Whenever I’m travelling and I mention that I’m a travel blogger, I know exactly how the next few minutes of conversation will play out.
Literally 9 times out of 10, the first question people ask me is, “so how do you make money?”.
Most people actually have trouble imagining travel blogging being a real job, so it’s almost always what they want to know about. I get the question so often I have basically an autopilot response!
If you’re starting a travel blog you may also be wondering what your monetization options are. I’m going to share them with you here, though I’ll give you all the details that I won’t share when random people ask me during my travels.
To be clear, yes, you can make money with a travel blog. In fact, for almost the entire past decade, it’s been the only thing I do for a living.
How much bloggers make varies hugely, but it can be anything ranging from a nice side hustle to a very comfortable living. Do keep in mind that travel blogs are not magical money trees, and they take consistent work to become profitable.
A travel blog can make money in many different ways. Different blogs focus on different strategies; at Indie Traveller I use 3 of these methods.
Table of Contents
1. Display advertising
Display advertising is the term used for any kind of automatic ads that show up on websites. Most of the time these are image ads, but they can be video ads too.
The huge advantage is that running display ads requires virtually no work from you.
You can also use them to monetize any content. Even blog posts that aren’t commercial or can’t be easily monetized using other methods can still earn using display ads.
First, you’ll need to join an advertising network. Ads can then be inserted automatically in places where you’ve allowed it (such as the sidebar or in between text).
Popular ad networks
- Google Adsense. Easiest to join, but not very lucrative. (In my opinion, they are not worth it.)
- Monumetric. Mid-tier ad network with somewhat better rates.
- Ezoic. Major ad network with 10,000/month minimum visitors requirement. I recommend aiming to join this network if you’re a beginner blogger. It might take a while, but once you get into Ezoic it will be worth it.
- Mediavine. The gold standard for blog ads. It has a challenging 50,000/month visitor requirement but offers some of the best rates. I’ve been with Mediavine since 2017 and they’re so good you couldn’t pay me to leave them. (Well, technically you’d just have to pay me a lot…)
One downside of display advertising is that you need to have an audience of a certain size to earn anything worthwhile. If your blog gets under 10,000 visitors a month, it may be too soon to bother with it.
How much you can earn depends hugely on your blog topic, audience size, and the countries your users visit from. By far the most lucrative traffic is from the United States. For example, my US traffic is almost 2X more lucrative for display ads than Canada, the UK, or Germany. And US traffic is even 10X more lucrative than serving ads to users from India, one of the lowest-paying countries.
Conservatively speaking, you can earn about $10 per 1000 visitors. If you have a lot of US traffic or your blog deals with topics that are of special interest to high-paying advertisers, that number can go a lot higher.
One factor that determines your rate per 1000 visitors is how many ads you choose to display. While it’s tempting to go overboard with ads, it’s important to strike a balance between blog readability and ad frequency.
2. Affiliate links
Affiliate links are special links to products or services that give you a commission if someone makes a purchase.
I’m sure you’re familiar with them as many blogs carry disclaimers that some links may be affiliate links.
I like this monetization method a lot as you can have a huge degree of control over how you earn your money. On my travel blog, I can recommend products and services that I use myself or that I know readers will like and earn commission on it.
Most of the time I don’t even have to talk to the companies involved as you can simply sign up to an affiliate platform and start making links. I can recommend or un-recommend something at any time. I’m not under any contract and I can more or less say whatever I want about these products or services.
Popular affiliate platforms
Check out these third-party platforms where lots of different companies offer affiliate programs. In other cases, companies run their affiliate programs themselves (in-house). For instance, this is the case with Amazon Associates.
To be clear, affiliate links are not sponsorships. They are ways to link to products or services and earn a commission for referring a customer.
For example, I can refer my readers to Booking.com where they can book a hotel I stayed at. If they book (within a certain timeframe), I will earn a percentage as a commission. Add up a lot of those kickbacks over time and you could be looking at a significant income stream.
While it takes more effort than display ads and some skill to make affiliate marketing work, it can be a largely passive income stream once it’s up and running.
One challenge with affiliate links is that you can quickly end up with dozens of them that all use different systems. A way around this is to use Affilimate, which combines all your affiliate data. I reviewed Affilimate here.
3. Product sales or merch
A more difficult but potentially amazing way to monetize your travel blog is through products that you’ve created yourself.
Maybe you could write a book, create a course, or custom merchandising that you can sell directly to your readers.
Need examples? Jodi at Legal Nomads sells beautiful bags and posters. Matt of Expert Vagabond sells prints of his photography. And many bloggers with beautiful photography sell their Adobe Lightroom presets enabling others to achieve a similar look.
You can also create info products, such as an e-book with tips for a travel destination. One challenge for travel bloggers is making info products sufficiently compelling.
In a different blog niche such as digital marketing, it’s not too difficult to make a compelling product (and set a higher price) as the value is often very clear — e.g. ‘this course will help you earn more money with your mailinglist’. In travel, this can be a bit harder, but it’s not impossible.
Always ask yourself why someone might buy your info product when they’re probably thinking they can find that information for free. Your product will need to be especially convenient (all the info in one place), or you’ll need to add plenty of extras that would entice them to buy.
I spent considerable time and resources in making my own book product for my travel blog. It took many positive reviews and a lot of marketing to make it a success, as I had to convince potential buyers that what they were getting wasn’t something you could get for free anyway. But once I got this down, it started selling very well.
A product strategy is not as easy to implement right away as display ads or affiliates, but if you get it to work, it can be highly lucrative.
Unlike affiliate sales where you maybe get only a 5 to 10% commission, when it’s your own product you (potentially) get to keep 100% of the profits.
