The Business of running a Popular Travel Blog

I don’t like talking about business on my blog.

Honestly, the business part of what I do isn’t really that interesting compared to the traveling. I don’t travel to have a business, I have a business so I can travel. Nonetheless, about once a year I allow myself the indulgence to write about the business side of what I do. It is a frequent question I get from people who I meet on the road and from people who discover my site.

Earning a living online is so different from what people are used to, they often don’t know what to make of it. So, if you are curious, here is a peek behind the scenes at how I deal with the non-traveling side of things…

Making Money

This is the one question I am always asked is, “How do you make money?”

It is a fair question, and the honest answer is: so far I haven’t.

I’ve been working on a long term plan for a while now and one of the things I didn’t want to do is sacrifice long term gains for short term profits. I knew I was ahead of the pack and it would take time for the travel and tourism industry to mature to a point where they would work with bloggers.

I focused on building my audience and didn’t worry about the money. I knew if I did the former, the later would surely come.

2012 is looking to be the year where I finally turn a profit. I have several projects that will be launching next year:

  • An iPhone app. This has been in development for a long time. It is basically done. I just need to upload the final code to the iTunes store, dot the i’s and cross the t’s. The app will be a collection of over 750 photos I’ve taken from around the world, with daily photos available on the phone. Many of the people I’ve showed it to have gotten lost looking at photos. I guess that is a good thing :)
  • My book. I think 2012 will be the year my book finally sees the light of day. My travel schedule has had me putting off and putting off writing it. I’ve finally gotten on the ball and I hope we’ll have the publisher soon(ish). You’ll be hearing a lot about it when it is ready to go :)
  • The Book Tour. I’m listing this separate because I am going to totally rethink the concept of a book tour. Book signings at Barnes & Noble is really passe.
  • Everything Everywhere Tours. Yeah, you’ll have a chance to travel with me this year…and take lots of amazing photos….and talk about photography….and blogging….and social media….and travel. Food and drinks will be involved too. More information to come on December 13!
  • Corporate Partnerships. My relationship with G Adventures is just the first what I hope to be several key partnerships I’ll be inking in 2012. I’m very picky about who I work with. I’ll only work with a company who’s product or service I’d buy myself. I also don’t want to run random ads on my site. I’d prefer to have a small number of solid partnerships with companies I can get behind.
  • Speaking engagements. I’ve been doing more public speaking gigs in 2011 and I expect to do even more in 2012. The first event in 2012 I’ll be at is the Eye For Travel conference in San Francisco in March. Speaking is something I enjoy and I’ve been told I’m good at it.

2012 is shaping up to be a big year!

Working With The Travel Industry

I'll be doing more speaking engagements in 2012
The biggest difference between travel blogging and other niches is that travel blogs exist in an enormous industry. Travel and tourism is over a $1 trillion business world wide. There are travel sections of every major newspaper in the world, huge travel magazines, entire publishing companies devoted to travel, and of course there is even a travel channel.

Travel also isn’t free. I can’t just wake up every morning and think of something clever at the kitchen table. I have to get out and actually DO things.

Those two facts have necessitated that I work closer with people in the travel industry. I’ve spent much of 2011 attending conferences to network with people in the travel and tourism business. Because I had no real background in travel, I had to start from scratch.

Most of the people I work with are government tourist boards. They are non-profit organizations who’s mission is to get people to come visit their country/city/region. One way they do this is by hosting journalists who visit their region.

As I’m looking for places to write about and they are looking for people to write about them, it is a good fit.

One advantage I have being a permanent traveler is that I don’t have any fixed costs. I don’t have a mortgage, utilities or other expenses to worry about. Where as many bloggers just focus on revenue, I have a great deal of ability to reduce my costs as well. Profit of course is revenue minus costs. By working with tourist boards and not having a home, the funds I need to travel are significantly less.

The travel industry has been slower than other industries to work with bloggers, whereas fashion and mommy bloggers have gotten much more buy in from their respective industries. I think much of the reluctance in the travel industry stems from the large travel media industry they have traditionally worked with. The travel industry is also much larger with lots of mom and pop hotels.

Things are changing however, and I expect it change even faster in 2012.

Getting Help

This time last year, Everything Everywhere was a one man operation. Today I have a few more people helping me out. The biggest impact has been from my assistant Amy. I’ve known Amy for over 10 years and I was visiting her earlier this year in Texas and she suggested she could help me with a lot of the stuff I was working on.

