The Other Way to Monetize Your Travel Blog

December 5, 2010

I’ve been chatting with a lot of other bloggers recently and, while I’d rather talk about travel, the discussion inevitably turns to metrics like traffic, subscribers, Twitter followers and the like. Is anyone actually making serious money doing this? Andy Jarosz recently wrote a very thought-provoking piece on his blog, 501 Places about whether travel bloggers are looking for fortune in all the wrong places. Judging by the quality and quantity of the comments on this post, this is clearly a topic on everyone’s minds.

I’ll be completely frank: we are not looking to profit from our travel blog. Yes, we have some sponsors this year and will gladly accept advertising dollars, donations (shout us a beer, anyone?), press trips and the like. But this is not the primary (or even secondary) reason we have started a travel blog. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I am interested in some compensation for our travel costs, the hosting plan, the many hours spent building this site, writing articles, etc. At the very least, I’d like to break even. But I never thought this would come in the form of dollars, euros, pounds or yen. If the major news media are struggling to stay afloat, I don’t need to do too much financial modelling to know that blogging is not a millionaire’s game.

Photo by puravida of morgueFile

No, I’m interested in another kind of currency – currency that can be just as valuable as an additional column on our bank balance. It’s called social capital and it has been written about by many new media geniuses, including Brian Solis, Laurel Papworth and even the Yale Law Journal. South Magazine posted a great article on the topic last year. Money is simply something, a good or a valuable item, that is accepted as a medium of exchange. If social capital “buys” you a desired good, service or benefit, then it is essentially as good as money.

Online social capital can come in many forms and should be sought out by all media professionals. But it is especially useful for travellers and should not be overlooked by travel bloggers. A fair amount of social media snake oil is for sale out there on the interwebs – gurus, experts, get rich quick schemes, “follow me and I’ll make your dreams come true” and the like. If you’re getting frustrated with your balance sheet, consider some other potential benefits of becoming a well-loved travel blogger. Here are some things that are very important to me as I continue my work:

Information: We are all constantly trading information whether we realize it or not. Every post, tweet and comment conveys something about our real-life experiences on the ground. If you’ve made an effort to connect to other travellers, you’re likely ingesting large amounts of information daily on where to go, where not to go, how to get there, what to see, what to do, what brands to buy, safety tips, etc. You’re probably surprised by how much of it you take in and remember when it’s necessary. This information can save you time and money.

Conversation: Who doesn’t love a little of this? Never has it been so good for you to talk to strangers. My favourite tweeps are the funny and interesting ones who keep the banter going and don’t ignore my @ messages. I’m starting to talk to my Twitter friends more than my local friends. I love exchanging blog comments and appreciate it when someone sends me an email about something I’ve written. You need only look at the fantastic campaign Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT) to see how much people enjoy a good exchange. If it makes you feel good, it’s valuable.

Local hook-ups: Chat to enough people and you’re going to have a vast network of contacts around the world who are keen to show you around, have a drink with you and offer you a place to sleep or some much-needed assistance with your plans. I don’t need to remind this group how valuable local knowledge can be. Knowing someone in every major city in the world has long been a goal of mine and travel blogging has only expanded my network and chances of achieving this.

Reputation: Do your readers feel like they know you? Do they trust you? Don’t abuse this power because it is one of the cornerstones of social capital. Likewise, you can build trust and grow your relationships online. This may lead to opportunities beyond blogging such as freelance writing and other paid gigs. One of the qualities mainstream media are now looking for in their writers and other staff is the ability to build a following online and develop a persona that people like and trust. Worry about this first and the rest will come.

Community: From what I’ve seen so far, I love the travel community. Everyone seems to be interested in being doers, improving themselves through travel and, most important for me, having fun. I already feel a part of this and I’m a newbie blogger (alas, not a newbie traveller – I wish I’d thought to start a blog sooner). Community is especially important to me because I don’t really have one in my offline life. Almost all of my friends and family members are desk jockeys who don’t really travel that much and don’t even read the blog. Everyone has a “hometown” (I do not). Most of them think John and I are pretty nuts for moving around the way we do. From talking to others in this group, I know that we’re not alone.

Photo by dave301 of morgueFile

None of these are new concepts. One of the chapters in my masters thesis discussed the value of ‘weak ties’ in relation to online communities. Mark Granovetter’s network theory of the strength of weak ties claims that weak ties between individuals are more important than strong ties for providing people with a broad variety of information from diverse sources. While you may know some of your fellow bloggers personally, most of them are probably strangers and would fit the definition of a weak tie. You are getting more and better information by participating online than you would if you just stuck to conversations in your geographical area. Good information is extremely valuable. You are also probably finding tertiary benefits such as social support and friendships.

