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. That was an interesting read. As someone just getting into ‘travel’ blogging, it’s definitely inspiring to see how well you’ve done. I can’t even imagine how much work it’s taken you to build the loyal following you have. Congrats and good luck with your travel blogging goals. I hope you can keep doing it on your terms 🙂

  2. Great read, Kate. I’m glad I came across your blog last year and pretty much binge-read through the archives. You have come so far and I don’t doubt you’ll be able to accomplish most, if not all, of your goals for the year.

    Mine are fairly simple and I’m grateful to have been blessed with the clarity to pinpoint exactly what I want at this stage of my life.

    – Move to a warmer location (California, Costa Rica or Hawaii are the current top 3)
    – Launch my author website that will serve as a platform for me to post creative stories on a weekly/bi-weekly basis.
    – Work for my self. Create a profitable business that will be of service to others.

    I have already set the wheels in motion and launched my intention into the universe. Just need to stay positive and keep my thoughts focused on my goals and desires.

  3. I appreciate your honesty and your approach to not have site featuring posts crowded with sponsorships and reviews for comped accommodations. I’m glad you want to help others see how they can improve their lives with travel and make your posts meaningful.

    For a while I’ve been figuring out my own blog and where to take it. My voice and perspective have changed a lot, and I just wrote an Advertising and Editorial policy to make it a mission/vision statement for myself and others who visit my site. It really helps set some goals.

    Here’s to your next five years!

  4. How refreshing to read this :-). Good for you. You are always so honest and transparent, and l think we all appreciate that. Continued success, and you are going to love your 30’s. That’s when you really come into your own..

  5. I can’t believe it’s been five years already! I remember checking your site for new posts while you were in Asia the first time. I’ve taken a similar path by becoming a blogger myself and I genuinely enjoy reading your blog even though we have different approaches and travel styles. You are one damn inspiring blogger and I wish you the best for years to come 🙂

  6. Hi Kate,
    First of all thank you for your travel blog. There are 4-5 that I follow but yours is by far my favorite. It’s entertaining and maybe more improtant it’s real. Your voice comes through clear in your posts.

    Being a travel blogger/photographer has been my dream and this post in particular is full of valuable nuggets. I hope to attend a travel blogger workshop in the next 12-18 months. More detail on some of the elements discussed in this post would be great, maybe in a future blog. I’m slowly educating myself and picking up valuable nuggets here and there. One term I haven’t seen before is a “bloggers campaign”. It would be great to get more information on that.

    Anyway, keep up the great work. I look forward to reading about your adventures in the coming year. Safe travels.

  7. Hi Kate….stumbled upon your website on Facebook. What a fabulous read. I absolutely love your honesty. Way to go, you sound like a bloody legend. Good for you. Looking forward to reading more and following along with your adventures. Your new reader – Miss Chardy – from Outback Australia…all the way Down Under x

  8. Kate-
    I am new to this blog. But since finding it im addicted. I’ve suffered my whole life with depression and anxiety. It’s just recently I’ve discovered that the thought of traveling and planning trips, helps immensely. Hence the new addiction to travel blogs.

    I’m think of going to the Women in Travel Summit as I know you are a keynote speaker. Will you be talking about how to do what you do? I want to travel and blog about it.

    Anyways, I love your blog. I like be your courage to start over in a way. And to keep going amidst a breakup. That’s hard! Thank you for doing what you do!

    1. Hi, Michelle! I’d love to see you at the summit, but my keynote is actually not going to be able how to be a professional travel blogger. It’s going to touch on issues in feminism and gender equality in travel blogging today. But there will be tracks focusing on how to blog, just not mine personally.

  9. Congratulations Kate, it must be so satisfying to have reached a point where you’re able to really sit back and think about exactly what you want from your career (and life!) – especially when you’ve worked so hard over the last 5 years to get here. Looking forward to seeing where the reset takes you.

