Do you dream of becoming a travel blogger?

If you’re like many of the people who email me, then your answer is a resounding YES. I mean, who wouldn’t want to travel the world and get paid for it?

Every week, I get emails from people asking “How do I do what you do?” “How do I start a travel blog and earn money from it?”

And my response? I’m probably not the best person to ask.

Because here’s the honest truth: I earn pretty much nothing from this blog.

Susan Shain travel blogger
There you have it — the truth!

I’d venture to say that most travel bloggers are in a similar position; probably only the top 100 travel bloggers earn any sort of significant income — and they’re working their asses off for it. Not to mention, many of them lead very low-cost lifestyles (no mortgage, car payments, etc) and/or still supplement their income through other work.

I maintain Travel Junkette because I believe in the power of travel. I want to spread the idea that travel is possible for anyone and everyone. Every time I receive an email or tweet from someone whom I’ve motivated or taught something, it makes it all worth it.

In addition to being my passion project, this blog has also been a good platform for me to meet people online, establish my personal brand, and practice the skills I use in the rest of my work. I also sometimes get travel perks, like free/discounted hotels and activities. But, as you’ll see below, I make very little money from it.

So… How Do I Earn Money Online?

That being said, I do earn my income entirely online. I make enough money to support myself and travel when and where I please — all I need is my laptop and an internet connection. Whatever you choose to call me — location-independent, remote worker, digital nomad, solopreneur — that’s what I am, and it’s a lifestyle you can attain as well. (If you’re curious exactly how much I make (and how I budget), let me know; maybe that’ll be a topic for a future post!)

Whether you dream of travel blogging, working online, or are simply one of my friends and family members who wonder how the hell I earn money (yes, I actually do work!), keep reading. I’ll share exactly how I earn money, as well as resources for learning more about how to do it yourself.

[Tweet “One #travel blogger reveals the surprising truth about how she earns a living online:”]

To start, here’s a visual representation of the different ways I earn money; I’ll delve into each category below. To create this, I tallied up what I’ve earned so far in 2014.

how travel bloggers earn money online


Content marketing

Content marketing is how I got started earning money online, and to this day, it is still my bread and butter. This is the new way of marketing; it involves creating and sharing valuable content to engage a community. It’s entertaining and educating the consumer to build a relationship — rather than pushing a sale on them.

It’s probably easiest to understand if I give an example. Let’s take Birchbox, a company which sells a beauty product subscription service. They have an entire online magazine with beauty articles, tutorials, and videos. They also have a killer Instagram account. The people they want to reach (women who like makeup and beauty products) read and share this free content, which builds their brand, exposure, and community. Make sense?

I get hired by small businesses to do similar things (albeit on a much smaller scale), with duties like:

  • Writing posts for a company blog
  • Growing social media presences by posting engaging content (mostly on Twitter and Facebook)
  • Reaching out to other bloggers and working with them on the company’s behalf
  • Ghostwriting guest posts for other blogs and websites to increase brand awareness
  • Contacting publications in hopes of getting press coverage (new wave PR)
  • Writing and sending email newsletters

To learn more about content marketing, I recommend: Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger, Social Media Examiner, Contently, Laura Roeder, Buffer, and Alexis Grant (who I work for!).

Freelance writing and editing

This is the other major portion of my income, and something I hope to expand upon in the next year.

I get paid to write articles for various websites; some are regular gigs, and some are one-time opportunities. You can find a full listing in my Contently portfolio, though not all of these articles were paid assignments. Among my regular gigs is writing newsletters for The Credit Card Fly (which I’m including here because I think many of you will be interested in it).

Editing is another duty I enjoy, though I don’t do as much of it. I recently left my position as editor of a personal finance blog to pursue other projects, and have previously been hired to edit ebooks.

To learn more about freelance writing and editing, I recommend: The Write Life, Make a Living Writing, Leaving Work Behind, Be a Freelance Blogger, and Freelance Folder.


On rare occasions, I publish sponsored posts, which means a company’s paid me to include a link to their website in a post. It pays pretty well, but I only do this with companies I like and trust. I’ve also just started experimenting with banner ads — but I don’t think they’re worth it with my current traffic levels. In the month I’ve had my BlogHer and Google Adsense ads up, I’ve earned a whopping $10. If I had a ton of traffic, they might make me more than a Chipotle burrito.

