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Travelling families (and influencers) selling themselves

If you jump on Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook and Youtube, you’ll see a huge number of travelling families, couples and individuals who have some pretty serious travel setups, which look pretty neat from a distance.

Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll realise that a huge number of them are regularly pushing products, or spruiking discount codes, or promoting a lifestyle that might come across as a bit beyond the ‘normal’ (like ‘all you need is a Laptop’).

Now, I’ve had this post idea for a long time, but have never proceeded with it for a huge number of reasons, but I think it the time has come to share my perspective, as its becoming rather unethical and I really don’t take too kindly to it. Maybe you’ll feel the same at the end of this!

Some of you will know exactly what I’m referring to, and others won’t have any idea, and that’s just fine too. However, to give you a bit of perspective, we’ll start at the very beginning.

I started this very website 13 long years ago. It’s had two domain name changes since then, but I’ve striven to post at least one comprehensive post a week (now we are doing 5 a week!), and as of right now we are at nearly 3300 published posts.

Granted a heap of them are just photos from the early days, but there are more than 750 detailed posts helping people to travel, 4WD, camp and enjoy this amazing country. 

13 years is a seriously long time, and I’ve seen things change in the online world like I would never have imagined. There are people who’ve legitimately created a business, and who have provided a lot of benefit, but there’s plenty more who have pushed (and continue to push) the ethical boundaries in their pledge to create an online travelling business.

Typical online work for those travelling

Multi level marketing and pyramid schemes

Let’s start off right at the bottom, scraping the barrel for the lowest that you can go in working online. This involves the promotion of products or goods in a layered arrangement, where you receive income for getting other people to also promote the same, and each product they sell you make a small (or sometimes large) commission.

If you manage to get 20 people working ‘under’ you, then all of their efforts make you money, and it continues to grow. If they then get others under them it pumps you up further, and so on and so forth.

In the interest of not making this too personal, I’m not going to name anyone, or anything, but if you have to comment a particular word to receive information, or you need to ‘PM me for more information’, then there’s a good chance what you are getting involved in is not something that is ethical or likely to survive long term.

Yes, this is a generalisation, but if you can’t post something publicly, then perhaps that should be the first warning sign?

In my mind, anyone who is involved in one of these schemes should be treated cautiously, but know that they themselves often don’t know that they are caught up in the whirlwind.

YouTube

The next, and now hugely competitive area people make money on is YouTube. You create videos that are of value, or entertaining, and people will view them, subscribe and once you are at a certain level you can monetize the videos with the ads that you see pop up before, in between and at the end of the episodes. 

Earnings are generally pretty average, and you really have to have a big personality, or stand out in one way or another to do well. You’ll likely earn about $3 – $8 (that’s Australian dollars) per thousand views, which is much, much harder than you likely imagine. 

To make decent money, you need to be getting thousands of views every day, and in order to maintain this you need to be releasing high quality videos on a rock solid schedule that doesn’t change. If you stop releasing video’s for a couple of weeks, you’ll get hurt badly in terms of YouTube sending more people to watch your creation, which then hurts the hip pocket.

YouTube is hard work, but a legitimate way to make money, and anyone who has put the effort in to get more than 5000 subscribers is probably more than worthy of getting those to watch their videos. We follow a heap of travelling families and other YouTubers, and like to see what they get up to.

Some of them are doing it full time, and making more than enough (and in some cases far more) than needed to live off, and they make video’s as their primary source of income.

The bigger issue with YouTubers is what comes next, and the other, extra ways in which people make money, which we’ll go into further below.

Sponsored content

People make a huge amount of money doing sponsored content. Some of the big names can comfortably make 30 grand for a single post on Instagram. Yes, I’m being completely serious, and this is where things get a bit interesting.

If you aren’t sure of what I mean by sponsored content, its basically any photos, words, video’s or general content that promotes something which you are getting paid to do (or the product has been gifted).

An influencer might put up a post of them using a product, and if they are being paid to do so, its considered ‘#sponsored’. They might stop mid video to introduce a new product, or just use it in the middle of a couple of episodes, and it can be considered sponsored.

