Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

15 Lessons From Turning My Travel Blog Into A Career

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Kate at WITS

There are a handful of questions that I get asked several times a week when on the road (or even at home).

The first, far and away the most popular, is, “What’s your favorite place?” So hard to answer! (Though stay tuned, because an upcoming feature in October will answer that once and for all.)

The second is, “How did you get so many followers?” Or some variation on, “How did you start making enough money to do it full-time?”

Honestly, I never know how to answer that. It’s been a long, slow process of five and a half years of meticulously growing an audience. Five and a half years worth of micro-decisions that ended up paying off big in the future.

So I decided to put together a collection of the lessons that I’ve learned during that time.

Before you read this, here’s the most important part: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY.

There are plenty of bloggers who have done different things from me and have gone on to become hugely successful in their own right.

In fact, I’m sure that every point on this list will be disagreed with by another successful blogger. And that’s fine. There isn’t a linear map to blogging success; if that were the case, everyone would be doing the same thing.

This is simply what worked for me personally and enabled me to never go back to work after I quit my job in 2010.

RELATED: How to Start A Travel Blog The Right Way

I also want to add that there are a few other things that worked for me that can’t be duplicated: I started Adventurous Kate early-ish (early 2010) and I had been blogging for seven years prior to that, so I had an established voice. You can’t fake either of those.

Here we go:

All Kate's Posessions

1) Embrace writing about the negative and ugly parts of travel along with the good stuff.

The most common thing I hear from readers is, “You’re so honest.” I love that.

I’ve always written about the negative things along with the positive, both within and outside the world of travel. I think it’s important to present the whole experience, not just the prettiest parts.

And that extends to sponsored content and blog trips as well. Most infamously is my shipwreck in Indonesia, but also on my comped tour in Kakadu National Park in Australia, I wrote about how it was way, way too rushed. And my discomfort on the Blue Train in South Africa, culminating with us being attacked with rocks by striking farmers.

These days, I even go through everything that went wrong each month, and my readers love my “worst travel moments of the year” post every December.

It worked because: My readers feel like they can trust me to tell the truth. Trust is the most important currency you have.

City Beach Dubrovnik

2) Write prolifically in the early days.

When I first started Adventurous Kate, I would publish new posts at least five days each week. The posts back then weren’t as long as the ones I write now, but at that point in time it was more important to publish more often.

As a new blogger, you’re starting with an audience of zero and you’ll be trying to grab people’s attention over and over. Writing new posts constantly is your best chance of getting people to come back for more and eventually subscribe.

These days, I see lots of new bloggers writing only occasional posts — think every two weeks — and they are wondering why it’s taking so long to grow. Well, that’s a big part of it.

Write prolifically in your first year. You can slow down in the future if you wish, but keep the posts coming like crazy for now.

It worked because: I kept reminding people I existed through new posts, and they were encouraged to subscribe for more.

Kate Rowing Down the River

3) Don’t waste time gaming social media.

Check out any online discussion group devoted to blogging and you’ll find several topics learning how to best use different social networks, and the discussion inevitably turns toward “gaming” the system to earn yourself more followers and/or traffic.

On StumbleUpon, it’s a calculated cocktail of stumbling lots of interesting travel stories and occasionally slipping one of your own in, hoping it goes viral.

On Facebook, it’s buying thousands of cheap fans in the form of teenage boys from Mongolia, Egypt, and India.

On Twitter, it’s following and unfollowing random people constantly so you can gain more quality followers.

On Instagram, it’s finding a popular photo, stalking the users who like it, following them, and unfollowing them if they don’t follow you back quickly.

My point of view on that has always been the same: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’ve built a pretty strong social media following without having to result to gimmicks. How did I do it? I post good things and act like a human. And people follow me because they like what I share.

It worked because: I spent that extra time creating quality content instead of chasing gimmicks.

Table Mountain Flowers

4) Know that direct traffic isn’t the only end goal.

It’s easy to think that your one and only goal is to drive traffic to your blog. Getting people to read your blog is the primary goal, of course, but it’s not the only goal.

Having a blog is more than just driving traffic to your site, over and over. It’s also about creating a visible presence in your readers’ lives. You’re a personality. You’re constantly reminding them that you exist.

And that brings up Instagram and Snapchat. Neither of these platforms give you the option of linking to your blog (Instagram lets you change your site URL in your profile, but nothing on the actual images). And for that reason, some bloggers have eschewed those platforms, particularly the latter, altogether.

I disagree with that mindset.

Since I became active on Snapchat in particular, it’s now one of my top networks. It may not directly drive traffic to my blog, but almost every single day, someone references my snaps on an Instagram photo or Facebook post or tweet or blog comment. Everything feeds into each other.

It worked because: A blogging career goes well and beyond the blog itself. You need to be a personality, and that means being everywhere.

