An Inside Look Into the World of Travel Blogging
How hard do you really have to work to live the dream?!
It’s now been three months since Janet and I departed Ireland, en route to South Africa. Since leaving Ireland on August 22, we’ve covered 14 countries, traveled over 2,500 miles, and stayed in more than 30 different accommodations.
Traveling with Janet, who travels full-time writing for her personal blog, Journalist on the Run, has rubbed off on me. I’ve started a blog, bought a camera, and upped my social media game – trying to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. But I’ve learned very quickly – there’s a lot that goes into this travel blogging business.
One of the reasons this trip was so intriguing, and such a unique experience, was the “behind the scenes” insight that I would have into the life and routine of a well-established travel blogger. I followed a lot of travel and fashion bloggers on Instagram, and was always curious about the stories behind the amazing photos shared, day after day. Forbes recently published an article about traveling the world as a social media influencer (link here). But what would it be like to actually do that full-time?
I’ve now experienced and witnessed a bit of this “blogger” lifestyle and I’m beginning to grasp what it involves. I’ve lived the day-to-day, picked up some of the jargon, learned about the key players, observed how to grow your following and keep your audience engaged, discovered ways to monetize a blog, and even been privy to some insider drama.
Although I would love to, I’m not allowed to share any of the drama with you, as I would be excommunicated from the community! However, I will share some thoughts and offer you (to the best of my ability) an “inside look” into the life of a full-time travel blogger.
Travel blogging is not as easy as you think
If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all” -Michelangelo
I think many of us have wondered (or fantasized about) what it would be like to get paid to travel the world. That would be a dream job for many – the best of both worlds… a never ending vacation. Imagine the lifestyle, experiences, and stories! A never ending supply of Instagram-worthy pictures: sunsets on the beach, beautiful breakfast spreads, selfies at places you’ve only seen pictures of, infinity pools, and sarongs flying around everywhere. Imagine!
I’ll admit it: I was jealous. Sitting in my office for hours, while I followed their fabulous adventures on social media. I asked myself, “how did they get there?” “What’s it like?” “How do they make a living?” “How can I do it?” Now, I’m beginning to have a better understanding of the answers to those questions.
What people don’t immediately recognize is: it’s a real, full-time job. Not your standard 9-5, but a full-time job nonetheless. Behind the perfectly captured and edited pictures, sponsored first-class airfare, and larger-than-life personas is a lot of really, really hard work and dedication – more so that you would initially think.
Now, I can see some of you snickering right now, thinking to yourself, “travel blogging isn’t a real job.” I’ve heard many say this, you probably have too. This mindset couldn’t be more wrong. And if you take away one thing from this article, it should be eliminating this misconception.
Consequences of full-time travel
When you’re traveling full-time, it’s not easy to concentrate and get work done (…as I’ve learned the hard way). You’re constantly on the move: packing and unpacking, moving from city to city, from hotel to hotel. There are two primary components that impact your ability to complete work: wifi access and time management.
Firstly, your ability to do work is directly impacted by access to good wifi. It’s tough to get work done with no internet, and depending on where you are, it can be difficult to find a reliable connection. Nothing is more frustrating than getting to your hostel after a long day of travel to find that your Gmail won’t load. This is a problem you don’t have to deal with in an office environment.
Secondly, there is a finite amount of time when you can get work done while you have access to that good wifi. You have to manage your time very carefully – Janet is often juggling several projects at once and has to prioritize in the limited amount of time she has.
Now, this wouldn’t be a big issue if we sat around in our hotel all day doing work – but when we arrive in a new city every 2-3 days, we always have so much to do: find our accommodation and get settled, research the good restaurants to eat at, see all the important sights, make friends with the locals, etc. (essentially, do enough stuff to write a blog post about!)
And because we’re out all day, this usually means that we can’t actually find peace and quiet, or un-interrupted access to wifi, until the evening. On a good night, this will be around 7-8pm, but even later if we decide to grab some beers. There have been plenty of nights where I’ve been so exhausted that I fall asleep, but Janet stays up on her computer, trying to stay on top of her never ending to-do list.
