Five Years of Travel Blogging: Hitting the Reset Button

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Kate at the Tarxien Temples

On this day five years ago, I was putting together the elements of this blog. Securing hosting, buying a theme, working out every detail so that it would be set for its first post to go live on February 6.

Five years. Not a lot of us make it to five years.

I feel like I’m starting over this winter. Traveling to a new region — Central America. Traveling on my own. On the backpacker trail. Sleeping in hostels. Single. I’ve got an itinerary, but I can do pretty much whatever I feel like.

I feel so free in a way I haven’t felt in so long.

Kate in Tat Lo

Kate in Tat Lo, Laos, 2010

Still, there’s no way I can ever go back to who I was in 2010.

I need to spend a lot more time working than I did back then. I was invited to join in a drinking game last night at my hostel and I smiled and said, “Thanks, but I’m working.”

“WORKING?!” everyone yelled. 2010 Kate would have been in there like swimwear. Instead, I buckled down and wrote as they played Kings while yelling at each other in Italian accents.

I’m not broke anymore. Which means I’m still backpacking, but staying in much better places, taking more convenient transportation, and doing more activities.

Part of this trip is leading tours of my readers. People are coming to travel with me. I can’t believe it sometimes.

I’m carrying more stuff. Even though I initially tried to resurrect my old 38L backpack from Southeast Asia, I just couldn’t pare down my belongings enough — I’m sticking to my trusty 60L Osprey Sojourn.

I’ve got only one comp planned in Central America. I was invited to stay at a resort with whom I’ve collaborated in the past (and where I’ve wanted to stay for months), so it was an easy decision for me. But that’s it. No comped activities, no sponsored lodging every night. Just this.

That brings up something with which I’ve struggled — the balance between earning an income and not bombarding you, my dear readers, with sponsored crap all the time. I’m not opposed to comps, sponsored travel, or branded content in general, and whenever I do produce sponsored content, I work my ass off to make it as entertaining for you to read as possible. Still, I know that you prefer to read about things I pay for out of pocket.

The travel blogging landscape has changed so much in five years. Most old-timers started like I did: working a full-time job and traveling when possible or traveling on a budget long-term. These days, quite a few of us are making enough money to blog full-time. That wasn’t even the case two years ago!

And I don’t agree with everyone. I know pro bloggers who get everything comped. I know pro bloggers who think that taking comps is okay, but taking money in addition to comps is wrong. I know pro bloggers who haven’t paid out of pocket for travel in months if not years (though to be fair, maybe they are privately and just never write or share anything about these trips). I know some who don’t even provide coverage for what they’re given.

Still, I don’t begrudge any blogger for their choices — everyone’s got to make a living, and it’s not easy in this Wild West of an industry.

Kate in Valencia

So here’s what I want out of travel blogging today:

To travel on my own terms. I want to go where I want, when I want. I want to spend summers in the Balkans and winters in the tropics. I don’t want to be limited by the demands of sponsors, clients, or significant others.

To travel on my own dime. Again, I’m not opposed to occasional comps or campaigns, but I want the vast majority of my travel to be funded by myself.

Increased passive income. I had a turning point last year when I finally cracked big numbers in affiliate marketing (recommending products and getting a commission if you buy them, at no extra cost to you). Like other forms of passive income, affiliate marketing takes a lot of work in the beginning but is largely “set it and forget it” after it starts working.

It’s an enormous relief to know I have money coming in each month, no matter how much work I do.

Trading comps for affiliates. I’d much rather buy a travel product with my own money, write about it if I feel like it, and make money off resulting affiliate sales than be provided with comped gear in exchange for a review.

Moving to New York next year. I love New York and I really think it will make a great home for me. I’m ready to have my own place again.

Increased income. So many people talk about how they’re happier than they’ve ever been with all their belongings fitting into a backpack and living on $30 a day, saying that they discovered what’s truly important in life. I was never really one of those people. 🙂

I always had my eye on making more money as soon as I could, and though I’m making a good living nowadays, I’m continuing to set my goals higher and higher.

Scalable projects. As much as I’m looking forward to running tours, they’re not scalable — I can’t clone myself or create more time. It’s the same with consulting. But I’ve decided to turn my attention to projects that require the same amount of work from me, whether there’s one customer or 10,000.

I have a lot of projects planned for this year, but I’ve decided to keep them private until they’re ready for their debut.

An agent working on my behalf. Not an assistant, not an intern, an agent. Someone experienced in the field who knows the industry, is a badass, fights for cash, and can do more of the hustling so I can focus on content creation.

Kate at Walpa Gorge

And here’s what I don’t want:

Constantly hopping from press trip to press trip. I’ve had the time of my life on some press trips (both South Africa trips especially), and I love traveling with my blogger buddies whenever I get the chance, but it’s often not a realistic depiction of how I would travel, and taking too many press trips sends the impression that you’ll do anything for a free trip or money. It’s the same with comps.

