Welcome to my seventh blog income report for April 2018!
If you are new here, my name is Mar and I am the Owner and Editor of Once in a Lifetime Journey. The photo on the left is me at The Boathouse Phuket, a hotel I worked with in April.
This blog is a little over four years old and is about luxury and out of the ordinary travel. If you are keen to read about one of the 100 countries I have been to, check out my Destinations page. Not all countries are represented there because some of them I visited long before I started this blog, but a fair few will be.
If you are an avid traveler you may also want to check my Travel Resources page with my recommendations for the best apps, tools and websites I use when planning, going on or returning from a trip.
It all started with a post about How Travel Bloggers make Money. It then followed with a book expanding to all niches and to all online channels.
For the book research, I scrutinised in detail, over 50 blog income reports from top earning bloggers. And it got me thinking.
Deciding to do so was not an easy or obvious choice. But like I always say with everything in my life:
So I took it with a “try and see” approach: let’s try to publish a couple of income reports and see if it brings me and my readers any value.
If it doesn’t, I will stop.
If it does, I will continue to share them.
You will be asking, why am I sharing such personal and private information with a world of strangers and what value do I expect this to add to you or me?
That is precisely the same question I asked myself a few times before taking the leap. The answer is similar to the rest of the bloggers who share their income breakdown and it is two-fold:
1. Firstly, I feel it will be valuable for me to reflect and track my own progress and it will aid in keeping myself accountable to my priorities. I am a big fan of data-driven decisions and of analytics, so looking at graphs and trends is something which has always been in my DNA.
2. Secondly, I hope it will also help give others looking to make money online new ideas on ways to monetise their blog, because I am not doing what most people do and have a diverse and varying monthly income which will reflect in a different income report to the majority of the very successful bloggers.
3. Thirdly, although there are lots of bloggers publishing income reports, there are very few in the travel niche, and outside of the US, so I felt I could add something into the conversation
All too often, the more popular bloggers on the list of top-earning blogs I looked at draw too much of their blog’s revenue from streams that are hard to replicate by other bloggers in the short-term. I am referring to things like large advertising amounts or affiliates in very competitive niches with lots of available content. At the lower end of the scale, a lot of bloggers earning $1,000 to $2,000 are just doing the obvious things like ads and some sponsored posts. It is hard to draw too many learnings from that and, as the world of blogging becomes more and more saturated, these revenue streams will only become more scarce.
Why am I different from them?
I am pretty special 🙂 No really, I think I can bring in something the rest of the bloggers publishing income reports can’t.
I had a full time job – For the first 4 years of running the blog and for 15 years in total, I had a full time job for various corporations. This was up until January 2018, when I decided to focus my attention on the blogs and influencer work completely. Also, I am open to trying out all sorts of different ideas, testing them, learning what works and what doesn’t and moving on from failures. I was never afraid to fail, but I always feared not trying.
I am in the travel niche – Travel is an interesting niche because not a lot of blogs publish income reports and because a lot of the value received is in kind. This type of “income” is not usually reflected by other bloggers and I want to make a point of adding it in because it is a saving that I would have otherwise incurred.
I hope I can share these insights and also remain more relatable than the larger bloggers who publish blog income reports running in the thousands of dollars every month.
- Previous Income Reports
- What I was up to in April 2018
- Travel in April 2018
- Progress on the blog in April 2018
- Personal Life
- Revenues in the month of April 2018
- Interesting statistics for April 2018
- 2018 Goals
- Wrapping up April 2018
Previous Income Reports
If you are not new to my Income reports or to this blog, you can probably skip the next two sections about how it all started and what makes me and my blog unique.
If you are new to Once in a Lifetime Journey and just stumbled upon my blog income report, let me give you the lowdown about my background and how I got here.
I started my blog in February 2014 as a repository of my travel experiences. It was mostly an online diary of sorts and I tried to keep the blog as hidden as possible. I did not tell anyone I was writing it for the first few months as I was writing for myself.
Blogging was therapeutic for me, akin to meditation. I had just quit my eight-year long management consulting career and was taking a break, experimenting with opening a cafe, investing in some startups and even running a travel company.
You can read more about my background in my About page, where I tell you why and how I travelled 80% of my time and how I decided to start a blog.
