How to Make Money Online and Travel: Our First Successful Experiment

by Andrés Felipe Díaz on December 13, 2012 · 40 comments

in Location Independence, Making Money

How to make money online and travel

In our previous first post, in this series about How to Make Money Online and Travel, we talked very openly about how our first failed experiment in making money online brought us a grand total of…zero income!

Well, all was not lost, as soon after that embarrassing disaster, we had a new project up and running that was gradually bringing in small doses of cash here and there. It wasn’t going to make us rich, but it gave us the motivation to keep trying. Our second experiment helped us to confirm what we already hoped…that there were loads of options out there to help us with our dream of becoming location independent with an online automated technology based income.

So…as you are probably wondering…

How did we make money online?

Amazingly, after just 20 days on the road, we had secured a partnership with a small, local, family-run hotel in Santa Marta, Colombia, where we negotiated to earn 30% of their future online bookings.

We offered the hotel, which had zero online presence at that point, the opportunity to build their entire web infrastructure from scratch…for FREE!.This meant building their website, integrated with an online reservation system, creating social network accounts, as well as adding their property to hotel search engines such as HostelWorld, Booking.com and Expedia, in order to increase their online visibility.

Obviously, in return for all of this free work, we negotiated a deal with the owner, where we would earn 30% of all of their subsequent online bookings. Offline booking profits would remain 100% with the hotel owners of course.

How to Make Money Online and Travel

Me outside our newly partnered hotel in Santa Marta!

It was a win-win setup for everyone. They had long wanted to create an online presence for their hotel business but didn’t know where to begin and we had the chance to earn our first stream of online income.

How did this all happen?

We had stayed at the hotel for a few days back in January, before we headed to the beautiful Tayrona National Park. Over the course of the few days we stayed there, we inadvertently became great friends with the charismatic and friendly owner, Jorge (who we still keep in touch with today!). Jorge confessed his financial woes to us and told us he desperately needed to increase his income, which he thought would happen if he could reach a larger, international audience of backpackers, tourists etc. I have always been very business minded and as I was on the hunt for an income, I was quick to see the potential business partnership. I told Steph, and despite the fact that she knows how impulsive I am, she thought it was a great idea and helped elaborate our future plan. We secretly started analyzing the hotels daily business (which meant noting the amount of clients we saw enter the hotel on a daily basis), so we were able to very roughly work out his current income and decide whether we thought it was possible to improve the average amount of daily clients he received, by expanding his business online. We believed it was.

Suddenly, after only 20 days of travel, we had an opportunity in front of us to make money doing what we knew best…’geeking’…and while helping out a new friend.

How To Make Money Online and Travel 2

The cat didn't make it onto the hotel website unfortunately!

We approached Jorge and pitched him our idea. He loved it. He instantly agreed and we got straight to work. I got to work on all the geeky website stuff, while Steph helped with content writing, taking photos of the hotel and setting up social networks/emails etc. We stayed in the hotel for an extra few days working on the project, incase we needed any extra information from Jorge, or Steph needed to take more photos.

After a few days of intense work around many various ‘office’ locations in Santa Marta, we had the website live. It took another few weeks to really get everything set up, especially adding the hotel to the online booking engines (HostelWorld, Bookings.com and Expedia).

The Beginnings of an Online Income

As with any new business, the first few weeks were slow. The SEO hadn’t really kicked in, the social media presence was weak and the hotel had no reviews yet, for customers to base their booking decisions on. Therefore, for the first few weeks, we decided we needed a Google Adwords campaign to increase awareness and, we hoped, boost sales! We also decided to personally fund the campaign, not knowing whether it would be successful or not. Advertising vacation accommodation, in very popular tourist areas such as Santa Marta, will always yield high and expensive competition. Looking back, we are not sure it was a good idea to fund the advertising out of our own pocket, but we hoped the results would be worth the investment.

Hotel El Eden website

The Spanish version of the website. This is the slider on the homepage.

Gradually, the bookings came in and Jorge would send us our share of the profits every month as agreed. While, we still think the business was a good idea, it just wasn’t enough.

Lessons Learned

One of the problems with the whole setup was that, as well as building and managing the website, social networks, advertising and registration with the booking websites, we ALSO ended up doing the customer service. This kind of happened naturally, as we just thought it would be easier for us to manage it, instead of having to teach Jorge and his staff how to do it via email.

The customer service, while not difficult, was time consuming. People would constantly email us looking for rates, discounts and with various other (often ridiculous) questions. We did a pretty good job on customer service, but still only managed to convert about 5% of the inquirers into bookers.

After a few months, we realized that we were not getting enough bookings to make it worthwhile. We had even had one complaint about the quality of the hotel by a guest who’d booked through Expedia. We had no control over how the standard of the hotel was maintained. We were not there to make sure everything was satisfactory for the guests. We weren’t sure whether our online portrayal of the hotel was living up to the real-life reality…

After a few months, Jorge called us to let us know that he couldn’t continue with the business. He was having family matters that needed to be attended to and he was willing to go back to how things used to be and his old…less favorable clientele.