It has worked far better than I had hoped. One of my biggest constraints is time. Not only am I limited by what one person can do, I also have to do everything on the road and squeeze that in between all the exploring and picture taking. Amy has allowed me to focus more on traveling and writing and at the same time has expanded the number of projects I am working on. Amy is the single greatest change in my operation since I started traveling.

One problem I’ve had was finding time to do my email newsletter. I got an intern, Brendan, who has been compiling it every 2 weeks for me. That has been a huge help as well.

I also took on a manager this year who helps me with corporations and sponsorships. It has taken a while for things to get off the ground, but I think we are figuring out what works and what doesn’t. There is a lot of trial and error involved and also education that has to take place because most companies have no clue how to work with bloggers.

With more backend stuff taken off my hands, I’ll have the ability to write more and take more photos in the future.

I also hope to get a regular graphic designer to help me with projects including upgrading my free travel photography ebook. I hope to double the size of the next edition and make it more compatible with the iPad and Kindle Fire….and it will still be free!

Technical Matters

I currently host my site at Media Temple and so far I’ve had no major complaints with them. They host a lot of large sites, so they have more than enough resources. I pay more than I might with a smaller host, but it is worth it. I’ve also shifted my DNS hosting to Cloudflare this year which was a good move. They provide some caching as well as filtering out malicious attacks and they do some limited caching.

My site was hacked earlier this year, which caused me a lot of grief. I now pay for a service from which checks my site for malware and will fix any problems that might arise.

I spent a lot of time this summer improving the load speed of my site. It has always been a big issue for me. I increased the load time from over 7 seconds to about 1.5 seconds, which I am pretty happy with.

My next big change will be putting a white box around all my articles so I can have black text on a white background. it is the one thing that I’ve had people constantly complain about and I figure it is time to fix it.

For the most part, the technical end of things is something that I don’t think about anymore. Things are running smoothly.

Time and Travel

By far, the biggest problem I face is time management. I noted this problem in a post I made back in 2009 and things haven’t changed. If you are sitting at your computer, you aren’t out exploring. You can’t travel and blog at the same time.

I’ve had several periods this year where I was in a different room every night. That pace just isn’t sustainable, but often necessary when you work with tourist boards.

This year has probably been the most hectic travel year I’ve had since I started. I didn’t do as much in 2010 because of my father passing away and I think I over compensated in 2011. In 2011 my pace of travel outstripped my pace of writing. I have literally dozens of stories in my to-do list. I could lock myself in a room for a month and still have stuff to do when I got out.

I’m going to change how I travel in 2012. I’m going to try and pick a local base and try to stay there for a month or more and do occasional short side trips. In February, after my trip to Antarctica, I’m going to be doing this in Belize. I’ll be getting an apartment and then taking some short trips to places in Mexico and Guatemala. I think this will be a much less tiring way of doing things.

The Future

While I didn’t start traveling to create a business, I’ve been very fortunate that it has evolved into one. I maintain that I have the best job in the world. I’m doing what I love and I have no desire to stop exploring the world.

As the blog and the business mature, things are changing, but the fundmental love I have for travel is still there.

I hope to continue sharing my adventures with the world and encouraging people to travel for years to come.

If you have any questions about my business, feel free to ask them in the comments.

59 thoughts on “The Business of running a Popular Travel Blog”

  1. Really lucky that I had the chance to chat with you about a bit of this in person, even though it was short. You really know what you are talking about and it is inspiring how you were able to turn something that you love into this empire. Looking forward to any speaking engagement I may be able to catch you at down the road. Keep up the great work and most importantly, ENJOY :)

  2. Gary I’ve recently come across your website and absolutely love it. Especially interesting to read this article and all the comments. My boyfriend and I are currently planning a 2 year backpacking trip through Europe and Asia and hoping to run a travel website as well. Certainly feels like we have a ton to learn!

  3. Hey Gary, well written and great insight. Very interesting to see into what it is you are doing. Like many of the people commenting above – this is an area I would love to expand into. Finding my groove and niche when I have the travel personality of a ADHD gone crazy (guess I have wanted to do it all since childhood – some things never change!!!!) may be the next step! It is fascinating to see the greater business side of what you are doing, with assistants and an intern. You put out great work – you and your team are obviously doing something right! Keep it up. Hope to somewhat follow in your footsteps. As you said, the travel industry is evolving and I believe diversifying – the needs of tourists are so varied – it is a fascinating time!

