This is an interview with Caz Makepeace of Y Travel Blog.
Hey, Caz. Tell us a bit yourself and what you do.
G’day! We’re an Australian family who have been travel blogging since 2010.
Since my first backpacking experience around Indonesia in 97 as a 21-year-old – followed immediately by a nearly three years living in London and Dublin – I’ve set out to create a life with travel at the center of it.
For 26 years now I’ve made that a reality. First as a solo traveler, then as a couple with my husband Craig, followed by a life of travel with our two daughters (even though so many told us it was no longer possible), and now as top global travel blogger who gets paid to travel for a living.
We now live in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we first moved to in 2004 because of a work abroad experience. We both immediately felt like we had returned home. It took us over a decade to find a way to live here permanently.
In addition to travel blogging, we also now have a blog on Raleigh, which we started during the pandemic and have had incredible growth and success with.
We live a life in complete alignment with our values. I’ve never joined the cubicle and so had no need to escape. I’ve never listened to how anyone, or society, has told me I should be living.
I don’t care about the status quo, vanity metrics, or how much money I make. I’m not saying that is important or a valuable thing to strive for, it’s just not WHY I’m doing this.
I don’t know how, but for some reason, I’ve always just known, the true purpose in life is to experience joy. I think my parents are still wondering when I’m going to grow up!
What was life like before you became a travel blogger?
Full of travel. Just like it is now. But before travel blogging, I was a budget backpacker. If it meant I had to sleep in tents or cars or live off baked beans on jacket potatoes, to travel more, then I’d do it.
I used the working holiday strategy to fund my travels. That is, work in other countries – usually those that are expensive to travel to, on a short-term visa and use that as a base to explore that country and region on local currency.
After each work stint, I would travel for months at a time in cheaper destinations where my money could go further.
This meant I did not have to save as much money to travel in the first place, it helped me build my skill levels as I took on such a wide variety of jobs to earn money, and it gave me the most enriching travel experiences.
I still follow that strategy now; except I have my own business so am location independent. I also no longer sleep in tents and cars.
Travel blogging came for me once I had two children, so our travels aren’t as wild and free as they were before blogging.
Also, back then, postcards and calling cards were the norm, so life was very different. I miss those days where no one knew where I was, getting lost was an art form, and hostels were for conversations with strangers.
I am sad my girls (and all people after Gen X) will probably never know what that was like.
Now that I’m a travel blogger, I have more control over my life, as I set my own hours and earn a lot more money than I did as a teacher. It’s helped give me the permission to live in my soul home and offers me endless travel experiences.
Most importantly, it’s given me a platform to make a difference. I love that I get to help others to follow their bliss, travel more and create better memories. Because that’s all that matters.
When and why did you start the Y Travel Blog?
We wanted to continue the lifestyle we had living and traveling the world, but we no longer wanted to have to rely on jobs or temporary work visas.
We were actively looking for opportunities to have our own businesses, and had a ton of failures with network marketing, options trading, and real estate investing (thanks to the global financial crisis)
In 2010, we discovered travel blogs and saw immediately that it was something we could do and were passionate about. We had over ten years of travel experience between us and so started with a wealth of stories and tips to share.
We knew what an extraordinary life travel could give you and what a powerful transformative experience it was. We wanted to share that with others in the hope they too could experience a new way of living that helped them connect to what was most important to them. We know that can only create a positive ripple effect in our world.
I knew I didn’t have the brain power or skills to solve huge world problems like poverty or cancer, but if I could help lead people to joy and meaningful moments, what kind of a powerful difference could that make?
Read also: How to Get Paid to Travel and Earn a Full-Time Income as a Travel Blogger
How long did it take you to get some traffic?
As we started strong with a lot of travel experience our site grew quite quickly. We were also very active on Facebook – which was only the social media platform around at the time.
We treated Facebook just like we would the hostel couch – a place to chat with strangers, share travel tips, and feel like you’re hanging out with friendly, warm like-minded people.
This also contributed to our growth. After only a few months, we saw enough traffic to feel confident this could be something we could take full time.
When and how did you make your first money as a blogger?
Our first income stream was through selling text links. We soon learned that was frowned upon by Google and could lead to penalties, so we turned to other ways. We made our first $70 after about 6 months.
Another relatively easy way to make money in the beginning was freelance writing. We could use our expertise to make income, gain credibility, and give our brand greater exposure.
Next came affiliate income and sponsored content through brand partnerships, which is still a major source of our income today.
At what point did you leave your jobs to travel full-time?
After about 18 months of blogging, I left my part time teaching work to work on the blog full time. I had a newborn and four-year-old, and our financial situation was not great. We were living with Craig’s parents while we recovered after a huge financial crisis.
We were at the point where I knew we could grow the blog if I gave it more time, so we took the risk.
Craig left his job about a year later to join me full time. Then in September 2013 (about three years into travel blogging) we decided it was time to ‘walk our talk” again and start traveling full time with the girls.
We decided the easiest way to do this with a two and six-year-old, while working on a growing blog full time and homeschooling, would be to travel around Australia.