As he requested, we took the hotel off the booking websites but left the website up. We still get the occasional email to this day.

Since then, Jorge has told us that he is selling the hotel as he is moving to Bogota, so who knows what the future of the hotel will be.

So, that’s how that business came to an end but once again it was a great learning experience. We managed to make some money online and after the initial work was done, there wasn’t that much to do, apart from the odd customer service email response. It was an interesting experiment but not really something that is plausible in the long-term.

We think we would have needed much more hotels, with the same business setup, in order to make any decent money from this experiment.

The positive side of this experiment to earn money online, is that for the first time we actually made some money while traveling. More over, we made money even when we were sleeping (that is the end goal of automation), since reservations could come in without us having to do any additional work. The online booking system for the hotel gave us a boost of confidence that it was possible to earn an income without being attached to a job. This taste of success was going to be crucial in the near future and we were soon going to discover that.

However, the best thing we got out of the experience was a great new friend. In the meantime, just like Adam and Eve, Steph and I left the garden of Eden and took off to our next adventure.

Our next post in this series on How to Make Money Online and Travel, talks about our biggest project yet; one that is still in business today and growing bigger by the month. Subscribe to our RSS, or LIKE our Facebook Page to be notified when it’s published!

Let us know what you think of our experiment in the comments below!

 

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Duncan @ Travelistic December 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Great story and it just shows that creativity can be one of the best ways to start an online business.

I would be keen to hear if you have attempted this kind of partnership again? Just because the first one didn’t work out, doesn’t mean it cant. Many of the worlds best online business are simply those that bring others visibility online.

Kudos to you both!

Duncan
Duncan @ Travelistic recently posted..Wintery shots of LondonMy Profile

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2 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Hi Duncan, thanks for stopping by and commenting! No we haven’t yet tried it again, but we wouldn’t say no either. We are very open to trying new ideas and learning from our mistakes when it comes to creating an online business and we definitely don’t stick to just one type of business idea. You’re right, it is often the simplest ideas, providing websites/online visibility, that can be the most profitable and successful.
Thanks, Steph

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3 Jennifer December 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Interesting. It’s a good lesson too, for people who hope that good fortune and opportunity just falls in their laps. Working hard for things eventually has its rewards.

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4 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Thanks Jennifer. Well it was interesting experiment as you said. We earned more through the experience in knowledge, than we did in money so it has been very valuable to us since. :)

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5 Micki December 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm

That’s what my Dad called “good old fashioned ingenuity”. Many people would have gone as far as creating a website, and perhaps exchanging that for accommodation, but I love that you carried it a step or two further. Definitely a lot of food for thought…
Micki recently posted..Where’s Home for a Barefoot Nomad?My Profile

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6 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Actually, I think we thought about exchanging it for accommodation initially, but we thought, ‘why not make it into a long-term working relationship?’. Sorry for the late reply, and thanks for commenting! :)

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7 Steve December 21, 2012 at 3:43 am

Well done, this is a great start. The other way of creating an ongoing income from web site creation is an annual maintenance fee, to freshen up the text and images and keep the themes/plugins up to date
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8 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Thanks Steve. Great ideas indeed. We are currently working on a website for a local dentist here in which we are going to charge a small monthly maintenance fee to keep it up to date! Always learning and growing! :)

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9 Hannah December 22, 2012 at 6:12 am

You guys have such a great attitude towards making your dreams happen, and I really respect the way you took a chance on the unknown. A job well done in my opinion :)
Hannah recently posted..The gift of the open roadMy Profile

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10 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Hehe thanks Hannah! We’re getting there gradually! :) We’re just very slow at updating the blog! :P

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11 Terry at Overnight New York December 24, 2012 at 12:42 am

Clever! And I like that you can make money while you’re sleeping because you never know when the bookings will come in.
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12 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Thanks Terry! Yeah that was definitely the most exciting part of it! It wasn’t a lot but when we got those text message confirmations (necessary when you’re on the road and not always with access to your email!), we used to get so excited! :)

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13 LeX @ LeX Paradise December 24, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Great sharing! Nice motivation for starter :) Smart!
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14 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Thanks Lex! Andres takes all the credit for this one! He is a great motivator! :)

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15 Bob R December 26, 2012 at 10:12 am

Congrats – there are plenty more where that came from. :)
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16 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Thanks, we hope so too Bob! We’ll try to keep updating the blog as often as we can with our progress.