My efforts to hide my online presence were quite successful and although I kept adding new content, the Google magic only helped at the beginning, bringing me lots of strangers that were interested in reading about my shenanigans. But once the world of blogging became so crowded and everyone started travel blogs, the additional content started to bring me no additional growth in views or readers.
This inflection point happened just a couple of months after I attended a travel blogging conference in October 2015 in Bangkok. I had not tried to monetise my blog at all until that point, in fact, I had only just started telling people I had it over a year after it started.
The conference opened my eyes to the possibilities of earning a full time living from a blog. From that moment onwards, my entrepreneurial and business mindset could not stop me from at least trying to make it happen.
I also realised that my personal blog, this one you are on, was a good avenue for my trips but that my niche and personal preferences were very unique. I visit either very remote and off-the-beaten-path destinations which receive little to no tourists or go on luxurious vacations. I have a few friends who enjoy the same type of travel, but this dichotomy did not help my positioning as it was slightly schizophrenic and almost an oxymoron.
Do you know what The 10 Least Visited Countries in the World are? -> I compiled my own data in this article
In order to have a more niche-oriented blog, I decided to start Singapore n Beyond which is entirely focused on Singaporean residents, providing them with long weekend trip itineraries curated by local experts in and around Asia or beyond. I started Singapore n Beyond because I realised this was an unanswered need. Singapore is small and residents tend to travel a lot, in fact Singapore ranks among the 10 best travelled nations. I intended to start the blog with the intention of monetising it.
However, I have had a full time job until today so revenue has never been an objective of mine. I have a very financially-oriented mind and I create business plans for everything I do. I have also invested in a couple of startups as an angel investor. But I did not truly look at the blog as a business until 2017.
I am telling you this so you understand my frame of mind.
I never sought maximum monetisation from the blog so I declined a lot of offers from brands looking to collaborate that were not in the price range I was willing to accept. I priced myself at the higher end of the range to maximise my hourly rate not my total income.
Had my income depended on the blog, I would have accepted a lot of subpar offers and increased my monthly earnings, albeit at the expense of my hourly rate.
Although a lot of my learnings and experiences will be relatable and replicable, I need to point out a few things which make my blogs unique:
I am a strong believer in outsourcing for two reasons. I believe in specialisation and in maximising productivity as a whole. Hence, it makes no sense for me to do something I am not good at and will take long to solve when I can hire someone who will do it better and faster (hence cheaper).
What this means:
1. I hired a Content Manager early on to take care of Singapore n Beyond and help me with the management of the two blogs. He takes care of uploading articles into WP, managing all the SEO related stuff, some social media and also editing videos and photos and he has a two degrees in English and Multimedia respectively.
2. I engage paid freelancer writers to produce the content for Singapore n Beyond. This is not just for efficiency purposes but because I wanted the content to be provided by a writer who knew the destination very well, not just me after a 2-3 day trip. So the content there is curated by local experts.
3. I have a part-time social media manager who handles Pinterest.
4. I hire freelancers for a lot of other tasks that require a skillset.
5. I use an IT and WordPress expert who I found on Fiverr long ago to handle all the WP related stuff, changes, fixes and anything. She is awesome and she is quick and very affordable.
You may not have the financial ability or agree with the mentality of outsourcing, but for me it is key and it allows me to be where I am and do what I love while letting others do what I am not good at. Having a virtual team also helps me feel better as I have someone to discuss things with, brainstorm and feel a sense of belonging.
I am very 80/20
This refers to Pareto’s principle that 80% of the value is driven by 20% of the effort and so 80% of the effort brings only 20% of the value. I strongly believe in this.
What this means:
1. I am happy to live with things being 80% perfect. I am a perfectionist and have my pet peeves, but I am comfortable doing things that are not 100% perfect. This allows me to be really fast and try things out, then iterate and improve. It is probably something that was part of my personality and got further emphasized by working for Google where this is very much the philosophy – launch, iterate and learn.
2. This also allows me to be very efficient as I rarely delve into something for too long. I assess pros and cons then just try it and see so I churn out a lot of output leading people to believe that I am super human because it seems that I do more than the average person. This is just because the last 20% takes a lot of effort and I prefer to complete it while something is live than delve on it for too long.
