After 5 years of traveling the world, the most common question I get is: “how do you make money traveling?” or “how do you fund your travels?” Well here’s my answer.
I completely understand your curiosity. From the outside it must look like I’m just traveling the world having a blast (and I am), but there’s a lot more to it than that. Somehow I need to make a living!
I realize now that I haven’t explained that part to you very well yet. How exactly do I make money? How do I fund my travels? Am I paid to travel the world?
To fund my travel lifestyle, I make money a few different ways.
These sources are constantly changing from year to year. Attempting to explain how I get paid to travel the world in casual conversation usually takes a while. So much so, that often times I’ll just throw out “travel writer” or “photographer” to avoid a very lengthy discussion.
However because it’s the big question everyone wants an answer to, I’ll try to clarify this burning query for you today. You’ll learn exactly how I’ve funded my travels for the past 5 years — along with my plans to continue indefinitely into the future.
Paid To Travel The World?
It was 2009 when I first began planning to quit my job and travel the world. I was inspired by two friends, Ferenc and Katie. They were both traveling very cheaply, often living on less than it takes to live in the United States. I was completely enthralled with their photos and stories from exotic destinations.
I didn’t realize you could travel long-term for less than $1000 a month! Budget travel was an entirely new concept for me.
Ferenc was backpacking through Southeast Asia creating photography and making money advertising on his website, while Katie was working on private yachts as a chef, island hopping through the Caribbean and Mediterranean.
I thought if they could do it, so could I!
Saving Money To Travel
I’m not a wealthy person. I don’t have a trust fund. I was barely scraping by in Miami at the time, working 2 jobs that brought in a total of about $30k per year. How could I possibly save money to travel the world?
I downsized my lifestyle to a fraction of what it was.
I’d just finished paying off my car, so I decided to sell it. I canceled my car insurance, gym membership, and Netflix subscription. I purchased a used commuter bicycle, a rain poncho, and a bus pass.
I sold off almost everything of any value. I stopped going out to bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. I cooked a lot of pasta & rice at home.
These actions allowed me to save about $7000 over the course of a year.
Make Money Traveling
While I spent a year saving money for (what would initially be) a 12 month journey through Central America, I was also dedicating my free time to developing an online source of income that would help pay the bills as I traveled.
I worked countless coffee-fueled nights and weekends doing hundreds of hours of research to learn about and build a small business writing and selling electronic guides (aka ebooks).
When I finally left for Guatemala in November of 2010, in addition to my savings, I was also earning $1000-$2000 a month selling three different how-to guides on various topics related to the nightlife industry.
Eventually my ebook business fell apart, as much of my success was from advertising with Google Adwords, the platform that shows ads in your search results. Google made changes that hurt my business a lot.
Current Blog Income Sources
Companies pay me to advertise on this site. It takes many forms, such as sidebar banner ads, social media posts, or sponsored content (when a business pays me to feature them). Here’s an example from American Express. I always include a disclaimer at the bottom and only work with companies that I admire.
In the past I engaged in something called text-link advertising. Companies would pay for a backlink to their website in older posts, or provide a full pre-written “guest post” for me to publish because it helped them with search results. The practice is dying out, and I no longer do this.
Slightly different than traditional advertising, brand partnerships (or ambassadorships) are longer-term projects with companies I love. They usually involve a few blog posts, some regular social media coverage, licensing of images, promoting contests, and more. You’ll always see a disclaimer if I’m working with a brand.
There are many cool companies out there who I’m happy to work with in exchange for compensation. Examples include my current partnerships with GoPole & LifeProof.
Whenever I share my favorite travel gear, photography equipment, books and movies with you, I include affiliate tracking links to those products. Meaning if you decide to click through and buy a product, I’ll receive a small commission. The price remains the same whether you use my special link or not.
Most of my affiliate links are for Amazon.com, and my Travel Gear Guide is a large source of this income. However I would never endorse a product or service I didn’t actually use or believe in.
While the individual commissions are pretty small, this site receives 500,000+ pageviews per month. Many people are clicking on those links from around the world. It adds up quickly.
Freelance Travel Writing
In the past I was paid to write travel-related articles for other websites. They need content, and I had stories to share. The Travel Channel was one of my clients. It can be a decent source of income for some people, but for me it was sporadic. These days I’m able to earn more working on my own site rather than writing for others.
I earn money licensing my photography for use in marketing & advertising campaigns. Businesses like tour companies, tourism boards, outdoor brands, media outlets, and others. I’ve even sold images to National Geographic! But selling individual photography prints is not a big part of this, most of the income comes from working with brands on large projects. The brands generally find me through the blog.
Here’s a great guide for learning how to earn money with photography.
Maybe you’ve noticed that some countries invite me to visit and write about my experiences there. In the past these were unpaid; but flights, accommodation, and activities were covered like a traditional press trip.
Well now I’m getting compensated for these marketing, photography, and social media projects. I currently work with a blogger collective called iAmbassador for some of these endeavors, others I arrange on my own.
I also use an agent sometimes. Yup. Bloggers can have agents!
They act as a middle-man, negotiating paid projects on my behalf, in exchange for a percentage of the deal, with both destinations and brands.
NOTE: No, I can’t give out my agent’s contact details. The last thing they want is to be contacted by 500 bloggers. My advice is to attend travel conferences if you want to meet an agent.
How Much Do I Make?
I know, I know. You want details. Asking someone exactly how much money they make is a very personal question, and it’s not something I’m entirely comfortable posting, but I’ll give you an idea.
These days I earn six figures a year from this blog.
I’m not a millionaire, but I’m not living in a cardboard box either.
I still travel the world on a budget, but I’m also able to save money. Or splurge on the occasional expensive experience. However I sink a LOT of income back into this travel blog in one form or another. All businesses need investment to grow, including blogs.
The reality is that I actually have no idea how much I’ll make next month. Or the month after that. It’s one downside to working for yourself. In exchange for freedom, you often lose some security.
I’ve chosen freedom over security.
There have been a few occasions over the past 5 years when my bank account was drained to its last $300… embracing uncertainty and risk on a quest to do what you love can be scary sometimes. Really scary!
Hey, I know what it’s like to live in a cave if it ever came down to that.
I love what I do, and will continue to learn new skills and work towards making this travel lifestyle sustainable, or at least until I no longer enjoy it. I believe that anything is possible with hard work, patience, and dedication.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this and tell you that making money while traveling has been easy. Quite the opposite actually. I work a lot more now than I did when I first started. It’s also taken me 5 years to get to this point. For the first 2 years, there’s no way I could’ve survived on my travel blog income alone.