It’s Jake again, with our monthly installment of Operation Digital Nomad, the post in which I update everyone on our progress monetizing our travel blog so that we can travel the world indefinitely. As always, this post contains affiliate links, so if you make a purchase after clicking on one, we get a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

May was an insane month for the Jake and Dannie (and Lisa) family. I told you last month that we had decided to rent a house and settle here in Dali, China. But before we could actually move into our house for the rest of the year, we had a little bit of business to attend to. And that meant one last spurt of fast, chaotic travel, before we got to slow back down. In this post I’ll talk a little about that travel at the end, but mostly I want to talk about passive income, and why we are focusing even harder than ever on making that a focus for us.

But first, the bottom line:

Net Income: -$24.21


  • Google Adsense: $4.60
  • Affiliate Sales: $6.50
  • Photography Sales: $28.83
  • Total: $39.93


Income Analysis:

Much like last month, we failed to net a profit this month, but it’s not all doom and gloom. We had our best month ever with our Adsense banners, and we got affiliate sales from multiple sources instead of just one. Because May was so darn crazy, we didn’t do the work to take and sell as many photos as we did during our profitable months, but that being said, we still did better than we did the month before. This is what led me to choose passive income as the main subject for this post.

Of course, we aren’t opposed to actively earning money either. The photography sales for this month were to Idaho Jones, maker of the fine bag in the image at the top of the page. You can read our review of their Gallivant Baby Changing Diaper Backpack and get a discount with the code you’ll find there. Just saying.

Our expenses remained almost constant, like they always do. That’s the nice thing about blogging as an income source, your expenses come in the form of monthly payments and subscriptions, which are easy to set goals against (even when you don’t meet them). This income analysis section is going to be pretty short because I don’t want to be redundant later on.

Blog Traffic

Google has continued to take off for us. In May, we had 1178 sessions that started with an organic search from Google or some other search engine (but mostly Google). That’s a 25% improvement from the month before. In fact, it’s such a strong improvement, that our monthly pageviews (2,573) was basically unchanged, despite barely touching our blog or social media accounts.

Of course, that’s going to change drastically this month because we are now quite comfortable, we have all the free time we need for this website, and we have a huge backlog of photos and material that we are ready to plow through. Neglecting our blog and social media accounts is nothing to brag about, and it has to stop now that we are comfortable. If June isn’t our busiest month ever on the blog, I’ll be truly shocked.

As has become customary, I will now indulge in ogling the graph of our search clicks from the last three months to show off how it’s improving.

A graph of our Google Search Traffic from the last three months.

Who doesn’t like to see their organic search traffic quadruple in three months?

Here are the blog posts we published in May:

  1. 3 Months of Tent Camping in Scotland… With a Toddler – This is an overview of one of the biggest adventures we embarked upon in 2017. We left the big cities, hotels and Airbnbs of Europe and lived in a tent for the entire Summer. Not only that, we were in some of the harshest environments in the UK and we had a two year old with us. I bet you’d like to hear how that went!
  2. Exploring GulangYu In Xiamen, China: Travel and Photography Tips – GulangYu is the biggest tourist attraction in Xiamen, and one of the busiest sites in China. You’ve probably never heard of it though because it’s just not advertised to westerners. Heck, you probably don’t know whether it’s an island or a cave! (It’s an island) With this blog post, you can give it a try, though. We think this post will do well in the future because there are hardly any English language resources for GulangYu.
  3. Operation Digital Nomad: April, 2018 – Just like this post, but a month older. They get better with age!
  4. Review: Invercoe Caravan and Camping Park in Glencoe, Scotland – An in depth review of the campsite we stayed at for the month of September. I tried not to blame them for the weather.

And here are the ten blog posts that performed the best in May:

  1. Where to Photograph Provence Lavender Fields (152 page views)
  2. Review: The BabyZen Yoyo Travel Stroller (114 page views)
  3. Review: The KidCo Peapod Plus Travel Tent (113 page views)
  4. Our Experience Staying at Airbnbs in Paris (110 page views)
  5. Finding the Best Angle on the Roman Colosseum (97 page views)
  6. Fairy Glen: Family Fun on the Isle of Skye in Scotland (91 page views)
  7. Pont Alexandre III in Fall, Rain or Shine (68 page views)
  8. Photography Tips for Gondola Rides in Venice, Italy (56 page views)
  9. Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy: A Photography Guide (53 page views)
  10. Operation Digital Nomad: April, 2018 (51 page views)

It’s not too surprising to see these posts rising to the top right now. The lavender fields of Provence will be starting to bloom later this month, and as travel season starts pick up this Summer people are looking for travel gear like strollers and travel tents. The average time-on-page for that lavender post is an amazing 9 minutes(!), which means people are really reading it and making use of it. That’s very rewarding. Of course, I expect the lavender post to drop off sharply in popularity in mid July.