Kate at the Dead Sea

5) Have a full RSS feed.

If you want to subscribe to a blog, you do so by its RSS feed, and it alerts you when there is a new post. Many people get their RSS feeds by email; many others choose to use an RSS reader. I recommend using a reader, especially if your email is chock full of everything and you never want to miss a post on your favorite blogs.

(My recommendation? Use Feedly, then type in the blogs you want to follow. If you have an iPhone, get the Reeder app as well. It syncs perfectly with Feedly and will download all your feeds, including photos, when connected to wifi.)

Does RSS send traffic to your site? Sometimes. Sometimes someone will click through if they want to leave a comment or share it. Others just read it and move on.

Some bloggers have a partial or incomplete feed, which means that their posts show up blank. Most have no idea (this often happens after a redesign); some deliberately choose to do that so people will click through and get more pageviews.

Does that work? It doesn’t matter. You may get more pageviews with a partial feed, but you’ll be annoying your readers. And annoying your readers is the last thing you want to do.

It worked because: I made my content as easy as possible for people to find, discover, and read, attracting new readers and keeping old ones.

Hongdae

6) Stop freelance writing.

For a long time — until early 2014, actually! — freelance writing was one of my primary forms of income. Many travel bloggers take the same route, starting by writing for $25 per post and living somewhere cheap like Chiang Mai to keep expenses down until the $75 gigs come in, then the even bigger gigs.

It’s a popular monetization route, but few travel bloggers are making a good living from it. I have some friends who have transitioned into full-time, well-paid freelance travel writers — but they are the anomaly.

Freelance travel writing is hard — not in the way that coal mining or heart surgery is hard, obviously, but it’s a challenging way to make a living. The pay is terrible, particularly when you’re getting started. The hours are long. The industry is shrinking all the time. Buzzfeed-style content dominates the internet. And you’re held to the whims of an editor, which can be difficult when you’ve been writing for yourself for so long.

As much as I enjoy writing about travel, I detest freelance travel writing. After losing a big writing gig that provided my only regular income in early 2014, I was reminded of how tenuous of a career it can be, and I decided to make a big change.

It worked because: For most (not all!) people, freelance writing is too much work for too little pay with no reliability.

Kate in Durban

7) Shift your income to affiliate marketing.

By far, this is the smartest thing that I did in my travel blogging career. Affiliate marketing is linking to products and getting a commission if someone buys it, at no extra cost to them. And I think that it’s majorly underutilized in travel blogging.

So many bloggers think that you need to have insane traffic levels in order to make good money from affiliates. That’s true for display advertising (think ad networks like Google Adwords), but it’s not true at all for affiliate marketing. You just need to have a few posts that do reasonably well traffic-wise and convert decently.

I started with a big post promoting a few high ticket affiliates, and it took off. It’s been more than a year and that post still provides a huge portion of my income.

Affiliate marketing is brilliant in that it’s largely “set it and forget it.” There’s a lot of work in the beginning to write and promote the post, but once it starts earning, it runs on itself. For this reason, this year I’ve been able to take breaks from work without worrying about hustling for money, and you may have noticed that I haven’t run a single branded content post since 2014 (!). I don’t need to anymore.

Another perk? With affiliates, I get paid regularly and on time, which is a huge change from many of my former freelancing clients.

Today, a whopping 79% of my income comes from affiliate marketing. That scares me, as you should never have all of your eggs in one basket. But as long as affiliate marketing comes from a diverse array of resources (lots of different products and programs, traffic from search and from the site itself), you should be in good condition.

It worked because: After getting it set up, affiliate marketing would continue earning on a regular basis without requiring any extra work.

Garden Village Bled

8) Invest in top-notch tech gear.

When you live on your computer and phone like I do, it makes such a difference to have quality devices.

I started my long-term travels while working on tiny netbook PCs, thinking that the cheap and light machines would be best for me. They’re great for travelers, but not travelers who work on the road. They just didn’t have the power to take me into the future (or even edit photos decently without crashing).

Three years ago I upgraded to a MacBook Air and it made all the difference in the world. I vastly prefer Macs to PCs and I’m glad to have a quality machine. (Though when it’s time for my next computer, I think I’ll go with a MacBook Pro for better battery life and power.)

As for phones, I’m an iPhone girl through and through. Yes, other smartphones are cheaper, and I’ve done campaigns for some of them, but they’re just not as good and intuitive as an iPhone. Today my phone has 128 GB, which is so much better than constantly having to delete stuff on a 16 GB phone.

It worked because: When you have quality tech gear, you work better and much more efficiently.

Kate in the Infinity Pool

9) Get out of Southeast Asia.

When I kicked off my full-time travels with a six-month trip to just Southeast Asia in 2010, I was the only travel blogger doing anything like that. At that time, most travel bloggers were taking RTW trips or teaching English abroad. I felt so original.

