Five years ago I hit publish on the Journey Era blog. Little did I know, the moment my finger clicked that button my life would change forever.
I was living on Oahu at the time, which is a tropical island in Hawaii. I was in the last semester of my journalism degree. Sitting in the back row of classes, I found myself disenfranchised with the monotony of the majority of my education. I didn’t feel challenged and wasn’t feeling motivated about what sort of jobs I might be able to slot into once, I finished my degree. I took a class in web design and was quite terrible at it, but began building my blog on the side.
At the time, I was a huge amateur with a camera and didn’t know a thing about how to make a blog or why anyone would possibly want to read mine. I would google terms like ‘How to install WordPress’ or even simpler questions like, ‘What is a URL’. I literally knew nothing about a blog or a website.
For three months, I spent every spare moment designing the blog while simultaneously building up my social media channels and learning as much as I could about blogging. I had read a few articles that had inspired my strategy of building a social media web that would all direct traffic back to the blog. Like everything in my life, I do things differently. I always have a strategy. It may not be the best strategy but I have a plan and I commit to it.
I have a theory. If you put every ounce of effort into one direction and one passion, it becomes very hard to fail. Failure is still possible but it has to fight against all of the positive energy and effort you are throwing at it. If you make your dream an uphill battle for failure, you give it every chance of prevailing. By nature, I put my heart and soul into this project and I still do, to this day.
When your heart and soul is fully invested in your cause, the universe then begins to work for you after it realizes the true nature of your passion.
This is how my journey as a brand-new travel blogger began all the way through to reach the position I am in now. As of April 2021, Journeyera.com is viewed 750,000 times a month and has long been my major source of income. It has inspired thousands of people around the world to explore natural attractions in regions they may not have considered. This is the Journey Era timeline:
In April 2016, the first month of Journey Era, I published 20 articles. The blog was viewed 12,000 times. I graduated that month with my degree in Journalism, packed up my entire life into a backpacking bag, and set off to explore the world.
The first stop was Indonesia, which was fitting.
Not many people know this story but I tried to become a travel blogger long before Journey Era. In 2015, I didn’t have a blog yet, but I traveled to Bali by myself and rented a motorbike. I planned to circumnavigate Bali and write a story about it. I carried a little notebook and wrote things down as I traveled. I only filled two pages. I’m not sure where I intended to publish this so-called ‘blog’ but on day two I crashed my motorbike, knocked out two teeth, and put eight stitches into my chin. I went home to Australia for surgery and the blog never happened. I had written less than 100 words in the notebook but that was an experience that would stick with me. It was a failure indeed, but as they say, ‘It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it.
This time around in 2016, it was 1.5 years after the initial Bali incident and I had that experience under my belt. I was determined to be a digital nomad. The desire was borne out of a fear of not being a digital nomad, of being stuck in one place. That place would most likely be an office and I needed to avoid that at all costs because it just wasn’t me. I would adventure on some days and work on the blog during others. A simple plan that proved to be much more difficult than it sounds, when you add an incredibly tight budget into the plans.
The blog had grown to 15,000 page views in the second month and I had, somewhat surprisingly, been invited to my first ever press trip. After two months of blogging, I was invited to tour Indonesia with the Tourism Board with other bloggers for two weeks. It was a shock. I was paid $1000 USD and couldn’t believe someone was paying me to have the adventure of a lifetime and share my stories and photos with the rest of the world through my social media channels. I was doing that anyway!
This trip introduced me to many seasoned bloggers and creators who taught me a lot and pointed me in the right direction. I took that trip incredibly seriously. I asked lots of questions to other bloggers, learned from the photographers and was hungry to make sure this wasn’t the only opportunity I would receive. I didn’t take it for granted and worked my ass off. On that trip, our requirements were 1 Instagram post a day and 4 blog posts. I delivered four times more than the requirements, daily blogged from our liveaboard and handed over hundreds of photo selects to the Tourism Board when the trip ended. You make your own luck.
After this trip, my relationship with Jess, my girlfriend at the time, ended. She had originally been part of starting the blog with me and you can still see some of her blog posts and photos of her throughout the blog. We left on good terms but after three years together it was a shock to the system and I was now alone in all facets of my life.
I was thrust into a life of solo travel blogging and kicked it off with a week of couch surfing with a stranger in Thailand. I shared a bed in a one-bedroom room with a stranger in the jungle of Koh Samui. I think that was my way of welcoming myself to the adventure. Go from zero to one hundred in a blink of an eye.
The blog was now four months old and was receiving 20,000 views per month. At this stage, I began to search terms on Google like, ” how many page views are good for a blog’. It turned out I was doing quite well for only a 4-month old blog. It hadn’t earned me a cent but I was doing content creation on Instagram and also managing a number of other people’s Instagram accounts as my side-hustle. I shot content for bracelet companies for $8 a photo. It wasn’t glamorous but you get it done. I was hustling to stay afloat. I was buying time. My Instagram feed was looking like fun though!
