How to Make Money While Traveling the World
How do you make money while traveling?
That’s the number one question I get on my blog, with at least one email a week asking me about money. Here is the problem with this question: Nothing I say in response will really satisfy the person asking the question. I know this because I used to ask that same question to travel bloggers myself, and I would always be frustrated with the response. The problem was that I was looking for some magic answer or some secret that will make it easy to make money while traveling the world. Here’s the truth: There is no answer to that question. If there was, there would be millions of people travel blogging. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make money while traveling, it just means that there is no answer that will satisfy your expectations of the perfect answer. Don’t worry, I’m still going to answer the question about how I make money, but I need to preface it with a few more things.
The truth about making money traveling
It may seem obvious, but it is important to note that EVERY travel blogger makes money in different ways, and there is a huge range of income levels among us. I know travel bloggers making $0 a month and I know travel bloggers making $10-20,000 per month. Each one of them is making travel possible in their own unique way. When you read how I made it possible on this blog, please do not consider it an exact roadmap to how you can do it too. Your method will need to vary based on your knowledge, skills, preferences, savings, personal situation, and hundreds of other factors.
Read my article and advice below, then go read articles from as many other travel bloggers as you can about how they pay for their travel. Each time you read one of those articles, just try to find one or two elements in it that seem like it’s something you can do or learn. Since there is no best way, taking a few pieces of advice from a lot of bloggers is much better than taking a lot of advice from only a few bloggers. That is what I did. I spent three years reading other travel blogs, looking for tips they had to offer, and strategizing and planning my blog. It didn’t end when I started traveling either. I continue to collaborate with and read other bloggers’ travel advice, money tips, and income reports, all while constantly tweaking my own strategy. As of today, here is my answer to How do I make money traveling?:
How I fund my travels:
I got my spreadsheet out and did some number crunching. Here is the resulting breakdown on where my spending money came from each month during my 18-month trip:
That is the simplified version. I get my monthly spending money entirely from the four sources listed above(with very few exceptions). You’ll notice I don’t sell e-books, push affiliate sales, sell life coaching lessons, sell how-to guides to other bloggers, sell Isagenix/RodanFields, or participate in any of the other more popular ways to make money online. That isn’t because those aren’t viable ways to cash-in, but because they weren’t viable for me.
Still with me? Below, I’ve elaborated on each of the four ways I make money while traveling:
1. Revenue from my digital agency business
This would fall under what I call the “side business method”. Basically any form of income that involves someone buying something from me that doesn’t involve this travel blog. In my case, it’s the digital advertising agency side business I started. This was the method that I spent the most time on during my trips and was also the method I spent the most time on prior to traveling. I worked in this industry prior to traveling and that is why I chose it as my main focus and time consumer. It is also a method that requires a lot of work before you leave home. I needed to build a client base, meet with new possible clients, and earn the trust of those clients. Once I was able to build a steady base of clients at home, I started only focusing on referrals to continue building the business, which was something I was able to do from anywhere. You can learn about what I actually do by checking out my business’s website: Black Beach Digital
There are downsides to this method of income. A side business like this, especially with a base of clients, consumes a tremendous amount of time. It isn’t a job that can be done for 30 minutes a day, or four hours a week. It takes a couple of hours a day for weeks at a time to do some of the work I do for clients, and it’s a never-ending cycle of creating, modifying, creating again, fixing, editing, modifying again, fixing, etc. etc. With few exceptions, this business has been perfect for me since I already had the expertise in the field. I also have some great clients who have businesses I love working with and helping.
If you plan on using a side business to fund traveling, you need to make sure you pick something you’re already decent at. If you are not already a web designer, don’t plan on starting a web design business to fund your travels. It’s not that you wouldn’t be able to learn how, but you just won’t be able to dedicate the time needed to both learn a new skill from scratch AND profit from it. My advice would be to start a business based on something you already have a skill in or experience with.
Here are three examples:
1. Are you a writer? Start working on a freelance writing business.
(A great guide to finding freelance writing gigs)
2. Know two languages fluently? Start planning a translations service business.
(Benny has an amazing how-to on this)
3. Are you a teacher? Start an online tutoring or term paper review business.
(There are always hundreds of jobs available)
Don’t have a skill for a side business? No problem, you will just have to focus on the other methods below.