Fast forward to 2015 and everyone is traveling long-term in Southeast Asia. Which isn’t good.

Let me be clear: Southeast Asia is a fantastic destination for a traveler. It’s exotic, it’s cheap, it’s easy, and the food is divine. I highly recommend going at least once in your life.

For a travel blogger, however, Southeast Asia could not be more cliché. If you’re trying to make it as a travel blogger, I recommend you go anywhere else. Everyone has written to death about Koh Phi Phi, Luang Prabang, and Hoi An. It will be hard for you to stand out and be original.

And so this past winter I went to Central America, which seems to get only a fraction of the coverage that Southeast Asia gets today. It was a great decision, as I received constant messages from readers telling me they had never thought about traveling to Central America until they saw what I wrote about it.

It worked because: Veering away from what everyone else was doing allowed me to stand out more.

Wadi Rum at Sunrise

10) Stop leaping from press trip to press trip.

I think every blogger goes through stages, and it’s wise to be cognizant about the stage you’re currently in. (I think I might be in the affiliate the f*ck out of everything! stage.)

We all go through stages, and we all change our minds at some point. There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re human. We’re in a new and rapidly evolving industry. If something’s not working, we can change our minds and do something else.

One of my stages was the take-every-press-trip-you-can stage, which began in late 2011. At that point in time, I thought press trips were the badge of a successful travel blogger, and I took a lot of press trips for a long time. That press trip spree went on until early 2013.

Then I realized, as I wrote here, that my press trip-based coverage was starting to feel flat and lifeless. Even worse, a few of my readers had complained about it, saying they missed the old me. So I reduced my press trips enormously and traveled more on my own.

That worked for more than a year, but it spun out of control again when I joined the Must Love Festivals campaign last summer. I think Must Love Festivals is a brilliant project (it was built by my friends) and I was thrilled to be part of it, but I made a mistake of committing to too many festivals, extending the trips so I could explore the destinations more, and running myself ragged, to the detriment of myself and my blog.

I had made myself look like the girl who would take any trip for money.

After years of experimentation with balance, I think the best practice for me today is to take occasional press trips (maybe two or three per year) but have the majority of my travels be independent, going wherever I want and paying for it myself.

It worked because: I followed my instincts — I was starting to feel icky about taking too many press trips, and my readers agreed. Your instincts are probably correct.

This goes along with my next point:

Kate Ziplining Monteverde

11) Reduce comps and freebies drastically.

In my four-month trip to Central America this winter and spring, I accepted exactly three comps: a stay at Yemaya Retreat on Little Corn Island, my three-day Belize sailing cruise, and a shark snorkeling trip, which I was actually going to pay for until I showed up and they wouldn’t take my money.

In my two-month trip to Europe this summer, I had…zero comps!

And boy, does that feel good. It’s such a relief to know that 1) I don’t have the pressure to write about comps all the time and 2) my readers won’t feel like they’re bombarded with sponsored stuff.

And it’s paying off. I’ve spoken to readers privately, and the response is almost universal that they prefer reading about activities that I pay for myself. It makes them feel like I’m more like a normal traveler.

And that goes beyond travel activities. I’d much rather buy a product I like and write a post about it, making affiliate commissions off the resulting sales, than get a product for free and be obligated to write about it.

It worked because: I had more freedom to write as I pleased.

Pensacola Beach

12) Stop trying to make as much money as humanly possible.

For most of us travel bloggers, it’s a long, hard slog before you’re making any kind of decent money. For me, it was very difficult for years — more so than I let on here. I never went into negative numbers, but there were some very lean times.

The worst time was in September 2013 when I was down to $200 in my checking account and was owed more than $9,000 from clients who were late paying me!

So once things start going right after years of just scraping by, it gets tempting to start making as much cash as possible.

If I wanted to, I could fill my blog with branded content posts, constant advertising, brand partnerships, advertising for other bloggers. I could turn my Instagram feed into nonstop ads. I could stay nowhere but sponsored luxury hotels everywhere I go. I could hashtag the f*ck out of everything.

But I don’t. I stick primarily to affiliates, leading tours, and the occasional well-tailored campaign that is a good fit for me and my site. While I haven’t really done a brand ambassadorship, I’d be open to doing one with a company I love. (Urban Decay? MAC? Miu Miu? Alexander McQueen? I’m available!)

I don’t want to come across as the girl who once had a great blog and turned it into a wasteland of sponsored crap, just trying to make as much money as possible. Some blogs I’ve read for a long time have gone that route, and it makes me sad.

It worked because: I keep up good, genuine, unsponsored content that pulls in new readers and keeps the long-timers.

Kate in San Juan del Sur

13) Hire quality staff instead of outsourcing for cheap.

