Travel blogging: Why income matters

David Whitley 4

The honesty survey

A couple of weeks ago, I ran a post that I called ‘The Travel Blogger Honesty Survey’. Basically, I was a little sick of hearing all and sundry bang on about how to make money from blogging when few people are prepared to admit how much they actually make from blogging.


I don’t think this was a particularly bold move. If you’re trying to make a career out of writing, then there’s a certain pointlessness to being coy about the facts and figures. Some people suggested that I should have made it an anonymous poll. I thought that at first, but then thought being able to match the words and the deeds was important. If someone is constantly appearing on panels as some sort of blogging guru, but is making 20p a week from blogging, then they’re clearly talking nonsense. Similarly, I could have just stuck to percentages, but 80% of nothing is still nothing.

I was pleasantly surprised by both the number of responses and how totally upfront most of them were. The myth that you can’t make a living from travel writing was dispelled, as was the myth that you can’t make a living from blogging. But I still got a couple of people saying it was wrong to ask people to publish their earnings.

Bloggers and PR

Well, I don’t think it was. And here’s why. An increasingly big talking point amongst the blogging fraternity is getting assistance from PRs when travelling. Whether in the form of organised blogger trips or more ad-hoc arrangements, many bloggers want their travel either subsidised or free. Anyone thinking it should work on the principle of “I’m going here, I blog, therefore the tourist board should support me” is living in a dream world. As is anyone who thinks bloggers should be paid by said tourist board on a hosted trip.

Return on investment


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The following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)

How it works in the real world is that return on investment is what counts. PRs don’t give people free things out of the goodness of their own heart. They do so because they feel their client will get some sort of tangible benefit. The PR’s duty is to their client, not Johnny Blogger. With traditional media, assistance is generally given on the strength of the publication an article is due to appear in. And it’s the publication’s task to ensure it is making money from its operations, not the PR’s.

The credibility factor

And thus while talk of putting together media packs and showing the reach and influence of the blog are important, I also think that profitability – or at least making a reasonable enough living from the blog to support the blogger – is a key indicator of that blog’s worth. After all, if a business with virtually no overheads can’t even support one person, it’s surely not that important, is it? It’s by no means the be all and end all, but it’s surely a good sign – even a rule of thumb. If the information contained doesn’t see people booking trips, and if companies won’t pay to advertise on the site, how influential can it really be?

Treat it as a business

So, if a blogger wants to separate him or herself from a packed crowd of amiable but essentially pointless hobbyists, I don’t think they can afford to be so coquettish when the subject of money comes up. If you’re running a business, treat it as a business. If you think you’re important and influential, then  have some way of backing the assertion up. And if you don’t want your industry to be seen as an amateur hour full of delusional kids playing dress up, then be prepared to concede that people won’t take you seriously if your ‘job’ earns you half of what a Johnny No Stars could get in McDonalds.

More on what PRs want – further reading from Ruth Haffenden.

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    1. Alastair McKenzie September 14, 2011 at 22:15 -

      Aw! Now nobody will believe that the almost published post we have ‘pending’ on highlighting & commending your original Honesty blog.. isn’t a sycophantic response!

      We’ve been having the same debate backstage. (John takes your view) I think we’re actually more or less agreeing, but coming at it from different angles.

      When you say “profitability – or at least making a reasonable enough living from the blog to support the blogger – is a key indicator of that blog’s worth”. It may be to you, but you are being subjective.

      A PR and his/her client isn’t bothered if the blogger does it for love or money. What matters is the blogger’s audience. Is the blogger engaging with the people they want to talk to. Is the blogger a centre of authority to the 800 people on this planet who will travel anywhere, at any price, on this planet to….. fish Taimen??

      Amateur or pro is really only of interest to other bloggers/writers.

    2. David September 14, 2011 at 22:34 -

      I partly agree. Amateur of pro is really only of interest to other bloggers/ writers. But it’s a good shorthand rule of thumb for PRs too. Not a hard and fast rule, but a good starting point before deeper analysis.

      And I think my point stands. If the affiliate ads don’t generate an income through that ‘engaged’ audience, and nobody is willing to pay for display ads in order to get at that ‘engaged’ audience, how useful is that audience to the client anyway? As I say – that’s not always going to be right, but it’s a strong indicator.

      What I’m trying to say overall, however, is that the facts and figures matter and shouldn’t be glossed over by anyone wanting to be taken seriously.

    3. Shaney Hudson September 15, 2011 at 07:27 -

      Hi David,

      I think facts and figures do matter, but I take all the figures posted in the previous blog post with a few grains of salt.


    4. Tim L. September 26, 2011 at 22:31 -

      I do want to say for the record that when I suggested anonymity to get more responses, I meant for the public, not for your eyes necessarily. I surveyed 52 working travel writers for the Travel Writing 2.0 book and got an honest look at everyone’s earnings. But I didn’t put anyone’s name next to their earnings in the book: it was a bar graph. Point of interest: almost everyone making $60,000 a year and up is doing it from running their own show online—not from patched together freelance jobs.

      I’m not sure about the correlation between monetary success and influence, however. There’s some, sure, but some advertising systems (like Travel Ad Network) only care about eyeballs, not whether anyone cares about what you are publishing. It’s easy to get more eyeballs: just publish lots of list articles and linkbait. It’s not so easy to build a real audience of followers who spend more than a few seconds on your blog. But I do agree it’s not the tourism board’s job to help you make a living from what you publish. If you’re doing it right, you’re generating income whether you’re on your laptop or not.