Should You Start a Travel Blog? The Dirty Truth

I don’t write a lot about the inner workings of travel blogging, but today I want to talk about the travel blogging “lifestyle,” the facts and the misconceptions and the dirty truth about whether you should start a travel blog. It’s kind of an addendum to July’s post on lessons I’ve learned from travel blogging.

Whether or not to start a travel blog is a very different question from whether or not you should travel. Obviously, I think everyone should travel- that’s why I started this blog. What I’ve found though, is that the unintended effect of writing about my life and travels is that it sometimes falsely portrays travel blogging itself as something to aspire to. While I love my job, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone in terms of hours, work load or salary.

So I thought I would set the record straight about whether you should start a travel blog.

First the bad news:

It’s Not Going to Fund Your Travels

Views of Mountain from a Plane Window - Should You Start a Travel Blog: The Dirty Truth
Very expensive self-funded flight

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they wanted to start a travel blog to fund their travels… I’d have enough money to fund my own travels. This seems to be a really popular idea, particularly among people I meet in hostels: that you can just plan a trip, construct a blog and watch the cash roll in.

It took me almost a year to make my first dollar- and this was a year when I wasn’t actually traveling at all, I was living off a full-time salary and planning my trip. My second year was funded mostly by the savings from the job. Now, in my third and fourth years, I’m getting by, but it can be tough sometimes- and I’m not even traveling full time right now.

Nobody, absolutely nobody on earth, is getting rich travel blogging. Even those considered success stories in the industry are only getting by (and they also aren’t making their money from blogging: more on this late). This will change I think, it’s still very early in the game, but as things stand now you’d probably make better money waitressing.

It’s A Lot of Work

Mike and I Working in Bed - Should You Start a Travel Blog: The Dirty Truth

The problem with travel blogging is that it’s a crowded industry: there’s essentially no barrier for entry, but to actually become successful is a long hard slow slog. This surprises a lot of people. At first, it seems glamorous to travel while you work, but then you remember it also means you have to work while you travel. Long hours spent inside when you could be at the beach or out sightseeing or partying it up.

It’s about more than just writing too. Administrative junk, design, SEO, ad sales, social media, photo editing, these are all things I deal with that keep me from both travel and writing. Some of it is fun and some of it is dead tedious, but it all requires a lot of commitment on a daily basis.

Success is a Relative Term

Me in Front of a National Geographic Sign - Should You Start a Travel Blog: The Dirty Truth

There are no top bloggers, not really. There are just people who are better at guessing what to do next. None of us really know what we’re doing, how we fit into the industry, or how to best make money. There’s no plateau of success: only a steady upward climb.

Here’s the big secret about most people who make a living travel blogging: they don’t. Almost everyone (okay not all, but the majority) who makes significant money in this industry does more than just blog. They sell e-books or courses, they consult, do public speaking. I personally spend a lot of my time freelancing for other publications that have nothing to do with this blog.

What I’m saying is: don’t go into travel blogging for the money.

It’s not all bad news though. There are a lot of great things about why you should start a travel blog as well.

Most of the Rewards Aren’t Monetary

The Beach in Fiji - Should You Start a Travel Blog: The Dirty Truth
Job Perks

It’s kind of crap pay, but travel blogging has some EXCELLENT job perks. It’s the kind of job where one day you’re sweating in a sweltering hostel dorm and the next you’re drinking cocktails on the top of a ski slope- it’s weird and unpredictable and exciting. There are free trips (not vacations- they usually require more work than being home… but they are often amazing nonetheless). There are cool people (I love the travel blog community so much I’m marrying into it). There’s a real feeling of ecstatic achievement every time you reach a new milestone.

Blogging Puts Things in Perspective

A Baby Koala on Top of Her Mom - Should You Start a Travel Blog: The Dirty Truth
In retrospect, this was pretty neat.

For me, writing is a reward in itself. When I sit down to document a place, it helps me to process and understand my experiences. Every photograph I take and every observation I write down helps make my trip a little more real. It’s gotten to the point I wouldn’t know how to travel without blogging about it. Maybe that’s actually not a great thing…

It’s Challenging- and Fun!

