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Making a living out of travel blogging

7th February 2019

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Laurence and Jessica Norah have made their travel their trade. Their blogs, Finding the Universe and Independent Travel Cats, began as a way of recording and sharing experiences, advice, and photographs. Eight years on, the blogs have become a business with more than 600,000 monthly readers across both websites.

“We usually do six months of travel and six months of working on our blog content and on the commercial partnerships that pay our way,” says Laurence, 39. He grew up partly in the UK and partly in the Seychelles. “My parents are pretty adventurous - we travelled together to Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. They’ve recently come back from trips to India and Australia and next, they’re thinking about Kazakhstan. They don’t follow me - I follow them.”

Today, Laurence does all his travelling with his wife Jessica. Their favourite places? “I really liked New Zealand, I lived and travelled there for a year, in which time I ran a hostel and a campsite. We also both love the continent of Africa - it’s so vast and so different to anywhere else, and the wildlife is just incredible. We also enjoy travelling in the USA - there’s so much to see.”

Glen Etive, Scotland
Glen Etive, Scotland

Turning a passion into a business

In 2010, Laurence quit his job as a Software Engineer in the corporate world to go travelling. He started with a year-long adventure travelling around Australia with a four-wheel drive and a tent.

After that, he decided to start his blog Finding the Universe to keep friends and family up to date with his adventures. He started with his travels in Australia and built the content out as he travelled in New Zealand, Asia, and Europe.

Jessica, who grew up in Ohio, started blogging in 2013. Through her blog Independent Travel Cats, she researched and wrote about the history of the places she’d been and gave practical travel tips. Jessica and Laurence met in 2014 and have since run the two blogs together.

They are often asked how they make money from the blogs. “Like many websites, our main way of making money is through a traditional model of advertising,” Laurence says. The couple have display advertising on their sites and have affiliate partnerships with hotel booking websites and flight search companies that pay commission on sales. They also make an income through speaking events and the online photography course that Laurence runs.

Glen Coe, Scotland
Glen Coe, Scotland

Of course, travel blogging is much more than a way of making a living. “When you work for yourself, you have to have a drive beyond the money, especially for travel blogging which won’t come across as authentic if it’s all about making money,” Laurence says. “The connection and trust we have with our readers is really important to us, and what really makes us happy at the end of the day are the comments and feedback we receive from readers, letting us know how we helped them plan and take awesome trips.”

His advice for starting a business is to choose something you would do if you weren’t being paid. “We blogged for a long time without making any meaningful income, it was just something we were really passionate about. To be honest, there are probably better ways of making a living than being self-employed but I wouldn’t ever go back to not working for myself,” he says. “The buck stops at us.”

One of the many challenges of being self-employed is managing your time. “There’s a big cloud of everything you need to do and stay on top of - planning, answering questions and comments from readers, writing. No one else is going to do it for you,” he says.

There's so much to do that sometimes it can be difficult to switch off. “When you have a day job, you leave the office and go back home to a different environment,” he says. The couple try to separate home and working life by going to a coffee shop for the day and coming home in the evenings.

His advice to others? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help as you go along and don’t be afraid to hire people - you can’t do everything,” he says. It was on the advice of their accountant that they decided to register as a limited company and open a business account.

A business account for travellers

“We looked at a lot of different options for business accounts,” Laurence says. “I knew that high street banks wouldn’t evolve to meet our needs. I like new stuff but I won’t go after something just because it’s new and shiny - it has to fulfill a purpose.”

He wanted a free business account with international payments that was covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). “What I liked about Starling was the FSCS protection,” he says. “It’s also so easy to use.” As someone with a background in Software Engineering, he liked Starling’s open APIs that other companies could build on to create new services.

“Travel is massively important for us and we need to make payments in three different currencies - euros, pounds and dollars, and I can manage all that from the app,” he says. There are no fees for using your Starling card abroad. We also support 20 currencies for sending money abroad and we’ve recently launched our euro accounts, available for Starling personal customers who want to hold, send and receive euros on a regular basis. The account will rolled out to business customers later this year.

In the next few months, the couple will be using their Starling card on trips in Finland, France and America. “Our goal for 2019 is to focus more on specific regions of the US, Europe and Scotland - plus we have a lot of existing content that we always have to ensure is up to date!”

Find out more about Laurence and Jessica’s travels through their blogs Finding the Universe and Independent Travel Cats.

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