I didn’t really do any hotel collaborations except a few here and there that came to me. I didn’t bother seeking them out. The influencer scene wasn’t quite what it is today and I stuck to the hostels or cheap homestays. I spent my time on adventures, not taking photos and creating content in exchange for fancy resorts. That’s a short-term exchange, I was playing the long game. My strategy was documenting hundreds of locations I would later rank first for on Google, while other bloggers and content creators promoted hotels for free stays, taking up lots of their time. Nothing much has changed.
The irony is that those posting photos from luxury hotels during their collaborations looked much more successful online than I did. I would quickly learn two things. Social media is a smoke and mirrors performance where things aren’t always as they seem. The second lesson I would learn is that chasing notoriety, fame or some kind of status would not come from blogging. It would come from social media if one was to chase it, which coincidentally has less potential for the passive income I was working towards.
My goal had always been to earn $800 USD per month as I knew I could live off of that easily in most Asian countries, which I was enjoying exploring. I thought that would be a great life. I achieved that goal through my content creation and Instagram earnings every month except December during my first year on the road. The blog still wasn’t monetized yet and I was spending every single moment on it. Looking back that seems a little crazy. Where did I get this blind faith from? I think the fact that there was a direct correlation between the effort I put in and the growth of the blog, which showed me that if I kept working hard so would my blog, page views, and earning potential. In the end, as long as I could fund my travels, I was happy.
By the end of the year, I had backpacked throughout Southeast Asia on the popular tourist paths to countries like the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. I wasn’t a travel veteran but you pick up a few skills on your first backpacking trip. You learn a bit about yourself and the world but you realize there is much more out there you don’t know. I had never spent more than $800 USD in a month.
The blog had reached 50,000 page views per month by the end of seven months on the road. I headed home over Christmas and then set off again in the new year. This time I felt like a traveler. I was no longer the first-timer or the rookie as I traveled to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. However, I still had a whole lot to learn.
I trekked Everest Base Camp and survived the sweltering heats of the Indian summer in Varanasi. Every day I was overwhelmed with new sights, foods, and cultures. My days felt like weeks and my months felt like years. My life had become a sensory overload in the best possible way. I was living. I was hustling hard as I still do to this day. I rarely party and filled my nights with writing blogs, organizing and editing photos, or planning trips. It’s my natural instinct to work hard, achieve and plan a bigger goal. You rarely celebrate a goal reached, you just realize you should have set one higher. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed many of the monumental moments but I also have an insatiable desire to always push for more. It’s a huge part of my success but can also be detrimental at times. Balance is key.
Exactly two years earlier when I wrote about my first year as a blogger I felt like I had been traveling for five years. Today it seems like ten. Life has never felt so full of adventure.
After one year of blogging, the Journey Era blog was being read 80,000 times per month. I was pouring all of my efforts into it. I still hadn’t made a cent from the blog and had been working intensely on it for more than a year. I wasn’t concerned about affiliates or ads. My blog was growing at an incredible pace and I knew that it was because I was blogging about places, not hotels or packing lists. I was documenting the adventure not catering to what would make me money. It was because I was traveling in a relatable way, not on non-stop curated press trips. It was because I was writing all my own content and visiting all the places I was recommending.
When I look back on that process, I’m extremely proud of my determination in that period. That was a tough stretch of time. I backed myself in when there was no-one who really knew what I was up to. Sure, there were people who were supporting me but no-one really knew the numbers, the statistics, the time I was putting in. Even my parents were silently wondering where it was all headed.
I did a lot of solo grinding in that period and 2017 helped me grow up a lot. I’ll be honest, I think after 2016 I was a little fragile. By the end of 2017, I felt much more sure of myself and accepting of who I was. I trusted the process and although I had fears and doubts, I knew that you reap what you sow. To have blind faith in yourself and to believe in your dreams is an amicable thought, but seldom put into practice.
I remember sitting in a cafe in San Marcos, a lakeside town in Guatemala, and placing ads on the Journey Era blog. I can still remember the couch, the music, and the smell. It had been fourteen months of blogging and it was time to monetize the blog. There was no celebration or even someone to tell. I just sat there, clicked the button, and installed it. That was that. I finished my coffee and off I went.
It was May 2017 and 100,000 views were hitting my blog per month and things were about to start getting interesting. I had hit six figures in blog views per month in just over a year of blogging as a solo-blogger. The majority of the views came from Google, not social media, despite what most would have guessed. It was quite an achievement and one I’m proud of.
I was invited on a one-week trip with Royal Caribbean as a paid campaign. It was followed up by a campaign in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Australia. Build it and they will come had been the mantra from day one. I just went about my own travels until an email would come through and if it sounded like a fun opportunity, off I went.
I tried to only accept adventure-style trips but still really valued the independent travels. I enjoyed the trips where I went all-around a new region, exploring the natural attractions, staying in the hostels and finding it out on my own. Documenting all of the spots in one town or region became my trademark. I went into depth others didn’t. I stayed for a month in one place and tried to visit it all.
