The Reality of Being a Professional Travel Blogger

Adventurous Kate contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

Becoming a professional travel blogger has been a dream come true for me in so many ways.  I’ve found a way to get paid for my favorite hobby, and do so while following my dream of traveling the world.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life.  Six weeks ago, I was invited on a monthlong press trip to Australia — and had to turn it down, as I had prior commitments.  Until recently, never in my life did I believe that I would be offered a free monthlong trip to Australia out of the blue, much less turn one down!

Not surprisingly, people ask me all the time how they can do what I do.  The short answer I give them is that travel blogging requires a tremendous amount of work, as well as a tremendous investment of time and effort before you begin to see any benefits.

How to Start a Travel Blog

Ready to start a travel blog? Click here to get started!

There are a number of posts about travel blogging telling people that if they can dream it, they can do it!  While encouragement is nice, many of these posts are short on reality.

The truth?  Almost all of you who start travel blogging with the hopes of doing it full-time will have given up a year from now.

Having been a blogger for ten years, a travel blogger for two years, and a full-time, professional travel blogger for a year and a half now, I’ve put together a list about the reality of this career.

Note: The following list is about being a professional travel blogger — not necessarily someone who makes his or her income online and also happens to be a travel blogger, nor someone who uses travel blogs primarily as link farms.

The Reality of Being a Professional Travel Blogger

You will work harder than you ever have in your entire life.

If you dream of having a four-hour workweek, this is not the career for you.  Look into passive income.  Don’t become a professional travel blogger.

It might seem like I do little more than write posts.  That’s just a small part of it.  The rest is spent responding to potential advertisers, reaching out to would-be advertisers, editing photos, editing videos, assembling promotional materials, pitching travel and tourism contacts, writing for other sites, Facebook group networking, tweaking site design, tracking financials, link building, doing keyword research, reading other travel blogs, and maintaining a presence on social media.  To start.

When you’re a travel blogger, the work is never done.  There is always something else that you could be doing, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Your travel blog is your life.

You will not succeed at travel blogging unless you produce content prolifically – at least at first.  This means that you will need to work at least a few hours each day.  Working this much means that you will be miserable unless you genuinely love it.

I don’t love everything I do as a blogger, and I’m not always in the mood to do the things I do enjoy – but as a whole, this is something that I love.  I love the work.  I love the people.  I love the conferences and events, and I love the seminars that teach me more about this field.  Travel blogging exhilarates me, and that’s what keeps me going.

This translates into a bit of workaholism, and it’s hard for other people to understand this, especially my family and friends.  When your career and passion are the same thing, you need to point out — often with frequency — just how necessary it is for you to work all the time.

You won’t make money for a long time.

The general rule is that you shouldn’t expect money for the first year.  Most advertisers, whether they be link agencies or travel companies, won’t work with a site less than one year old.  Why not?  You haven’t proven yourself as an investment yet.

While there are exceptions – I began making money about six months in – you should be prepared to not make anything for the first year.  What’s nice is that it weeds out the people who aren’t serious.

The money ebbs and flows.

Entrepreneurs and freelancers of all kinds will be able to relate to this point – most of the time, it’s either feast or famine.  I have some steady contracts with advertisers, but most of the money is not made regularly.  Either I’m making far more than I need or I’m not making nearly enough.

Those lean times are scary.  It’s important to have savings and diversify your income as much as possible, but even more important is asking yourself whether you’re prepared to handle the emotional roller-coaster that is entrepreneurship.

It’s nearly impossible to make a living from one site alone.

Yes, some people are able to make a full-time income from one site – but they are in a very small minority.

No matter how you make your money, chances are that you will be part of the 98% that needs multiple sites in order to make a living, rather than the 2% who can get by with one.

Living cheaply abroad may be necessary.

For most professional travel bloggers, it takes a long time to earn an income that would be enough to live on in North America or Western Europe.  Many make the decision to live abroad in a cheap country for that reason.