In the travelling, camping and 4WD industry there’s a huge amount of sponsored content going on (generally not at that sort of price point), but its not always done legitimately. If you are sponsoring a product or post, it should be clearly marked. If you receive any financial gain, it should be clearly stated, as #gifted, or #sponsored.

If you receive a product (or get paid to promote one), and then rave about it on any social media platform, YouTube or your own website without making it very clear that you have received gain from the company, then you are in a grey area and actually breaking the law. 

This is where things get really grey, as if you receive a product, or get paid to sponsor one, are we expected to believe that what you are saying is actually legitimate? There are a huge number of people in the niche that we work in who promote products because they have a financial incentive to do so, and not because they genuinely love the product. Of course, that’s not always the case, but how do you tell?

In the past, it was obvious who was promoting products and brands, but today, your average Joe Bloggs can be, and you might be blissfully unaware.

I’ve seen people raving about products that they are just unboxing (and have never used), and have to wonder how they can possibly give a fair review?!

Affiliate marketing

Another hugely common way to make money online is to get involved with affiliate marketing. This can be as simple as sending someone to a website via a referral link, which results in you getting a small commission when they make a purchase.

These days, its commonly done in the way of ‘discount codes’, so its easily tracked. For example, if you make a purchase on a particular store, and enter a discount code from one of the ‘influencers’ you’ll get a minor discount, and they’ll also get a commission.

Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this if its done legitimately, but how many people are spruiking products that they make a dollar on, over what’s a good product? How many people do you think use one product, and move to another because they can make money selling it?

There’s other forms of affiliate marketing; you can send people to Amazon, eBay and other major online stores through a link and you’ll receive a commission for it, in the same way that some Australian businesses are offering referral payments when you let someone you know about a good product, and they also sign up.

Affiliate marketing can be a legitimate business, but I always question the sincerity of reviews when I see a link or discount code.

Content creation

If you love to write, or make videos, or take photos, you can get paid good money for doing so. Some of the big 4WD publications are paying $300 – $1200 for a seriously high quality article with professional level photos, and there are plenty of other places you can submit content to and make money from it.

This is generally not recurring, and you get paid for the work you submit, but its still a common, legitimate and simple, ethical way of making money online.

Selling physical products

Like a normal, brick and mortar business, a lot of people make good money selling physical products. This is generally their own product line that they’ve created (or re-badged), and you place an order online, and the goods arrive in due course.

Most people start off in the clothing niche, with shirts, hoodies, singlets, hats and so forth, and then move into other items like stubby coolers, knives, towels and the list goes on.

If you are dealing with the physical product, its hard work as you have to manage stock, visit the post office regularly and make sure people get the right items. You can pay people to do this remotely, so you don’t ever have to be hands on with the physical products, but this is a pretty legitimate way of making money.

Gifted items

You really don’t have to be very ‘big’ to have companies offering to send you goods for testing, or for a review. I literally get about 20 a day to my inbox, ranging from solar panels to car door hooks, recovery boards, camping products and then plenty that are completely unrelated to my niche.

Whilst this is not technically an income, you are receiving some sort of benefit, and in many cases it can be significant.

As soon as you have a bit of following on one of the social platforms, its not uncommon for people to ask for items to be gifted, or to be approached with various brands. Again, nothing wrong with this, unless its done in a way that puts you in a bit of a grey area.

People are receiving big items in return for the publicity that they give them. We are talking 4WD’s, Electronics, Caravans, Camper trailers, 4WD accessories, extensive labour and the list goes on and on.

If you receive an item and you don’t make it very clear that you didn’t pay for it, you’re walking a fine ethical line!

Website advertising

Lastly, when you flick through websites (including all social media and news platforms) you’ll see hundreds of ads, and its become the norm. Each time one of those ads is seen, or clicked on, whoever is hosting the advertising makes a small amount of money.

If you have enough visitors, you can make good money, and the ads are usually controlled by a third party, and properly vetted.

