“Don’t let what other travel bloggers are doing intimidate you – find your own way and your own story, and the rest will follow.”
It’s the glamorous life.
A part time travel blogger seeing the world, snapping photos, unexpected adventures, indulging in the local cuisine, and creating lifelong memories.
Picture this as your job and you get paid to write about your experiences.
For some, it’s the dream, and it sounds far out of reach.
Nowadays, it’s fairly common to see millennials living this “digital nomad” lifestyle.
Renegades with nothing to lose, who live and travel abroad while running their blogs and/or businesses online.
I’ve got a handful of friends that do it.
They don’t have kids. They don’t have a ton of possessions. They don’t have a house.
Really, it’s an easy decision for them to let go and start living their dream.
But, what about those who don’t want to pack up shop, unload all of their possessions, and become a permanent vagabond?
Is travel blogging still a possibility?
Enter Amanda Williams…
A small-town Ohio girl with a big vision to see the world.
Amanda caught the travel bug and started her blog in 2010 while working a full-time job for a newspaper.
She’s always been an ambitious traveler, but never so much to leave everything behind for a full-time travel lifestyle.
Never has she given up her normal life to travel, but she has been able to still visit 35 countries while being in school or working full-time.
“As much as I love traveling and having adventures, I also enjoy coming home to sleep in my own bed, drive my own car, and cuddle with my kitty.”
For Amanda, it’s been a slow passion fueled growth. It’s not about the money for her, but now she is earning a great income doing what most people can only dream.
She owns her time. She travels freely. She lives her passion. She inspires many others to do the same.
So, in today’s interview, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Amanda Williams and bring you into the life of a travel blogger.
What is your claim to fame at “A Dangerous Business” and who is your typical reader?
I’m not sure that I’m even really “Internet famous,” but I suppose my claim to fame is that I’m not a full-time traveler. I’m not a digital nomad. I have a home base, and try to focus on writing about how the average person (you know, with a job and bills and maybe some debt) can fit travel into a more “normal” lifestyle. And I absolutely practice what I preach.
My audience tends to skew towards female (70%, according to Google Analytics), which is probably because I myself am a woman writing about travel. I tend to draw an audience close to my own age, too, with 35% falling in the 25-34 age range, followed by 18-24 (24%) and 35-44 (14%),
Being able to travel the world and blog about it sounds like a pretty spectacular life. Are you living your dream? What are some of the not-so-glorious parts about being a travel blogger?
It definitely does not suck! And, most days, yes, I’m living my dream. Not only do I get to travel frequently, but I also get to be my own boss. I can write what I want on my blog and usually get to travel where I want, too, and tell the stories that stand out to me. I also get to choose which freelance/contract work to say yes or no to. For some people, that might *not* be the dream, but I’m happy with being able to work remotely (i.e. from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection), and to have the freedom to travel whenever I want.
But there are downsides. I’m way too connected most days – I spend much more than 8 hours a day working. And even though it usually doesn’t feel like work, I’m still working A LOT. I sometimes have to peel myself away from the blog or social media and actually be a real person (my boyfriend kind of gets mad when I ignore him for too long!).
There’s also the fact that I don’t really make a steady income. Some months I make a lot, and other months I struggle to reach the monthly income goal I’ve set for myself. It can get stressful when you never know exactly how much money you’ll be making each month.
Your philosophy is a little different than most. You speak from a perspective of not being a complete vagabond. In fact, when you first started, you told me that you were still working a job. How does one manage to work a job or have a family while being a travel blogger?
Yup, I started my blog when I was working full-time as a copy editor at a newspaper. And after that, I was blogging while going to school full-time to get my master’s degree (and working an assistantship to help pay for it). Last year, I was running my blog while also working 6-7 hours per day for a social media startup. It’s not easy to have a job AND try to run a successful blog – you have to prioritize and pay attention to your time management. But you know what? I found I was sometimes able to do that better when I was balancing work and blogging! Simply because I had my “work hours” and my “blogging hours,” and I was able to concentrate more fully on my blog when I had dedicated hours set aside for it.
Were you always so adventurous? It seems like that you would always have to outdo yourself as a travel blogger. How do you keep your readers (and yourself) excited about new content?
I guess I’ve always had a bit of an adventurous streak, yes, and I’ve also always been a really independent person (which is probably why I’ve taken to solo travel so well). But as far as content goes, I never really think of my blog content from a business standpoint. I plan my travels based on where I actually want to go; based on what’s on my bucket list at any given point in time. And I think the simple fact that I’m so excited about my trips translates into my audience being excited about my trips.