One of the main reasons why so many travel bloggers live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is that you can live very well there for very cheap.  $800 a month could cover rent in a nice place, food, cable, internet, and most everything you would need for a month in Chiang Mai, plus a bit of travel within Thailand, too.

$800 a month, by contrast, is what I paid for half of a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Boston.

Being a great writer and a great blogger are two very different things.

Writing for the internet is different from any other kind of creative writing you’ve done before.  You’re writing to engage people with a short attention span who are reading your blog while being bombarded by major distractions like Facebook.

You could write exquisite, intricate, heartbreakingly beautiful prose that would win you awards in a long-form memoir or a collection of essays.  But when you use this kind of writing on a blog, you’ll likely end up with a few comments of, “Wow, you’re a great writer!” without the traffic to back it up.  It’s simply not engaging to most readers.

Take my favorite author – Lionel Shriver, who wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World.  I adore her exquisite writing, which makes me feel smarter just for having read it.  But if she wrote a blog in the style of her books, very few people would read it.

This is not to say that good writing isn’t appreciated.  There are quite a few travel bloggers who are talented storytellers  — Wes Nations and Lauren Juliff and Mike Sowden come to mind.  You need to write well, but in order to attract the masses, your writing needs to be digestible to casual readers.

You will never travel the same way again.

When you’re a professional travel blogger, you don’t get time off, which means you can never go completely off the grid.  Sometimes you can plan ahead by scheduling posts, tweets, and Facebook shares, but when travel blogging is your main form of income, you can’t step away from your email for long.

In San Antonio, Texas, my mom and sister went out for margaritas on the Riverwalk every night while I stayed in and worked.  In Hoi An, Vietnam, my friends had a blast at the My Son ruins, which I skipped because I needed to work.  In Sayulita, Mexico, the girls in my group went to a cooking demonstration that I really wanted to experience – but I couldn’t, because I had work to do.

I’m not complaining.  I think the trade-off is very fair.  And since I travel solo most of the time, it’s easy for me to travel slowly and build in extra days to be spent working.  It’s more difficult when I travel with others.

This spring, I’ll be taking my first vacation in more than two years.  And I can only do it because I’m hiring someone to run my site in my absence.

Press trips don’t pay the bills.

Press trips can be amazing.  I feel privileged to have worked with some fantastic tourism boards and travel companies that have chosen to invest in my site, and to have experienced some amazing destinations as a result.

But in nearly all instances, travel bloggers don’t make money for these trips.  In fact, we lose money because we’re losing time that could be spent working.

That’s not to say that they won’t pay off in the future for smart, resourceful travel bloggers who parlay their relationships with these companies into creative new opportunities.  But for the press trips themselves, you won’t earn money.

I actually believe that a few years from now, it will be standard practice to pay professional travel bloggers to attend press trips.  But that’s not the case just yet.

Doing it alone is a challenge in itself.

Running a business entirely by yourself is extremely challenging.  Everything, from the creative aspects to the business aspects, comes down to you, regardless of what your strengths and weaknesses may be.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re responsible for it all, and it’s a pile of never-ending work.

This is the double-edged sword of self-employment.  It’s wonderful not to have a boss anymore and to be able to work for your own interests — but can you trust yourself to do the work when someone isn’t imploring you to do so?

This effect is somewhat mitigated for multiple people running a travel blog together.  When you have two or more people working on one site, you’re able to get a lot more done – particularly if you play to each other’s strengths.  Consequently, you’ll need to earn a higher income to support more than one person.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that all the benefits of having two people go out the window if you have young children.)

The industry is evolving constantly.

While all industries are evolving, the travel blogging industry is zooming ahead at the speed of lightning.  It’s still a very new industry, even compared to other blogging industries like mommy blogging, fashion blogging, even food blogging.

People are still figuring out what to make of us.  Being a blogger doesn’t exactly sound like a potential career.  Most people have no clue that we can make money, let alone be valuable entities that can reach tens of thousands of readers each month.

