What’s it really like to be a travel blogger?

When I meet new people and tell them what I do for a living, very few people actually understand what exactly a travel blogger does or how we make money. So I thought that as Roving Reporter and I travel around Vietnam this week, I would write something a little different. I will cover some of the most commonly asked questions.

How or why did I start Turning Left for Less?

The TLFL team at the Phoenix tier point run meet up L-R Paul, Claudio and Michele

I started the blog about two and half years ago. I was previously in air traffic control for 23 years, first as a controller and then as a manager. Unfortunately, in 2016 I needed a kidney transplant and I decided to use this an opportunity to change career to something a little less stressful and demanding. My passion had always been travelling so I thought I would try to find something that could use this. I had always been good at finding luxury travel bargains so it seemed natural to concentrate on this area – something I knew about. At the time there were no blogs covering excatly what I was interested in reading, so I thought I would give me own a go!

 

Is it easy to start a blog and does it cost much to run?

It seemed quite straight forward to start a blog when I did a bit of research. Stupidly I thought I would build my own website using Youtube videos to guide me. Some aspects were fairly straight forward as many options can be done for you when using WordPress – the platform most blogs use. However, some seemingly simple things such as centring a photo required coding – something I had no idea about! There are also lots of other aspects to learn such as how to rank in google, how to make money, how to make sure you get PR companies to send you information (you would think they would want to, but no!). If you just want to do a very simple personal blog, it’s quite easy. The complications come if you want to run it as a business which requires a lot more thought.

Again if you want to run a personal blog you can do it for next to nothing. However, when you start running a blog with a high number of readers it starts to get a lot more expensive. We have to pay for things such as hosting that can cope with the viewing figures and not crash if we get a surge, support to do all the techy stuff I don’t have a clue about, mailing lists which cost money, equipment for travelling such as cameras and of course, all the travel which gives me stuff to write about!

 

How did the team evolve?

Initially, I started the blog on my own but Roving Reporter soon came on board to submit the occasional review. The rest of the team don’t do this full time. Paul, Claudio and Roving Reporter all have other jobs and contribute about their travels when they get the time.

Mrs B used to work with me in air traffic control and as a frequent traveller, she fancied sharing her travel experiences with TLFL readers. I met Claudio through my BA Gold + GGL facebook group that I administer. We have regular social events which I have made many new friends from! Claudio now mainly concentrates on being Editor of TLFL Brazil but still contributes to TLFL UK as well.

Finally, Paul came on board nearly a year ago. Paul and I met through FlyerTalk where you may know him as Teledude – responsible for many a social occasion for the BA FT forum! It soon became clear that Paul’s expertise and flexibility would make him able to take on more than just writing reviews, so late last year he became Deputy Editor. Paul often attends events in my place when I am away travelling.

How do bloggers make money?

Most bloggers make money in one of three ways – advertising, affiliate links and sponsored posts. Most of the TLFL income comes from advertising. Sponsored posts are where a company pays money for you to write an article about them or we publish an article they have written. This is something we have not done up until now as I don’t accept anything that isn’t a fit with TLFL readers and that I am sure is a decent product. I wouldn’t rule it out for the future if the right company was interested though. We do get given products for free to review occasionally.

Affiliate links are where the blog gets a small amount back on any sales they generate through a link in an article. We do use these on TLFL although many airlines don’t offer affiliate links and those that do offer very low commission. We write about all airlines, hotels and offers regardless of whether there is any sort of commission.  I generally choose what to write about based on how good the deal is. Also whether I think it is something that is of interest to a fairly wide group of readers – so I’m probably not going to feature a flight from Tehran to Addis Ababa, even if it’s a great deal!

What most people don’t realise is it takes 18 months to 2 years to start making any sort of liveable income. Then it’s only the bare minimum usually unless you are able to invest a lot up front in advertising and marketing. Most bloggers work 2 jobs initially until they can afford to go full time on the blog.

 

Sounds like the perfect job – surely you just sit around in first class drinking champagne?

