Love to travel? Have an Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr account? If you’ve ever thought of combining your wanderlust with your social media presence in order to make a living, you may be on to something—and you wouldn’t be the first to do it. Just look up #travel on Instagram and you’ll find more than 99 million photos and posts from both amateur and professionals alike. There are many bloggers, Instagrammers and even YouTubers out there today making a living and funding their adventures with income generated through social media accounts.
hosco.plus talked to a few travel bloggers about how they started, what they specialize in, and, oh yeah, that burning question: how do they actually make money from their travel blog?
What do travel bloggers do?
While you may think travel blogging is just about taking pictures while on holiday and then writing a bit about your trip, you would be mistaken. Successful travel bloggers wear many hats and work several jobs at once—and do it all from the road. They are often freelance writers and photographers, contributing to various publications while self-publishing at the same time. Many got their start, and continue to work, in public relations, promoting tourism in specific areas or lending their talents to various tourist boards, airlines and PR agencies around the world. Some offer consulting services, advising on travel and on digital strategy, or even advising other bloggers on how to succeed. And some are pure entrepreneurs, having transformed their passion for an aspect of travel into a real business. But the most important thing, according to our sources? All travel blogs should have a niche—whether it’s luxury travel, adventure travel, travel on a budget, travel and fashion, or pure travel photography, all of the bloggers we interviewed mentioned how important it is to find an angle that sets you apart from the crowd and stick with it.
Who are they?
The travel blogosphere is full to the brim, and Instagram has become the go-to place for sharing and discovering the world’s most visited destinations as well its hidden, beautiful corners. One of today’s most popular travel Instagram accounts is that of husband and wife team Murad and Nataly Osmann, @muradosmann, who also publish a blog together called FollowMeTo Travel (www.followmetotravel.com). Their signature photo style, which features Nataly leading Murad somewhere exotic by the hand, her back to him while he snaps a photo, has become iconic in the travel blogging world. Just search #followmeto and you’ll find almost a half million copycats and dedications. The couple’s Instagram account has over four million followers, and they’ve been featured on the cover of National Geographic Traveler as well as on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and Daily Mail.
So how does one get a start and make a name in this crowded arena? hosco.plus talked with four up-and-coming travel bloggers, each with a different niche and a different number of followers. We asked them about how they got their starts, how they make money, what the unique challenges are in their industry, and what they see happening next.
Becki Enright, @bordersofadventure (9k followers), started her travel blog, Borders of Adventure, after working for 12 years in consumer public relations. “I had always worked in the media landscape and enjoyed writing,” she says. “I always used my annual holiday to backpack, and then I wanted to leave for a bigger stint and take my skills with me. So when I first set up my site, it was with that in mind—to have it be journalistic, and for a certain audience.” Enright says that @bordersofadventure specializes in “perception-changing writing about misunderstood destinations like West Bank Palestine and Northern Korea.” She also considers herself a true “place brander,” working directly with tourist boards and destinations to change their images.
A shot from Le Postcard’s “Getaway” section, where top fashion industry folk are featured on holiday. Pictured here: Brenda Diaz De La Vega, Editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, Mexico & Latin America
Stephanie Steinman, @lepostcard (47k followers), was the previous owner of two fashion-based companies before she started her blog, Le Postcard, which is dedicated to the travel habits of “jetsetters around the globe.” Her site focuses mainly on fashion and travel, specifically on “all of the ‘stuff’ that we travel with—the best luggage, favorite beauty products to pack, the must-have bikinis for a sun-filled vacation, etc.” It definitely caters to a more high-end, luxury seeking audience, featuring interviews with top names in the fashion and entertainment industries. Steinman notes, “The business side to blogging is very important to me.”
Julie Falconer, a blogger (www.aladyinlondon.com) and Instagrammer (@aladyinlondon – 100k followers) has written two eBooks about blogging, one for beginners and one for advanced bloggers. Though she travels frequently and focuses on “all things food and culture” in her work, she considers being a London expert her niche. “I live here and and write a lot about the city from a travel perspective,” she says.