It’s easy for someone to think “she’s so lucky” because you get to travel the world. Like something was handed to you. How would you respond to that and what was life like before starting the blog?
Well, here’s the thing: I AM lucky, in many respects. It’s easy to take for granted the fact that I was born in the US to a middle-class family with parents who have been really supportive; it would be easy for me to say, “I’ve worked hard for all of this and luck has nothing to do with it!” But I AM lucky to have an American passport and a background that allowed me to go to college and gain some of the skills I use today to run my blog/business.
But, having acknowledged the privilege that I was born with, I also have worked to get to where I am today. Before I started my blog, I knew NOTHING about blogging or SEO or marketing or running a business. I had to learn it all along the way, and learn how to experiment to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Blogging is an easy thing to quit after a year or so, so I have worked hard to make it a viable career over the last six years. But it’s something someone else like me can do, too.
Nowadays, there quite a few travel blogs online. We are living in an incredible time with the internet allowing us these type of freedoms. How does one like you stay relevant with your audience and do you ever worry about competition?
I always say that people don’t follow blogs – they follow other PEOPLE. And, when you think about it that way, there’s nothing to worry about in terms of competition. Sure, another blogger could write about the same destination or tour as me. But no one can copy my voice or style or talk about my personal experiences the way I can. To stay relevant to my audience (and to hopefully attract even more of an audience), I simply have to keep being me. That sometimes means publishing more personal posts, and it ALWAYS means being upfront with my readers about anything I’ve received for free.
How much on average does your blog earn today and give us a breakdown of from where do you generate that income?
Right now, I’m earning anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 per month from my blog – some months I earn a little more, but that’s the average.
The largest chunk (probably about 40%) comes from the blog itself, usually from branded content (i.e. what we used to refer to as sponsored posts). I’m really picky about what branded content I will agree to run these days (my audience always comes first!!), but I usually sell 2-3 branded posts per month. I also sell other types of ads on my site – everything from mini reviews to the “Featured Blog” ads I sell to fellow travel bloggers for $75 per month.
Next (25%) would probably be affiliate income. I have Amazon affiliate links in some key posts on my site, and also, use Amazon CPM ads in a few posts. I also make a tiny bit each month from Booking.com’s affiliate program.
The next largest income source (20%) comes from a travel blogging course I launched in November 2015 in conjunction with Travel Blog Success. The course teaches travel bloggers how to pitch and work with travel brands and tourism boards. I hope this will eventually make up a larger chunk of my income!
Lastly, I also do freelance writing, which accounts for the last 15% or so of my income. This is usually writing travel pieces for other websites, with the occasional social media updates thrown in, too.
Now, I understand that is just a portion of what you earn. There are a lot of perks for being a travel blogger, am I correct? What are some of the coolest perks you have received and what did you have to do for them?
There are perks. For example, I often work with tour companies and tourism boards when I travel, which usually covers at least 50% of my total travel costs. Some cool perks in the past year include two different trips to Norway, where I worked with Visit Norway and some local tourism boards; a Christmas market river cruise with Viking River Cruises; and a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train in Canada. In return for comped trips, I write about my adventures on my blog and social media – and this means working while I’m ON those trips, too.
If you had to put a value on those perks for 2015, how much would you estimate in total you received?
To be honest, I haven’t calculated it! It would be upwards of $15,000, though.
You are getting a ton of engagement on Instagram. What has been the impact of this on your blog traffic?
I don’t get a lot of traffic from Instagram, but that’s not really why I like the platform. I use Instagram because it’s just another place to reach and grow a different subset of my audience.
What are your biggest traffic sources and how many unique visitors do you get on average per month?
My biggest traffic source is Google search, followed by social media (and my social media breakdown goes Pinterest, Facebook, and then Twitter). I get roughly 110,000-120,000 unique visitors per month to my blog.
How big is your email subscriber list, how often do you email them, and what purpose does it server for you?
My email list isn’t nearly as big as it should be! I recently purged some inactive email addresses and have just under 2,000 total subscribers right now. I send out a monthly newsletter with exclusive content and links, and also give the option for people to get a weekly RSS roundup of new posts from my blog.
One of my goals for 2016 is to figure out ways to leverage and grow this list more with autoresponder series and opt-in incentives.
Take me into a typical day in the life of a travel blogger…
It’s honestly not that different from anyone else’s average workday! (The biggest difference is that I get to work from home – or from wherever in the world I happen to be.) I actually wrote a post about my day-to-day life.
