As of August 2018, Living the Dream is 10 years old.
I don't know where the time has gone, but somehow I spent the last decade writing about my adventures around the world on this blog (nine of those with Angie who entered the picture around the start of year two for the collective “we” in this post).
Living the Dream started out rather simply as a means to chronicle my plans for a long-term trip I was going to take in 2010-2011. The plans for that trip ballooned out of control, were reigned in when Angie came along, and the journey was ultimately shortened quite a bit (to five months) so we could take an even bigger trip together in 2013. We did this for a period of just over fifteen months in 2013-2014.
Since then our work on Living the Dream has stalled while we worked on our local blog for Pittsburgh, PA– Discover the Burgh.
But on our ten year anniversary we have a lot to reflect on- in the past, in the present, and in our exciting new plans for the future!
Today, we're going to share all the juicy details.
What We've Accomplished in 10 Years
I use the term accomplishments loosely when it comes to blogging, if only because as an industry blogging is rather weird. The fact that we're veterans by most standards makes it even more so when looking at it from our end.
That being said, we've never been the kind of bloggers that have achieved growth from being early adopters (in any aspect, really). In 2008 there were a handful of travel bloggers out there, and most found their footing far faster than us. Same for those that started in 2009, 2010, and so on.
For whatever reason we couldn't do much of anything right, and we've only recently found our stride which has helped us achieve our goals.
Still, as we are celebrating a decade of travel blogging we do have to look back and think that we've had quite a bit come about from this little website (now websites) of ours. Some of the highlights include:
- Completing not one, but two long-term trips representing almost two solid years on the road. Throw on many smaller trips, and I've now been to well over 70 countries in that time (Angie is over 50).
- Check out our Top 100 Travel Experiences for our favorite experiences from those trips!
- Bringing on three staff writers to cover their own unique trips to dozens of countries beyond what we've visited.
- While a fun part in our blogging journey, we no longer hire staff writers.
- Publishing our first book, The Long-Term Traveler's Guide, which is now free in our newsletter!
- Subscribe at the prompt included at the end of this post!
- Speaking at two TBEX conferences on the topic of social media tips (Cancun 2014) and local blogging (Huntsville 2017).
- Attending several press trips around the world as well as a hosted attendee for the first PTBA conference, TBC Asia, in Sri Lanka in 2014.
- Growing our social fan base to nearly 200,000 subscribers between our two websites.
- Becoming the foremost experts on all things Pittsburgh attractions and dining through our local blog.
- Crossing over 200,000 monthly page views on our two sites combined.
- And perhaps most importantly, helping over 5,000,000 readers plan their trips around the world and locally in Pittsburgh over the last ten years.
When highlighting it like that, our decade of blogging doesn't look that bad at all!
A Breakdown of Annual Traffic and Income
We've already established that we have taken the long road to blogging success, and in many cases our latest victories have occurred solely because we've been around for so long. We've become experts because we refused to give up, which is by and large the hardest way to become in expert in anything.
To put this in perspective, Angie got her Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree, and PhD in Chemical Engineering in less time than it took us to make a notable profit blogging.
As we have found out from this long-term endeavor, growing a blog and finding income are two incredibly different things, and we want to highlight this by sharing our traffic and income figures from the last ten years.
By seeing our income, you may get a better understanding of why we never jumped on the digital independence train like so many of our blogging colleagues before us (even though it has been a goal of ours), and why it is so hard to make any money blogging at all!
The following is a summary of our page views and annual earnings (before taxes) from 2008 to present. Keep in mind that we began blogging in August 2008 but we are presenting our information based on a standard calendar year (and our 2018 figures are also a projection because of this).
- 2008 (Aug-Dec): $0 on 200 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $0 CPM (CPM calculated as dollars per 1,000 page views over the year).
- 2009: $0 on 9,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $0 CPM.
- 2010: $0 on 50,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $0 CPM
- 2011: $14,200 gross and $13,200 net on 133,000 annual page view.
- Equivalent to $106 CPM.
