A couple of weeks ago I had an Instagram comment that really annoyed me. It was buried in a lot of text but there it was, staring me boldly in the face: “free travel”.
The comment was in regards to content I had been posting in January about my trip to the Middle East, specifically Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. If you saw these photos or read any of the blog posts, you’ll have noticed I tagged them as sponsored or wrote a disclaimer indicating that I was a guest of Abraham Tours. Not only is this required by Canadian advertising law, but it’s also because I believe in being transparent. Which is why you’re reading this post (ahem, minor rant) here today.
To continue the story, I tried to kindly point out that it wasn’t free travel. Yes, I partnered with Abraham Tours who gave me free tours and accommodation in exchange for promotion through my blog and social media channels (I paid my transportation and food expenses). However, it wasn’t ‘free’. I had deliverables on my end which meant that I didn’t get to treat the trip as a vacation- it was work. I tried to explain this in the comment and was told that what I didn’t wasn’t really considered to be work and that I had to be biased and say nice things since it was (wait for it, here’s that word again) free.
I’m a patient person. I really am. But comments and thoughts like these make me want to throttle someone. Or smash my head into the wall. Or both.
Hey, I’m Canadian. Not perfect.
In fairness, the industry of blogging/ being an influencer/ being a travel writer is not always very transparent which can lead to a lot of confusion. I can’t speak for everyone in this industry in this post since we all have different methods, streams of income, and goals but I’m hoping that by sharing my work and story I can add something to the conversation and prove that while my job may be a ‘dream job’ in many people’s eyes (including mine) it is, at the end of the day, a job that I have to work at to succeed- just like everyone else. So, with that in mind here are 5 things I want you to know about my work.
I don’t have A Job- I Dabble in Many Things to Make a Living
When people ask me what I do, I never know what to tell them. Mainly because it usually takes a solid five minutes to share what I do to make money when all they really want is a simple job title like Teacher, Accountant, or Doctor.
I don’t have a single job title that covers everything I do so I never know what to say. This isn’t because there aren’t job titles to describe what I do, because there are, it’s that my work relies on several income streams that allow me to live and travel the way I do.
I don’t feel right calling myself a blogger. Yes, I’ve been blogging for years and yes I do make money off my blog but it’s not my fulltime income. In 2018, my blog only made up for about ¼ of my total income and while that has increased to becoming half of my income (and hopefully will be more) now in 2019, I still don’t feel right just calling myself a blogger when blog money doesn’t equal my entire paycheque.
I also won’t call myself an influencer. To start with, I actually hate that term. More importantly, I consider influencers to be individuals who rely strongly on social media (primarily Instagram) for their work and income. This is, again, not me. Sure, my Instagram following has helped me partner with some brands and companies, but I’m not making a living directly from Instagram or any other social media platform.
My biggest source of income the past two years has been freelance writing. But, again, it’s not my only income source, so I feel like that’s not quite right either. Especially as I’ve recently switched up what I write about (more on that below).
While this article is about MY job and work, not others, I know that most people in this industry have several revenue streams whether it be blogger and instagrammer, blogger and photographer, instagrammer and social media consultant etc. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to just be one thing in this line of work, but the fact is that most of us do a combination of things to be successful enough to make a living. It’s definitely a balancing act.
Travel Writing Wasn’t Very Lucrative, so I’ve Switched It Up
Above, I mentioned that the majority of my income right now is due to freelance writing. For a long time, this was mainly travel writing which I have always wanted to do and absolutely love. But, in my experience, travel writing (for digital outlets) doesn’t pay well. In fact, a lot of the pay in travel writing is pretty shit. I was spending hours creating content for other websites for a few dollars that amounted up to a very humble income. Sure, it was my dream job but I wasn’t going very far with it. At least not as far as I wanted.
A former travel editor-turned-friend of mine knew I was struggling and convinced me that I needed to break away from travel and look into other topics. After all, at the end of the day, anyone can write about travel. He told me I needed to find something more niche, that fewer people knew how to write about but that readers wanted to know about. So, I somehow got into finance writing. I spent my Christmas holidays reading about loans, savings accounts, credit cards, and investing. Not the most exciting reading material but it’s definitely been worth it.