  4. While travel blogging may seem a lot more crowded now than it was 5 years ago, as a newcomer I still think there is a lot of growth to come and now is still a good time to be getting into the industry. The economic crises around the world are encouraging people to leave depressing, low-paid, stressful jobs in droves, and they need inspiration and information when they want to do that. I think there is a lot more space for specific types of travel blogger and for bloggers from populations that are less likely to make a big journey. Worst case scenario, I travel the world for a few years, and I’ll never regret it for a minute. :D

  5. It’ll be interesting to see how or if the current big names in travel blogging will retain their high numbers of readers. You sign off saying you’re planning to continue both travelling and blogging as I’m sure many of the other established travel bloggers are, but it’ll be interesting if people keep going for 20 years and how their outlooks and writing styles change if they do.

  6. I’ve noticed the field of travel bloggers has exploded over the last couple of years and they are all trying to find ways to continually maintain revenue. Seems most have sponsored posts or ads.

    Are you feeling the pinch from the ever growing field of travel bloggers? And with more and more people travel blogging basically for free, also with very good photography… how to you keep audience once you’ve got it?

    I’ve traveled and blogged about it over the years along with showcasing my own photography. However, being married keeps me at home more than on the road. Trying to have my cake and eat it too I suppose. :)

    My point is, I’ve noticed through trial and error how to keep audience engaged and following along, but as soon as I return and it’s clear I’m no longer live blogging from the road, the audience eyes wonder somewhere else and it seems I have to start over each time. You obviously don’t have the problem since you don’t ever seem to have much travel downtime, but do you feel like you must be constantly producing fresh content in order to keep the audience you’ve grown?

  7. Great article.
    I just started a blog called “Places worth a visit” and I hope I can get a couple of people on board soon who say something about places they think are worth a visit. I love photography too, so it should be something for photographers and travellers.

  8. Gary, your travels are totally inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to give us some insights into the work part of your business and new ventures. I want an assistant too! The part I haven’t accomplished are press releases, cleaning up email database to use for newsletters, monetizing my web-sites, categorizing and saving all my thousands of photos. Love your app idea.

  9. Gary, I am so excited I came across your blog! I have had a vision of a travel blog for a long time and I cannot wait to get started on mine! I am super stoked to be able to see what you are doing and how you are doing it! It will be very helpful in my journey! It’s motivating to know you had no experience in the travel industry, because I am in the same boat. Looking forward to following your travels!

  10. It’s very interesting to hear what you have in store for next year. It sounds like a lot of bloggers are starting to branch out into all kinds of different things. I like hearing you say that you will be doing more in-person things–giving tours, speaking engagement, book tours, etc. Lately I have started feeling burned out from spending so much time online and am more interested in interacting with real people face-to-face, so it sounds like a cool way to mix it up.

    BTW, I went to Belize a few years ago and got to explore some of the ruins. They’re incredible–you’ll love it.

  11. Hi Gary, thanks for your article, I had a blog in English but expired, I was travelling and i did not renew the host; somebody bought it and still use it. I was sad for sometimes as I worked hard for it but nothing changed. Now I am running a blog in Italian language and if the industry is slow for the English speakers imagine for the Italians :-). Ok ok, i made my points: I love what you are doing and my dream is to do the same……and you give me hope!! Ciao un abbraccio Chris

  12. Thanks Gary for the backend view of the realities of travel blogging. We’re a family of 4 that are permanent travelers and have just started a blog, just to chronicle our time. We have no idea where we are going with this (perhaps nowhere & every where at the same time).
    For us, we like having a home base for a few months and doing excursions in the country we are in. We have a 3 and 1 yr old that we love to spend time with versus the constantly researching where we are going to next. So, the slow travel works for us.

    A black letters on white background will be a great improvement…oooo…my eyes!

  13. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the share and your insights.
    So how did you get the G Adventure gig?
    Hope to see you on the speaking circuit in 2012; was fun in LA and the U.K.


  14. I always love reading about the ins and outs behind any business. Thanks for sharing a bit more about yours, and congratulations on what sounds like a fantastic 2012!

  15. Great post Gary. It’s really important that people who are attempting to get into the travel writing business understand what they are getting into. Lots of time, money and energy go into something that everyone thinks is all fun. It is fun compared to a 9-5 or 9-9 corporate job but it is still work and staying focused and determined has really made your site a successful one. Kudos to you and continued success in 2012!

  16. Gary – this is a really well-written post and excellent insight into the behind the scenes of your life.

    It would, however, have been helpful for those people who are trying to emulate your success to have you acknowledge the fact that you don’t have to make money based on your previous business dealings. I see that you mention this in response to a comment above, but comments are easy to overlook.