The sole reason this category is bigger than affiliate sales is because I included the value of discounted or free hotels, activities, and car rentals I’ve received as a blogger this year.

I don’t take advantage of this very often, mainly because it involves a lot of work and planning. You need to know exactly where you’re going to be and what you’ll want to do — weeks or months ahead of time — then email back and forth with the vendor, write about it, and share it on social media. (This is what I mean when I say professional bloggers work their asses off.) I’m not a big fan of the lack of freedom that comes with all that planning, so I usually just pay up.

To learn more about blogging, I recommend: ProBlogger, Travel Blog Success, Boost Blog Traffic, Quicksprout, and Jeff Bullas.

Affiliate sales

An affiliate sale is when I endorse a product, you buy it through my link, and in turn, I get a cut (either in the form of cash or credits).

For example, if you book with HotelTonight and use the code “Junkette25”, I earn $25 towards my next stay (as do you). The same goes with my airbnb link. Don’t worry, though; I only endorse products I use and love — because that would be pretty shitty if I didn’t.

The biggest way I earn cash rewards is through Amazon’s affiliate program. If you surf to Amazon through my link, and purchase anything, I earn a small percentage of your purchase — at no cost to you. I’ve done well by promoting my favorite juicing products on my DIY juice cleanse page, and I’m planning to soon create a packing list page with all of my favorite travel gear.

Random gigs

I’ve also done random gigs here and there, from designing images on Canva to creating websites. I’m not a web designer or coder, but I have helped friends with their sites before — using WordPress and a paid theme (usually from my fave Elegant Themes). However, this isn’t something I advertise, since there are people who are much better at it than I am.

Future ideas

The biggie: I’m in the process of writing an ebook, which I plan to sell here on the site. I’m really excited about it — make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter so you hear about it first!

I’d also like to earn money from travel coaching. I offer free travel coaching sessions — which I absolutely love — but I would eventually like to add some paid clients to the roster.

Eating at Yum Yum in Dahab, Egypt
I take my paychecks in the form of dirt-cheap Egyptian food.

Do You Want to Earn Money Online?

I hope this post clarified how this small-time travel blogger earns money online. What do you think? Do you still want to be a travel blogger?

If so, I’d recommend thinking about ways you can earn money in addition to travel blogging.

Can you sell jewelry on Etsy? Can you write freelance articles about your hometown? Can you learn to code websites? Can you sell your graphic design skills?

Figure out where your skills lie, and then start building a business from there. By all means, travel and blog, but remember that you’re still going to have to pay the bills somehow. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

Here are a few of my favorite general resources for learning how to make a living online:


The Suitcase Entrepreneur (and blog)

The Art of Non-Conformity (and blog)

The Four-Hour Workweek (and blog)

Be a Free Range Human (and blog)


The Lifestyle Entrepreneur

The Fizzle Show

The Lively Show

The Solopreneur Hour

Screw the Nine to Five


Location 180

One Woman Shop

Live Your Legend

Wanalee at Chiang Thai Elephant Center
Going to elephant mahout camp in Thailand = worth it.

I’ll part by saying: I love the career I’ve created for myself. It gives me the freedom to travel and spend time with my loved ones. But it is a lot of work, and it does come with its downsides. (Rather than list them here, I’ll just share a link to a hilariously true comic from The Oatmeal: why working at home is both awesome and horrible.)

That being said, will I ever get a regular 9-5 job? NO. I work really hard — but I do so when and where I want, and working more (usually) results in earning more. Sure, I wish I had a 401K and paid vacation, but after being self-employed for the past year, the thought of someone dictating my schedule and earning power makes me shudder.

As I’ve said a million times, travel is for everyone. It doesn’t matter how you make it happen — be it through seasonal jobs, travel blogging, or other forms of online work — just figure out what works for you and give it your all.

[Tweet “#Travel is for everyone. Just figure out what works for you and give it your all.”]

What other questions do you have about earning money online? Did anything from this post surprise you?