2019 is the year I became a full-time travel blogger, and I did not even see it coming. If you asked me in January of 2019 if I would be working full-time on my blog later that year, I would have said no way.
Here’s the story of 2019, how I went full-time, and where I hope to take things in 2020.
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GOING FULL-TIME WITH THE BLOG
Before 2019, my focus was on everything but my blog. I started my blog in the summer of 2017 with a post on creating a travel bucket list, and then quickly added a few more posts.
Soon I started having gaps of 2 – 4 months between blog posts though. I taught full-time which took up the majority of my time, and I focused on growing my Instagram. I thought that I needed my Instagram to grow to drive traffic to my blog, and I really wanted the swipe up link.
It turns out that focusing on Instagram was not the best way to grow my blog. Focusing on my blog was the best way to grow my blog – surprising, I know.
MY TEACHING JOURNEY
I started teaching in 2010 at a new school opening just down the street from my grandma’s house. My degree is in English Education, but I took a few years to work in a law firm and considered law school.
After a couple of years, I missed the classroom, so I took the chance when I was offered a job. I loved it. I loved working with the students, planning the lessons, and seeing students learn and grow.
However, I am not the person to show up, teach, and go home. I worked long hours at the school, often putting in 50 – 60 hours a week at school, not including work I brought home. Still, I loved my job.
As education changed and our society changed, changes started taking place in the expectations of teachers. This was not a “my school” problem, but an education problem. I love my school and still help out there.
However, parents got more demanding and less supportive, kids got more entitled, and education became more about paperwork and less about teaching. Don’t get me wrong – there are amazing parents and students out there that keep you going on the tough days, but there was a clear shift in my 9 years in the classroom.
I knew I was starting to feel burned out and like I needed a break, but I did not want to take one. I loved and still love teaching. However, I also had seen enough teachers become the bitter teacher who takes it out on their kids to know that I did not want to become that teacher.
That is when I started talking to my husband more about taking a break, just a year off. Could we afford it? Would it give me a chance to have time to grow my blog? Would I regret it as soon as the school year started and I wasn’t there?
One incident in particular in the spring confirmed my decision to take a break. I cried as I talked to my principal and vice-principal and gave them a 3-page letter explaining why I needed a break. They understood and offered me a chance to continue helping at the school as a sub and to stay on coaching cross country.
At the end of the year, I cleaned out the classroom I taught in for 9 years and may have shed another tear or two as it started to feel more real. It helped to know I would still be around coaching and subbing and would still have my teacher friends.
It is a scary thing to walk away from a definite paycheck and a job you have poured so much into. I worry too much about what others think, so it was scary to tell people that I was leaving a secure job and going after a dream in my 30s when most people are settled into a career by then.
Believe it or not, in some ways it still doesn’t feel real. It still feels like summer break, and I catch myself thinking often that I have to hurry up and finish something before I go back to school on Monday. I still love teaching and don’t feel like I’m done with it forever though.
The best part about taking the time off is getting time back. I have time to hang out with my husband and family and friends. I have time to read again and do things I enjoy. Before I constantly had school work from my never-ending to do list hanging over my head or taking up my time.
TRAVEL IN 2019
Because we started talking about me taking a year off around the time we usually plan our big summer trip, we realized that finances would play a role in how much we traveled the rest of the year.
We made sure we had enough in savings to cover a year of me not making any money before I left. I am not the person who would tell you to leave your job without a plan and some financial security. That would terrify me, and I was already scared enough of walking away from my job I loved.
My husband does still work full-time, but my salary paid for our travel and fun stuff as well as my blogging expenses and our Jeep payments (which are almost done!). Leaving my job meant that money went away. It also meant we needed to be more conservative with our travel plans.
CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP
We took a road trip through California in March of 2019. This is the first time we seriously talked about me taking time off from teaching. We had lots of time as we crammed a lot into our 10 days in California.
We started and ended the trip in the Los Angeles, staying with my cousin and her husband, exploring the area, and meeting up with people I had followed for a long time and gotten to know on Instagram such as Lisa Homsy, Aggie, Michael Moretti, McKenna, and Kera.
TENNESSEE FARM LIFE
Instead of just one trip to Tennessee, I got to take two trips this year to my grandma’s farm in East Tennessee. We went as a family on the first trip, helping out in the garden and celebrating the 4th of July with my family.