This post is not intended to discourage people, nor is it a manifesto against capitalist enterprise through blogging. I merely wish to suggest that perhaps it is time that we focus on some of the other positive benefits we receive from spending a great deal of time and effort making our blogs great. The thought that we can monetize them is appealing and will go a long way towards protecting the quality of what gets produced. But we should never forget that other good things come from blogging as well.

What do you think?

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  • Jimshu

    I think you’re on the right track here Andrea. It’s more about the info,conversation,reputation and community for me also. The trading of information potential is enormous. And there are changes occurring in how we plan and execute our travel in the future. Todays bloggers, travel sites such as this are a new generation of travel agents, offerring information, how to, access to booking flights, accom, activities etc in a way that past travel agents never could.In this era of more DIY travel, sites like this are becoming more and more pivotal in inspiring and actually facilitating more to travel.
    Plus the network of travelbloggers today and in the future are becoming powerful media to spread social and environmental messages/ issues to a very aware audience. Meaning that we may be moving towards a future where travelblog sites become very important newssites.We can only just wonder about where this develops.

    • Andrea and John

      It’s true, Jim! For our upcoming travels we’ve barely had to crack a guidebook and rely mostly on word-of-mouth from other like-minded travellers. I think this is a better way to gather information (and certainly more fun!). You’re right that it’s a whole new world in terms of the ability of independent travel sites to influence mainstream opinion. It’s already happening in other areas of the blogosphere as well.

  • Jools Stone

    Very well said Andrea. I share many of your goals as you know, especially the one about knowing people spread across the map.
    ‘My favourite tweeps are the funny and interesting ones who keep the banter going and don’t ignore my @ messages. I’m starting to talk to my Twitter friends more than my local friends.’ Yes, this is so true! Even when I post something on my personal facebook page now, unrelated to blogging or travel, I generally find the people who comment are nearly all people I’ve never met in real life. The idea of weak ties is a very interesting one and bound to get more relevant to our lives as time goes on. Your knowledge of that alone should be something you can capitalise on.
    Conversely I’m not much of a traveller myself, but in getting to know people who are I’ve learned a lot and also become less cynical than I was. I’m more open to living differently, in all sorts of ways.
    One of the best posts I have read about the benefits of travel SM in a long time, thanks a lot!

    • Andrea and John

      Cheers, Jools! I know you’re one of those people that I’m in touch with several times a week now and we’ve never met in person =) That’s so great that it has improved your cynicism (I have a tendency to be cynical as well) and openness towards alternative lifestyles. Hopefully what many consider to be “living differently” will just become common in the very near future! – Andrea

  • GlobalButterfly

    I thought this was a brilliant post! Definitely something that a lot of people tend to forget after a while. Thanks for the reminder!!!

    • Andrea and John

      Cheers, Andi! I hope I never forget it =)

  • SoloFriendly

    Excellent article! I have to agree the major benefits of travel blogging are more about social capital than money. I’ve never felt so close to a group of online friends (many of whom I’ve never met in person) in my life. When I went to TBEX this summer and met many of them in person, it felt more like a family reunion than a first meeting. I, too, talk to my online friends more than my RL friends and family, because my online friends share my passion for travel. My RL friends and family don’t. We all seek out community with people who share common interests. When I meet new people around where I live, oftentimes the only thing we have in common is geography. And that’s really not enough.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for sharing this! That’s so great that you got to go to TBEX – we’d love to make it to one someday.

  • Laura

    I hadn’t heard the term “social capital” before, but I think it does a great job of capturing those indirect benefits of blogging and being active in social media. I agree that this concept can be just as worthwhile than the more tangible benefits (money/press trips). This post does a great job of reminding us about these other good things that come from blogging!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Laura! Look forward to reading your blog posts as well =)

  • Erin in Costa Rica

    Interesting article. I started my blog less than a year ago and I have unexpectedly received job offers through it. People in the US or Costa Rica stumbled upon the blog, became followers, then offered me a job writing, or designing, or editing, or managing something here or there. I think this is absolutely insane seeing as how the average visitors to my site are only like 10 per day LOL. So if you count the money I have made off of freelance jobs stemming from people discovering my blog, it has become very lucrative.