If you want a cheap virtual assistant, you can hire someone in Romania or the Philippines or Bangladesh for just a few dollars per hour.

And while sometimes people like this could be useful, especially if you have easy but time-consuming work to be done, I chose not to go that route. For the roles that I have, I want people who are highly educated and intimately familiar with this industry.

At the moment, I have a few people working for me on various aspects of running this site. They’re all college graduates (some with graduate degrees), talented, and well-versed in the industry. They’re compensated what they’re worth, and it’s worth every penny.

It worked because: I get a bigger return on my investment.

Rendezvous Caye Belize

14) Read everything.

I read more than 100 travel blogs regularly. I don’t love every blog I read, but I treat them like trade publications.

I think it’s important to stay up to date on what everyone in your industry is doing. This way, I find out which bloggers are working with the same companies, who is embracing a new kind of technology, who is doing a new or unusual kind of campaign, and what is currently trending in the travel world.

Equally important — or even more important — is reading blogs outside the travel niche. Because it’s so easy to get tunnel vision, and this is a very small community. There’s so much more than what we see in front of us.

Travel blogs don’t make anywhere near the level of money that fashion, food, mommy, business, and beauty blogs make. If there are new innovations in blogging, you’ll likely see them in other niches long before you see it in travel blogging.

Finally, it’s smart to read about business and technology in general. Some of the best pieces pop up out of nowhere. Read everything you can get your eyes on and you will learn, learn, learn.

It worked because: The more you know, the better the decisions you can make.

Kate, Lisa, Cailin, Mike and Steph at Bloghouse Milwaukee

15) Find the best community.

You’ve heard me extol the virtues of Travel Blog Success repeatedly on this site, but it’s the truth — TBS is an incredible group and the best resource on the web for learning how to make money as a travel blogger.

While the other Facebook blogging groups are a bit crazy, the Travel Blog Success group is the one forum I go when I need help. And it’s the one forum where I give help to bloggers. You’ll see a lot of top travel bloggers there, helping newbie bloggers with their questions.

Also, there are lots of perks for members. The latest? Go on one of Leif’s Runaway Tours and get 10% off!

I also recently joined (and paid for) the Videography Course via the Paradise Pack, but I haven’t had time to delve into the lessons yet this summer. Soon!

TRAVEL BLOG SUCCESS IS ON SALE

Travel Blog Success is having its summer sale — and after the sale, the price of the course is going up.

Travel Blog Success course is now 35% off (savings of $121.45) until Friday, July 31, 2015 at 11:00 PM ET.

I always tell people to buy the course when it’s on sale — and considering that the regular price is about to go up, this is the best time possible to make a purchase.

Yes, I get an affiliate commission for everyone I refer to TBS. (And I should! I’ve sent them more than 80 new members!) But you know how much I believe in this product. I’ll see you in the forums.

It worked because: Having that sounding board has saved me from making more bad decisions.

Firefighter Kate in Helsinki

And Things I Could Do Better

That’s not to say that I haven’t made any missteps along the way. I’ve made PLENTY!

My site design is dated and atrocious; luckily, a redesign (an outstanding redesign) is currently underway. I’ve been horrible with Pinterest, but I recently hired a new employee to take over that aspect of my site. I should have released my first product years ago, but I’m making up for lost time now.

As I wrote earlier, you’re always able to change your mind if something’s not working. So take advantage of that.

PIN IT!

15 LESSONS-3

What is the smartest move that you ever made in your career?

Comments

168 Responses to “15 Lessons From Turning My Travel Blog Into A Career”
  1. Tiffany says:

    Thank you for your honest post. I am working hard at doing these things and need to do more. It is balancing my full-time job, travel, writing and having a life that is keeping me from it. But you give me hope!

  2. Lena says:

    “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” – that made me laugh )) thank you! all great points! True about “your own voice” and that you can’t fake that. And yes, nowadays with bought followers all social media kinda is lame (at least for me). I will never have a fb, twitter or instagram for my work. Just no. I don’t want my work next to a stupid bimbo with 2 million followers who only posts pics of her ass on instagram.

    I don’t care that it’s ‘good for business’. People come to my site for my art, my stories, my photos, my video and my own unique voice. “Everyone has written to death about Koh Phi Phi, Luang Prabang, and Hoi An. It will be hard for you to stand out and be original.’ – ummm.. not if I went there )

    Another thing I realized, I would never have banners on my site in all corners. Not my style. I have clean, simple, to the point and interesting.

    Early on, after reading “travel bloggers” I realized I wasn’t one. ) I’m just not. I’m an artist, a poet, and make money on the road with my art. Don’t think I could ever publish a “10 things to do in Uganda” .. just no… And guess, my readers love that about me. So everyone is different.

    100% agree on honesty about experiences and companies. I will never write about company, I don’t 100% passionate about.