4. Sponsorship or marketing fees
As I mentioned in the beginning, people constantly ask me how travel blogs make money. When I ask them to guess, they almost always say “sponsors”.
Most people think travel blogging is all about sponsorships because they’re familiar with Instagram influencers and hashtags like #ad or #sponsored.
This is quite common on social media, though you do also see sponsorships on written blogs from time to time. The reality is that sponsorships can be an income stream for a travel blog, but it’s also not nearly as dominant as it may be in video or social.
If your travel blog gets to a certain size, you may be in a position to get complimentary travel experiences or tours in exchange for creating content about them. Complimentary hotel stays or FAM trips (“familiarization trips” offered by destinations) are forms of sponsorship where you’re being paid in kind for your enthusiastic and favorable coverage.
If you’re really at the top of your sponsorship game, you could also start to charge marketing fees for this. In other words, you’d be getting a free trip and getting paid to write about it. But this depends on having a sizeable audience and/or a track record in sponsorships.
If you want to focus on sponsorships, it will help enormously to think of your sponsors as clients. You need to see yourself as essentially a marketing agency offering a specific service to them, instead of thinking ‘hmm, what could I blag/hustle next so I can travel for free?‘. The more you get a reputation for delivering value, the more sponsorships you can get.
Sponsorships are often about pitching and networking.
Pitching well involves understanding what a destination/hotel/company/etc. may be interested in and very clearly spelling out how you can help them achieve it.
Networking will help you get more potential sponsors (or clients, if you well). If you know a lot of destination or hotel marketers, you can simply get assignments that others can’t. Attending a blogger conference such as TBEX can get you many useful industry contacts.
It also helps to make your travel blog more personality and brand-focused. Marketers love to see you in the role of an influencer — setting an example to other travellers by being prominently featured in the photos and social media posts.
Personally, I’ve dabbled in a few sponsorships over the years but stopped doing them as it’s quite a different business model from what I mainly focus on. However, if you can write very persuasively, “sell” a destination, and have a very personality-driven blog, you will be in an ideal position to make sponsorships work.
5. Sponsored posts
Wait, didn’t we already just talk about sponsorships?
I know this might be confusing, but “Sponsored Posts” typically means something different from a sponsored trip or hotel stay.
As soon as your blog is out in the public you will no doubt get SEO marketers knocking at your door clamouring to publish a sponsored post on your blog.
This usually means they want to place something they’ve written (which is often not very high quality) containing a link to the website of their client. It’s not really about the post itself at all or what it’s about; the goal is just to place a link on your site that may pass the initial “is this an organic link?” sniff test from Google. The goal for them is to (artificially) raise their client’s website in the Google rankings by getting more sites to link to it.
Selling links is technically against Google’s guidelines and carries some risk. If you do too many of them (or you do it too blatantly) your own SEO rankings could suffer.
In my opinion, selling Sponsored Posts is not worth it unless you are in one of two situations:
- You have a very new blog and you’re desperate for cash to help you get to the next level
- You have a very old blog or one that you’re just not focusing on anymore, but you still want to squeeze some dollars from it
6. Offering freelance services
A lot of travel blogs actually aren’t set up to make money by themselves. They are much more like an elaborate form of freelancer portfolio.
A travel blog can be used to get clients for all sorts of content creation jobs. Since your blog can be tangible proof of your abilities in writing, editing, or photography, it can land you jobs working for travel publications or companies in the tourism industry.
It doesn’t just have to be content creation. You could use your travel blog to highlight your SEO skills, WordPress skills, or other technical areas.
You could even offer your knowledge of a travel destination as a paid consultation or concierge service. This is where you’ll offer 1-to-1 individualized assistance to someone in creating their travel itinerary — basically acting as a personalized travel agent.
This can be difficult to pull off though and will depend heavily on how much you can pitch yourself as an expert. I believe this has a higher chance of working in luxury travel or if you have a very specific niche, such as covering a single destination.
Otherwise, using your travel blog to get paid writing gigs is a more common and proven method. If you’re just starting out as a writer it’s difficult to build a portfolio exclusively made up of paid work, but by creating your own blog you can in effect commission your own articles in genres/topics you hope publishers will want to pay you to write.
7. Selling tours
Finally, you can promote your own tours to your readers. It’s a bit of a trend lately as a number of prominent travel bloggers offer tours now.
This is an advanced-level strategy though it can definitely be a fantastic endgame for monetizing your travel blog. If you’ve built a strong brand you can be in a position to get people to buy complete travel tours with you, trusting you to get them an amazing travel experience.
I haven’t yet spoken with bloggers who do tours, but I suspect they work with tour companies offering basically “white label” tours. It takes a lot of effort to run tours (including legal issues like insurance) so ideally, you should work with a third party that handles all the logistics, while you take care of the marketing (while you can join some of the tours yourself).
On a smaller scale, you can use this same strategy to promote your own walking tours or Airbnb experience. If your blog is the blog about a particular city, island, or region, it’s not a tall order to convince readers to join you on a day trip that you organize — either independently or through a platform.
I know of one example of a blogger who earns around $200 every week (during tourist season) doing an Airbnb walking tour experience that he advertises on his own blog. Not bad.
So there you have it, some of the common ways in which travel blogs make money.
Of course, there is still the matter of how exactly to use these monetization methods. For example, having any success in affiliate marketing will depend 100% on how you integrate affiliate links and focus on the affiliate programs that work. I’ll be writing about these topics in the future.
If you’re still starting out as a travel blogger, you may not have to worry too much about monetization yet. It’s more important to create great content and get people to come to your blog in the first place. How exactly to monetize them can be a worry for later.
However, it is extremely useful to know at least what kind of options are available, so that you can work towards implementing them. Ideally, you’ll want to eventually establish several diversified income streams, so that you are never fully dependent on just one.