We started by living out of a tent for three months as we did not have the financial means to invest in a trailer. We technically didn’t even own a car. The car we did have was given to us by Nissan (and later Ford) as part of a freelance writing campaign I had with an online parenting magazine.
They agreed to let us take the car on our journey around the country and write travel related content around it.
After about three months, we had the finances to get a loan for a small travel trailer.
Our Australia road trip lasted for 18 months, our blog growth exploded, as did the income opportunities.
We’ve been blogging full time since and have traveled with our girls to Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean, and the USA, where we now live.
In 2020, we were granted a green card for our extrabodily ability in the art of travel blogging, and we have worked with the biggest travel brands in the world and continue to earn multiple six figures through our blog.
We no longer travel full time, as we wanted a more settled life with the girls going to traditional school. But we still travel, fitting it in around our schedules. We love to show that travel can always evolve as your lifestyle does.
What were the hardest parts of growing the blog to a full-time venture?
When we started, no one was making any money travel blogging, nor did we really know how. So, for the early trailblazers it was tough figuring out.
We were all basically throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick. It’s been around for long enough now, with plenty of gurus selling courses on travel blogging, that blueprints and frameworks can be laid out for those to accelerate their success. We (the old-timer travel bloggers) were the ones carving out those blueprints.
Not only did we have to figure out how to do this – no full-time venture without full-time income – we had to deal with the backlash from people in the community who did not understand new media and were upset with bloggers for making money off what they felt was “hobby blogging”
So, it was a tough beginning having to learn ourselves and educate our community and brands that we could still provide value and maintain integrity while working on paid content creation campaigns.
It’s so normal now that you rarely hear any complaints of “sell out” anymore.
Read also: How to Build a Top Travel Blog and Earn $10K/Month with Brand Partnerships
How did you grow the blog traffic over the years? What’s your biggest source of traffic?
Our traffic sources have changed so much over the years. In the beginning it was mainly through Facebook, Twitter, and guest posting.
Then by a stroke of luck, one of our Pinterest boards was featured by Pinterest to all new sign ups (in their beginning phase). Our Pinterest following exploded to 4.5 million! We used to get 180,000 views a month just from Pinterest.
After a few years, our search traffic picked up and grew to 500,000 a month before an algorithm changed, followed closely by the pandemic, more than halved it.
Now our traffic sources are a combination of Search, Pinterest, and other social traffic.
I’ve learned it’s risky business to rely on just one traffic source. Since the pandemic, it’s been our intention to create a business that does not rely completely on algorithms. All it takes if for one change, and your entire business can be wiped out.
Read also: How I Increased Traffic by 778% in 2 Months
What role does Pinterest play in your travel blogging business?
As mentioned above, Pinterest was huge for our travel blog. But soon with their algorithm changes it became a site we stopped investing in.
But, in 2023, we are coming back with a Pinterest strategy as they have made some promising changes to show they could be valuing creators again.
We’ll see how we go but I feel a little more hopeful with the platform and feel it’s worth testing.
What other platforms contribute to your audience growth and how do you use them for your business?
Instagram hasn’t ever been a great platform for us. Of all the social media platforms, I feel this is the most negative for mental health. As a result, I don’t use it much personally myself.
Instagram has been our greatest algorithm struggle, but unfortunately, it’s important for brands so we use it, but don’t invest too many resources into it. We have previously and it was the worst ROI of anything we have ever invested in.
However, it has been an incredible tool for building community and driving traffic to our site.
So, you can see it’s a love hate relationship for me.
Instagram can work well for niche sites and Raleigh is not a niche that is oversaturated like travel is, so competition is minimal.
We have YouTube channel, which has been good for telling our travel stories and showcasing destinations, but it doesn’t have great ROI for us to continue to invest much into it.
We have a podcast for our Raleigh site which has been great in building our brand and sharing the stories of people within our community.
How much are you currently earning from the blog and in what ways?
We earn multiple six figures from both sites. But our income streams are the same:
- Banner Ad revenue
- Affiliate income
- Sponsored Campaigns
- Photography and Videography Assets
What’s your content creation strategy like?
Our content now is generally in relation to where we are currently traveling to. We typically create several blog posts we know will be helpful.
We largely only write destination guides now.
We do have other content writers who fill in the gaps of places we can’t get to. We look for destinations that are trending or what we feel our community wants by listening to them via our various channels.
Sometimes we may choose content pieces based on SEO keyword research. But we don’t like that to drive anything we do, merely as a tool to assist us.
I do a lot of research for travel myself and am often frustrated by the quality of content and how little it helps. So, when writing content I try to imagine what would be most helpful to me when I’m researching and write content to fill in those gaps.
I want to give the reader everything they need so they’re not having to research on multiple sites and get frustrated.
What are some big milestones you’ve hit as travel bloggers over the years?
All I’ve ever wanted to do with my life is travel. And I’ve been doing that since 1997 when I was 21 and newly graduated from university. So creating something but nothing other than a dream and grow it to be one of the biggest travel blogs in the world is a wild achievement for me.
We’ve partnered with the biggest brands in the world such as Qantas, American Express, TripAdvisor, Ford, Canon, Nissan, Skyscanner, Facebook, Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, and many international and state tourism boards.
