I started 2015 on a private island in Panama, with 150 rupees ($2.5 USD) in my account.
That’s the lowest my account balance has ever been since I quit my corporate job over four years ago. It was just one of those weeks when every single payment I was expecting got delayed. I had no idea how I would pay for my meals and transfers – they didn’t accept credit cards and my alternate debit card wasn’t working – but instead of panicking, I immersed myself in the Nat Geo-like setting of my hideout (think sting rays doing backflips, dolphins swimming with their kids, bioluminescent algae lighting up the waters).
As luck would have it, by the time I checked out and went to an ATM with my host, one of my payments had *just* come in! PHEW.
The life of a travel blogger (or a freelancer) is just as adventurous financially as it is in other, more envy-evoking, ways.
Since I last wrote about how I afford my travels, three things have changed:
- I no longer run (and hence draw an income from) India Untravelled.
- I’ve reduced my freelance work to a minimum.
- I’ve learnt that I can actually fund myself through travel blogging!
How do I make money through travel blogging?
When I first re-jigged this blog with a focus on travel over four years ago, I never imagined it would turn into an actual profession. I was clear from the start that I didn’t want to do ads; I wanted this to be a space for my personal travel stories, written with creative freedom that freelance writing often doesn’t allow.
My perspective changed as I travelled more, followed the work of international travel bloggers, and attended a couple of blogging conferences. I started to embrace the idea of working with travel brands that matched my travel philosophy, and of being fairly compensated for my time, effort and reach.
Although the income is unsteady, I have managed to fund 80% of my travels in the last 1.5 years through travel blogging – that includes epic adventures in Central America, Europe, Georgia, Jordan, the Caribbean and of course, India! What hasn’t changed is staying true to my travel style, and never recommending anything to my readers that I haven’t personally experienced and loved.
Current sources of my blogging income
Long term / repeat partnerships with travel brands I love
As a travel blogger, I often get approached by travel brands wanting to reach out to my readers. 95% of these offers are either irrelevant to my travel style, or expect me to work in exchange for freebies or exposure – and over the years, I’ve learnt to be thick-skinned and say no without getting frustrated.
But gradually, I’ve found brands that I’m not only happy to advocate for, but who also see value in working with me. In 2015, I signed my first year-long partnership with a travel brand, offering opportunities for my readers to travel across the world. I’m also doing some exciting work with Airbnb; I absolutely love the platform and have used it everywhere from Georgia to Trinidad & Tobago.
Destination-based travel campaigns
In the past, travel bloggers and travel journalists worked the same way – we got invited to a free press trip and were expected to write about it. And I’ve done my fair share of those in my early days. But the travel blogging industry has evolved, and most savvy tourism boards recognize that professional bloggers can build and produce interesting campaigns with high reach and engagement, and must be compensated for their time and effort.
I was invited to be part of some big campaigns this year, including an iAmbassador campaign for the European Travel Commission and the Must Love Festivals project. And the one I loved most was the one I created myself – #NotJustBeer for the German National Tourist Board. While these campaigns can be challenging, they’ve helped me learn and grow immensely as a blogger.
I don’t allow guest posts on my blog, but once in a while, I’ll allow a brand to sponsor a blog post that I want to write and is relevant to my readers, in exchange for mentioning their on-going campaign. For instance, I tied my “Simple Ways to Travel More Responsibly in Ladakh” post with a shout-out for Fox Travel Channel’s birthday offer, and my “Secret Ways to Experience Singapore” with Mercury Travel’s Singapore campaign.
Social media partnerships
Social media is a big part of blogging – and of my traveling life. This year some exciting partnerships came my way on Twitter. The most recent was a travel chat for National Geographic Channel India, on their #DayofExploration. Occasionally, I’ll do a shout-out for a contest or campaign that is interesting to me and relevant to my followers.
Although I’ve reduced my freelance work to a minimum, I still want to stay in the game and work on unique collaborations. Most recently, I did a series of articles for the World Travel and Tourism Council on sustainable travel, a subject close to my heart. I also have an ongoing freelance project with a Singapore-based company, which helps me pay my gigantic student debt bit by bit. The thing to note though, is that almost 100% of my freelance work assignments have come via my blog.
How do I save money to travel?
Recently, a friend who’s been making big bucks at a corporate job, told me how expensive traveling is and how he has no idea how I afford it. When we got down to numbers, it turned out that his everyday life – a fancy apartment, drinking out every weekend, latest gadgets and such – are what is so expensive. I’ve said it before, and I say it again: It all comes down to priorities.
I have no “regular” expenses
Since I hit the road indefinitely over two years ago, I don’t have to pay rent or the costs that come with a house. I rarely shop, not just because I hate the process, but also because buying anything new means having to throw something out from the limited space in my backpack.
I don’t travel like on a luxury holiday
I’m not a backpacker or hardcore budget traveler, but I don’t splurge like a luxury traveler either. I pour in hours of research into finding experiential yet affordable accommodations, try to travel to more expensive places in off season when costs are lower, and choose public transport whenever possible.
Money is not the goal
I want to laugh when people who have been saving their money in fixed deposits their entire life, tell me that I’m lucky to be able to travel so much. I work hard to earn my bucks, and I spend pretty much everything I earn on traveling – it’s a conscious choice I make everyday, and anyone who really wants to live that way can get ‘lucky’ too.
How much do I really make?
I make good money in some months, and nothing at all in others. But if I average it out over the last year, my monthly income comes out to INR 1-2 lakhs (US$ 2,000 – 3,000).
The challenge is that I can never predict how the next few months are going to be financially, but the road has prepared me for misadventures. I’m also comfortable hitchhiking and trust I can crash with friends I’ve made along the way (hi Raquel and Roberto!)😉
The road ahead
It’s been a good year for me financially, and I’m making dedicated savings for epic trips as well as some new projects. My income is still unstable enough for a sleepless night every now and then, so I’m looking to work on affiliate marketing and videos for a more steady inflow.
Expanding my team
So far, I’ve been running the show alone. I want to delegate some of my daily work to someone who is passionate about travel, social media and writing, so I’m hiring my first employee at The Shooting Star – read details here and help me spread the word!
[Update: This position has been filled; thanks to everyone who applied.]
Understanding my readers better
With more time at hand to dedicate to my blog, I’ve opened up my first READER SURVEY. I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts on how I can make my writing more inspiring, informative and relevant to you. As a thank you, I’m giving away vouchers worth INR 2,000 (30$) each to two lucky respondents.
[Update: The survey is over; thanks to all you lovely people for your feedback.]
The thing that matters
I’m constantly reminding myself that I’m not doing what I do to earn a lot of money; what I earn now is nothing compared to what I’d make if I were still employed full time. But I would never trade the life I live now – waking up to new horizons with that priceless feeling of freedom – for spending my twenties at a desk job that doesn’t inspire or excite me.
And if you really want to, I know you can do it too.