    On the other hand, I have also really enjoyed starting to get to know the online travel community. It’s awesome to know there are people out there that enjoy discovering new environments and cultures as much as I do :)

    • Andrea and John

      I’m not surprised you’ve found work through your blog, Erin. A great number of skills are involved in blog production and promotion. I’ve learned so much on the tech side just by doing it – that’s one reason we started our blog earlier this year even though we’re not headed off travelling again for another three weeks…I wanted time to learn, adjust and work out all the kinks. I hope you continue to find fulfillment through blogging, both financially and through the community as you mentioned =) – Andrea

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  • Ordinary Traveler

    Great article, guys! I love that you are looking at all the positive aspects of travel blogging rather than focusing on whether you are making money from it. The decision to start a travel blog, for us, has always been because we love traveling and sharing travel tips.

    I had no idea how much I would learn from joining the travel blog community. We are in the same situation as you guys, where most of our friends don’t travel all that often, so just reading about hundreds of other people who value travel like we do, has been a gold mine.

    I’ve always known travel blogging wouldn’t make me rich, but I am a firm believer that it can open doors that you may not even know existed. It’s been a fun ride, and I look forward to many more years of blogging!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for these thoughts! =) And we look forward to many more years of chatting and reading your posts…

  • inka piegsa

    Very true. I enjoy the conversations and the contacts. It’s so good to come to a new place and the know that a like minded person is there ready to give you advice, sometimes even in person. Just don’t let’s forget: it’s all mutual.

    • Andrea and John

      Definitely agree, Inka!

  • Anonymous

    There is definitely more ways to Monetize, they may not directly result in money but they do pay off. I’ve met a lot of awesome people. Both online and in real life in the Atlanta area. Business and making money is a result of relationships… it’s who you know, not what you know.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for stopping by, Nick! Your blog has great content on these topics as well.

  • Amy & Kieron

    It looks like you put a lot of thought into this article Andrea and we completely agree with the concepts presented. Our blog has been online for just over 7 weeks and what started off as a bit of fun to build the excitement around our upcoming RTW has already evolved into so much more.

    We were lucky enough to meet you guys last week and we’re looking forward to meeting plenty of other travel bloggers when we hit North America. This is now one of the main objectives of Don’t Ever Look Back – to make connections with awesome travel people all around the globe.

    • Andrea and John

      It was so great to meet you two in person as well! =) We’ve really enjoyed your blog so far and look forward to reading all about your adventures – you’re going to meet heaps of people. Good luck with everything!

  • Erica Kuschel

    I LOVE this post. It is definitely a good thing to look at the other things that blogging can bring besides straight up money. I have been so happy with the fellow bloggers I have met!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Erica – there are so many great people out there!

  • yTravelBlog

    We are moving towards making money from our travel blogging. Not necessarily from the blogging itself, as I know how hard this is, but from other opportunities that might spring from it. But really, our main purpose is that we are doing something that we love. We are immersed in travel every day, and a part of a community of people who we love and is the only community we have ever felt like we have a solid place of belonging in. I love that I am able to share all our experiences in order to help someone else do the same. We never focus on the money, we focus on doing what we love,and helping others do the same. When you focus on these things, you’ll discover the money will flow to you from unexpected places anyway, without even having to think about it. Joy!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for this insightful comment, guys! The fact that you love it really shines through on your site =)

  • Melvin

    It’s good that you are nuts and travel the world! :) And it’s even better that you are a part of a great worldwide travel community! I also enjoy what is going on each single day… It’s really amazing!
    Nice post!

    • Andrea and John

      Cheers, Melvin! I’ve really enjoyed connecting with you =) I find TravelDudes to be a very useful site for travellers to share information all in one place so kudos for all your work on it!

  • traveltosun

    I like the idea of “social capial” – it really is the most valuable capital for bloggers, especially because as @Jimshu said before, we live in the era of DIY travel, when information exchange is the most reliable tool for travelers.
    So, I guess it’s only natural that if your contributions to the community are valuable they will eventually be appreciated and materialized into tangible incomes, like money.

    • Andrea and John

      Definitely agree! I read a lot of different travel blogs and am always impressed by the quality of the work – everyone puts in so much time and effort.

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  • Ayngelina

    Completely agree that it’s very difficult to make money from travel blogging. I make a bit of money but I’ve always said I don’t want to depend on my blog for income. The real reward is definitely the community.

    • Andrea and John

      Love your blog, Ayngelina!

  • The NVR Guys

    Thoughtful article. I would challenge the statement that “…The thought that we can monetize them is appealing and will go a long way towards protecting the quality of what gets produced.” I think it is just the opposite. I think the desire to monetize one’s blog can lead a lot of people to write incredibly disingenuous posts, throw up poorly thought through content and, probably worse, traffic in pretty subversive marketing. I am not saying this is always the case, of course. There are just too many people buying Facebook friends / twitter followers and outsourcing blog commenting.

    I do think we are in the wild west of blogging. Right now it feels like everyone is rushing to pan for gold, except they are panning for the idea of gold, not real metal.

