Our 2017 - Travels, Blogging, House Sitting and Earning Money Online!
When leaving the UK in August 2016, if you had told me we’d get to the point where I’d be writing an end of the year round up of 2017 while still travelling and blogging, I wouldn’t have believed you. We’ve taken trips like these before, trips where we quit our jobs and packed our backpacks to travel the world, but we usually returned within 12 months.
Yes, this current trip had more of a purpose than just to see more of the world, we created a travel blog and took it with us to see what doors it could open, but the realist in me thought that we’d blog for a few months only to give up like the majority of travel bloggers, enjoy our travels and return home within our usual 12-month timeframe to go back to “normal life”.
It’s a bit of a long one. PIN this for later?
But no, here we are 17 months later, still on the road, currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the second time, earning money online and writing this 2017 roundup!
In this article, we’ll be looking back at our 2017 – the countries we travelled to, our travel blogging journey and the year we started earning money online to sustain our digital nomad lifestyle.
So Where Did We Go In 2017?
Our year started out in the same place we are now, Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had spent the previous 3 months in our Chiang Mai apartment learning a whole ton of new skills to take our travel blog to the next level – writing, SEO, WordPress development, social media, photo editing and the basics of how to actually earn money from travel blogging. It was full-time hours, Monday to Friday, not really what we had in mind when we left the UK so by mid-January we felt it was time to move on and do some actual travelling.
Island Hopping In The Philippines
In January we went to the Philippines, a country that we’d been dreaming about going to for years. It was a bit overwhelming trying to decide which of the 7000+ islands to visit so with it being our first time to the nation, we opted for the popular Palawan and Cebu areas.
Although we very much enjoyed our month island hopping around the Philippines, it didn’t quite meet our high expectations of tranquil empty beaches and calm blue oceans. Yes, there’s no doubting that the Philippines is a beautiful country but we clearly missed the boat with witnessing our expected images. At least in the destinations we chose to explore. Instead, in many destinations, we found the Philippines to be quite overcrowded with tourists which spoilt our experience somewhat. We wish we had visited several years ago before the majority of the world started to take their vacations there.
But overcrowding aside, we still made the most of our 4 weeks in the Philippines. The weather was perfect, the people were awesome and we experienced our first few free sponsored hotels and tours through our travel blog! Here are a few things we got up to:
- Island hopping and outstanding snorkelling in Coron
- Island hopping, kayaking and beach camping in El Nido
- Getting off the beaten path and being one of the only tourists in Long Beach, San Vicente
- Floating through one of the longest underground rivers in the world in Peurto Princessa
- Exploring Bohol Island and Bantayan Island including seeing the world’s smallest primate – the Tarsier.
Malaysia For Work & Play
With Malaysia’s capital city being the home of Asia’s best budget airline Air Asia, we found ourselves in Malaysia several times throughout 2017. Sometimes for just a few nights in KL to catch up on work before heading to another country but other times to explore some of the regions we had not yet visited.
Malaysia is a very underrated Asian destination, we know plenty of other travellers who aren’t a fan of the country, but Malaysia is quickly becoming one of our favourite places. It’s definitely one of the cheapest countries to visit in South East Asia which of course is a bonus but it also offers some of the best food, friendliest people and great places of interest. Transport is comfortable and cheap so it’s super easy to get around from city to city or island to island.
Did you know that Malaysia has set itself a target to be a developed country by 2020? It’s certainly become a very civilised and affluent nation in recent years.
In 2017 we probably spent a total of 1 month in Malaysia:
- Enjoying the sights of Kuala Lumpur on numerous occasions including a sponsored stay at one of the city’s fanciest hotels!
- Chilling out and working in the UNESCO old town of George Town, Penang
- Trekking in national parks
- Living the local island life on Pangkor Island
- Exploring up and coming Ipoh, Perak
Travelling Through Java, Indonesia
The less visited islands of Indonesia is another part of the world that we were keen on exploring. While in Malaysia we made the decision to make our way towards Bali, another of the digital nomad hotspots where we’d plan to spend a few months to work further on our blog. Of course, Bali is not one of those less visited Indonesian islands so we added Java to our itinerary. It looked easy to fly from KL to Jakarta and then use public transport to travel through the entire length of Java over a one month period and then catch a quick boat to Bali from Java’s east coast. So that’s exactly what we did!
