Learnings From Five Months of Travel Blogging While Working Full-Time

by Dottie

I am sharing my exact process of building Dots on a Map in a new series so y’all can see exactly what — and how much — it takes to grow a travel blog and business while working full-time. And if you are on the same boat as me, I hope it makes you feel like you’re not alone — even when you don’t see any pay-off for your hard work and consistency just yet.

Hi there! If you don’t know me, my name is Dottie, and I am the author of the Dots on a Map blog. I currently work full-time as a content marketer at a tech company and am fortunate to enjoy what I do.

The website you see now officially launched in July 2020 (or was it August? I honestly can’t remember 😅), but this isn’t my first blogging rodeo. I started the first version of Dots on a Map in 2014. After struggling with its direction and abandoning it twice, I landed on travel and food as my niche this time around — the most consistent and long-lasting loves in my life. Third time’s a charm, right?

My long-term vision for Dots on a Map is to build a community and ultimately monetize this blog (and other related platforms) as a travel business. A lot of resources out there on this topic are from bloggers that have already made it, and I find that they gloss over the challenges of how they got to where they are.

How to run a travel blog while working full-time.
The second version of Dots on a Map!

I am in the midst of this journey and still learning how to reach my goal every day. I want to share my process in a new series so y’all can see exactly what — and how much — it takes to grow a travel blog and business. I’ll share my learnings and growth with you along with setbacks and mistakes. And if you are on the same boat as me, I hope it makes you feel like you’re not alone — even when you don’t see any pay-off for your hard work just yet.

Table of Contents

December 2020 Blog Report: Month-Over-Month Progress & Next Steps

Like I mentioned above, a lot of blogging resources are from bloggers who have already “made it” and have decent traffic numbers and social followings. I want to transparently share a timeline of our work — as well as some of the progress we’ve made — so you can understand the slow-and-steady approach we are taking and see how growth trickles in at the beginning.

June-October: Getting Set Up & Learning, Learning, Learning

June-October was all about setting a foundation. We did little to no promotion of our content during this timeframe, as we didn’t have anything to promote yet! Instead, we focused on:

Finding a Reliable Web Host

We had a month-long struggle with Bluehost, a web hosting platform which was unable to support the WordPress theme we wanted to use. A lot of established bloggers out there recommend Bluehost, but I personally could not make it work as tech issues severely hindered our progress.

We finally switched to WPXHosting and it has been smooth sailing since. I was able to upload my purchased WordPress theme without a hitch and all of our support experiences with them have been fast and excellent. 10/10 recommend.

Building and Launching the Website on WordPress

This step included customizing our theme and setting up everything on the back-end. We wanted to start publishing blog posts right away and decided not to go all-in with professional branding just yet, even though it was an idea we entertained. Of course, we invested in a good theme that looks polished, but right now our focus is to get content out, fast. Tailoring our website so it is exactly like we want it can come once we gain more traction.

Purchasing Photography & Video Equipment

Our goal is to take high-quality photos for the blog and social media as well as make videos for Youtube. To produce the type of content we want to right away, we decided to purchase a professional camera and other equipment right at the start.

After doing some research, we decided on a Sony α7 III, a camera that is excellent for recording video, a Dell XPS 17 computer for editing photos and videos, and a DJI Mavic Pro drone for getting aerial shots.

It was expensive, but we consider it a long-term investment in our business. You have to spend money to make money, as the saying goes.

With our new equipment, Lenza spent a lot of time learning the basics of photography, video, and editing.

Writing Blog Posts

I wrote five blog posts in this time frame and took a non-fiction writing course to improve the quality of my written content. We were not traveling at this point, so we had to scrape through our memories and work with what we had topic-wise.

October-November: Moved to Mexico for 8 Weeks to Accelerate Content Creation

In October, we moved to Mexico for 8 weeks. This ushered in a highly creative period where we filmed our very first videos and churned out blog posts at a productive rate. We were also able to put the skills we’ve been learning to practice in real-life.

