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How These 40-Somethings Earn 6-Figures a Year From Their Travel Blog Using SEO

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How These 40-Somethings Earn 6-Figures a Year From Their Travel Blog Using SEO

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When Kris Caluwaerts felt so burned out at work he couldn’t take it anymore, he found himself at a crossroads along with Sylvia Van Overvelt.

On a whim, they decided to take a chance and follow their passion for travel. Previously, they only really traveled seriously once a year. But, at that moment in 2017, they decided to dive headfirst into their adventure and they created their blog Wapiti Travel

Rather than being a general travel blog, they focus on three main destinations: Japan, South Korea, and Portugal. Their blog has allowed them to travel the world and earn passive income.

In fact, they’ve been earning 6 figures a year from display ads alone.

Keep reading to find out:

  • What led them to create their site
  • What their original idea was
  • Where their income comes from
  • Their main marketing strategies
  • Their thoughts on SEO
  • Their approach to keyword research
  • How they create content
  • How they grow their email list
  • Their go-to resources and tools
  • Their greatest challenge
  • Their main accomplishment
  • Their biggest mistake
  • Their plans to pivot
  • Their advice for other entrepreneurs

Meet Sylvia Van Overvelt and Kris Caluwaerts

Kris: Travel buddies since date number one—that’s us! 

We spent half that evening geeking out over travel stories. Turns out, exploring the world is our shared obsession. Sylvia even dreamt of being an explorer as a kid!

Sylvia: Life took a detour though. 

We both had steady jobs, and for years our adventures were limited to annual epic trips and city breaks. 

But then, Kris hit the brakes with a burnout. It wasn’t ideal, but it became the push Kris needed to turn his travel passion into something real.

 We don’t have kids, but we’ve got a furry little adventurer named Pepper!  

Sadly, he can’t join our globetrotting expeditions, but thankfully, he’s got awesome cat-sitters at the ready (aka our family) who spoil him rotten while we’re gone.

Why They Created Their Website

Sylvia: Kris’s burnout was actually a weird kind of lucky break. If that hadn’t happened, we might still be in the rat race. 

But it forced Kris to do something with his travel passion, and hey, guess what? Turns out we’re both crazy about exploring the world!

Truth be told, a blog wasn’t our original master plan. We were actually going to build this whole fancy travel platform for planning epic trips. The blog was meant to be just one piece of it. 

The idea was to create an online platform where people could independently plan their trips based on waypoints. 

Kris worked on it for about a year after his burnout. However, it never went live. 

Gradually, we realized that this would be too big of a project requiring significant investment and collaboration with many people, which was not something we wanted to pursue.

As that plan grew a bit too ambitious, we pivoted and focused fully on the blog instead.

Back then, we had no clue you could actually make money just from blogging. Who knew?! 

We discovered that whole side of things once we started digging into the blogging world.

We started our blog in October 2017. At first, we didn’t know what we were doing. After our first trip to Japan in March 2018, we started to take it more seriously.

How Much They’re Earning 

Our blogging journey started slow and steady. 

We initially wrote about whatever came to mind, but after a few months, we decided to get strategic and started researching SEO and keyword research.

The first year was tough. We had barely any visitors and it took months to earn our first commission of about 1 euro. We were so excited, we did a little dance!

We kept going, even when things were tough. It took a lot of perseverance, but eventually, we started seeing some traction. 

We were earning about €2500 per month when Covid hit. It was a tough time, but we kept creating content and promoting our blog.

We believed that travel would eventually bounce back, and we were right. Now, we’re both able to make a full-time living from our blog.

Our main source of income is affiliate marketing. We earn commissions from promoting hotels, car rentals, and other travel-related products. 

We’re also members of Mediavine Pro, which means we earned over $100,000 in advertising revenue last year. 

Here’s a breakdown of our income:

We’re grateful for the opportunity to share our love of travel with the world. We’re excited to see what the future holds for Wapiti Travel!

Our workload for the blog can vary a lot. 

In the early years, we were both working on it full-time. Now, there are some weeks where we’re full-time on the blog, but there are also weeks where we take it a bit easier.

We’re taking things a bit slower right now because it’s not entirely clear how Google is going to evolve. 

We don’t want to pour a ton of time into the site if we’re not sure what the best course of action is at the moment. 

Their Top Marketing Strategy

The Fastlane course was a game-changer for us. It taught us a lot about SEO, focusing on our strengths, and email marketing.

 We learned how to optimize our blog posts. We also learned how to identify the topics that were bringing us the most traffic.

The course also covered how to build an email list. We managed to grow ours to over 18,000 subscribers.

We’re so glad we took the Fastlane course. It’s helped us take our blog to the next level.

Their Thoughts on SEO

SEO is our bread and butter. We’ve never paid for advertising, and we rely on SEO to drive traffic to our blog.

We only write about destinations we’ve been to and that we think we can rank for. This is a big difference from our early days when we would write about anything and everything. 

This also means that we don’t cover all the destinations that we travel to.

 We’re not sure if SEO is dead or not. Google has been making some strange changes lately, and we were hit by the HCU update in September 2023.

We’ve been focusing on SEO for the past few years, but we’re wondering if we should diversify. However, we’re not quite sure how we would do that.

Keyword Research

As I mentioned before, we don’t write about every destination we’ve visited. 

We also write in clusters, which means we create a lot of content around the same topic. We focus on Japan, South Korea and Portugal.

These are destinations we visit regularly.  

