In this interview, Monica Stott shares her journey as a travel blogger. Find out how she is make a full-time living working just a few days a week.
Revenue of $10,400/mo
Email list size of 4,500
Founded in 2011
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
I’m Monica and I run a travel blog called The Travel Hack. It all started in 2009 when I went backpacking around Asia and Australia for two years and I set up the blog to document my journey and to share with friends and family and local community. I also wanted to be a journalist so I thought a blog would be a great portfolio of written work for when I came to apply for jobs.
My blog is about traveling with a focus on traveling with children, weekend breaks and lots of travel tips to make traveling cheaper and easier. My main audience is females who travel as part of a couple and squeeze in as many holidays as they can between a busy work schedule and hectic social life. They read it for inspiration for their next weekend break. I am also growing an audience of young families looking for advice on traveling with babies and toddlers – as I now have young children myself.
I currently make around £90,000 ($125,000) a year through my blog and this is through working just two days per week! I was earning more but decided to cut back on the hours I work while my children are young and over the past three years this has led to a decline in my income but I’m OK with that!
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
I really started blogging because I wanted to work in journalism and while I was at university I interned with my local newspaper. The paper’s website had a section with blogs from people in the local community. There was a blog by a local teacher, a local shop owner, a mum, a counselor and me, a local girl who went backpacking. It was a great experience to hone my writing skills and write for a wider audience.
Since then I went onto further education to study for a journalism qualification and worked as an editorial assistant on a travel website. I then moved into social media marketing and digital marketing as a whole which really helped my blog.
When it was time to blog full time, I had a lot of relevant experience to help me and a lot of industry contacts.
I didn’t initially begin blogging to make money. Back in 2009, there weren’t many people making much money through blogs so I didn’t even know it was an option.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
My revenue model changes every few years but I currently try to have as many income streams as possible.
It began with sponsored posts in around 2011 and around 2013 I wrote for a lot of other blogs and websites. In around 2014 I started working on more brand partnerships and collaborations and I started being paid to attend press trips abroad.
In 2015 I launched an e-course called The Blogger Course about how to turn your blog into a full-time career. In 2016 I really focused on affiliate income and spent a lot of time working on blog posts that could lead to affiliate sales. In 2017 I worked with a luggage company to launch my own suitcase. And now in 2018, I’ve finally started using display adverts.
My income is now made up of all of the above; sponsored posts, brand partnerships, paid press trips, my e-course, suitcase sales and display ads.
All of my income comes directly from the blog. My main tip for aspiring entrepreneurs would be to spend a year focusing on one thing at a time. Don’t try and do everything at once. Make sure you’ve cracked one thing before you move onto something new. It does take a long time but 4-5 years down the line you will be doing well.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
The blog is currently getting around 2 million annual pageviews.
I try to be very organic when it comes to building traffic and I write long, detailed and informative blog posts. I want each post I write to be useful. If it’s useful I don’t need to do any SEO games as quality content always does well. I write the content I want to read. So if I’m going on holiday to Barcelona, I’ll make a note of the questions I want answers. I want to know what to do and where to stay and what to eat and how to stay safe and the cheapest way to get there. I’ll think about all these questions I had and answer them on my blog.
I write two styles of articles. The first is informative content I know will perform well in Google searches. Things like ‘What to do in Barcelona’ or ‘The best budget hotels in Barcelona’. These are posts that help people have better holidays.
My second style of the blog post is the more informal and personal post which show my personality and keep regular readers coming back so it’ll be things like, ‘My first impressions from Barcelona’. I think the balance between useful content and a friendly, likable personality is what keeps readers.
SEO is my main traffic source. This is followed by Pinterest and then Facebook.
How have you grown the email list?
My newsletter is for engagement more than sales or to drive traffic.
My email list is pretty small with 4,500 subscribers. I don’t massively push my newsletter, I just have a subscription box at the end of every blog post. This means that it’s only people really interested in my content who sign up. My list is small but very engaged and I often have 60% open rate.
In the past, I had done competitions to get people to sign up to my newsletter where people could win GoPros or luggage. But these subscribers weren’t ‘real’ followers and didn’t open subsequent emails so I stopped this.
I send out a personal and chatty newsletter every two weeks. It’s more of a personal update to my most loyal followers and I get hundreds of replies from people just saying hello or asking travel questions.
How do you write great content that performs well?
Coming from a journalism background, I write a lot! And I write very quickly so I can easily sit down and write a blog post in an hour or two. I write about what I know best – which is travel and the destinations I’ve recently visited – so the words come easily. I write the way I talk which is quite casual but people tell me they like my friendly and informal style because it feels like a friend giving them travel tips.
I often use my newsletter to ask my readers what they’d like to read about and they send me lots of questions and suggestions which makes great blog content. I often think that if someone has taken the time to email me and ask me something, they’ve probably tried to Google it and have been unable to find the answers – so these questions are like gold dust!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that people like blog posts that are easy to read. Things like listicles perform really well or posts that are broken up with clear headers and different sections. It makes it easier to read and understand and many people will skim through and get the highlights.
But most of all, you have to write about what you’re passionate about. Passion shines through in writing and that’s what people keep coming back for.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
My biggest challenge at the minute is doing everything alone. I don’t have time to do everything and I struggle during press trips to take all the photos, make videos, share everything on social media, interview people, take notes, do research, keep up with admin and eventually write everything up. It’s a lot of work to do alone and I’d love to have someone work with me.'It’s hard to not get distracted by what everyone else is doing but try not to copy and do your own thing.'Click To Tweet
The main thing I’ve learned is that you can’t do everything and it’s better to invest in people who can do the things you can’t do. If you’re not very good at design, then hire a designer. If you’re not a photographer, work with one. If you hate the admin side of things, hire a VA. Like any other business, you should employ people to do the jobs you can’t.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The main thing that’s been helpful for me is networking with other bloggers and making friends with bloggers. Some of my best friends today are bloggers and I love being able to chat with them and share ideas and discuss campaigns they’re working on, how much they’re charging and what they’re doing. It’s so helpful to have this support network and lovely to have people to bounce ideas around with.
I’d recommend any new bloggers to go to as many networking events as they possibly can and to meet as many bloggers and industry contacts as they can. It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know! Once you’ve worked with a few brands, things really start to snowball.
When I first started blogging properly, I’d just moved to London and I didn’t know many people. I was also on a very low salary so didn’t have much money. I ended up going to lots of networking events because they were a fun and free way to meet new people, have some drinks and some food and have a good night out! I went to about 2-3 networking events a week and this is really what helped my blog in the early days.
I also just recommend being nice. Most of the campaigns I work on come through referrals where people have recommended me because I’ve done a good job in the past. Work really hard on every project you work on because you don’t know what it could lead to.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
My number one tip is to be yourself. It’s hard to not get distracted by what everyone else is doing but try not to copy and do your own thing. There are lots of trends and fads within the blogosphere but they come and go. The only thing that really remains consistent is your personality and your style so let this shine through and don’t try to do what everyone else is doing.
A great resource for anyone who wants to really make money from their blog is my e-course, The Blogger Course which also has a really friendly and supportive Facebook group.
Where can we go to learn more?