Ideas are all around us. They're like fruit hanging on a tree, just there for the taking. The hard part is turning those ideas into something by getting the work done, week after week for years.
Ideas are around us like a piece of fruit, but the analogy ends there if you just eat a piece of fruit and it's done. That's akin to a good freelance article idea you sell to an editor for $2oo and that's it. To compare that to travel blogging, the execution part is planting that fruit's seed, watering it, fertilizing it, and growing it into a real tree. Then you'll have unlimited ideas to keep tapping.
When you turn an idea into a sustainable business, it lives on for years or even decades. It's an asset that has value and can be sold when you decide to stop harvesting.
What you learn over time is, it doesn't even have to be a great idea, just one that will work. One that can make enough money to pay some bills. Or maybe even make you wealthy. If someone laid out 100 blog ideas on a plate for you, there's no way anyone could tell you with certainty which is a million-dollar idea or a hundred-dollar idea. Nobody knows until it takes form and either attracts an audience or doesn't. But I know this much: they're all zero-dollar ideas until someone puts the work into making them happen.
As many people have said before me, ideas are cheap. It's the execution that makes you money.
Back in 2009 I had an idea about starting a blog that only covered affordable travel gear, things regular people could afford. After six years I sold that site for a mid-five-figures exit. Was the idea worth that much? Of course not. But the blog was after six years of work.
Travel Blogging is a Real Job
I once toured a brewery in Colorado where the owner said, "Making craft beer is 10% inspirational, 90% janitorial."
The world of travel blogging has a lot of parallels I think. The public part that people see is fun, interesting, and glamorous. Just look at their Instagram feed! Their life is like a movie!
What successful travel bloggers spend 80 or 90% of their work time on is much more mundane, however. Some of it's pure writing, which is kind of fun when you're in the zone and things are flowing well. Other times it's a day of frustration. Then there's all the "janitorial" work we have to do to keep our websites humming and keep the income flowing. Much of that is no fun at all.
We've all met dreamers who seem to be working on something new every time we talk to them. None of those ideas ever seem to get traction because before one has time to take off, the impatient idea person is on to the next shiny object. They're like a brewer working on her 10th fruity wheat beer recipe instead of cleaning the hoses and checking the tank transfers to be sure the flagship beer production is keeping up with demand.
The blogging world is a long-game pursuit. You will never "get rich quick" by starting a travel blog. It's actually one of the slowest paths you could choose of all the choices for making money online, much less in the physical world. So if earning money fast is your goal, go into finance, real estate, drop-shipping, or some other form of "buy low, sell high" flipping. This career is for the patient and persistent.
Becoming a travel blogger is a lifestyle choice, something you do because you feel it's what you have to do, not something you do to make a quick buck. You're probably looking at a year or two of effort just to get some traction, three years or more to make as much as you could from a routine day job in an office. It's hard to fight The 1,000-day Rule.
Here are a few tricks and strategies you can follow to increase your productivity as a writer though and get to the point of profit in a year or two instead of five.
1) Have a set blogging schedule
Some people read the words "writing schedule" and have a visceral negative reaction. To them, it sounds too regimented, non-creative, like working as a corporate drone in a cubicle. "I need to write when creativity strikes" they'll complain.
But work freedom doesn't mean freedom from work. Blogging is hard, it requires consistent effort, it's a real job if you're going to make real money. Go read The War of Art and then come back to this post later if you're still thinking this is something you do when you're in the right mood.
You need enough discipline to have a schedule of when you'll virtually ship something out the door by hitting Publish. I'm not saying you have to publish a new post every day, or every Tuesday at 10 a.m. on the dot. Even the most famous travel bloggers don't have readers waiting around for a new post to come out. But pick a general schedule and stick to it, at least for the first few years until you have hundreds of posts pulling in traffic.
By "general schedule" I mean once a week on a weekday, or every Monday and Thursday, or at least every other weekend if you've got a day job still. Nobody really knows how the Google algorithm works exactly, but most suspect that a freshness element is one of the key factors. The bots want you to be putting up fresh content regularly. If you publish three posts this week and then nothing for three months, that's not going to make them happy.
If readers come back to your site and don't see anything new for weeks and your social media feeds are barren, they're probably going to think you've quit. If you send out an automated or manual newsletter and there's not a new one for a couple of months, you'll get more unsubscribes because of the lack of consistency.
You don't have to stick to this schedule forever. I've changed up the frequency on several sites as they've gotten established, including this one that's now wildly inconsistent, but until you have a solid body of work generating traffic, keep the new work coming.
2) Stick to a subject
If your blog is about traveling the USA with pets, which would be a great niche, don't toss in articles about a solo river cruise in Germany or your trip to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Save those stories for a freelance pitch or a second blog.
This is a common problem I see with freelancers who are trying to start their first blog. They don't think about what an audience wants or what holes there are in the market that they could rank well for. Instead they start a "kitchen sink" travel blog that meets their needs as a writer: a place to dump press trip articles that haven't been published elsewhere.
That may be more fun for you but sorry, that blog will probably never get any traction. It doesn't stand for anything, or focus on anything, or have a point of view. There's no discipline to it; the blog is taking the easy way out.
