EP. 96 How to survive and thrive as a digital nomad blogger with Kelly Duhigg
This week I speak with Kelly Duhigg who is a digital nomad blogger and the founder of girlwithapassport.com. Her blog highlights all the incredible trips she has done as a solo traveler.
Kelly always thought about traveling the world, but did not plunge until she faced tragedy when her mother passed away and witnessed her mom’s regrets for not traveling before her death.
Kelly knew there was more to life than just living for the weekend and did not want to have the same regrets as her mother so she left her 9-5 and began her journey as a digital nomad blogger.
Today, Kelly runs a successful travel blog that allows her to see the world and live out the dreams that she and her mother shared.
Listen on to find out how to survive and thrive as a travel blogger with Kelly.
Debbie: Hey everyone. Thank you for joining us today. I’m here with Kelly. Kelly was nice enough to join me at a dinner and we just had breakfast.
Kelly: It was delicious.
Debbie: She’s going to talk to us a lot about her tips and tricks on how to become a digital nomad blogger. Kelly, before we get to all of the nitty-gritty stuff, can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live in offbeat life?
Kelly: Sure. I started off with a regular nine to five job. Actually, it was more like nine to like seven. It got very overwhelming. I started off as a nanny and I basically just lost my passion for it and I felt burnt out and I wanted to travel more.
Kelly: So I decided that I needed to do something for myself. I needed to make a change. And I started, working on my girl travel blog and I had always loved traveling and I always wanted to travel more. So I just decided, all right, let’s see how this goes. And initially, I didn’t really think that it would manifest into a business.
I just didn’t see how that would be possible. But I basically honed my skills. I worked a lot with social media and started writing a lot and doing a lot with Google. And before I knew it, I could actually make a significant income. And I was able to leave my regular nine to five job and start working for myself.
I haven’t reached the point where, you know, I’m making a ton of money. But I definitely am making a solid income. I just like working for my self and having my own hours and doing what I love every single day. Not looking at every minute and dreading it or looking at the clock on Sunday and think “Oh God, I have to go to work”.
Debbie: When you first started to think about actually making this into full time business, what was the first steps that you took in order to realize that dream?
Kelly: One of my life motto is, and this is so ridiculous, but it’s basically if you throw enough spaghetti on the wall, something is going to stick. So I am a big proponent of diversifying, trying 20,000 different things and seeing what works. So I’ve done almost, not everything, but almost everything.
I’ve sold products, I’ve done consulting on the side, I’m currently a digital nomad blogger, I’ve done freelance writing. I have basically done anything and everything and I kind of wanted to figure out what will be the most significant revenue streams for me.
And then I narrowed down the things that are successful and the things that weren’t, and focused more heavily on honing my skills for the things that were successful. So for me, a lot of it is consulting.
I do SEO consulting as well as Pinterest consulting. And then the remainder of my income comes from my blog. I realized that I could make money off my blog. So I focus a lot on monetization through ads as well as affiliate marketing.
And I really focused on that as well as email marketing. I found that to be really helpful. So I just focused on the things that I did well and tried to do them even better.
How to avoid shiny object syndrome as a digital nomad blogger.
Debbie: It’s really hard for somebody who’s just starting out to get into this type of industry and not feel overwhelmed because there’s so much that you have to learn. How do you avoid the shiny object syndrome one year in this industry?
Kelly: What I do is I try and feel if it’s the novelty of something new. As you said, the shiny object syndrome, it’s so new and it’s exciting and everyone’s talking about it.
And my general rule of thumb is to give it a month or two and if it still feels like whatever new platform or a new technique is really important, then I’ll really invest the time. Otherwise, I just focus on the things that have done really well for me.
Two of the things I always focus on are Google Seo, really optimizing my content so that it will perform well on Google and really researching that. Always trying to stay up to date. And then the other thing that I’ve focused on is Pinterest.
I’ve proven to myself that I’m really good at Pinterest, so I try and focus on, optimizing for keywords and, changing my images around and reformatting them and basically looking at how I can appeal to my audience. Because I think a lot of how to be a successful digital nomad blogger is not on what you want to do, but what on what your audience is looking for.
