The truth about travel blogging + advice for newbies

Honest thoughts on the industry from a travel blogging veteran, plus advice for those hoping to get started.

On any given day, I get someone telling me that I’m living the dream, that they’re jealous of my travels, and that I’m lucky that I get to globetrot as much as I do.

I get a slew of emails and DMs asking about the travel blogging industry. There are some requests for tips on getting a blog started, other requests for growing an audience.  But mostly people cut straight to the chase– they want to know how to get paid to travel the world.

And I’ve gotten these comments and questions a lot more lately, mostly because of my recently completed round the world trip with Star Alliance.  And don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the interest.

After all, what I’ve accomplished via travel blogging is pretty awesome.  There are sponsored press trips around the world, lucrative contracts with major non-travel brands that have seen me starring in internationally broadcasted digital and radio ads, interviews on major outlets and opportunities to speak in front of audiences about my passion.

And of course, most importantly, there are the actual memories and experiences from the road.  Documented in pictures and video for everyone to see.

I never dreamed that the little blog I started on a whim to keep family and friends abreast of my adventures living in France would grow into what it is today. I make no bones about it, it is awesome.

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BUT. It’s super important to put things into perspective and remember that this life isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

For this reason, I felt compelled to post the following picture and caption on Instagram last week:

“No soy perfecta”. Translation: I am not perfect. Not even close. I bought this shirt in Qatar days before I took this photo and it’s a great reminder to both myself and others that all that glitters is not gold. ************************************************** I get tons of people telling me that they wish they had my life, that they’re so jealous of my travels. But it’s important to remember that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that never makes it to social media pages. Stuff that is negative, unglamorous, tragic, infuriating, and just plain annoying. ************************************************** For example, two hours before taking this picture I lay on the bathroom floor of my hotel, stricken by food poisoning, exploding from both ends. After languishing most of the day I managed to release my weak body from the haven of my hotel room and explore the streets of Doha, Qatar. Alone, dehydrated and ill, in 110 degree heat. ************************************************** Of course, there’s more, heavier and private stuff that I’m not at liberty to share, but this serves as one example that there’s always more than meets the eye. I try to be transparent about the highs and lows, the sorrows and stresses behind the social media smiles, but as humans we have the tendency to not reveal the bad and, on the flip side, envy unconditionally. It’s easier that way, isn’t it? ************************************************** No soy perfecta. None of us are. But we can and should live our lives the best way we can, and try not to be jealous in the absence of the full story.

A photo posted by Oneika Raymond (@oneikatraveller) on

In an effort to be more transparent, I want to share my thoughts on the business of travel blogging and my particular personal situation.  I also want to share some basic tips for those hoping to break into the industry.

Firstly, a few truths of travel blogging:

You’ll likely need multiple income streams to stay afloat

The road to professional travel blogging is one that is winding and convoluted; if only it were as simple as writing a blog post and watching the cash and job offers roll in! While some bloggers live off the sales of sponsored blog posts alone, nearly every travel blogger I personally know has multiple income streams that include affiliate marketing, consulting, guest speaking, freelance writing/photography gigs, and sponsored campaigns (my friends Kate and Jayne have exceptionally detailed posts about how they get all of these these). And from what I’ve seen, going full-time in this industry is a HUSTLE. Securing those gigs requires patience and hard work: hours of pitching and negotiating are par for the course.  It’s also important to remember that building an engaged audience is key– no company or brand will be interested in paying or sponsoring you if you have no influence, or if they don’t see a clear return on investment.

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There’s not a lot of money in travel blogging

Looking to strike it rich?  Don’t be a full-time travel blogger.  With a few notable exceptions (Johnny Ward, I’m looking at you), very few professional bloggers are making 6 figures from recounting their travel tales and dispensing travel advice. While sponsors in fashion and beauty pay big bucks to work with bloggers in those industries, getting brands to pay travel bloggers similarly (or at all!) is an uphill battle. Why? Well, many bloggers are so grateful to have a “free trip” thrown their way they wouldn’t dare request payment, or the promise of “exposure” and future paid work compels them to work on a barter basis. Given this, many sponsors have no real impetus to pay travel influencers cash money on top of the perceived dollar value of the “free trip”. This isn’t a huge problem if you have another job that provides you with an income, but if travel blogging is your full-time gig, low/no pay will quickly become an issue.  When have you ever been able to pay rent with a sponsored trip to the Maldives, I ask?

