Travel blogging is something I love and that, in many ways, has changed my entire life. But the world of travel blogging is a fake and shallow playground. It glamorizes the ideal travel blogger lifestyle that most people envy, carefully omitting all the effort, hard work, and things about it that suck. It paints an image of success, worldliness, and in some cases, wealth. As much as I love traveling and blogging, I hate the thought that my writing and experiences perpetuate the kinds of feelings of inadequacy and social jealousy that most influencers actually hope to curate. So I’d like to take this opportunity to demystify the travel blogger lifestyle and take you behind the scenes into my life.
Travel blogging is full of intolerable people
A couple of years ago when I was single and traveling around Europe, I matched on some dating app with a well-known and successful travel blogger (who shall remain nameless). I mentioned in our casual small talk that I also had a travel blog, albeit a less professional one. And his response was, “If you want to talk about blogging, I’ll have to charge you.” Needless to say, our chats went nowhere and I happen to know he’s still tragically single, something he attributes to his busy work schedule but which is probably due in larger part to the fact that he’s a dick.
Unlike other communities that are generally supportive of one another, the world of travel blogging is full of people who believe themselves to be more important than they really are – better traveled, more popular, and more cultured. So they’re competitive, they’re self-serving, they only want to talk to you if they think it can benefit them somehow. It’s probably because if you want to live the fabulous travel blogger lifestyle you pretend you have on Instagram, you have to feel and act like others are beneath you. As if spending two hours preparing for an Instagram photo shoot makes you better than anyone.
If you want to succeed (quickly) and thrive as a travel blogger, unfortunately, you have to join in the circle jerk that is people promoting your stuff if you promote theirs, writing for free for other websites “for exposure,” trading backlinks so you rank higher in search engines. The whole thing is kind of gross, to be honest. It’s certainly not why I started and continue to travel blog and I hardly ever participate in that kind of gratuitous bullshit. As brands who email me asking for favors already know, I usually ignore it.
The travel blogger lifestyle doesn’t pay
A lot of travel bloggers and influencers want you to you believe that they get paid to travel (dream life!). And it’s true, this does happen sometimes. Brands send people on press trips and give them free swag and discounts on travel in exchange for write-ups that will promote their tour company/city/camping gear/etc. As you can imagine, to be a blog that a brand wants to promote themselves on, you need a huge following, usually determined by something arbitrary and idiotic like Instagram followers. Using the metrics of your inflated popularity, you might be able to snag a coveted spot on a press tour and save yourself what would have been $75 a day in exchange for some degree of your honesty and integrity because you can’t trash the company that put you up even if you hated the experience.
Even if you’re one of these top bloggers and you’re willing to sell your ass to get a freebie, a trip to Aruba does not a salary make. To earn actual money by travel blogging, you have to sell ad space, sell sponsored posts, join affiliate marketing programs, etc. This also necessitates wading in that world of self-involved and self-important people, which is not usually worth the trouble. There’s a lot of ways to make $50 and kissing ass is not a great one. It’s almost as bad as waiting several months to accrue that much from ads that most people block or are smart enough to avoid clicking on.
I’ve been blogging consistently for three years. I get thousands of hits every month. And it was only this year that my earnings from this blog surpassed the cost of hosting it (by like $200). That doesn’t include the cost of travel obviously (I’ll get to that). Considering the hours I pour into this blog, it’s one of the worst financial investments I’ve ever made. Thankfully, it pays me in happiness, which is far more important to me.
Want to know what else I’ve learned about travel blogging? Here are some tips.
Traveling a lot doesn’t mean you’re rich
I’m a full-time freelancer, which means my income varies wildly from month to month, which is a stressful proposition when you just came back from Israel and work that you were counting on doesn’t materialize. Some months I make out like a bandit and others I can barely scrape together $1,000 worth of work. I make less money now than I did my first year out of college, and I’m absolutely not ashamed of that.
The trade-off is that I can take ten vacations per year, sleep in every day, and work at home in my pajamas. That doesn’t mean I don’t work. To be able to afford to take ten vacations a year, I have to work my ass off. I often work nights, I often work weekends. Sometimes I work while I’m on vacation. I see the online memes hating on people like me. “How y’all never work but you always on vacation? Prostitution must pay better than I thought!” And I can’t help but resent them. Because you may only see my vacation pictures from Cambodia and Milan. But you don’t see that I worked for 10 hours every single day between those trips. So motherfucker, I earned my vacations.