Most of all though, I just really love the challenges and creativity that comes with being self-employed. Sure it means I work harder, for less steady money, and that I’m kind of mean to myself sometimes. But it also means I get to pursue projects that interest me, come up with crazy ideas and put them into action and write all freaking day long (okay sometimes I hate that bit-particularly when I’m up against a deadline, but mostly I love it).

Those are the main reasons I keep pushing on, despite everything else. I love my job- I get excited when I wake up in the mornings. Not everyone can say that, and I know how truly fortunate I am.

I’m not writing all of this to be discouraging.   It really bugs me when successful bloggers try to put off newbies like they are afraid of the competition. I just think people should know what they’re getting into before they head off on “permanent vacation” and start a travel blog.

To sum up: Don’t go into blogging for the money, be patient, work ridiculously hard, enjoy the non-monetary bonuses, and savor each little success. Or: blog because you love it, not for a free ride, because there are a lot easier ways to make a quick buck.


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58 thoughts on “Should You Start a Travel Blog? The Dirty Truth”

  1. So very true. I once wrote the following paragraph about freelance writing (or freelancing in general):

    “Working for yourself, particularly on a freelance basis, is very different than working for a typical employer. You don’t get paid for just showing up and doing what you’re told. Instead, you get paid for figuring out what someone needs, convincing them that they need it from you, and then giving it to them in a way that exceeds their expectations. If you do that successfully, you’ll earn exactly one paycheck. If you want another paycheck, you have to start the process all over again.”

    The difference between traditional freelance writing for print publications and internet writing is that the former pays about 10x more. Running your own blog, meanwhile, can pay nothing.

    The benefit for me in blogging is that it forces me to live life deliberately. I have to think about my experiences as they’re happening. I have to consider why the sights I’m seeing are extraordinary if I want to compose a compelling photo. And then I have to spend hours reliving and recording those experiences in order to tell my story.

    Done right, blogging can be its own reward. Which is a good thing, because it pays crap.

    1. Well said and so true! I embarked on a new stage of my life working freelance doing graphic design. Now I find my life completing a full loop. I was fortunate enough to have traveled a lot in my youth, primarily around the U.S. and then Europe. Now after having worked the corporate life, running my own small business and preparing to travel and live on the road full-time. Life is funny sometimes, but as I prepare to for the next stage (and hopefully most rewarding) in my life I find now I am putting in more hours than I ever thought possible. Honing my skills, preparing and planning, working on projects for current clients and finding new ones. Continually learning, reading, posting, reading more, watching videos and trying to extract and absorb the important points from each.

  2. AMEN, Steph! It’s NOT easy – I’m not even blogging full-time yet (still got my 9 to 5 job) and I find that it eats up so much of my time with everything you’ve listed.

    If it were my only job? Well, I’d have enough money to eat each month, and maybe take a Ryanair flight, but that’s about it. And for the bloggers discouraging the newbies – majorly uncool. Everyone starts out somewhere and as a community it’s our job to encourage and support.

    You sum it up nicely at the end, though. People stick with travel blogging because they love doing it. I wouldn’t do it if I hated it, and I feel fortunate and blessed whenever I get new readers, comments, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, or e-mails from people telling me that they like my blog or that they’ve been inspired to go somewhere.

  3. Nice article – I run a music blog and its a ridiculous amount of work, isn’t it!? I f I could start again, I probably wouldnt have bothered, but thankfully there is a wee team of us now…

    Keep plugging away!


  4. Love this. I started freelance writing before I started blogging, and people thought it was all fun and games until I wrote a post about how I spend half my time hustling for work and still don’t make as much as I did as a teacher. (A teacher, for God’s sake!)

    Thanks for keeping it real, and for supporting newbie bloggers like me!

  5. Great post, Steph! People don’t realize that most travel bloggers need to make time to travel and write in addition to holding a full-time job.

    In addition to being exhausting, I think blogging as a means to make money would be difficult because of the whole self-employment thing. As an employed blogger for, I don’t have an issue writing posts daily and corresponding with other bloggers about writing guest posts. But I recently started a personal blog and am failing hard-core at keeping up with it. Quitting your job to start a blog is a huge gamble, and writing quality posts in spurts of free time is difficult. You have to be really dedicated to build your blog into something worth a profit.