If you’re going to become a professional travel blogger, you need to commit to networking constantly with other travel bloggers and reading everything you can about the industry.  If not, you’ll fall behind.

BUT – things are getting better all the time.  One thing that many travel bloggers are doing these days, myself included, is partnering with companies to do paid work in additional to working in exchange for travel.

You need to be one arrogant motherf*cker.

At times, it seems like the travel blogging community is a bastion of helpful support and group hugs.  And it is – I love that more experienced bloggers often pitch in to help newbie bloggers, or even each other when we’re stuck.

But we’re also competing with each other.  We compete for spots on press trips.  We compete for sponsorships and partnerships.  We compete for speaking gigs.  We compete for funding to be spent on us.

If you’re going to compete in this space, you need to be able to convince companies to invest in you.  And wooing companies requires different skills than wooing readers.

You need to approach companies with confidence and, after they tell you they’re considering working with a blog with double the pageviews, you need to be ready to smile and explain what makes you a better choice.  You need to do this with charm, and grace, and humor.

At the end of the day, people want to feel good about themselves.  Travel companies are run by people.  Your job is to make them think that working with you is the best damn decision they could make for themselves.

Can this be taught?  To a degree.  It’s a tough line to walk – being cocky but approachable, arrogant but polite, and supremely confident of the belief that no other blog can even approach yours when it comes to quality.

Modesty does you no favors here.

It’s for the love of blogging.

Your love of travel has very little to do with your ability to succeed as a travel blogger.  Sure, cool travel experiences lead to good potential content, but being a compelling blogger depends on what you do with that content.

Most of the successful travel bloggers I know became travel bloggers because they loved the act of blogging, and also loved blogging about travel.  The least successful ones are people who wanted to make money while traveling and thought blogging would be a way to do it.  Most people fall somewhere in between.

You are nothing without your readers.

Your readers are the single greatest asset you have.  Travel companies and tourism boards work with bloggers because they have devoted audiences who trust them.

The moment you take advantage of your audience, you are destroying your most precious asset.  What’s considered taking advantage of your readers?  It’s your call.  For me, it’s publishing anything that I myself wouldn’t want to read.

You have friends around the world.

This piece has been a bit of a downer, so let me end it on a nice note: travel bloggers are wonderful.  I’m very fortunate to count travel bloggers among my closest friends.

I love that I can travel almost anywhere in the world and have either a blogger or a reader say, “You want to meet up while you’re here?”  That’s amazing.  That’s a gift, and one that I hope I always treasure.

Being a professional travel blogger is not for everyone, and not for everyone who thinks they could handle it.  Before you take this step, you need to decide if you’re cut out for this career.

If you think you can hack it, here’s how to start a travel blog in six easy steps.

Get email updates from KateNever miss a post. Unsubscribe anytime!

295 thoughts on “The Reality of Being a Professional Travel Blogger”

  1. Great perspective, Kate! I like how you dissected the reality of travel blogging in a blunt, but still very engaging way. Very good writing. I totally love the “You need to be one arrogant motherf*cker.” part. Yes, we do have be our own salesperson sometimes to get what we want and get ahead.

    1. We absolutely do, Kat! Many bloggers I know are afraid to ask for anything extra because they don’t feel like they deserve what they’re already getting. That’s the kind of thinking that you need to eliminate. Replace it with the thought that every company would be dying to work with you.

        1. Beautiful and a great writer.
          Whichever travel blogger gets to date you will surely be one very lucky lucky man.

          Thank you very much for this post. I have been “travelling” for 9 years with the circus and I have just recently started a travel blog, short films, etc.

          Could always use some help. 🙂

          Cheers

          Jose

          Hope to hear from you.

  2. I REALLY appreciate you taking the time to create this post. I just made my way into the self-employing business myself and starting realize just how much work it really is. I love reading all your travels so all that hard work definitely pays off for you so hope to one day get in the swing of things like you. Happy traveling!!

