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Each month, we share the story of a member of the DNW community that is making money from blogging. These stories share the blogger’s journey and tips about exactly how they make money and get traffic to their blogs. I hope you find these interviews inspiring and helpful in your own journey. This month, we are featuring Nora Dunn who is a Lifestyle Travel Blogger from The Professional Hobo.
1. Introduce yourself!
Hi! I’m Nora Dunn, aka The Professional Hobo. I’m considered one of the original Lifestyle Travel Bloggers, having sold my stuff to travel full-time back in 2006 before blogging was even “a thing”. I traveled full-time for 12 years before returning to my home town to set up a base, from where I continue to travel about half of each year.
My blog – like most blogs at the time – was simply a glorified travel journal, as there was no industry around blogging, nor was monetization a concept. Terms like “digital nomad” and “location independent” had yet to be coined, and so the online career I focused on developing in the initial years was freelance writing.
While I did a lot of things wrong with my blog along the way, I also did a few things right, both of which I’ll discuss as we go.
2. Describe your blog(s)
As a former Certified Financial Planner, while developing my freelance writing career, I wrote for travel publications about finance (cuz you need money to travel), and I wrote for finance publications about travel (cuz you need money to travel).
As I cross-pollinated my expertise across these two industries and became more and more known, my niche – the finance of travel – grew out of it.
So when I rebranded my site in 2012, I combined these two areas of expertise into one cohesive niche concept: How to Travel Full-Time in a Financially Sustainable Way.
People come to my site to learn about all the logistics of long-term and full-time travel; how to arrange your finances, your career, and your life to allow you to hit the road responsibly and in a way that you could keep going for as long as you wish. My Travel Lifestyle Guides have all the juicy details and logistics that you can’t find elsewhere online.
But because my blog started as (and continues to be) a passion project, I also continue to write editorial pieces dissecting local cultures and sharing my personal adventures (which are often misadventures!) with a degree of honesty that isn’t very common. Love relationships, finances, diseases, you name it – I write about it.
3. When did you start blogging and why did you start?
I started my blog in 2006 with a free Blogspot account. At the time it was called “Life Happens” short for “life happens while you’re busy making plans”, which was what I realized was happening to me when I decided to sell everything to travel. It was purely a personal endeavor, and a way for my family and friends to stay abreast of my adventures.
In 2008, I accidentally started an international NGO in Thailand (!), which put my blog on the map (literally and figuratively), so shortly thereafter I moved everything over to theprofessionalhobo.com. While you could say that’s when I started to take it seriously as a business, the truth is it was close to another 10 years before I truly got serious.
4. What is the most rewarding part of blogging for you?
What’s most rewarding about blogging for me is the ability to write whatever I want – which are often deeply personal musings (like this one) – and to publish them when I want.
Writing and sharing these stories is not only immensely gratifying for me, but apparently it is for my readers as well, some of whom have followed me solidly for many many years.
The sense of connection that comes from putting myself out there like that is pretty incredible, and my day is made when somebody says I inspired them to travel (which actually happens quite a bit).
5. What do you find the most challenging?
Work-life balance (a cliche I’ve had trouble escaping) has consistently been a problem. The cause is multi-fold, but perhaps the largest stumbling block is that career travel is dramatically different from recreational travel, and unless you’re a career traveler, you probably don’t understand this.
So friends, family, hosts, and even romantic partners have all unintentionally made it difficult for me to get my work done in one way or another; I even had one partner who cited my work as “playing on my laptop”, even though my “fun and games” paid his bills at the time! (Not bitter about that at all. Nooooooo).
But the problem of work-life balance is also mine to take responsibility for. I’m a bit of a workaholic, and I have a slight obsession with a clean in-box – a never-ending losing battle.
Sharon posted a question in the DNW Facebook group recently, asking how many bloggers take vacations completely away from their computers; for the most part, we all pale at the thought of being offline.
I believe it’s partly a digital addiction of sorts, but also a pragmatic matter – how many emails (and other tasks, many of which are relentless, like social media) are you willing to let accumulate before you simply have to start dealing with them?
And these days with our entire business at our fingertips with smartphones, it’s really hard to stay away.
And even if we CAN stay away from the traditional tasks of blogging, travel bloggers are likely generating new content and material during the “vacation”! So even a holiday trip often becomes a work trip of sorts.
6. How much did you earn in the last month and how?
Last month was one of my best months ever. I earned about $7,000 USD; $1,500 from advertising, $3,800 from affiliate sales, $1,500 from freelance writing, and $200 from book sales.
I’ll admit my affiliate revenue was more than double what it normally is (due to a well-monetized post on my site about my Travel Capsule Wardrobe taking off), so it remains to be seen how sustainable this will be. Also, my freelance writing income was higher than normal due to a one-off gig and some overdue invoices being paid out. Normally I average $500/month in freelance income.
7. What tips do you have for bloggers trying to monetise their blogs?
I’ve done almost everything wrong over the years in monetizing my blog, but one thing I did right – and the one thing that made a huge difference – was that I also did (and continue to do) freelance writing. It’s an often-overlooked complement to running a blog.