I am not afraid to fail
I really am not afraid to fail, do things wrong, be wrong or appear as I have failed. This is very much my personality. I am ok with a high risk of failure. I prefer to try myself and learn from it and I strongly believe it is better to try and fail than to have never tried.
And hey, I am here right? 😉
What this means:
1. I try things, I am not scared or ashamed to admit when I fail, learn and improve or move on. It is probably fair to say that I care less about what others think than the average. This is not to say that I do not listen. I have a group of trusted advisors I refer to, and I always listen to my readers, but I am not worried about the “what others might think”. If I think I am doing the right thing, I will go ahead.
2. This also makes me open to try new things even if they may not work and gives me the chance to learn from myself.
3. At the same time, that may also bring some inefficiencies as I like to try things for myself before reading about other’s failures as I often think one size does not fit all in the world of making money online. So I may waste some time trying something instead of learning from other’s failures.
I am proactive with hotel collaborations, rarely reactive
I have not changed since monetising my blog, nor do I intend to change, my travel style or spirit regardless of how much I monetise my blog or where my income comes from.
I rarely take up hotel/destination offers to go on press trips or stay with them in exchange for coverage unless they are trips I wanted to take anyway and a property I was looking to stay at.
So, I reach out to properties I want to work with after very thorough and in-depth research to ensure I will be 100% happy to recommend them afterwards.
My process for approaching a brand to work together is as follows. I first decide where I want to go, what property will fit the luxury niche of my blog, then conduct detailed due diligence on the options available and finally reach out to them if I am convinced they are a brand I will honestly recommend.
As a result, I work with very few brands and I rarely take up offers I receive for sponsored stays.
This differs to a lot of other bloggers who will include reviews of a wider range of accommodation options and hence can work with many brands. I only review the top of the range as I want to maintain my luxury travel niche positioning.
Since August, I have decided to pause the sponsored stay work for a while and pay for my trips. This is for two reasons. Firstly, I want to avoid the very significant extra work that comes with having to fulfill a contract requirement. When your holidays become work, you never take rest or disconnect. This is what happened to me. In order to spend free quality time with my partner, I decided to pause on sponsored work. That does not mean that I do not review properties, I still do, but I do not have anyone to respond to beyond my readers so I do not need to spend hours taking photos, wake up at sunrise and pose endlessly until I find the right photo. Secondly, I have also become quite disenchanted with luxury hotels. I had a string of three very luxurious properties which were billing themselves as the best of the best and turned out to have very mediocre service standards. I never want to find myself in the situation where I work with a brand I have to write a lot of areas for improvement about. So I was glad I had paid in full for those trips.
From August on I have paid for almost all my trips to Azerbaijan, Nihi Sumba and El Salvador and I received no sponsorship.
My approach to working with hotel brands not only ensures that I can be honest with my reviews and remain true to my luxury travel niche but also that, when a brand is not interested in working with me, and that happens 50% of the time, I most likely still book a room and pay for it myself 100%.
What you see in my review section is therefore 100% legitimate and honest. But the value I extract from sponsored stays is lower than I could have got and than most travel bloggers enjoy, so I consider it to be at the lower end of the range.
I can currently afford this approach because I can pay for my luxury travel but it also makes me quite unique in the world of travel blogging, especially in the luxury segment where a lot of the brands only work with bloggers that have a very large reach.
Maybe one day I will not be able to continue paying for luxury hotels charging upwards of $1,000 a night and I will have to succumb to my principles. But I genuinely hope I never have to sell my soul to the Devil and can remain independent and writing in the luxury travel niche.
What this means:
1. While the above applies to Once in a Lifetime Journey, that is not the case for Singapore n Beyond which is not segment focused and which recommends brands in all price ranges. For Singapore n Beyond, I make sure the brand is reliable in its price range, its a brand I would recommend and then look for a writer that will be keen to cover the destination and has an affinity for it and I send them on my behalf. I have three writers who I have engaged this way with.
2. If you are looking to monetise your blog through sponsored stays, consider the value I get in the lower end, you can probably extract more value from a similar reach and audience than me.