    I’d encourage everyone thinking about starting a blog to do it! If you enjoy writing, blog for yourself, not for the hopes of making money or becoming famous in the blogosphere. Blogging for the wrong reasons will only stress you out.

    Anyone interested in blogging should take a look at this Prezi presentation on why blogs aren’t dead. There’s some really good advice in here for beginners!

  6. Great work, Stephanie! So often do I get people asking me tips on how to get started… and many of them really just seem to want to do it to earn some extra bucks. I usually tell them that passion has to come first, as you need to find the strength and inspiration to write regularly and spend a lot of time doing the “other stuff” that you don’t directly appreciate when reading a blog. The bucks, if any, are linked to lots of sweat and tears!

  7. Great post, Stephanie. This is why I work for six months at a time (bartending, waitressing, etc) and live at home so that I can travel for another six. The blog is a great way to get a few things paid for while I’m actually on said trip, but no one is buying me a flight anytime soon.

  8. I agree with your points in this post. I started blogging years ago out of passion. Later on, I discovered that I can actually earn extra bucks from my blogs. My travel blog just started two years ago and it is not really that easy, but doable. I’d still prefer this kind of work set-up and lifestyle, but I do really work hard for it. Challenging, but fun at the same time 😀

  9. Good stuff and oh so true. I occasionally think about giving it all up when I’m particularly busy and feeling sorry for myself that no one’s come knocking with thousands of dollars or free trips around the world, but the truth is that I enjoy writing, sharing photos and interacting with my readers. I think that’s the only really good reason to start a travel blog!

  10. Speaking the truth! Luckily Q & I have been able to meet a few of the ‘top’ travel bloggers and they themselves also said this isn’t a lucrative career and don’t go into for the money. We accept this and it makes running our blog much more stress free. =)

    1. Ditto on your comment Gerard! We started to stress about SEO and technical things when we realized wait, let’s just do it because we love it and want to share stories. IF there are perks, good! But the essence needs to be what inspired the blog in the first place, to travel!

      1. So true my man. I’ve started my blog and it’s mostly to try to teach people that you can travel on any budget and it shouldn’t be a deterrent from seeing the world. Sure I want to monetize it to help fund long-term travel but I would’ve never started it if I didn’t want to share my story first. Worrying about all the little stuff (that turns into big stuff) like SEO can really bog you down and kill your enthusiasm keeping you from producing anything at all

  11. Such a good article. That’s everyone’s favourite comment when they here I have a blog. I’ve had some non-bloggin friends be super-critical that I’m not making money off my blog. It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t doing this! You write because you like it, and any additional bonuses are just that, bonuses!

    Great post Stephanie!

  12. Great post!

    I think another common misconception out there is that everyone wants to read a blog about “WOW my life is so AMAZING now that I’m traveling and traveling is just so AMAZING and isn’t this AMAZING?”

    I mean, what could be more boring? And dishonest?

    Narrative requires conflict, which means you gotta have a problem. And plenty of problems crop up while traveling. So while it’s cool to share the beautiful photos of your (our) beautiful lives, it’s important (and more entertaining!) to share the grim, unvarnished truth– The Time I Was Stuck on An 8 Hour Bus Ride With A Bladder Infection. The Time I Was Stopped By Scary Crack-Smoking Soldiers in Honduras. The Cheap Bed Full Of Roaches… That kind of thing!

  13. Great Post!
    I never got into blogging for money. I love to write and it’s an outlet for my passions. It has also changed how I travel or think about traveling. Everything is a potential post for my readers so it leads me to challenge my comfort zones, research more, be open to new experiences and find different approaches and angles to looking and writing about people, places, culture and food.

  14. Great post. I think a lot of people romanticize the idea of being a travel writer/blogger. But I’m also glad you talked about the non-monetary benefits. Those are important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Best of luck on your adventures!

