Blogging for a living

Alisha Chiu, Taiwan

Travel Blogger

Story by Koh Eng Beng | Photos by Charmaine Wu

Portrait Photography People Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

She travels for free and gets paid for blogging about her trips. She’s also been appointed as travel ambassador of South Korea, appeared in TV travel shows, and even graced the cover of a travel magazine.

Meet Alisha Chiu, a full-time travel blogger from Taiwan.

If she’s not travelling, her typical day goes like this: Wake up in the late morning, head to a cafe, write blog posts, and meet up with fellow bloggers to exchange tips. She has no fixed working hours, no bosses to report to, and no office politics to deal with.

Her job is probably the dream job for many people. Who doesn’t want to get paid for going on holiday?

Personally, I believe it’s possible to earn a side income or score a few free trips as a travel blogger. But to make a living from it? It’s challenging, right? So I wanted to find out for myself how she did it.

Spaces Architecture Interior Photography Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore
Spaces Interior Photography Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

At her recommendation, we met at a Aussie-themed travel cafe in Taipei. “Hello, nice to meet you,” she said softly in mandarin.

I stretched out my hand but she hesitated for a moment before returning my handshake. She didn’t seem comfortable with meeting new people.

Spaces Interior Photography Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

To break the ice, I jokingly asked if she had ever worked in a real job in the past.

Her first job after graduating from university was in public relations, but she hated the office environment and the long hours which often stretched past midnight. She left soon to become a freelance writer for a marketing communication company.

Spaces Interior Photography Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

One day, she came across a recruitment ad for a weather girl for a Japanese TV station. Although she couldn’t speak Japanese and had never been to Japan,  Alisha wanted to do something that ordinary people would not have the chance to do.

Unfortunately, she was booted out in her first attempt. The organiser had deemed her not good enough for TV as she was wearing her dental braces. A few months later, her braces were removed, she took part in the audition again and won.

And off she went to Japan to report weather news on TV. Not only that, she even appeared in a ‘live’ TV talk show, interacting with audience using English, a language which she’s not good in! The whole experience made her realised how much she could achieve.

There was nothing I couldn’t achieve if I put my heart and soul into it. I had not done this before, but if the TV station dared to hire me, I felt that I shouldn’t be afraid, they should be the one feeling stressed!
— Alisha

This life-changing stint would later give her the courage and self-belief to pursue travel blogging.

After her weather girl stint, she was hooked on TV work. Upon her return to Taiwan, she enrolled in a journalism course and later found a job as a TV journalist .

The work pace and stress were high. Her temper became bad.

“My family and friends felt that I had changed into another person since I became a TV journalist. I didn’t like the person I was turning into,” she said.

She left her job and took a time-out — a solo travel in Europe. Her life changed after the trip. First, she met her boyfriend — now husband.

Turning her blog into a business
Then after getting married, she started working on her travel blog seriously. Even though she had been blogging since her university days, it was only a few years ago that she discovered that one could make money from blogging.

Staff from the Taipei City Office of Commerce found her blog, and were impressed with her travel articles. So they invited her to write about the Gongguan Shopping Area, the largest student district in Taipei near National Taiwan University.

“Besides getting to eat, drink and play for free, I was paid to blog,” she said. “Before this, I just wanted to share my travel experience on my blog.”

Portrait Photography People Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore
Portrait Photography People Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

Today, she’s earning enough for her daily expenses. Her revenue comes from ads and sponsored posts. Companies and airlines would sponsor her trips, in return she would write travel reviews on her blog. She has about 14,000 fans on her Facebook.

“Since my husband is taking care of the family, I can put my mind at ease, concentrate on what I want to do,” said Alisha. Her husband is the general manager of a hotel in Taipei.

“My husband is supportive of me as long as I can make my own living,” she added.

Initially, she wasn’t making any money, but she was determined to succeed. She likes blogging as it gives her the flexibility to travel and experience different cultures.

“I feel that nothing is difficult as all challenges can be solved. We just need time. Some things just take time; we can’t complete it fast,” she said.

Her aim is to grow her travel blog into a sustainable business. She wants to have time to take care of kids when she becomes a mother in future. If her hotelier husband relocates to different countries for work, she can follow him since blogging is location-independent.

1) How did you start blogging?

I started travel blogging in university. I was sharing my life experiences, just like what people are doing on Facebook today. I never took notes systematically during my travels and I was writing freely without an aim. The reason was I didn’t blog with the intention of building a business.

I didn’t know I could use it to make money.  It was only a few years ago that I discovered that I could earn money from travel blogging. 

Portrait Photography People Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

2) How do you earn money from blogging?

Mostly from ads and sponsored post. I help the companies to review and promote their places of interests to my followers. The earning is unstable as I may not have assignments when I am travelling or busy.

I do not want to give people the wrong impression as there are many media reports on how travel bloggers can make money by just working for a few hours a day. This is an inaccurate portrayal of our work.  

It’s not right to say our working hours are short. We may spend only 10 hours writing, but we also spend time editing photos, networking to get deals and assignments.

