Financial Case Study: Ali Garland, Blogging

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Ali Garland is a travel addict and blogger, who visited all seven continents before her 30th birthday. She’s originally from the US, but has been living in Germany for six years (Berlin for over two years). Before moving to Germany, she was working in aviation insurance, a job that was crushing her soul. So when she met her now husband, another American who had been in Germany for a few years, there was no question that she’d be the one to move. Over the past few years, she has tried various things to make money, but it wasn’t until blogging started working for her that she felt like she was on the right path.

On Travel Made Simple, she blogs about packing tips, how to plan trips, tour reviews, itineraries, and other travel advice. On Ali’s Adventures, she blogs about her travels, life in Berlin, experiences earning money online, and the idea of living a non-traditional life. Ali likes encouraging others to travel and to find their own path in life instead of following the cookie-cutter plan everyone thinks you should be chasing. Learn more about the finances of her blogging career below – and see the results of her steady growth in blogging income!

Financial Case Studies

This post was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?

I’m more of a part-time digital nomad because I have a home in Berlin, but I travel as often as possible. Every winter my husband and I go somewhere warm usually a month or two, to escape part of the cold weather in Germany. Locations have included Southeast Asia, Central America, Italy, and Spain. We also travel around Europe throughout the year, and I take 1-3 solo trips per year. In total, I probably average about four months a year of travel. On longer trips, we make sure we have time to work, but on shorter trips, I usually consider it vacation time and try not to work much, if at all.

Please describe what you do for income.

The majority of my income is from Travel Made Simple. I do a little VA (virtual assistant) work, but that is becoming less and less as my site grows. I spend most of my time improving old posts – better SEO, adding Pinterest images, updating content, etc. Since the majority of my traffic comes from search, it’s important to always be improving that. Although I do have a long list of posts I want to write and publish, I’ve found that improving existing posts does a lot more for me than creating new content.

Most of my income comes from advertising. I joined the AdThrive network (they require a minimum of 100,000 page-views per month) a little over a year ago, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made with my site. I also earn money through affiliate marketing, mostly with Amazon, but also a few other things such as tour bookings and hotel bookings.

How many hours per week do you work on average?

I don’t track my time, but I’m guessing I work anywhere from 20-30 hours a week. I have enough things on my to-do list that I feel like I should work more than this, but I like my sleep too much! When I have a project I’m working on and I’m super motivated, I will often work more hours per week because I want to get it done and see how it does.

How much money do you make?

In 2015, I only earned a little over $4,000 from blogging, but I earned around $19,000 from VA work and freelance writing.

In 2016, I earned around US$17,000 from blogging and around US$5,700 from VA work and freelance writing.

But 2017 has been much better already. I’m averaging about $3,800 a month from all income sources, but most of that is from blogging. I’m earning about $300-$700 a month from VA work and the occasional freelance article. In the first 6 months of 2017, I earned as much as I did in all of 2016.

After making a few changes recently – new theme on my site, new hosting company improved SEO on key posts – my traffic has gone up significantly and my income has followed. If all goes well, I expect my monthly average to go up to around $4,000-$4,500 just from blogging.

Roughly 2/3 of my blogging income is from advertising, and the rest is affiliate sales. Most of the affiliate sales are from Amazon, but my next best one is tour bookings through Viator.

Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?

Yes, finally! It has taken awhile to get here, but I am so happy to say I’m finally making enough to support my lifestyle. I’m married, so it helps that we’re each working and contributing to our expenses, but we keep our spending to a minimum in order to focus on the things that really matter to us.

In general, my husband’s income goes into our German bank account and pays for our rent, utilities, taxes, health insurance, etc. My income goes into our US bank account and pays for groceries, eating out, transport tickets, and travel expenses.

We regularly contribute to a retirement account and savings accounts, though we’re due to increase that amount since I’m now making more money. I have an online Capital One savings account that pays some interest, although I wouldn’t call it high-interest. I’m also in a special health insurance program in Germany for artistic careers, and I contribute to the German social security program through that.