I’m going to continue taking press trips from time to time, but limiting it to the ones that fit me best.

Freelance travel writing. Is it possible to adore writing about travel but detest freelance travel writing? Well, that’s me. I have a lot of friends who have become successful freelance travel writers, and I’m thrilled for them, but it’s really not for me as a long-term career.

You can earn well as a freelance writer after years of hustling and networking and growing relationships, but honestly, I’m not willing to put in the effort. I’ve hustled like crazy for blogging; I don’t want to do it for another career that I don’t enjoy.

Developing campaigns. Some people are amazing at developing blogger campaigns. I’m not one of them! I’d much rather take on quality campaigns developed by other people than create them myself.

Being limited to living or traveling in developing countries. I’m not going to say I want to avoid developing countries — far from it! — but I don’t like traveling there because I have no other choice. I want to be able to spend a month in France or New Zealand if I want to.

Supporting a partner’s travels at the expense of my readers. I’ve called in lots of favors for former partners of mine, which often meant taking on far more comps than I wanted and thus creating much more sponsored content than I wanted to. I’m happy to financially support a partner if he supports me equally in other ways, but I will no longer do it at the expense of my brand.

Honestly, it’s like navigating an emotional minefield because the underlying subtext is, “You’re willing to get free sh*t for yourself but not for your trip with ME?” Which isn’t good for any relationship.

Kate at Norway Fjords

Where would I like to be this time next year?

I doubt I’ll have a place in New York by next January (as I’m sure I’ll have the desire to head south for most of the winter!), but I’ll probably be looking for an apartment by spring 2016. Ideally a Brooklyn two-bedroom that I can rent out for extra income.

I just want to keep working for myself, traveling to cool places, and creating. When I was a college student who listed “getting paid to blog about my life” as her dream career, I never — and I mean never — dreamed that my life would look like this at age 30.

From growing up in a developed country to receiving quality public education to having parents who paid for most of my college education, I’m aware of my privilege and incredibly grateful to have had the life opportunities that brought me to where I am today. I promise to use my platform to help you make your lives better.

What are your professional goals for the next year?

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240 thoughts on “Five Years of Travel Blogging: Hitting the Reset Button”

  1. Totally agree about not wanting to be limited to travelling to developing countries. I love beach bumming it in Southeast Asia just as much as the next girl, but I’ve been really happy to be in Europe the past couple months. Plus, it’s totally possible to travel on a budget in Europe. There are a lot of ways to cut costs!

  2. You go, girl! Absolutely love keeping up with your blog and social media posts. I respect so much that you know what you want and go get it. Enjoy Costa Rica! 🙂

  3. Totally nodding on so many of these!

    “So many people talk about how they’re happier than they’ve ever been with all their belongings fitting into a backpack and living on $30 a day, saying that they discovered what’s truly important in life. I was never really one of those people.” — YASSS! I love having my own fridge and decorating an apartment is so freaking fun! How do you manage not getting tired without having a home base for so long? I can’t.

    Loved traveling on our own for 2 months. And I never went into travel blogging to be a freelance travel writer. I’ve probably only written twice for someone and that’s it. I just wanna write for my own blog. I don’t care about being published in magazines or websites unless they feature me 😀

    I also would like to limit my business travels aka travel conferences but it’s the only time I meet bloggers and I’m such a social butterfly so I still do it for the fun and parties 😀

    1. Dude, I love your apartment and I haven’t even been there! Can you decorate mine in the future??

      I agree with you about conferences — I don’t do many but it’s so nice getting to be with everyone. Considering that bloggers are some of my closest friends these days this is how I spend time with my dear buddies!

  4. Nicole Tarnogursky

    Happy for you and this next season! You sound equal parts determined and open and beautiful things happen in that space. Hopefully we will have a chance to meet – I’ll be backpacking through Central America over the next few months as well!

  5. Great decissions! You cannot do good work if you are not happy with what you do. I hope I will also be write something like this in 5 years time… I’d love to get some income from blogging, but so far I am just working like crazy to create a content… oh well, I will get there slowly. I guess there are three main rules to be a sucesseful blogger: start blogging if you enjoy it, work hard and be patient.
    Happy traveling and follow your heart! 🙂

  6. Love this and sounds like you’re well on your way to hitting those goals! And thank god you said that about your bag.. Leaving tonight with a 60L bag, feel like I have too much stuff, but I’m just saying fuck it at this point. I’ll pare down once I’m on the road?! Hope Central America is amazing for you and will be stalking your whereabouts (in a non-creepy way!)