2. Site advertising and sponsored posts on my travel blog
This method has always been really up and down for me. Some months it’s my highest income source, and other months it can be zero. I do have display advertising like Google AdSense on my blog, but that is a very low percentage of my ad revenue. The majority of my ad revenue comes through sponsored articles. Recently, things have really slowed down in the sponsored articles market. There was about a 15-month period that just ended where travel bloggers were getting an unheard of amount of requests for sponsored posts on our sites. Myself and many other travel bloggers were able to take advantage of this increase by getting really good at trading contacts of the buyers of sponsored posts so we could maximize the amount sold. These advertisers weren’t really interested in what the sponsored post was about, but were only interested in getting a link back to their site so they would rank higher in search engines (SEO). In the last two years it had become a big source of income for thousands of travel bloggers. Bloggers can charge between $100-$300 just for posting an article with a link to the advertiser and in my best month of selling sponsored posts I brought in over $6,000. I even began representing other travel blogger’s websites and taking a commission on the advertising I sold for them.
If you’re wondering what a sponsored article is, here is an example of one on my site.
The problem is that Google absolutely hates the buying and selling of links and are actively doing things to prevent it and to punish websites who have taken part in it. Basically, if Google was the legal system, what I am doing would be illegal. Recently, Google has been contacting sites who bought links and warning them not to buy links in the future. In the past, I used to receive 10-15 requests for sponsored post each month. However, in recent months I now receive five or so link removal requests instead, and only 3 or 4 requests for new sponsored posts. This has really hurt my overall monthly income from the travel blog since this was 27% of everything I was earning.
I think it’s important to note that although some sponsored posts are technically against Google’s terms of service, it is only just a portion of this type of advertising, and it isn’t something that will be going away. This type of advertising falls under the category of “Native Advertising”, and it’s growing like crazy.
While I capitalized on this income opportunity utilizing sponsored articles, there are plenty of other ways to cash-in on native advertising. If you are able to grow your social media following (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest), then there are thousands of advertisers willing to pay you to promote their company, website, or product on your social newsfeeds. The whole idea of “native” is to make the ad look like it’s natural, so you will be walking a fine line between editorial and advertorial, but it’s the way the ad world is moving. You can either embrace it or turn your back to it.
I know bloggers who make enough money in other areas so that they don’t have to accept native advertising. Those bloggers tend to look at guys like me in a negative light. Like I’m a sell-out or something. Here’s all I can say to that: Native advertising is here whether we like it or not, and in 2015 advertisers spent over $10 billion USD on native ads. The New York Times alone brought in nearly $20 million in native ad revenue last year. So if the New York Times isn’t too proud to “sell-out”, than neither am I. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and I have no ethical issues about being a part of it.
How to capitalize on native advertising:
If you are a travel blogger with a site that gets a lot of traffic and has a good social media following, then native advertising is your number one opportunity to make money while traveling. HOWEVER, if you are just starting out as a travel blogger then I have to urge you to ignore everything you just read about native for at least six months, maybe a year. You first need to build a legitimate, quality travel blog and brand before any real money will come your way. There are thousands of crappy travel blogs out there that have been built solely to attract native dollars, but the advertisers are smarter than that and they know how to spot a real site vs. a phony one. Focus on quality writing and social media interaction until you’ve built something great. THEN worry about monetizing it. In fact, the best news of all is that if you put the time and effort into building a great travel blog, the advertisers and opportunities will find you. Too many travel bloggers are really good at complaining about not being able to sell any advertising, but they seem to ignore the fact that their blog sucks. The bottom line is this: If you want native advertising to be a big revenue source then you need to dedicate the time and effort into creating and maintaining a great travel blog. If you don’t want to put the time into the travel blog, then native advertising isn’t your best option.
So, if you already have a quality site, here is the short answer on how to capitalize on this industry:
1. Sign up for some sponsored post aggregation networks. These are the companies that go out and sell your site for you. The biggest dollars are always earned when you sell direct deals, but even with their fees, these networks can still generate a good number of sponsored posts for you. There are a bunch of networks out there, but here are a few to get you started:
– LinkLift, Blogness, AdBeans, Matomy, TLB, TNX, BlogVertise, LinkAdage, and LinkWorth.
