Travel influencers make money through many potential income streams, but essentially these can be broken into two approaches: selling a lifestyle or selling information.
In this article, I break down these two basic approaches to making money as an influencer- plus how to get started building a sustainable income as an influencer.
Travel influencers make money through many different routes, but essentially, no matter what route they take, travel influencers break down into two categories:
- Spends time curating appearance, scouting locations, and choosing clothing.
- Focuses on image: Instagram, TikToks, or YouTube.
- Requires a team including, at minimum, a skilled photographer/videographer
- Can be difficult to convert to income, as lifestyle influencers tend to have a younger, less wealthy audience.
- Spends time learning, researching, or exploring to gain expert knowledge of a topic or destination.
- Focuses on content in written or video form.
- Easier to operate solo, though freelance help may be needed.
- Requires many hours of work before a payout in audience growth or income.
While a few influencers try both, through my own market research I’ve noticed that influencers tend to have more success if they choose one route over the other. Why? I think these two different types of travel influencers reach very different audiences.
For example, influencers who make money while traveling by selling information may have a viewer base of people with a lower tolerance for the look-at-me lifestyle of influencers who sell their lifestyle, and conversely, viewers who follow influencers because they aspire to have their lifestyle or aesthetic may be less likely to consume informational content.
As you start out on your journey as a travel influencer (my guide to How to Become a Travel Influencer is a great place to start, if you’re just beginning your journey) you’ll need to choose your monetization model early. Choosing a monetization model early helps you identify your audience and specialize. If you’ll be creating content to inform other potential travelers, you can spend less time and effort on lifestyle-type content. And if you decide to go the route of selling the travel influencer lifestyle, you can skip some of the work of creating informational content.
What is an Influencer Monetization Model?
Although every travel influencer and travel blogger has a business that looks a little bit different from any other, the avenues they use to make money from their travel influencer lifestyle is called their monetization model. These avenues come in many forms, but can be categorized down to just a few methods for influencers to make money.
How to Make Money as a Travel Influencer
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In this section, I’ll discuss several of the most popular monetization models for travel bloggers and influencers, plus how you can start making money through that model.
Successful travel influencers and travel bloggers on Patreon seem to be able to create one of two motivations for signing up: access to desirable content or altruistic support of mission-based travel.
On my successful Patreon (which for privacy’s sake I will not disclose here, but which sits in the top .5% of patron accounts) I’ve created a comfortable monthly income through using both approaches: clearly communicating about the causes that motivate me to create what I create and offering special access to Patreons who pay a small amount each month to have access to my work.
How to get started on Patreon
The trick with Patreon is really just to start and slog on through the early stages.
As you can see from my growth trajectory pictured below, Patreon often takes a long time to get revved up. But start the process of sharing content right away. This will mean that when potential patrons visit your page in the future, they’ll see that one of the perks of joining is access to a lot of content – and that alone can prompt new sign-ups.
Because Patreon makes money when creators do (their fees are on a percentage basis) Patreon creates a lot of high-quality training materials for its creators. If you start a Patreon, I recommend following the podcast, instruction manuals, Youtube feed, and growth-related content that Patreon makes for creators. Following their tips helped me hit $5000 a month in earnings in my first 2 ½ years on the platform.
If you are ready to take the leap to start a Patreon, consider joining using this referral link, which gives me a small bonus if your first month goes well and helps to keep this guide online.
Display Ads on a Blog or YouTube Channel
Travel influencers who blog about travel, destinations, or even start a travel blog about being a travel blogger (that’s me!) make money through ads. They allow advertisers to display advertisements along with the articles they publish on their website.
While this monetization model can be difficult to break into, it can be extremely lucrative. For example, I wrote and published over 150 different 1,000-word blog posts on WanderBig.com before it had its first day of exceeding $20 in earnings from advertisements. (But in blogging momentum is everything and I know from experience, it’s actually much easier to get a blog’s ad revenue from $20/day to $100/day than it is to go from $0 to $20!)
Why I think blogging is the best monetization model for travel influencers
Despite the slow start, I think display advertising is the most reliable form of income for travel bloggers.
Requiring little risk and a lot of longevity, it’s the best choice for building a truly passive income through travel blogging. For example, a post about an “evergreen” topic (like how to make money as a travel influencer!) can earn money for years after a lifestyle influencer’s content has been forgotten.
Getting started with website advertising on your travel blog.
There’s a strange dichotomy where blogs with not very many visitors not only get fewer ad impressions (number of times that ads are shown on the page), but advertisers pay much lower advertising rates on those ads. As traffic to a travel blog grows, however, the earnings-per-ad skyrocket.
As you get started with display advertising on your travel blog, you can initially join AdSense, a Google-owned company, then as your website grows you can transition to Ezoic or Monumetric, which offer slightly higher RPMs, and eventually to an ad server like Mediavine, SheMedia, or AdThrive, all of which offer premium advertising rates for sites that have enough traffic to qualify.
While you can spend a lifetime learning about search engine optimization, the best way to grow your website big enough to join one of these networks is simply to create engaging content – and keep creating it without giving up. Sticking with the grind through the early days (I wrote almost 100,000 words on WanderBig before I ever earned a penny from the site) there’s a huge amount of passive income to be earned through blog advertising.
