A Full time Living With A Travel Blog?

Torre DeRoche began blogging for the same reason, people started writing postcards more than a hundred years ago. She planned to cross the Pacific Ocean on a sailboat wth her boyfriend from Argentina – her parents had never set eyes on. She thought a regularly updated blog could make them sleep more peacefully.

“I started my blog to let my parents know that I hadn’t been kidnapped, mauled by wild animals, or locked up in a third-world prison,” says Torre.

“My blog recounted stories of the mishaps and discoveries of our voyage, and it found a small audience of regular readers.”

“A small audience of readers will read about the mishaps and discoveries” is a proper way to put it. By Twitter she was completely unexpectedly contacted and has now signed book deals in the UK, Australia and North America with Hollywood morsing interest for the film rights.

Love with a Chance of Drowning is likely to be released in 2013 but there are others (besides Torre now at FearfulAdventurer.com) who managed to get some bucks out of their traveling thoughts,

Among travel bloggers Gary Arndt is what might formerly have been known as the Alpha Wolf. He earned his living with internet serial and started traveling throughout the world in 2007. “Given my background in the Internet, starting a blog was a natural thing for me to do.” he explains.

His blog Everything-Everywhere.com has – four years later – developed nicely into a profitable business. Gary Arndt now employs an assistant for the travel planning and also pays commissions to another agent and a manager.

Clearly traveling, writing about it and thus earning money isn´t exactly a new idea. It didn´t start with Bill Bryson(or the National Geographic Traveler in the US) but goes way further back to Robert Louis Stevenson or Ibn Battuta, the Arabian traveler in the 14th century. The web however has reduced the costs and you don´t need a lot of help during the publishing process.

Everyone can set up a blog for free (Blogger.com and WordPress.com, come to my mind), even buying your own domain name is with less than £10 a year ridiculously low. Adverts are quite easy to come by. Google’s Adsense programme for example gives you small sums of money as soon as somebody clicks on one of the ads. Affiliate networks such as Commission Junction or Tradedoubler pay a commission every time a customer clicks through and books a flight or a hotel.

Message understood. I start to travel, blog about it and make a decent living from it. Right? No, Gary Arndt sees a huge gap between expectations and reality.

“Is it possible? Sure. Is it probable? No,” he says.

“Travel writing has always been a difficult field. Everyone wants to travel around the world. There is no shortage of potential travel writers. While the internet has removed many of the barriers to finding an audience, it has also massively increased the competition. Of the top 100 travel blogs on the web, I’d say maybe 10-15% are able to make a full time living at it, and there are a lot more than 100 travel blogs in the world.”

Matt Kepnes –Nomadic Matt – also a scuccessful blogger warns; “Monetisation is always the hard part,” he says. “It’s a lot more than just putting ads up.“I have to market my website, I have to create products, I have put the right ads on the right pages. With the internet, you need to really focus your ads to your audience. I would say that all the successful people I know online have their hands in many pots. You need to diversify your income from as many different sources as possible.”

For Matt part of the “many different sources” is to write budgeting articles for a personal finance website and he also sells eBooks. Another possible source for bloggers is to write reviews of clothing and equipment. On their main blog they concentrate to sell things.

Looking at Torre, Gary and Matt makes my own travel blog – and how it started – look rather ludicrous. I started blogging as GrumpyTraveller for several reasons. I used to be an old-fashioned journalist with pen and ink. Writing a blog seemed a good idea to get familiar with this unknown medium. And it meant to write free from restrictions. I could choose the topics I found interesting, I didn´t have to rummage for an editor, I didn´t have to change and adapt my text to another storyline and getting published did not take forever.

In my free time I care for my blog and I derive a small income of about £1,000 to £2,000 a year from it. That income is due to advertising – it has improved since I reworked the site in July 2012 with a new design. In spite of all my plans and resolutions my blog still dawdles along like a favourite puppy. Getting friends and family to read it is easily done. To derive a reasonable living from it however is very hard work, promotion and strategy as it means really great numbers of people visiting your site.

In 2011 I took part in a meeting of travel bloggers in London. It was rather a loose gathering of about 100 people, all of them having a reasonably well-known blog. The question came up: Does anyone earn more than £1,000 a month – this sum being the equivalent of working full-time in a fast food Restaurant. Just one guy rose his hand. So I think it´s safe to imply earning a little bit of money to pay for your traveling is relatively easy done. However quitting your job and earn a full-time living with a blog is quite another story.

Granted, this holds true only if you are trying to derive money straight from your blog. There are other ways, as the example of Andy Jarosz shows – a former optometrist and management consultant. He decided to let his blog work as a shop window.

“I didn’t want to plaster my site with ads and spend my time managing multiple debtors for small amounts,” Andy explains. “I figured if I have created my own blog from scratch into one that attracts a respectable audience size, I could provide the same service for travel companies. They would benefit from well-written, fresh and regular content that improves their online visibility while attracting potential customers to their site.

“I currently write for four regular clients and sell occasional posts to others on an ad-hoc basis. This makes up the bulk of my income.”