It’s more about clicks, less about quality

More and more I’m finding that the travel blogging industry favours clickable content over compelling storytelling. Clickbait-y titles and half-baked travel logs are the order du jour at the biggest junkets, with listicles about 5 top restaurants in Paris trumping narratives over encounters in the far reaches of Tibet. I understand why– I myself have seen how many clicks a quickie post on 5 things to do in Bali gets versus a reflective piece like Egypt: A lesson in friendship— but it’s still sad to see editorial scope so governed by what will get the most views.

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Forget traditional blogs– social media is where it’s at

The blog as we know it is going the way of the dinosaur, soon to be completely replaced by micro-blogging on social networking sites.  Some of the biggest influencers in travel only exist on platforms accepting updates of 140 characters or less; others write the occasional blog post but their sites are, by and large, landing pages that redirect to their Instagram or Snapchat feeds.  This isn’t a bad thing, but something to keep in mind if you’re a newbie hoping to break into the biz. For an old school blogger like me it’s interesting to see how drastically the landscape has changed in the last decade.

You’ll need to work hard to build an audience

Just because you have a meaningful voice and a solid platform, doesn’t mean followers will flock to it or engage with it.  And sometimes, it’s not even about you:  competition is stiff in this saturated market, and internet algorithms often dictate whether or not your work will be seen at all.  It can be disheartening to see your excellent work go unnoticed by the masses, but those are the breaks. Growing and cultivating an audience can take years.

When travel is a job, it can start to lose its lustre

Like any job, travelling and producing travel content full-time can be a bore, a chore, and woefully soul-sucking. However, his is natural when what was once a passion becomes an obligation and a way to put food on the table. With that said, to avoid burnout it’s necessary to balance travel assignments with leisure travel where nary a photo, tweet, or status change is required.

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Where I’m at

The biggest misconception about me (mostly from new followers) is that travel blogging is my livelihood and my bread and butter.  But the truth is that, save a few months here and there, I have worked full-time in the education field for 10 years.  If it looks like I travel often despite by day job, it’s because I do– I just do it on the weekends and during the very generous paid vacation time afforded to education professionals!

So why aren’t I a full-time travel blogger? Well, while it seems like a glamorous gig, the lack of financial stability + hustle for work + low/no pay is primarily what keeps me at a day job. And the way my life is set up… I’m in my mid-30s and just not about that starving artist life.  

But technically I’m not working at the moment. I’ve *just* moved to New York City, so am exploring other full-time opportunities (either in editorial or education consulting) while I settle into the city. I freelance on the side, doing paid campaigns and selling stories but make nowhere near my full-time teacher and middle manager salary. And I make no illusions– this is a privileged position to be in.  I came to NYC with a large amount of savings, my husband has a well-paid full-time job, and we have no dependents or debt to speak of.  I am blessed.

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My advice for newbies

I get asked all the time for advice on starting up a blog. Here are a few of my tips.

+ Do it because you’re passionate about it. Readership, press trips, cash money… They may take time to happen, or not happen at all.  Start a travel blog because you love documenting and sharing your experiences.

+ Write prolifically and be authentically you (if you have a personality blog). In the beginning, blog at 3-4 times a week and adhere to a schedule– it’s a great way to grow an audience.  If you’re running a single-author blog, let your personality shine through! Readers come back because they like your unique voice. Develop a niche and stick to it.

+ Find a community. Other people doing what you’re doing are the best resources. Seek on groups online and off (Travel Massive comes immediately to mind).

+ Grow your reach and get out there. Become a social media and SEO samurai. Be proactive, not reactive. Pitch, pitch, and pitch some more to get your work in front of more eyes. Become a Huff Post contributor and link back to your website. Speak at conferences both in and out of the travel industry.

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A few more parting notes

+Beware of those trying to sell you the dream. Soooo many travel bloggers only present the enviable aspects of the job.  This often results in those at home feeling inadequate about their lives, or having a false and romanticized view of this unconventional career path. For this reason that I admire bloggers like my friend Gloria, who is super transparent about both the highs and lows of the hustle.

Lots of travel bloggers also make money selling courses to their followers… about how to make money travel blogging.  Notice that all of a sudden all your favourites are touting writing courses like Travel Blogging Success? Every time you click “purchase” they get a cut.  There’s nothing wrong or illegal with this, to be fair.  But it’s ironic just the same, and something of which to be aware.

Are you a travel blogger or an aspiring travel blogger?  Do you agree or disagree with my observations?