  15. I am not a travel blogger, but I work online as I travel, and I have a blog. The blog doesn’t really make me direct money, but it helps me build relationships and sell eBooks or articles (my main money comes from writing web content). What you’ve said about the struggles and benefits rings true for me too. I had been self employed for over 3 years before I started my travels, which is a learning curve in itself. Couple that with fitting it in as you travel and it can be very stressful at times.

    Although it’s awesome to have the opportunity to work anywhere you want, sometimes I find it so difficult to manage things, and feel guilty when I work instead of see the sights, that I occasionally feel like giving it up! Most people don’t want to hear that latter statement, but I’m sure we all feel frazzled from time to time and that it’d be far easier to work from a proper desk, cook in your own kitchen and sleep in the same bed each night. Thankfully the benefits are worth it though.

  16. Totally agree with the points of this post. I’ve started writing in a travel blog in November 2011 and it’s not easy to explain to the people around me why it is not easy to make money with it. I’m italian and here in Italy we have the same problems. I write only for passion and for some additional bonuses and that’s it! The dirty truth 😉 !

    Great post Stephanie!

    Greetings from Italy 😉 !

  17. Well put. I blogged for at least 8 months before I made my first dollar, and that only happened because a successful travel blogger explained how it all worked and gave me my first contacts.

    Travel blogging is more work than I ever imagined. At one point, I realized I was spending a lot of time doing things I don’t enjoy, mainly social media. I decided that making a living off of my blog was no longer a goal, and I drastically cut back on the stuff I didn’t really want to do.

    I’ve gotten a lot of out my blog. It has given me an outlet for writing and photography. And most importantly, it has connected me with other people who love to travel, some who are great writers and photographers who inspire me. That is what makes it worth it.

  18. Great points you make in the article, and some great comments here as well. Like you, we get quite a few emails asking how to make money with travel blogging. I give very similar advice as you – don’t do it for easy money. That said, it does open up some amazing opportunities and opens doors for some fun projects. I think it’s just going in with the right expectations and attitudes.

    And like Stephanie-Travel Chica said, sometimes stepping back from the blog and all its obligations allows you to work on non-blog projects that can also be fun and earn some money.

  19. Very True. When I started my blog it was initially intended for my family and friends, but then I started reading other blogs and I started becoming a bit more ambitious. But to be honest, I invested too much time at one stage and constantly spent my days on facebook and twitter. It took over my life. Now I have stopped stressing out so much and whatever happens happens. For me blogging is a creative outlet and a bit of fun, but I have given up on making money with it. 🙂

  20. Great post! I also blog for my own enjoyment and to practice my writing skills…I don’t know HOW to make money from blogging-for me it’s more about building my writing portfolio in hopes of getting other writing jobs. This is probably about as lucrative as travel blogging(LOL!) but it’s where I want to take my life, and my blog!

  21. Thank you for being so blunt and honest. I started a travel blog and i’m finding it much more difficult than I thought it would be… but i’m also finding it more rewarding. It’s forcing me to stay on top of my travels and document them in a way that explains, displays, and analyzes them. I love it, and I hope to be successful one day, but I just want to do it for fun- to inspire people to travel, especially women, and especially women on their own.

  22. FYI, I am making a living from my blog and I don’t make any money from ebooks or selling courses and I also don’t sell links.

    That being said, it took me over 5 years to get to that point where I was making pretty much nothing.

    It is “possible” in the same sense that becoming a pro athlete is possible, but it is very very difficult.

    1. True Gary, but I’m also fairly certain that you don’t just live off of advertisements on your blog, which is the common misconception. I know you work hard for your money and think outside the box in a major way (which in my opinion is the only way to get a strong foothold in this industry).

      It’s possible, but it’s definitely not easy money.

  23. Great post and a good reality check for people. At least for me, the ROI on my travel blog is too low given the competition level so I’m not even trying to monetize it. I make money to support my travel addiction from my other sites and the travel blog is for me, my mom (so she knows I’m not dead yet) and anyone else who happens to wander in. It’s for enjoyment purposes and I am not planning on letting it take over my life though I am going to make a more concerted effort to keep it updated as I begin traveling again.