(See also: How to Manage Your Online Savings Account, and Financial Planning for Travelers)

What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?

I like that my blogging career allows me to have lots of freedom and flexibility. I never liked working in an office in my days before blogging, and working from home definitely suits me. Blogging also allows me to travel more often than I ever could with an office job, and now that I’m finally earning more, I’m traveling more. I finally feel like my career fits into my lifestyle, instead of having to make my lifestyle fit into my career path.

What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?

I’m almost constantly worrying about the sustainability of blogging as a career. What if Google changes something and my traffic drastically drops? So I feel like I have to always stay ahead of the game. Even though my site will continue to make money even when I’m not working on it, I know I need to keep putting time and effort into it in order to keep it going in the long term and hopefully make it even better. I’m also starting to look into niche sites because it feels too risky to have the bulk of my income coming from just one site.
(Nora’s Note: I’m with Ali on this. I recently had a business-related meltdown because I hadn’t been working on my site and I suffered the effects of this constantly changing industry. For more of my own thoughts on this, see Business Crisis For The Professional Hobo!)

Another thing I struggle with is making friends in Berlin. This is my home now, and since I’m not completely nomadic, I’d love to have a community of friends, but it’s tough. I travel a lot, and many of the people I know here travel a lot, so only being able to hang out once every few months when we’re both home at the same time makes it hard to really form deeper friendships. I also don’t have kids, and we don’t want kids, and so many people my age make friends through their kids, so I’m out of that loop. And working from home means I can’t make friends with people through work.

What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?

I definitely plan on continuing to blog going forward. The positives far outweigh the negatives, and it’s a great way to make money and have the lifestyle I want. I love having a home but being able to travel frequently and for longer periods of time than I would with a traditional job. I also have no plans to leave Germany. Berlin is home, I got my visa upgraded to permanent residency status in January, and I can’t imagine living in the US again.

As far as changes in my career, it’s hard to say since you never know how the internet will change. But for now, my focus is on constantly improving my sites, and I want to add a few more sites to increase my earning potential.

Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?

Whether you’re 100% nomadic or have a home base like me, track your spending. I think it’s too easy to underestimate what you’re spending, and then your budget goes out the window. I use the Trail Wallet app to keep track of what I spend at home and while traveling, and it’s really helpful to see where my money goes and where I can make adjustments. If you work for yourself, doing freelance work or making money from your blog, you have to plan for slow months or for a contract to dry up, so it’s best to have a cushion in savings and spend less each month than you earn.

If you’re working while traveling, you have to travel slower. Always factor in more time so you can enjoy your location as well as get your work done. And if you’re in one place for long enough to buy groceries and cook, you’ll probably need a little extra time to adjust to your new surroundings and to figure out how everything works. This also makes location really important. We’ve had too many times when we chose an apartment for a month without really looking at things like the distance to the grocery store, and then we realized we were losing way too much time just buying food a couple times a week.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re considering leaving a traditional life to do something different, you have to find what works for you. That might look vastly different from other digital nomads, and that’s ok. Many nomads stick to big cities, but if you hate big cities, seek out smaller towns. Lots of nomads spend the bulk of their time in Southeast Asia or cheaper parts of Central or South America, but if you prefer Europe, find a way to make it work.

You can also look into getting a visa in another country and having a home, but also traveling frequently. Or find a different kind of job that allows for more time off to travel or a seasonal job that gives you months at a time for travel. There’s no one right way to do it.

And if you’re hoping to make blogging your career, know that it takes lots of time and effort. It’s not quick money by any means. Treat it as a business, read as much as you can about how to make money from blogging, join blogging groups on Facebook where you can get advice (not just sharing threads), and consider taking a few courses.
And remember that while clicks, likes, shares, and followers are important, it’s more important to focus on the things that will directly lead to earning money.

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