    The fact that you don’t HAVE to work is the single most important reason why you’ve been able to build an audience and not focus on monetization like the rest of us.

    There are people reading this post wondering how they can do something similar. And the reality is that they can’t because they don’t have the bank account to do it.

    As a side note, according to the IRS, you’re not running a business at all because you don’t make money. You have a hobby – although you might treat it like a business. From the IRS website: “The IRS presumes that an activity is carried on for profit if it makes a profit during at least three of the last
    five tax years, including the current year…”

    I don’t mean to take away from all the time and energy (and money – HA HA) you’ve put into building your website and reputation. You’ve done an amazing job. I just thought some clarification was needed so your readers don’t think they can start a “business” with the intention of making a profit in 6+ years.

    • From what I’ve heard more seasoned travel writers say, having a working spouse or some other form of income has always been the best way to get by as a travel writer. I don’t think that is anything new to blogging.

      I’d also like to think that the experience I’ve had working online since 1994 has had something to do with my success too. I didn’t buy my audience.

      From a tax perspective you are correct. I have not been claiming anything as a business expense. (I’ve also had no revenue) The tax implications is one of the reasons I’ve avoided trying to bring in serious revenue until now. 2011 will be the first year I’ve actually treated the site as a business for tax purposes.

    • There are people reading this post wondering how they can do something similar. And the reality is that they can’t because they don’t have the bank account to do it.
      @Beth, I think most people understand that you need to have money in your account to travel and blog like this.

  17. congratulations on what you have achieved Gary and goodluck on your upcoming projects… thank you as well for being supportive to newbies like me who are still learning the ropes of travel blogging…

  18. Thanks for sharing this Gary, it was a great read. Also, I look forward to seeing your iPhone app. Do you also have plans to release it on Android etc?

  19. Nice info,

    You know very well about travel almost all over the world where what kind of travel places are available and you have good knowledge as well about them.

    Beside that from my point of view if we are passionate about something then i think we will get more success in that particular field which i think you have.

  20. This is really timely for me, as I’ve been thinking a lot about the business side of things lately. It’s great to hear this kind of brainstorming from someone who’s been doing it successfully for a while. I always joke that I need an intern, but I don’t know too many bloggers who go through with it!

  21. Hi Gary,

    Great blog you have here, I’m really glad I found it. I think I need to set aside a serious chunk of time, a cup of coffee and do some catching up.


  22. Just got back from Belize & I found it fascinating. After running around Mayan sites I headed to the Caribbean cayes to do my writing. And, as with you Gary, I have plenty to write about. More than enough. Good luck in 2012.

  23. Gary,

    Just a quick note to say good luck with all your new ventures in 2012. We appreciate this post for the opportunity to better understand the business side of your travels, and in turn better relate to you and your life. We have long admired your work and your approach, and look forward to seeing and supporting all the fruits of your labor of love.

    Jim & Rachel

  24. Hi Gary
    Thanks for the information on making money. It looks like so much hard work….. I admire your tenacity. I look forward to reading about your trips. I just got here. Better late then never I guess.
    I also had to say thank you for the photo book. It is just stunning. That is real value for subscribers. I am sure others would love to see them so I will pass your link on to my blog readers. (Yep, all three of them :-).)

  25. It sounds like 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for you, Gary. The iPhone app looks awesome!

    Also, I’m really excited to hear you’re going to tweak your site design a bit to have your posts publish on a white background! My eyes thank you.

  26. Hi Gary, thanks for acknowledging what is going around in so many of our heads – time vs. travel vs $ – and finding a way to make it work. For me, staying in one location for more than three days hasn’t happened yet. But, as you suggest, it is essential in order to regroup and re-strategize for optimum productivity.

    Best to you in 2012!

  27. Hi Gary —

    Thanks for talking about your successes and obstacles so candidly.

    Kudos to you for only partnering with businesses that you’d actually pay for with your own money. I totally agree.

    Regarding, the dozens of articles you’d like to write, does that stress you? Have you found an effective way to manage all your article ideas?

    • It doesn’t stress me, but I do have to get on it. It is why I’m going to Belize to work rather than taking a post Antarctica tour in Patagonia. I’d love to go to southern Chile, but I have to put some time in actually writing.