    One day, if I’m lucky, I’ll get some sponsored travel but I’ll probably have a heart attack on the day I actually make hard currency from it. 🙂

  24. I’m a complete newbie. And I started the blog because I want to have a project that’s more fun than my 9-5 office job (and so much more relevant to what I love), because I wanted to share all this info that I have accumulated in my head and on my hard drive, and because it’s a way for me to be a part of this very vibrant community of travelers that you talk about. I’m finally making friends who are not dreaming of a bigger house or a better car, and who are doing work that’s not money-driven. I love it about travel bloggers! Obviously, it sucks that even star bloggers can’t sustain their simple lifestyles with their blog alone. But like you said, hopefully it will change sometime soon.

  25. Great post. Nearly seven months in. my blog is just starting to see its first bit of money coming in – but it’s not nearly enough to make up for all the hours of work that’s gone into it! And you’re right, one of the most difficult things is staying in to work on your blog while everyone else is out by the pool or on the beach!

  26. Just saw your blog post on Twitter!

    I agree that making money through blogging is a lot of work no matter what you blog about.

    The people that appear to be making tons of money blogging usually have a team of people working with them, but they are hidden in the background and the author of the blog makes it sound like they are doing it ALL themselves.

    Making money as a freelancer can be difficult as well. A person may have good paying clients for a while and as soon as the economy fluctuates the clients could disappear. It is so unpredictable and it can be stressful as well.

    Love the pic you included above of the beach!!

  27. In total agreement. Not only with the post but some of the comments. The expenditure comes out of our own pockets and it can be tiring. When I began to write my blog, it was to simply share the experience and encourage others to get off the beaten track. The journey and meeting other people is coming to the fore and the destination is not always the main emphasis. It can be a real challenge at times.

    Writing it down afterwards or during the trip also teaches us things. When you assess what has happened in order to post a blog entry, it highlights certain aspects of that journey. What to do, what not do and how could I have done that better, that was fun …. etc-etc.

    Sometimes we look for adventure and miss out that we’ve actually gone through it enroute, when things have become frustrating, exhausting and/or even dangerous. We often think the adventure is the destination. I’ve found that to be the opposite in nearly all my travels so far (often the places I go to actually are quite boring).

    I’m retired, so don’t have to worry about a job, only the fact I have an extremely limited budget.

    So in the end the benefits really are those where I have met others, learned a valuable lesson and seen/experienced somewhere I have not been before. Often I get home, sit down and breath a sigh of satifaction – oh yeah 🙂

  28. Great post Steph!
    When I started my travel blog in Jan this year I personally had doubts how long I’d continue. And knowing the lazy ass that I am even my friends questioned my commitment. But then as I got going I realized it was fun. And yes, it was hard work as well. Who want’s to sit in front of a laptop and type away when there is some much to experience. I was not sure if I wanted to make a buck from it (if there’s a way to make money from it) and even today am still not sure.

    But then, I love telling people stories about my experiences, destinations et al through the blog and it has been a great experience. When I recently went back to my alma mater for a speaking engagement they loved it and few kids wrote back to me post visiting the blog and reading the stories.

    And I intend to continue doing that, come what may .

    Happy blogging!

  29. Great advice. I think with a blog, you really need to put things into perspective once in a while. The moment you get caught up in the number of hits, comments, views etc. is the moment the blog becomes a job rather than a hobby. For me, occasionally writing a post feels like a chore. When that happens, I need to tell myself that it’s okay to put it off till later, that there are no deadlines and I’m doing this for fun.

    Enjoy the time while you’re there and don’t spend it in an internet cafe furiously pounding a post away. Remember, it’s travel blogging, not traveling to blog.

  30. Great post! Funny, I keep coming across these blogging posts. I should start sending our readers over here who ask us how to make money with a travel blog! I usually tell them close to the same thing. Don’t start a travel blog for the goal of making a living unless you really enjoy being an entrepreneur and the uncertainty of not knowing where your next dollar will come from.

    It seems the general consensus is that all you have to do is start a blog and you will start getting free trips and advertising money. I probably spend more time emailing and networking these days than anything else, but I love that part of owning a business. To me, all of it is exciting because I know I’ve worked my butt off to get here.