What I was up to in April 2018
April was a super busy month for me and so a lot of the blog fundamentals had to take a back seat because I was trying to fulfil a few other objectives for the year. In the end I am only one person so when something takes priority something else has got to give and this is what happened in April.
I went to Phuket (saw the picture above?) and worked on another campaign with HPL Hotels whom I already engaged with last year for Casa del Mar Langkawi. This time I went to Thailand to work with The Boathouse Phuket resort and restaurant, a lovely beach resort on Kata Beach in Phuket which has been there for almost 30 years, making it one of the oldest running hotels in Phuket. They had completely renovated the resort at the end of 2017 and wanted to promote it again and get some refreshing new content.
The engagement this time was focused on blog content, creation of a video and social media promotion. All the coverage is now out and you can see it below:
1. Amazing video – so much work goes into creating these sorts of things that I am not sure any viewer is able to appreciate it but it is nice to see the end product.
2. An honest review of the hotel – I always write honest reviews, paid or not, because the brand does not pay me to change my opinion but to provide awareness to my audience. Not every hotel is good for everyone, as they are all different. I only work with brands who appreciate my honesty.
3. Inclusion of the hotels cocktail workshops (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and cooking class in the best Things to do in Phuket post which is read well over 2,500 times every month.
After Phuket I had a very busy week in Singapore attending and speaking at two conferences which kept me busy for the entire week. I was the moderator at a discussion about Influencer marketing ROI at Mumbrella Travel Asia and a speaker at Digital Travel APAC.
Although I was just the moderator at Mumbrella I ended up in a heated discussion with one of the panelist, the Head of Agency at Facebook APAC who challenged that a lot of influencers should not call themselves as such because they have no influence. The discussion was quite heated and fun and it certainly gave the audience and the editing team at Mumbrella something to write about.
At Digital Travel APAC I had an out of the box session, meaning that my content was not related directly to the travel industry or the more technologically-focused conference. Instead, I was asked to talk about myself and what the life of a travel blogger looks like. It was quite frightening to be standing up there in a large auditorium with a room full of people, a microphone and a large screen behind me. But I must have done quite well to bring it down to a more relatable talk to the audience because I had a queue of people wanting to chat about various topics by the end of it.
Both cases were interesting from a content point of view and even more so from a networking perspective, which is what I was most interested in. A lot of business opportunities have stemmed from that so they were well worth it.
But April was too short since I already set off on my epic trip on the 25th of the month to explore Somaliland. Curious to know more? Read the next section.
Travel in April 2018
As I was mentioning in April I left Singapore on the 25th to explore Somaliland. This involved, as always, a stopover in Dubai, where my best friend lives. He was actually coming with me to Somaliland but Dubai is always a great place to stop and make some connections or meet friends.
I spent the last few days of April in Hargeisa, Las Geel and Berbera before traveling to Rwanda on the 1st of May.
Somaliland is a self-declared country that has been battling with international recognition for 30 years. As a result of its aspirations and the ongoing conflict and terrorism in the rest of Somalia, traveling in Somaliland requires escort. And I guarantee you will not see another tourist in the entire time you are there. Needless to say, this is one of the least visited countries in the world.
Because of this, Somaliland is quite an interesting place with lots of quirks and weirdness and it was nothing like the expectations I had. Travel never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
Among many other weird things, like exchanging money in the middle of the street from a guy with piles of it on the muddy floor, I also got a dress made (see this funny video to learn why I had to get myself a dress which was produced in 10min at the local market). Unfortunately, I also caught food poisoning and had the pleasure of visiting a local hospital. Nothing serious as they have the right medication so I was good in 24h but it was not nice to be laying on the floor of a crappy hotel on my own at 3am regretting having that that salad.
Here are all the Somaliland posts, highly recommend a read as it is a fascinating place:
Progress on the blog in April 2018
So with all of the above you can imagine that there was little time left for anything else and I had to put all blog fundamentals aside for the second half of the month. I have however continued to work on promoting the best performing articles and some of them are really bearing their fruits.
For example, my most popular blog post is read 9,000 times every month and compares Bora Bora with the Maldives for your honeymoon. There are some articles related to Phuket, Singapore, Barcelona and El Salvador that attract a lot of viewers. I only hope to continue promoting them to keep on growing the blog.
