Want to become a professional travel blogger? Learn how to grow & improve your travel blog with my best tips after 4 years of professional blogging.
Continuing from my previous article about how to start a travel blog, it’s time to step it up a notch and share my best secrets for how to go from hobby blogging to becoming a professional travel blogger.
The word professional meaning you earn your living from it.
I’ve been running this adventure travel blog for 4 years now. For the first year it was mainly for fun, but then I began to take it more seriously. These days it’s my sole source of income — and I earn six figures a year.
There’s nothing wrong with blogging as a hobby. In fact that’s as far as most people get. But if my overflowing email inbox is any indication, many of you are dreaming of turning travel blogging into a job.
I’ll tell you right now that becoming a professional travel blogger is very difficult. More difficult than most people think. However this article is for those who are ready to attempt it anyway, regardless of the work involved.
Ready to get started? Then let’s do this!
Professional Travel Bloggers
What exactly is a professional travel blogger? Well anyone can start a blog and become a “blogger”. The barrier to entry is small, which has benefits and disadvantages. For example there are currently thousands of personal travel blogs online — so standing out from the crowd is tough.
However my definition is those who earn a good portion (or all) of their income from travel blogging are considered professionals. This list is MUCH smaller. If I had to guess, I’d say less than 100 people make decent money directly from their travel blogs.
Fortunately I happen to be one of them after years of trial & error attempting to turn my passion for travel into a business. Which is why I’ve decided to share some of my best secrets with you today.
My suggestions here are certainly not the only roadmap to building a successful travel blog, they just happen to work for me.
Building An Audience Is Key!
While I could go into the different ways travel bloggers make money, that’s not what this particular post is about. Everyone and their grandmother asks me how I make money from my travel blog, but the question they SHOULD be asking is how did I build an audience.
Because the hard truth is you’ll only earn income with your blog once you have a decent audience. Readers first, money later.
So today we’ll cover a few different techniques for building an engaged audience on your travel blog, as well as unique tactics for getting yourself noticed by companies looking to work with bloggers.
1: Create Useful Content
Writing a diary of your travels for family & friends is easy, but other than them, no one else cares. If you want strangers to read your travel blog, you’ll need to provide something more useful.
Budget travel tips, food recommendations, details on what to do or where to stay, photography inspiration, video entertainment, beautiful flowing narrative, humor, etc.
Yes, you should always “follow your passion.” Otherwise you won’t enjoy what you’re doing. The key is to follow your passion while also providing something of value to your readers.
What are people searching for? It’s time to do some research. What questions related to travel are being asked in online forums, Reddit, and Quora?
If you already have readers, what are they asking in comments & emails? Give people what they’re asking for!
I received a bunch of questions about what GoPro accessories I travel with. So rather than waste time explaining it to each person individually, I wrote a huge article showcasing the best GoPro accessories for travel.
Turns out lots of people were looking for this information. The article gets shared a lot, and continues to receive steady search traffic.
Why? Because it’s useful! It’s answering a frequently asked question.
Even if you’re sharing an entertaining travel story, including useful tips about how readers can enjoy a similar experience will keep them coming back for more.
2: Do Interesting Stuff
Some of the best blogging advice I’ve ever received was from Gary Arndt of Everything-Everywhere. At face value it seems pretty basic. But when he says do interesting stuff, he means do REALLY interesting stuff. Sensational, fascinating, or challenging stuff. The kind of stuff that gets noticed.
Writing about your drunken full moon party experience in Thailand? Maybe a 1 on the 0-10 awesomeness scale. Kayaking in Greenland? Walking across India? Camping in Antarctica? Vacationing in Yemen? Sailing the coast of Africa?
These activities are MUCH higher on the awesome scale, the topics are unique, and as a result they’re more likely to be shared with a larger audience.
Your whole blog doesn’t have to read like Upworthy (you won’t believe what happens next!), but make it a point to include some truly epic, original stories from time to time.
3: Guest Posting
When you first start your travel blog, no one will know you exist. A good way to change that is to write guest posts on other popular blogs with large audiences, and siphon some of their readers over to you.
Not only will you reach a targeted audience, it also helps with your branding and credibility as an authority on travel.
However before you go pitching other blogs for guest posts, first check to make sure they even allow them. It helps to have some kind of relationship with the blogger too. Cold pitches to someone you’ve never even spoken with are less likely to work.
You can see examples of my own guest posts here, here, and here. All these articles sent me traffic I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise, introducing my adventure travel blog to new readers.
There’s also SEO power in backlinks from popular sites to yours.
My advice is to be picky, and guest post on blogs that you think will provide the best return on your investment in time. Because time is limited when you’re trying to become a professional blogger!
4: Rock Social Media
Staying active on social media is important if you want to earn your living from blogging. But it can be a huge time suck too. My advice is to be efficient with social media, don’t waste hours and hours there.
