Beyond Competition: Maria’s Unique Path in Crafting the Always Pack Tissues Blog

Maria Kuznetsova Maria Kuznetsova
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Maria DiCicco, the creator, owner, and writer of the Always Pack Tissues blog, as well as a Travelpayouts partner and ambassador, shared with us the story of how she began her blogging journey, her insights on measuring a blogger’s success, and practical tips for working with the Viator partner program.

Beyond Competition: Maria's Unique Path in Crafting the Always Pack Tissues Blog

The Birth of the Always Pack Tissues Blog and My “Adult Gap Year”

My story is perhaps a common one, but for me I felt like I’d just defied everything I’d ever known when I quit my job and started blogging full time one year ago. 

My career after college led me on a 15 year path through many grounded and stable roles from Systems Engineering to Project Management, most notably all in government contracting or software companies. My career led me to manage a team of project managers and situated me in a high powered position within my last company. I had status, respect, and a lot of cash, but something was missing. 

Before blogging became my full time career, I started dabbling with it as a hobby. After less than a year with my blog, I gained the support of my family to leave my technical life behind – at least for a period – to see what else was out there. To see if I could succeed in this new passion, and honestly, to give myself a little career break. I was calling it the “Adult Gap Year” and convincing myself that I’d go back to my old life soon enough.

How I Realized That Blogging Was the Right Path for Me

A year after the gap began, I’m more gung ho than ever to make this blog succeed, and I feel like I’m really on the right path. My traffic is, truthfully, much lower than I expect from the level of work I’ve put in, but if I compare it to a year ago – wow! I can see the progress, slow and steady. I hear stories of reaching Mediavine (with 50,000 sessions) within 9 months and I’m over here saying wait, really? I’m at about 2,000 views a month. What’s going on?

So here’s what really has me thinking: what is the measure of success for a blogger? Is it money? Traffic? Or here’s a kicker, happiness? The blogosphere is in a twitter over Google updates and AI madness, and I’m over here just trying to make a splash. 

But here’s where I feel I outshine my “competition” – I don’t have competition. This isn’t about other bloggers. It’s about my readers, it’s about me. With strong SEO, a penchant for siphoning as much knowledge as I can about blogging, and a stern determination to build this dream, I keep going. Traffic or no traffic, bookings or no bookings. 

I have a little post-it note on my desk that’s been there since the beginning. “If you build it, they will come”, it says. 

Of course as my blogging journey continues I am having to do more keyword research and more work to make a post rank, but in essence I’m just here to be a storyteller. I hate to call myself a digital nomad or a social influencer, because I’m not. I’m not here for the follows and the clicks. I simply want to get the word out there about some cool places around the globe. And, alright, the affiliate earnings don’t hurt!

How Much Money Does Blogging Bring In and What Else I Make Money From

Right now I actually have multiple income streams, 90% of them being independent of the blog. My income streams vary but are largely from writing for other publications. I’m a regular contributor to at least three online publications, including a digital magazine called International Living. 

With these other writing jobs, I’m building experience, expertise, authority with Google, and strong backlinks, so in essence it all eventually ties back to building the blog and my brand. 

All of this may seem independent of the blog, but branding is important to recognition and trust, so the more I get myself out into the world, the more the world will know Always Pack Tissues. That’s the idea, anyway!

Right now I’m averaging less than $200 a month on my blog earnings. It may sound meager to anyone reading this, but honestly, it’s OK! I know I am building a pipeline. In fact, I’ve got four pending bookings in the tube right now and I can’t wait to see those dollars roll in!

My Journey in Monetizing My Blog

When I started my blog, I joined Google Adsense. I WISH I knew what I know now, because I completely failed and got the boot from them only weeks into my journey. It’s like a shame I have to carry through my blogging career, “in bad standing” – so how on earth am I supposed to get into a good ad network now? Enter, affiliate marketing.

I loved Booking.com but the system on its own was so irritating. I couldn’t ever get past the sign up screen. Really! (Now I partner with Booking.com through Travelpayouts). 

So, I went to the next easy choice – Amazon Affiliates, which I have to say is doing pretty well! 

Besides Amazon, I’m currently enrolled in CJ Affiliates, a basic non-earner for me but the widgets are fun to make and the variety of programs is awesome, and of course, I am also enrolled in Travelpayouts. 

As I learned the ropes with affiliate marketing, it became evident early on that Travelpayouts was a standout for user interaction. I can easily navigate through my dashboard and earnings, click rate and metrics, and making tools like links, widgets or banners is a breeze. With the other affiliate programs, honestly I’m still trying to figure out the best way to leverage them. The Travelpayouts platform has been easy from the start.

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Analyzing my stats last year, my top two earners for clicks (and eventual bookings) through the Travelpayouts platform were with Viator and Booking.com. 

There are top articles that bring bookings to me: 

Tips for Achieving Success With the Viator Partner Program

  • Viator has a new widget tool for creating ‘one tour’ widgets. This is a real game changer, if you ask me. I’m able to not only recommend a tour with linking text, but now I can have a visual aid as well. I believe that people are much more likely to click on the exact tour versus a round up of three random tours, which can look more like an ad.
  • Between the affiliate options, links and widgets work best for me, with banners mainly being a ‘filler’ when there are too many big blocks of text without images. The banners end up looking like ads to a reader, so the click rate isn’t as high as with the other options. The nice thing about Viator banners though, is they are typically relevant to any destination guide post since I’m always suggesting tours in that medium.
  • While I occasionally use tables or charts, I find the table formatting never looks quite right across platforms (mobile/desktop) though and favor descriptive paragraphs about a tour or activity, with good anchor text to tie it back to the URL.
  • In addition to linking text, I create a mixture of buttons like “learn more” or “book now” that link to a specific tour URL.
  • For many travelers it seems like having transportation is the biggest draw to the tours they are booking. Anything with transport creates a hassle-free day where tourists can spend more time enjoying the locations vs. struggling with traffic, avoiding drinking and driving, and pricey car rentals. I try to add value to my readers by engaging them first in a topic or destination, listing how I went about doing the activity on my own, and then providing options for tours that will take the guesswork out for them. 

Right now my top selling tours are for day trips in Nassau, Bahamas, a super popular cruise destination. Others include Key West, Florida and other typical vacation spots. 

Funny enough, the tours being booked aren’t typically the ones I am suggesting, which means the cookie durations are really winning in my favor. The fact of the matter is, it was my site that got them browsing on Viator, and that’s enough sometimes!

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