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Secrets of Making Five Figures Monthly from a Travel Blog – The Story of VirginiaTravelTips.com

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Megan Starr and Aram Vardanyan began their travel blog as an attempt to share their love for traveling with others and have fun. Over time, their hobby turned into their main source of income and became a full-fledged business. Megan and Aram shared their first-hand experience on how to create a travel blog that generates over $60,000 per month. 

How It All Began

Megan: I’m from the United States, but over a decade ago, I was living in Norway and, to be honest, I like traveling to post-Soviet countries. That part of the world has always intrigued me.

Post-Soviet countries

I started documenting trips around the Eastern Block and talking about my life in Norway and my travels in Eastern Europe and beyond. In 2018, I traveled to Armenia during the revolution. It was not my first time there, but during that visit, I met Aram and we decided to start working together.

Right now we run four websites:

Three are destination-specific sites and one is very general. The general site is the one we decided to work on together. 

We both had similar goals and decided to work, travel, and do all the necessary marketing stuff as a team. Both of us have very different personalities, which worked out well. For example, Aram is more analytical, while I am more practical. We just knew we wanted to do business together and gave it a shot. So far, it’s been an awesome experience.

I had been working on my first blog as a hobby for so long. Before I started to properly monetize my blog, I worked a 9-to-5 remote job and did various tasks as a freelancer. For example, I have worked with a Norwegian company called Stay.com, provided my services as an English teacher, and more. 

When I decided to monetize my first website, I realized, almost overnight, that I could make enough money to turn it into my full-time job. I guess that, for all those years, I had been able to make my blog into a full-time job, but chose not to.

Our First Blog Income

Megan: In 2017, I had no idea how to monetize my blog. I never even paid much attention to my traffic or other statistics. I just wrote for fun and, while I knew I had an audience, I didn’t realize what I was sitting on. After signing up with one of the ad networks, I realized that I could make enough that I truly didn’t have to do any other work anymore. 

I still remember that day. I was in Sofia (Bulgaria) and was tired of teaching English. One of my friends suggested that I place ads on my blog, just to see what happens overnight. So, I registered with Mediavine to display ads on my blog. As soon as they approved me, I was able to make enough money that I no longer needed to teach English.

I started with Mediavine because everybody else was using it and my blog suited their requirements. At the time, the network had lower requirements, just 25,000 readers per month (now, it’s 50,000), which I had already met. 

At that time, I didn’t even pay any attention to SEO, but was organically attracting between 40,000 to 50,000 readers per month. It was quite easy as I wrote about Eastern Europe and the Eastern Bloc, which meant I had almost no competition. Whenever somebody was looking for content on Kazakhstan or Ukraine, they would come to me. 

I discovered affiliate marketing just one year later, when I decided to take blogging more seriously, and, from that time, affiliate marketing became a major part of our strategy.

How to Make Five Figures From a Travel Blog

You 100% need to know your audience. There are so many people who don’t know who they’re writing for and what they’re looking for.

For example, if you’re writing for an American audience in the United States, you’re not going to sell rental cars for regional or local travel blogs because people already have their own cars. Furthermore, Americans who are travelling to Europe don’t want to rent cars. They’re terrified of driving in Europe, as they don’t understand the system. As a result, they are more likely to book a tour instead of a car. 

With this in mind, VirginiaTravelTips does not sell any tours. People don’t want to book tours in their local area. Moreover, they all have their own cars and don’t need to rent one. Of course, an international visitor might book a car, but our audience is American. This is why you should 100% know your audience and their needs.

USA traffic

The secret of earning a high income is all about knowing who you’re writing for.

Monetization Methods

We monetize our websites using several methods:

  • Contextual advertisements
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Sponsored posts

We try not to make sponsored posts a big part of our strategy. I think a lot of bloggers operate with that same thought process. With that said, our Armenia website is very different from the others. There are many tourism development opportunities in Armenia and we work on tourism initiatives with both the UN and EU. We have also done a lot of free promotion, as it is so rewarding to help the community. In fact, we have been helping the community even before we began to make money. For example, we have partnered with organizations, such as People in Need and the USAID.

Currently, we make about $60,000 per month. Our entire operation is run by the two of us and some paid employees. Our total expenses for all blogs are always around $1,000 ($2,000 at the very most).

It’s best to examine the income level based on the RPM (Revenue Per Mile). Currently, we earn no less than $35 per 1,000 sessions (this is the worst case), but sometimes our RPM is far more. For example, on Black Friday, our RPM reached $100.

I would say our RPM is higher than that of most other travel bloggers. I’m not certain why, but I guess it’s because we write long articles. Furthermore, we have high American traffic these days.