My best month of 2018 for freelance income was May and I wrote 26 articles for various publications. In January of 2019 I beat that amount by 15% and I only wrote 10 articles. That’s a huge deal. Especially because it allowed me to spend more time creating content for this blog which I’m continuously working on growing and monetizing as well.
While I will always love travel writing and continue creating travel content for some outlets, I’ve definitely realized that, in most situations, my travel stories are best placed on my blog where they can bring me traffic and earn me long-term money through affiliates rather than put a one-time $150 bucks in my pocket.
3. My Press Trips Are Not Free Travel
Now that I’ve explained what I do, I’m getting back to my main pet peeve: the idea that press trips are ‘free travel’.
I haven’t done many press trips (all expenses covered) to be honest, but I have done a few. Most notably: Jamaica, Ireland, Florida, and a Christmas market river cruise with Viking. I have done several more FAMs (familiarization tours- some expenses covered) over the years such as the trip to the Middle East with Abraham Tours. I have also partnered with various hotels and tour groups through my blog and social media.
Here’s how these work.
A PR company/ brand/ tourism board offers me a trip/hotel stay/ tour/experience in exchange for blog coverage or an article for a travel outlet. In some cases, what is expected is laid out ahead of time in the contract. Say, for example, 1 blog posts and social media coverage for each day. Or, an article about the destination in X publication. Some companies aren’t specific and leave the promotion up to me as I see fit, but the expectation is always that there will be deliverables valued at the cost of what I have received.
Seems like a good deal right? What’s a couple of photos and an article for a trip? Well, here’s the behind the scenes bit that you don’t see.
These press trips are often non-stop from 7am- 10pm (or later) and follow a strict schedule that I often have no voice in choosing. I’m expected to show up and be ready to do whatever. I am further expected to make notes and take photos the entire time to ensure that I have the required content for my deliverables which sometimes means I sometimes miss out on actually enjoying the experience because I’m so focused on making sure I get what I need.
Not only are these full days exhausting, but it also means I can’t do any of my other work. No pitching or writing freelance articles for my other clients. No creating monetized blog content for my own website. Nothing- my sole focus has to be on the press trip experience. While this may not seem too bad for a couple of days, it can result in a significant loss of income when trips are a week or longer. After all, I don’t get paid time off while working for myself. Now, full disclosure, some influencers and bloggers do get paid for their time for press trips-many have a daily rate for their work however most of my press trips have been freelance writing related where that’s not an option. Personally, I have never had the opportunity to take a paid press trip.
Finally, once the trip is over, I then need to create the content I promised to deliver as a result of the trip. Now, once again this means that the trip is the main focus so I need to push aside any other work. Also, if the press trip was via my blog, I’m not getting paid for the writing and I normally can’t monetize these posts the same way as I do others (with affiliate links for tours, hotels, etc.) because I need to link to the host company/hotels/tours directly.
So, at the end of the day that ‘free’ trip that seems so enticing is really an insanely hectic work trip that, at the end of the day, actually results in me losing rather than making money.
Now, I’m not saying that these trips are bad- most of them are quite fun. But while the experiences can be enjoyable, they certainly don’t help me pay the bills and they definitely don’t feel like a vacation. To be honest, I much rather paying for my own travel so that I can work as I go (because yes, I’m always working) and do my own thing. I’d say I pay for at least 85% of my adventures for myself.
Oh, and as for the ‘biased’ comment. I say what I want and what I think- press trip or no. I’ve had enough crappy experiences in my travels thanks to poor information and there’s no way I want to set other travellers, especially other solo female travellers, up for bad surprises.
I Work More Now That I Ever Did Before
Working for yourself seems pretty incredible until you actually do it. I thought that I would have more freedom by being my own boss in terms of being able to determine my own hours and schedule. But, the fact is, I have even more pressure on me now working for myself than I ever did before which means I work all the time.
