In the six or so months I have now been travel blogging professionally — in other words, earning 100% of my income from blogging-related activities — I have been accused of having a “dream job” more times than I can count.
But is travel blogging really a dream job?
Sure, having location-independent income allows me to travel basically at my leisure, and I’ve used Leave Your Daily Hell to score free or discounted accommodation, activities and even entire trips on more than one occasion. I earn significantly less than the average per-capita income of my country, yet enjoy a lifestyle more typical of “The 1%” than a middle-class individual.
I am thankful that my years of tireless work, most of it unpaid, have finally led me to a source of sustenance that seemed, not so long ago, to be unreachable. But there is another side to travel blogging, one that makes me wonder if I’m really cut out for it.
Travel Bloggers Don’t Get Time Off
One underlying assumption people who believe travel blogging is a dream job hold is that travel bloggers are always on holiday. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
I cannot remember the last time I woke up or went to bed with thoughts that did not relate to my blog. When I’m on the road, it’s “How many articles will I be able to write about what I did today?” or “Where are the best spots in this city/country I barely know to take photos?” or “Where can I find Wi-Fi that doesn’t suck?”
When I’m “at home” — and “home,” for travel bloggers, is a relative term — it’s “How can I frame my experiences so they set my blog apart?” or “What can I do to make my blog look or feel more professional?” or “Why did my traffic drop/rise so suddenly?”
The danger of taking a day or even a week “off” is not only that my readers might stray off to other blogs, without fresh new content to read here, but that I might lose my travel blogging mojo. It takes a huge amount of discipline to stay motivated without a set schedule or list of responsibilities, and getting back “into the rhythm” is often too big a hassle to bother getting out of it all.
Travel Blogging is Not Travel Writing
If I needed only to travel and/or write to make a living, I likely wouldn’t be as stressed as I usually find myself. But travel blogging, if you hope to do it profitably anyway, is a much more unruly beast — you are not the captain of the ship; you are the ship.
You must first understand that the writing on a travel blog alone generates no revenue. What it does generate is traffic, which generates an audience, which translates into the value of the blog. Once a blog becomes valuable enough, individuals and organizations who sell travel-related products and services — or even represent destinations — will pay to advertise on it.
At the same time, the visible contents of a travel blog are only a small part of what generates its traffic. Google will only refer Internet users to a given site if its content is properly “optimized” which, for a site like mine, can require hours or even days of upkeep per month. This says nothing of the time and effort that goes into promoting a blog via social media.
I make just enough from my blog to travel. As a result, I am responsible not only for Leave Your Daily Hell’s writing, SEO and social media, but also for its web design/programming, and the often tiresome work of dealing with advertisers, many of whom want something for nothing. A travel blog is, in no uncertain terms, a full-time job; and so is traveling, by proxy.
Travel Blogging is Kind of a Scam
The primary reason I travel blog is to inspire and empower my readers, but I can’t say the same for many other travel bloggers. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some are outright con artists.
I first began to suspect that the travel blogging game might be rigged when I came upon a list of “Top Travel Blogs.” As I clicked through the travel blogs at the very top of this list, I became increasingly perplexed: How could blogs with such garish branding, lackluster photography and article copy that seems written by someone with only a basic grasp of the English language be so popular?
Upon further inspection, I realized several things. First and foremost, these lists use questionable “data” sources, such as Alexa, the self-proclaimed “Web information company.” Unlike Google Analytics, which directly measures traffic, Alexa and similar tools record clicks only from users who have their “toolbars” (for which you must pay) installed. The rest is mere extrapolation.
This would be harmless enough if the bloggers at the “top” of such lists didn’t use their resulting “influence” to take advantage of others. But many of these individuals leverage the increasing devotion of other travel bloggers to sell, among other products, “How To Make Money as a Travel Blogger” eBooks and even “Travel Blogging Success” courses. Can you say “pyramid scheme”?
Almost Any Alternative is Worse
As bitter as this article probably makes me sound, I can’t really think of anything I’d rather be doing than travel blogging. I’d prefer to worry myself sick wondering when (or if) I’ll receive future advertising inquiries, than whether I’ll be spared from my company’s next round of lay-offs.
Likewise, I can no longer imagine having to stay in the same place for longer than a few weeks, at least not out of necessity. I’ve been in Berlin the past couple weeks, for example, and even though I’m here because I fell in love, I price plane tickets to other cities and countries at least a dozen times per day. Travel blogging gives me the freedom to buy one of them if I want, at least for now.
I won’t be abandoning travel blogging anytime soon, even if my forthcoming full-length work of creative nonfiction does begin to sell like hotcakes. But it is my sincere hope that, sooner rather than later, I can subsist less on the good graces of Google and advertisers and more because my writing and photography bear true value — I’ve already paid my dues.
Follow Robert Schrader on Twitter: