This is an interview with Isabel Leong of Bel Around The World.
Hey, Isabel. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I’m a full-time travel blogger at Bel Around The World and SEO coach roaming the world at whim. I draw energy from being outdoors.
An explorer at heart, the world is my playground. With a focus on outdoor adventures and local flavours, I expose millennial travellers to experiences beyond their imaginations through my blog.
I also help aspiring bloggers and brands achieve their traffic goals and financial freedom via online content.
When did you start traveling and how did you support your travel life in the first years?
While I’ve travelled in the past with my family on our annual vacations, I’d say this journey really truly began when I bought my first one-way ticket and did a solo trip to Europe in 2015 during a school exchange.
In that 6 months, I’d visited 18 countries and 55 cities all around Europe. Since then, I couldn’t stop.
I vowed that if I’m not going to be able to find a job that allows me to travel, I’ll create my own kind of job that gives me the freedom to travel.
I’ve always been frugal, so working part time while studying and during school breaks was a norm for me. I thus never had to worry about having a non-existent travel fund.
Even while travelling, I tried to do it as cost-effective as I can, including couchsurfing, going on free walking tours and making use of student discounts to enter museums.
How did you know if the digital nomad lifestyle was right for you?
The incessant desire to travel. Looking forward to every long weekend where I could sneak in a quick trip. The wishing of a more flexible, less rigid lifestyle where you don’t have to account for everything to your boss.
The appeal of being able to work from wherever and whenever I want. Enjoying meeting different people from different walks of life.
How did you begin making money as a freelancer?
I started by freelancing as a writer, then also managing social media accounts.
Eventually, my blog grew big enough for it to start earning on its own, which really was an end goal for me – to work for myself.
Through the exposure I get from Google search and getting traffic organically to my blog posts, I started getting approached for my help on SEO, which I now specialize in.
What challenges did you have to overcome when building your reputation and finding clients?
With anyone starting out, it definitely has to be getting the word out there and being known and trusted for what you do.
I overcame it by being active in communities that are looking for skill sets like mine, and also casually bringing up what I do when interacting with people. You never know when a friend of a friend might be looking for help on something that you offer as a service.
A few quality clients that you can focus delivering your work to beats many clients that you do half-hearted work for, and that’s how I focus my energies.
Slowly, I was able to accumulate testimonials and referrals and be recognized for what I do.
The journey takes time, so patience and a never-ending zest to learn and improve your trade are crucial.
When and why did you launch Bel Around The World?
It was launched in 2015, when I first began my international journey around Europe.
It was meant to be a platform for me to catalog my travels and share travel tips, itineraries and budget hacks. I wanted it to be a useful resource for others looking to visit the same destinations as I’d visited.
How have you grown your site over the years?
I was writing for virtually nobody in the beginning. With some persistence and hard work, the site was finally able to attract a steady number of audiences on its own.
It’s a combination of active promotion in the beginning, optimizing all my posts for SEO, contributing to larger publications, attending relevant events and networking, and positioning the blog as a business rather than a personal hobby that grew my site over the years.
With that comes hiring a website designer for a complete rebrand of my site that reflects my personality as well as having business cards to hand out during networking events.
Getting constant feedback to improve the user experience and always being open to change also contributed to my site growth.
How many page views do you get now and in what ways?
My traffic has taken a hit due to the travel slum, but on good months, I get over 50,000 pageviews per month.
Most of my traffic comes organically through Google search (thanks to proper implementation of SEO), followed by social shares from Pinterest and Google.
Recommended resource: Pinterest Traffic Avalanche
What are some major SEO mistakes you see other bloggers make?
Not organizing and categorizing their posts properly, not making it easy to navigate from their homepage to specific posts in specific categories, not having a meta description, not writing according to keywords, not writing everything on the keywords they’re targeting.
What’s your content creation strategy like?
It really ought to be more streamlined but I didn’t want to limit my travel to certain experiences only, so I write about anywhere and anything I fancy.
That includes city breaks, countryside experiences (like glamping in Australia), favourite foods and cool experiences (like safaris in South Africa or a helicopter tour in San Francisco).
The blog is still an outlet for me to share my kind of travel, and that includes all sorts of spontaneity and random experiences!
When and how did you begin working with brands?
In 2017, the third year of running my blog. I was planning my graduation trip and I was able to successfully work with multiple travel companies whilst road tripping in New Zealand, like a glacier experience and blackwater rafting.
With the traffic numbers I’d grown, they offered comped experiences in exchange for a review and social media shout outs of the experience.
Do you think any blogger can earn with sponsored content?
Most definitely! There is always demand in every niche, as long as you’re open to it.
Read also: How to Get Sponsored Posts for Your Blog: 7 Easy Ways to Start Earning
What do brands look for in a travel blogger?
Expertise in the topics they write about, professionalism on their travel blogs, as well as traffic and reach.
Eventually, it’s about how much exposure a brand can get through working with you and your platform, so having an audience that’s aligned with their target audience is the primary consideration.
What’s your favorite way to earn from your blog?
Advertising because it’s a steady stream of passive income, and through sponsored content as they have the potential to pay quite well.
What passive income streams do you have?
Advertising and affiliate revenue.
Recommended resource: $1K Blogger: Build a Blog That Earns You $1,000/Month in Passive Income
What’s your monthly blog revenue and where does it come from?
Anywhere between $3000 to $4000. Mainly through advertising, affiliate revenue and branded content.
How did you earn your first $100 blogging?
Through sponsored content, which is when a brand wishes to sponsor an article or a section of an article on your blog.
At what point did you become a full-time travel blogger?
When I hit my first 25,000 views and qualified for Mediavine. This was a major factor because I knew a portion of my passive income would be more or less secured.
I also just finished my Working Holiday stint in New Zealand then, was hooked on the idea of working abroad, and was reluctant to go back to working the corporate life for somebody else.
What advice do you have for aspiring digital nomads?
Hone in on your skill sets and be a master in them. Sign up for online courses (sorry shameless plug incoming) like my SEO course for example if that’s something you’d like to specialize in.
Get involved in virtual work communities (Facebook is a great place to start).
Money is secondary, building your testimonials is primary. When you start getting a steady pool for work, that’s when you can weed out the low-paying clients and focus on providing value for your higher-paying clients.
What’s next for you and your blog?
Besides waiting out the travel gloom, I’ve been busy optimizing my old posts for SEO, pushing out new content that have been on the back-burner, and getting up close and personal with my subscribers through sharing my personal adventure stories.
I’ve also begun creating more blogging tips and resources for other bloggers, as well as launched a SEO course.