Java was a fascinating place to visit. It’s very overpopulated (but not with tourists) so the traffic is horrendous when travelling from one place to another but the rewards at each destination were so worth it. The locals are some of the friendliest we’ve come across, we’d say on a par with Sri Lankans and Filipinos. The food is pretty good too and super cheap if you stick to local dishes.
Java offers so much but we chose to stick to the main inland highway to explore it’s rice terraced countryside, epic temples and active volcanos. Here are some highlights!
- Hiking Mount Bromo and the surrounding Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park
- Watching the sunrise over Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist monument
- Hiking up Mount Ijen in the middle of the night to see the natural phenomenon of blue fire
- Exploring the less visited but beautiful countryside in Cianjur
- Hiking another off the beaten path destination – the volcanic Dieng Plateaux
- Staying in the crazy cities of Jakarta and Yogyakarta
- Touring slum neighbourhoods
Renting A Villa In Bali, Indonesia
Bali would be our next temporary home base to get some needed work done after several months on the road. After living in Chiang Mai, the digital nomad capital of the world, we were keen to live in another popular remote working destination – Bali. Most expats and digital nomads seem to choose the beaches of Seminyak and Canggu to base themselves, but another popular area is inland Ubud, a town full of culture where we chose to rent a villa for two months.
The centre of Ubud is very touristy so we stayed in a neighbouring village called Penestanan. We loved living here. Our rustic villa had its own private pool overlooking rice fields. We could take walks among the paddies on our doorstep or hire a moped to explore the stunning surrounding Ubud countryside. Penestanan had a nice mix of local eateries and western cafes which we could walk to in minutes and Ubud town centre was just a little bit further (5 minutes on a moped).
Before settling into our Ubud villa, for the first time in all our travels over the past 11 years, we had our first visitors from home – Sophi, Paul, Sam, Matt, Alice and Rob. We enjoyed spending several days with each of them and it was amazing to share a part of the world that we love with some of our best friends. Once they had left, it was back to work for us, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm for two months. We got a lot done including building the website and team for our new travel content agency.
Summer in the UK and Housesitting
The strangest part of 2017 for us was going home for the summer with the idea of flying back out again afterwards. This is something that we had not experienced before and by making use of our Trusted Housesitters account we can see visiting the UK to see family and friends being a regular thing.
Landing in the UK is always a bit of a shock after spending a year in somewhere like South East Asia, the two couldn’t be more different, but it was a totally unusual experience knowing that we weren’t back forever. We spent 3 months back in the UK and only made possible due to Trusted Housesitters, a website that showcases homes and pets that need looking after while the owners are away.
For the entire 3 months, we had free accommodation in London and Brighton in properties and areas that we could not usually afford to rent. We looked after three dogs in three separate houses and was the perfect way for us to be close to our family and friends but also have our own space to be able to work online. House sitting is something we’ll definitely be doing again as Trusted Housesitters has house sits worldwide!
Another reason for us going home was to find new tenants for our London flat. It’s not easy being a landlord when you’re almost on the other side of the world! We’re hoping that when we visit the UK next year that we will not have that to deal with!
Exploring Ancient Egypt
When we landed back in the UK for our Summer visit we had no idea where we’d be flying back out to once the Summer was over. We thought it would be back to South East Asia or over to Central America, another area on our bucket list. But then we heard about a little Egyptian coastal town called Dahab, a town that’s starting to attract the attention of fellow digital nomads. Could this be another place to call our temporary home? After a bit of research on what to see in Egypt and, of course, the current safety situation, we decided to make our way to Dahab after a few weeks spent exploring the Nile River and it’s many sights and cities of interest.
Before arriving in Dahab we spent 3 weeks travelling Egypt from North to South seeing:
- The Pyramids of Giza
- Cairo City
- Luxor and its amazing amount of temples and other ancient sites including Valley of the Kings and Karnak Temple
- Aswan and more incredible sights such as Tombs of the Nobles and the most beautiful part of the Nile River
In the end, we spent 4 weeks in Dahab. It’s a great little coastal town with friendly locals and some of the best snorkelling/diving sites in the world, but it didn’t have enough to keep us staying longer than a month and it wasn’t long before the lures of South East Asia were calling us back again.