I’m speaking at TBEX this year on this very topic, but let’s look at even just one aspect of how freelance writing helps your blog, and it’s in the form of high-quality backlinks. I’ve been an SEO disaster for most of my career, but I’ve got a ton of great backlinks which have been game-changers for me over the years.
8. How much traffic did your blog have in the last month and where does it come from?
I’m still recovering from the latest Google algorithm update, but last month I had about 52,000 users (60,000 sessions, and 78,000 page views), 78% of which was from organic search.
Another 17% was direct traffic, and the rest was social. I’m new to the Pinterest game (one of the many mistakes I’ve made along the way being not getting into Pinterest earlier), but I’m hoping to make it a major source of traffic, since so many bloggers swear by it.
9. What tasks do you do that have the biggest impact on your traffic? What has helped you the most when it comes to getting search traffic?
For an old salt in the industry, I’ve only very recently acquiesced to the doing SEO stuff, and of course, it has had the biggest impact on my traffic.
To illustrate, I’ll tell you a story. I wish it was fiction.
Somewhere around 2014, I’d been blogging for seven years, and as one of the original travel bloggers, I was kind of a big deal. By that point there was a bonafide industry, and my passion-project approach wasn’t cutting it. But I hated the idea of doing SEO and other analytical things; I just wanted to kick out creative content!
Around that time, I found a great excuse to bury my head in the SEO-sand, and it came in the form of an apprenticeship with a shaman in Peru. Thinking this was a new chapter in my life, I put my blog on the back burner for the next three years of living and doing “shaman things” in Peru and Ecuador.
But alas, that chapter came to an end, and in 2017 I resurfaced to take stock of my online business. I’d continued publishing content 1-2 times per week over the previous three years, but that was about all I was doing. My traffic hadn’t gone down, so I figured was doing well… until I realized that a site of my tenure and DA should have had 5 times the traffic – and income – than it did.
So I did everything I could think of except SEO. I moved to managed hosting, redesigned my site, and ramped up my social media marketing. Nothing happened, save for a severe case of burnout that took me down physically and emotionally.
By this point I was trapped in my own vicious cycle. My measly traffic and income was enough to support me (barely), but it kept me busy full-time and I wasn’t making enough money to outsource the things I couldn’t/didn’t want to do (like SEO) that could actually move the needle.
Luckily a colleague gave me a great idea – to hire an SEO consultant on a profit-sharing basis! I did so, and she revamped my site and made huge progress in making it SEO-tastic. With a large part of the work behind me, I started dipping my toes in the world of SEO, and Sharon’s 10-minute tip for optimizing posts (which consistently takes me 1-2 hours!) is now something I do regularly, and could even say I don’t totally despise doing.
I also stopped publishing new content weekly (as I’d done for over 12 years!), and instead I make sure new content is SEO-riffic which takes longer to produce but reaps better results in the long run.
Much of the SEO work that was started in 2018 is now really starting to take shape, and my traffic has almost tripled since then. I’d like to see it double again.
10. What are your main goals for your blog?
I would like to grow my blog to the point where I am getting a minimum of 150,000 visitors a month. To do that, I’m continuing to optimize old posts and write amazing new posts.
Now that I have a home base and am not traveling full-time, I am also in a position to do more press trips, and now that my traffic has grown, lots of operators are interested in working with me.
I’m also stepping out from behind the laptop to start speaking more on a variety of topics ranging from traveling and travel stories to personal development to travel blogging and freelance writing.
There’s also a memoir that keeps nagging at me to be written. And maybe even a tv show to host.
In order to do any or all of this, the first point of order is to get my blog back to a point where it’s really solid, and generating lots of passive income (through advertising and affiliate income) that will afford me the time to expand my repertoire of experience.
11. What are you doing to work towards your main goals? How do you work out where to prioritise your time?
To achieve the above goals for my blog/career, I’m outsourcing more and more. I have a wee team of part-time folks I work with in a few different ways, and while I’m atrocious at delegating, I know I need to do more of it.
At the moment, I’m still focused mainly on growing my blog. I expect sometime next year I’ll be in a better position to branch out and look at new opportunities.
I also continue to do freelance writing; I have the luxury of being regularly approached by editors to write for them and I get paid well. It’s relatively easy money, and continues to expand my overall reach, as well as to smooth out the bumps of blogging, which can be unsteady especially when Google (or Facebook, or Pinterest, or whoever) changes an algorithm.
12. What three biggest tips/pieces of advice do you have for other bloggers?
1. Don’t be like me.
Treat your blog as a business from the start if you expect to make a living with it.
2. Don’t be like me.
If you’re going to travel full-time, get the foundations of your blog up and going before you take off. That way you won’t perpetually feel like you’re missing out on a great travel adventure, or missing out on a great blogging opportunity.
3. Be like me.
Complement your blogging career with freelance writing.
13. Where can we find you online?
Read about my crazy travel adventures and get some solid travel lifestyle advice at theprofessionalhobo.com. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and watch my videos on YouTube.