  3. Thanks for publishing such a direct and honest piece, which makes interesting reading.

    I particularly relate to what you say about writing for a travel blog as a distinct skill versus being a travel writer. This is something I am learning, slowly! Writing for the web is a very different beast and I find it takes time to break out of habits learned in creative or copywriting.

    Never switching off is another truism – but as you say, when you love what you do this much you don’t really consider it work and you’re happy to put the hours in. People think you are simply ‘living the dream’, but you obviously didn’t get where you without a huge amount of effort and dedication 🙂

    Best,

    Jai

    1. Thank you, Jai! Glad you can relate on the writing point. It goes the other way, too — if I were to write a more serious or literary book, I’d struggle breaking away from my blog voice.

  4. I love this post so much.

    I can’t even begin to describe how frustrated I get when friends of mine say, “Oh wow! You make money from writing about your travels? I could do that too! This sounds like such a viable way to make money while travelling!”

    It’s not! Seriously. It’s not.

    It takes an insane amount of time, work and dedication for much less of a payout than you would receive in a full-time job.

    But it’s completely worth it 🙂

    …And I am SO going to send this post to anyone I meet in the future who decides they’re going to be a full-time travel blogger because it’s “fun and easy”!

    1. Zara from BackpackME

      Whenever your friends tell you “I could do that too!” just tell them to go ahead and prove it. It’s very easy to talk, right? 🙂

      1. The “It’s for the love of blogging” portion compelled me the most.
        Travel for me is the most satisfying thing to blog about as you’ve already been compensated before you even write anything. The trick then is to live in the moment and enjoy the experience instead of being in your head and behind a camera the whole time. BUT as you mentioned some people love documenting and they often make the best bloggers as they happily commit their time to make the content.
        To me its a perpetual motion machine. Writing encourages me to live out fascinating experiences which I enjoy. If people read that’s merely a bonus. I don’t think I could handle turning it into a job.
        Some people must think its a cinch as they’re updating there social media all the time but yes “YOU DO THAT” applies.

  5. Totally agree on all accounts. Especially the part about always working.

    I’m slightly different in that I lead tours, and not necessarily make a living from travel blogging, but the same applies!

    When I go to Italy for a month, I’m up before the sun and in bed long after midnight. Friends and family think I’m just off playing and on vacation. Nope! Researching restaurants, hotels, open/close times for museums, etc. Finding the best side of the street to walk on. The list never ends.

    Love what you do and hope to cross paths someday!

    1. Mountain, I can relate to you so much on that point! Plenty of people think I do nothing more than party around the world (which, to be fair, I did quite a bit of in Asia, before the blog was as big as it is now).

      Good for you for researching Italy so thoroughly. I’m sure your tour attendees have a much better time because you do nitty-gritty research like this. What side of the street to walk on!! Crazy!

      PS — I’ll be in Assisi in a week if you’re around!

  6. Adventurous Kate!
    Great insight! I really admire and respect your direct pro/con run-down of the realities of travel blogging. It is definitely a fast emerging part of tourism. It is ideal for those (You) who have a tremendous passion for travel, patience, flexibility, and the diligence as you manage to meet so many interesting people along the way. I think the greatest value from your efforts will be how these inimitable experiences impact you, your colleagues, and supporters.

    Cheers & salud to more great travels!
    Nick Reiter

    1. Thank you very much, Nick! We’re in a very exciting time right now for travel bloggers — one little move could crack this industry right open. And it could happen to any of us.

  7. Gerard ~ GQ trippin

    We’re glad we’re not making money from our blog. Helps keep the stress away. 🙂 maybe tress will come back when travel funds run low…
    Travel in itself is enough work already!

  8. Try doing all of this AND attending grad school full-time…. then you have MY life! 😉

    But, like you, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I LOVE being a travel blogger, and so most of the hours that go into it don’t really feel much like work at all to me.