It’s a slippery slope

If you’ve been watching the travelling families, couples and influencers for some time, you’ll probably have realised its a slippery slope. Many start off simple, realistic and balanced, and once they grow to a certain level and find out that they can make more money out of it, things change dramatically.

They start to take items freely from suppliers and don’t mention it, and then they start to tag businesses in their posts, promote discount codes, and before you know it a huge amount of content coming from them is designed to make money.

I’ve seen it hundreds of times, and the original audience that was once so attracted to what that particular content creator was doing moves on to someone else who’s more legitimate, until the cycle repeats itself.

Yes, there are those out there who are honest, and rock solid, but they are few and far between and they still have bills to pay, and would have deals going on behind the scenes that you might not be so pleased about.

I know its a slippery slope, and once you are on the ride good luck getting off. Where does that leave our audience though?

How does 4WDing Australia fit in?

This might land us in hot water, but like usual, I’m going to be completely honest and open. 

We’ve been working (and seriously hard) in the online space for 13 years, on a couple of sites, and right now, just 4WDing Australia.

Eagle Bluff in the Dmax

We’ve always tried to be honest, ethical and different to the crowd

We’ve re-started our YouTube channel a couple of months ago, and are a while away from reaching the monetization threshold. We started YouTube again to share a different perspective that you can’t always do by writing, to reach a new demographic and of course to diversify our income streams a little.

Asides from this, I write for a couple of publications, and the primary focus is on this very website, that you are reading now. We make money from the advertising that you see around this site, and we’ve decided that we want no part of ANY unethical (or even slightly unethical) money making schemes.

We don’t do discount codes. We don’t do sponsored posts. We are certainly not part of any MLM schemes, and we don’t even get involved with affiliate marketing. If we receive a product (which we are very loathe to do these days, and it rarely happens), its clearly displayed at the start of the post that we didn’t pay for the goods. We are honest in all of our reviews, regardless.

We rely on generic advertising to pay the bills, which allows us the freedom to work for ourselves, and not for any particular business, or product. We are not attached to anyone, which means we can speak freely, and not be concerned about potentially misleading our viewers by promoting something that might seem better because we make money promoting it.

If a product that we use is rubbish, we say that it’s rubbish. There’s no grey area, and we like it this way.

The only exception to this is the little Snowy’s logo you see in the sidebar. We’ve been advertising for them for a number of years now, and they pay us a small monthly fee to do so. We don’t get paid when people buy from them, or per click, or anything like that. We back them 100%, and if you’ve used them I’m pretty confident you’d also recommend them, but please don’t feel like you have to use them!

The generic advertising decision comes at a big cost; we need to work far harder than if we went down the other marketing strategies, because you need a huge amount of visitors to make any decent money, and that means we have to create a heap of high quality content, and that takes a lot of time. We’ve been at this for 13 years, and are still not doing it full time; what does that tell you?!

We write about places we’ve been, experiences we’ve had, and products that we’ve used, and don’t go outside of our scope of knowledge or skills.

Right now, I probably spend about 40 hours a week working on the blog, on top of raising a young family and working a full time job too, and Sarah balances a lot as well (and has recently started doing the YouTube editing).

However, I don’t feel we’ll move from this strategy, as I know in my heart that we are completely legitimate, honest and open, and we aren’t pushing people in directions they might not have gone.

Take our thoughts and opinions, and agree or disagree, and put them to use, or don’t. We aren’t here to steer you in any particular way, just to try and make things easier to understand, to showcase amazing locations and to provide some entertainment and education.

As you’ve probably recognised, this is a topic we are pretty passionate about, and I’m sure its going to create some interesting reactions. Our primary intention is to make others aware of what really goes on behind the scenes, and to make you consider who you take advice from, and what their hidden drivers might be.

We own our gear

I can proudly say that we fully own and paid for our Isuzu Dmax, and Reconn R2, and didn’t get #sponsored. In fact, I’ve concluded that we prefer to buy a product with our own cash, as it takes the ethics out of the question completely. 

We have no plans on upgrading our tow vehicle and caravan every couple of years when new models, or gear comes out, and will never take a free van or car. Seriously; we are that fiercely independent.