A lot of it is looking at your audience, looking at the demographics, seeing what they’re really interested in because they’re who you’re writing for and they’re the ones who are going to provide you with your income.
They’re the ones who are going to be buying your products. So it’s really important to write for them and to know what they want from you. So that’s one of my other tricks as well.
Debbie: It’s a really common mistake for all of us. When we first start this is that we want to write what we want to write and everything is so exciting. And we were talking about this before we did the interview.
You wanted to do more narrative stories of your life and your travels and then you realize that no one’s interested in it and you’re not getting any readers.
Kelly: Yeah, I’m not as interesting as I think I am.
Debbie: And it’s kind of a weird thing sometimes because you feel like you’re not really doing what you truly want to do, but then at the end of the day it is allowing you to do what you want to do with your life. You’re able to be anywhere you want. You’re able to do what you love and get paid for it as a digital nomad blogger.
Kelly: And I get to meet amazing people like you.
Debbie: And that’s one of the best things about this industry is that you get to meet so many interesting people and you also learn so much from them.
Kelly: And learning marketable skills, especially in the job market today. But I think to bridge that gap between what I want to do, what I want to write and what my audience wants to read. I infuse a lot of my own personality and what I write about and I think that that’s a good compromise and it still keeps it fun.
I make the silliest jokes but, it allows me to still have fun with it while still writing something. Like I was saying before, do I particularly want to write a carry on bag blog that’s dealt to me, but by infusing my own personality it makes it fun for my readers as well as for me. And I think that that’s a really great way that I can satisfy both needs and become a successful digital nomad blogger.
Debbie: That’s a really good combination of putting yourself into your work without having to compromise everything. Because not everything is perfect and we think if you finally leave the nine to five that you hate, you’re always going to be doing everything that you love. Well, folks, it’s not reality. You have to sacrifice certain things, but I feel like it’s all worth it. It’s worth it for what you’re getting in exchange for the life that you really want to live.
Kelly: Absolutely. It’s all about compromise and you really have to invest the time. I think a big mistake that people make is when they got involved in this industry, I think they underestimate how much work it is.
And I think that they underestimate how much time it will take for them to get successful and for implementing these strategies to really take effect. And I think, like with most things in life, it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of time investment. But if it’s something that you really love to do, it is always worth it.
There are some times where I’m like, why did I get into this? I can’t believe this, but nine times out of 10 I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I love to travel, I love meeting other people. I love meeting people who think like me and I also just love being able to work for myself and doing what I love.
And sometimes I love it too much because I have to turn this off. I have to ask myself is my blog going to fall apart if I don’t do 10 more minutes of work. Probably not.
Debbie: Again, finding that balance and not overworking yourself. To a point where you don’t leave your house anymore, you’re always in your pj’s and you’re just stuck there and you haven’t left or even showered for like days. And then I’m surprised that I actually left the house that day and I congratulate myself when I leave.
Kelly: Or if I put on pants that aren’t elastic waist, I’m like, yes, best day ever and I put on shoes that aren’t slippers. And it was amazing.
Effective Marketing Strategies
Debbie: What has been the most effective marketing strategy that you’ve done with the blog that has really worked for you?
Kelly: I definitely think the one marketing strategy that I think is underutilized by any digital nomad blogger is email marketing. For me, those are the people that are most interested in my blog. And I feel like a lot of bloggers feel like they didn’t want to bother their readers, but like the reality is, if this person signed up for your email list that means that they really enjoy what you do.
And I think that that’s just a really untapped area of marketing with a lot of potentials. The other thing too is that social media platforms change so quickly and I always think it’s wise to have a backup strategy just in case the algorithm changes significantly. If your traffic goes down, you will always have this solid base of readers who are your cheerleaders.
Debbie: What has been your strategy to actually get people to sign up for your emails?
Kelly: I usually offer a freebie of some kind. It depends on the article. Sometimes I’ll diversify the Freebie. So if it’s in a New York City article, I’ll make it tips and tricks about New York, if you sign up, you’ll get this free copy of a New York guide.