    Just my two cents.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for opening up a bit of a debate here! I wonder if I haven’t been blogging long enough or perhaps I’m only reading the best quality blogs to say that I haven’t really seen much evidence of this. And for obvious reasons, you probably don’t want to share any specific examples of what you mean here =)

      I would love to hear further thoughts on this from you or anyone else… – Andrea

  • Michael Hodson

    as a complete non-earner from my blogging — gotta say I agree with your post. Well thought through. Thanks!

  • Jack and Jill Travel The World

    In the past two months we’ve been blogging, we’ve been amazed at how much it helps us in connecting with other travelers. If we had known this before, we’d have started blogging sooner…

    I don’t know anyone who’s making loads of money off blogs (I know they exist, I just don’t know anybody personally), but for us… forming a network of travelers and sharing tips on places and what not is definitely the biggest draw.

    • Andrea and John

      That’s great, Jill! Look forward to reading about your upcoming adventures =)

  • Dave

    About 2 years ago there was an explosion in travel bloggers who all of a sudden got the notion that they could make money through their travel blog to “travel”.

    All of a sudden page rank, daily posts, cross commenting and RTing like no tomorrow became the norm. Dito with jacking up alexa rankings and blogging group “mutual” support networks. “desktop travel bloggers” emerged as the new in thing. And, content began to be so repetitive I really stopped reading many, many blogs.

    Over the past month one or two text link advertisers have even started using travel blogs they sold widgets, guest post links and text links as examples in opening emails. The text link market collapsed in terms of value as people sold links that used to sell for $80 per month for as low as $15. Such is, supply and demand these days.

    Likewise over the years I’ve seen travel blogs come, and go. Mainly they go and become less frequent as people leave their desks and then realize how difficult and costly it really is to publish on the road. Your point about even the big publishers are struggling really needs to hit home to many “travel bloggers”.

    Likewise the same with social networking. Can you really spend every day or week commenting, RTing and liking pages just in the hope of getting the same back …. when traveling? The answer is actually no. Exceptions would include home countries and travel bloggers sitting in apartments overseas or the “desktop travel blogger”.

    The penalty for not being online in this regard is being forgotten about. And so viewership falls, comments decrease and rankings go down. This is just the way it is.

    The exception is if you really do offer something very different. Or your content is like gold. Hence all these “make money tomorrow”, sites do so well.

    Personally when it comes to content. There are very, very, few blogs out there that really stand out as actually being “travel” blogs. Many have become social network, make money, make comments, get noticed type blogs.

    Hopefully in the next year or two the craze of making money from your travel blog will die out. And, people realize that the real way to make money when you travel is the same old way. “Got talent, sell it.” Applies both offline, and online.

    Nice post!

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for such a great comment, Dave. It is certainly an interesting phenomenon. Some of the best travelogues I’ve seen are not heavily promoted and actually don’t connect to the wider community at all. For me, I love writing and hopefully I can improve and showcase this on our blog. It made sense for us to start a blog since we’re going on the road. And I’ve written quite a lot from an expat standpoint. As you’ve discussed on your blog, it can be very difficult to find community when you are a foreigner and being online is a good solution to that for me.

      I can’t really say where ours will end up at this point because it is so new. I plan to keep it going because we have plans to continue to travel and live in different places for the forseeable future. But I do think it will evolve as we make our way through the world. Time will tell.

      In the meantime, I enjoy many blogs and like to comment, but I only comment where I feel I have something to say or to pay a compliment if I liked it. I agree with Khublei and NVR that I see a lot of Top 10 posts or Best of posts. I think lists can be useful if done the right way, but many are just fluff – agreed! -Andrea

  • Anonymous

    Every since this monetizing thing took off, every third blog post begins with ‘5 things to do in …’ ’10 things to eat in…’

    So yes, I would say the content has suffered. The era of the interesting travel story is pretty much dead.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for commenting, Khublei. I think there are a lot of great writers out there if you know where to look, but definitelly agree that too many Top 10 and Top 5 posts do spoil things a bit.

  • Sophie

    Absolutely agree. It’s about the community, not money.

  • Mark H

    I agree with your article here. I feel that many bloggers just have dollar signs in their eyes. I have yet to monetize* my blog at all. I do not plan on doing that for a long long time. I wish there was more interaction involved. Although I realize many people read others people’s blogs the actual amount of quality commenting is very low. In fact I find huge blogs can post one paragraph of crap and get a zillion comments, yet a quality post like this hasn’t had any yet. Frustrating to say the least. As for the get rich quick bit- nothing happens overnight that is most definitely sure… I am sure if that is all people are looking for they could have found much better ways than blogging I would hope. Personally I enjoy writing and like blogging because it brings out things that are happen in my life or coming across my mind out in a single clear post. Each post or comment I make I truly try to improve at how I post or respond. I hope to see more quality posts such as yours! Thank you.

