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From $10 a Day to Digital Nomad: Will Hatton’s World of Travel Blogging

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

From $10 a Day to Digital Nomad: Will Hatton’s World of Travel Blogging

Will Hatton, the visionary behind The Broke Backpacker, is not just a name but a symbol of transformative budget travel. Embarking on an audacious journey with just $10 a day, Will’s adventures across diverse landscapes and cultures culminated in the creation of an unparalleled online resource for budget travelers.

The Broke Backpacker stands today as a beacon for those yearning to explore the world without the constraint of hefty expenses. In this interview, we delve into Will’s inspirational journey, uncovering the genesis of his website and exploring the insights gained from his experiences on the road.

Will Hatton

The Inspiration Behind The Broke Backpacker

SBS – What inspired you to start The Broke Backpacker website?

Will – As a fresh-faced teen, barely able to grow a moustache, I found myself in India, traveling on a budget of just $10 a day. I was making my travel dreams a reality, with hardly any money to my name, by hitchhiking, couchsurfing, working odd jobs, and sleeping in train stations and my battered tent. I built up real knowledge of how to explore far-flung corners of the world on an extreme budget and how to actually make travel dreams a reality — all through the secret sauce of learning to embrace the uncomfortable and saying yes to every opportunity.

When I first started traveling, there really weren’t any resources out there on how to travel the world on the cheap, and I hit the road with no real idea of how to make this happen. Everything I had read online indicated that you needed to have a budget of at least $50 a day to travel (and that was supposed to not include flights!)… The concept of managing to somehow SAVE $1400 to be able to travel for just a month blew my mind. I had been working lowly paid labour jobs in the UK and barely saved five hundred pounds a month.

My experiences in India quickly taught me that one can absolutely travel on an extreme budget and actually have a pretty amazing time whilst doing so. When hitting the road with no money, you have a lot more interactions with local people and have to say yes to serendipity more often.

This was something I was passionate about sharing. I saw the immense opportunities for personal development on the road and I worked out some actionable advice I could give to folks also wanting to travel the world on the cheap.

Initial Steps in Launching the Business

SBS – Can you walk us through the initial steps you took to launch your business?

Will – Originally, The Broke Backpacker started as a newsletter to around 30 people. Over time, this evolved, and in January 2013, I bought the domain name and officially started the site.

At first, the site was very blocky. There were no photos, I built the first version of the site myself, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew nothing about SEO, I wasn’t on social media, and for a couple of years, I was just publishing my own travel stories as huge walls of text.

My stories were edgier, bolder, and, dare I say it, more honest than many other travel bloggers were posting at the time. I talked openly about experimenting with psychedelics in weird and wonderful places around the world, about my adventures with the local ladies I met on my travels, about my struggles with depression and anxiety, about my joys at exploring places many people simply did not go, like Palestine, Venezuela, Myanmar, Iran, Pakistan and some really wild parts of the Philippines. I was often the only blogger at the time covering these destinations, and before long, some major media publications began reaching out and asking to feature my work.

My honest and humorous stories from my travels led me to build a loyal and engaged following, and I moved to Snapchat to start “showing” my audience what I was up to whilst, for example, driving a multicoloured rickshaw around India or hitchhiking all over Iran.

A couple of years after I had started the blog, I asked my snapchat audience if they’d be interested in coming on a tour of Pakistan with me, this was a game changing moment for me.

The tour sold out overnight, and I suddenly had a decent sum of money with which to invest in scaling my business, hiring a couple of our writers, and hiring my first Filipino VA, who has now been with me for seven years.

This was a very important step in my journey as an online entrepreneur. I did end up exploring several other online ventures outside of The Broke Backpacker. I ran several other sites (all in the travel space), had an SEO agency at one point, opened a hostel here in Bali, and sold my own range of “backpacker basics” gear for a couple of years (COVID crushed this). The tour company was definitely one of the most important ventures I embarked on, as this was what gave me my original seed money to scale up the site.

Will Hatton in Bali

Building a Dedicated Following

SBS – What strategies have you found most effective in growing your website’s audience?

Will – My strategies to grow The Broke Backpacker audience have changed a lot. I used to be very active on Snapchat, and this was certainly an important stage. However, I quit social media a few years ago as I didn’t like how time-consuming and addictive it was. Mostly, The Broke Backpacker crushes it with SEO; the site was generating 1.5 million unique users per month before COVID.

COVID really hit The Broke Backpacker hard. And since then, there have been a lot of different SEO algorithm updates. Crucially, the way that Google is displaying information has changed and so SEO has become a lot more challenging as there’s now a lot more stuff above the fold than there used to be. There are more ads. Google’s got its affiliate partner projects up there and tries to direct traffic towards those instead. So, it’s definitely harder to hit the same kind of numbers we were at before, but we are on an upwards trajectory.

Our strategies are always changing. We’re big on our mailing list. We’re currently rebuilding our social media, this is being run by another member of the team who is very much living The Broke Backpacker lifestyle. I think that crucially, treating The Broke Backpacker as a brand has been really important for us, connecting with our audience, being really honest and authentic in what we’re posting, traveling bravely, going to far-flung places, and writing about what we do there. I think having that genuine voice has made a big difference.

The Broke Backpacker Site Traffic

The Road to Financial Stability

SBS – What strategies have you used to diversify your income streams and ensure financial stability for your business?

Will – In my opinion, there is no such thing as financial stability for the online entrepreneur. One month it’s a feast; the next month, it may be a famine.

On The Broke Backpacker, most of our income is from affiliate marketing. We have, however, done a few other things. We’ve experimented with our own products, which were doing quite well on that before COVID. But then shipping prices went up by 350%, and we could no longer compete. So the physical products that we were doing, we’ve stopped doing those for now.