      In some ways it is a positive. I never have to worry about having something to write. I always have something to write :)

  28. Hi Gary.
    Hope all is good with you wherever you are at the moment. The thing I find most interesting about this post? The revenue stream you don’t mention – advertising. I’m not surprised by this. If mainstream media companies can’t make a decent profit from their web operations with advertising… bloggers can’t either. Agree?

    • I could write a short book on this subject…

      Advertising is based on the premise of scarcity. There are only so many pages in a newspaper and only so many minutes on TV/Radio. People had to pay through the nose for that space because it was one of the only ways to reach a large audience.

      The internet is all about getting rid of scarcity. The supply of ad space keeps going up and up. The CPM rates for ads keep going down.

      Big media companies gravitated to an advertising model because it was all they knew and they had a staff in place to sell ads.

      If you do the math, given the CPM’s you can earn today you can calculate the pageviews you need to make a living, assuming you can sell 100% of your inventory. It is a lot of pageviews.

      It can be done. There are sites that do it, but they tend to be very niche focused and very SEO driven . I don’t want to do that.

      I also don’t want to be dependent on Google.

  29. Great post…it seems time can be an issue no matter who you are. Sounds like you’re finally reaping the rewards. Nice one!

  30. Balancing the gathering of material and presenting the material online is one of the biggest problems we face; as you say, time management.

    Belize is a certainly a relaxing place to choose as a base but be careful that you don’t chill out too much and find yourself settling in.

  31. I think you’re doing the right thing by settling down in one place for a month or so at a time and using it as a base. In addition to being less tiring, it will give you more in-depth knowledge of the places you’re visiting (which will mean more to write about and photograph in each place you visit)..

  32. Inspiring article Gary. I know I’ll be coming back to reference all the information here for quite some time. 2012 sounds like a busy and fruitful time. I(t’s nice to see the heard work paying off. Good on ya.

  33. Hey Gary, sounds like 2012 is shaping up nicely. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to see each other in San Francisco early March. Would love to cover your panel at Eye for Travel.

    • I don’t have an app for the blog and I’m sure sure it is necessary. People can already access it from the browser. At most, all you need is a WordPress plugin to make the site look good on the iPhone.

  34. Great post! Super happy I found your blog.

    And I couldn’t believe your paragraph about changing the way you travel in 2012 and being in Belize and doing side trips – that’s exactly my plan too!! How funny! I leave in a few weeks. I also have decided to stay put for a couple of months there, blog and also do side trips to the neighbors. I’ll look forward to seeing your posts! :)

  35. Is your mobile app going to be a free app w/ in-app advertising? Love how you’ve stuck with long-term gain vs short-term profits. That’s a motto I’m going to try to adhere to with my blog and any other future business as well.

  36. You’ve mentioned audience building a couple of times. Have a done a post about how you did that…and continue to do?

    • I suppose I haven’t, but it is the biggest nut to crack online. There is no secret. You have to be creative, really work to get your name out there and have something compelling for people when they arrive.

      Also, I had a much easier time when I started because I had a first mover advantage 5 years ago. Today, things are much more crowded.

  37. Great info Gary. I really enjoyed learning all the little things you have to do and how honest you are with your sponsorships.

    • If you pick the people you work with carefully, you don’t have to worry about your sponsors.

      G Adventures is a great company. I don’t have to hide the fact that I work with them. I’m pretty open about it and proud to be associated with them.

      I wouldn’t do anything less with other companies I work with.

  38. As a fellow travel blogger, I really appreciate you being transparent about how your business works and your plans for it, Gary. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that you serve as a role model for a lot of us travel writers, and I found this article quite interesting.

    You make some great points, especially the fact that the travel is a different kind of niche since it’s part of a very large industry and has been slower to adapt and work with bloggers. Do you have any advice for how bloggers should adapt to this?

    I’m also inspired by how you had a longterm plan. Through an experiment, I basically fell into travel blogging with Byteful Travel. Only when I realized just how much I loved doing it, (and kept at it) did things started coming together.

    Just out of curiosity, how have you been able to pay your expenses while travelling if you haven’t made any money with E-E yet? (Which, last time I checked, was the most popular travelogue online.)

    Did you start with a travel nest egg, work along the way, or something else?

    • 1) I think bloggers (in any niche) should focus on growing their audience. If you have an audience, everything else will eventually fall into place. Other than that, you have to hustle and experiment. Find out what works and what doesn’t.

      2) I had savings that I started to travel with when I sold my home and my previous business. Because I did have the savings, I wasn’t as worried about trying to make a quick buck. I do understand that many bloggers aren’t in the position I was in and so they face a different set of circumstances.

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