I balanced my life between media trips and independent travel. I really never pitched to a company or a tourism board and still don’t to this idea except for the odd hiking company here and there. If there was a trip I was invited on that was great. If not I would pick a spot and off I went to explore it and document my adventures. This was a balance that helped me keep my life and travels in check.
By the end of 2017, I had worked on numerous campaigns and fit my independent travels in between these campaigns. I was being paid to travel while on these campaigns and simultaneously working with other brands along the way. The blog was generating considerable advertisement revenue and I no longer worried about reaching the $800 USD a month target. However, I still cared little about money. I continued to live off less than $800 a month and it often was far less because of the campaigns I was part of.
I was receiving daily e-mails and messages on Instagram from followers who were thanking me for inspiring them to chase their travel dreams or journey to a new destination. This was amazing as the messages were often about destinations that people wouldn’t have visited otherwise. My readers were enjoying adventurous travels too!
I think a lot of you guys related to my story of feeling lost during the final year of university or school. The regular 9-5 doesn’t appeal to everyone but it’s hard to feel your way into an alternative path. It seems like a HUGE jump or risk when in actual fact it’s not that dramatic In the end, you just have to pursue something relentlessly despite your doubts and fears. It takes us back to my theory, ‘Make failure work against you’. Be so damn passionate about whatever it is that you choose that failure is going to have to be an uphill battle to bring you down. Leave nothing to chance and pour your heart into your project of choice.
At the end of 2017, I decided I could help a handful of people by running a workshop. I ran the workshop independently, with no experience in organizing group travel for 10 people and no experience teaching. I threw myself into the deep end. More than 500 of you applied.
I picked eight up-and-coming creators who I thought had the drive to reach their goal of becoming a digital nomad by the end of 2018. I kept the workshop cost to a bare minimum. That was important to me. I didn’t run the workshop to make lots of money and it’s something I’m proud of. Still to this day, I’ve never seen a workshop run for anywhere near this cost and it was a 10-dayer!
The type of people I wanted in my workshop were people who didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a workshop but had determination. I wanted these seven people to be driven, adventurous and committed. That’s all I ever wanted from them. And I found them.
As a group of 10, we explored the Nusa Islands in Indonesia, adventuring by day and running workshops by night. It was exactly what I had hoped for. I helped this crew for months before the workshop and continue to work with them and help them on their journey to a life of freedom. One of them is a professional blogger, and four others went on to become successful entrepreneurs in different ways.
During the first part of 2018, I went hiking in Kauai for a month and created the number one ranking hiking guide and also worked a campaign for the Tourism Board of Queensland on the Great Barrier Reef.
I continued to hustle incredibly hard. It’s something I pride myself on and I know it is the backbone of my progress. Throughout everything that has happened over the years, the most important factor has been consistency. In the hard moments, I have persisted. In the easy moments, I’ve kept my focus. You never let yourself get too low or too high. Balance is key.
It had now been two years since I hit the publish button on the Journey Era blog. I had personally written almost 400 articles while non-stop adventuring around the world and now, every month my blog was viewed more than 330,000 times per month.
I always had this idea that I would never have much money. I was okay with that. I think I had just accepted that and I’m not sure why. Of course, that notion was in relation to an average wage in Australia, not a global perspective. I had and always will have the privilege I grew up as a middle-class Australian.
The blog was now making six figures a year but I didn’t really spend a cent of it. It’s not what I was on this journey for. In fact, I still spend less than $800 per month for the most part.
I hadn’t bought anything other than a drone in my first two years of travel. I still had the same camera and same gear. I keep my life simple. Even to this day I still have lots of the same clothes from my first travels to South-east Asia. Throughout my travels, I have seen people who are in dire need of money and also people who are in dire need of less money. Money ruins people. I’m never going to let it run my life. Freedom is not about having lots of money. Freedom is having what you need and not needing more, it’s about having choices.
I wrote this in April 2018 to sign off my two-year review:
I’ve built myself financial freedom through hard work and good fortune, but what I now have is the opportunity to make a change to how we all think. I want to put myself second and make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of others. As always, actions speak louder than words and I will be launching a new project on my birthday, the 22nd of October.
Now let’s take a look at how year three unfolded! As I said, actions speak louder than words so let’s see what happened in year three!
By now I felt like I had really honed my blogging skills. I also felt like I was learning a skillset of exploring new places in ways others struggled with. I could schedule trips, plan routes and find the best spots with a high level of efficiency. It almost became a hobby for me. That is when Nic Morley and I picked Romblon off the map in the Philippines. It wasn’t unknown to tourists but very lightly traveled. For an entire month, we explored every corner of the five main islands in the province and I created the first comprehensive adventure travel guide to the Romblon Province in English. I would blog about each individual location and then make big guides compiling the best waterfalls, sunset spots, cliff jumps, and then a mega guide with all of the info in one spot. It was how I began to travel. It was the most effective way to blog for my readers and the best strategy when trying to rank on google. It became my trademark.