Larissa Olenicoff, aka The Blonde Gypsy, in a shot taken from her Instagram account, overlooking Prizren, a historic city in Kosovo
Larissa Olenicoff, @theblondegypsy (22k followers), says her niche is being a “Balkan connoisseur.” She started her blog, The Blonde Gypsy, while travelling to places in southeastern Europe that not many know much about, like Ukraine and Transnistria. “I was having so many amazing experiences, meeting so many crazy/cool people,” Olenicoff notes. “So I just thought ‘I better get this written down if not for someone else to enjoy, for myself not to forget—and for the pictures not to get buried in my hard drive.’”
How do travel bloggers make money and what are the challenges?
So where does the revenue come from? For Olenicoff, it started coming in about six to eight months after she started @theblondegypsy, through advertisements on her blog and sponsorships. “But,” she says, “the real money came when I started offering via the blog small group tours that I lead through the Balkans.” Falconer, who started @aladyinlondon in 2007, says that her blog started to monetize about three years in, when she started doing it as a full-time job. “It’s a mix of advertising, sponsorship, brand ambassadorships, travel planning for clients and other products.”
For others, it was a quicker journey to the bank. “I made money the first day I started the site,” says Steinman of Le Postcard. The site makes money by receiving a share of the dollar amount of the products it sells through promotional content, as well as by collaborating with various brands. Steinman notes that she is “very, very picky” about working with hotels and airlines. “The entire part of my site is that I want people to feel like I’m a friend giving them advice on where to stay and how to get there, so I won’t ever suggest something that’s not the best and that I have not personally vetted first,” she says.
Becki Enright reports that her blog, Borders of Adventure, was able to monetize within about six months of its creation. “It was back in the day when sponsored content was a big thing. I was working in Asia and I only took clients from there, so I could tailor to where I was and it wouldn’t detract from the nature of my sites,” she notes. However, Enright, originally from England, is now part of a UK bloggers’ collective, whose members make money by working together for tourism boards and specific brands, trying to amplify their messages reach through follower reach.
Enright says that the challenges to making money in her specific line of work is the sheer number of destinations and campaigns that she has to sift through in order to pinpoint quality jobs. “It’s really good that the collectives exist—we’ve already identified the top brands per country, region, etc.,” she says. How did she find the collective? “You network and build relationships with people who are your colleagues,” she says. “One day there was a campaign for those who had never skied before. It was like a test trip, and you almost pitch yourself as much as they are testing you.”
For Steinman, whose revenue comes from items she sells on her site, the challenge is slightly different. “There’s a lot of competition out there,” she cautions, “and we only make money on the things we actually sell.” For Falconer, the challenge is in staying true to her audience, which can limit her revenue as it limits the projects she takes on. She notes, “One challenge is to only choose the projects and partnerships that are a good fit for my audience. I turn everything else down.”
What’s next for the growing travel blog industry?
For Steinman, it’s all about video—and perhaps tailored trips for her readers. “I think video is going to be big,” she says. “I can’t wait to do it on the blog! I’d also love to eventually curate a group trip with some of my followers.” For Enright, the future is in the collectives. “What’s growing now is this collective power,” she says. “We work as a miniature hub or agency with distinct skillsets as well as influential blog platforms. Also, brands and destinations are starting to understand that every year they need to put aside a yearly budget for blogger campaigns.”
Olenicoff sees things slightly differently, saying that she would like to see less selling and more pure intentions. “People are selling everything these days through both blogging and Instagramming, so hopefully there will be a return soon to keeping it real.”
Advice to those looking to get their start?
Enright says that a rush to monetize can be an ill-fated adventure for travel bloggers. “Newer bloggers see that others are paid and see that it’s important, and they go straight and ask for money when they don’t necessarily have a quality blog, a true niche, or enough followers,” she says, adding, “The main thing is to have a consistent voice and update regularly. Interaction is the biggest thing—if people comment, comment back. Respond and interact, have a conversation because that’s the next level of promotion.”
“We all have great ideas,” says Steinman. “The hardest part is actually executing them. If you have an idea, I say go for it!” Olenicoff agrees, and offers the following advice: “Do it. No one should every start blogging only with the intention of making money because most likely it will fail. When your heart is in it, though, and you can find your voice, even if you don’t end up making money it can be quite rewarding to share your stories and build an audience.”
Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then it turns you into a storyteller. – Ibn Battuta