- 2012: $14,500 gross and $13,400 net on 128,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $113 CPM.
- 2013: $7,500 gross and $6,200 net on 170,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $44 CPM.
- 2014: $7,300 gross, $2,800 net on 177,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $41 CPM.
- 2015: $7,200 gross, $300 net on 345,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $20 CPM.
- 2016: $9,000 gross, $0 net on 987,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $9.11 CPM.
- 2017: $25,000 gross, $15,000 net on 1,950,000 annual page views.
- Equivalent to $12.80 CPM.
- 2018 (projection): $50,000 gross, $37,500 net on 2,500,000+ annual page views.
- Projecting an end-of-year average of $20 CPM.
- Based on current traffic levels and historical growth / performance.
- 2019 (target): $100,000 gross, $80,000 net on 3,750,000 page views.
- Based on current traffic levels, CPM rates (now closer to $27), and historical growth / performance.
*Expenses are direct blog expenses only. Additional spending such as travel, exploring locally, are not factored in.
To really follow the above, we have to break it down into distinct phases of the site and the blogging market as a whole.
On one hand you can say it took us ten years to make our blogs produce a full time income (or, if our projection holds, eleven years to make a six figure income if we can push our traffic up). But on the other hand, and in a certain context, you could say we did it in four as the first few years of this site we simply did nothing right at all.
This is why us breaking down our historical performance is so important.
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The Distinct Phases of Our Blogs
From 2008 to 2010, I really had no idea what I was doing. Even through my first long-term trip (late 2010 to early 2011) I was mostly blogging as a hobby (on Blogger- ouch) while only receiving a nominal number of page views.
So it is no surprise that I earned no money at all.
This was also a product of the time as tutorials on how to blog were few and far between and we were all figuring things out. New bloggers have a greater advantage today if they wish to dive into blogging and can skip over this period relatively quickly simply by reading a few tutorials or taking a course.
From 2011 to 2013, we had two distinct things happen.
First, traffic started to rise as soon as my long-term trip ended (oh the irony). Second, the “sponsored post” market began exploding.
This period of time was the golden age for this revenue stream and I averaged more than $10,000 a year on practically no page views and no expenses to speak of- hence the very high CPM earnings above. But like all good things, this one came crashing down later as it was not a viable income stream to begin with.
You can sell sponsored posts today, and we still do from time to time (with proper attributions), but what was going on then was link selling- not sponsored content for advertising purposes.
We regret doing it, and our efforts could've been spent pursuing more reliable income streams that we'll get into in the “from 2015 to now” section. Suffice it to say, the income above is more an outlier that shouldn't be there and our “real income” as we define it now was still more or less zero.
From 2013 to 2015, our gross income dropped considerably. This was partly by our own design (we phased out accepting link buys in the form of “sponsored content”) and partly by the market (prices for those very same articles dropped to the absurd levels they are today).
In a way, this was exactly what we needed to kick ourselves into gear if we wanted to run our sites as a true income earning business. We began replacing our “sponsored post” income with CPM ads and affiliate revenue which are more-or-less tied to traffic (plus a bit of freelancing that we later dropped), and we focused on growth at all costs.
Come late 2014 we ended our second long-term trip, and by mid-2015 started new outside employment (and our Pittsburgh blog). This allowed us to reinvest every single penny back into our sites and lower our net profit to zero in order to focus on growth.
While these years look “flat” in our gross income charts above, we were actually growing in the right ways and pairing losses of unsustainable income with something much more long-term. In fact, if you remove the unsustainable income from the sponsored posts we discussed above, our income curve would look more like the following:
Now that is more like it!
If a new blogger does everything “right” from the beginning, they could probably leap to where we were by the end of 2015 on the order of one to three years. Unfortunately, the next part is the tricky one.
From 2015 to present, we focused on growing our websites into major brands with a decent following and utilized all the lessons learned in the previous years to push our sites harder than we ever had before.
At the time of publishing this article in August 2018 Living the Dream now receives 85,000+ monthly page views and our local Pittsburgh travel blog, Discover the Burgh, receives over 115,000+ monthly page views consistently- a nearly 10x increase from where we were at this time in 2015.