    1. I don’t envy your schedule, Amanda. 🙂 I think you’ll be a full-time blogger by the time you finish grad school…just a hunch! In Thailand in November 2010, my friend Cody told me I’d be a digital nomad within a year. I didn’t believe him, but he was totally right.

  9. Great post Kate! I have been looking for some realistic insight for a long time, thanks alot! I have a blog of my travels that I enjoy writing but, not a true “Travel blog writer” I would love to step it up to the next level!

  10. Thank you for this honest piece. I wish more bloggers would write with this kind of honesty. I’m curious if you run more than one site and how did you manage to make money so early on? Looking forward to meeting you in Umbria.

    Aloha

    1. I look forward to meeting you too, Alexandra!

      I do run more than one site, but the others are mostly used for links. I’m not sure why so many advertisers approached me early on — it may have been because I grew very quickly and produced content prolifically, and they trusted that I would remain a good investment. It had nothing to do with Google PR, as I was ranked 2 for a year and a half before finally moving up to a 4.

  11. Great post, Kate, and very true.

    I started out blogging as a way to earn money. The thought process was something like: “Hey, I want to travel. How can I make a living on the road? Travel blogging? Okay, let’s do it!”

    Turns out it’s not that easy. I’ve yet to see a dime, but I love my blog. Sure, I get tired of the design, and I have a hard time inventing content, but I love being able to tell my stories and my viewpoints, and that’s what it is all about. As it stands, I am a freelance writer building a client base in order to fund my travels. The process goes something like this: Travel, write for a few days, travel some more. Pretty simple, all in all.

    I do hope to eventually reach a level of sustainability with my blog that will make money through passive income, but I’m not as impatient as I once was.

    1. Hi, Patrick — thank you for sharing (which I appreciate as I said that people who start blogging to make money are the least successful ones I know!). It sounds like you’re being smart about it by using your blog as a portfolio.

      In my experience, it’s very difficult to turn a blog into passive income because the sites that do best at generating passive income (affiliate marketing and AdSense, for example) have landing pages with few exit paths. Blogs are covered with millions of links to cool stuff. You don’t want people to be distracted.

    1. Thank you, DJ, and I always appreciate your comments. It’s great that you KNOW that you don’t want to be a full-time blogger! You don’t have to be full-time to be successful.

  12. Hey I’ve just started travel blogging a few weeks ago and to me it is something that I’m passionate about and can spend a lot of time doing without it feeling like work. My eyes hurting from staring at a computer screen and tiredness in the mornings usually are the price I pay. I haven’t made any money whatsoever YET, but hope to one day do just that.

    As for your tip on writing vs writing for a blog, I feel that’s totally true and I understand and appreciate that people with successful blogs are almost primarily photos, with little blurbs of txt interspersed here and there to make it interesting and engaging. 5-minute reads, numbered lists, it all seems very dumbed down, yet it’s important to realize we are on the internet. People with mobile phones for instance never spend more than a few minutes on one site, so it’s important to realize who you’re writing to and adapt.

    I could keep going, clearly I’m a long winded writer who likes clearly and thoroughly expressing my ideas, it’s one of the habits I need to break for many posts 🙂

    Thanks for writing, keep up the great work

    Christopher

    1. I think long-winded pieces can still be successful — one of my longest posts is one of my most popular. But you still have to edit for the web. If something doesn’t support the main story, cut it — no matter how much you like it. (Save it in your notes and use it as an anecdote some other time). If something you’ve explained using 5 words can be shortened to 2, do it. You have to be pretty ruthless, unlike writing for print.

      A common wisdom we hear is that “all posts should be less than 350 (or whatever #) words. This isn’t exactly true. However, I do think you have about that much time to capture their interest. If you aren’t telling a compelling, interesting tale by the 300 word mark you’ll most likely lose your reader. You have to set the hook early.

      my two cents.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Christopher! Keep in mind that blogging is a marathon, not a sprint — you’ve made a great start, and I hope you keep it up.