At this point in the business, some 20 years after WordPress launched, a kitchen sink general travel blog has very slim odds of being popular. If you try to run a general, unfocused travel blog that's just like 2,000 of them already out there, I'll put money down that you're going to get frustrated and eventually quit.
Instead, do the work that needs to be done for your current and future audience. Be unique, have a focus, and stick to that focus staunchly. Be willing to do what any magazine editor does and say, "That's not right for our readership."
Don't use the excuse that there aren't enough things to write about. I've seen blogs around crazily narrow niches that have done extremely well. By following the subject matter instead of going off on tangents that just seemed fun, they turned their blog into a real business. I can even walk you through it as we go for what you'll later earn in a few days if you pick the right course option.
3) Cover your subject thoroughly from all angles
Which do you think will get more traffic?
a. 100 articles about 100 different places/subjects
b. 100 articles about 10 different places/subjects
Newbie travel bloggers often assume it's the former and they try to crank out general listicles and round-ups from as many different places as they can. After a year or two of this, they start wondering why their traffic is still so low. Five posts are doing well, probably because they didn't have much competition, but the other 95 are doing poorly.
Experienced bloggers know that it's all about "content clusters" and "foundation articles" (or "cornerstone content") instead. The idea is, it's better to have 10 in-depth articles looking at a place or subject from different angles than it is to have one general surface-level post. You can have it both ways too, but your general one should be substantial, have the potential to rank well in search, and link out to the others. Not the 200th take on "The 5 Best Places to Visit in Amsterdam."
If you have 10 articles (or more) looking at one subject or place in depth, then you can interlink those articles internally and the search bots--and real people--will follow those links to learn more. By doing this you are seen as having authority and expertise, two factors that the Big G considers very important these days.
For instance, on my Cheapest Destinations Blog I have dozens of articles about living abroad, including in-depth ones on specific countries, and dozens of detailed articles about cheap places to travel. None of those is an island standing on its own. I've got another cluster about travel tactics and savings strategies, a cluster specifically about living in Mexico where I'm based. They were all a lot of work to map out and create, but now I am seen as an expert on these subjects and have dozens of articles in the top-5 of search as a result. I get quoted in the media, linked to without trying, because who do you think a journalist is going to see when they do a search for someone to quote on these subjects?
Often it's quite easy to figure out these content clusters because they're navigation menu items for your blog. If you have a blog about a particular city, for instance, think of your clusters of articles being around subjects like these:
- Where to eat in the city
- What kind of fun activities to experience
- Where the freebies and deals are
- Nearby excursions and road trips
- The best places to stay ____ (for pet lovers, for families, near x attraction, for under $100, etc.)
The list can go on, but you can see how each of these main subjects can have 10, 20, or even 50 different articles under them. Yes, that's work. It's like a real job to create strategic content instead of just writing about where you went on press trips. Keep cranking them out though, consistently, and you'll be rewarded over time.
4) Do what will have an impact each day, not what's the most fun
Sure, we became travel writers and bloggers because we love to travel. It's fun. It fills us with joy. Making a living doing something you love is one of the greatest things anyone can accomplish in life.
You're not going to love all of it though in any job and some things are just plain work. Trying to speed up your blog's load time is not fun, neither is moving to a new host or squashing WordPress bugs. Going back and revamping five-year-old posts to make them useful and current is a chore. Changing or deleting affiliate links because a company decided to switch from CJ to JoeBobsAffiliates.com makes the top of my head start steaming every time. It's the opposite of what anyone pictures a travel writer doing all day.
But all these things are just as much part of the job as visiting a tropical island and taking pretty photos. Sports stars don't just come out on the field and play a game. They spend the bulk of their time training and hitting the weight room. The blogger back-office tasks are not glamorous or fun, but they have to be done.
Eventually, if you work hard enough, you can offload the least fun ones later though by paying people out of your ample earnings. Pain now, gain later.
Some things are hard to outsource though and you just need some butt-in-chair time. Rewriting and expanding outdated posts can have a huge impact on how much money you make two years from now. So can a bit of keyword research, on-page SEO work, and link building. That's not nearly as fun as hanging out on Instagram and Twitter all day, but these efforts have far more impact in the long run.
Putting on your sales rep hat and doing some pitching for partnerships is also a task that's hard to outsource but it can pay huge dividends...after you've built up an audience through the other hard work.
Get the work done that has lots of leverage, not just what makes you feel busy. If you're having trouble with time management and productivity, I've got a course for you on that too.
So sure, go for a long walk in the woods and come up with a good idea or two. Jot them down somewhere. Run the good ones by someone. Just remember that a business idea doesn't have to be brilliant and neither does a blog idea. It just needs to be an idea that you'll actually bring to the world and nurture, one you'll keep working on each week, each month, each year. If it meets a marketplace need, you will be successful. After you get the work done.
Tim is the author of Travel Writing 2.0 as well as several other successful books. His work has been recognized by SATW, NATJA, and the Solas Awards. He has contributed to more than 50 publications as a freelancer and is the editor of five websites and blogs, including the "Best online travel magazine" and the popular Cheapest Destinations Blog, established in 2003.