I get a lot of emails and DMs every day, and most of them fall into two categories: travel and blogging/travel writing. The travel-related questions are easy. I’m always happy to give my opinion on places we’ve been or point people to posts I’ve written.
The blogging questions are always one of four things:
What Camera Do You Use?
I wrote up this post years ago that talks about cameras and lenses, and I update it fairly frequently.
Can You Give Me Advice on Starting a Travel Blog?
I have all of my advice in this post, and I keep it updated. I also list every conference I’ve been to at the bottom of my About Me page, in case you want conference/event ideas, or want to see where I’ll be. Right now, in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, I don’t have any conferences booked simply because most have been cancelled. Assuming things return to normal, I’ll likely attend ITB Berlin, ATWS and TBEX International in the next year.
How Do You Make Money Travel Writing?
I’ve never written about how travel bloggers make money just because so many others have already written about it. The World Pursuit does a good job of going through the various income opportunities in this post. I do almost everything they talk about, with the exception of Display Ads – I dislike ads on websites, so I can’t bring myself to have them here. Most of my revenue comes from Destination Marketing, Social Media Campaigns and Brand Ambassadorships.
And a quick note on finance: I talk a little about revenue in the below timeline, but it takes several years to make solid money in travel writing – at least on the path I took. I highly recommend not quitting your day job and jumping into travel writing unless you have enough savings to support you and your travels for 2-3 years.
How Did You Get to Where You Are?
Other than including a few elements of this in my life story on my About Me page, I really haven’t ever written about this. I’ve simply written about travel instead! So here you go – my entire blogging history in chronological order! And a note: this is NOT a ‘How To Be A Travel Blogger post’. This is simply my story.
In 2012 I traveled to Cuba for a photography workshop and entered one of my photos in Conde Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip contest. I won! I write about the photo and the contest here. In 2013 I traveled to New York and toured Conde Nast’s offices with Wendy Perrin, and then in June we headed to Florence and spent $25,000 of Conde Nast’s money. It was a great trip, but I liked meeting Wendy and seeing behind the curtain of my favorite travel magazine just as much.
In April 2014 I quit my healthcare job of 18 years. It was time. Could have been a midlife crisis? But I never had a passion for healthcare, so maybe seeing Conde Nast Traveler’s offices and meeting their writers made me think I’d be happier doing something travel-related. I had no idea what I was going to do next, but at one point I called Wendy at CNT and she pointed me to some family travel blogs she liked.
I started blogging for fun while I was still helping my old company transition and thinking about a new career. In August I started my website. In October I traveled to Mexico City with AFAR Magazine on one of their AFAR Experiences and met the magazine’s founders and editors. I think that confirmed for me that I wanted to be involved with travel writing in some way. Meanwhile I kept blogging about our past travels on my website and I wrote several posts for Wendy for her website. I also started social media accounts over the course of the year.
- Facebook Followers: 8,500
- Instagram Followers: 1,700
- Twitter Followers: 1,200
- Pinterest Followers: 500
I continued traveling with my kids and blogging about it, and companies started offering me free things in exchange for promotion on social media – Instagram mainly. I accepted a pair of hiking shoes and documented them and then realized that it was a decent amount of work for $0 and a pair of shoes I didn’t really need. So I said no to everything after that. If a brand wanted promotion, it could pay me for it.
In March I attended ITB Berlin, the largest travel trade show in the world, met a few other bloggers and networked with destinations and hotels around the world. Then at the end of April I flew to Spain for TBEX where I met a lot of bloggers, and I found the sessions invaluable. I came out of TBEX understanding blogging and how people made money, and I decided to only pursue the travel marketing side – e.g. campaigns where I got paid to travel. The ad/affiliate side didn’t interest me. I didn’t want to sit at my computer figuring out what people were searching for and then crafting blog posts around those searches when I could be traveling.
At the end of TBEX there was a 3-day fam trip around northern Spain. It was a good trip, but it was unpaid and it required deliverables (social and blog promotion). I made the decision then to say no to future unpaid group trips. While traveling for free sounds fun, it’s not really free since there’s work involved, and I’d rather be with my kids. Plus I knew that a lot of destinations and brands had promotional budgets, so why would I do something for free that I could be getting paid for?
I attended another AFAR Experience in June, in Montreal, and two more TBEXes, in Florida and Bangkok, but really I spent the year building up content – primarily from new travels. I found that the more I traveled, the more of the world I could talk about from personal experience, and the more authority I had, so that’s where I chose to invest. And it worked – people started finding and following me. I also discovered that with my growing social media accounts I could reach out to hotels, especially high-end hotels, and receive complimentary or discounted stays in exchange for coverage. I really enjoyed (and still enjoy) these partnerships – we get to stay somewhere without breaking our budget and I can legitimately bring future bookings to them. Hotel campaigns have to be mutually beneficial though. If I don’t think that I’ll be able to deliver a positive ROI over 12 months or so, I’ll decline to work with the property.
- Facebook Followers: 51,000
- Instagram Followers: 32,000
- Twitter Followers: 6,800
- Pinterest Followers: 15,300
In 2016 I kept going on the same path. I traveled as much as I could and documented it on my blog and on social media. I attended ITB Berlin and TBEX again and also went to the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) annual conference in California, TBC Asia in Sri Lanka, the Family Travel Association Summit in Arizona and the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) in Alaska. I loved ATWS, TBEX was good and the others were ok. I should note here that virtually all travel events and conferences are fun, and you can meet other travel writers/bloggers at all of them, but I judge conferences on the opportunities for brand/destination networking and on how many revenue-producing contracts I eventually sign through being there. If it’s productive/profitable, I’ll return. At this point (2020), TBEX, ATWS and ITB are the only events I’ll try to attend consistently.