      There are a number of bloggers who seem to concentrate on lists. It’s true that lists are the kinds of things that get picked up by the masses and retweeted quite a bit. While lots of lists are crap, some of them are quite good. But I don’t think lists are necessary, nor are they the mark of a quality blogger.

      It all comes down to being digestible. In my time, I’ve found that to be easy-to-read (black on white) text separated by strategically placed photos and headlines. A well-written 2,000-word piece broken up wisely can feel like a two-minute read.

      1. I think the term is “scanable” – it may be a long post – but its broken up using pics, fonts, headers, lists whatever . It depends what you are trying to do for your audience – but to me its hard to write anything particularly useful in less than 800 odd words.

  13. Hi Kate.

    Great post. Ive been keeping a travel blog myself for a while now and not sure where I plan to go with it so it’s great to hear your perspective on where you’ve chosen to go with it. Keep going!

  14. Absolutely brilliant, thank you Kate. It´s spurred me on, held me back and shaken me around yet on I´ll go, not sure on the destination but definately enjoying the trip.

  15. You’re one of the best travel bloggers out there, so I think anyone who wants to become a professional travel blogger would be wise to heed all the advice in this post. With that said, very few have the work ethic to do it or the pain tolerance like you do. I think to be successful at this one has to be 99% business savvy and about .5% traveler and .5% writer.

  16. There is a reason why you have so many readers, so many followers, and so many subscribers. I always wondered why I keep visiting your site despite how slow it loads on my phone or even on the computer sometimes. You put in a great effort into your craft, into your work and it really shows. I absolutely got your gist about a great writer and great blogger – you know exactly how to engage an audience with the shortest attention span! I’m learning from you, being that half of the blogs out there cannot seem to engage my ADD mind. This is truly one of your best, honest, raw pieces. And the best part: be an arrogant motherf*cker. I date a businessman and he always says “it’s part of the job” and that’s exactly why he’s always on the top lead.

    1. Antoinette, the slowness should be a thing of the past by this time next week. 🙂

      Thank you so much for the compliments. I spend a lot of time on this and I’m happy to know that it pays off.

  17. Not the most encouraging article but very well written and I appreciate the honesty and realistic view. I’ve been struggling lately and have been overwhelming myself with all the possibilities that being a travel blogger can have, meanwhile forgetting why I started my blog in the first place. It seems I needed a reminder of why I am doing this. Thank you Kate!

    1. Thank you, Heather. If you get caught up in the possibilities of what could be, it gets hard to focus on the immediate picture. I recommend taking a break and just writing about something you love.

  18. Interesting to see the OTHER side of your career. Bet many think that it’s all just fun and games. I admire so many things about travel bloggers and esp. love your site and the zeal you have for life and travel and sharing your take on the places you visit for the benefit of all us less travel inclined peeps.

  19. its refreshing to read a post about travel blogging that isn’t “How to travel the world for free!” I’ve been working on my travel blog for about 9 months now and this is a worthwhile reminder that I need to write MORE! I’m curious though – how often do you feel you have to be traveling to be a successful travel blogger? I’m going to be grounded for a little while and am feeling the pressure of digging up content from a trip that ended 6 months ago. I’ve found other ways to make content by interviewing travelers and writing about NYC … but I’m starting to think its time to hit the road again if I want to make this work.

    1. Britany, you can absolutely build a travel blog on your past travel experiences, and I encourage you to do so. For the first six months of my blog, I talked about travels WAY in the past because I wasn’t traveling (I was saving up for Asia). And lots of people have found success that way. Take a look at Y Travel Blog — they started their blog about the same time I did, and they were grounded in Australia for most of the time, talking about their past travels.

    2. Britany I recently wrote a post about a trip to Vancouver I did in 1988 – thank goodness I took a few notes when I travelled and still have the photos! To be this approach is the basis to avoid the problem that Kate mentions in her post about not being able to take time off the Internet to actually travel!