I make sacrifices in order to be able to afford those experiences on my modest salary. I don’t eat out much, I don’t buy myself the newest gadgets or the nicest clothes, the screen on my six-year-old laptop is held together with tape. And I had to move to a country away from family and friends, my culture, and my language to be able to afford this lifestyle. Do I regret any of that? No. But sacrifices have been made.
The point is: not everyone that you see on Instagram chilling on a beach in Hawaii is a trust fund baby. Some of us don’t have much and still work very hard to be able to do that.
So how much does all that travel actually cost?
This is a question that I wanted to answer for myself this year, so I have a very specific answer. Part of the reason most people assume travel bloggers are rich is because they also falsely assume that travel is an expensive luxury. But it’s possible to travel on an extremely limited budget. I usually don’t because I don’t want to sacrifice comfort – I don’t do hostels or camping, I don’t like to cook when I travel. I rather travel less than travel more often and be cramped and uncomfortable the whole time. Which is why I spend a lot of time in former nations of the Eastern Bloc where my money goes a longer way.
So how much does my jetsetting lifestyle cost? This year I’ve spent exactly $5,318 on travel including flights, accommodations, food, and entertainment. This total includes bookings for a trip I haven’t taken yet and my flight home for the holidays.
Perhaps that seems like a lot to you. But with that amount of money, I’ve been to Italy, Scotland, England, Sri Lanka (and the United Arab Emirates), Israel, Germany, Slovenia, and the United States twice. And this has been a slow travel year because I’m renewing my visa and I keep going to the UK, both of which are outrageously expensive. So my per-destination average is excellent. All that for less than the annual cost of owning a car. In fact, I’m sure this is less than some people spend to dine out every year.
What does a normal day in a travel blogger’s life look like?
A lot of travel bloggers would love for you to believe that they wake up every morning in a beach-front villa looking camera-ready, get room service breakfast before taking a leisurely stroll on the shore, laying out under the sun, taking a private sailboat out in the afternoon to watch the sunset, and going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Then they post some pictures online and endless adoration (and money) come pouring in. That’s the travel blogger lifestyle that people like to package and sell for clicks and likes.
But real travel blogging takes work and dedication and to airbrush all the effort out of it is what gives travel bloggers a bad name in the first place. It’s what makes people go, “Ugh she’s in Greece now? She was just in Thailand! Fuck her.”
In reality, you’re waking up early and jet lagged, because you want to make sure to catch the sights before they get too crowded. You’re carrying around a heavy camera even though it makes your back hurt because you need high-quality pictures. You’re making notes of important places and facts, taking pictures of maps and hoarding pamphlets of information so you can use them when you write about this place later. Then after a long and exhausting day of trying to do as much as you can so you can get a real feel for the place, you go back to your hotel room or Airbnb.
The time everyone else spends unwinding or napping or fucking around online, you spend hunched over a laptop that you went through the trouble of bringing on vacation so you can write about wherever you’re visiting, edit photos, and share it online with the world. On the off-chance that you have some freelance work to attend to, you have to squeeze in 2-3 hours of work a day to meet a project deadline or meet a weekly work-hour minimum. And most of the time, you’re grateful because if you can get some extra work, you can treat yourself to a nicer dinner the next day. Because when you’re a travel blogger and an online freelancer, there’s no such thing as paid time off. Any time off is money you’re not making. But that’s another sacrifice I’m willing to make, and a sacrifice worth making is hardly a sacrifice at all.
That travel blogger lifestyle is not for everyone and not as lucrative or luxurious as a lot of people want you to believe to make themselves look better. It certainly doesn’t mean were all pampered and wealthy and out of touch with real life.
Travel blogging is not extraordinary or glamorous. It’s a time-consuming hobby that makes life a little more worth living for some of us. If you wouldn’t want to put the same hours of work I do into something that pays me next to nothing, then this lifestyle shouldn’t be enviable. If you see me hanging out at a fabulous alpine lake while you’re at work on a Tuesday, consider the fact that maybe I spent ten hours on a bus to get there and maybe I’m off on a Tuesday because I worked Thursday to Monday.
Besides, when I’m not traveling, which is most of the time regardless of what my blog suggests, my life looks exactly like most people’s. I work the majority of the day, interspersed with cleaning, doing laundry, getting the groceries, and watching Netflix. And sometimes I can’t get back to sleep at 5 am, so I stay up to tap this out on my phone. Not because it brings me any material reward, but because I enjoy it. It’s not unlike being a stay-at-home mom, except that my digital baby doesn’t spit up on me.