4 years ago we had just quit our jobs (again) and were getting ready to hit the road for a long stint of travelling the world (again).
We had already experienced nearly 6 years of on-again, off-again travel, but this time we would be trying something new. We had decided to start a travel blog for friends, family and mostly fun.
That was about it for the future plans of the newly purchased ‘NOMADasaurus’ domain, and we put little thought into what it could become. It was just a blog, after all.
We hit the road, took some photos, wrote some articles and let the website and social media grow organically.
Fast forward to today. I’m sitting on a plane, flying back from a business meeting in Sydney with the biggest client of our career, so far.
Alesha is back in Perth, managing some new staff and organising the structure and plans of the new company we have just registered.
Things are definitely different now. Our little travel blog for friends and family has now developed into a proper business. The whole idea of it is still crazy to us, and it has gotten us thinking about how we got here.
While I was in Sydney, after explaining to my family the nature of our next business deal and the plans for our company in 2018 (and beyond) my little sister asked me, “So, tell me, how did all this really come about?”
This post is for her, for us, and for everybody that has followed our journey, given us support and joined in on the adventure over the last 4 years, and earlier.
This article is long, but it chronicles the evolution of NOMADasaurus. If you’re curious, or you’re just looking for some inspiration to follow your dreams, we hope you enjoy it.
“You guys should start a travel blog!”
That’s what our friend Claire told us back in 2011, when we had just finished hitchhiking through Vancouver Island in search of a famous tattoo artist.
“What’s a travel blog?” we asked, completely clueless to anything about the internet other than it’s a good way to keep in touch with friends on Facebook.
“It’s just like a diary that anyone can read, but yours would be super interesting because you are always doing cool things.”
We dismissed the idea, thinking that no one would want to read the diary of a couple of cheap backpackers wandering aimlessly around the world. After all, cool things happen to anyone that goes travelling.
We left Canada, our home for the last 4 years, and jumped on a one-way ticket to Central America.
With no laptops, no phones and just one crappy point and shoot camera, we lived the carefree life that all travellers imagine – drinking beers in hammocks by the beach, trekking to lost cities, learning a new language, staying with local families; it was bliss.
Along the way we started to meet people who were into making videos and photography. They ranged from backpackers making a YouTube series (who are still our good friends), right through to an ex-Hollywood producer.
We even joined in on a few fun video projects, and really enjoyed ourselves.
At some point in Mexico, Alesha looked at me and said she wanted to take our travels up a notch. She was getting bored with the same old carefree routine. Perhaps hitchhiking the length of Africa, or exploring the Middle East. That’s where our ‘Thailand to South Africa without flying’ concept came about.
Having recently spent some time with filmmakers, we talked about making our own travel documentary. We figured it would be nice to have a project to work on while we travelled as well.
After that trip we returned to Australia, with the goal of paying off our debts and saving some money for the next adventure.
We would read these blogs, excited to get first hand information about what exactly it was like to travel in these countries, with good tips to go with it.
These weren’t polished, professional travel websites (at the time at least). They were raw, genuine anecdotes that were providing valuable tips. All of a sudden the purpose of a travel blog made sense to us.
A few months before our departure to Thailand, we remembered what our friend back in Canada had told us. Why not start a travel blog?
We had moved away from our documentary idea, and the thought about making a website with our own stories to help other travellers seemed like a fun project to work on, with the added benefit of keeping our parents up to date while we were in these remote destinations.
Alesha always had a desire to learn photography, and writing was something I enjoyed, even if I neglected it. Perhaps a travel blog would give us a reason to pick these skills up.
We Googled how to start a travel blog, and soon enough we started to realise that some of these blogs were actually making enough money to sustain their travels. We had no idea how, but it was inspiring.
In October of 2013, 3 months before we were due to leave Australia, we came up with the name ‘NOMADasaurus’. We bought the domain, set up a website, and all of a sudden we had our very own travel blog.
At the time we didn’t expect much of it. Our goal was to simply travel until we burned through our savings, then find a job somewhere to fill up the bank account again – the same thing we had always done.