April was great for a lot of reasons, primarily because the conferences, and all the connections and opportunities that came from them also confirmed the hypothesis that I had that there is a lot of room for growth in the industry for professional bloggers, influencers and digital marketing consultants.
While the industry is very saturated in many sectors there are still a lot of opportunities for growth in several segments where there are practically no contenders.
A lot of brands want to do social media but are far from knowing where to start or how to make the most of it. This is even the case for large hospitality brands and not just for the smaller hotels. And they have the budget for it, they just don’t have the right teams or bandwidth to devote to it and are looking to partner with someone with more experience.
As I knew I would be away for almost three weeks from the end of the month and that I may not have any internet in Somaliland or Rwanda, I had to work extra hard in April to close the month with everything ready in case I could not be online for that much time. Unfortunately, this is the price to pay when you are working for yourself.
There were days in April when I was quite stressed and that even affected my sleep. I would be working until very late getting things done or wake up really early thinking about everything I still had to do and not be able to go back to sleep. But in the end I managed to get away and I actually had internet, even in Somaliland.
Revenues in the month of April 2018
April was a good month, not extraordinary but providing good steady income.
Here is the breakdown of April’s revenues:
–> S$ 585 From Brand collaborations
–> S$ 110 Accommodation affiliates
–> S$ 1,147 Ad revenues
–> S$ 2,600 from Content creation for The Boathouse Phuket
–> S$3,120 from Digital Marketing Consulting
TOTAL blog income in April 2018: S$ 7,692
TOTAL blog value in April 2018: S$ 7,692
Things to note:
– All amounts are in Singapore Dollar which fluctuates around 1,3 times the USD. This is because my accounts are in SGD and so is my accounting.
– I included affiliate revenues which have been accrued even if they have not been paid because affiliates have a threshold for payments which can be as high as USD150.
– The above includes income generated from both blogs. It is time consuming for me to split the two so I will keep it together for now.
Mediavine advertising revenues have continued to grow and are reaching relevant and stable levels. They should now be growing with more traffic and probably I can take a look and try to optimise a few of the things to make sure they are set up in the best way. I still have AdSense on my Singapore n Beyond blog but that is a fraction of my Mediavine revenues.
This month the blogs have grown 10% over the previous month and that is great so I continue to have faith that it may stay there or grow a little as things get marginally optimised on that front.
I talked about it earlier but I signed this engagement with The Boathouse Phuket to create and promote content for them and this was the income from it. While these are one-off type of revenues, they are also something that I enjoy and which I am trying to promote further. I have a great team behind me, as Cal is great at editing, and I’m trying to up my filming game a bit more every month.
Influencer and digital marketing consulting
Influencer and digital marketing services is something which has been working really well and where I see my real value-add.
The majority of the work done in April was split into several brand campaigns among which was still the project with Irish inbound travel agent CIE Tours and also the preparation of additional proposals for other brands.
While this continues to grow I will have to start being selective with what I can take before I need to hire someone else because these are active revenue generating tasks that take away from working on the fundamentals to set up strong passive income streams. A fine balance I struggle with every month.
While HotelsCombined recovered from the February debacle, I have been pushing hard for Agoda and it is starting to pay back. Agoda shared a much higher commission with its affiliates so this is more beneficial for me too.
The only issue is that Agoda pays on departure of the guest and so it takes a really long time to get it going and receive payment, I expect another two months before we see the real return but it is looking quite promising so far.
Aside from hotel booking sites, I also have started to make some commission from Context Travel. This is the only tour company I use and recommend, and it is one that I have had a lot of friends use and love. So, I am happy to start earning some commission from them because they are a perfect match to my travel style and my audience.
What makes Context Travel unique is the fact that their tour guides are experts and docents in their field. So if you are going on an architecture tour, your guide will have a PhD in architecture or in urban planning, someone who has in-depth knowledge that does not come with guidebooks.
Context Travel has just launched in Singapore so I will be checking out some of their tours soon and covering them on the blog, I can’t wait.
Interesting statistics for April 2018
There are a few other statistics and elements of the blog that are worth tracking and noting.
My Domain Authority for Once in a Lifetime Journey stayed at 38 which is good news but I am also hoping that the numbers will start increasing soon.
