How to be a travel blogger: And now, a few words about money

Editor’s note: This is part four of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. Here’s the first one, the second one and the third one.

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Let’s talk about money.

If you’re going to be a successful travel blogger, you’ll need some to pay your Internet service provider and web designer. You’ll have to pony up cold, hard cash for the equipment I recommended in the second part of this series.

It would be nice to have a little left over to pay the rent, too.

People think you have to take the vow of poverty when you become a travel blogger, or that your “payment” is press trips. Not necessarily.

The “P” word

But let’s stay with press trips for a second. If you reach a certain level of travel blogging success, you’ll be invited on one. Press trips, which are all-expenses paid trips to see a destination, are not compensation. They are work. And something is required of you: You’ll have to cover the trip on your site. (If you don’t, you might have difficulty securing another press trip invitation.)

There are some old-media outlets in this world — and even some new-media organizations — that forbid press trips. I think that’s terrific, as long as they’re also willing to shoulder the expense of sending one of their reporters on assignment.

If you ban press trips but refuse to cover the costs of traveling, you’re just asking for trouble. It’s better to acknowledge the reality that good reporting can come from subsidized travel, just as it can come from automotive reporters who drive loaner cars and theater critics who get comped tickets, and to move on.

If your blog is ever so successful that you can afford to pay for your own travel, then you’ve truly arrived. You’re an unqualified travel blogging success. Here are a few ways you can get there:

Donations. If you’re writing about a topic that people find interesting and useful, they will support it financially. It may even be enough to pay a few bills, but it’s probably not going to cover all of your expenses. I do fundraisers twice a year à la PBS and give away premiums. The fundraisers help cover some of my expenses, but most of all, they allow readers to feel as if they’ve supported your cause in a tangible way.

Sponsorships. Companies will also step up to the plate when they see you have a real travel blog. They are interested in three things: conversions, SEO and branding. I’ve found that conversions are the most difficult. When you sell a sponsorship, conversions can depend on having the right copy, and when it fails, the company inevitably blames you. But SEO, or search engine optimization, and “branding” (being associated with your blog) are achievable. I’ve had some corporate underwriters that have stayed with me for years because they believe in my mission of helping travelers, and they get good SEO karma from it. And I love them for it!

Adsense. Google’s ads are a no-brainer. You put them up and, after a little tweaking, they just bring in the revenues consistently every month. It’s not a pile of money, but every penny counts. I highly recommend it.

Other third-party ads. I use a variety of other services, including Conductor, Travel Ad Network, Lijit, Outbrain and Meebo. Together, these service form a safety net of revenues that help sustain the site. Also, they allow you to spread the risk so that if one or two of them fall off the map, you’ll still be fine. They all contribute a little bit of money, but together, they represent one of the pillars of my site’s revenues. You’ll find that services like this will do the same for you. (Note: Sometimes you have to meet minimum traffic requirements in order to participate in these services.)

Ebooks. One of the biggest misconceptions about travel blogging is that you’re “giving” away your blog posts. Actually, blog posts can be the most profitable piece of your operation. The work you do can be repurposed into an ebook or even a real paper book (I know, they’re still publishing them!). Simply write your posts with some thought toward more long-form journalism and when the time is right, compile everything into a book. I’ve already done that with my series on travel insurance, which I turned into an ebook and am giving away as a premium during my fall fundraiser. But I’ve spoken with fellow bloggers who say ebook sales account for nearly half of their revenues. That’s not bad.

Syndication. You can also repurpose your posts into columns (or vice versa) and either self-syndicate them or work with an established syndicate. For example, my weekly column, The Travel Troubleshooter, is also distributed by Tribune Media Services. Unless you’re Cal Thomas, you’re not going to make big bucks through syndication, but like advertising, it can represent an important source of income. Note: landing a syndicated column can take years of hard work and a little luck, but self-syndication (selling your content directly to a newspaper, magazine or site) can be a shortcut worth considering. That’s how I got started.

This is by no means a complete list. Other bloggers have written sponsored posts (that doesn’t work for me, for a variety of reasons) or allowed “guest” bloggers to post on their site for a fee (also not an option for me). Those might work for you, particularly if you cover a less controversial topic and an understanding audience.

Let me wrap this section up by talking about the attitude of a highly successful travel blogger, when it comes to money. No one gets into travel blogging for money. But you shouldn’t consider travel blogging a life sentence of unpaid work, with your only reward being the occasional press trip. Pursue every revenue opportunity within reason. You have the right to be fairly compensated for your work.

Now go get ’em!