The never ending to-do list
I thought that travel bloggers just write articles and post them online, right? Sounds pretty simple. It’s not.
So, what do they actually do?
Most important for Janet are her personal blog articles. She has to produce new, interesting content at a fairly consistent pace to keep her readers engaged. She’ll often write about one of the countries or cities that she recently visited, travel tips and hacks, or (if you’re lucky) personal stories or adventures.
In addition to the new content, Janet also produces monthly sponsored posts and freelance articles for companies or news agencies that pay her to write and share articles that promote their brand/agenda (like Skyscanner). This is a major source of income for many travel bloggers.
Every time we are sponsored (don’t have to pay) to stay at a hotel or hostel, hosted on a press trip, or receive a free tour/pass, Janet is required to write about the experience on her blog. This can be a double edged sword – as the more free stuff we get, the more Janet has to work (and the more guilty I feel about not working).
And all these posts add up very, very quickly. But it doesn’t stop there.
As a digital nomad/entrepreneur, Janet also wears several different hats. In addition to writing, editing, and photography, she does all her own digital marketing, advertising, pitching, website management, and finances, as well as sourcing new business opportunities.
She also has to handle all of her travel logistics: researching accommodation and travel options, booking where to stay and how to get there, figuring out what to do, among others.
Lastly, there is a lot of time spent on social media and photography – more about this in a moment.
To reiterate, all of this all takes significant (and valuable) WIFI and TIME! If only it was as simple as writing a blog post and uploading it on your website…
Plugged in 24/7
Social media is such an important component of the blogging world. It provides other channels, away from your website, to interact and engage with your audience. Your followers get a closer look into your personality and lifestyle, and they can follow along on your “day-to-day” in a more intimate way.
To be successful on social media means consistent and quality interaction, which means that Janet has to diligently stay on top of her various accounts (which, remember, also takes WIFI and TIME!).
How hard can that be, right?
To the average social media user (like me), this likely doesn’t sound very difficult. You probably check your Instagram on the way to the bathroom at work and might upload a picture to Facebook on special occasions (maybe you climbed a mountain recently!). Pinterest is for your Mom and you no doubt made a Snapchat story about climbing that mountain. And does anyone even use Twitter anymore? You’re a casual, convenience user, and if you don’t check your accounts for a day, it’s not the end of the world.
However, successful bloggers are power (relative to “casual”) users, which requires being “plugged in” and active 24/7.
Now, when I worked on Wall Street, I was “plugged in” at all times – but that simply meant checking my Blackberry for emails, and I would have to go into the office or hop on a call if requested. This is very different than how these bloggers are plugged in.
Janet has to be constantly active and engaged with her audience across all social media channels. This includes multiple Facebook pages, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, and probably others that I don’t even know about. On a daily basis she uploads pictures, posts status updates, sends tweets, records video, answers questions, and participates in online forums/groups.
And she has to manage a constant inflow of emails – from tourism boards, press agencies, brands, etc.
This is multi-tasking like I’ve never seen before. And to a user like me, overwhelming. With my new blog, I can barely stay on top of a Facebook page and Instagram – I don’t know how she does it! I still need to figure out how to use Pinterest…
And I’m still getting used to traveling with someone who is always talking to Snapchat. When we were on the ferry to France, I was in the shower and heard her talking. Thinking it was directed to me, I stuck my head out and asked what was up. Only to realize she was Snapchatting…
Traveling all the time is exhausting
I’ll be honest here: traveling full-time can be exhausting. It’s not always as glamorous as the pictures and stories might suggest.
We’re constantly on the move without a place to call home: no schedule or routine; overnight travel often means consistent sleep is a luxury; sleeping in a different bed every few days. It can be mentally exhausting and it’s been a huge adjustment for me.
Travel bloggers also have a lot of travel blogging equipment that they have to carry with them. You don’t see these in the Instagram pictures, but it’s a big reason those pictures always look so good. Cameras, secondary cameras, tri-pods, different types of lenses, GoPros (and accessories), drones, back-up phones, and spare battery packs are all carried in a backpack. And the weight of this stuff adds up quickly…the collection of chargers alone could be a carry-on bag! I’m not joking here.
And because we’re traveling on a budget, that means a lot of walking while carrying our heavy bags. I no longer have the luxury of going anywhere I want by opening up an app. But I really shouldn’t be complaining – my bags are much lighter than Janet’s (who is carrying a drone!). Somehow she still manages to walk very fast (even by NYC standards) and I struggle to keep up.
When we’re not carrying our heavy bags, we’re out exploring whatever new city we’re in, and that means we’re on our feet a lot. My Health App has recorded days with over 25,000 steps! There have actually been a few times where I’ve thought about the days sitting at my desk, but that feeling passes quickly…
Don’t mistake this reflection as complaining – there are many blue-collar jobs that require much more physical exertion, I’m merely presenting the facts and my opinion. At the beginning of the trip, I joked that I would be carrying Janet’s bags – luckily, she hasn’t taken me up on this offer just yet.
In relentless pursuit of the perfect photo
One concept I’ve learned very quickly, and that may be because I’m an untrained and very inexperienced photographer, is that the photo is never good enough. There is always a better location, angle, camera setting, lens, etc. And travel bloggers will do everything to try to capture it.
I’ve seen Janet do some crazy stuff in pursuit of this “perfect picture” – standing on unstable, rocky stone walls, jumping over a protective fence to get an aerial shot from a cliff 400 meters high, or racing up a steep a staircase trying to get in a good position before the sunset disappears. These guys know no boundaries.
And when they’re not chasing pictures, they’re seeking out other adventures worthy of writing about. But things don’t always go according to plan. Alyssa Ramos, from My Life’s A Movie, published a Halloween-spirited article titled, “10 Travel Bloggers Scariest Travel Stories.” It’s an entertaining read, and includes headlines like:
- Getting Locked in the Sydney Aquarium
- Walking Through an Abandoned Explosives Factory In Russia
- Getting Shot at While Sneaking Across the Libyan Border
- Almost Having a Plane Crash in Fiji
Would you want to be caught in one of those scenarios? I still remain fairly risk-adverse (call me a wimp), which sometimes leads to Janet poking fun at me. We’ll see though, I still have to make it through Sudan…
But I’ve also heard many stories about Janet’s friends who are either currently working or traveling through some dangerous countries, including places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Places that I (and all my family/friends back home) would never even consider to be in the realm of possibility.
These travel bloggers don’t mess around – they’ll do whatever it takes to find the interesting story or, at a minimum, check another country off their list.
It’s not done just yet
Still think you could make it through a month as a travel blogger? Well, now we get to the least-sexy part of the job: photographs.
Before you can finish an article, or upload a photo to social media, you have to sort through the hundreds of pictures you’ve taken and select the best to include. For perfectionists like me, this process can take forever! After you find the right photo, you have to crop it, edit it, caption it, and decide which accounts to post it to.
Even the process of transferring a picture from your computer to iPhone is painstakingly tedious (does anybody have a solution for this?).
Once you’ve chosen which photos to use, and have edited them to a standard you’re comfortable with, you have to save them, upload them all into your website portal, add a tag/name, and insert them into your article.The entire process is very time consuming (and a little bit frustrating).
And one photo often isn’t always enough. You have to take one with the DSLR camera, another on your phone for Instagram editing, and again for Snapchat.
They are always taking pictures! Whenever we arrive at a new hotel or hostel, I have to hide in the corner (or the bathroom) until the appropriate photos have been taken. I’m also not allowed to touch my food until the table has been properly set and pictures are taken, which can be frustrating if I’m very hungry!
Travel blogging is not for everyone, but there are a lot of perks
Hopefully if you’ve made it this far, you’ve begun to realize that there’s a lot more to travel blogging than you previously realized.
But the pros definitely outweigh the cons. You get to travel to and see places that the majority of the population will never experience. Over the last year alone, Janet has traveled to 29 countries across three continents, for free (she was even been PAID to stay in 5-star hotels in the Maldives!).