To earn more money as an influencer: shift focus from self to content
- Bloggers who sell a lifestyle have to constantly strive to ensure that the lifestyle they share is enviable – that’s an exhausting and often crushing task. On the other hand, content focus bloggers are able to take time off – sometimes months at a time between content creating projects, don’t have to worry as much about losing their audience, and don’t have to keep up appearances that don’t feel authentic.
- Additionally, and this is a big one, informational content can be sold while bloggers who focus on selling their own image bind themselves to the business in a way that prevents them from ever being able to exit the business without closing the business. With content-focused blogging, individual travel influencers can list their travel influencer business with a business broker and exit their business with a big paycheck at any point after they start making money.
When you think about travel influencers, this is the monetization model that you probably think of.
For influencers who make money from brand partnerships, it’s not as simple as it may sound. It involves networking with and selecting brands that are a good fit for your followers and that won’t alienate your followers. It requires negotiating with a brand’s marketing professionals, signing an agreement clarifying exactly what they’ll get and exactly what expectations are placed on you as the travel influencer, and when those are due to be delivered.
Avoiding Influencer Scams
If you choose to make money from your travel influencer account through brand partnerships, you’ll need to be extra savvy. For these budding influencers, there are a lot of scams, undervaluation, or flat-out abuse of influencers or people aspiring to be them.
As you start, don’t focus on money, focus on learning about your community and how to create content for them. In the long run, this builds trust with your audience and will boost the reach of later campaigns.
The reality is that when you’re starting out, the brands that will want to partner with you really just want your money. Reject any brand that requires that you purchase goods or that offers payment in the form of an affiliate income (i.e., only paying you if you can sell the product.) This, essentially, turns travel influencers into retail associates (or worse MLM participants).
As a travel influencer, you shouldn’t have to be worried about making sales, that’s not your job. It’s best to stay true to your audience and grow trust with your community rather than filling your feed with ads and sponsored products- especially in the early days of your travel influencer work.
Be particularly wary of working with brands that ask you to spend money to get started. It’s a huge 🚩 that you, not your followers, are the customer they’re targeting.
To get started as a travel influencer making money through brand partnerships, focus first on the content you create. Without an audience, you can’t get brand partnerships, without a large audience, you can’t get good brand partnerships, so focus on learning about your community and how to create content that appeals to them in order to appeal to the brands that you want to work with.
making money as a travel influencer through sponsored posts
While I advise avoiding brands that want to partner through affiliate structured compensation payment in the paragraphs above, there are exceptions.
Affiliate programs, such as affiliate programs for Target, Etsy, Amazon, and just about every other established shopping site, can be a way to put yourself in the driver’s seat, represent products you like, and begin making money with no initial investment. I’m a particular fan of Etsy’s affiliate program, since I’m able to recommend products from small businesses
Well-established affiliate programs such as Amazon Associates, Awin, Commission Junction, and Avant Link are all good ways to start monetizing your influencer content early on in the process of becoming a travel influencer- and as long as you follow the rules about disclosing affiliate links, this monetization method works across all the popular influencer platforms: Instagram, blogs, YouTube, and even Facebook and Pinterest.
The most important thing to know about getting started with affiliate links as a travel influencer is the FTC requirements for disclosing when you’re using an affiliate link. Consumer protection laws require that we disclose when we have an ulterior motive for suggesting a product. It’s why you’ll see this text sprinkled throughout WanderBig:
Note that it is not allowed – and is, in fact an, easy way to get kicked out of affiliate programs – to simply pepper in affiliate links with content that doesn’t disclose that the links are affiliate links that offer influencers a commission.
making money as a travel influencer by publishing a book
The following section may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Although many new travel influencers dream of publishing a book of their writing or travel photography, the truth is this is one of the worst monetization models for travel influencers.
The payment structure of the traditional print publishing industry makes it nearly impossible to make a significant income from the sale of a book. For example, traditional publishing pays authors about $1 – $1.50 for each copy of their book that sells. Of that $1.50, 10% goes to the author’s literary agent.
That means many books must sell for an author to be profitable. Given how easy it is to self-publish online, there are a few reasons- outside of vanity- for travel influencers to write a traditional book. However, that doesn’t mean travel influencers shouldn’t write a book. I explain why in the next section.
generating income as a travel influencer through digital downloads
How often have you signed up for a mailing list just to get your hands on that book, packing list checklist, or bullet journal layout promised as a reward on the other side?
The truth is, thousands and thousands of people do it every day. The reason it’s so popular for website owners to offer digital assets is that mailing lists are a valuable tool for making money as an influencer.
Once you have gained permission to send promotional emails to an email address, each of these people becomes a potential customer for any of the monetization models above, delivered straight to their inbox. And if you can keep them interested, these customers can become a source of steady income! All because you offered a small freebie through your website or another sign-up platform.
Through the use of these and other models, even micro-influencer travel influencers can make an income from their creative content. Click here for a more basic guide to getting started as an influencer.
Although these models for making money as a travel influencer take a varying amount of skill, effort, time, and luck, it’s still possible- even into 2023- to break into the travel influencer industry. In fact, as more and more people plan to return to travel, it’s a prime time to jump in the fray and learn how to make money as a travel influencer.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.