Jodi Ettenberg has about the same approach. “I get a few offers a week, as I suspect most bloggers do, but I’ve turned down all advertising and paid text links for the site. I declined them because I wanted Legal Nomads to remain a platform for my passions and my interests without having to think about page views.

“Instead, I’ve used the site as a platform for other things – guidebooks, freelance writing, associations with travel companies I like, etc – but not on my site, on their respective platforms.

“Writing about travel is only one of my interests (and one I love very much) but I’m also interested in continuing public speaking roles, in food history and in social media consulting.”

I agree with Jodi Ettenberg. I also found it an easier path to get people pay me being interested in my writing rather than people pay me being interested in my traveling. That´s a crucial point. To earn money with traveling or to earn money while traveling. Writing a good blog is more than string together phrases and praying for people to click on the advertisements on your site. Writing is a talent, writing is a skill you can learn – but it comes down to writing well.

That can become a problem for writing a blog is virtually for everyone. No examinations on filing, no editor you have to convince, no publishing processes to speak of. All and sundry can sit down and start spinning away tales. That´s the reason why old school jornalists are sometimes a little bit guarded against travel bloggers – their number however is diminishing.

The experience of being rejected, Matt Kepnes has also made. “Sometimes I think it’s jealousy,” he muses. “A writer can work his whole life to get to where he is, while a blogger can hit upon a good idea and – because of the way the internet works – be successful overnight. That said, there are many journalists who get that new media is here to stay and they tend to view bloggers more favourably.”

For Gary Arndt this attitude belongs to a vanishing minority.“99% of the travel writers I’ve met are trying hard to understand new media and really want to integrate it into what they do,” he claims. “The 1% is a very cynical and vocal bunch that seems frightened of the changes which are happening. They also don’t seem to have very successful careers to begin with.”

There s a third option however. Most travel blogs – and there is really no method to measure it – tend to chat rather than inform. Thoughts, opinions and observations tend to blend together. But there are sites – from individual bloggers – that keep strictly to the point.

One of my favourite of this kind is Tom Brosnahan’s TurkeyTravelPlanner.com He used to write guidebooks for companies alike to Lonely Planet and Frommer´s. Then he wrote his own site in the same style. The result is a great fundus of information for every Turkey-traveler.

The same applies to Stuart McDonald of Travelfish.org who has focused on South-East Asia. It contains some articles typical for a blog – but mainly it transfers good solid information- the kind you usually find in guide books. Where to stay, how to travel from one point to another, where to find eatable, affordable food. What´s more being on the internet it is always state of the art. If any information is outdated it can easily be fixed – just rewrite it or delete it.

Stuart McDonald also started out writing guide books and successfully has turned his knowledge into a blog that pays.

Stuart explains: “We were profitable from early on – though barely – because we did all the work ourselves and didn’t rent flash office space or, indeed, any office space.

“We were living somewhere very inexpensive (Phnom Penh then Jakarta) and we both still work from laptops.”

He doesn´t see the point in getting a degree in journalism or take training courses – as he can do his work without it.

“Could anyone do it? To an extent, of course!” admits Stuart.Be aware though “Anyone can learn to write and hone the craft; and anyone who is crazy enough to traipse through 20 guesthouses on a beautiful beach in the tropical heat instead of lazing on said beach can be a travel researcher.”

A point every travel blogger I asked about his business – earning money with a travel blog – has stressed. There´s more to travel blogging than traveling, writing and accumulating heaps of money. To create a suffucient income, very hard work is needed and you have to make a few sacrifices.

Matt Kepnes tells us: “I don’t clock in or out but, like any small business owner, I’m always working. I am the CEO, editor, writer, web guru, and marketer for my site. It takes a lot of work.

“If I’m not out doing something, I am inside working on my website. I put it in a lot of hours and it seems that the more successful the website becomes, the more hours I have to put in.”

Torre DeRoche explains: “Successful travel bloggers are exceptionally driven individuals with a range of skills. Some are gifted at creative writing, while others are skilled with technology. They’re all entrepreneurial, persistent and hard-working. A travel blog is essentially a small business, and all businesses require bucket loads of blood, sweat and tears.

“On weekends, while Average Joe is out draining kegs with his buddies, travel bloggers are generally snuggled up with their best friend – a laptop – as they resolve web coding issues, plan out their next strategic move, and design blog posts that will reach a wide audience.

“Society doesn’t yet acknowledge blogging and social media as a valid career path, so bloggers go blue in the face trying to explain their vision to family and friends. Try telling your parents that you’re quitting your job to start a blog and see what they say – they’ll probably urge you to join the circus instead.”

Travel blogs are developing into an industry taken seriously. Successful travel bloggers get their trips paid from A to Z from tourist boards just so that they will get to know the places. Travel companies value good content to publish on their own site. And even better it very well may be that advertising money will start to be poured into online business.

However it´s still a very young industry and it will be exciting to see what the future will bring. Would Gutenberg ever in his wildest dreams have thought of the mass media of today? Did the Wright brothers ever imagine the flight industry of nowadays? To cut it short – can you make a living out of writing a travel blog? Yes you can. You will have to work very hard, you will have to learn things you never thought of before and don´t even dare to dream of a holiday. Then – yes a successful travel blog (with Hollywood morsing) is not completely out of reach.