Resilience: How Bel Around the World Defied the Odds to Become a 5-Figure Blogging Sensation

Anastasia Kampov-Polevoi Anastasia Kampov-Polevoi
Reading time:  6  min.

As Isabel packed her bags for a student exchange program in Europe nine years ago, she had one goal in mind: document everything. Soon, her blogging hobby turned into a full-fledged passion, and she launched Bel Around The World.

Despite initial challenges, including unsupportive friends and the desire to do everything, everywhere, all at once, Isabel taught herself the art of SEO. Now, she not only has a successful blog and a team of writers to support her, but is also an SEO consultant, coach, and Airbnb host.

Read on to learn how Isabel created a travel-blogging enterprise that brings in $10,000 a month.   

No One Believed I Would Make It, But Here I Am

I started Bel Around The World back in 2015. I had purchased a one-way ticket to Europe to begin my first-ever student exchange and wanted a place to document all of my travels over the six-month program. I was diligent about planning itineraries, brainstorming destination ideas, and creating the ultimate bucket list. 

One of the biggest roadblocks I faced was the naysayers. Everyone thought blogging was just a hobby rather than something you could pursue full-time. I even had friends come to me and ask, “So, when do you plan to get a full-time job?” This lack of support for and faith in my dream made it difficult for me to get serious about blogging.  

However, I was able to shake off the naysayers by surrounding myself with people who shared my vision, which allowed me to grow more confident in myself. If there’s one thing to take away from my story, it’s this: as long as you believe in yourself and focus on making it work instead of worrying about what will happen if it doesn’t, your journey will reap rewards.

Blogging for a Living

While my blog itself generates only a couple of income sources, the rest of my income comes from it indirectly. That is, the blog is the heart of my business..

With my blog, I earn from advertising revenue, affiliate revenue, and sponsored posts. But beyond that, I consult on SEO for individual companies and do 1:1 coaching to help bloggers and content creators define their brand and content strategy. 

I also have my own SEO course, do copywriting for companies, and dabble in Airbnb rentals.

Now, you’re probably wondering how I manage to do this all on my own. I did start out running the blog by myself. But for a few years now, I’ve had a team of writers to help me develop content. 

There are certain topics that I’m really passionate about, especially personal development with travel and the unique personal experiences I have on the road. I share these moments in my personal section, and they contain my essence. After all, Bel Around the World is still, at the end of the day, a personal journal of sorts.

How I Got My Blog Where It Is Today

In the beginning, I experimented with different promotional strategies, including posting on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook groups, and Instagram. However, I found that this was too much work for one person to do, and I wasn’t even thinking about how to create content or engage with the travel community. 

Eventually, I found that the best way to grow my blog was not to spend all my energy on promotion, but instead to develop a content strategy and do proper keyword research. Working backward to figure out what audiences are searching for and then creating content based on that was key. With quality content that matches what people want, you’re bound to be listed on Google and eventually rank high. That, for me, was the best way to grow my traffic.

Unfortunately, since Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) in August 2022 and its most recent refresh as part of the March 2024 Core Update, 80% of travel sites have lost traffic. That includes mine, which has been on the decline since mid-2023. At my peak, I had over 40,000 sessions. My last recorded month saw a little over 11,000.

My biggest increase in traffic came in mid-2022 when revenge travel returned post-pandemic. I attributed that to a good traffic audit which I did at the start of 2020.

My secret to improving traffic, however, is SEO. I learned that quality trumps quantity and that even with minimal promotional effort, Google will reward you by listing you high and bringing in audiences organically.

I soon found my groove with SEO and developed a course that encapsulated my nine years of experience blogging in the travel industry: Skyrocket With SEO. I may be biased, but I recommend you check it out, regardless of your SEO maturity. I designed the course to have something for everyone. 

A Peek at My Content

My strategy for creating content is a simple two-step process:

  1. Focus on places I’ve experienced firsthand.
  2. Do research on these destinations to identify potential keywords that have great ranking potential, and then populate my posts with these words. 

Here are my top four posts and how they got to be that way: 

  1. How to Go From Cancun to Tulum, Mexico — 5 Easy Ways!

    This post reached the top thanks to a combination of keyword research, low competition, and clear and succinct writing.
  2. 6 Sensational Clubs in Mykonos, Greece to Party in Paradise

    This post was the result of my noticing that previous posts about “the best clubs” were getting traffic.
  1. Local Recommends 22 Best Things To Do In Tamarindo, Costa Rica

    I demonstrated first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge from staying in Costa Rica for over four months.
  2. 5 Months in Bali — Accurate Cost of Living in Bali, Indonesia!

    I was speaking from personal experience and wanted to share it based on what I felt my audience was curious about. I didn’t do any keyword research — I was speaking from the heart. This was actually a transcript I repurposed from a YouTube video I created.

Where My Revenue Comes From

If I’m counting only direct income from the blog, I make about $3,000 per month. If I count everything, including the services that I offer, the number’s around $10,000.

After SEO, I added ads to my repertoire. The moment I could start running them on my blog, I did. I was really focused on building my traffic, community, and followers so that I could create a good media kit to pitch to brands and get my travels sponsored.

Once I achieved a steady amount of traffic and my blog authority reached a certain level, people started emailing me with requests to advertise on my blog. It quickly became a reliable income stream.

Here’s a breakdown of my blogging income:

A Word on Affiliate Marketing

I’ve known about affiliate marketing for some time now, and while it doesn’t account for the majority of my income, I have found it to be a lucrative and convenient way to monetize my blog. 

I earn the most with Jasper, an AI writing tool I’ve been recommending on my blogging newsletter as a reliable means to speed up the writing process.

I also recently signed up for Travelpayouts, an affiliate platform dedicated to all things travel. The thing that attracted me the most about Travelpayouts was its all-in-one dashboard that allows you to monitor your performance with every brand partner you are affiliated with. And one of my favorite tools is LinkSwitcher, which automatically switches out all old affiliate links to Travelpayouts affiliate links.

I plan to continue dabbling in the world of affiliate marketing, and hopefully I’ll see my earnings grow even more! 

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Some Words of Wisdom

To close, I’d like to offer three pieces of advice that I wish I was given nine years ago, when I started my blogging journey.

Have a Goal in Mind

One piece of advice that I would give my younger self is to have the end goal in mind. Blogging is a tough journey; there are many ways to go about it, a lot of competition, and many shiny new tools and platforms to distract you. 

So, do you want more travel opportunities? Sponsorships? Money? Set your goal and work backward from there.

Don’t Try to Do It All

Another thing I wish I hadn’t done was try to be a jack of all trades. I set out to be good at Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. At the same time, I was trying to get traffic to my blog, and my blogging was all over the place — I wrote about the United States, Latin America, Africa, etc. 

Looking back, I wish I had just stayed true to one course and gotten really good at it, because Google rewards niche bloggers who are really good at what they do.

Focus on What You Love

Pick a topic that’s not just lucrative, but also something you’re passionate about. Remember, you need to be able to continuously create content about it. For me, I knew that I couldn’t keep talking about food — there are only so many adjectives to describe how delicious a mango tastes. 

Think of blogging as a long-term game. You want to combine your interests with a business idea that you can make a living doing what you love.

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