The second time, I took off for a week in Tennessee while my husband was at a conference in Atlanta. First we spent the weekend in Atlanta where I got to reconnect with some blogging/Instagram friends including Kiera, Stephanie, and Kera (again!).
We also took the opportunity to travel within our own state a little more. Both born and raised in Florida, we love exploring our natural springs and beaches.
Partnering with Westgate Resorts, we stayed at two of their properties. We spent a week at our favorite local beach, Cocoa Beach. Then we returned to Westgate River Ranch to try one of their glamping teepees for a weekend in the fall and loved it!
HOW I GREW MY BLOG
At the end of 2018, I was starting to feel burned out on Instagram. I realized that the main way to make money on Instagram was through sponsored posts. While I don’t mind doing sponsored posts sometimes, it is hard to make a full-time income from it, especially with my numbers.
I decided I wanted something where I could earn money more passively. Then I remembered that I really only started my Instagram as a way to grow my blog. With only limited time, my blog had been pretty much ignored.
At the start of 2019, I sat down and wrote out my goals. One was to focus more on my blog. Then I made more specific goals for my blog.
I wanted to hit 20,000 page views with a big dream of 50,000 page views for the year. Those goals felt crazy considering I only had 6,500 views in all of 2018. I ended up having over 50,000 page views in December alone and over 165,000 views in 2019 total.
What changed? Sure, having more time helped. Even with more time though, you still may not see results. For me, I focused on learning SEO (Search Engine Optimization – what helps you rank on Google) and Pinterest.
I thought I had a basic understanding of SEO, but really, I just felt overwhelmed by it at the start of the year. One of my favorite blogging tools is the Make Traffic Happen books. These books broke down SEO in a way I could easily understand it and implement it.
One win I had with Google and SEO in 2019? One of my holiday posts got over 6,000 hits from Google in one day. Thanks to using what I learned in the books and using Keysearch for keyword research, my search traffic has improved quite a bit.
SEO is great for long term traffic, but it is no fun to do a lot of work and see little to no results for 3 to 6 months. That’s where Pinterest comes in. I started using Pinterest for the first time at the end of 2018, but I had no idea what I was doing.
I eventually purchased Tailwind, but I still did not know what I was doing. Over the summer, once I had more time, I sat down and made it a priority to learn Pinterest. I got lots of great tips from Facebook groups and from Victoria of Follow Me Away and Disney Trippers (if you are a Disney person, you need to check it out!).
It finally all came together for me. In July, I had about 40 – 60 clicks a day from Pinterest and 150K monthly viewers. By the end of December, I had over 500 clicks a day and over 1 million monthly viewers. Follow me on Pinterest here!
I made a lot of changes to finally see that growth. You can see the Pinterest mistakes I corrected to get more traffic from Pinterest here.
I now offer blogging and Pinterest consultations if you are the type who needs someone to talk you through it. With the consultations, I send you an analysis of your blog or Pinterest profile with tips on what to improve. Then we meet in a video chat to go over it and give you a chance to ask any questions you have. Click here to sign up for a consultation!
HOW I MADE MONEY
Remember how worried I said I was to leave a secure paycheck? We have not had to touch a penny of what we put away in savings so far. As you start out especially, it is good to have several income streams, and that’s what I have now.
ADS & MEDIAVINE
One of my big goals for the year was to qualify for Mediavine once I first heard about it in the spring. Mediavine is an ad agency that pays much higher than Google Adsense which I was on before. To apply, you have to have 25,000 sessions in a 30 day period.
On Google Adsense, most months I made $10 – $20, so enough for maybe one meal a month. My biggest month on Adsense I earned $130 with about 30,000 page views that month.
I qualified for Mediavine on November 24, and I was accepted in early December. The ads went live on my blog on the afternoon of December 9. In December, my first month with Mediavine even if it wasn’t a full month, I made $850.22. Much better than Adsense.
I also earn money from affiliate links. Some months, affiliate earnings are good. Other months they are low. For example, one month I made over $3,000 in affiliate income. Other months I made less than $100.
When you shop on Amazon or book hotels through Agoda or Booking.com through our links, we earn a commission without you paying any extra. I am also an affiliate for several products I use and love for my blog and Instagram.
In December I started my newest revenue stream which is consultations. I gave away a few to try them out and loved having the chance to teach again in a one-on-one situation. Plus, it was a fun way to get to know people I had talked to before and help them out.