In the summer, VirginiaTravelTips alone generates about $70 per 1,000 sessions. During COVID, of course, the RPM was far lower, but now we’re making substantially more (sometimes $80 or even $100).

Affiliate Marketing

We started working heavily with affiliate marketing in 2019. Right now, we don’t have too many affiliate programs, but we work intensively with the ones in Travelpayouts, such as GetYourGuide, Viator, and Booking.com.

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While we do work directly with some affiliate programs, we also partner with Adrenaline Hunter, which is not available in the Travelpayouts partnership platform.

To be successful in affiliate marketing, it’s essential to understand what your audience needs as travelers. For example, if you know that most of your audience is made up of budget travelers going to expensive destinations, you should offer them budget options. You can help them book their hotel and lead them to a discounted tour.

I think many travel bloggers start out and get frustrated. For example, new bloggers might offer GetYourGuide tours to locals in Arizona, but those locals won’t click on that offer, since they’re just going to drive their car to see the Grand Canyon themselves. Again, always consider who you are writing for and offer them services that fit their needs. 

You should also choose the appropriate brand for your audience. For example, we’ve noticed that Viator does well for the United States and Asia, while GetYourGuide is best for Europe. People in the US are not really familiar with GetYourGuide and brand awareness impacts the final conversion rate.

We also turn off ads on specific, affiliate-driven posts. A lot of our high-earning affiliate posts have the ads turned off, as we want people to click on the affiliate link and not ads, which might pop up with the same offer. On these pages, we may receive a higher income from affiliate programs than from display ads.

Traffic Sources

Google is the main traffic source for all our websites. We care about SEO, which is why we analyze topics and conduct keyword research before writing an article.

We don’t do much social media marketing and, to be honest, I don’t see Instagram as a perspective marketing channel, as you can’t monetize an Instagram page unless you receive sponsorships. Even though Instagram is a great for inspiration, there are better platforms for social media marketing.

If you are looking for a good entry point in 2022, TikTok might be the best choice. Bloggers who started just a year ago have millions of followers and earn five figures of monthly income. 

The Impact of COVID

When COVID hit us, we knew that our audience was American and could no longer travel to Europe as a result of the restrictions. This was an issue, since we had always focused a lot on European content. 

We completely stepped back and began focusing on our content. We began talking a lot about the national parks in the US that I had visited throughout my life. We started writing about these parks and other US-related topics, which came easily to me, as I grew up in the US and traveled a lot.

We kept all the existing content on our main website, which is the one focused on general travel specifically in Scandinavia and the former Soviet countries. We simply changed our focus and started writing a lot of content about the United States.

In 2020, we began the virginiatraveltips.com website as well as a Hawaii-focused website. VirginiaTravelTips is now becoming one of our primary money earners. To maintain all our websites, we also hired some writers to assist with content creation.

Travel Content

For a while, the most popular content on our websites was articles like “Things to Know Before You Move to Norway”, but we’ve changed our strategy over time. Starting in 2019, we began to conduct deep keyword research on what people want to know. Before COVID hit, we were growing quickly.

COVID was the catalyst for a major shift, as before the pandemic, we used to just write about whatever we wanted to. Later, we realized the importance of SEO. Fortunately, I already had some SEO experience from when I was doing it for companies as a freelancer. 

We realized that our writings kind of cater to an audience of grumpy, 50-plus-year-old white males from the US because the stuff we were writing was one-dimensional. As a result, we began making our content a bit more robust. 

Our main platform to share travel content is a blog, which people visit to find specific answers. Coming back to Instagram – it’s great for inspiration, but trying to use the platform to get into the travel business these days isn’t smart. People won’t usually book a service via Instagram, so I believe you need to run a standalone blog to cover your audience’s needs and earn money in the travel niche. Here are just a few tips for blogging:

  • People want to find experts in a certain region. Provide them with the sort of quality content that they’re hungry for.
  • Website loading speed is important, so make sure your site loads quickly.
  • Some people come to an article for a quick answer, so help them by putting a summary at the top of your article. You can even add affiliate links.
  • Widgets don’t work that well and often slow down your site. However, links work well.
  • On very specific posts that are affiliate-driven, you can turn off other ads. We turned off the ads on high-earning affiliate posts because we want people to click the affiliate links and not the ads, which might pop up with the same offer or information.

Looking forward, Megan and Aram are dreaming even bigger. They are in the process of opening a media company and helping locals who are looking to attract more tourists, including in Aram’s home country of Armenia.

Want to share your story? Travelpayouts welcomes all bloggers with any travel-related experience. Write to us at an@travelpayouts.com with the following subject: “Story for the Travelpayouts Blog”.