Champagne in the Concorde room 

Well, yes sometimes we do! But unbelievably that does get tiring – not so much enjoying the champagne but sometimes we would just like to get on and enjoy the flight as it is without having to take notes and pictures. Often I don’t really want to eat much and would rather just go to sleep but I need to sample at least a few bits to make a decent review!

It is also difficult when travelling with friends on a holiday.  I nearly always have to work when I am away which not everyone understands!

 

Surely it’s not a full-time job – it can’t take more than an hour or two to write an article?

The actual writing part of an article can be pretty quick for standard offers and news but the time is in the research of what to write about and finding the best deals. We also have to deal with our travel bookings (there are a LOT!), PR companies, mailing lists, reader queries, social media and search engine optimisation. I generally work 7 days a week about 355 days a year but it’s not usually for a standard 8 hours. Some articles such as an in-depth flight review can take up to 6-8 hours including all the photo editing.

 

How do you cope with jet lag and do you get tired of the travelling?

I don’t tend to get bad jet lag probably because I’m away that much my body doesn’t ever really adjust! I use melatonin, a natural substance that tells your body when it is time for sleep. You can buy it in drug stores in the US. My main tip is that I try to get an hour or two of sleep on every long haul flight, even if it’s daytime unless it will be bedtime when I arrive. That way I arrive at the destination able to do things for a few hours. I find getting a little sleep and then staying up until the normal destination bedtime is usually the best way to go. Getting some sunlight as soon as you arrive also helps a lot.

Yes, I admit I do get tired of travelling, although only really when I have crammed too many trips together! If I get a couple of weeks between trips then I am quite happy but the last couple of months have been crazy for both myself and Paul. I have done 10 trips this year already with around 35 flights! I try to take notes but when I cram too many trips together I start to forget details. When writing my last review I spend ages trying to remember if I had watched a film on board and if so what! I also miss just having a quiet night at home catching up on some TV viewing.

 

Does it get lonely being a travel blogger?

Magnificent sunset in La Jolla California

This was something I wondered at the very start of the blog as most bloggers work solo from home apart from when you get to the corporate levels of the biggest blogs. I travel with most of the TLFL team a few times a year but rarely actually work side by side with them. Most of the time it is just me working from wherever I happen to be in the world or my home office. Hence why the odd typo and mistake slips through! But I have made lots of friends with other travel bloggers since starting TLFL.

I never realised that most of the bloggers in this field would be so welcoming! Although there is still competition between us, we all see each other at various events so it is easy to make friends. Some of the bloggers have been incredibly supportive and helped along the way – particular mentions to Michael from TravelZork, Gilbert from God Save the Points, Tim Lai from Points to be Made and John from Wheelchair Travel.

Do you have any questions for me or the team about the blog or our travels? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.

 

19 Comments on "What’s it really like to be a travel blogger?"

  1. Christopher Murphy | 20 May 2019 at 6:14 am | Reply

    Michele, Thanks for such an honest and frank post. I really enjoy TLFL and your take on maximising and keeping my BA Gold.

  2. Russell Evans | 20 May 2019 at 6:24 am | Reply

    Really interesting read. Thanks for sharing

  3. ClaytonTheCruton | 20 May 2019 at 6:55 am | Reply

    A brilliant read. I’ve mentioned several times that you have long been an inspiration to me and documenting my own travels. I remember being shocked when it was your 2 year anniversary. I had found you about 6 months before and thought you’d been at this for years.

    I write about my own travels and was going to do as you do but you are so right about how quickly it gets complex so for now at least I just have a facebook group where I throw up pictures of our adventures and an article or two but with another job it’s hard to find the time to sit down and write them( I’m about 8 holidays behind as I flew 10 out of 12 months last year) so it’s more just a hobby.

