There is an entire faction of people who seem to make their living producing vlogs. A quick YouTube search turn-ups beauty and make-up vloggers, video game vloggers, food vloggers and soccer vloggers. Whatever niche you can think of, there probably is a vlogger shooting, editing and sharing video on that subject. Seriously, there is a couple who vlogs about house cleaning.
I’m one of those lucky vloggers who (almost) makes a living by traveling to the far reaches of our Earth to shoot and edit video about travel. I am a travel vlogger. And I am constantly asked about my profession: “How do you do it?” “How much money do you make?” “What is the best place you’ve ever visited?” and so on. But instead of me just blabbering on for 2500 words, I thought I’d reach out to a gaggle of my colleagues and ask them to share some of the secrets, truths and horrors about the life of a travel vlogger.
Becoming a Travel Vlogger
“My dream ever since I got out of college was to be a travel channel TV host,” Ryan Van Duzer told me. “I started at the very, very bottom. I started on public access TV, not making any money, just running around with a camera. If you want to do this, just start doing it. You don't have to have a journalism degree. You don't have to have expensive equipment. You can do it on an iPhone, essentially.” Duzer is now hosting cable television shows such as “Tough Jobs” on Carbon TV.
“When I started blogging and vlogging about dance around the world in 2011/12, I was considered too niche.” explains Mickela Mallozzi. “I never wavered from my original idea and my passion for these stories. The fact that my project was so niche became my biggest asset!
2013 was when niche started becoming a thing. I was featured in a New York Times story about niche travel bloggers – it was a huge bump and that obviously helped validate my entire project.”
There are people who make their entire living through YouTube. You may have heard of PewDiePie, a Swedish 20-something who made 12 million dollars in 2015 from his YouTube channel. But PewDiePie is the exception, not the rule. None of the ten travel vloggers I spoke with make their entire living from YouTube advertising known as AdSense.
“Learning to make money while traveling was the hardest part of it all,” Nikki Wynn of Gone With The Wynns told me. “We spent the first few years grinding away at side jobs, pitching every opportunity and working way too hard for way too little. A couple of years ago we decided to focus more on our own videos and sharing insights into how we live the traveling lifestyle and it was a big turning point for us.”
“I make below 100 dollars per month on ad revenue only, so it’s not as if it pays the bills,” Grietje, a.k.a. Travel Gretl from the Netherlands told me. “I am a presenter; I host television shows. I also do voice acting for commercials.”
“From YouTube I make about 100 dollars each month.” explained Teri Johnson. “I earn more money from other video platforms where I distribute my content and as a spokesperson, a brand ambassador, video producer of other content including indie film and corporate videos and from selling candles from [my store], the Harlem Candle Company.”
“This last month, I think I made about 50 dollars. Obviously, you cannot make a living from that,” Duzer explained. “I've gotten some branded content deals here and there. Those pay anywhere from 2000 to 5000 dollars, but those are few and far between. My goal is to get more deals like that and that's why I'm trying to grow my channel and get more subscribers.”
“The majority of our earnings is through affiliate marketing on our website GoatsOnTheRoad.com, content creation, freelance writing and social media management.” Dariece Swift told me. “We are also invited on press trips/destination marketing campaigns where we earn a fee for our time and our deliverables. We also earn some money from selling clips to media companies. A vlogger must have numerous income streams!
Nikki also told me, “We make anywhere from 1k-2k a month and sadly that number hasn’t changed in a couple of years despite the fact we get more views. YouTube revenue isn’t as lucrative as it used to be. We do make a living through various streams of income: affiliate sales, jobs that come our way, etc. But the most exciting and newest income stream is Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/the_wynns). This has allowed us to focus more on creating videos and less on other jobs. On top of the funds, it is a swimming pool full of positivity coming from our most engaged viewers. It’s incredibly motivating knowing there is a core group of people who love what we do enough to pony up their hard-earned cash to keep it going.”
“I consider myself more of a TV personality and an overall content creator rather than just a vlogger.” Mickela of the Bare Feet® TV Series explained. “All of my income comes from sharing my stories of experiencing the world one dance at a time – whether that’s from sponsorships for the TV series, views from the YouTube channel, sponsored content on YouTube and on social media, partnering with institutions such as The Children’s Museum of Manhattan for content licensing, international licensing agreements for the series, and digital licensing abroad. I have received freelance work from the brand that I built, including public speaking at travel conferences, film festivals, schools, entrepreneurial events, etc. I also do guest writing for magazines and I still participate in teaching dance when it makes sense with my schedule.”
Mark Wiens, who started migrationology.com, said, “ I earn most of my income from vlogs, including ads on videos, and indirectly, like selling ebooks and t-shirts from my blogs.” With close to 750,000 YouTube subscribers and well over 161 million views of his videos, you can see how the micropayments can add up.
I noticed three main lifestyles from the vloggers I’ve spoken with. The majority live at home and travel a few times a year.
