I recently did something online with which many – even those in the travel blogging community – might disagree. I’m even giving him free advertising and a link by mentioning his name and site, but he’s already the most successful of them all. Nomadic Matt? Good on him for keeping a travel website up and running, making a new hostel in Austin, and organizing a travel blogging course, but even he can’t hold a candle to Johnny Ward.
One Step 4Ward is the Cadillac of travel blogs, if there even is such a comparison. A 20-something traveler starts out with little-to-no money but does have a desire to explore the world and write down his thoughts. Through years of successful marketing, he now claims to have made more than $1.5 million.
It’s the ultimate success story that travelers and non-travelers alike love to read about: a journey full of amazing pictures across the world, a rags-to-riches tale, and the allure of following in his footsteps. However, here’s where many would disagree with me.
I’m not the guy who goes around pointing fingers saying “He is responsible for holding me back! I’d be a success if it weren’t for him!” All successful people, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs, made it to where they were because of their own persistence and desire. However, when we hear about stories like this, there are a million more from people who simply don’t make it, due to circumstance or luck. Telling someone that he or she alone is responsible for his or her success is certainly true, but that is not the only factor, especially for entrepreneurs or in a saturated market like travel bloggers.
When I see ads like this (and yes, it is an ad) it’s hard not to immediately write it off as spam. This is coming from someone who has largely escaped the 9-to-5 trap, cut down on his belongings, and knows how to make money while traveling the world. While I definitely don’t place Once A Traveler anywhere near the caliber of OneStep4Ward’s blog, I’ve been around long enough to make friends in the travel blogging community and see how some successful travel writers operate. Obviously, if you post more content, make more of an effort to share on social media, and network outside of your usual bubbles your readership will increase. No question about it.
Maybe, with enough effort, you’ll even get to the point where you can gain a sizable income from your websites and turn it into a full time job; there’s no disputing this is possible even for a newbie. However, to sell the idea that anything above and beyond that (i.e. bloggers earning six figures a year if not more) is a goal within reach of everyone is just irresponsible.
Can you, as a travel blogger, make $100,000 or more a year? Certainly. You can also win the lottery, or be struck by lightning. I don’t mean to put a damper on everyone’s enthusiasm for the craft or stop them from pursuing their dreams if that’s what they wish, but 99.9% of travel bloggers will NEVER make as much as Johnny Ward. 99.9% of aspiring actors and actresses in Los Angeles will never become an A-list celebrity known around the world. Will they get a few roles that pay handsomely from time to time and make a decent living? That’s less likely, but certainly within reach with a little hard work and persistence.
When I pointed this out to Johnny Ward, he was indignant, to say the least. Rather than address my point and acknowledge that he was exceptionally fortunate to be where he was, he attacked my work and thought I was “failing” because I hadn’t followed his techniques.
Maybe the fault is on my end. Maybe dreams are by definition unrealistic and we should just pursue them regardless of the odds. That’s all well and good, but what happens when you never get there? Following advice like the aforementioned may make you feel like you’re pursuing your passion (and you are), but how long are you willing to accept failure? How long until you acknowledge that you’re not going to be a millionaire travel blogger, or an Instagram sensation?
OneStep4Ward certainly isn’t alone in his opinion. The Points Guy, aka Brian Kelly, used to have a blog designed for people looking to hack the system with hotel and flight points. Although he definitely still offers solid advice, there’s been a growing trend that he’s losing touch with his base. Instead of solely promoting free and cheap ways to travel the world, he has been informing his readers of ways to pay thousands of dollars to purchase hotel points, and writing up reviews for redemptions it would take regular travelers almost a lifetime to achieve.
While this advice certainly is more cost effective than simply paying cash for a ticket or hotel room, it’s out of reach for most people; we don’t have thousands of dollars to blow on the chance we need a hotel or flight in the future, just as we don’t have decades to waste on the minuscule possibility our travel blog will one day make us a millionaire.
It should come as no surprise that nothing on the Internet is as easy or straightforward as it appears. If you’ve seen an Instagram account with 100K followers, thought “my pictures are better than those!”, and wondered why people weren’t following you, you’re right to do so. Just as Robert Kiyosaki pointed out in Rich Dad Poor Dad, he’s not the best author; he’s just a best-selling author. Content and marketing techniques many of us might consider trivial make the Internet (and the business world) what it is. Why else would clickbait be filled with such banal pictures and writing?
The irony is, I do still hold out hope that one day I can reach a point where I am making more than just a livable income doing what I’m doing. But I’m realistic: dreaming of a travel blog that makes me a millionaire – even if I have the right content, even if I know the right people, even if I do every little thing I’m supposed to do to make it a success – is like wishing upon a star and expecting Jiminy Cricket to fly down and write you a check.