For my blog, papersplease.org, I get paid a stipend that is a living wage.
-- Edward Hasbrouck
By Edward Hasbrouck
"I used to work for a travel agency that specialized in around-the-world airline tickets." In the fall of 2001, we found out about a new TV show, The Amazing Race, which had us excited. CBS premiered its reality series about teams of people going around the world competing in challenges on Sept. 5, 2001, and each day after the show was on, the team that had been eliminated was to appear on The Early Show. Since I’d recently published, The Practical Nomad, my publicist worked to get me on the show to give commentary.
So the morning of September 11th, I wake up and see that I’ve missed a call from a 212 area code. I figured it was CBS in New York, and that I would be getting on a plane to do The Early Show the next day. But when I listened to the message, I realized it was a wrong number: The person who had dialed me thought she was calling one of her colleagues. In the background I hear sirens and screaming as she says that she’s just come out of the subway and, “can’t find anybody, there’s smoke everywhere…” I turn on the TV just in time to see the second World Trade Center tower fall.
For a time, with all the fear around air travel, there was doubt that The Amazing Race would even go forward. But eventually it found its audience and went on to win Emmy awards for reality TV. I thought the show would spark a lot of interest in global travel, and have been writing a column about it since its first week on air 14 years ago. Since I acquired a lot of readers, and could keep up with the demands of a monthly column, I took the leap of launching a blog.
I LIKED THE FLEXIBILITY
I’d been writing in different venues, published more books, and created a small, static website as an online brochure to advertise my books. But I wanted a place to publish things that didn’t fit in other formats, and over which I had more control. Blogs weren’t common in 2003, so I had to manually code the html (Internet language) to update the individual articles. But I liked the flexibility of it.
My blog initially was a way to advertise my books, but now my books serve as an advertisement for my website, which generates more income in ads than I get from the books. With books I only get 15 percent of the wholesale price, whereas I get all the revenue from the ads. I’ve never come close to making a living from books, but if someone clicks on an affiliate link on my website, and ends up buying a trip around the world, I get a nice piece of that. I can make upwards of $5000 a year in ad revenue from my website (hasbrouck.org).
For my other blog, papersplease.org, I get paid a stipend that is a living wage. A nonprofit organization that deals with civil liberties for travelers gives me a fixed, monthly amount to write their corporate blog. It contains information that both their members and the general public want. I blog 500 to 2000 or more words a couple times a week for them. It’s more newsy and analytical than my own blogs tend to be. I was hired to blog because of volunteer work I was already doing on travel-related civil liberties, and because I had a depth of understanding of the travel industry.
VIRTUAL TRAVEL AGENCIES
After working as a travel agent for 15 years, I helped as the industry made the transition from brick and mortar to online. I worked with programmers as a subject-matter expert, developing systems that duplicated the work of human travel agents, including the software, databases, the airlines’ information, etc.
After September 11th, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began to perform wide-ranging surveillance, and the privacy information contained in travel reservations became vulnerable to being abused. People have even used travel reservations to stalk and kill other people. But more often they were going to be used by the DHS to control where you could go. When you make a reservation to fly somewhere, it’s sent to Homeland Security, which keeps a lifetime travel history on you; most people don’t realize what the codes in a reservation mean. But they’re the modern equivalent of an FBI file. So the civil liberties group came to me and said, you have this knowledge, can we put you on retainer to work on this issue. It was a dream assignment because it was what I was doing already.
NO ONE WAY TO DO IT
I’m in Brussels right now because some European officials are seeking to use the massacre at the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris as the excuse to look at all the reservations and decide who is allowed to fly. It's a proposal rejected four years ago, but now they’re reconsidering.
I recently attended a conference of professional travel bloggers. Not everybody there was successful at making their living from their blog, but everyone there who was successful was doing so in a slightly different way. They had a revenue mix that was a mix of monthly stipend, staff blogger for corporation, they sold different individual articles, they had sponsor pay them to blog about it. There’s no one way to do this.
Edward Hasbrouck's most recent trip around the world to update the 5th edition of The Practical Nomad lasted more than a year, and covered more than 80,000 miles through 28 countries on 6 continents.
-As told to Pamela K. Johnson, Jan. 2015
Photos courtesy: the author