I Spent $10K Launching My Travel Blog, And Ended Up Broke

travel-edited-main

When I heard a loud crack and saw smoke rising above the hood of my car, I knew I was totally screwed. I was on a road trip through the mountains of Georgia when my 2005 Chevy came to halt on the Interstate. I was on yet another trip I had justified as an investment in my travel blog, even though I hadn’t earned more than a dollar in the two years since I launched it.

A few hours later, I carried all my belongings to a repair shop and waited for a taxi. My car’s engine had died and to replace it would have cost more than the car was worth. I used the majority of my measly savings to get a hotel room and rent a car to get home. It was in this moment that the reality of spending $10,000 last year on trying to start a travel blog really hit me. I had put away nothing for a down payment on a new car, even though my car was at the end of its life.

Do I regret hiking to Machu Picchu, smoking cigars in Cuba, eating barbecue in Austin, or exploring wineries in Oregon? No, but I wish I hadn’t taken an “all-or-nothing” approach to launching my blog as a business when I barely had a trickle of an audience. I started my blog as a way to build myself a life raft when I saw my career options as a newspaper reporter dwindle. To me, it was always more than a hobby.

I believed in the mantra of the majority of travel blogs I read, in which you are encouraged to be irresponsible for the sake of living life to the fullest. I believed that the only way to live life to the fullest was to quit your day job, and buy a plane ticket without giving it more than a second thought.

I stopped short of quitting my job, but the appeal of leaving it all behind and earning a living as a travel blogger was the shiny object I chased at all cost. I signed up for travel-blogging courses, threw money at Facebook ads to build my audience, and paid hundreds of dollars for a website and logo.

And that doesn’t include the amount of money I spent traveling. Working full-time prevented me from embarking on long-term travel abroad, but I squeezed in a couple of international trips and shelled out for weekend trips as much as possible. I lived cheaply, got roommates, and took on a second job bartending to help fund my blog. As soon as I’d finish a work binge and stashed cash in the bank, I’d turn around and spend it on another trip. I saw every trip as an investment into what I thought would eventually become a revenue-generating blog to offset the cost of traveling once I built the audience. But that has yet to happen.

I do think you can make a sustainable side income off travel blogging, and those who work consistently hard may even turn it into a full-time gig. But it’s a slow crawl for most of us who can’t take that leap and buy a one-way ticket to an exotic country.

For me, the chase-your-dreams-at-all-cost mentality came with a price. In my pursuit of a nomadic, no-strings-attached life, I painted myself into a corner that landed me with very little savings and a broken down car.

If I could impart advice to my younger self, I would say: think about the life you want and then what it will take to have this life without any financial strain, and without living so close to the edge that you are one step away from a financial emergency. Even if it takes you longer to achieve your goal because you need to make a financial plan, take the time to plan properly.

I ended up buying a gently used car that I’m happy with and is within my means. Having reliable transportation is a new level of security that I haven’t had for the last couple of years, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction. But it’s not lost on me that the money I’m now putting toward a car could have bought me a domestic flight every month for the next five years. However, I want to recommit myself to keeping my finances order, instead of over-investing in a side hustle that isn’t making me a lot of money yet.

This change in my life will likely mean some changes for my blog and put my weekend adventures and future trip plans on hold. For me, working on my blog and traveling will always be a priority, but I need to reevaluate what I’m willing to give up to make it happen and move forward in a more financially responsible way.

Lacey runs Parachute Journalist, a blog about her misadventures, but is currently taking a hiatus from traveling and throwing dinner parties instead. She is on Twitter

Image via Unsplash

In-Post Social Banners_Facebook-02

  • Thank you for this. I, too, have a travel blog (kinda on hiatus as I’m not longer traveling) and was bombarded by the travel blog community with messages that were largely “quit your job and become a nomad or live an unfulfilling life stuck in the rat race forever” and “travel now, the money will sort itself out later.” I get very frustrated by the all-or-nothing approach to travelling and blogging and repeatedly reading about how I’m selling myself short by staying employed full time while traveling.

    • Summer

      Those notions are all so ridiculous. Unless you have a FAT savings account and/or are expecting a large windfall of cash, I’d like to know how exactly this money will “sort itself out” later on (or how it will magically appear in the first place to kick off this life of nOtHiNg BuT tRaVeL).

    • Well said Claire! I’m so glad I never quit my day job for my blog. At one point I was seriously contemplating becoming a freelance writer and bartending so I could travel more.But my lack of savings made that jump seem super scary. I finally did leave my newspaper job but for one with more time off and flexible hours that would allow me to bring more travel into my life. I think having a blog is such a great creative outlet and knowing that several hundred people read something I’ve written every month is a huge source of satisfaction. I think seeing it as a creative project rather that a business that I would need to survive on takes a lot of pressure of and makes it fun again. And even though I haven’t made money off it, it opened a ton of doors, like the job I have now and an at-cost trip with a Cuba tour group last spring. I hope you keep writing and expressing yourself through your blog because it is an invaluable outlet for exposure.