Throw in major overhauls to our CPM advertising, affiliate sales, and more customized campaigns with real advertising partners in the last year or so and we have supercharged our earnings to the point where we can also start realizing substantial profits. (We've been using the profit to pay down nearly $50,000 in student loan debt, car payments, and the like via the debt avalanche technique– just a few more weeks til its all gone!).
If our growth continues it is quite likely that we'll receive more page views in the next two years than we received in the previous ten years combined– now that is a payday I am looking forward to!
Milestones were made to be broken, and we're finally up for the challenge.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It took us about ten years to figure out this blogging thing, and we've had some wild and crazy twists along the way.
At first we were all-in on global travel blogging, but it took us opening a local blog in the city we love to find enough success (and lessons learned) to catapult both blogs to where we are today.
Still, we often feel like Living the Dream was put on the back-burner a bit too much over the last few years as we simply did not have enough time to do everything we wanted.
We went on international vacations and covered them here (including trips to Iceland, Cuba, Morocco, and the Seychelles to name a few), but it felt like a significant drop from where we were on our long-term trips- both in terms of how much we actually traveled and how many articles we published on this site.
However, all this is about to change as we move onto the new phase of Living the Dream!
Our projected income for 2018 may have given some hints at this, but what our annual figure doesn't show is that we are now pulling in roughly $5,000 in gross revenue per month from our blogs. In fact, we made $8,540 in July- a record month by almost 70% and one that almost exceeded our annual earnings from 2016 in just 31 days.
So much of this is coming from our local blog, in fact, that we often joke that we opened a local blog to fund our international travels for Living the Dream. Why do we say that? Well, because it is kind of true.
The only thing we didn't have was time. We spent every minute of the day either at work, working on the blogs, or out exploring for the blogs- to the tune of 80+ hours a week with hardly a day off along the way. It was fun and painful at the same time, and we have to admit- we're getting pretty sick of it.
Thankfully, this most recent growth allows me to make one very important announcement. One I've been waiting on for many, many (and perhaps one more many) years. No, we're not going on another long-term trip. But it is just as exciting:
As of today I am officially a full-time blogger!
Yes, I've packed it all in, left the engineering world, and will be using our websites as my only means of income.
As terrifying as that sounds, it is something I've been dreaming of for years. (In fact, I gave myself a five year target while on our long-term trip, and came in just under that January 2019 goal.)
Angie is still working, and fully intends to stay employed well into the future. But I am entering the world of full-time blogging and will now have more time to work on the things I love while also freeing up nights and weekends for new, non-blogging hobbies (Angie is most pleased by this prospect).
So what does this all mean? Well, for the time being, not much.
I'm not going to be hopping on planes jet-setting like we did on our long-term trips just yet.
Okay fine, you know that's not true. We are going to Alaska in a few weeks for a much needed family vacation. But I swear the timing was more coincidence than anything.
After that I don't plan on jet-setting for a while. No wait, I've got two, maybe three conferences to hit in September alone. But it helps that two are in driving distance, right?
My not-so-realistic goal is that I'm going to spend the first few months finishing my massive to-do list built up over the years, working on SEO behind the scenes (more traffic = more money), and completing a portion of the over 200 posts I have in my draft folder.
I also plan on focusing on my health, mainly by catching up on some much needed sleep and gym time- two things I did not get enough of while working 80 hour weeks.
Once all that is done, I'll begin exploring Pittsburgh more during the week, scheduling more frequent trips (both domestic and abroad), and taking on more paid assignments to further diversify our income streams. Who knows, maybe I'll throw a side project or five into the mix as well!
But all that will have to wait until 2019, as I have to be honest, my to do list for the near-term is quite long.
I do not plan to be complacent now that I am working full time as a travel blogger, and with what we have coming up I have to say: the best is yet to come.
We hope you'll stick around to find out what comes next!
But for now, it is time for a well deserved vacation. Because of course that is the first thing I want to do.
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