What is the craziest thing that ever happened to you in your travels?
Hmmm, well I have plenty of crazy travel moments, but some of them were really only crazy at the time. Like the time a monkey jumped into my mini bus in Cambodia, or the time a tour guide bribed a border guard in Albania with 15 Euro and 3 cans of Red Bull to let our bus pass through without stopping to get our passports stamped.
The craziest thing I’ve *done* was probably a 134-meter bungee jump in New Zealand.
The craziest/scariest thing to happen to me was probably being driven off a small cliff on a mountainside in Iceland and honestly being convinced I was going to die.
How long did it take to make your first dollar? Is there an interesting story there?
No interesting story. It took me about a year of serious blogging before I started getting advertising offers. That was back in 2011 when the easiest way to make money on a blog was selling sponsored posts/links. It was easy money, and my first “paycheck” I think was for $100. That way of making money isn’t sustainable any longer, though, and I’d say it wasn’t until just the last year where I felt confident in going fully freelance and living off my blog/online income.
Let’s say someone who is reading this wants to become a travel blogger, any words of wisdom on how to do that when they are just starting off and without income?
First of all, I would say only do it if you’re passionate about both traveling AND writing. I don’t necessarily mean to dissuade people, but I know from experience that growing a travel blog to a point where it’s profitable takes a considerable amount of time and dedication – it’s more difficult to make money than if you’re blogging about, say, fashion or beauty or recipes. So step one is being really passionate about it.
Secondly, it’s all about building an audience in the beginning – this means producing quality content on a consistent basis, being active on social media, networking with other bloggers, and basically hustling to get your name out there. It’s definitely a time commitment, but you just have to stick with it!
What would you say to someone who wants to start a travel blog, but they feel like their travels are a lot less interesting compared to someone like you?
I would say don’t be silly! Every destination (even if it’s just your hometown) can be a travel destination for someone else. When I first started traveling, I didn’t travel very far or very often, and yet I made it work.
There’s that one saying that goes “comparison is the thief of joy,” and I think it applies to travel blogging, too. Don’t let what other travel bloggers are doing intimidate you – find your own way and your own story, and the rest will follow.
The design of your blog is gorgeous and unique. Is this something you did yourself? From where did the inspiration come?
My blog is currently just running on a paid theme called Simple Mag! I’m not very tech-savvy, and I definitely could never code a website myself. But thankfully so many other people CAN, which means there are some great pre-made themes out there. The header on my site (that gorgeous watercolor image) was made for me by Candace Rardon of The Great Affair, who is a talented artist.
The inspiration for my site (and name) comes from a Tolkien quote that goes: “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might get swept off to.”
If you look closely at my header, you’ll find a further nod to Tolkien in the form of a hobbit hole. 🙂
You graduated college with a Journalism degree (and have the student loans to prove it). What is one thing that you learned from a journalism perspective that helps you as a blogger, that someone who doesn’t have your education likely would not know?
I think getting a degree in journalism helped me in a lot of ways. First, I learned how to edit and how to work on strict deadlines. It also helped me hone my writing voice. But writing for a blog is so different from “traditional” journalism. In news writing, a journalist is never supposed to let personal opinions/biases seep into a piece (unless it’s an opinion piece). But with blogging, that’s kind of the point!
I think, most of all, going to journalism school and working at a newspaper has given me an appreciation for how things “used to be.” I can appreciate the digital age of news and blogging, but I’ve also seen things from the “other side,” which I think gives me a unique perspective.
Also, when I want to pitch something more traditional to an online news outlet, I don’t have to go and learn how to conduct interviews or write feature stories. 🙂
If someone said “consistency is everything with content,” how would you respond?
I would say that’s correct, especially when you’re first starting out with a blog. When I decided to get serious about my blog back in 2010, I was posting 6-7 times per week.
As a blog grows, though, I think the consistency has to be more about voice and the quality of content. You have to make people want to keep coming back.
I like your “Stuff You Should Know About” posts. Let’s say as a new travel blogger, I don’t have the time to go on as many trips, what’s an idea for content I can write in between trips so that I can remain consistent?
I’m glad you asked – I actually wrote an entire post on this topic back when I was working my newspaper job and feeling a bit down because I wasn’t able to travel a lot.