June was a period of media trips with an adventure travel trip to Israel before a stint in the Aussie outback with Dan Moore exploring Litchfield and Kakadu. It was then that I was offered a trip to Colombia with Hostelworld for a week and could bring a plus-one. It was time to get out of Southeast Asia and mix it up. Josh came over with me and as we explored Colombia. It was then that I committed to running. With Josh motivating me and my debut on Strava, I started to clock the kilometers working up to 30km a week.
After Colombia, we were meant to head to Costa Rica but thought we would stop in Panama for a couple of weeks or so. I ended up spending 100 days in Panama. Josh left after a few weeks and I continued to explore the entire country for the remainder of my time. I met some awesome adventure guru locals and did my best at learning Spanish. I blogged my adventures daily, made some great friends and I felt at home and at peace with myself.
I’m not sure if it was because I was back to solo travel again or not but I was feeling inspired. It was at this moment, in Santa Fe on top of a mountain after a sweaty four-hour hike by myself that I came up with the ‘Adventure Bag’. I picked up a bag of trash on my hike and told anyone if they did the same I would repost it on my story. A few people joined and it soon became a daily occurrence. Before long, there were tons being sent in as adventurers from around the world wanted to do their bit.
I had never felt part of a community in such a long time as I did on the morning of the very first Adventure Bag Adventure Day. I called people from all over Panama to join us on a sunrise hike and an afternoon hike where we would pick up trash as we went. We sold out Bodhi Hostel in El Valle de Anton to the point that over 30 people from across the country slept in tents in the parking lot. At 4 am we set off up the mountain like an army and it was the start of something big.
From there the Adventure Bag grew into a movement and I called it the Adventure Bag Crew. We’ve now done 10 cleanups around the world and have had thousands of bags sent into Instagram or tagged. The movement continued in Panama with a massive clean-up in Panama City. While doing all of this I keep the daily blogs rolling and created the largest ever adventure travel guide to Panama with lots of unique places there that even many locals hadn’t trekked or visited. It was a great way to showcase a country often overlooked for neighboring Costa Rica, just as I had planned to do. What a huge mistake that would have been.
I headed back to Asia to link up with Nic and create an epic short film. We toured around East Java for 10 days and created a short film about my journey so far in collaboration for Polarpro. You can check out the final result below.
November and December 2018
By now I had been running for a while and even completed a marathon by myself in the hills of Panama. I was running 50km or more a week and Josh Lynott and I had signed up for the Bali Hope Swim Run to raise money to upgrade the Nusa Lembongan Recycling Center. I was starting to be surrounded by people doing great things, making impacts, raising money and helping others. I was learning and soaking up as much knowledge from everyone as possible while I continued to push on with the Adventure Bag Crew.
The swim-run event was a 21km run and 3km of swimming but broken up into alternating sections. Josh and I put in a solid training block of a month in Moalboal, Cebu, which is in the Philippines. The swim-run event was a 21km run and 3km of swimming but broken up into alternating sections. You swam in shoes and ran in wet shoes. \
I broke my hand five days before the swim-run event. We came third. The team raised $40,000 for the recycling center and it was a great time and learning experience.
I headed back to South Australia as I do every Christmas to be with my family. I could have relaxed at this point but ‘classic Jackson’, I decided to spend 2 months going through every single of my 600 blog posts and updating the information, adding relevant affiliate links like hotel or activity links, and upgrading the SEO because many of them were written when I knew less about blogging. It was incredibly boring and a huge grind but tripled my monthly passive income with just 2 months of work.
This made it a slow start to the year but a good rest and recovery for body and mind and a chance to appreciate family and friends who are often neglected with quality time while I am off around the world.
I continued running the beach cleanups and Adventure Bag Crew began to grow and grow. The blog was now reaching more than 450,000 people per month.
I managed to get an amazing resort called Pulo Cinta to do a collaboration with me for my mother’s 60th birthday. It was my first travel of the year and I was stoked to get to share that part of my life and quality time all together as a family out in the middle of the ocean. After this relaxing stay my year would officially kick-off and as it always is, would be a roller coast of ups and downs.
Throughout the start of this year, I had created ‘Project Lombok’. I was collaborating with the Classroom of Hope in their post-earthquake efforts on Lombok. I promoted a trip where I would take 10 of my followers on an 8 day trip of Lombok for $1500 USD per person. On the 8th day, we would visit two pop-up schools their money had funded being built. The idea was that instead of my earning money for running the trip, 100% of the funds would go to the schools and hotels, and tour companies would sponsor the trip. 100 people applied and we got the crew going.
We also created a social campaign where we aimed to raise another $100,000 AUD to build a further seven pop-up schools for communities in the North of Lombok. I learned a lot from founder Duncan Ward and we chatted daily. He became somewhat of a mentor to me, teaching me how to navigate situations.