It just really depends on the article and the type of audience and what they’re reading. And I kind of tailor it to them so that I can appeal to a wide range of people. I think that that’s been really helpful. I tend to stay away from pop-ups just because I personally don’t enjoy them as a reader.
I also find that with the new policy the cookie notification, I don’t want to bombard my readers with popups, but I also give myself reasonable expectations and I don’t have a million email list subscribers, but the ones I have are very solid and they stick around, they’re always interested in my content.
I think another really good guide is that once you have your email list to continually email them, to keep them engaged and curious about what you’re doing, keep it fun. Try to show them that you’re on other social media platforms, because the more they hear from you, the more they’re gonna want to hear from you.
They know who you are and they expect it from you. Within reason. Obviously, you don’t want to email them every day and be like, hi, did you miss me?
It’s a bit over the top, but finding that happy medium like we’ve been talking about, just balance, just enough that they’ll miss you, but not too much that you’re stalking them.
The reality of blog growth.
Debbie: You’ve gone through a lot already trying to create this digital nomad blogger lifestyle. What has been the biggest setback that you’ve ever encountered?
Kelly: Honestly, I just think that the biggest setback has definitely been time. I left my job in September and I don’t know what I was thinking, but I just assumed that within a month or two, everything would be peaches and cream.
The reality is that that’s not the case. It does take a lot of time. So while I am seeing significant increases in growth in my blog, it’s definitely taken me longer. I think that the other thing too is that I also do consulting as I mentioned and a lot of that is that you constantly have to advertise.
You constantly have to gain new customers, new clients and I think that I didn’t realize how difficult that would be and I also didn’t realize how much, how saturated the consulting market is and that you’re competing with a lot of different people and a lot of people who may undercut you in terms of like rates and stuff like that.
So I think that those are two challenges that I didn’t really anticipate. If I had any advice for someone, I would say like, definitely make sure you have a solid like base like a fund, you have a solid amount of savings because unless your blog is already doing really well.
It’s going to take a little while for you to kind of recuperate the income that you’ve lost by switching, because it is not going to always be an easy transition into becoming a digital nomad blogger.
Debbie: So I think that that is something that has definitely been a challenge. Cause we live in New York and it’s not easy to live here. Kelly and I were talking about that and it’s so expensive to live here. Just the rent alone are enormous.
Kelly: Yea, it’s really hard.
Debbie: And I think especially if you don’t have any savings at all and you also have debt. It is not a good idea to leave your day job and less like east side, you’re already making a significant amount of money on it because you’re going to end up going back to that day job in the next few months or even sooner.
Kelly: Or health care, that’s something that’s really expensive if you have to pay for that out of pocket. So unless you’re making a significant amount of money, it might be wiser to stay with your day job, which provides you health care until you get to that point.
Debbie: Yeah. And it gives you a good amount of security while also being able to work on your blog and balancing that well before you actually jump into it. If you have a lot of debt, if you don’t have any savings, if you really need that health care, we’re not trying to dissuade you. But I mean we both do this for a reason.
We love it so much, but I think that not enough people really understand or even know how long it actually takes to make this work. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The people that you see that you think it happened overnight too, they’ve been working on this for years and years and maybe in other businesses before they finally got it right?
Kelly: It is very rare to become a successful digital nomad blogger overnight. And also not to mention that you just need to be practical, it’s great to follow your dreams, but you still have to pay your bills, I don’t think my student loan providers would say oh, smiles, hugs, and sunshine? We’ll accept payment in that. Not so much. I still have to pay my bills.
I can’t just go out and frolic through tulip fields, then home that’ll pay my bills and everything will work out. You do have to be practical and you have to be a grown-up, and you really have to consider your situation and look at the pros and cons and really think about things before you dive into the pool of awesomeness that is blogging.
Debbie: If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a business. It takes a lot of time and effort and also money to run it. So just a little reality check for everybody. Were telling ourselves this every day too.
Kelly: Exactly right. All that money I spend is going to be worth it. It’s really not that bad. I love what I do.
