THE WEEKLY #144: IT’S BEEN 3 YEARS AS A TRAVEL BLOGGER
Three years ago I hit publish on the Journey Era blog. Little did I know, the moment my finger clicked that button would change my life 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 rookie 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 URL’. I literally knew nothing about a blog or a website and to be honest, I can’t quite recall why I wanted to make one…if I could ever figure it out.
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. 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 2019, Journeyera.com is viewed 650,000 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 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 short term exchanges, I was playing the long game. 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.
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. I thought that would be a great life. I achieved that goal through my content creation and Instagram earnings every month except one during my first year on the road. The blog was still not 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 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 7 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.
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 fill my nights with writing blogs, organizing and editing photos or planning trips. It’s a 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.
Exactly two years ago 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 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. I was documenting the adventure not catering to what was popular. 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 14 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 them and 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 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 still didn’t pitch to companies our tourism boards for trips. 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 never pitched to a company or a tourism board and still don’t. 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 thanking me for inspiring them to chase their travel dreams or journey to a new destination. This was amazing as it was often to 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 seven 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 no professional blogger, and four others went on to become successful entrepeneurs 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 with of 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 and $12 or less per night on accommodation (unless I’m in Switzerland!)
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. 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 (one week in Canggu and you will catch my drift). Money ruins people. I’m never going to let it run my life. Freedom is not about having lots of money. Have what you need and don’t want more.
I wrote this in April 2018 to sign off my 2-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 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. Keep things simple and never revolve your life around money.
I’m satisfied with my efforts in year three for causes bigger than myself but know I can do more and with Project Lombok and more ideas in mind, I am excited about the future. I now have more knowledge and confidence in the fundraising, activism and non-profit arena.
I think more than anything, right now I am simply comfortable with myself. I’m not perfect but I try and give my best to myself and to others. I try and show up daily and speak up for those that can’t. I accept my flaws with grace and try my best to do so for everyone else. It’s a time in my life where I feel at peace even when things get busy or don’t go in my favor. For me, that isn’t something I take for granted, having gone through tougher times as most of us have endured.
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.
Next April the fourth year update will be added to this post as the journey rolls on.
This is one damn big adventure. This is my Journey Era.