Back To Thailand
So here we are, back in Chiang Mai where we’ll be until mid-Feb. After that, we have no plans whatsoever. 2018 is a blank canvas and we have the freedom to paint it how we want. With our client commitments increasing, the challenge for 2018 will be making sure that we’re in destinations that have decent and reliable Wifi access. Unfortunately, that crosses off a lot of our bucket list destinations and is something we have to come to terms with if we continue this work/travel lifestyle.
Travel Blogging and Our Travel Content Agency
While doing all this travelling, house sitting and living the expat life we’ve continued to develop our travel blog. If we’re honest, it’s nowhere near to where we would like it to be in terms of making us an income but at least it’s contributing to paying for our travelling lifestyle.
At the moment the only way we make money from our travel blog is through sponsored content. This is when a travel brand pays for us to write an article with a link to their website. Either that or they send us a pre-written guest article that we simply publish on our blog.
Getting our traffic to grow has been a continuing battle. Google traffic has increased month on month but our total monthly visits have stalled for the past few months due to the everchanging social media algorithms and seasonal trends. This is something we need to work on next year if we’re to make the kind of money we wish to from our travel blog.
We’re playing with the idea of making the blog less about us and more about a source of information for other travellers. We feel it’s already leaning towards this with us just not having the time to write our own blog posts every week. We will see, it’ll be a tough decision to make but it could take some pressure off our already busy workload.
Our Travel Content Collective Agency
Another reason why our travel blog traffic may have stalled is that since living in Bali the majority of my time was spent building and developing our travel content agency – Travel Content Collective. If you didn’t know about this we basically offer a travel writing service (amongst other things) via our team of excellent travel writers. We launched the agency towards the end of the Summer and it’s been steadily growing since then.
The main reason for us moving back to Chiang Mai is to work on client outreach and grow our income from the agency. Chiang Mai is a great place to work from with fast Wifi, networking opportunities and a cheap and comfortable lifestyle so we can relax when taking time off.
We’ve already gained a couple of new clients since landing here last month and have a handful of potentials that we hope to turn into new business in the new year. Fingers crossed!
With the clients we do have, we’ve seen the potential of growing our income much faster with Travel Content Collective than waiting for our blog to get to where we’d need it to be. If we keep up the hard work of finding new potential clients, grow our team of writers and offer the excellent service that we already are, in a few months to a year we could be on our way to the kind of income we were earning when we quit our jobs in London but be working for ourselves and have the freedom to work where we please. That’s the dream!
The blog will always be running in the background, we get a lot of potential agency clients from the blog so it’s definitely worth continuing with. Each week we get a few emails from travel brands and websites wanting to work with us in some way, so we can make good use of these contacts for Travel Content Collective. The blog also helps us to meet other travel bloggers who too use our writing services. And then there’s the little bit of income it makes us which definitely helps!
The Emotional Rollercoaster You Don’t See
Wow! That was a longer post than I planned to write. I hope we haven’t bored you 🙂 I didn’t realise we’d done so much in 2017! Writing it all down has made me realise how lucky we are but let me tell you that it has not all been an easy ride. Far from it, in fact. I plan to write a post at some point about the difficulties of starting an online business like a blog or similar – the pressures, the anxiety, the doubts. Our photos might show us having a great time, and we are, most of the time, but there’s a constant emotional rollercoaster going on in the background.
This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone and we feel digital nomads and mental health is something that should be more openly discussed. Many hide behind pretty Instagram pictures but it’s not always at it seems. We’ve, at times, been guilty of that.
It’s important to look back at what we’ve done and achieved in 2017 to make us realise that the positives certainly outweigh the negatives and it’s all totally worth it. Here’s hoping that by this time next year there’ll be no negatives and we’ll have our online businesses at the point of providing us with the lifestyle we desire. We’re certainly in a better position than we were this time last year so thumbs up to that!
Happy New Year everyone and we wish you all a happy and successful 2018!