How to run a travel blog while working full-time.
Filming in Tulum.

Beginning of December

Up until October, we hadn’t put any effort into promoting our content. In December we finally launched some social media profiles (though not all of them are up yet!) and are starting to post on Instagram and Pinterest at a regular cadence.

We are finally starting to see traffic trickle in on the site, albeit very slowly, but progress is progress and growth has been steady. We are even starting to see light organic search traffic and certain posts are starting to rank and climb on Google.

Next Priorities for Building the Travel Blog

  • Complete Nomadic Matt’s Superstar Blogging Course. (We just signed up for this and am excited to access a community in the same boat!) Learning will always be an ongoing part of the blogging process
  • Continue working on our SEO strategy and bring in more traffic via organic search. We are working on keyword research to create trending SEO content and on guest posts that can earn us high-quality backlinks
  • Refine our analytics and performance-tracking methodology. Google Analytics and Google Search Console have proven to be a b*tch so far, so more learning is needed on both platforms. This will help inform our future strategy with data on what people like
  • Set a foundation for affiliate marketing to generate passive income in the future
  • Post our first videos on Youtube
  • Grow our social channels! A community is the lifeblood of any blog
  • Experiment with promoting content via both paid and organic channels and see what is most effective in driving traffic to the website

Learnings From Five Months of Blogging While Working Full-Time: How To Stay Consistent & Prevent Burnout

Unfortunately, there’s no hack to grow and run a travel blog while working full-time. You have to work hard. And a lot.

From Monday-Friday, 8 AM – 5 PM, I focus on my day job. My blog becomes a priority when I have the time and energy at night and on weekends (it’s Sunday morning and I am writing this while lying in bed). This is where the passion piece comes in. If you don’t enjoy the topic you’re writing about, don’t have a clear goal driving you forward, or don’t believe in what you’re doing, it will be very hard to make the sacrifices required to make this schedule work and fight through the “why the hell am I doing this?” feelings. Not to mention that at the beginning it can feel like you are putting in all this work with very little reward.

To prevent burnout and keep myself motivated despite these challenges, these are the tips I try to keep in mind.

Give Up Expectations of Becoming An Overnight Success

To be a successful blogger, you have to act as a full marketing team. Learning these skills is an ongoing process, not to mention the blood, sweat, and tears of building an audience that actually cares about what you have to say.

It’s easy to see the polished sites and smart business endeavors of well-known travel bloggers and think that they are the lucky ones who achieved instant overnight success. What you don’t see is the years and years of learning and hard work they put in to get where they are today.

Be consistent, not perfect, and view your blog as a long game.

Keep a Baseline of Quality in Your Work While Prioritizing Speed

Sometimes you just gotta get something out the door even if it’s not 100% perfect (though it still needs to add value in some way!). This is why we chose not to invest in professional branding right away — for the sake of an earlier launch— and how we think about the quality of the photos we currently post on Instagram. We’re not exactly where we want to be yet, but starting is more important.

Make Big Investments When You Have a Reliable Cash Flow

If you’re serious about making it as a blogger, you’re going to have to invest some money into it like any business. Whether that’s in a high-quality web host, a snazzy WordPress theme, photography equipment, social ads, or whatever it may be, buy it while you still have regular cash flowing in. If you decide to focus fully on your blog, your income flow won’t be as consistent and you’ll have to prioritize what you invest in first. Be experimental when you can afford to.

Set Realistic Goals to Avoid Burnout

When I started building the blog this year, I was working 14-hour days for about two months. It’s no surprise then, that I had a proper burnout and didn’t publish any new blog posts for more than two months. Don’t make my mistake! Set boundaries and work to achieve a good work/life balance.

Now, to not stretch myself so thin, I’ve set a modest goal to publish two blog posts a month. This helps me keep my blog fresh while giving me the leeway to relax if I have a particularly exhausting week. Of course, a realistic goal may look different for you. Be mindful of your bandwidth by listening to your mind and body.

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