    Gear – yes!! upgraded my camera and was able to provide kick ass images and video for a sponsored Adventure into the Amazon.

    I don’t like to make money from one thing.. it get’s boring for me.

    At the end of the day, I create, travel and share my life online because those things make me feel alive, not because they might make me a buck..

    thank you for the laugh! I so needed that today )

    Let There Always Be A Road…

    • Ron says:

      2 million followers ??? Must be a really really nice a**

      • Lena says:

        hahaha! thanks for the laugh Ron! ) I’m serious! yes, the azzz is top notch!…(maybe if mine was like that, I’d be instagraming the hell out of it too) but I do think a lot of followers were bought, so ladies like her can make big $$$ promoting anything they can get their beautiful azzzez on )

        ps – Beautiful Kate, your comment math equations are too hard for someone who’s answer was always 5 when they asked her to add 2+2 ))

    • Hey — it’s all about YOU doing YOUR thing! Glad you’re happy with how things are going.

  3. Such great advice! I’ve been a health & wellness blogger for over 3 years and have learned similar lessons. Especially when it comes to freelance work. It used to provide about 50% of my monthly income, but the inconsistencies drove me batty. Now, I focus on quality writing for my OWN blog and it’s paying off in terms of increased subscribers and pageviews.

  4. Clare says:

    A really helpful and insightful post, full of your trademark honesty we love so much. I’ve considered travel blog success before, and so far not taken the plunge. It’s probably just as well because my blogging had to slow down when I had my baby. But I’m making a come back! I do wonder though, although I primarily blog about travel, I’m no digital nomad and I blog a bit about mum stuff as well now too. Would travel blog success be right for me? I just don’t know. But I’m looking for something…

    • Lena says:

      I think you would have great success! You combine two very important themes “Moms & Traveling” …

      I’m sure there are so many moms out there who would love to learn how to travel with kids – better, cheaper, safer & more adventurous at the same time. And you can show them that and inspire them to travel more as a family.

      All the best!

    • Hi, Clare — thanks so much! Travel Blog Success is travel-oriented but most of it is geared toward blogging in general. I think it could be very helpful for you and help you zoom ahead much further and faster than you would without it. The sale ends tomorrow (!!) and then the price is going up, so this is the time! Hope to see you in the FB group.

  5. Great advice Kate, as usual 🙂 I am wondering how you feel about sponsored posts, which include a disclaimer at the bottom saying something like, “this post is sponsored by company Y”, but the post itself isn’t actually about the company. I have seen that a bit on lifestyle blogs, not so much on travel blogs, and like the idea, because the blogger is still providing the same original content that readers want, but you also earning income by linking to a sponsor. Seems like a win-win — what do you think?

    • That is something different and cool and honestly, the only person I see doing that is The Bloggess on her Weekly Wrap-Up. I think it could work very well for bloggers, assuming you actually vet the people buying the advertising!

  6. Aisling says:

    HI Kate,

    Im not a blogger but still found your post very interesting. In relation to point 5, I found you on snapchat first and then found your website!

    Keep blogging and definitely keep snapchatting! 🙂

  7. Really enjoyed this because it wasn’t the usual tips every other blogger spits out into a post for shares. I like that you haven’t taken advantage of the fact that all of us want to have the best blog we can, you’ve actually shared real lessons. I got my first flurry of sponsored posts last week and it’s made me realise how important it is to keep my voice!

  8. Laryssa says:

    Awesome and informative post, Kate!

    Thanks for not selling out. 🙂

  9. Very informative post! One question — what kind of products/companies are you an affiliate for? Or which ones worked best for you?

  10. Thank you for being so HONEST and open! I have learned many of these the hard way, and am working on a it daily…been traveling 2 years and blogging 2.5 years and things are constantly changing.

    Love your blog, and follow you on Snapchat as well! Enjoy the makeup tips and happy to see someone else has a shopping problem like me.

  11. Jordan says:

    Would you consider posting a list of the 100 travel blogs you read? Or a portion of them? I would love to be introduced to some new travel blogs. Thanks!!

  12. Great info Kate, we are looking into more affiliate work as well. We are a family of 4, just about to celebrate our 3 yrs of travel and are making that turn of blog to business. Fingers crossed we follow our gut and it is in the right direction. Thanks for your info.

  13. Bianka says:

    Loved your post – unique and honest as always. 🙂

    The only point I’m reluctant to agree with is the outsourcing bit – as an Eastern European, it is a big pet peeve that people automatically associate the region with cheap and low-quality labour. Truth is, Eastern Europe has a very vivid tech & IT scene and due to the global nature of today’s businesses more and more companies are recruiting local designers, developers and software engineers.

    So if one is looking for web development support, Eastern European folk can really offer value for ones money.