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17 Andy December 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I like that you don’t view this as a failure. I’ve done many websites for trade – none for equity, yet. And all of them have worked out amicably. I think more small business lifestyle entrepreneurs should aim for this type of reciprocal commerce. Cheers!
Andy recently posted..Social Media Traffic BuildingMy Profile

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18 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thanks Andy! Yes, it was a great experiment for us and it would probably be still working today was it not for the owners decision to sell the property. Building websites is a fantastic way to take your career online, especially if you want to travel and work from anywhere. A very coveted and in-demand skill right now. Perhaps 2013 is the year you start to take your websites further…with your family in tow of course! ;)
Thanks, Steph

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19 Raj January 3, 2013 at 8:36 am

Looks like i should try when i am there

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20 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:24 pm

All online experiments are worth a try Raj! :)

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21 Thomas @ JourneyScout January 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

Wow you guys are living the dream! I really hope you manage to find the automated business you’re looking for! I’m sure it would inspire us all!

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22 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thank you so much Thomas! The encouragement we get from the blog really helps, as it can get tough sometimes having no stability. But we keep pushing forward! :)

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23 Cristina January 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

What a great idea in using your skills to help out a local business. It’s so inspiring to see you’re following your dreams!
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24 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Thank you so much Cristina! :) We get inspired by the encouragement we receive on the blog so it’s a nice two-way system! :P

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25 George January 26, 2013 at 11:03 pm

This is a great business idea and of course a learning curve. You are never going to get it 100% right but its good that you gave it a go :)
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26 Stephanie Walsh January 30, 2013 at 11:29 am

Thanks George! There’s no harm in trying, eh?! :)

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27 Christopher @ This That and the MBA February 5, 2013 at 2:37 am

This one is so inspiring! Doing an experiment is such a good way in order to know whether your plans will work or not. This article only prove that experimenting is truly a great way if you want to make money online through traveling. Nice one!

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28 Stephanie Walsh February 6, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Thanks Christopher, glad you think it was worth the effort! :) We are always experimenting with different online things and we have had both successes and failures at it. We think it is good to share these experiments with people, so maybe we can save other people some time! :)

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29 -Jody O- February 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Great Story and Attitudes!!! A real life learning experience….Thanks!
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30 Stephanie Walsh February 12, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Thanks Jody! Glad you enjoyed our little experiment!

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31 Nicole @ Suitcase Stories February 27, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I am so inspired by you right now!

We are like you, trying to find ways to earn an income online so we can continue to live our nomadic life.

Ive done a little research but nothing major has come from it yet. But I have no doubt that this is the life we are meant to live so I know something will happen at some point :)

You should check out nerdy nomad.com She has been earning money from her websites for quite a few years now, and Im not talking dribbles here and there, but a very decent income! We are researching some of her ideas now to see if we too can earn an income using her model. She is very open about what she earns and how she earns it so maybe you can get some ideas there :)

If we find anything that works we’ll let you know :)

Keep on living the dream guys! Life is too short for the alternative.
Nicole @ Suitcase Stories recently posted..How my life went from ordinary to extraordinaryMy Profile

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32 Stephanie Walsh April 12, 2013 at 11:07 am

Hello Nicole!
Sorry for the delayed response!! Thank you so much! That’s lovely of you to say! And thanks for the tip on nerdynomad…I checked out her site and you’re right, it’s great. I am actually thinking about starting some niche sites now. hehe Let’s see….anyway I’ll write about it here if I do!
Thanks for connecting with us and keep up the great work. I’ve no doubt you’ll be able to make it work…you already have the passion and motivation! :)
Steph

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33 Crazy sexy fun traveler April 5, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Great to hear all the details about this kind of work online. Shame it came to an end though.
Crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..Where to stay in Roses – Hotel TerrazaMy Profile

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34 Stephanie Walsh April 12, 2013 at 10:52 am

Thanks Alex. Yeah it was a pity…as we could have expanded it a lot, but we have plenty of other projects to keep us busy now! :)

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35 flipnomad August 27, 2013 at 5:52 am

Making money as we travel is difficult but at the same time a rewarding experience. Kudos to having this kind of determination to keep on trying.
PS
Why not make websites and for small hostels in Colombia (and hosting those websites too) and just charge them an annual flat fee?

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36 Fe Costta | viaggio-mondo August 28, 2013 at 8:11 am

I had some similar experience, but still trying and making better than before. Wherever i’ll go, i am looking into opportunities available! Last trip was couple weeks ago to Iran, a land full of opportunities. If someone is brave enough, that is the place to set up something, specially online business!

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37 Pascal September 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Great post! I like the fact that you came up with a real business model. Lots of travel bloggers just advise to “start a blog” if their readers want to make some money online for traveling. Your approach is a lot better and I think your readers should take note.
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38 Stephanie Walsh November 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Thanks Pascal, I appreciate your comment :) We also have an online store which we will write about soon, as I think it is another great way to make money without relying on a blog.

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39 Graeme Voigt December 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Well done! I’m happy you wrote this, it’s helped me a lot! I’ve been looking at working on a similar business model, so this has already given me some good lessons up front!
Graeme Voigt recently posted..You Can Do A Lot In 2 WeeksMy Profile

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40 Stephanie Walsh January 10, 2014 at 7:13 am

Thanks Graeme, I’m glad to know it was of some help to you. I would love to hear how you get on with your business…send me an email sometime! :)

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