Debbie: What has been the worst advice that you’ve ever gotten from somebody?
Kelly: Oh my gosh. Okay, this is terrible. Sorry, Dad. I love you. I was actually an environmental science major in college and I did that mostly for them, not for me. I think one of the worst advice I received was to do something that’ll pay the bills. I was doing something that I wasn’t passionate about and it was a struggle to do.
I’m the type of person where if I love something I’ll do it and I’ll do anything to be successful and I won’t stop. But, when I’m not passionate about something, I’m struggling tooth and nail. I don’t want to do it and I’ll do anything else.
One of the worst pieces of advice definitely is to do something because you want that security, you want to work for the government, you want to have government holidays. But I also don’t want to sell my soul to the devil.
Tips to create income as a digital nomad blogger
Debbie: Kelly, how did you create income from the start and how do you continue creating income today with your blog?
Kelly: I’m not going to lie when I started, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t know what SEO was or Pinterest. I didn’t know what to do. So I didn’t start making an income until after the first year.
The first year it was mostly about just honing my skills, learning how to do SEO, creating solid streams of traffic so that I could generate a significant amount of income because I feel like, with blogging, you really need to have volume because you’re not going to make that much money per person.
But if you have a huge pool of people, you’ll eventually get enough income to survive and thrive. And I think that one of my strategies was learning how to use Google and Pinterest to drive traffic. And once I had that solid traffic stream, I started implementing affiliate marketing as a supplement to my ad revenue. I think that that’s been one of the biggest reason why I have been able to sustain a digital nomad blogger lifestyle.
Also looking at my audience, advertising products that they actually want. For example, my audience is generally 24 year old to 34-year-old women who are pretty much like me, which makes sense. So, I’m not going to advertise a hover round scooter for them, they’re really not interested or adult diapers probably wouldn’t be a hit, you know what I mean?
Kelly: So, you just have to look at your audience and find what’s right for them. And honing those skills and taking the first year to get that knowledge base was really important because then once I had all that, my traffic took off very quickly.
So, it’s just learning those tools and doing them from the beginning. Going through old posts and optimizing for Google is a total snooze fest. And some of the old posts I wrote were terrible. What was I thinking? Was I high when I wrote this? I learned from my mistakes. Don’t be like me.
Debbie: It’s interesting when we go back to the beginning and we look at our post, it’s always so embarrassing and it’s always like a smack on your forehead. What was I thinking?
Kelly: And was I blind when I wrote this? Did I not read it?
Debbie: Most of the time we don’t because we just wanted to get something out there in the beginning. And we don’t realize the impact it actually has on our blog.
Kelly: Yeah. Or that it’s really about quality over quantity.
Debbie: You talked about advertising and the one that you use for your site is Mediavine. You can qualify if you have enough traffic, I believe it’s 25,000 views?
Kelly: Yeah, 25,000 page views a month.
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Affiliate Marketing Tips
Debbie: Now what about affiliate marketing? How have you been able to implement that into your blog and actually create income from that?
Kelly: Some people hate it, some people love it. I love Amazon. It has helped me to become a more profitable digital nomad blogger. I can easily make 50 to a hundred dollars a day. And what I love about Amazon is that when you click, they don’t actually have to buy the product you’re advertising. As long as they purchase anything that day after clicking on your link, you get income from that.
You don’t get a high percentage of the costs of the product. I don’t know how much it is, but it’s a small percentage. But if you have enough volume you can do really well.
A lot of what I do is I create a lot of packing lists. I’ll create a lot of gifts lists. I’ll create a lot of affiliate marketing centered posts that will really generate revenue.
Another affiliate that I use that I really love is Aviator USA. They’re actually these really awesome travel genes and they are so comfortable and they have pockets for days. You could probably fit a small child in your pocket and would be totally fine.
I’m kidding. Don’t do that guys. But they’re amazing because I think the jeans are expensive. They’re like $110 a pair, but if you sign up for their email list, you actually get 10% off, which is awesome.
But the thing with affiliate marketing is you get a high percentage. Every pair of jeans I sell, I make $10. You don’t even have to have that high volume. as long as you make one sale a day, that’s about $300 a month.