21 Comments

  • Adele says:

    Hey Oneika, I’m just building my site now and I couldn’t help but smile about all the courses being sold by most blogs. It’s one of the many things I love about your blog. You’re not trying to get me to buy anything. Thanks for the honesty 🙂

  • Rebecca W. says:

    Thank you! I love your honesty and style – one of the reasons I follow you and things you talk about in this article (people finding something about the writer’s voice & wanting to follow). Anyhoo – I am 40 years old and kicked around the idea of doing a travel blog or perhaps a video series because honestly, with all the young ones out there doing travel vlogging, I often feel the voice of my generation is missing and there could be a need for what I have experiended and have to say – somewhere between the 21 year olds couch surfing and Rick Steves if ya catch my drift (and I do love them both don’t get me wrong). On the other hand, I travel for me. I do it to live the life I’ve always dreamed of and can finally have so maybe I don’t want to make a job of it. For now, I just snap my pictures and have the time of my life – trying to influence friends and family to do the same. Thanks for being uniquely you! Happy travels.

  • Thanks for sharing all this inside knowledge. I think you are right, whatever you blog about you have to have a passion for it. Even if nobody is going to read your blog you have to keep writing.

  • Alissa says:

    Thanks for this post, Oneika. It’s always incredibly refreshing to read your writing and I appreciate this honest take on the travel blogging industry. I started my blog about 8 months ago, and in the beginning I contemplated the prospect of trying to monetize it… I’m a little more jaded about it now (also really lazy, I’m lucky to get a post out once a month hehe) but I feel like my blog is better off as a hobby for me than as a career. I don’t like the stress of feeling like I need to be glued to social media, constantly networking, etc… on top of all the work of putting out decent content. Probably not for me. I think it’s great though that you seem to have found the right balance for yourself with your blog! As always, looking forward to reading more 🙂
    Alissa recently posted..Dubai, Part 2: Riding In Cars With StrangersMy Profile

  • Ann S says:

    I enjoyed reading your tips! I had an old blog where I wasn’t looking to monetize but I really enjoyed writing about food, travel, and other random stuff. I gave up, started again, and then stopped for good. I felt no one was interested or cared enough to follow my blog. No useful comments. Barely any subscribers. But I realized that there were a bunch of things I was not aware of in order to attract and maintain loyal readers. So I recently launched a new blog and we’ll see where God takes me with this. I know more about blogging now and its challenges. My biggest challenge, which I knew before publishing my first post, will be building an audience. Social media is another problem as I like it (a little bit) but don’t like it, lol. But that’s the era we are living in so I’ll have to put up with it. I do wonder about “It’s more about clicks, less about quality.” It’s a shame if that is the case. There are many travel bloggers who have content similar to their peers about popular cities and it usually sounds like something I could find in a travel guide or tripadvisor. I could care less for subscribing to such a blogger. But anyway, thanks for being you. I like your stories and you write so eloquently!!!
    Ann S recently posted..How I got to Rio for the OlympicsMy Profile

  • I’ve been travel blogging for two years and if not for my love of travel and ambition to see as many countries of the world as possible; I would have thrown in the towel, called it quits. I’m a part-time traveler which means I only get to travel at times, and keep tethered to one location most of the times. There have been those moments that I’ve been ill while traveling…thankfully just flus, altitude sickness and small infections; there was that time traveling by bus between Singapore and Malaysia, I lost my passport eek! ; and there have been times I’ve come close to running out of funds..While I begun big when I started; I’ve scaled down to small..so for now my travel destinations are places like South East Asia, Eastern Europe and so forth where I can get more bang for my buck so to speak, and my pennies can get to stretch a wee bit. Many times I chose to rough it in hostels, or eat alot of sandwiches while traveling as opposed to expensive meals…in time, I see myself cooking alot at hostels…I’ve never done so because I’m so used to my little kitchen and hate being in strange kitchens which may lack cutting boards or utensils that I would need.
    I wrote a post quite recently on the subject..saying there’s no secret to travel so if you want to travel just get up and go or else stay back and run the town: https://africanahgirl.com/2016/07/12/if-youd-love-to-see-the-world-just-get-up-and-go-if-not-stay-back-and-run-the-town/

  • chewy says:

    Really insightful and helpful, thanks!
    I hope you are enjoying NY! It’s my hometown and the longer I’m away the more convinced I am it is the best city in the world (not that I need much convincing anyway).
    chewy recently posted..[Travel Gear] Iguaneye shoes review #freemyfeetMy Profile

  • Chanelle says:

    One of the reasons why I keep coming back to your blog is that you are totally honest and open about life as a blogger. I commend you on holding down a full time job (btw are you still teaching?) and running this blog. I appreciate that it is difficult but seeing your success gives others like me hope.

  • Hi Oneika,

    Thanks for this! I’ve been hard at work building and growing my blog for about 6 months now, but you’re absolutely right in that it’s slow going and it takes time. I found that the first few months I was basically writing for about 20 people, but lately I’ve started to get more followers as my links have gotten out there more and more.