    Being from a pretty poor background and not having a highflying job and the salary that goes with such things, or tbh ever really having much in the bank ever, I’m more about sharing tips on how to get the most out of airlines and hotel companies and showing that if people just do some research themselves they really can get so much more. Case in point our 1st First LHR-HKG then on to Thailand and back in Business totalling just under £30k for the pair of us which cost us £1054 and an amex 2-4-1. A few years ago I would’ve scoffed at the thought of ever flying First but people like yourself have served as an amazing inspiration and driven me to find ways that even a Joe Schmoe like myself can, at least sometimes, sample the high life.

    Please don’t change a thing you do because I can stand as proof of the impact and benefit all your( and the entire teams of course) hard work has.

    PS: Paul can be quite hilarious at times on FT can’t he. Hopefully one day i’ll be able to make it along to one of the FT Meetups.

    • Thanks Clayton and as always for your continued support of the blog. I probably should have mentioned on average it takes around 18 months before you start earning anything you could live on from a blog and then only just above minimum wage. The majority of bloggers either work 2 jobs initially or have some sort of money behind them.

      • Julie Macdonald | 20 May 2019 at 12:35 pm | Reply

        Hi Michele. Really interesting article. I’ve been following you for nearly a year now and read every single article! I’m a great fan – I now only want to fly business on long haul and rely on great offers – your blog is exactly what I need. I’m taking my son to Vegas in the summer and we’re doing an 11 day road trip there. We’re based near Edinburgh and I got a brilliant price on BA from Geneva – all based on your blog. With positioning flights on Easyjet and a hotel in Geneva before and after, we’re still saving £800! Also got some hotel benefits through Propeller. I often tell others about your blog. I’m about to open my own travel business – would be good to chat! Julie

        • Hi Julie. Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog and getting some great deals. Feel free to drop me an email.

  4. Great read and insight into the life of a blogger. Thanks for sharing. I have a full time job and have just come back from my 5th consecutive weekend away (all for leisure) and I’m suffering from trip fatigue! I’m very much looking forward to spending the coming long weekend at home and catching up on household chores and TV! Sometimes home comforts are needed to recharge. Keep up the good work.

  5. Peggy Hayes | 20 May 2019 at 7:34 am | Reply

    This is my favourite blog. Thank you so much!

  6. Thank you for another great read. I really look forward to opening up my mail every morning for the new story. My wife and I are both retired early from work in the pharmaceutical industry so have a fairly limited income and I bless the day I found TLFL while nosing about on the net. We have four dogs so take turns in travelling while the other stays home. This style of travelling suits us as we like different things and we both have a close friend who goes with us. With the help of you at TLFL we have had two trips each with another one each booked. My next adventure is in July to Washington/Vegas/Chicago BA/AA First. So please keep up the great work and another BIG thank you from a very happy reader/traveller.

    • Thanks Bill. It’s always lovely to hear that people have got benefits from our articles!

  7. Great article. Thanks for sharing. 👍

  8. Would you share with us the TA you use ?

  9. Its Propeller Travel isn’t it? They put together complex itineraries that you get from https://matrix.itasoftware.com
    for a modest fee!

    • Yes we either book direct for simple things or use Propeller for complex bookings and hotels.

  10. Such an enlightening read! Thank you Michele.

  11. Julian Holt Premier Bed Stores | 20 May 2019 at 1:45 pm | Reply

    I so enjoy my daily fix of TLFL, keep up the good work team!

  12. james hazell | 20 May 2019 at 7:34 pm | Reply

    A very interesting article as always Michele giving an excellent insight in to the life of a blogger. Have been following you for nearly two years now and look forward to your email every morning. Now I’m retired I have been able to make excellent use of the notifications I have received from you. It has opened up opportunities that I would not have been aware of. Think I’m a bit of a frustrated blogger at heart but sadly, although I have only just retired, I’m too old to fulfil it now. Never mind I’m just happy to travel and let you do the hard graft. Keep up the great work and may you go from strength to strength. Good luck.

  13. Andrew Lee | 20 May 2019 at 7:58 pm | Reply

    Great blog and great article. I like reading your articles even when I’m unlikely to go to the hotel or long tier point run you’re reviewing.

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