A few things you can try include:
- Spread out your posts (don’t be too hasty to write a ton of posts right after a big trip if you know you won’t be traveling again for a while)
- Publish photo essays
- Do interviews with other travelers
- Put together collaborative posts (great way to work with fellow bloggers)
- Write about places you’d like to go
- Concentrate on more inspirational topics
And, lastly, remember that you can “travel” closer to home, too! You don’t always have to travel far away to find interesting stories.
What are three things that you are sure to do every time you publish a new blog post?
1. Proofread! I’m not perfect, so the occasional typo does make it through. But I always take the time to re-read my post at least once all the way through before hitting publish.
2. Create a Pinterest-friendly image to put inside the post. Pinterest is now my #1 social referrer, so I always want to make it as easy as possible for readers to pin my new posts.
3. Share on social media! I usually share to Facebook within 24 hours of publishing a new post, and schedule at least 4-5 tweets for the weeks following publication, too.
What blog post are you most proud of and why?
That’s almost impossible to say! I have a couple (like my NZ bucket list) that get a ton of Google and Pinterest traffic, and my big manifesto on solo female travel that I think is useful. But, writing-wise, I think this Cambodia post might be the one I’m most proud of.
When you began, how technically savvy were you and how steep was your learning curve? Any advice for people who get slowed down by the tech side of things?
When I began, I wasn’t very tech/Internet-savvy at all. I mean, I knew how to use the Internet and had Facebook and MySpace and all that. But I knew nothing about actually running a blog or doing SEO or building a social media following. I’ve learned it all along the way.
The biggest advice I would give to other not-so-tech-savvy people who want to start blogs is to do what you can, learn what you can’t, and don’t be afraid to ask for/pay for help when you need it. There are so many resources online to help you through a lot of the stuff that seems daunting at first. And if you can learn how to do your own SEO or Pinterest, that’s one more marketable skill you can put on a future resume.
Was there ever a point on this journey where you felt like giving up? If so, how did you break through?
You know what? I don’t think there was. But that’s partly because that I never started this with the intention of turning it into a career. It’s always been a labor of love.
Too many people I think start blogs assuming they will be able to make money right away. And when that’s not the case, they give up. I’ve always just wanted to write, and the fact that I can make money doing it is just an added bonus.
Top three favorite online tools that you use…
Tailwind for Pinterest scheduling, SmugMug for photo storage/hosting, and Edgar for Twitter scheduling/sharing.
One book that was pivotal to your success…
I don’t have one! (Really. I don’t like reading books about business or blogging!)
Who inspires you?
Other travel bloggers who are doing cool and innovative things inspire me all the time. I can name some specific ones if you want, but my list changes all the time!
What is one thing that irritates you that is happening in the blogging world…
Hmmm. I think one thing that bothers me is the fact that a lot of newer bloggers have a bit of a sense of entitlement. They assume that they deserve press trips and freelance gigs right away before they’ve even built up an audience. Not only is this annoying, but it’s the sort of attitude that will hurt travel blogging in the long run.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for new bloggers?
Do what you love and what you want to do – make your stories real and authentic, and the audience will find you.
Also, don’t be afraid of or opposed to investing in your blog. If you want to treat it as a business, then that means you need to spend money on it. I can’t stand when I see bloggers complaining about paying for necessary services like web hosting or social media tools, and yet also trying to make money from their sites.
Imagine there were one million dollars on the line for the person who can give the best online marketing tip of something that is working well in your business. You’ve got one shot at it. What would you tell everyone?
Experiment, experiment, experiment. Don’t ever get comfortable just doing the same thing over and over. Things – hot topics, social media algorithms – change all the time, so the quicker you can be on top of those changes, the better off you’ll be.
If your whole online presence were deleted, and you had to build your blog audience rapidly from scratch, what would you do?
Probably the same thing I did when I was starting out: Produce kickass content, interact with other travel-lovers on social media, and make sure to let my personality and voice shine through in everything I do.
What is your vision for the future of this blog?
I hope to continue traveling and writing about it! It’s as simple as that.
I also want to start taking into account the interests of more of my readers and hope to write an ebook sometime this year about how you can fit travel into a more “normal” lifestyle.
If you are starting a part time travel blog today, can you still make it?
It seems like the competition is huge.
Absolutely it is. There are millions of blogs online. But, why try to compete?
You are unique. You have a story to tell.
Just as there are certain people and styles that draw your attention, the way you tell the story is different.
Some people like to travel cheap, some living luxurious, some sustainable travel, some with family.
We like to hear the story from different perspectives. Stories in which we can relate.
So, while there are many people out there, no one can do it like you can.
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