    It’s certainly hard work! My ultimate goal is to become location independent and work remotely while keeping up the blog. Hopefully someday the blog will get enough notice to reap some of the rewards of my hard work, but until then I just want to set myself up to have more freedom to do the thing I love the most.

    Your blog has always been an inspiration to me, so thanks for that!
    Heather @ Art Travel Eat Repeat recently posted..How to Budget for a TripMy Profile

  • Great post Oneika!

    I’m a trave lblogger and I totally agree. Writing a blog is about authenticity and your passion, and your followers will see that. It’s obviously perfecly acceptable to make a living, but if it’s all about the money, the followers will see that too!

    I’m married, have a child, have a corporate job and only blog once a week. I don’t even do social media at the weekend lol And it works for me.

    Last year, I was invited pretty much everywhere on the German media as part of the Queen coming to Germany rush. And I remember a radio station wanting me to do an interview which I was perfectly alright with until I asked the date. “Oh tomorrow” they said. I declined. They asked me why, I told them that I had to go to work. They were shocked, “You work?” Yep! I go to work just like everybody else. In fact, I’ve got a new job coming up soon as Vice-Principal / Social Media Manager of a school in my Berlin neighbourhood. And since I’ll be working part-time, it’s a win-win for all!
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted..Should you visit Bratislava, or stay at home and not bother!My Profile

  • Joanna E says:

    Oneika, You’re officially my Travel Fairy Blogmother in my head. lol This was a great post and it really encouraged me to continue writing. I don’t have the most page views and clicks, but I write about what I love and that matters more to me than anything.

  • Christine says:

    I have my own travel blog. I do it for fun and to document my travels. I have a full time job that I will never quit because I don’t make money from my blog.

    I love reading blogs and I hope it never goes out of style. I think it’s important to read more than just 140 characters of your experiences.

    Thanks for always sharing your honest thoughts!

  • Razan says:

    Hello Oneika, thanks for this great piece of advice!
    I like reading other people experiences, especially the sincere ones. I think your article is very interesting, honest and realistic. I can see that you are very passionate about what you do and that is the most important aspect about an article. I started my blog couple months ago, I traveled quite a bit in the past and I am passionate about adventure, so I wanted to share my travel journeys. Even though I do not have any audience I guess, but I keep on working on my blog to share what I love. So the most important thing is share the passion and that is where I can relate in your post, and in your blog!
    Lets keep the inspiration going 😉

  • Ella says:

    I’m really glad that someone is talking about being a professional blogger in a real way and not selling a dream that isn’t realistic. I’ve been blogging for nearly 2 years now and I love it loads. A lot more than I thought I would when I just started. And I often think about what it would be like if I was able to make some income while doing this. I’d like to potentially, but I have 2 fears surrounding that. A) if it becomes a job, it will become less fun, and B) I’ll be stressed about each paycheck and that I won’t be able to make a living for myself. Fortunately, I know what profession I want to be in (music therapy) and hopefully that would give me stability and security. And I don’t have to monetize my blog if I don’t want to. I guess whether to earn any sort of income from your blog or not, is a very personal and individual decision, especially because it isn’t at all easy. Thanks for talking so honestly about this 🙂
    Ella recently posted..The Courage To Travel Again After A Traumatic TripMy Profile

  • Kate says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your advice and experiences – I find it so inspiring and a reminder to keep going and not give up.

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

  • Taler says:

    Thank you so much for this post.I’ve been hemming and hawing about continuing to blog because the reality is that I’m not exactly sure what my voice is yet. Also I currently live in Paris, which is super saturated with blogs and the best ones are really quite amazing and lead by people I really admire. I wonder what I should I focus on: Paris, (black american) expat life, feminism, politics, learning french, or all of the above?

    • Taler says:

      I accidentally cut off my comment, but to continue: Those are the current topics that I’ve been exploring and I just wanted to say thank you again for this post. It has really helped me put into focus on where I want my blog to go.

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  • Elleanna says:

    Beautiful post! Love it 🙂
    Honesty and no bragging.
    Keep it real!
    Great pic of Rome (that’s where I Am from!!)

  • WW says:

    Thanks for sharing the TRUTH!

  • Robin says:

    I love this post, it is so refreshing to find a post of someone in the first world be so real about it. I had a panic attack while travelling alone. I am glad that you brought that up in a post about solo travelling isnt as easy as predicted and there are glitches.
    Glad to hear social media is the new blogging as well because I am still struggling to get a nicer website for my blog.
    All the way from Zimbabwe thank you for posting this

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