As I currently write this the campaign will begin in two weeks and Project Lombok will kick off in two weeks also. However, I headed to Lombok in March to visit the schools and organize my tour company and hotel sponsors for the trip.
I headed back to the Philippines and Josh joined me shortly thereafter. I was recovering slowly from hamstring tendinitis but the running was still on. I was training for the Bali Hope Ultra Marathon in May and keeping my hopes alive by not clocking too many kilometers but slowly building up. Josh and I did a trip out to Coron for Big Dream Boat Man and Casa Fidelis before I headed off to El Nido to collaborate with the Clean Cliffs Project and Redbull with Red Bull Cliff Diving.
I could have never imagined the blog would be currently at 640,000 page views per month. I’m being recognized multiple times per day in the Philippines because of my travel guides or Instagram and it is still quite funny to me. The blog is earning quite a lot but as always, it is business as usual as I stay in $12 or less accommodation unless it is a media trip or special situation. I travel on a budget because that is the way to keep your freedom. Simplicity is freedom. Keep things simple and never revolve your life around money.
After lots of preparation and planning I touched down on Lombok and within a few days my group had arrived and we set off on a week full of adventures into the mountains and along the coast of this beautiful island in Indonesia. Project Lombok was a week where each of the adventure trip participants paid a fee of $1500 USD to be on the adventure tour. 100% of that fee went to building two much-needed pop-up schools in the earthquake-devastated region of north Lombok. I managed to fund the costs of the trip by having people host us in exchange for blog and social media promotion. The rest that I couldn’t get covered such as van drivers and some accommodation I covered. In total, the trip expenses were just $2500 AUD, which I covered and all of the trip fees from each participant pooled together to make a $15,000 USD donation to Classroom of Hope to build the classrooms for the two pop-up schools. The week of adventure was incredible and a great vibe, which was capped off by our visit to the schools, which we had a little ceremony at and got to see what our money had funded and the impact we had. Below is a short video recap of the week that Nic came on the trip to create.
After Project Lombok, I needed a bit of time to wind down mentally as it had been all-consuming to create the idea and execute the idea with no outside help. I’m not an event planner or trip-planner so I just used my travel skills to navigate as best as I could throughout the week. I headed across to Bali for a week and started to concentrate on running every day and getting in shape for the upcoming ultra-marathon for the Bali Hope Ultra fundraiser. It was in three weeks’ time and in the middle of those three weeks, I had a work trip to Peru to film a campaign with their tourism board.
Unfortunately, disaster struck and my hip injury from when I was 16 became unbearably painful and it was so sharp I decided I had no option but to pull out of the ultra-marathon. I was super disappointed but that’s how life goes sometimes. I still headed off to Peru for the 4-day trip but after that trip, I headed back to Adelaide to get double hip surgery, which was the same procedure as I had 11 years ago when I was 16. The Peru trip was quite strange due to it being incredibly short but that is how the industry goes sometimes. I was paid a good wage for the four days and got to see Macchu Picchu, do some bungee jumping and get a small taste of Peru, ready for a return to travel the country properly at a later date. I also managed to have business class flights to and from Peru from Bali so that was a first for me and only something I had requested due to the ultra-marathon I was meant to be in days later.
I spent 50 days in Adelaide, Australia getting both of my surgeries and recovering from each. It’s a small arthroscopic surgery so you can walk out the next day, albeit a bit stiff. They say not to run for 3-4 months and no sharp movements for even longer so it is quite a slow recovery. I used that 50 days in Adelaide to smash the backlog I had on my blog. Just like the previous Christmas when I had done 40 days of optimizing old posts, this paid dividends big time. The biggest lesson I’ve learned after four years is that I should enjoy where I’m at and creating a backlog is okay if there is too much going on. Then whenever it feels right to have a down period, there’s an injury or a limiting circumstance (like Corona Virus in 2020), I use that time to catch up, optimize and do all the things that allow me to be able to profit off enjoying my adventures.
The blog had now entered a stage where it had been earning six figures for almost two years and it was growing in a linear fashion towards half a million a year although not quite there at this point. Booking.com and Mediavine were my two mainstays as income earners through hotel referrals and the display advertisements on my blog. Another 18 different affiliates all played their part in my income but those two were the big constants.
I didn’t want to spend much more time in the Adelaide winter so I set off on a trip to Turkey for some sun, a new country, to continue my hip rehab and to catch up with an old friend. I hung out here for ten days by the coast and didn’t blog, didn’t shoot just kind of hung out. Not normal for me but it was a fun time. I then transitioned to base myself in Cappadocia for the next ten days and slowly eased myself back into some decent mileage walks and eased myself back into taking photos and blogging… by writing one of the biggest blog guides to Cappadocia ever.