  • six6sixwitch

    Doesn’t get more “First World Problems” than this…

    • Kat

      This is such a reductive comment to make. Speaking generally, it kind of always is, but in this particular case, all I can say is…is that really all you got out of this piece? I for one think it’s a brave thing to admit to yourself and on a public forum, no less — that in chasing this idealized life where you live with “no regrets” and embrace spontaneity, you may have been a little too careless. That maybe being spontaneous and being safe don’t have to be binary concepts. That so many of these narratives in our culture that romanticize the idea of throwing all of your security away to chase a dream don’t mention the price that one often has to pay for taking such a big risk.

      Or, you know, you could just comment with some faux-clever mimetic catch phrase and not give it a second thought.

      • six6sixwitch

        I’m sorry for you think this story is any deeper than it is. Let me fix the title for ya: “Affluent dreamer starchild throws life savings into pipe dream career of profiting from sponsored Instagram selfies, loses money, “. Welcome to the world of grownups. It’s not a revelation OR a cause for pity. Try sharing this story with working adults who have to make actual sacrifices and compromises on the daily and see how many LOLS you’ll get. Or just call it being” redictive”

        • Summer

          Except….she IS sharing this story with “working adults who have to make actual sacrifices and compromises on the daily.” Perhaps you’ve noticed that this is a personal finance community? Meaning, the people who come here are probably very well-versed in making financial compromises, seeking websites like this one for advice and to find common ground with others who are (or were) in similar situations.
          What makes her pursuit more ridiculous than any other professional venture that requires initial investment and carries the possibility of limited success? MOST professional endeavors carry some level of risk, so what makes travel blogging such a “pipe dream” over anything else?
          She tried something, it didn’t quite work out, she learned a lesson and is moving forward accordingly. Please advise how this is a “vapid” story.

      • crestind

        “That so many of these narratives in our culture that romanticize the
        idea of throwing all of your security away to chase a dream don’t
        mention the price that one often has to pay for taking such a big risk.”

        I mean wasn’t it obvious from the beginning though? I’m not a travel blogger, though I’ve been conscious of the concept for a while now. Today I decided to Google “travel blog illusion” because for so long I have wondered how do these travel bloggers even make money?

        From my observations, travel bloggers are overwhelmingly in the 20s and early 30s when youth and idealism are at their peak. Rational thinking and planning abilities, maybe not so much. How will people travel blog in the 30s and 40s when their energy is waning? Sure everything looks like roses when you’re making only $3k a month in your 20s, but how about when you are older? 40s, 50s? Is that really going to be enough? What about when you’re 60? Wouldn’t one be flat broke and reduced to working some horrific job by then without a backup plan?

  • Aryn Hill

    What timing for this article! I also have a travel blog that I’ve been running for three years that I decided to put to rest just last night. As much as I love travel, I just wasn’t seeing the progress of a three-year-old blog that I wanted to see and my audience (while not horribly small) was nothing compared to other blogs. Also the need to constantly be on social media to promote was driving me crazy. Counting trips, camera gear, and website design, I’ve probably put $4,000 into my blog and only made $400 on advertisements.

    I think the travel blog community has definitely been telling a bit of a lie when it comes to the whole “travel now, the money doesn’t matter!” mantra and a lot of the bigger bloggers that I follow are starting to admit that. Many bloggers are starting to seem so weary, like they hate what they’re doing and they just want to settle into a home and have a desk job.

    To those who are adamant that being a travel blogger is their dream job, you need two things to be successful. 1) A gimmick. No one cares about just a regular person traveling the world. 2) You’ve got to tweet, pin, and share on Facebook like your life depends on it. If you’re not traveling, you must constantly be updating your Instagram and Snapchat to keep people interested.

    • Thanks Aryn! Coming from a journalistic background, I really struggled on how to monetize the blog without feeling like I was blurring the lines between advertorial content and losing credibility with readers. I had always envisioned a really honest blog that talked about my struggles, finances and featured narrative travel stories that had depth. I think your observances are so true. Thanks for sharing. It made me feel so much better about putting this embarrassingly honest post out into the world!

      • Tracy Antonioli

        Yes! That’s the issue exactly! I have never monetized my blog (of almost seven years) for exactly that reason; I want to be honest always. And now I see all of these bloggers, touting ‘live the dream’ and creating content which can only be described as poorly veiled long-form commercials. I don’t plan to stop blogging because it is something which brings me joy and because it has taken me to amazing places and introduced me to some awesome people. But I’m also never going to make it my full time job and I’m most definitely not going to tell others to do so.

        Best of luck to you on whatever path you choose!

  • Vv

    “you are encouraged to be irresponsible for the sake of living life to the fullest”
    I never quite understood why people adopt this mentality. It might be my being from a “developing” country, but living life to the fullest often involves a ton of planning. The universe won’t go out of its way to harm you, but it also won’t go out of its way to help you. You have to go after the things you want while making contingency plans (and bank accounts).

  • What are your thoughts on spending money on Facebook ads? I’ve never done that for FinancialSamurai.com, but I’m thinking maybe I should?

    I wrote a book on how to negotiate a severance instead of quitting. Did you ever think about engineering your layoff in order to provide for a financial runway to do your travel blog? I was pretty nervous about leaving my job so I had a three month discussion with my managers to get laid off with a severance to focus on Financial Samurai.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I don’t think you’ll ever regret those awesome travel experiences!

    Sam