Why We Are Doubling Down on Passive Income

As I said earlier, we didn’t do much work on the blog or our social media accounts in the last month, but we nevertheless had our best month ever with Adsense and affiliate sales from multiple sources, including one that we’d never had sales from before. Adsense in particular has gone from fluctuating between $1.50 and $0, to consistently improving over the last few months. This is the result of larger numbers of people viewing our blog, which means that the swings are smaller and the clicks (and lack thereof) average out with volume.

But how can this be when we barely did any work in May? Well, it’s because the advertisements and affiliate sales on a blog are passive income. You still have to work to keep improving your blog to make the future even more profitable, but the profits you earn in a given month aren’t the reward for the work you did that month. They are the reward for all the work you have done over the history of your blog. The vast majority of the page views we received last month were for blog posts we wrote months ago.

A graph of our passive income over the course of Operation Digital Nomad.

A graph of our income from advertisements (blue) and affiliate sales. As you can see, the affiliate sales are still less consistent than Adsense, but they are more profitable overall.

Of course, this requires a little bit of patience. It means that while you are working – writing, editing photos, researching or taking care of the kids – you have to be comfortable with the knowledge that the payout for the work you are doing will be spread out, not just over the next year but every year for the foreseeable future. Only when you have produced enough work with high enough quality will you start to see payoffs. It means putting in a lot of effort now so that your future self will benefit.

It also means accepting a large amount of uncertainty. There are no guarantees in life, and nothing can ever make you one hundred percent sure that your blog will be a success. What Dannie and I can do though, is ask ourselves if the content we are producing now is something we wished we’d had last year, and whether we could have just gotten it somewhere else. That’s why our Lavender post did so well. I spent an enormous amount of time researching it, writing it, and providing tips that I couldn’t find online before we got there. And Dannie spent many hours editing those photos to make sure they stand out from the crowd. We know that other travelers will be online looking for the same information we wanted, and when they do, we’ll be there providing the answers we had trouble finding.

And as we grow, in size and reputation, that post will reach more people every year. Forever. And once someone is on our site, the more content we have, the more places we have been and the more information we put forward, the more likely that reader is to have a reason to stick around, look at other posts and maybe even return again in the future. The whole is greater than the some of its parts. In other words, the 100th post is more valuable than the 99th, and the 101st is more valuable still.

Every piece we publish builds on the whole, and every month will be better than the one before. The income we make from getting hired or from selling our photos comes and goes, but the passive income keeps on growing until we don’t need those gigs anymore. At least that’s the idea, and we’re going to give it a try.

Our Last Crazy Month of Travel

One of the reasons we are able to travel as much as we do is that we all have American passports. But passports expire and Dannie’s date was coming up in less than a year. Before we got comfortable, we had to make our way to an American consulate to have our passports renewed. It can’t be done by mail when you are overseas, and it takes 2-4 weeks to prepare them.

Rather than renew Dannie’s passport this year, Lisa’s in a couple years, and mine a couple years after that, we decided to get them all done at once. We were also concerned that Lisa looked nothing like her passport photo anymore and we were getting more and longer looks at airport security points.

We enjoyed our time in Shanghai, walking on the Bund and even going to Shanghai Disney. But rather than spend up to an entire month in the most expensive city in China, we decided to visit some relatives in Nanchang. Though it was so humid there we could barely stand it, and the mosquitos were thick, it was really nice to see Lisa meet her great grandmother.

And finally, when the passports were ready, we returned to Shanghai to pick them up. The cost of the round trip tickets was easily less than the cost of a decent hotel in Shanghai. And finally, finally, before we could return to Dali, we had one more stop to make. We had to return to Xiamen in Fujian Province to pick up some luggage we had stored there in January, and to take a ferry to a little island that is technically part of Taiwan so that we could get our tourist visas stamped and stay in the country for another two months straight.

Everything we did on this trip will be material for blog posts in the near future so I don’t feel to bad rushing through it now. Check back soon. In the meantime, if you’d really like to help support our travels, head over to our resources page while you are planning your next trip or photo shoot, you might find something that could make your life a lot easier.

Thank You

Thanks so much for reading this and for looking around our humble website. If you took the time to get this far into our monthly self indulgent report, then you’ve taken an interest in us beyond our tips and pretty pictures. That means a lot to us. We can’t succeed in this mission without our readers and we’re glad to have you with us on our journey.