August, September, October 2019
I’d dropped the idea many times over the year about going on a hiking-focused trip but finally, it was time to do it. Was two months after my hip surgeries the best time for that? Probably not but off we went. I headed over to Switzerland, which was my first time in Europe properly since a three-day visit to Greece and a soccer trip as a kid. I hadn’t really been to Europe much at all.
I didn’t really have a big plan except I wanted to hike most days. I didn’t have gear, know-how or where was best to base. I basically just made a list of hikes and started ticking them off. My hips gave me a bit of trouble in the early months but then by the time I left Switzerland a few months later they had calmed themselves down and had strengthened.
There were multiple phases throughout this Swiss trip. Josh joined me for the first month, Pema joined me for another month and there was a one-week stint in the middle of the three months where I went to Alaska for my second time working with Royal Caribbean as a content creator on their ship. However, for the most part, it was 4-5 hikes per week as the constant throughout the trip. I had made a list of 50 hikes and I was slowly ticking them off on my way to creating the largest and most detailed blog post about all of the hikes in Switzerland. Of course, I was documenting each one with a blog post but my main goal was to create one large blog about all of the top hikes in Switzerland (for average hikers, not climbers).
I really began to love the physical challenge and Switzerland is just on another level. Their 10-year-olds are more adventurous than most adults around the world so you quickly adapt and grow into your potential surrounded by so much adventure and outdoor vibes. I had a really great time in Switzerland and it was another great example for me that staying somewhere for longer is the best way for me to travel to have some sort of stability, enjoy the place in the best way I can and also beneficial for the depth of blog content.
By now, I had almost five months of recovery since my surgery, albeit a very active recovery with 50 hikes in 90 days during my Swiss operation. I was feeling good, which was lucky because Josh and I set off on a tourism board trip to Papua New Guinea. It was meant to be just 10-days, but I was able to have them extend the trip so we could hike the Kokoda Track and Mount Wilhelm (the tallest peak in Oceania) as well as visit the coastal regions. It was fun to be adventuring with Josh again and it was a very laidback gig that meant we could shoot at will and we created some content for the tourism board that they were stoked with and in quantities, they couldn’t believe.
The trip to Papua New Guinea was as epic as it was challenging physically with an awesome 8-days on the Kokoda Track backed up almost straight away by climbing the tallest peak in Oceania at 4,508 meters. We then explored some of the most untouched coastal regions in the world to cap off an epic adventure.
I headed to Siargao in the Philippines after Papua New Guinea for a bit of a break and to help out Josh with his second workshop. It was exactly two years since my first trip to Siargao, which was a bit of a turning point for me and became one of my most popular destinations on the blog due to the way I went about things. I love Siargao and it taught me a lot, so it is a sentimental place for me. This time, Siargao taught me that riding the bike is something I want to do more often. I rented a mountain bike and rode it everywhere clocking up over 100km a week and never taking the moped anywhere. It was great fitness and something I would carry on into 2020.
I checked out quite a few new spots on Siargao and added them to my huge guide. It was great to watch Josh’s workshop unfold and see him going all-in on his project.
December 2019 & January 2020
This journey has taken me all over the world and sometimes I just pick a place of a map while at other times there is a need to visit a location. In December I headed to Hong Kong for a month of hiking and to create an epic guide to the best urban and rural hikes I could find. However, I was also there for a couple of meetings to open Hong Kong bank accounts and a few other business type meetings to finalize the structure of Journey Era Ltd. Basically it was a whole lot of forms, meetings and I even walked around in a suit for a day or two to make it all happen.
My job is pretty adventurous but whenever you are earning money there are lots of hoops to jump through for business structure, taxes, accountants and so forth. I usually try and avoid most of that but there are certain boxes that need to be ticked and Hong Kong was where I got that done. I spent 90% of my time up in the mountains while in Hong Kong and it was a truly epic place to hike with lots of city views. It was kind of cool to wear a suit one day and then be up on a summit looking down on the craziness of the city the next. It was pretty cool to give people a new perspective of Hong Kong other than just shopping and the city so I think a lot of people were surprised at how many epic hikes there were.
A new decade began in Hong Kong but I spent most of January back in Australia visiting family and friends. It was a brief spell but always good to be back at home. I didn’t make many plans for the year ahead and had hardly any press trips or collaborations on the horizon. For a while now, I had been putting the blog first and it showed. It was earning me 95% of my income and I wasn’t relying on Instagram campaigns or product collaborations, which was very nice as they can be a bit stressful. This is basically what January looked like for me: A bit of travel, a bit of blogging and a bit of recharging.
I’d been renting an apartment in Cebu for over a year now but I decided to relocate from my Moalboal base to Cebu City so it was easier to come and go from the airport on Mactan Island. This meant I had to go down to Moalboal and hand back the apartment and then find and rent an apartment in Cebu City. It’s a bit hectic living in the city but I’m only there in between trips and use it as a bit of a base. I have very little in that apartment except for a few loose possessions and my bike, which I transit around the city on. I managed to rent a small studio near Ayala mall for about $5000 a year so that is just part of traveling full-time and running an online business. I rode my bike a lot this month and began to run again clocking 20km a week of running and more than 100km a week of riding. I did a few little explorations around Cebu but for the most part, I took I smashed out the blogs at coffee shops writing about 40 blogs in the 21 days I was in Cebu.