Weekends? What are those? Holidays? Well, maybe in Canada but not for my clients in Israel who need a rush article. As for those 9-5 hours? Well, I’m more like a 7am-7pm if I’m lucky.
Could I say no to things? Sure. But then my clients will just find someone else, and maybe not come to me again for a new project. I need to keep my clients happy to ensure I keep getting work.
Not only do I have clients in different time zones which makes for longer days, but there’s also always something more to do. I always need more blog content. I can always do more work on my social media. I can always pitch for freelance work. Due to this, I never feel like I’m actually done. I constantly think that I need to do more, post more, pitch more and, to be honest, it’s turned me into a bit of a workaholic. I’ve actually gotten to a point where I need to physically shut my phone off around 9pm at night so I can have a couple of hours’ downtime away from the screen to be able to sleep properly.
One of the biggest downfalls of working for myself is that I’m responsible for everything. I don’t have someone to turn to and ask for help if I’m struggling to keep up or if something goes wrong. And trust me, things seem to go wrong on a fairly regular basis for me (technology hates me). It can be overwhelming and has, occasionally, resulted in tears.
Of course there are perks. If there’s a snowstorm, I don’t have to worry about getting to the office and my work wardrobe mainly consists of sweatpants or pj pants and a random soft t-shirt. But at the end of the day, being my own boss means I’m working more hours and longer days than most people I know.
I Don’t Have any Job Security
One of the things I miss the most about my old jobs is the fact that I could count on having regular paychecks every two weeks. When I worked hourly wages some weeks may be higher than others, but I always knew that I had money coming in. Now, I start most months blind and hope for the best.
Last year I monetized my website in terms of having ads and affiliates. While these pay out every month (assuming I hit the minimum), the amounts I make can be significantly different. It depends on the time of year (fourth quarter has a higher budget than first quarter), traffic to my pages (first quarter is significantly higher than fourth quarter), and of course, my readers. Are they just reading for fun? Or, are they actually planning a trip and booking through my links?
Of course, to make money from my blog people need to actually find my articles. I spend a lot of time and effort into doing everything I can to make sure my blog posts rank on Google and while many do, that may change at any minute. The tiniest change in Google’s algorithm can have a huge impact on my website and therefore all aspects of my blog income.
The same goes for social media platforms. Algorithms are constantly changing and affecting my content. Just take a look at my Instagram feed- in summer of 2018 I was hitting 2000 likes on my photos. Now, I’m excited if I hit 500. I haven’t changed the type of content I post; the difference is because of the platform changes.
As for my freelance clients, some are one-offs and some are regular. But even then regular doesn’t always mean consistent. Plus, I’ve learned the hard way that regular can disappear in a second. In 2017 one of the outlets I wrote for closed off their travel section while I was on a press trip in Ireland-creating content for them. That was awkward to tell the tourism board. I’ve also had clients change up contracts on me, dropping my pay rates and telling me I can either accept the change or be taken off their freelance roster. Definitely not a great situation to be in.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on trying to get paid. You wouldn’t believe how often I’ve had to chase people down for my money and the excuses I get are ridiculous. For those curious: the longest I spent hunting someone down for my paycheck was 9 months. Yeah. Not fun.
While I’m proud to say that my income has been steadily increasing since I started working for myself in 2017, I am constantly aware that it can all go to hell overnight and that’s definitely stressful.
At the end of the day, I do love my job and yes, it kind of is a dream job. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. I’ve worked really hard for a really long time to get here- and I’m still busting my ass on a daily basis to ensure that I can keep doing what I do.
So, the next time you read my article about a foreign destination, or double tap my latest Instagram photo where I’m sitting on beach or wandering through an old city, remember that this is only the end result- there’s a ton going on behind the scenes to get to the point where I can share my content with you. I’m not just a lucky girl exploring the world. I’m a hustler working just as hard (if not harder) than everyone else so that I get keep doing what I love.