  7. So inspired by what you’ve achieved. I’d love to find a way to make enough from my blog about travelling Europe (still a work in progress) so I can physically travel Europe more. Ever since a 10-week trip in summer 2013, I’ve been eager to save to go back out again and lay the foundations for the blog to document it. I wish you all the best in 2015 and for your base in New York. It will come! 🙂

  8. I love this. Personally one that stood out was not being limited to developing countries – nothing against them but they are not (except for Thailand) among my top places to go.

  9. You really sound like you’re living your own dream, Kate. Proof that working hard for what you want can get you there. Your work ethic and dedication always comes through in your posts which I do admire. For me, life has changed completely over the last 12 months which means the ideas I had about taking my blog forward have had to change, but I’m going with it. I still want to do more, work more, and achieve more, so I’m working on a bit of a revamp. Posts like this always put a bit of fire in my belly (and that’s not easy to do when I’m sleep deprived with a new baby), so thanks! And have a great year!

  10. What a wonderful flashback of the last 5 years! I had different emotions running in different tabs when my blog completed one year. Can’t imagine what it must feel like to complete 005;-)
    As they say, its always easier to connect the dots backwards. Right from quitting your job to travelling to blogging to becoming a role model for many, looks like one hell of a mad ride. Congrats for that Kate and here’s wishing you and your blog, more power and more success in the years to come. Cheers!

  11. Although I am at the absolute beginning of my travel blogging, I have so much respect for your goals. Right now, I’d love to get comps, but I can see myself getting carried away with it if I got offers.
    I can only hope that I stick with it and am able to make choices like you in five years!

  12. Love this post! I am just getting started with my blog and it really helps to see how far other people are in their journey. I will celebrate February 6 with you, as it is my birthday, too! Congrats on the 5 year mark. 🙂

  13. I’m glad you say you will press the reset button, not the stop button or pause. We, your readers, deserve it – and look forward to reading more of your wonderful posts. Thank you and good luck with your new ambitions.

  14. Congrats on making it to the five year mark! It’s my goal to revive my blog and have it feature more travel and lifestyle pieces. I’m going to start with my first trip to Europe in the spring. I was originally going to go in September but had to push it to April. Thanks for continuing to be an awesome inspiration for free spirited women (and men) everywhere! 🙂

  15. Happy 5 year anniversary Kate!
    I admire your commitment to ‘your brand’. I love reading your blog because you are honest and I value your opinion on places.
    Personally I loved it when you blogged from developing countries. You inspired me to travel to Laos and Vietnam. People do change though so carry on being authentically ‘you’! 🙂

  16. It’s fascinating to see how much has changed over the years- esp earning potential. I’ve found that I LOVE involving myself in creating projects for brands, while I have friends who just want the final agenda emailed to them.

    Just goes to show that there’s room for everyone- what that room looks like is a lot different than before.

  17. I completely agree with you when you say readers don’t constantly want to be bombarded with press trips or comps.
    I was reading another blog for about a day until I realised 80% of her posts were reviews on comped hotels that I could never afford to stay at. I don’t begrudge anyone for the way they travel- I think good on her but it doesn’t make for either a very relatable or very interesting blog to follow.

    What I love about your blog is your level of honesty with your readers and your dedication to them. You are willing to take the harder path in order to build your website and stay loyal to your readership and I think that’s an incredible thing.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your travels in Central America! I’ll be there at the end of next year so your advice is going to be great!

    1. Thanks, Britt! You know, different people like different things, and I’ll never be able to please everybody. But I try to stay tuned to how people are reacting to everything, and too many press trips does send the message that you’ll do anything for a free trip or cash, even if that’s not the case. I was always super discriminate with my press trips, but it’s hard to get that across.

  18. Kate, congrats on taking on the endeavor of doing massive work to your site! I hope it’s everything you hoped for. I also hope though that the content from the last five years isn’t lost, so that new readers can see [read] all that you have done.

    You should do a working holiday in New Zealand. It doesn’t have to be the working holiday visa, but you know, a month in NZ? Hell, I’ll take you around and give you an air mattress to crash on in Auckland. I’m currently doing some personal projects in Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, and dammit I couldn’t be happier coding with boats and parasailers in the background.

    I hope you achieve everything you set out for this year! Cheers!

    1. Oh, don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of deleting anything! Even all the stuff with my ex, I left it as is. Time capsule, if you will.

      I’m on a deadline — if I want to get a working holiday visa in NZ, I’ve got less than six months to do so. Don’t think it will happen, but a lengthy trip definitely will at some point!