March was the first month of 2020 that I really did some serious travel. I set off with Klook to do a 3-week tour of Kyushu in Japan. Two of those weeks were solo but the last week was with Klook and Jorden actually joined onto the tour, so it was cool to catch up with him. Kyushu was all about volcanoes, hikes waterfalls and hot springs so it was an awesome time albeit very cold. This was right about when the Corona Virus starting to cause world-wide panic but was still on the rise and the world wasn’t in full lockdown yet.
After Kyushu, I headed off to Lombok, Indonesia. The airports were already a bit strange and tensions were high. Face masks were everywhere and little did I know, this would be the end of travel as we know it for quite a while. I was in Lombok for Project Hiu, which is a shark conservation trip that turned out to be awesome. Project Hiu translates to Project Shark and it was something I had been following for quite a while due to it being based on Lombok and led by the wild, ‘Shark Girl’, Madison Stewart.
The idea of Project Hiu began years ago with Madison Stewart, a passionate shark conservationist. The premise of the project is to provide an alternative income to shark fisherman from Lombok via her Project Hiu tourism-based trips so that they no longer need to go shark-fishing and sell the shark fins to China and Hong Kong. As part of the trip the shark fisherman took us out on their boat to go sightseeing and it was just a really fun vibe with a great crew of people.
Well, here we are. After four years of travel blogging. I’ve found myself back in Adelaide, Australia taking shelter from the lockdowns that suddenly clamped down on all global travel. I had 14-days of self-isolation and then was allowed into the community but everything is still pretty much locked down or closed. My blog is earning 5% of what it was a month ago but that will come back when the searches come back on Google, which will return to regular volume when travel is normalized again. That is, of course, assuming this is all temporary.
It’s a bit of a bizarre way to finish this four-year story but it is what is and we move in forwards the best way we can. Luckily, I’ve basically saved every cent I’ve ever earned so financially I’m fine and I’m in great health so I’m positioned well to survive on all fronts. I’m spending this month with my family in Adelaide as I wait to see how the world reacts to this pandemic and what travel will look like for the rest of 2020.
Five months in Adelaide. Wow, couldn’t have predicted that. It was great to have an extended time to catch up and reconnect with family and friends. I also had the stability to delve deep into a running and cycling program that was amateur at best but had more conditioned and ready for the adventures to come. I worked hard during the five months, maximizing the stability to get the blog to a place where it can flourish again as travel returns. Having my laptop permanently set up on my desk is a luxury only a long-term digital nomad can relate to. When the flow is slow, you need to adapt and make the best out of it. I actually really enjoyed my five months in Adelaide although there were times I was keen for something new. Patience, friends, family, cycling, and running got me through till late July.
So, where do you go in the middle of a pandemic if you are keen on adventures? By late July, lots of Europe was open and travel was a possibility. I secured a travel exemption from the Australian Government as I was technically not an Australian resident. I considered all of my options and didn’t want to rush into travel that would leave me exposed to lockdowns, quarantine, or health risks. I ended up making an amazing choice in hindsight and it would be one of the best travel experiences of my life. I took four flights on a 40-hour journey and landed on the small Portuguese island of Madeira.
The island of Madeira is about the same size as Oahu in Hawaii. I rented a car and a humble apartment and began exploring the volcanic peaks and beautiful coastal trails on the island. About a month after arriving, the tourism board of Madeira began to collaborate with me buying hundreds of images from me, which I was taking in locations they had never seen captured before. After two months I met the Les a Les hiking group of adventurous locals and was introduced to several locals who would become my best friends in Madeira. It was great to have a small community again, especially in a time where isolation and quarantine were the norms.
Madeira had almost no cases until the last month or so of my trip, so for the most part, we had relative freedom and safety on the island. The locals I was hiking with always went for food and drinks (Poncha) after a hike. I learned to slow down, work less and enjoy the community on the island. Having said that, I still published more than 120 blogs in the six months I was on Madeira Island as well as 20 Youtube videos.
Madeira has quite a small population and due to the extreme nature of the hikes I was doing, my videos and photos began to gain quite a lot of traction on the island. Having my photo up on the wall of a local Poncha bar was clearly one of the highlights of my trip!
Madeira was exactly what I needed. I made life-long friends, pushed my hiking limits and began doing a number of thru-hikes, and enjoyed a sense of community. I did the Caminho Real hike (180km with 9000m of an incline in 7 days) and the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (115km with 8000m of an incline in 4 days), and lots of locals were inspired to explore more of their beautiful island. These treks were among the biggest I’ve done and I’m excited to try longer (maybe less steep) treks in the future.