Some of it is volume, but if you don’t have the volume, looking at affiliates that work well with your audience, things that your audience wants. Another really good one is a World Nomads travel insurance for $100 policy. I make $10. I found them to be really useful as well. But with anything, it takes a lot of work to implement proper and effective affiliate marketing.
So, I write a lot of posts, I put a lot of links in there and from that, a small percentage will be successful and will translate into money. So it does take a lot of work. You really have to focus on it and commit to that marketing strategy and implement it in my blog.
Debbie: It’s all about commitment and if you have to write a few of those articles every few months, it’s worth it because then it’s income that’s coming into your pocket every single month.
You’ve already written it and people always find it when you’re marketing it through Google or Pinterest. And social media or whatever else that you’re doing. So that’s a really smart idea.
Kelly: Yeah. And also you can just update it as need be and you can republish it. So it’s an easy way to update something that is really successful and make it even more successful. So if you have another affiliate, you can just add that. Let’s say you have an affiliate for t-shirts. You can add that to your gift guide and then republish it and then it’ll perform even better on Google because it’s even a more thoroughly answering the question.
Debbie: Let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
Kelly: Honestly, aside from being a successful digital nomad blogger, I just want to be remembered for being a good person. And for being helpful to people. And I want people to remember me fondly.
And when they think of me, I really want them to be to say I’m really better for having known her. She really added something into my life. Of course, I want to be successful. Of course, I want to be able to pay my bills. But to me, that’s much more important.
I want to have valuable relationships and meaningful relationships. I think to me that’s definitely the most important legacy that I could have. I don’t need to be a millionaire. As long as I can pay my bills.
Debbie: And all the work it takes to get to that point. Honestly, someone else can have that.
Kelly: I’ll outsource that when I become a high roller.
Debbie: All right. So let’s get to some fun questions. I nerd out on interviewing people like you who are really inspiring and also hiking. What about you? What do you nerd out on?
Kelly: Oh my God, I love Harry Potter. I have this app on my phone. It’s the most ridiculous thing. It’s the stupidest game on the planet. But I’m like sitting there, I’m like POW, POW, POW, spells, spells, Power. And I’m like, Oh my God, I’m such a nerd. I don’t want people to see me playing this game. I’m so lame.
Debbie: You don’t want anyone to know about it.
Kelly: Except I just shared about it now so people will know. I mean there is a whole theme park, so I guess I’m not the only one.
Debbie: Is there any question that you wish people asked you more of?
Kelly: I like telling a lot of my backstory, and how I got to this point and what shaped me into the person that I am. And I think a lot of people focus on the blogging and the business aspect of it, which is really helpful.
But I think sometimes it’s nice to like really connect with someone and share your story and talk about how you became the person that you became and why travel is so important to you and why you become a digital nomad blogger.
Sometimes it’s nice to share your soul. That’s why I wanted to write more narratives, you know? But unfortunately, I’m really not that interesting. So fail on that.
Debbie: Well, you never know. A lot of people may be interested, you just don’t know. So now Kelly, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
Kelly: You can find me at www.girlspassport.com. I reveal more of my backstory. I’ll just quickly say that what really got me motivated with travel blogging was my mom actually passed away in 2012.
Her life goal was to go to Rome and she never got there. And it really inspired me because I didn’t want that to be me. I saw the look in her eyes. It was a lot of regret. It was a lot of missed opportunities.
It was constantly the thought of- if only, and I just didn’t want that to be me. So that’s a lot of what I did and what you’ll find on my blog and what really motivates me. And I just wanted to inspire and help other women on their solo travel journey.
Debbie: We’re going to talk more about traveling solo on your extended interview. That’s going to be a lot of fun. Stay tuned.
Kelly: Yes, that’ll be riveting.
Debbie: Yes, it will be. Because you have a lot of experience in that and it’s going to be fun to talk about. Thank you so much, Kelly, for joining me here today for breakfast.
Kelly: Oh my God, it was delicious. Thank you for having me. Anytime someone says breakfast, I come running.
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