We’ve been recognized by Virgin Australia, Lonely Planet, Forbes, Afar, and have appeared on Fox Business TV, Cheddar TV, and The Today Show in Australia.
In 2017, we won a Modern Ontrapreneur award for Excellence in Publishing!
The White House invited us to attend a travel summit as one of the top digital travel influencers in the world in 2014 and then in 2020 they awarded us a green card because of our travel blog.
I’ve spoken at blogging conferences around the world including keynoting Women’s Travel Fest in 2018 and TBEX in 2019.
How do you balance traveling and blogging?
This is a tough one! Here are a few tips that have helped us over the years:
- Be really good at making decisions
- Learn what to say no to
- You’ll quickly learn what is important and what isn’t. Your time is so limited, it’s impossible to waste it on the unimportant.
- Travel slowly
- Plan for work days
- Repurpose your content
- Have good systems in place
- Automate as much as you can
- Outsource where you can
- Take care of your health
What is it like running a business on the road with your spouse?
Challenging! Thankfully, since Craig and I traveled the world together on a five-year honeymoon, we had learned the value of teamwork and how to co-exist while living in each other’s pockets.
This was great training for adding in the extra stressful elements of running a business together while traveling AND with children and homeschooling.
We’ve figured out what each of us is good at a passionate about and we stick to those roles, helping each other when needed.
Communication is key. Understanding what your limits are is also important, as travel will impose a great deal of restrictions on your work output. We also outsource as much as we can.
But it can be a wonderful experience, if you are on the same page, as you’re creating this amazing dream together and enjoying quality time that most people will never get.
Our years of profound travel experiences and memories is the glue that keeps us together.
How has the travel blogging industry changed during and after the pandemic?
Since international travel was shut down during the pandemic many travel bloggers turned to writing about domestic travel and those experiences more suited to pandemic life like national parks, road trips and small towns.
Many travel bloggers pivoted in new directions such as Patreon, niche sites, podcasting, and running tour groups. Many stopped blogging altogether.
I’m not too sure where it goes from here to be honest. I know international travel content will be big again, but with an oversaturation of bloggers and content, and lower budgets from tourism boards and brands (also now thanks to a recession) I think opportunities will be slim.
What will become more valuable will be content written from people who are actually traveling and can share personal stories and tips rather than content written from a checklist of LSI keywords with the sole purpose of ranking on Google.
Finding the balance between SEO and story telling is really tough, and those who can do it will have the greatest success.
What are your top tips for aspiring travel bloggers?
What’s your long-term plan and how do you intend to use your blog as a source of good?
Doing this just for the money, or free trips is a terrible idea. There are so many other ways you can hack travel or make money.
As many of us who have been doing this for over a decade will now say:
First, we couldn’t believe it that people would give us free travel. Then we couldn’t believe it that people would pay us to travel. Now, we’d rather pay for our own travel.
This is one of the most difficult industries to be in. Not only is it oversaturated and everyone with a pen and a camera thinks they are at travel blogger, but it consumes a LOT of your time and money. It’s truly exhausting.
So, you need to have a much bigger why than free travel. You need a big picture vision that will help you keep climbing over the hurdles.
I would not waste time on trying to go viral on social media. It’s not sustainable. Instead focus on being consistent and valuable.
What’s your story? What makes you valuable? What makes you different?
Build your brand, your story, and your authority and this will help you build a business that outlast algorithms.
What are some of the best and most adventurous trips you’ve had in the last years?
We did a 10-month road trip across the Western part of the USA in a travel trailer. We had lots of great adventures such as a 15-mile hike to a glacier, ATV rides through the sand dunes, and road tripping through national parks.
Last year, we visited London for two weeks, incorporating Oxford and Bath. It was one of our favorite family trips, especially since I lived there for two years, and I could reconnect to it with my girls and help show them what is possible for their lives. Now my youngest wants to go to Oxford University!
Before kids, the most adventurous and memorable trip Craig and I did was backpacking from Uganda to South Africa for six months camping in a tent and getting around on public transport. It’s hard for any travel experience to live up to that!
What are your travel plans for 2023?
We started 2023 with a Bahamas vacation swimming with Pigs in the Exumas Islands.
On the horizon, is a short break in NYC, a trip to Buena Vista in California, a short break in Philadelphia for the Taylor Swift concert, and I will possibly be speaking at TBEX in Greece.
It’s Craig’s 50th this year, so we’re planning a big Europe trip in the Summer: France, Italy, Greece, and the UK.
What’s next for Y Travel Blog, and where can people find you online?
We’ll be continuing to find ways to fit travel into our evolving family lifestyle and share that with our community. Craig and I hope to take more solo trips this year as well as a few family adventures.
As our Raleigh site is having such phenomenal success, we’ll be putting a lot of attention into that part of our business as well. Now that we’ve survived the pandemic and helped our income restore to former levels, we’ll be outsourcing more tasks so we can focus on what we’re good at!
People can read more about us at yTravelBlog.com and join our email community there. We’re on Instagram and Facebook. If you’re interested in Raleigh and North Carolina, you can connect to our blog, ThisisRaleigh.com and on Instagram.