I extended my stay multiple times on Madeira, as the rest of the world continued to suffer lockdowns and the travel closures were on and off. In my last month on Madeira, the cases began to rise and a few restrictions came into play. I saw it as a good time to leave after six months and had been planning to set off on a new adventure anyway. I left Madeira with a true sense of gratitude to everyone on Madeira from my good mates to the friendly locals I met along the way. Obrigado!
In terms of the blog, well it was on the rise but still obviously suffering from the lower travel rates around the world. The views were increasing but the hotel and tour booking commissions were not bouncing back as consumer confidence was still low. My page views were around 300,000 per month by the time I left Madeira, which is less than half from before Covid. With that many page views (even with lower RPM due to less ad spending by advertisers) I was still earning up to $200 USD per day just from ad revenue as well as some hotel and tour bookings. To be honest, I knew everything would bounce back so the fact I was still earning during this time was a bonus. In the peak of the pandemic during April and May of 2020, my ad revenue dropped to an all-time low of $34 USD per day for a short while.
I never panicked and actually doubled down on my strategy of long-tail SEO and trying to rank for keywords. Working now for future gain is actually what a passive income is all about, so I was more than used to putting in work with the idea of it earning an income for myself later. I watched many in the industry write short-term posts about Covid, try and get views from social media or spend time on non-SEO-related strategies. I think the time was better spent on a strategy that assumed the pandemic would be recovering within a 1-2 year period. That was my plan and the work I put in during the pandemic should earn me an income for the next decade as my posts show up in ranking results on Google for years to come.
I was also lucky to get paid by the Madeira Tourism board and they were also able to provide a trusty rental car for my entire stay on Madeira as well as several long-term accommodation options for me. I emailed them before I went to Madeira and got no reply but by the time I left, we had formed a great relationship and supported each other whenever possible. I think I did a decent job promoting Madeira in my own unique way.
So where do you go when the world is still struggling with a pandemic in February 2021. Africa. I headed off to Tanzania to take on Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro with my girlfriend Pema. She was on a mission to complete the seven summits so I was happy to tag along on a 9-day trek of Kili and keep my hiking legs on the rise.
Mount Kilimanjaro was an incredible experience and the final climb up the Western Breach at sunrise was next-level. Imagine a steep wall of snow and ice as we ascended more than 1000m on the final morning to reach Uhuru Peak at 5,895m.
In 2020 I averaged more than 10,000m of vertical climb per month and set a goal to continue that for 2021. I knew if I was climbing that elevation per month in some form, I would be up in the mountains and living a good life. It was a fitness and also a lifestyle goal. I also set a goal of doing a minimum of 50-pushups per day. It might sound small and a bit of a weird goal but as a full-time traveler, you need some rules and framework to base from in what can often be a messy life and schedule. I often do more than 50 and a full work-out but the streak is still alive in April.
After Mount Kilimanjaro, the hikes continued with ascents up Mount Meru (4,566m), Ol Doinyo Lengai (2,962m), and several craters in the Ngorongoro region. I began to create what should be the most in-depth hiking guide for Tanzania just months after completing the most in-depth hiking guide of Madeira Island. Hiking seems to have taken over on my travel blog and it’s a fun way to keep the challenges rolling in my fifth year. Hiking guides are a little less competitive than regular travel guides but obviously have much less traffic but I’ve never based my adventures on what will ‘do well’ on my blog.
As of April 2021, the blog has finally broken back into the 400,000 monthly page views. Lots of Americans are traveling and my monthly earnings have crept back up into five figures. There’s still a lot of room for growth with two of my major destinations, Indonesia and the Philippines, still in complete lockdown. Post pandemic, I’m expecting to continue the journey to one million page views per month. My highest month before the pandemic was 770,000 monthly page views and I have added a LOT of content since then, which should perform well, so it’s just a matter of the travel demand returning.
After five years of blogging, I feel like I am efficient, productive, and know how to write something that will rank. More importantly, I am enjoying the adventures that I write about and am constantly pushing myself to grow as a photographer. If you ever adventure with me, you will see how much effort I put into documenting a location or a trail even if it seems totally over the top. It’s just how I am but it shows me I am still passionate about what I do. The motivation comes from inside not from any externalities. If that ever changes, it’s time to rethink my approach and my lifestyle.
My approach remains the same. I don’t really have any long-term goals, I am just enjoying hiking, photography, and all of the cultures and people I get to meet along the way as the adventures roll on. I hope my story gives anyone else who is a little lost or not sure where their life is heading to take a risk on something they feel passionate about. What seems scary at first will figure itself out if you put 100% heart and soul into it. Are you willing to put five years into your project, passion, or dream?
Thanks for reading this far. I hope it gave you some insight into how this journey has unfolded and where it all began.
I’m thankful to my parents and sister for supporting me throughout my travels. I’m thankful to all of my friends and those awesome champions I have met around the world. Finally, I am thankful to all of you guys for supporting me at every stop along the way.
This is one damn big adventure. This is my Journey Era.