  19. This sounds like such a great stock-take of your lifestyle, Kate. It can take a lot to stand up and refuse to be batted about by bigger forces, but I’m so pleased for you – and super excited to read about the next year, and then about your life in New York after that! 🙂

  20. So nuts–I’ll be blogging for five years this April. We’ve definitely taken divergent paths, but related to a lot of what you said here and it certainly inspired a few ideas on my end. Congrats on making it here, and best of luck going forward–especially with finding that Brooklyn two-bedroom 😉

  21. I just want to say that I really respect you for deciding not to support a partner at the expense of your own brand. It can be easy to fall into this trap if you love someone, but if they’re not contributing back in some way and you’re effectively just paying for them to have a long holiday, that’s no good. I also think that any partner who truly loves you would totally understand why you can’t continue to do this and moreso would probably never ask you to do it in the first place. 🙂

    1. I hear that, Karyn! I got especially sucked into that last year. A lot of things happened that I didn’t want to happen, but you live, you learn. I know that the next person I date should be on solid financial footing — not rich, but not barely treading water either.

  22. Great priorities and I love that you are going to be travelling on your own dime because that means you will have the freedom to do what you want. I will also be doing a lot of solo travel from June this year as my fiance doesn’t want to do any long term travel with me in the forseeable future; he wants to work on his career. Congrats on five years blogging – that’s a good effort!

  23. I’ll be blunt: I pretty much stopped reading your blog because of all the press trips. It started in South Africa and got worse from there. I never really gave up on the blog entirely, but I used to passionately check every day to see if you posted and read every post. That dwindled to popping in once every few weeks and reading maybe one in five of the articles you posted.

    I’m glad to see you acknowledge the problems with sponsored trips, and I really hope to fall in love with the blog again!

    1. And obviously- congratulations on five years! That’s definitely an impressive milestone in perseverance and hard work! 🙂

  24. I want to move to NYC within the next couple of years too, so this is perfect! I’ll take the extra room! Har har.

    Seriously though, these look like great goals, and it’s so exciting to hear how much you’ve figured out about yourself/your blogging. Working on the same for myself!


  25. Kate,

    I’m still amazed and a little baffled by the business of travel blogging, or any kind of professional blogging. One thing that’s fun about reading your posts are that they are so honest, straightforward, and insightful. I like how you take stock and analyze your own goals, and are really honest about where you want to go. When I read your work, I get sucked into good writing and high professionalism.

    Just want to check in and say how much I enjoy reading your posts, and how much I admire your work and your approach.

  26. Hi Kate,
    We met some years back at TBU in Perugia. We had been in touch briefly before that event when we corresponded via email when I had questions about the event. I’m at the 4-year mark now – somehow I thought you’d be beyond 5 years at this point – and am happy with everything you’ve outlined in your post. I was a travel writer/magazine editor years back (after which I went into PR and Marketing for the $$$, before my wife gave me the push to go back to my love — the (new) media via blogging). I’ve been down similar roads to the ones you’ve traveled and I’ll tell you that the route you’ve chosen will take a lot less wear and tear on you, and overall you’ll be a lot happier. Congratulations on being so strong! See you online.

  27. It’s so refreshing to hear your reality of making a solid career of blogging…..for newb bloggers (myself included) it can look as though you have to do certain things to get to the elusive “success”. But actually, it’s about your own priorities, not other people’s expectations…..Bravo!

    Oh, and congrats on 5 years of blogging:)

  28. Kate! I’m so glad you’ve decided to cut down on the sponsored tours! I started reading your blog just after it got big and I missed out on most of your backpacking adventures.
    I was just in Central America for about ten months last year and it is amazing there, you’re going to have the best time. Hope you have a little spanish handy!

    You must go to the Sloth Sanctuary in Cahuita, and to swim with turtles off the beach in Akumal (its a short bus from Playa del Carmen and its free!).

  29. Congrats on making it to 5 years! That really is a milestone in the world of travel blogging.

    I love that you’re guiding some tours now. I wish I could make it to one this year but it looks like my vacation time has pretty much been accounted for already. Boo. See you at WITS. 🙂

  30. Congratulations on five years. I enjoy following your story so much! This year I will embark on professional development in the form of a graduate degree and hope to continue to grow and evolve my blog.

  31. if you can remember at the end of the year, would appreciate it if you would comment on if it is harder to travel solo than with another person? doing all the work, making all the decisions, the small problems to work around from who to watch the luggage while you use the bathroom to how to find a doctor when you are too ill to get out of bed…

    this is an ongoing story i am researching

  32. It’s very inspiring to see your determination. I love that you refuse to be dictated what to do, but at the same time that you are really down to earth. It is refreshing, as sometimes we come across people who think they have it all figured out, but in fact have no idea of what they are saying or doing. Thanks for sharing your experience and the wisdom you acquire with each passing month, and year. Keep up the good work, Kate, it is uplifting to read about your adventures!

  33. Thanks for this honest post. It must be hard to balance taking on more sponsors for more cash and trying to remain true to yourself and your readers. After all, you deserve sponsor cash after all your hard work! It takes guts to prioritize your readership.