Mid-2016 I was offered three brand ambassadorships all within a month of each other – with AFAR, Universal Orlando and Travelocity. Each one came about because of in-person networking at multiple conferences/events.
I participated in a lot of interviews over the year (all are linked from About Me as long as they’re still posted), and I entered a travel writing competition for the first time, winning a Bronze award for family travel writing from NATJA. I think awards can be useful for building authenticity, especially early on in a blogging career.
And after $0 in revenue in 2015, I started making money! In August Mastercard paid me to take the kids to Hawaii, plus I had consistent revenue from Travelocity and Universal Orlando.
- Facebook Followers: 54,000
- Instagram Followers: 50,000
- Twitter Followers: 15,000
- Pinterest Followers: 30,000
In 2017 everything came together and started to justify my investment in travel and networking. My ongoing campaigns for Travelocity and Universal Orlando were a lot of fun, and nicely profitable. At Universal I was literally paid to play at a theme park! I started a new ambassadorship with Thomson Family Adventures as well, and I booked as many paid travel campaigns as I could fit into our schedule without my kids hating me.
In June, Forbes Magazine named me the World’s #4 Most Influential Traveler. I have no idea how they found me or what made them rank me that highly, but it was a nice honor. And then I won a Gold Medal from NATJA for family travel writing.
I continued my breakneck networking throughout the year. I skipped ITB, but attended two TBEXes, the New York Times Travel Show, ATWS, the Social Travel Summit in Austria and the Study Abroad Summit in New York. I truly believe that all networking is cumulative.
- Facebook Followers: 63,000
- Instagram Followers: 63,000
- Twitter Followers: 26,000
- Pinterest Followers: 32,000
2018 was the peak of blogging for me – at least so far. I flew 220,000 miles over the course of the year, for family travel, campaigns and conferences, and earned more than I was making in healthcare.
My Travelocity and Universal Orlando relationships continued, and I loved meeting up with their other influencers periodically. I also started working with Capital One, and did four separate campaigns for the Venture card.
I attended ITB, ATWS and TBEX again, and added in the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) annual summit in Barbados. And I won another Gold award for family travel writing from NATJA. I also attended The Points Guy’s annual awards celebration in New York.
My non-Capital One campaigns included Oahu with IHG, Wisconsin, Houston, Trentino (Italy) and Celebrity Cruises.
All revenue came from these campaigns and ambassadorships – I still hadn’t added any affiliate links to my website. It was the way I wanted to earn a living, except…it was taking me away from my wife and kids too much. So although it was perfect on paper, I made the decision to travel less going forward, even if it meant less revenue.
- Facebook Followers: 63,000
- Instagram Followers: 87,000
- Twitter Followers: 30,000
- Pinterest Followers: 38,000
2019 started with two of my favorite campaigns to date. I flew to Qatar with Qatar Airways to promote its new Business Class, and then I headed to New Orleans to photograph for Capital One campaigns in Conde Nast Traveler and Bon Appetit. I loved shooting for Conde Nast Traveler especially, given that I started my career after winning its contest.
After that, though, I kept my promise to my family to travel less. I cut back to three conferences – ATWS, SATW and the Social Travel Summit – and I said no to most paid travel campaign offers, only agreeing to kid-oriented campaigns in Utah, Manitoba and San Diego, and then one at the end of the year with FIFA to Qatar (my second trip to Qatar that year, but it was too fun an opportunity to pass up). Unfortunately in 2019 both Travelocity and Universal Orlando ended their blogger programs.
But I started getting more non-travel social campaigns, so it was nice to be able to make money while not traveling. I had several rental car campaigns, did a lot of posts for a very cool garage door opener, and began a new ambassadorship, with Mizzen+Main shirts. And I finally started adding affiliate links to my blog posts. I felt like I had developed my authority, and I still didn’t plan on writing about anywhere we hadn’t been, so if hotels.com wanted to pay me for referring business to them, why not? Except that adding links is time-consuming and it takes a while for the revenue from that to start coming in.
- Facebook Followers: 63,000
- Instagram Followers: 151,000
- Twitter Followers: 30,000
- Pinterest Followers: 54,000
I headed to the New York Times Travel Show at the beginning of 2020, and for the first time started accepting freelance writing assignments – simply because it’s fun to be able to stay home and get paid for writing about places we’ve been. I wrote articles for AAA Travel, Lonely Planet and DK Books, and signed several contracts for campaigns throughout the year – mainly things that didn’t require separate trips but that I could promote during our family travels.
And then COVID-19 hit. I immediately cancelled my plans to attend ITB and TBEX Sicily (both of which were subsequently cancelled), and we cancelled a family trip to Nicaragua for spring break. I’m writing this roughly six weeks into the pandemic lockdown and there’s no way to know when travel will resume, but I’m optimistic. I’ve already had a few destinations reach out to me wanting to know how quickly I can travel to promote them when the quarantines end. And I had never depended on affiliate or ad revenue so I’m not suffering as those have disappeared all along the travel spectrum. I think the demand for travel marketing will be strong again, and I personally want to do anything I can to support our favorite destinations, hotels and small businesses around the world.