I generally jump on once in the morning to schedule posts for the day, then once more in the evening to respond to comments. It also pays to research the best times to post for each social network. You can find this info in your “insights” or “analytics” areas, or use third party tools.
For example, I’ve found that posting to Facebook at 5am & 7pm EST gives me the best results, while on Instagram, 7am & 5pm work better. What works for me may not work for you though. Always be testing.
Remember to be social on social media. That means actively responding to comments, and sharing other people’s content if you think your followers will enjoy it. Here are specific tips for each network based on my experience.
1-2 posts per day, postcard type photos with short captions work best. Uploading 3 or 4 different images in one photo post and short video uploads to Facebook are also doing well. A few days after sharing on my fan page, I’ll share that post to my personal page too. Facebook doesn’t like 3rd party sharing apps, so don’t use them. Follow Me On Facebook!
4-5 posts/updates per day, links shared along with a photo get better engagement. One hashtag only, or none. Schedule new blog posts to share 3-4 times each spread out through the month. Occasionally mention relevant companies/countries where appropriate, they may re-tweet it. Buffer Pro is my scheduling & tracking app of choice. Follow Me On Twitter!
1-2 posts per day, spread out. Tag the location so others nearby can find your shots. Use hashtags sparingly, 4-5 in the first comment is good, including the country or city where it was taken. Longer descriptions work well on Instagram. Ask a question at the end to encourage engagement. For faster browsing & commenting on Instagram, I use Iconosquare from my laptop. Follow Me On Instagram!
There are other important social media platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, and SnapChat. However I’m still learning how to best utilize them, and don’t feel qualified to comment just yet. Which just goes to show you that becoming a professional travel blogger is a never-ending learning process.
5: Major Press Features
Yup, it’s time to become your own PR agent, and market yourself to the masses by securing features in major media outlets. If you think popular travel blogs have large audiences, it’s nothing compared to what major media outlets have. You can actively pitch your story rather than wait around for someone to notice you.
This is what I did to get featured on Mashable and The Weather Channel.
Here’s my secret formula, so you can do the same!
- Spend time researching media outlets that sometimes publish travel features. Especially those featuring bloggers. Pay attention to the authors of those articles.
- Connect with the authors on Twitter. Follow them. Add them to a public list. Share their articles with a mention/comment. Ask a question. Send a compliment. But don’t be annoying.
- Put together a polished project/article/idea with mass appeal. Something that many people will find fascinating, as I discussed earlier (do interesting stuff).
- Finally, pitch them your great idea a few months later. I sometimes sweeten the deal by explaining that I’ll be sending out a press-release soon, but wanted to give them the opportunity to cover it first.
Now that you’ve dedicated time developing a relationship with the writer, your chances are much higher that they’ll be interested in your pitch, landing you a feature on a major media website.
6: Art & Science Of SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is when you tweak your content to optimize it for search engines like Google. It seems to get a bad rap these days. Like it’s some kind of mysterious voodoo cheat tactic.
Here’s my take on it. If you write for traditional magazines, the writers who can master pitching to editors will get the best results. It’s not voodoo, it’s a relevant skill some people learn to get ahead. Blogging and SEO are and always will be linked.
Don’t be scared of what you don’t understand. Instead, spend time learning how to master it for yourself. Or hire a professional to help out. Because like it or not, ensuring Google (and the world in general) can find your amazing content is a necessary part of building a successful website.
As an example of how I use SEO, let’s take a look at this particular article. The keyword I want to rank for is “professional travel blogger”. You’ll find that term in a few places here, like the URL, the title, the meta description, the first paragraph, a sub-heading, and at least 5 different times in the content.
I’ve named the lead photo using that keyword, along with its “alt” tag and caption. I’ve also linked back to this post from other pages on my site using the main keyword.
When you search for “professional travel blogger” (or whatever you want to rank for), Google shows related searches at the bottom of the page. Try to incorporate a few of these terms within your article as well.
Along with on-page SEO, building the authority of your site is also very important. That means acquiring backlinks from other sites to yours through guest posting, features, mentions, etc.
SEO is a huge topic, but if you want to read more about it, I highly recommend studying everything you can find on the Moz.com blog.
7: Build An Email List
Building an email subscriber list is one of the most important things you can do for your travel blog. Possibly more important than social media. The people who subscribe to your email list are your true fans & dedicated readers.
Why? Email is a much more personal experience. It also performs better than most social media at driving quality traffic to your site. While someone might receive thousands of social media updates in their feed each day, they may see less than 50 emails a day. So when you send your subscribers something via email, they are more likely to read or act on it.
How do you build your mailing list? There are 2 main ingredients. Offer something of value, and make it easy. At the moment I offer a free travel photography ebook filled with my favorite images from around the world.