  10. Congratulations babe! Gosh, I’ve been following your blog over the past month or two and have literally read it back to front! It’s like the most entertaining, interesting novel I have ever read. Love it and it inspires me so much.
    I actually JUST booked flights for Bali and the Phillipines. Planning on doing a surf camp and beach bumming it for a while! I cannot wait!
    My travel blog will get filled with some new and interesting stuff!
    You really inspire me! Keep it up, you’re amazing xxxxx

    http://www.bohemianmuses.blogspot.com

  11. WOW Kate its been five years! Job well done. I remember I started following you a while back when I wanted to start really traveling the world. Life happened and I never did travel. I made choices to start a family and business and just didn’t make it a priority. I love that you have a plan and goals and are looking to do WHAT YOU WANT!! New York sounds nice but living here in sunny Delray I don’t think I would want to exchange it for those cold winters but like you mentioned you can rent it out while you are in south someone where relaxing.

    Affiliate income is a great passive income and I agree that it would be nice to hear about more about what you are doing on your dime. At least you can get a really honest opinion though most travel bloggers say they are giving an HONEST opinion. Balance key and it seems as though you have found it. Here’s to your upcoming projects and getting that place by 2016.

  12. I think it is awesome how well you’ve done for yourself in these five years of blogging. I only I can do the same. I’m just learning how to navigate this wild world of travel blogging and I think it is great that you have a clear direction of where you want your career to go. I am writer, a bartender and a mom of two toddlers and I really got into blogging to hopefully give me more freedom and opportunity to travel with my babies. Glad to hear it is possible to be a success.

  13. I’ve only been blogging for a year so it’s interesting to see your 5-year perspective. I respect you for wanting to do it your way, to make your own rules and turn away anything that makes you compromise your brand – you’ve certainly earned it. I personally don’t mind “sponsored” content, as long as it’s honest. Everyone deserves an income for their hard work. Looking forward to what is to come in 2015 from Adventurous Kate. Good luck with NYC.

  14. I love that you’re real on your blog! So many travel bloggers (and other bloggers, mainly the fashion/lifestyle bloggers) are fake. I’m glad to hear that you’ve decided to go back to your roots, but also evolve your traveling as you have become wiser and more mature. I think it’s a natural evolution. We prioritize different things at different ages.

    This past week I had the opportunity to listen to a really amazing woman speak about leadership in the non-profit world. One of the messages she gave us was to be true to ourselves. I loved it. At the end of the day we have to be true to ourselves and who we are. It sounds like that’s your focus this year! And I think that makes you a kickass travel blogger!

    Can’t wait to meet you at WITS in March! 🙂

  15. Bravo! I started reading during your backpacking adventures just before I started my own. And I’ll admit, I mostly stopped reading once you started doing so many press trips. I’ve stopped reading a lot of blogs for that reason.

    But now I’m excited to pick up again and read about your solo travels in Central America, a region I haven’t explored at all yet.

    Congrats on 5 years and on figuring out what works best for you!

  16. Kate!!

    Thank you so much for this!

    I love my blog but have always struggled with the thought of if I should try and make money off of it or not. I decided in the end that I just wanted to present good stories of my adventures and share them with the world. Its so nice to see that you went down the path and are now trying to find a balance. I hate the idea of traveling on someone else’s schedule. I have had a few paid opportunities arise from my blog, but so far have managed to keep my blog more as a reference, instead of a press option.

    Thanks again for being so open and honest. It is so refreshing in this commercially-driven blog community!

    Cheers and happy travels!
    Lacy

  17. I like how you put down all your goals along with the things you don’t want. It’s all part of making a vision come true. And it’s also inspirational how you haven’t stopped reaching higher. I always try to do the same too. Congrats on five years of blogging!

  18. I’m with you 100% I love writing about my adventures, but having someone else dictate the terms of how much I write/what content to include is a bit of a buzz kill. I don’t mind sponsored content if it’s a product that I already love/use, but I don’t want my readers to feel like it’s forced.

    Love your blog – keep on, keepin’ on!

  19. Absolutely wonderful post Kate! I wish you the best of luck with your goals. I recently quit a job I loved in order to travel, but I’m not sure it’s a feasible long term career for me. However I’ve been a marine mammal trainer for a long time and it’s really all I know how to do. I’m hoping 2015 and all the travels I have planned will lead me in a new and exciting career direction…maybe to something I never even dreamed of doing! And if not, well then I guess I’ll just keep on traveling. There are worse things 🙂

  20. I have two professional goals: 1) finish with good grades my year – I’m getting my degree in Psychology while I work as an au pair in Paris and 2) I just started my travel blog and I hope to get really good at wirtting.