“I'm always on the go, but I also enjoy time at home! I travel maybe 1-3 times a month. Two years ago, I bought a condo in downtown Denver. I call it my launchpad. I do my best to have a travel/home balance,” Juliana Broste, also known as Traveling Jules, told me.
Another Colorado resident - Duzer - had this to say, “Because I'm a freelancer, my travels vary from year to year; it's usually between 150-200 days. Home life is great in Boulder, I love my community and am very involved in many non-profits and other local activities.”
“It has always been important to me to stay connected with my roots, my family and the Pacific Northwest ethos of appreciating nature and time in the wilderness. I've never wanted to be a full time traveler. Maybe some day,” Joshua Johnson explained.
Travel Gretl told me, “I am currently traveling at least 4 times a year on big trips. There are also small city trips or weekends off. I appreciate both travel and home life. It's not my dream to live on the road, with no home. I love to get back to the bed and sofa I know every once in awhile!”
“I fly anywhere from 2-6 times a month, and that ranges between domestic and international travel. In 2016, I was traveling about 80 percent of the year, which definitely takes a toll on
your personal life. I’m married, and my touring musician husband travels almost as much as I do, so we really value each other’s time when we’re both home together. It’s definitely not an easy lifestyle, and it’s not meant for everyone. I feel very lucky to have a supportive partner,” Mickela spelled out.
The second group has moved home to a foreign land.
“When it comes to being an expat, my advice is to surround yourself with positive uplifting people, both friends and family. Choose a destination that you particularly enjoy — a beautiful location, a pleasant city, a place where you can live an upgraded lifestyle at a relatively cheaper cost, etc. Some of the challenges include having to be flexible, thinking in a different way, and really adapting yourself to the local culture and customs. Another challenge and frustration can be visas,” Mark outlines from his vantage point in Bangkok, Thailand.
When it comes to being an expat, my advice is to surround yourself with positive uplifting people, both friends and family.
The third group have sold most of their possessions and have become digital nomads.
“We were once told by a fellow traveler, “normal is a setting on a washing machine.” Our ‘normal’ is exploring glaciers without a guide, hiking in a blizzard for fun and buying a 43-foot Catamaran before learning how to sail,” laughed Nikki.
“Being able to work from anywhere in the world is something that we feel very grateful to be able to do,” Dariece told me. “Having to choose just one place to live would be impossible for us. Variety is the spice of life! Being able to live on a beach for a couple of months, then a bustling city or near the mountains is something that we're very fortunate to be able to do. These days, work is no longer a fixed place, it can be anywhere that your laptop is. We wanted more and we veered towards the unconventional, location independent lifestyle. Memories and experiences are what matter to us, not possessions.”
Transparency as a Brand Ambassador
Joshua explained, “I’ve been contracted to create content for a ton of city, regional, state and national tourism boards. This comes out of their marketing budget. They work with people like me to experience the best of what their location has to offer and transmute that experience into exciting, entertaining online content. In the beginning I was creating content for in-kind trade for travel, accommodations and experience but these days, except for special cases, I charge several thousand a video.”
I asked Joshua about transparency with his viewers when receiving free travel and hospitality. “Honestly, there isn't a ton to be transparent about. I'll be up front that my travels are sponsored
if they are — but the only obligation I feel to my viewers is to make the best, most beautiful, inspired content I can. Since I don't sell or pimp or do product placement — I just give an authentic look at a largely unscripted adventure — I don't really have much to be transparent about. I went here. Shot this. They paid me. Enjoy. If they want me to sell something, I'm out. If the trip is overly itinerized or includes a bunch of needless crap and/or handholding — no thanks.”
Best Thing About Being Vlogger?
“I have been so grateful for the situations that being a vlogger has put me in,” Kelley Ferro told me. “I get to go behind the scenes in Michelin kitchens, sit with locals, and learn about their homes, go on wild adventures and meet incredible people.
“The reason I came back to vlogging is because I get to tell the story the way I want to tell it. When you do TV, you have fifteen/twenty people between you and when [the episode] gets put on TV. They edit it, cut out the edgy parts and they just make the shows kind of bland. When I make my YouTube videos, I get to create it how I want, put in the music I want, make them as long or as short as I want and that creative process of crafting the story by myself is a lot of fun for me,” Duzer explained.
“Somehow, having a camera with you gives this automatic sense of authority with respect to the people you are meeting,” Mickela outlined. “I have an extremely light footprint. Sometimes I’m filming myself for online content and when we film for the TV show, I just bring one videographer with me. Having that camera makes people trust me in what I’m doing. I can somehow convince people to let me do the strangest things with them through dance and music. I’m allowed in the most private places and I get the most authentic experiences that otherwise might not have been possible.
Worst Thing About Being a Vlogger?
“The worst is being called a vlogger, haha!,” jokes Joshua. “Oftentimes vloggers can be real self-interested navel-gazers.
“The toughest thing is keeping creative, and it’s sometimes stressful to decide what content is going to be unique and interesting, and what's going to be boring and not go over well. YouTube in particular is all about the community, and if you do something to upset the community, your fans can be pretty harsh. Another thing that's challenging is trolls and negativity, which can hit you emotionally if you're not ready for it,” says Mark Wiens.