Moz has stopped updating the metric and has finally moved to a daily changing number from May and I now have access to Moz Premium which is quite useful but Moz is still a very flawed tool which missed a lot of data so the picture you get is always partial.
Check this article if you have never heard of domain authority or would like to know what it calculates and what it means.
Value from sponsored stays
When I started monetising the blog, this was the main source of income and something which was very valuable to me. In September, I told you how I put this on hold until the right opportunities came up and this is the time.
I did not do any sponsored trip in April, except for obviously the visit to The Boathouse but that was not really a trip, as we simply spent the entire time recording and photo shooting so I do not consider that a trip, more a project.
I conspicuously declare when the stay has been sponsored to comply with regulations, my code of conduct and the professional integrity I believe all bloggers should adhere to. If you see no disclaimer in a hotel review or post, rest assured I paid for it as I do in more than 90% of my travels.
Traffic and readership
Traffic has continued to increase and that is both driven by the work we are doing as well as by the seasonality of the summer approaching. A lot of my content is very summer-related so I expect traffic to continue to increase as summer approaches.
This month the blog reached 97,000 page views, inching closer to 100,000 and the year-end target of 200,000. But a lot of work needs to happen to double traffic in the second half of the year. Check the following graph to see my traffic and revenue evolution.
You can also take a look at the split between active and passive income as that is something I am keenly monitoring.
My objective is to maximise the red column there so that I can reduce the blue one and have the life that everyone thinks I have and which I don’t: Permanent holidays.
I am strongly focusing on growing affiliates and hope that for the second part of the year this revenue stream couple with ads will help me triple my passive income, my favorite type of income.
Business opportunities I declined
I actually receive an exponential amount of offers every month, several times a day and I decline 99% of them always. Sometimes good opportunities come along, but they are mostly unsuitable because what they want I am not willing to offer or it is not on point.
From the conference, lots of new opportunities came up, many of which are materialising from June on and they are very promising.
I set these goals in January so let’s see how we have progressed in the first months of the year.
|Area||Goal for 2018||January progress|
|Traffic||Bring traffic to 200,000 across both blogs||Really need to push it hard here|
|Domain Authority||Increase to 45||I am close to giving up on this. I really think that Moz measure is completely useless and also has created a market where there is an incentive for people to trick the system. So I will keep tracking but I will not mind missing this goal|
|Influencer and digital marketing practice||Set up Once in a Lifetime Media|
Build the revenues to $15,000 a month
|This keeps getting postponed as I get more and more work and have no time to fix the basics, I really want to make this a priority for the summer when I stay put for more than a month and create a great website for the business. Hiring a person will have to be a priority soon if this is to materialise|
|Build Case Studies of campaigns (formerly TrustPilot)||Create 5 case studies with impact and results||I am collecting the data but I have not had time to prepare the materials, another for the summer!|
|Press Kit||Revamp and improve||Yay! I have a new press kit that is really nice, now I need to put it up on the site!|
|Affiliate revenue||Increase revenues to $1,000||Getting here with Agoda and hopefully Context Travel will also help there. It has been a learning curve but we are getting there I think|
|Book||Sell 100 books||Sold 12 units 🙂 I have not even promoted it at all so need to get there too|
|Advertising revenue||Make $1,500 a month||On track, could possibly exceed and then will create a stretch goal|
|Personal branding||Build my personal brand||-Interview filmed waiting to be aired soon|
-Two conferences on my belt and more to come end of the year
|Niche Site||Build a site generating $2,000 a month||Not started|
|AdWords||Test AdWords budgeting and monetisation||Not started|
|Travel||Continue to travel and reach 105 countries visited. Beat my 140 days on the road personal record||-So far this year I have added Rwanda, Somaliland and Ethiopia and reached my 100th country!|
Scheduling Albania and
-Montenegro for the summer which will bring it to 102
Wrapping up April 2018
It seems that my income levels have stabilised around S$7,500-8,000 and I need to push them to cross the S$10,000 mark which may require a strong push for passive income or hiring a new person to help me with some tasks. For now, we keep trying.
Let me know what your thoughts are, what you would love to see more of, less of and what questions come to mind. Also, if anything is not clear, drop me a line. My contact details are in the Contact page.
Looking forward to another great month.