    • Andrea and John

      Thanks, Mark. I have noticed these things too. Will check out your blog =)

  • Nicole

    So very true, you did a great job putting it all into words. I contemplate often if the work is worth it, but I haven’t been able to drop it either. It’s connecting with interesting people that keeps me going. :)

  • Robkavalek

    Great post! I launched my travel blog ( in October 2010 simply because I wanted to share my experiences with my friends and anyone else interested in a good story. I did not create it with the idea of making a profit as I knew that it would be very challenging to actually make money. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook (as well as my blog), I am meeting fellow travelers from around the world. While earning an income would be nice,I’d much rather be part of a community that loves exchanging stories about their travels, etc. Like you, I have already received invites to people’s homes, etc.

  • Andrea and John

    Hi Rob, Thanks for stopping in and commenting! Thats wonderful that you’ve also met so many great people through blogging. Now we know about your blog and can keep up with you as well!

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  • RumShopRyan

    Social Klout, Social capital, social influence, what ever you call its all good. I got in to writing about Caribbean travel because that is my passion. It’s easy to write about something you completely love. I went into it not even thinking about money or sponsorships. I just wanted to spread the island lifestyle. I mean who doesn’t love sitting on the beach with a rum runner in their hand…everyone right! Money should not be your goal when starting. If it is, you’ll fail.


    • Andrea and John

      Thanks for stopping by, Ryan! Completely agree with you =)

  • VSR

    Hey you guys are really doing a lot of hiking. Great Pictures. Be safe and don’t fall into the crater. The gods are appeased.


    • Andrea and John


  • Sascha

    Word! Well said. Not always think about the money, think about the experience, the people. Far more valuable.

    • Andrea and John

      Cheers, Sascha – thanks for that =)

  • Aviewtoathrill

    This speaks to the humanity in all of us.  Yes, cash is always a great thing to have, however, I think building relationships trump that because in the end money is a form of currency that can only give you things.  Relationships is the type of currency that can get you through life.

    • Andrea and John

      That really means a lot to me, Renee. We spend so much time on the blog and I do try to think of ways to improve it to make it more lucrative, but I’m never disappointed by it because it has enabled us to meet so many amazing people. Relationships are SO important. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment =)

  • kyle

    What an awesome post Andrea! I love my blog as the cornerstone of my photography business. And ideally I’d like to get it bringing in a couple hundred extra bucks a month. BUT to me the most important thing it builds for me is relationship/trust. My blog is my link to my current clients and future clients and a way for them to get to know me and trust me so on the wedding day I’m not a stranger with a camera, I’m someone they already know. That’s pretty invaluable and changes the way I work. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

    • Andrea and John

      Thank you so much for illustrating this point so specifically, Kyle! I think blogs are really important for creative people like yourself for building trust and branding as you point out. Especially when you write so well – I always love hearing from you =)

  • Kurt

    I think that I can’t believe I never came across this post before. The concept of social capital is really important. I think these days it is even more important.

    It will be interesting to see how this evolves over say, the next few years. Very good article.

    • inspiringtravellers

      Thank you, Kurt – much appreciated! =) I’ll be interested to see as well…the nature of online media has not changed much since the days of people helping each other out and socializing in forums and chat groups. I studied these concepts a lot when I did my masters and it’s something I’ve always loved about the internet.

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  • Andi

    I agree 110%!

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  • Deborah Thompson

    Hi there Andrea – Loved this post (found the link through Amy & Kieron’s “Things to do in Bali” blog when you posted a reply. Monetizing our newjetsetters travel blog has been something Steve & I have been discussing for over two years now, but we knew right from the start that this would mostly likely never be possible. We have been willing to do it just for the satisfaction of sharing our experiences, photographs (slowly getting to the video part!) and the wonderful opportunity to connect with other travellers out there, who we find are mostly amazing, intelligent, fun and inspiring people that we seldom get to meet in our daily life. Your article is very well written and right on the “money” so to speak, as other people have commented above. Thanks for sharing your views and putting what Steve and I have been discussing for years now into a post! If you haven’t come to explore our website I truly hope you will, and if you are on Facebook we’d love you to stop by and “Like” us. (That’s a true reward in my books!) Thanks once again! Deborah Thompson

    • inspiringtravellers

      Thanks so much, Deborah – glad you agree and good luck! =)

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