 Keyword research is super important for this, and it’s something we spend a lot of time on. I try to focus on long-tail keywords that the competition hasn’t written about in detail yet, and that complement existing content that’s already doing well.

This takes a lot of work. Sometimes I spend half a day looking for the right keyword.

I keep these keywords in a list and look for related keywords.

Link Building

Link building is not something we really focus on. At least not on external links. 

We can place internal links in most of the content we write, but we don’t actively seek out external links.

Now that our blog is a bit older, we’re seeing some external links coming in automatically. Not a lot, but a few here and there.

Their Content Creation Process

Before we write an article, we check to see if it fits with our existing content and if it’s something we can rank for.

Only if that’s the case do we start writing the article. 

Because of the detail we put into our articles, it sometimes takes 3 to 4 days to write one.

So we really want to make sure that people will actually find these articles before we spend 4 days writing something that will just collect dust. 

We currently have about 400 articles live on our site.

Their Email List

Visitors can sign up for emails about the destination they’re reading about.

When people visit some of our pages, they can download a travel checklist in exchange for their email address. Once they have filled this in, they are added to our mailing list, and we send out an automated email sequence. In these emails, we share useful information and mainly direct them to our affiliate pages.

Of course, we don’t have these emails for all destinations, but we get good feedback on the ones we do.

We currently have 18,000 people on this list.

We also have a number of Facebook groups where people can leave their details when they join, if they want to. We get quite a few email addresses from there too.

We have around 4 Facebook groups focused on specific destinations where people can ask questions. In these groups, we also share useful information. We also extract useful ideas for new posts from the groups. 

Their Favorite Resources

Kris: We would recommend the Fastlane course. We learned a lot from this course in the early years. 

Sylvia personally follows the Income School YouTube channel and we also learned a lot from blogger groups on Facebook.

She follows the DNW group by Sharon Gourlay and the Mediavine group daily.

Their Top Tools

Kris: WordPress is our blogging platform of choice. 

Sure, it has its flaws and is constantly under fire from potential hackers, but it’s still a real blessing to work with. 

It offers so many possibilities, and since the introduction of the block editor, it’s also become so much easier to apply a beautiful layout to your site.

Asana is our go-to tool for keeping track of tasks and priorities. We use it to divide up the work among ourselves and our VA.

At the moment, our team is just the 2 of us and a VA. Before, we had about 5 freelance writers whom I found through Fiverr. 

Unfortunately, Sylvia was very ill last year, which resulted in us almost not working for 9 months and not writing any new posts. 

Also, due to the current Google updates, it doesn’t seem opportune for us to invest much time in new articles. Instead, we are focusing more on marketing our existing posts. 

KeySearch is our weapon of choice for keyword research. This handy tool helps us find the right keywords to target in our blog posts so that we can attract more visitors to our site.

Their Biggest Challenge

Starting a blog is a relatively low-cost investment compared to many traditional businesses. Sure, you’ll need a laptop and some hosting, but that’s about it. 

The real cost comes in the form of time and effort. It takes years to build a successful blog, and during that time you’ll likely be earning very little.

We were fortunate enough to have other sources of income when we started our blog. But if you don’t, it can be tough to make ends meet in the early years. 

It takes a lot of grit and determination to stick with it, especially when you’re not seeing any results.

But if you’re passionate about your topic and you’re willing to put in the work, it can be incredibly rewarding. We’ve been able to travel the world and do what we love, all thanks to our blog.

Unfortunately, we were hit by the HCU update in September 2023… because nothing in the online world stays the same for long! Change is the name of the game. 

Because we’ve realized the need to differentiate, we’ve also launched a new Japan site called Japan Here We Come. However, this site is still in its infancy.

Their Greatest Accomplishment

We’re super proud that we’ve been able to grow this blog from nothing into a business that supports both of us. And the best part? We’re not slaves to it!

We usually travel for about 3 months each year (in 6-week blocks). 

When we’re on the road, we barely do any work for the blog, but it always kept on chugging along just fine. We will see what the future brings…

What They Wish They Knew When They Started

Kris: We knew we were taking a risk when we put all our eggs in the Google basket. 

But we never expected that a single Google update could have such a devastating impact on our search results. We lost more than 80% of our traffic.

Up until the September HCU update, we had been improving with every update. If we had known this was coming, we would have diversified our traffic sources.

Lesson learned. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!

We would also choose a name that resonates more with a blog

We chose this name when we started with the other business and kept it when we transformed into a blog but Sylvia doesn’t like it at all.

Their Main Mistake

No doubt about it, we put all our eggs in the SEO basket and neglected other traffic sources. In hindsight that has for sure been our biggest mistake!

We frequently receive inquiries about whether we can organize complete tours. We are currently exploring this option. 

In the past, we aimed to make our income as passive as possible; however, given the current Google updates, we realize that relying solely on that is no longer viable. 

Establishing a travel agency specializing in Japan and South Korea may be the next step. Additionally, it would allow us to continue learning, which we also find incredibly enjoyable.

Their Advice for Other Entrepreneurs

Sylvia: When it comes to blogging, I find it very difficult to give advice right now. SEO has been the same for years, and if you found a good course and followed the advice carefully, you could make your website a success.

But now the rules have changed. The game has completely changed, and I don’t think anyone knows what to do right now. 

Maybe things will be different in a few months, but the uncertainty could also last for years.

So would I recommend starting a blog right now? I don’t know. 

But one thing we both agree on is that we’re both very happy that we started doing something with our passion after Kris’ burnout. That has changed our lives completely.

Finding work closely aligned with your passions is advice I would give to anyone without hesitation.



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