Now I offer blog, Instagram, and Pinterest consultations as a service. When you book one, you get a video chat with me to ask all of your questions as well as written notes about what to improve and how to improve it.
VIRTUAL ASSISTANT & FREELANCE WORK
In addition to doing work for myself, I also do virtual assistant and freelance work. I work steadily for two people and will be adding more soon. Besides the steady work for these two, I also do various free lance projects for a couple of other people including ghost writing and designing documents like media kits.
As you build up skills from blogging and social media, you can use those skills to earn an income. Think about areas and skills in which you excel. Could you market those skills to someone to make their load a little easier?
For one person, I run her Pinterest and do SEO work for her blog. I have taken her Pinterest from 500K monthly viewers to over a million and increased her blog clicks by 600% from Pinterest in 6.5 weeks. Her blog traffic over doubled in the same time period, and she should qualify for Mediavine in the next month or two.
When she shouted out my work this week on Instagram, I suddenly received quite a few more offers for work. As word of mouth about your work spreads, your work load can increase over time. Make sure to leave time to build your own business too though.
For the second person, I do various tasks including starting a Pinterest account (it is over 40K monthly viewers in just 2 weeks), helping with emails and DMs, creating PDF documents for various projects, etc.
It does not have to be one specific skill. Reach out to people you would like to work for and tell them where your strengths lie. See if they could use help in that area. Sometimes they may know how to do it themselves but need to take some things off of their plate.
Doing virtual assistant work allows me to earn an income even when my blog is not very profitable yet. If you have dreams of becoming a digital nomad or being able to work for yourself, start listing out your strengths and reaching out.
OTHER INCOME STREAMS
Because I love my school and teaching, I continue to coach cross country there. I also sub a few days a month for my friends and to stay involved. Now I’m also working on some writing curriculum for the school.
For some other smaller income streams, I tutor for a former student and also sell old clothes and accessories on eBay and Poshmark as I clean out the closet.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
Now it is 2020, and I’ve got big dreams after seeing what is possible in 2019. I like to set big goals and see if I can reach them. It pushes me as I tend to be competitive and a little bit of a data nerd.
GOALS FOR THE BLOG IN 2020
My goal for the blog in 2020 is to hit 500,000 page views this year. My stretch goal is 750,000 page views. If I can get the numbers I had in December, it is doable.
To hit those numbers, I need to finish fixing up my old posts, continue to work on posts that don’t rank highly, and create lots of new content. I’m setting a goal of publishing at least 3 – 4 new posts a month.
Some people like to push out new posts daily or several a week, but that is not typically my style. I tend to write long, detailed posts, and they typically take me a while to get ready to publish. I have had a few weeks with 3 posts in a week, but that is rare.
It is important to me to take time to promote posts too and work on other aspects of my business. Those things take time. For me that means not publishing new posts as often as others might publish new posts.
In addition, I’m focusing more on my email list in 2020. That means creating some new freebies to entice people to join. You can currently get one of my presets for free if you sign up for my email list here.
GOALS FOR MY BUSINESS IN 2020
For my business, one of my big goals is to make more than I made in a year of teaching this year. We both thought it would take a few years to get there if I chose to go that route, but I almost made my monthly salary in December.
I’ve also got another website I’m working on that is product focused. I’m not ready to share much more about it yet, but I am hoping to launch it by the end of March.
Similarly, I am working on an e-book that I hope to launch by February. I have it outlined but need to set aside a few days to actually write it all out.
There are a few more ideas on the horizon, but I am still in the early planning stages on those and waiting to see how they pan out.
GOALS FOR TRAVEL IN 2020
We are already looking at flights for 2020 after not leaving the country in 2019. At the top of our bucket list is a trip to Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. We are planning to book tickets into Europe and then wait to book the rest of that trip when it gets closer so we can watch the current conflicts in the area.
We also made a promise in 2011 when we went to Santorini that we would return for our 10 year wedding anniversary. In March, we celebrate 10 years! That means another trip to Europe is in store for us at some point in the year.
Other than that, we hope to explore more of the US and maybe take a few more road trips this year. The rest we will play by ear and see what deals we find throughout the year.
LOOKING BACK & LOOKING FORWARD
For me, 2019 was a year of facing fears, taking risks, and big growth. I’m looking forward to seeing where 2020 takes us. I don’t usually take time to write personal posts, but it was nice to reflect on the past and put some of my goals for 2020 out there. Feel free to check in on me this year!
What are some of your goals for 2020?