    I’m an example that not all Eastern Europeans are “cheap labour” – well-educated, in my mid 20s, I’m currently a software consultant for companies operating within the life science & military defence sectors from all over the world. Of course, I got lucky early on, because I was hired by someone who didn’t care for my ethnic background, so I didn’t have to put up with the discrimination of being less worthy due to my geolocation. Thus, that enabled my career to lift off quickly.

    And due to that luck and the flexibility of my job that enables me to work remotely, I’m finally fulfilling my dream to travel the world.

    My point being – folks, don’t assume someone is going to be less qualified to perform certain tasks, just because they come form a developing country.

    • Ron says:

      That is a valid point, although I do not believe Kate meant that as a put down. She could of used any example, such as Mexico. God only knows what kind of people come from there. Wait, my bad… it seems the” Donald ” knows.

    • Hi, Bianka — very fair point. Please know that I meant no offense toward Eastern Europeans.

      Last year, I was looking for an employee via Odesk and interviewed several Eastern Europeans. I found that none were able to write well enough in English, and that was ultimately a deal-breaker for me. But for something like IT or tech, or design, I see how that would be different.

  14. Arianwen says:

    Nice tips. I’m doing a few of these. Just splashed out on a new Mac, which is so much more efficient than my old netbook. I’m heading to SE Asia in a couple of weeks, but then that decision wasn’t blogging related; it was because I really want to see those parts of SE Asia. Fingers crossed I can find some unusual places to write about!

  15. Lauren says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. I’m a long-time writer and publisher (and traveler), but new to blogging and I’m not interested in doing a lot of press trips or sponsored posts. I love hearing that honest blogging and affiliate marketing is still a viable way to build a business.

  16. Yes, Kate! This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me. My partner and I have had our travel blog for a few years, but like you mentioned some beginning travel bloggers do, we wrote sporadically for awhile. Now, we’ve reframed and are back it it, writing much more prolifically, and really searching for our voice and niche. These tips are so helpful! I really enjoy following you on Snapchat, and think you’re relatable and fun, which is what makes you such a delight. I’ve created our own snapchat as well ( @twodrifters !!) in the hopes of capitalizing on this new, emerging, and super-enjoyable platform!

    Thanks again for the honest and comprehensive post!

    x Amy

  17. PS: That first photo of you? GORGEOUS

  18. YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH, WOMAN.

    Like you said, honesty is the best policy. Building and keeping your audience’s trust is your most valuable currency, much more so than traffic or social media numbers. That’s why all the 15 tips you listed ultimately work together: because people trust you and identify with who you are. With your affiliates. With your trips. With your sponsored stuff. If you don’t have that trust and people have no idea who you are, then you are have nothing as a blogger.

    I also think that being the only English-writing/French speaking travel blogger based out of Montreal gives me a few bonus points. Finding an underrated location definitely is worthwhile to your brand.

    I could go on and on about how I agree with each point you made but that would be just too long of a comment. Great post, Kate. Keep on being the inspiring blogger you are 🙂

  19. These TBS posts have been popping up everywhere today. Y’all are definitely doing a good job convincing me to pull the trigger. Ha. You’ve got such a fantastic and PERSONAL travel blog here, I love reading it. Thank you for sharing your lessons!

  20. Katie says:

    If only I could go back in time because I think starting 5 years ago would give any halt decent travel blogger a massive chance as there are so many thousands starting out now. I definitely agree that there are a lot of travel bloggers taking too many sponsored trips and I was glad to see you pulled away from that as I like your posts a lot better now

    • You’re right. Timing is a huge factor and there are a lot of people who have their success due to when they started. And I’m glad that you shared that you were happy that I pulled back on the press trips!

  21. Bobbi Gould says:

    The reason you are my #1 go-to blog is because of your honesty! I really appreciated these tips and what you have to say. THANK YOU!

  22. Sarah Lynn says:

    Great post Kate!
    Really enjoyed reading your tips and appreciate how direct you are with your audience.
    I will definitely be putting a few of these into practice.
    Sarah Lynn

  23. Shan says:

    Hey Kate,

    I’ve been reading your blog since I first decided to take the plunge and actually go traveling nearly a year ago! I’m actually leaving soon for… Yeah, South East Asia.

    I was planning on blogging about this as I am half Thai and never met that side of my family, I’ll be spending a few months with them fully immersing myself in their culture and day to day life.

    Thanks for inspiring me to leave my comfortable job and finally do something I’ve been dreaming about for years!