We also have to spend money to attend courses on video editing. All of these need time and energy. For example, video is the in-thing now, so we have to learn and buy the equipment. There’s a lot of preparation to be done before you finally get to sit in front of your computer to write.

People who choose to blog full time have big dreams. They have a vision for their future, otherwise they wouldn’t have given up their jobs. I know a doctor who give up his high-paying job to blog full-time. Why does he give up his medical career for an unstable job as a blogger? Some people are criticising him, that he’s lazy, only wants to travel and have fun.

3) Were you worried about not earning enough money?

I must say I am quite lucky. Some full-time bloggers have a lot pressure to source for many assignments, but I don’t. I don’t have much family commitment; my husband is supportive of me chasing my dream. I can fully concentrate on what I love to do. He’s okay as long as I can make my own living.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make money in the beginning. I had to put in a lot of time and money, but I knew it would take off one day. Most importantly, blogging is flexible, it allows me to experience a different lifestyle.

In future, when I have kids, I hope to have the time to take care of them. By then, my blog would have grown in scale to support my dream. Even if my husband has to relocate to various parts of the world, I can follow him since blogging is location-independent. Family is my biggest motivation for blogging.

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4) Where did you learn about blogging as a business?

I blogged to share my life experiences initially. Because I was a Chinese graduate, writing comes naturally to me. I write all time. I am comfortable with writing for the laymen or in a complex style.

In terms of photography, as long as I edit, my photos are okay. I also learn by looking at other people’s photos. I observe the angle, the feel and the story behind each photo.

We also have secret Facebook groups for bloggers to share knowledge with one another. For example, if you are a professional photographer, you can run a workshop. If you are a writer, you can teach people how to write better.

Take Facebook ‘Live’, it has been very popular lately, so we have classes for that too. Some classes are free, some are paid. We also have Facebook groups for companies to list assignments for bloggers. 

5) How do you split your time between writing and marketing?

Marketing is pretty fast. You just need to publish your blog posts on social media. You can also schedule them. Much of my time is spent on preparation. For example, I have to research, take photos, conduct interview, and of course actively network – I have to attend launch events, press conferences, and get to know the media and company staff. Tourist bureaus often hold such media launches for bloggers and reporters.

6) Any advice for those who are just starting out?

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At the start, you have to be clear on why you want to blog. Is it purely to share information or to make money? Who’s your target audience? Are you writing for yourself or for the general public or for a particular group of people? Then you have to position your blog — what is the aim of your blog?

For example, I blog not to make money as my primary aim; I blog because it can bring me to see the world and travel far. I want to have the chance to have a different life experience that people normally wouldn’t have.

7) What were the challenges you faced?

I feel that nothing is difficult as all challenges can be solved, we just need time. Some things just take time; we can’t complete it fast.

My challenge is finding discipline. I am an easy-going person so I can’t do things according to a schedule. I am flexible; I may take a day or two to finish a task, but I can’t tell you exactly when I can finish it.

Some bloggers are pro-active, they can finish their stories very fast, several pieces in a day. But I would take several days to complete one story. Because they are prolific, they are able to boost their popularity online fast. I am less prolific and can’t keep up with their speed. This is an issue that I have to solve. This is a longstanding problem, haha.

8) How do you promote your blog?

Through my Facebook fan page where I have about 14,000 fans. I also share my blog posts in various Facebook groups on travel.

At the start, I invited my own family and friends to like my page. Gradually more and more people started to follow. People also follow my Facebook through a link at the bottom of each blog post.

I used to set a target to have certain number of fans by certain period of time. Late last year, I realised people were buying paid ads to boost their page ‘likes’ on Facebook. I started to follow suit as it was very effective. I spent 100 NTD each day for about two months, and gained a few thousands fans.

9) Any last tips for the readers?

Since young I have always been transforming myself. I used to be afraid of approaching people. There were many things that I didn’t dare to do; but I kept forcing myself to try. I felt that once I took the leap of faith — whether I succeed or fail — my fear would disappear. I wouldn’t be so afraid in future, I would become better and better.

This is why I love to challenge myself to do things that I have never tried before.

There are a lot of possibilities in life, we should try more stuffs. If you don’t do it, you wouldn’t realise you can actually achieve so much or a lot more.

— Alisha

At the end of each year, I would do a review on what I have done in the past 12 months. I always find that I would exceed my expectation each year, “Oh I have done so much this year!” This is a special feeling.

I feel that I am just a normal person so I never expect to be able to achieve so much — to appear on ads, TV, and even front a magazine cover and more. The thing is I feel that everyone can do it; it’s just a matter of cheering yourself on.

— Alisha
Portrait Photography People Editorial Charmaine Wu Singapore

This feature is part of a collaboration with the Happiness Notebook. Titled For the Love of It, the project was conceived to inspire a generation of dreamers to act boldly. Through stories of individuals who are wildly successful in pursuing their passion for a living, Charmaine and Eng Beng hope to inspire more people to dream big and be bold in pursuing their goals.