We are self funded, and will keep it that way, even if we have to work much harder for it.

What do you think?

What do you think about the new breed of travelling families, couples and individuals working as ‘influencers’? Let us know below!

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24 comments… add one
  • Katelyn April 24, 2022, 3:18 PM

    A great article which I think sums up most “influencing” incomes around today, well written.

  • Rowan Burton April 24, 2022, 7:36 PM

    Good work mate, I appreciate your work and your honesty. I run a large responsible 4WDriving Facebook group and we have “sponsors” these are businesses that offer our members a small discount on products or services (yes some of these are via a discount code and that is for ease of application and certainly not for any kick back). There is no financial gain to me personally from having these sponsors but it has been my focus to build strong relationships with decent businesses that we can recommend to our members and we know that they won’t be ripped off or taken advantage of.
    I see content creators of all walks and I follow a few and it blows my mind to see some of the video out there and some of the “posts” and the $$$ some must be pulling in.
    Keep up the good work mate.

  • Aaron Schubert April 24, 2022, 7:49 PM

    Cheers Katelyn,

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert April 24, 2022, 7:55 PM

    Hey Rowan,

    I have no doubt that there are plenty of good quality, ethical relationships between businesses and different parts of social media/consumers, and I’ve been following what is done on Western Off Roading Mates. Absolutely nothing wrong with that sort of arrangement, and its win win for everyone (except for the time involved to make it all happen!).

    It’s a shame you have to question everything today, because so many people have chosen the slippery slope

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Greg April 25, 2022, 9:27 AM

    Enjoy reading your posts keep up the good work

  • Aaron Schubert April 25, 2022, 11:15 AM

    Cheers Greg,

    Hope your new base is treating you well!

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Paul April 25, 2022, 1:42 PM

    Hi Aaron, I have been reading your posts for a number of years now and really enjoy them. And I like your honesty and not hopping on the slippery slope. Keep up the great work. Cheers

  • Aaron Schubert April 25, 2022, 2:51 PM

    Cheers Paul,

    It seems I’ve caused quite a stir with this post!

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Adventure Awaits April 27, 2022, 9:00 AM

    Lots of ways travellers can make money on the road and, like you, we see the huge amount of work that goes in to AWESOME content! Well done to those that make a living from producing this content – plus they have the best office in the world… We run an affiliate program that is very popular with travelling families and couples, however, we always ask them to only join if they LOVE & use our products. No pressure, no MLM and very transparent. (rewind 10 years, we wanted to give back to these awesome customers who were supporting our Australian Made products, an affiliate program made sense) We also have many families promoting our products and tagging us in purely because they want to! Our platforms also do this often – we don’t tag other businesses, brands or influences because we are affiliated with them, we tag them in to spread the love and showcase them to others. I would love to know your thoughts on Attraction Marketing??…we get emails about this one every day…

  • Kristen Smith April 27, 2022, 11:17 AM

    Summed up the current climate of travel marketing so well! Seems so easy to start off with well meaning content then slide right into the grey area you talk about.

  • Aaron Schubert April 27, 2022, 4:09 PM

    Hello!

    You are right, it takes a lot more effort than people realise to make good content.

    Well done on what you’ve set up, and great to hear you’ve kept it honest and straightforward.

    I don’t know too much about Attraction Marketing; not a term I’ve stumbled across too much. As long as you are honest in your intentions, and open about what’s going on; that’s the main thing!

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert April 27, 2022, 4:10 PM

    Hey Kristen,

    Yep, there must be hundreds of people who start off in one direction and then pivot hugely once they start to make a few dollars!

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Damien Frost May 9, 2022, 6:21 AM

    what a great read, I joined a while go when i brought my DMax and enjoy the stories but this is the first time I feel like leaving a message.
    I’ve started to unfollow youtubers/influencers on ethical grounds lately. click bait is the worst and one even said its “what you have to do now” when questioned over it = I unsubscribed after reading that reply.
    But you just gained a subscriber to your YouTube channel. I will surely enjoy it more then other channels after reading the above.
    cheers

  • Streamintrip May 9, 2022, 7:14 AM

    Very good article. While written regarding the “down under” environment, IMHO this totally hits the US market of influencers and grifters.