  24. Natasha says:

    Thanks a lot for this honest post, Kate!
    I’m so new to all of this and your post is just right in time! I enjoy to read your blog.
    And very much loved “get out of SE Asia part(:

  25. Thanks for all the tips! I really enjoyed this! I loved your section about instragram. I am NOT following and unfollowing people in some kind of game, amen! I need to bite the bullet and buy a TBS membership now that its on sale. My grad school budge is QUITE frugal.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Katie @ Katie Wanders

  26. Ola says:

    Hi Kate,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. This post is really awesome because I like people being honest about their blogs. There was one blogger I was following for a couple of years until I got to a point where I realised that she totally turned to some kind “promote every kind of stuff” which is totally unrelated to the posts she used to publish. Today I don’t understand at all what the blog is supposed to be. I prefer blogs where I get interesting content like yours and not only consisting of content which has been sponsored by a company.

  27. Love it! Thanks for all the advice!

  28. Thank you thank you thank you for this post. It answered some of my questions. I’m just getting into travel blogging. I know a good amount about marketing but couldn’t find the right outlet and now I think I’ve got it. Plus I’ve been traveling more often than not for years!
    I’ve also been considering that course. When I make the plunge I’ll do it with your link (you DID/DO inspire me so you deserve it). I just promised myself I’d finish my current course first.

  29. Christy says:

    I agree with you about trying to make as much money as humanly possible. It’s definitely a good idea to be picky with your partnerships. I have an honest question about affiliate income though. How much of your affiliate income is from selling products related to blogging? I think it’s tough to make a living from affiliate income in travel blogging unless you write posts for other wannabe travel bloggers and link to things like Travel Blog Success and hosting. I haven’t found any great hotel affiliate programs besides AirBnb, which only gives you credit towards future travel and I can’t pay my bills with an AirBnb credit. 🙂

    • Dude, if I could pay bills with Airbnb credit, I would be MAKING BANK. Ha. I’ll settle for free accommodation everywhere.

      A big portion of my affiliate sales are related to blogging and web stuff, it’s true. But that’s just part of the puzzle. Travel gear and clothing is also HUGE in the affiliate world.

  30. Amanda says:

    Love it! I just celebrated my 5-year blogiversary (WHERE have the years gone?!?) and wrote about what I’ve learned about blogging in that time. I’ve learned a lot of the same things you have. But I think the most important lesson is that you have to figure out what’s right for YOU and YOUR audience and try not to worry so much about what everyone else is doing.

    Blogging has changed SO MUCH in the past half-decade – I feel like I’m still learning new things all the time. I definitely am impressed by your affiliate success! I want to be like you when I grow up, Kate. 😉

  31. Rich Brown says:

    Kate,
    Great post. I’m not interested in blogging, but do want to travel more and I love your candid, truthful reviews of the places you visit. I feel confident that if you are “not feeling it” with a destination, then I won’t waste my time with it. There are enough other places to visit.

    I love your Snapchap posts and i am just learning how it all works.

    Also, love that you are an iPhone Girl! I love my MacBook Pro and iPhone 6 Plus.

    Take care, and safe travels.

    Rich

  32. Celine says:

    Well said, Kate! I’m your big fans and also a newbie writing my own travel blog at http://www.smallfeetjourney.com. your posts are very informative and it helps me a lot! A big thanks!

  33. Kate says:

    Great tips – thanks so much for sharing you insights!

  34. Ahh… this is SO good! I feel like I’m way more on track with my blogging after BlogHouse and I’m really trying to focus on a lot of the things you have mentioned in this post – in particular the affiliate side of things. I was tempted to go back to South East Asia next year and set up in Ubud for six months but you’ve totally put me off. I wanted to live somewhere cheap so I can get home help with the kids which would give me more time to devote to my business but it’s counter productive if it means I’ll have nothing interesting to write about.

    • How about Guatemala? Lake Atitlan is super-cheap, kid-friendly (as long as you keep an eye on them near the water, obvs), and people don’t write about it nearly as much as they should!

      Was awesome hanging out with you at the Bloghouse!

  35. Stephanie says:

    Thank you Kate for these great suggestions! I’ve been struggling with determining the best steps to build my blog, affiliates, press trips,etc. Your honesty and transparency is so helpful. Thank You!

  36. Brenna says:

    This is really great advice, Kate – thank you very much for posting it. I actually just wrote a huge post about travel blogging today, too! I totally agree with you about creating a presence online, and about writing prolifically in the early days. I also agree about what you have to say about accepting too many comps/press trips/etc… I’ve stopped reading blogs because they accepted too much, and I really try to limit what I accept. The smartest move I ever made in my travel blogging career was to get out and network, even if it was scary at first… it led to so many opportunities, and I now have a job I love in the travel world.

    By the way, you’ve inspired me to finally join TBS!!

  37. This is one incredible post. Definitely loads of quality tips and lessons learned from reading. Thanks for sharing Kate.

  38. Mel says:

    Yes! Someone who doesnt love freelance writing and loves affiliates. Im currently working through this- the dream of freelancing is not really a dream at all. So over it. And so over Chiang Mai (which i belive you were too). Fresh and to the point and exactly what i needed to hear, thankyou i feel less like a crazy person for wanting to disapear and do something different!

