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 7 to 10 a week on our big lap of Australia), and as of right now we are at over 1000 detailed posts helping people to travel, 4WD, camp and enjoy this country. We are very different to a lot of YouTube channels and blogs, as you’ll see further below.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 build our brand and 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). EDIT – We’re now on the road travelling for a year or two!
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 Hybrid Camper, 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!
Cheers for the comment, and interesting perspective. To a point, I think the ‘lifestyle’ is what is being sold, and yep, lots only share the amazing parts of travel and leave the rest alone, which is misleading to those who see it, and want to live that sort of lifestyle too.
We’ve been on the road for around 7 months now, and have had plenty of rubbish days, and we share all that as best as possible.
Inevitably everyone is an influencer of sorts, and I don’t really like the term. We share our experiences, and what we’ve learnt, and anyone is welcome to read, comment and discuss it. We have no intention of being ‘popular’, and quite enjoy living under the radar.
A lot of these influencers are pushing products to make money, and in some cases that’s perfectly fine, but when they push products to make a buck instead of being honest and fair, I really don’t like it. It’s the same as lithium battery manufacturers, and car sales people selling items with substandard marketing techniques that are not really honest; it grinds my gears.
I know we’ve inspired a heap of people to travel to particular places, and our reviews have helped people buy items that they want (through honest reviews), and that’s hugely motivating for us. We want to help people travel Australia, and that includes sharing the good, bad and ugly.
Interesting article. I can’t help it but I’d like to point out one very important point you have missed. Who are all these so-called “influencers” marketing to or what are they actually marketing? Is it the promise that you too can “live the dream”? Is it you need all the gear to enjoy the journey or location? It’s never clear what they are “selling”. Back in the day there were TV shows like the Leyland Brothers, Malcolm Douglas, Alby Mangels and a few others who made “content” to share their personal experiences. Interestingly, these shows were about their journeys, it wasn’t about selling stuff. They weren’t selling a dream that anybody could do the same journey, it was more about their personal experiences, much like reading a good travel book. Then you had people like Jack Absalom who did TV shows and wrote books about how to travel safely in remote areas of Australia with the minium of gear, it was about education and safety in remote areas, not about gear or the dream. These people could be call “influencers” by today’s standards but I bet they never saw themselves as such. Today, people are so caught up with the “dream”, they fail to recognise that life is not that giving and that there are challenges, heartbreaks and a good dose of reality that comes to bare when pursuing the “dream”. So many of these “influencers” of today, I feel aren’t being honest with themselves, they don’t truly believe in the experience, the journey, the lifestyle, they believe in the “dream” that they can be popular and can make money from being popular. Let’s face it, if the truth be known, how many people that “follow” someone online will actually get off their butts and get out to these places. Many just live the life of someone else, they see on Youtube or Instagram and feel their lives are meaningful.
Thanks for your comment, and perspective. I agree; the article is possibly a bit too negative, but its tiring to see so many people lose their integrity chasing money in this fashion. I have no issues at all with people being compensated for the hard work that they do (as long as it adds value) as I know how much effort it takes. My issue is with those who make money in the grey area, by putting their benefit before any reasonable level of integrity.
It sounds like you have a great moral compass, and I agree, it is possible to do it in a helpful and honest way. Unfortunately not everyone sees it this way, and there are a huge number of people who do not declare their links, or sponsored items, or gifted items, or rave about products they know little about (or have hardly used) and so on and so forth.
I’m sure you know a of huge number of websites set up purely for affiliate marketing to make maximum money, and not act in the consumers best interests, and these legitimate ways to make an income get tainted very quickly.
Thanks for the well wishes; we are still on the fence with YouTube, and will see how it goes.
All the best too
Great round up of the ways travellers make money but perhaps slightly too negative. There are ways to recommend brands and remain ethical. There are “influencers” who do things the right way. Running a successful website or social channel is hard work and people deserve to be compensated for that work.
I have been producing online travel content since 2011 and I work in a similar way to you. Creating content that is helpful and honest. I also do affiliate marketing. I think it can be honest and valuable for your audience, but I only recommend brands that I 100% believe in and have tried myself. Things I would happily pay full price for. My test is would I tell my best mate to buy this or would I buy it again if it cost me full retail price? If it’s a no, then I return the product or do not recommend it. If it’s a tour, I tell the operator up front I will not write about it if I don’t think the experience is gold star worthy. Your reputation is worth more than a onetime payment.
Every piece of content declares if there are affiliate links or if my experience was hosted and like you, I turn down 90% of what’s offered.
Good luck with your channel, I look forward to watching more of it. I am sure you will stand out from the crowd. You may not make as much $$$ as the big guys do, but I feel like they always shoot themselves in the foot eventually by getting too hungry for the bucks and turning off their audiences.
Cheers for your comment, and yep, things aren’t always what they seem. Up until now 95% of our work has been on this very blog (with about 10 posts a week coming out at the moment), but we are giving Youtube a try to see where it goes.
We’ll be finishing our Pilbara and Gascoyne series, and then starting on our Lap of Australia!
Thanks, and take care
Have watched this occur with one family in particular to the stage I stopped watching and following, as I found it sickening, all the silly almost baby talk from the adults. The promotion and to me almost exploitation of the children is an area that has concerned mewith fears for the safety of the children I watch a couple and enjoy their content, and do believe they are not being completely transparent in their dealings, although have admitted tongue in cheek that they are in fact influencers. I will watch your channel and am hoping that we get back to seeing photographs of your travels and our beautiful country
All the best
Great write we are about to go back on the road did 4.5 yrs then 2 yrs settled working yes we will be posting vlogs etc but more as a insight into travelling and working how and what type of jobs can get on the road to help people that are thinking can you get work out there yes we have just purchased a new van etc but if someone wanted to sponsor with car or van yes im in ill take it but they would want to be confident in their product free or not would get a very true reviews from us and if didnt like what was said could have back nothing is perfect . Keep up the good writting
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!
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.
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!
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!