2. Start networking. I got started in the native space by asking every travel blogger I came into contact with about it. I wouldn’t end a conversation with a blogger without saying something like “have you been active in the sponsored post game?” or “do you accept sponsored articles?”. People are willing to share with you their experiences and tips, and once you build a network of people you trust, it’s amazing how you can help each other grow.
3. Be easy to work with. Be a pro. Develop a PDF media kit that has all the info an advertiser would need about your site, all on one easy-to-read page. Have this ready to email any one who inquires. Advertisers and ad buyers are professionals, and they like to work with other professionals. Many of the advertising buyers are being asked to buy hundreds of sponsored articles a day, and they don’t have time to work with people who are difficult. Always be courteous, grateful, and quick-to-respond. Those three things will put you ahead of 90% of your competition and will help you develop repeat customers.
3. Extract money from my savings account.
I saved money for over three years before quitting my full-time job. Don’t under-estimate the importance of a savings account. I always find it funny that I’ve ONLY ever received emails about how to make money, and I’ve never received an email from someone asking how to save money. I’m not sure if people just assume they are already experts at saving money, or if they just don’t think it’s important. Regardless, my savings account was the number one thing that got me out of my full-time job and on the road quickly. The bigger your savings account, the longer you have on the road to determine a way to start making money while traveling. And I assure you that you will need time. It doesn’t happen quickly.
Here are some quick updated ideas on how to get your savings account rocking ASAP:
1. Get serious about saving. Check out my Seven Things To Do NOW To Start Saving Money guide.
2. Start working side gigs to pad your paycheck. Off the top of my head, here are just a few good side gig ideas:
– Become an Uber driver. If you own a car and really want to dedicate time to earning money for travel, then spending 2-3 hours a day driving people around can be a very quick way to add an extra $1,000 a month to your savings account.
– Throw some baggage around. Do you live near an airport? Here in Minneapolis, you can get a part-time job as a baggage handler at the airport for a number of different airlines. The job not only pays a pretty decent hourly wage, but it also comes with travel benefits.
– Sell shit to your friends. So I really hate this one, and part of me didn’t want to include it on this list. I really can’t stand the amount of pyramid-schemes (sorry, multi-level marketing programs) that are out there on social media right now. I think Isagenix is the biggest one? Personally, I think they are all a scam, and I have no interest in trying to sell my friends crap they don’t need. However, I have to admit I know people making decent money on these sorts of things. So if you can stomach scamming your friends, then take a look into these programs.
4. Gains on short term investments
This was the most unexpected revenue source for me during my trip. About tree years before the trip started, I decided to get really serious about saving money. I opened a Scottrade account and begin trading my own stocks. I took a one-day class at a my local branch and within a week I was off and running. I was surprised that I actually found trading stocks to be enjoyable. In a way it’s kind of like gambling, so that is probably where the excitement factor comes from (if you like betting on sports, you’ll like betting on companies). At least when you lose in the stock market, you still own the shares you bought. When you lose in regular gambling, the money just vanishes.
I benefited a lot from traveling during a period where there was an overall boom in the stock market, but even so, I was still able to build a portfolio that grew faster than the market average. I invest in areas I have knowledge in (mostly tech and entertainment) and I really had some great success on both short-term and long-term bets. I’ll give you an example: I sold my car the week before I left for my trip (January 2013) and I put all $10,000 of that money into Facebook stock. The stock then tripled during my 18-month trip, allowing me to withdraw money from the account when I was in countries that required more daily spending money.
Like all methods of making money while traveling, this method is not for everyone. If you work in the business world, and/or have a degree in business, then I highly recommend looking into this method of income. It requires practice, patience, and discipline, but if you have the desire to learn, it can have a big pay-off during and after your trip.
So there you have it. That is what my site looks like under the hood and how I fund my traveling. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!
Get a second opinion:
I mentioned that the best plan of attack is to read as many guides as you can and create your own plan based on a little bit of advice from everyone. Here are some good guides to get you started:
– Expert Vagabond’s This Is How I Get Paid To Travel The World.
– yTravel’s How We Make Money Travel Blogging.
– Just1WayTicket’s How Can I Afford to Travel.
– Wandering Earl’s 42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel the World.
– The Savvy Backpacker’s How to Create a Successful and Profitable Travel Blog.