  39. Vira says:

    very useful tips! Some, I have applied but not optimum, and some I wasn’t even aware.
    Thank you very much for sharing, Kate!

  40. John says:

    Thanks for the tips, Kate!

    I am just starting my journey. I will keep these in mind along the way.

  41. Britt says:

    Absolutely loved this post.

    Some super insightful and honest advice about cracking into the travel blog industry. For the past 8 months the whole blogging thing has mostly been an extra way to engage with my passion for writing, and also because I was getting so many questions from all of my friends about things like accessing money overseas, what to do in certain places I had visited, frequent flyer programs etc that I just decided it would be easier to publish a post rather than answer all of them individually!

    However I’m looking to expand on that in the next couple of months before I head overseas on my 15 month trip to Europe, Central and South America!

    I especially understand your advice about comping and press trips. I stopped reading what could have been an amazing blog a while ago because it just became all about hotel reviews from places she had stayed, tours etc and she just wasn’t engaging with her audience at all. In contrast I quite like affiliate links! If I’m reading and enjoying a blog I definitely want to do as much as I can to make sure that blog continues to be successful and it doesn’t cost me anything to use an affiliate link!

    Thanks so much for sharing the TBS sale- I’ve been wanting to purchase it for the last couple of months but have been holding out for a sale. I made sure I bought it through you! Hopefully it will be able to help me get to the next level.

    • Britt, thank you for buying through me. I always make sure to buy affiliate items through bloggers whom I love, and I’m so glad that you did that for me. And answering readers’ questions is a GREAT idea for blog posts!

  42. Well, you got another TBS rebate from me. Thanks for the referral + see you in the forums!

  43. Richelle says:

    I love your comment about freelance writing! It seems like every blogger is trying to make a living from it these days and I honestly think the stress isn’t worth it. I think it’s great for making an income when you’re just starting out trying to make a living off your site but eventually you have to find other forms of income, otherwise you’ll be living paycheck to paycheck. Aside from affiliate sales, I’m still trying to figure out how I’ll make money outside of freelance writing in the future, but I definitely don’t want to rely on it for my career. I can only handle so much writing before I go crazy!

    • The worst thing is that a lot of people trying to become freelance writers are people who have no business writing professionally. :-/ And somehow they’ve gotten this far with nobody telling them that.

  44. Rachael says:

    Great post Kate. It also includes some really solid advice. I’m a relatively new blogger writing about family travel and there seems to be a point where you do some ‘selling out’ and look for huge numbers or stay true to your writing and why you started your blog in the first place. I’m trying to strike this balance and these tips will come in super handy.

    Safe travels!

  45. Posts like this are exactly the reason people keep coming back for more. Great post Kate. Somehow you manage to write about the realities and struggles of travel blogging without making me want to bury my head in the sand and give up ;). You inspire.

    We’re still in the early days of our blog and it’s so easy to get caught up in everything and lose focus on writing prolifically – but this post has given me a digital kick up the backside. I’m definitely going to look into affiliate marketing a little more. I was of the mindset that this wouldn’t be worth it until our audience had grown a little – now I’ll get it sorted :). We have joined Travel Blog Success and LOVE it!

    I’ll be sharing this right this moment. Thanks for the fab pointers as always.

    Gabby

  46. Vid says:

    Hey Kate,

    So which affiliate networks are the best according to you? (based on your experiences so far in your affiliate-the-f*ck-out-of-everything stage :-))

    Cheers

    • Keep in mind that it varies for everyone, but I do particularly well with Amazon, Bluehost, World Nomads, Aweber, and Travel Blog Success, as well as several flight and hotel booking sites via Commission Junction.

  47. Dale says:

    Whilst I really appreciate a lot of this post, one part I’ll stick my neck out on and say I don’t agree with is about posting continuously. It’s just not necessary.

    I too followed that same recommendation and path that you took, publishing five posts a week. Now I look back and all of those words are hidden in the depths of the blog getting no attention by anyone via social or direct traffic, and at the end of the day if they’re sitting there getting less than 10 views a month, who are they really for?

    It’s better to put all of your time and words into creating one incredible piece every week or two weeks than the alternative.

    My tip for new travel bloggers: Pace Yourself.

    Create a story that’s full of inspiration and information that will enable people to follow your same adventure. Forget about short “photo of the day” posts and weave an inspiring story that YOU’D like to read and share.

  48. Great tips! We’ve been blogging for three years but just now moving to a self-hosted site. We love your tips and you’ve helped us immensely!

  49. eunice says:

    Thanks! everything you say is so true. I’m so sick of reading articles about south east Asia everywhere. Also those blogs with ads are a bit annoying as they are always promotting hotels that I can’t afford!

    http://www.studentsNtravelers.blogpost.com

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