  21. I have only just started blogging myself, and I still have a long way to go.
    You are a great inspiration, and I think that 5 years is very impressive.
    I’m glad you’re doing things for you, the way you want it. Stick to that and everything will work out fine 🙂

  22. 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

  23. Very interesting … it’s actually crazy… since I live in new York now… upper east side already a year and a half, have my own apartment in Moscow which brings cash every month… so I traveled regardless of sponsored trips or not..

    However right now I’m downsizing – will move to a two bedroom further from UES, but still close to it for the same amount as I’m paying for a luxury hole in the wall with a doorman. I’m sure you know how Rubble has crushed in Russia, so I have to make changes…

    And I just like you will be off in Winters and Summer traveling around the world and living in Manhattan Spring and Autumn, while sharing my two bedroom with roommate and also subletting my own room the rest 6 months out of the year. (starting October 2015)

    All wonderful plans, Kate! Must feel really liberating to know what you want and don’t. I really hope our paths cross and we can laugh over a couple drinks in this crazy place, I call home right now .. NYC ; )

    all my love.

    Let There Always Be A Road…

  24. I admire this post very much. It’s tough to reflect upon yourself, especially times that you’re not so proud of. I like how specific you were with your reflections, goals, and what-not-to-dos. It’s easy to just say very general things like how great it was or name some highlights, but you listed really detailed points. It’s obvious you put a lot of thought into this, so kudos. I need to model how I make goals from now on after this post, haha.
    Like you said, there’s no one right way to handle sponsorships on your travel blog and everybody does it differently. However, I have always found honesty to be really important. It bothered me to read blogs that describe how cheaply they were able to travel, to then later find out that a good portion of their trip was sponsored. Their cheap budgets thus set unrealistic expectations for other travelers looking for help to budget their own travels. From what I remember, you were always really clear regarding sponsored posts (and in the beginning) so people reading had the right expectations in mind.
    Congratulations on 5 years – that’s an amazing milestone and you have every reason to be proud. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Julie, and I really appreciate your kind comments. You should do the same thing for yourself! Find some really specific things you’d like to change in the next year or so. It’s the difference between making the ambiguous resolution to “lose weight” and making the more clear resolution to “stop eating refined sugar and go to the gym four times per week.”

  25. It seems a lot of bloggers slow down on actual blogging, to make money to keep traveling. I am glad to see you are not going to do that. It is kind of disappointing when you look forward to new posts by someone who’s blog you are in love with, and they never come.

  26. Hi Kate,

    It was really nice reading through your 5 year journey description and by that I can only imagine how exciting it would have been. Sometimes you really wish to start it over, again ! And Hey! Congrats for completing 5 wonderful years, yes, not many would have achieved it. 🙂

  27. Love it!

    Started a travel blog in August and would love nothing more than to be where you are in 5 years! I have quite a bit of content but have been a little reluctant to shamelessly self promote so far. Seems so weird to me to be like HEY LOOK WHAT I WROTE, IT’S FUNNY YOU’LL LIKE IT! But I guess that’s how you make it, right? Since my blog is still pretty new, I’m hoping that with hard work and determination I can build a steady following. We’ll see.

    Thanks for the inspiration and keep doing what you’re doing!

    xoxo Alexa

    1. It’s easier when you concentrate on building content that people would love to hear. 🙂 The moment you start writing posts out of your self-interest is when things start to get murky.

  28. Wow – 5 years. Congratulations, that’s fantastic. We have started our blog last year, and it’s inspiring to know that you having things more on your terms. My blogging partner is retired, so she can write all day if she likes (yes I am jealous). I still have my “day job”, and I will be retiring soon as well. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we will have a popular blog like yours.

  29. Hey Kate! I loved reading this, and kind of need to thank you. I’ve always wanted to travel, but put off long term travel for work, school, and always thinking it was something I could only do if I were older, with more money. Everyone kept telling me to just wait a little longer, and I decided to listen. Finding your blog (among a few other things) during a cold, long winter inspired me to pursue long term, international travel, and I just booked my WHV trip to Australia, trading my in-class education for online and scaling down my entire material life for the thing I’ve always wanted! I love reading your blog because it’s down to earth, inspiring, and colourful, so thanks again! <3

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