“The worst thing about being a vlogger is the instability in paid gigs and having to wear ten hats at one time. Just because I can shoot, edit, host, write, and design doesn't mean that I should be expected to do all of those things without being compensated for it. Many brands and clients underestimate the time it takes to create content because we make it look so easy,” Travelist Teri said with a serious tone.
“I have terrible motion sickness — unfortunate for a professional traveler — and we were offered a fishing trip at sunrise [in the Cook Islands],” Mickela confided in me. “I told my videographer that she’d better get me sick on camera, I like being honest with my viewers.”
“One of my favorite videos was the Train to the Plane vlog I made to celebrate the new train
from downtown Denver to the Denver International Airport,” said Traveling Jules. “It was a challenge to capture the experience creatively while riding the first ever train departing from the airport. It was a little experiment to see if I could capture everything I wanted in a short amount of time, using just the tools I could carry, and then release the video with a quick turnaround.”
“The story was so successful, VISIT DENVER hired me to create and star in a more formal version of my Train to the Plane story. I traded in my selfie stick in for a stabilizer and hired a professional shooter and audio tech to help with the production. We created a video that shows travelers just how easy and convenient it is to ride Denver’s new train. It’s great to see my vlogs inspiring paid projects,” Juliana smiled.
Mickela told me, “I began to realize how much of an impact the series had when people started recognizing me on the street – that’s when it became a little more real! It is an honor to know that people share time with me on their TV, phone, or computer screen – and I know I have built a relationship with them because I can’t tell you how many times people just come up to me and give me a hug, telling me they feel like they are running into an old friend. That lets me know I’m doing something right. I feel extremely lucky to be able to have made a career out of something I love.”
Advice for Tomorrow’s Vloggers
“If you want to travel the world and tell stories just get out there and start telling stories and it’ll slowly catch on and then you might get some tourism boards sponsoring some trips so you can get some cool locations and before you know it you are well on your way” Duzer explained.
“Start small. Focus on one experience and tell that story in under a minute. Use a GoPro: always in focus, portable and easy to use. Seek out the unknown. Make yourself original by profiling a destination outside of the popular spots—maybe it is your hometown or a neighborhood that is less traveled,” shares Kelley.
Mickela’s advice: “There are three attributes that you need to be a successful content creator: passion, persistence, and patience. You have to love something enough to work harder and longer than you ever would to get any results. I treated my project like a business from day one, even when I was only spending a few hours a week on it. That put me in the mindset to eventually transform this into my full-time job, which it has been for the past three years – and on average, small businesses make a profit around year five! So you need all of these characteristics just to last that long!”
“I see many people quit after three months because they realize that editing is a lot of work and they don’t get the amount of views they were hoping for. I would say stick with it,” explained Travel Gretl.
Joshua Johnson has some sound advice, “Be the solution to the problem [travel organizations] don’t know they have. Be proactive in understanding the brand’s/destination's story and go for the unexplored angle. Know what they need. Study the industry. Be a solution. They have a budget they need to spend on digital marketing. By creating kick ass content and being a proactive professional you're helping them do their job and they'll thank you — with money. There’s a million people just like you, who want this 'dream job'. Wanting it isn't enough. You have to deserve it.”
“My goal is to create work that is good. If popularity follows, that is awesome, but the most important thing to me is to produce work of high quality.” The six-time Emmy Award winner Juliana goes on to suggest, “Take time to master your craft. It takes patience. Practice. Repetition. Failure. Success. Challenge yourself to try new things. Ask colleagues for feedback. Take workshops. Attend conferences. Never get comfortable. Never stop learning. If you work hard, if you put in the time, success will follow.”
Mark Wiens knows quite a bit about YouTube. “The ultimate key to YouTube in terms of technical analytics is watch time, which translates to the amount of minutes viewers watch on single videos, and your entire channel. And the reason that's so important is because higher watch time equals higher engagement, and that's what YouTube wants. Inspirational videos with panoramic views are beautiful, but personality is what makes people subscribe and be engaged. And keeping to a schedule and posting videos regularly is key to growing your channel.”
Nikki Wynn suggests, “Nobody is better at being you than you. Honesty will win you viewers, dishonesty will lose them. Don’t compare yourself to others, do your own thing and don’t discount small successes. Create something for you, that you are proud of and most likely others will think it’s awesome, too.”
These ten vloggers tell you how satisfying — though challenging — the life of a travel vlogger is in reality. Are they always flying business class on Emirates Airline, sipping Dom Pérignon after being dropped off by their Lamborghini Aventador Stretch Limo? No. But they are often having a once in a lifetime experience, all the while trying to figure out a way to share it with you.
Morgan Paar is a location independent travel vlogger currently shooting and editing in Sydney, Australia. He also teaches video production in whichever city he finds himself. Follow his journey on most social media platforms via @NomadicFrames.