On our trip, we received an unlimited Swiss rail pass that we used to travel all across Switzerland, a free weekend in Lausanne (complete with 200EUR meal vouchers), an all all inclusive week “glamping” at Big Berry in Slovenia, and a paid adventure trip through Bosnia & Herzegovina. We’ve also gone on countless sponsored walking tours, boat tours, kayaking tours, bike tours, and (my favorite) food tours. There is honestly no better way to travel.
So you might be wondering: how do you become a travel blogger? What is the key to success? How do you get paid to travel the world?
These are questions that I, like many of you, have asked myself. I think I’m beginning to understand the answers, and I think I’ll have an even better idea when our trip is over. Anybody can set up a blog, write some articles and take pictures. You can teach yourself the technical stuff – how to design a website and edit photos. But there’s a big difference between going through the motions, and pouring your heart and soul into something.
Every successful blogger that I’ve come across has dedicated themselves to their blog. They spend every moment of free time working on the next post, pitching the next company, chasing the perfect photo, or getting lost in a new city. They didn’t set out to make money. They set out to do and write about what they love and, like most things in life, the money eventually followed (Irish travel blogger to Johnny Ward, from One Step 4ward, has cleared over $1 million from blogging!). They worked so hard on their blog that it eventually became so good that they could make a living off it. And something like that doesn’t happen overnight.
But even more important than work ethic, I’ve discovered, is that the truly successful bloggers have a distinctive voice and unique personality. They know exactly who their target audience is, what they want, and how to reach them. They provide tailored, captivating content that keeps their readers coming back for more. They’re interesting, reliable, and engaging.
What about Janet? How’s she so successful?
Disclaimer: I’m a friend, a reader, and a big fan (and now also understand why she has so many!)
Janet has been working on her blog and growing her audience for over 6 years, writing 550+ articles, and her website now has over 1 million views! She’s an entrepreneur, and a very smart one at that, with a great business sense. I’ve worked with some pretty hard-working, driven people, and Janet is right up there with the best of them. And I’m learning a lot from traveling with her!
Janet’s website banner reads, “Bringing Stories Home,” and many of her articles cater to solo female travels. She also features articles about budget backpacking tips, travel guides, safe travel, and more funny stories that you can imagine. Her posts are interesting, well written, and entertaining – be sure to check them out!
While she’s always publishing new, intriguing content, the reason her readers are so active and come back for more is because, well, she’s Janet!
As anyone who follows her Snapchat stories will tell you – she’s got her own personality and she’s not afraid to show it! She always starts her videos off with a big smile and an energetic, “good morning everyone!” This friendly, positive attitude that her viewers always see is exactly what you get off the screens. 100% authentic and genuine. Where she gets all this energy from is a mystery to me – and it’s not always easy for me to keep up! We were stranded in the middle of no-where Albania, trying to hitchhike our way to Berat – but there she was, skipping along, taking pictures, with a grin from ear to ear, while I was silently praying that an Uber would drop out of the sky and save us.
Janet’s not afraid to go places and do things that others wouldn’t dare. And these adventures make for some great stories. There’s the time she crossed a crocodile infested channel in Kenya (link) and when she was stranded on an deserted island in Uganda (link). She talks about visiting places like Pakistan and Iran like it’s a weekend trip to the Hamptons. But they’re not all daring tales, like the time she strapped a GoPro to 23 balloons and let it loose over Southern Ireland (link), and when she was running a half-marathon in South Korea and refused to let the “timer truck” stop her from finishing (link). On our trip, there have been a few times where I’ve begun, “Janet, I’m not sure…” and she’s already done it – without thinking twice.
Lastly, she’s unequivocally devoted to her readers, constantly interacting and replying to every note and comment, and she’s never satisfied. Since beginning this trip, she’s started a new Facebook venture, a second website, and two new Instagram accounts!
We could all use more people like Janet in our lives! I’m fortunate to have crossed paths with her in Thailand, and I’m excited for where our adventures lead us next!
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