To make it easy, I use the email capture tools provided by SumoMe, as well as Aweber email newsletter list management.
Another tactic that’s been working well is offering great giveaways on the blog in exchange for readers signing up to my email newsletter through a service like Rafflecopter.
I spend money advertising on Facebook. I spend money advertising on Twitter. In fact I’ll do both for this article you are reading right now. I also pay for advertisements on other blogs.
By doing so, I’m not attracting “fake” readers. I’m paying to reach a large yet targeted audience. A percentage of them will discover my blog for the first time and become regular readers. Or if you sell products, become customers.
Magazines do it. Book publishers do it. Photographers do it. Hell, even non-profit organizations have an advertising/marketing budget. Of course if you’re just starting, you may not have the money now, but keep it in mind for the future. Targeted advertising exists for a reason — it works.
Treat your blog like a business if you want to make a living with it.
9: Professional Networking
To make a name for yourself in travel blogging, networking with others in person at conferences is pretty powerful. It’s an investment in time & money, but a worthwhile one.
When you meet potential business partners, colleagues, and clients in person, you’ll be at an advantage over those who don’t have that relationship. They’ll think of you over someone they’ve never met before.
Conferences I attend on a regular basis:
Social Travel Summit
Travel Blog Exchange
Others I’ve found helpful:
World Domination Summit
Online networking also has its benefits. Stay active in blogging groups, forums, and social media conversations. My favorite online travel blogging community is the private Facebook group for Travel Blog Success. It’s probably the most positive & helpful group I’ve found dedicated to this industry.
Collaborations with other bloggers can expand your reach too. Maybe you noticed a few months ago I teamed up with Kiersten from The Blonde Abroad for projects in Iceland & Canada. This exposed my audience to her blog, and her audience to my blog, benefiting us both.
10: Hire Others To Help
Running a successful travel blog is like running your own magazine, but without any staff. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s pretend you’re the owner & CEO of a publishing company.
Now imagine that you must also take on the roles of photographer, writer, editor, accountant, marketing team, graphic design, public relations, web development, videographer, finance, secretary, coffee intern, etc.
Get the picture? People go to school for years to master each of these jobs (ok, maybe not coffee intern) but you’re attempting to do them all!
As a professional travel blogger, you are responsible for everything — while also dealing with the stress & challenges of traveling to foreign countries. So when you start earning income, hire others to help you run your business.
It took me far too long to understand the importance of this, and after 4 years, I’m only now beginning to seek the help of others. A general virtual assistant to help with research, pitching, public relations, social media, and tracking campaigns. An accountant. A video editor. A writing editor.
Hiring others allows you to focus on the stuff you’re good at, while leaving the rest to those who are probably better than you anyway. To learn more about hiring a virtual assistant, read “Virtual Freedom” by Chris Ducker.
11: Personal Branding
An important key to success as a travel blogger, or any blogger for that matter, is standing out from the crowd. Branding is how you manage the way you’re presented to others. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, it’s better to focus on one or two areas of expertise.
What are you passionate about? What drives you?
When planning a new article/project, ask yourself, does it align with your brand? My own branding is based around adventure travel, so a majority of my articles are about this theme. Branding has differentiated me from other travel blogs, so when someone is looking to read or work with an adventure travel blogger, they are more likely to find me.
Maintaining a consistent identity across all your online channels and marketing helps drive your brand. Your logo, photography, social media accounts, and blog content should all reflect the values & mission of your brand.
When done right, you can own your demographic. Here are some examples of travel bloggers who’ve done an excellent job with their branding:
Everything Everywhere: UNESCO World Heritage
Legal Nomads: Food Travel
The Planet D: Adventure Travel for Couples
Adventurous Kate: Solo Female Travel
Nomadic Matt: Budget Travel
Wandering Earl: Long-Term Travel
YTravel Blog: Family Travel
Effective branding leads to a steady stream of readers searching for information on the topic you cover, recognition & influence, plus rewarding partnerships with companies wanting to tap into your demographic.
Reality Of Travel Blogging
Professional travel blogging is f*cking hard. If you think this job is just an extended vacation, you are very, very wrong. I hope this article helped showcase how much work is actually involved.
Otherwise you’ll be extremely disappointed a year from now after you’ve been blogging about your backpacking trip with little to no tangible results for your efforts.
Most travel blogs won’t last longer than a year.
Those who are in it for the long-haul, and are ready to take it seriously as a profession, have the best chance for success. Never mind that the advice listed here is just the tip of the iceberg!
That said, it’s still the best job I’ve ever had. ★
Travel Blogging Resources
Travel Blog Success
If you truly want to become a professional travel blogger, my #1 recommendation is to join the amazing community over at Travel Blog Success. Their in-depth course covers most of the topics I mentioned here & more. Everything you need to learn about the business of travel blogging.
You can read my full review here.