    I enjoy your articles even if I just Airstream through life and my retirement!

    Keep on wheelin out there!

  • Richard May 9, 2022, 8:07 AM

    Hi Aaron
    Yep you’ve opened a can of worms alright. Very hard to remain “honest’ in this market these days. As I see it, the worst and unscrupulous ‘cash for comment’ brigade are those who drive one type of vehicle, promoted as the best, then oops change to another brand which is now the best. Then tyres, exactly the same. I have seen a brand of tyres as the greatest when clearly they are not but I suppose there are some that get suckered in, there are always those unfortunately.
    For me, when I see products being promoted that are not as they seem to those of us that do the research, this works in reverse for them and quietly their credibility is in question, never to be trusted for ANY comment in the future.
    Aaron you and your family are one of a kind. Honesty today is a rare commodity indeed and those of us that have followed your site for a while appreciate that content that you put up is straight down the line.
    Congratulations on the best site on the net.

  • Stuart Murray May 9, 2022, 12:19 PM

    When they say they have worked hard to get us a discount code🤣🤣
    Upgraded caravans and cars every couple of years and pushing brands and products every bloody episode

  • Dave F May 9, 2022, 12:21 PM

    G’day Aaron,

    Your honesty and passion is priceless! I’ve stopped following some online families and content providers due to their fake sensationalism and some of the deceptive practices, lack of transparency and grey areas you mention. I’ve followed you for some time and have always recommended your site to others due to your altruistic nature and willingness to provide excellent and practical content to help others (like the 60 best campsites near Perth).

    I imagine it’s very hard work for you and Sarah especially with a family to look after and whilst ‘sponsored passion’ may be more financially lucrative for others, as Richard above says, their reputation is quickly bought into question.

    I thoroughly enjoy your objectivity and sharing your knowledge and experiences.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Aaron Schubert May 9, 2022, 6:01 PM

    Hey Stuart,

    Yeah, pull the other one! I don’t have a problem with people making a go of it, but at least be honest about what you are doing!

    It’s a shame that so many start off great and end up as advertorials. We just switch to another channel these days.

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert May 9, 2022, 6:04 PM

    Hey Dave,

    Thanks for the very nice comment, and for recommending the blog to others!

    We do work hard, but we really love the travel, 4WDing and camping adventures and sharing them with others is worth the effort.

    Take care
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert May 9, 2022, 6:13 PM

    Hey Damien,

    Thanks for the comment, and support.

    It seems like the standards are getting lower as time goes by; it’s not what you have to do; there’s still a choice to be made

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert May 9, 2022, 6:15 PM

    Hey mate,

    Cheers for the comment, and I’m sure these things apply to most countries in the world.

    I must say I do love the Airstream; they are a magic bit of kit.

    Enjoy your travels!

    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert May 9, 2022, 6:22 PM

    Hey Richard,

    Yep, I knew it was going to be a giant can of worms! I know exactly what you mean by people referring to the best (in other words, whichever brand is paying at the time).

    Interesting comments about the credibility; I guess I’ve experienced the same thing with others and not really thought about it; you soon learn who to listen to and who not to. What makes it a challenge is when someone starts off doing things well, and slides down the slippery slope once the trust has been developed. I bet a lot of people get caught out with it.

    Thanks so much for your kind words, and might see you out there one day!
    Aaron

  • WAExplorer May 15, 2022, 5:28 PM

    I’ve seen these same developments over the past ten years of blogging. My personal peeve is the blog post where it’s obvious that the blogger hasn’t even been there but just used some instagram photos to write an article. Keep doing what you’re doing, your passion shows through and your website has excellent content that will stand the test of time.

  • Aaron Schubert May 15, 2022, 7:35 PM

    Hey Nina,

    Cheers for dropping by! You aren’t wrong about articles written with no experience behind them! You really have to visit a place to get a feel for it.

    Appreciate your comments, and hope you are well!
    Aaron

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