There was a lot more diversification before, but now, we’re acting on smaller changes within the affiliate space itself. We don’t sell products anymore, we’re not doing tours (the company I founded on my own all those years ago still exists, but I am not involved anymore), and we’re not trying to sell my services as a coach or a “let me teach you how to start a blog” style of product.

So it’s mostly affiliate marketing, though I have also co-founded Bali’s first co-working hostel and I plan to open another hostel in the next year. We use the blog to support Tribal Hostel and to drive people towards the hostel.

Will Hatton in the mountains

Overcoming Initial Challenges in Business

SBS – What were the biggest challenges you faced in the beginning, and how did you overcome them?

Will – It was very difficult to scale the site with no money whatsoever. I was still hitchhiking, living in a tent in train stations. I was making very little money from the site, and I had no savings.

I was under a lot of financial pressure.

This alleviated after some time when I was able to start generating a more reliable income from the site. I think the biggest challenge in the beginning was there was so much I just didn’t know. So, trying to work out all of the things that I didn’t know so that I could start incorporating them into my business was an important thing that needed to happen.

Managing Technical Aspects of the Website

SBS – How do you manage the technical aspects of your website, such as website design, hosting, and SEO?

Will – In short, these days, we outsource most of what falls under web design and hosting. We have developed our own SEO strategies over time, through both our team’s knowledge and by consulting with experts. Today, these strategies are hard-baked into how we create content and the kind of efforts we make to build the site’s authority.

Role of Social Media in Business Success

SBS – What role has social media played in the success of The Broke Backpacker, and how do you manage these platforms?

Will – Like I mentioned above, Snapchat played a really important role initially. Between 2015 and 2018, I was doing a lot on Snapchat and built a large audience over there, which I was able to move to the website. I then quit social media altogether.

Over the last six months, my team has been rebooting our social media — and our Instagram is looking great 😉 I think social media is a difficult game, as it can take up a lot of mental space and make you quite addicted to your phone. So I’m keen not to handle that part of the business myself.

Camping in Pakistan

Valuable Lessons Learned During the Initial Phase

SBS – Looking back, what is one thing you wish you had known when you were just starting out?

Will – I wish I had known earlier that it was possible to form really good relationships with affiliate partners and therefore renegotiate commission structures, cookie durations, and marketing budgets.

We have great relationships with many of our affiliates now. Those relationships have been very valuable, as our affiliate partners will often share data or tips or trends that they’re seeing, and then we can use that to create content around those trends.

I also wish that I had known more about YouTube because I wish I had done a lot more with it in the beginning. I think that when I quit social media, I actually made a pretty big mistake in how I did it and lost quite a lot of momentum that had been built.

It’s one of the lessons that comes along the way, but I think that if I’d had a mentor or a bit of coaching, I probably would have played some of those things differently.

Addressing Misconceptions About Budget Travel

SBS – What are the most common misconceptions you encounter about budget travel, and how do you address them in your content?

Will – The most common misconception we encounter about budget travelers is that it’s not safe, or that it’s dirty, or that it’s very uncomfortable.

Budget travel is an incredible experience that will teach you to trust your intuition. It will hone your edge, you’ll learn invaluable skills, you’ll get better at reading people, you’ll get better at problem-solving. It increases your higher ability. Everybody should budget travel, and this is something that I’m very passionate about sharing in our content.

Trekking in Venezuela

Advice for Aspiring Travel Bloggers

SBS – What advice would you give to aspiring travel bloggers who want to stand out in a crowded online space?

Will – You gotta ask yourself the question: Do you want to be a travel blogger for the right reasons or do you just want to make money online whilst traveling the world?

Because making money through travel blogging is very challenging. Travel blogging is the most visible and perhaps the most desirable because, of course, you know, it’s all on Instagram. It looks like an amazing lifestyle. Travel content creators are everywhere — it’s the most visible of the digital nomad careers.

But it’s also one of the hardest. It’s possible to make money to support your travels by doing something less glamorous, but way easier. So I think it’s important to get clear. Why do you want to be a travel blogger? If you’re really passionate about sharing your stories, you love writing, or you love being in front of a camera, and you’re good at and you’re willing to do the hard work to do the grind, then go for it.

Really ask yourself: What is your motivation for wanting to be a travel blogger? If you do want to be a travel blogger and you want to stand out, well, you need to go places that other people haven’t been to. You need to give them different stories. There are plenty of them out there, so be brave and go for it. But understand this: If your goal, your motivation, is to be able to make money online so that you can travel the world, there are easier ways to get there than trying to make it as a travel blogger.

river crossing

Essential Tools and Platforms for Running the Business

SBS – Which tools or platforms have been of great value for running your business?

Will – I absolutely love static whiteboards; they cover my entire house and stick to anything. And this is where I plan out a lot of my strategy. Plus, I use them to track my habits in my personal life. Trello is an incredible piece of software. It’s free. We use it a lot amongst my team to help organize projects and ideas.

Creating Engaging Content to Attract a Loyal Audience

SBS – What are your top tips for creating engaging content that attracts a loyal audience?

Will – Be honest, be real. I openly talk about smoking weed and taking drugs while traveling. I talk about the highs, the lows, the depression, the fun parts, but also the not-so-fun parts. I was on an Ayahuasca retreat earlier this year that was both beautiful but also mentally and emotionally exhaustive, and I talked about all of it.

Just be honest. If you’re honest, you’ll be able to attract a loyal audience. But you’ve also got to go out there and do something inspiring. Talk about the challenges, and talk about your why: What are you doing and why you’re doing it?


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From $10 a Day to Digital Nomad: Will Hatton’s World of Travel Blogging