When I first got into travel blogging, the way to make money was by selling links and having 40-50 niche websites with Google adwords ads. Press trips didn’t exist for bloggers and getting paid for our work was tough.
Then came the dawn of the influencer. The industry blossomed in opportunity and things were going pretty well until BOOM, the cooties hit.
So now that the game has changed drastically again, how is it possible to make money with a travel blog going into 2021?
I’m here to tell you it’s still totally possible to thrive in this role, provided you’re ready to put in the hard work and most importantly, passion.
These are the ways to make it happen in 2021 and beyond:
1. Use your blog as a resume to get freelance writing work
My biggest source of income during the first couple years of my blog was freelance writing roles. At first they won’t pay all that well but you’ll be establishing yourself and in time you can charge more commensurate with your experience (and influence).
It’s helpful when a publication can see that you have some reach yourself to help share the article and get more views, and the more you grow the easier it will be to get opportunities that pay better.
Writing articles not only helps with your bank account, but it gets you back links as well which is great for SEO! You can find a listing of resources here:
2. Work as a virtual assistant for other blogs
Working for a more established blogger will help you understand how to become more effective with your own blog. These jobs mostly come from in-person networking, but since that’s off the table for now, I recommend finding online resources.
Facebook groups can give you insight into the kind of help people are looking for. You can also use a VA matchmaking service like Satiated Artists.
When possible again, I think it’s great to attend industry events like TravelCon, and Women’s Travel Summit, if for no other reason than to network with other bloggers, to market your VA services, and to become aware of opportunities.
Or, try to just offer your services to a blogger you love. My full-time assistant reached out several years ago and asked if she could intern for me. Over the years, she’s become an essential part of my team. You would be surprised how many bloggers need help but don’t know where to look. Also consider the Facebook groups and industry events:
3. Get into affiliate marketing
It’s never too early to start with affiliate marketing. Even if you’re just starting out, having affiliates in mind and recommending products you love builds trust and paying opportunities. This is a long game, and you may not see the results from the fruits of your labor for a year or two, but it can become incredibly worthwhile.
For example, I wrote about what to pack for Southeast Asia four months into my blogging career and now it’s one of my most successful affiliate pages. It took a bit of time but it paid off. This is always true for me. I never really know how a post I write will do until much later, so I just keep trying!
You can become an affiliate for almost anything these days, so think outside the box. Here are a few great networks that I use:
The key is to only promote products that you truly love and use yourself. To successfully market products to your audience, their trust always has to come first. Check out this post for info on how to write a good affiliate post.
4. Place ads
Ad revenue is based on traffic and these days, the biggest networks require at least 50k visits per month.
Yes, it does make your site a bit uglier, but I believe that most readers don’t mind them (I haven’t had any complaints) and that your loyal fans will be happy to see you making money. I personally use Mediavine.
In April of 2020, my ads revenues took a dive like everyone else’s, however they’ve rebounded now in Q4 of 2020 with my focus on expanding content that was already performing.
5. Sell your photos
Photography is a big part of travel blogging. What better way could there be to inspire people to see the beautiful places you share? Having a visually appealing website is important, and since Instagram is useful marketing tool, it’s a great way to get paid work. Most of my paid work actually comes to me through my Instagram!
I’m always looking for ways to push myself and get better. These days, photography is a huge priority when I travel.
You can also sell stock photos online. Some people make a decent passive income this way. The rules are strict around what you can have in your photo, but if you are traveling and have a backlog anyway, it could be worth it. I can’t personally recommend it as I haven’t tried it, but if you have please let me know in the comments below if it works for you (or if not, tell us why!)
6. Monetize videos
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Plenty of bloggers make videos here and there but I don’t see much crossover between blogs and YouTube. People seem to be very dedicated to one or the other but not both.
If you make great videos and are consistent, building up an audience on YouTube and putting ads on them is a great way to develop an income stream. This is also a long-game approach, like most of what I suggest on here, but if you build up a strong and consistent audience you’ll have yet another passive income stream.
7. Paid Brand and Destination Campaigns
Eventually, when you have built up your audience and social media channels, you may have paid opportunities come your way. It might include product partnerships (like mine with ZAGG) or destinations (like mine with Kyrgyzstan), wherein you agree to deliverables in exchange for an all expenses paid trip and some cash.
This sounds like the dream, and it is, but it only makes sense if the destination and the campaign make sense with your brand, and if you are capable of delivering everything that you promise.
As for how to get these opportunities, there’s no secret formula other than to, as Steve Martin famously said, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”
If you have a well-chosen niche, create great content, you form real bonds with your followers and readers, and consistently put out valuable resources, that is the magic formula. Differentiate, build your audience, build historical data to prove that you are worth spending money on, and the work will follow.
Though, yes, there isn’t as much opportunity in 2020 as there was in 2018, there are still plenty of partnership options if you can innovate. Which industries are growing? Can you expand into any of them? Can you insert some lifestyle into the travel content?
Want some guidance? I recently put together a 5-day course (it’s free!) to walk you through thriving into 2021:
8. Develop Your Own Products
The most successful entrepreneurs in this industry have their own products for sale.
It could be a course, a book or several, tours, or a whole host of other options. The more creative you can get the better!
It’s important to have a minimum viable audience before jumping in and creating a product. There is the danger that you will spend all this time on product creation and not have any buyers.
How’s your affiliate income? Do you get heartfelt emails from readers? Are they actually asking for this from you, or have you asked them what they want?
There are not many travel bloggers who have a podcast, but this is another great way to make money and contribute something meaningful that is not already incredibly saturated.
Podcast popularity is skyrocketing, especially when people are at home more and have more time to listen.
I believe this is actually a huge opportunity and if you can come up with something of quality that has not already been thought of, you can strike while the iron is hot. While I haven’t reviewed it, I fully trust Pat Flynn and would take his course on podcasting if I were to start one myself.
10. Become a public speaker
Public speaking is a great way to make money while also spreading awareness and establishing yourself as an authority. Like the previous few suggestions, this is something that will make sense to pursue after you have established yourself.
Even in 2021, these opportunities still exist – just in a virtual format.
Live interactions can be powerful, and getting good at going live is a skill very worth having.
Once conferences can meet IRL again, you’ll have already established yourself as a great speaker, which adds credibility to your brand, spreads the word, and exposes you to new audiences.
These are a few of my favorite ways to earn from a travel blog. They’re all about the long game, based on providing something to people that is honest and of real value, and can help you build a lasting business that survives the test of time.
Most of all, innovate. Stay on top of the curve, keep working hard, and come up with new and exciting ideas. Put your energy into the things that you can do better than anyone else, and the money will follow.