  31. A nice healthy dose of realism is always nice to hear, especially for the hopeful aspirants who have no details on what this entails. Though I like the list of perks, as well, which is why I think travel blogging is something every traveler would enjoy.

  32. Really good post! I just stepped in to the travel blogging world because I love to write. I’ve started about 2 months ago writing my stories. Really slowly I can see an increase in visitor numbers but I already guessed it would be a long long road. It takes a lot of effort and time!

    Thnx for sharing! I’ll keep following your blog!

  33. Starting to understand all about how much work it is. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always looked at it as hard work, not just fun and games, and that’s why we’re starting our blog a year or so before we head off, but it’s like Coldplay said.. no one ever said it would be this hard 🙂

    We’re serious about it though, and even if we’re not making any money off of it we’re looking forward to the travels regardless, and to the way blogging changes the experience. In the meantime we’re loving life in the Dominican Republic and Blogging all about it, one post at a time.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

  34. starting a travel blog is really hard, but i love to share about my travel story 😀 so, it does’nt matter for me, at least for now 😀 also I am not yet a full time traveler, I do travel blogging just for hobby and fun ^^

  35. Love your honest yet inspiring post! I started to write about my travels just a month back with the sole focus of cultivating a regular writing habit. I’m absolutely loving it but I agree it’s more than just hard work, especially when you are not doing it full-time. I’m someone who gets obsessive pretty easily if I like something, so my blog stats are my lifeline now 😉 And it’s getting extremely difficult to maintain the original momentum of visitors to the blog. Your posts are very helpful in facing the initial travel-blogging glitches and all I wish is to keep doing what I love =)

  36. Great post! I set up my travel blog as a way to document my adventures with my family. I don’t anticipate making money from it and expect that I will continue working in my full time job for another 30 odd years. What I do know is that my kids LOVE reading our blog and sharing our adventures with their friends. At the moment that is reward enough.

  37. Very interesting post! It is now two years since i started my travel/expat blog and though sometimes I have toyed with the idea of growing it and making monet out of it, the truth is that I like the way it’s stayed small. As you say, writing is a reward in itself and at least you’re doing some kind of corporate blogging, that should be the most valid reason to get you started. Too much hard work to so if you dont put your heart in it!

  38. hmmm. I think this is an interesting post, but definitely think you should be proud of and thankful for your job. you have the opportunity to contribute to so many others’ successful trips and planning. you get to see the world every day. even though it might not be much, you get paid for telling people like it is – as you see it – in completely your own words. true, maybe the compromise is long hours and low pay, but i work in the advertising industry. i work 15 hour days at a minimum, but i sit at a cubicle all day without even a window in sight. i would gladly take the stresses you listed above over the stresses i deal with each day. i always find it interesting when i read travel bloggers’ posts about what it’s like to be a travel blogger, and they lead by saying they wouldn’t recommend the job to anyone. at the end of the day, work is work, and i think we all certainly find pros and cons of what we do!

  39. I agree about the rewards! Other bloggers–fashion, diy, lifestyle, mom–receive more compensation and gifts for their work, but our rewards as travel bloggers seem to be that we get to share our passion and to understand our experiences from the trips that we take. I love the community of travel bloggers out there and I definitely love that I have increased my photography and writing skills over the past year I’ve started blogging.

  40. Well, I guess there are several things that aren’t as nice as most people think. Travel blogging is very competitive and difficult to be able to make money with. But it’s a big passion for many people and that’s probably the main reason why many of us get involved in it.

    Thanks for the article!

  41. Shailender Kumar

    I finished setting up my blog and went live last week, and then I stumbled upon this post. Initially I was beginning to think that have I entered into a wrong territory of blogging, then by the end of the post you summed up very well and once again I got my motivation back. I enjoyed the process of setting up the blog and now I am enjoying the process of writing and building the blog. I understand that this is not an easy process and involves tons of hard work and equal amount of patience. I am ready with both, if not anything else I will improve on my writing and photography skills, and may be, on the way strike some good friendships as well. Let’s see how it all unfolds.

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