to Freelance Writing
- Videography for Travel Bloggers
Rock Social Media
For bloggers, social media can be an immensely powerful tool to help you reach an even bigger audience.
I spend a huge chunk of my time on social media. This is not just because it helps me build my brand but simply because I enjoy it. Social media lets me connect with my audience more directly and allows me to engage with them more regularly than on my blog.
For me, my primary channel is Facebook, followed by Twitter and then Instagram. Again, you need to experiment and observe to see which platform works best for you. Each channel requires a different type of posting and content curation. Avoid sharing the same photo/update across all channels. Be sure to check the analytics for each platform to find out the best time to post and when to post.
Here’s my personal approach to each channel:
2-3 posts a day following the rule of thirds. In general, I always try to share a variety of updates – one-third of them would be personal updates that give readers a peek into my life on the road; one-third are questions directed to my followers to create some engagement; and one-third are some interesting and viral content from others. Check out my Facebook page.
4-5 posts a day with links to my blog posts. Images create more engagement, so I always try to include photos in my posts. Tag relevant profiles and include hashtags whenever possible. I am the organizer of the Adventure Travel Twitter Chat #AdvTravelChat . This gets me a steady influx of followers every week. Click to see my Twitter profile.
1 post a day, usually more when I’m on the road. Tag the location for people who are nearby to find my photos. I also include up to 10 hashtags again for my photo to pop up in searches. I recommend taking the time to research which hashtags are most popular for a particular destination or activity. Also take your time to craft a detailed description so followers are more likely to comment and interact with you. Add me on Instagram!
In today’s era, there is always a new social media platform popping up everyday. As a blogger you need to evolve along with the changes in trends and dabble with new platforms. The latest social media channels that are taking the world by storm are SnapChat and Periscope. I’m just learning how to work them but please do pop by and say hi on SnapChat!
Attend Conferences and Workshops
Whether you’re a newbie or experienced travel blogger, conferences can be an extremely useful way to connect with other travel bloggers. Not to mention potential clients and partners as well as attend workshops and training. These educational workshops usually cater more to those new to the blogging world. The advanced blogger will though often find inspiration in such a setting.
While it’s easy to make contact with people online, nothing beats meeting in person. These conferences provide the opportunity for you to network with brands and companies, creating the first bridge to future partnerships.
I’ve personally attended several conferences and even spoken at a few (TBEX and WTM) and definitely recommend attending especially if you are a new travel blogger. Here are some of them:
- Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) – the largest and most popular travel blogging conference
- Social Travel Market at WTM – a small section of the massive World Travel Market dedicated to social travel
- Social Travel Summit (STS) – for a small, elite group of travel bloggers that are a part of iAmbassador
- Travel Bloggers Conference (TBC) – organized by the PTBA (Professional Travel Bloggers Association)
Be Creative and Versatile
A successful travel blogger is one who knows how to diversify his/her income stream. They must be constantly coming up with new ways to generate new income.
In the first two years, I made most of my income from web advertising in the form of banner ads and sponsored advertorials. I tried different things to see what would work for me. Alberto even quit his job to work on this blog with me and we launched a digital magazine as another income stream. While it didn’t work out for us, we did learn a lot from this experience.
Eventually, I branched out to also do sponsored campaigns for companies, brand ambassadorship, and social media consulting work for companies. I also generate a small passive income from my book, The Adventure Traveler’s Handbook. Freelance writing has always been my biggest love. Even though it isn’t quite a profitable stream I still do it because of my love for magazine writing. I currently write for Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Today and many more.
Here’s a detailed look at how I get paid to travel, including my various income streams and their sources.
Some of the ways we travel bloggers generate income:
- Banner Advertising: placement of banners from travel companies that fit your brand
- Sponsored Advertorials: publishing sponsored posts written either by yourself or the advertiser
- Affiliate Marketing: earning commission from recommending products on your site
- Brand Ambassadorship: representing a brand and becoming their spokesperson of sorts
- Freelance Writing: contributing to travel magazines or websites
- Creating Products: selling your own products (ebooks, courses, artwork etc)
- Consultancy Work: offering advice to companies on how to manage their blog or social media
- Designing Trips for Others: planning trips for other travelers based on your expertise on specific destinations
- Leading Tours or Workshops: running tours using your knowledge on certain locations
Set Goals and Work Towards Them
When I first started to become a travel blogger, I would set monthly goals for myself and always try to work towards them. My goals were anything from growing my unique monthly visitors to increasing my Facebook followers to getting an article published in a popular magazine.
Having goals kept me motivated and pushed me to work harder than ever.
I remember how happy I was to meet the milestone of reaching 20,000 unique monthly views. And when I got my article published in a local newspaper. Oh and that time I signed my first contract as a brand ambassador.
A blog is a business — you need to be serious and treat it as a business if you want to carve a career out of it.
I know I’ve said this many times, but success doesn’t come overnight. You really need to work at it for a long time and be determined to make this work.
At the end of the day, the key to become a travel blogger is writing compelling stories and capturing destinations with good photography. Focus all your efforts on writing well and you’ll be on the road to success.
Any questions for me on how to become a travel blogger? Feel free to leave a comment below!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission at NO COST TO YOU. As always, I only recommend products or services I use personally.