January 23rd, 2014, we flew to Singapore and began our journey, complete with 200 followers on Facebook, all friends and family, and a few journal entries from Canada and Central America on the site.
Every day Alesha would snap photos, and I would write about our experiences. How we got a visa for Myanmar, what we did in Pai, how we rode the Mae Hong Son Loop, and we watched our followers on social media slowly go up.
We met Duncan in Myanmar, a professional photographer from the UK, who selflessly shared his best photography secrets with us and motivated us to improve our own skills.
We jokingly told other backpackers we met to follow our blog. We hadn’t made a cent from the website, and didn’t even know how or what terms like ‘affiliate marketing’ or ‘SEO’ meant, but we got a kick out of sharing our travels with other people.
Twice a week we would bring out blog posts, and we’d update our social media almost daily. We knew if we slacked off we’d just give up on it, and we were really enjoying writing articles for the site.
Then something happened that suddenly changed everything.
The Big Break
A traveller we had met on the road sent me a link for a writing competition, run by the travel insurance company World Nomads. While laying in a hammock in Northern Thailand I typed out an entry and sent it off with an hour before the deadline.
6 weeks later we were in Laos, riding two dodgy Chinese motorbikes around the country, when I got an email from World Nomads. “Hi Jarryd, we are delighted to inform you that you have been chosen as the recipient of the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.”
I was dumbfounded. I had won the competition, and was selected to fly off to Europe that August to learn from one of the best travel writers in the industry, Alex Leviton.
A whole new world opened up.
Our blog was slowly growing, and a few days before I flew off to Berlin our Facebook page cracked 1000 followers. People had been tuning in to watch us ride our motorbikes around Southeast Asia. It was a small number, but we started to get a loyal following, with random people commenting on our posts every day.
What I learnt in Europe was amazing. I discovered that the world of travel writing wasn’t exclusively reserved for qualified journalists, and that there were publications out there that were willing to actually pay money for stories from freelancers.
Alex also told me about the rise of bloggers in the travel industry, and how to capitalise on having an online presence.
After Europe I returned with new skills and drive to dive headfirst into the travel writing world. I started pitching newspapers, magazines and media publications, and we started to get paid for a few of our stories. This was the first time we made any money from our travels. (Alex if you read this, thank you for everything!)
By the time our trip had hit 12 months our audience had grown substantially. We were writing constantly, Alesha’s photography was improving, and more and more people started to find NOMADasaurus through social media and search engines.
We studied more about all the skills and intricacies that come with running websites, and learnt a great deal about what it took to run a professional travel blog.
I used the pitching skills Alex taught me to reach out to large media, and we were interviewed by websites like Forbes, News.com.au and The Daily Mail. Each time an interview or story was released, our website traffic and social following would grow.
It was the start of something big.
NOMADasaurus’s First Dollar
By the time 2015 was in full swing we had started to take our little blog seriously, and had experienced a few ‘comped’ hostel stays and activities. But all the money we had ever made had always come from freelancing.
One day we got an email from a company asking us what we would charge to place a sponsored post on our site. We had no idea what this meant, let alone what to charge, so we asked some of our blogging friends what to do.
We found out it was basically us writing an article to promote another website or product, and we negotiated a price of USD$250. The money was deposited into our account, and nearly 16 months after we started NOMADasaurus, the website had made its first dollar.
2015 was a whirlwind of a year, and our social media presence and website traffic continued to grow. We had reached a position of ‘influence’ where we started to receive high-priced tours, and occasionally hotels, in exchange for blog posts and social media promotion.
We received some free clothing from Craghoppers, a camera from GoPro, camping gear from Cascade Designs, all in exchange for online coverage.
Our workload increased substantially, and even though we weren’t making much money we started pouring all of our spare time and energy into growing the blog.
All the while though we still travelled in our typical way – hitchhiking across Mongolia, taking 15-hour journeys in hard seats on Chinese trains because we didn’t want to spend 50% more for a bed, overlanding all the way to Istanbul.
Alesha’s photography got better and better, and my writing portfolio kept growing. We made some money copywriting for other company’s websites, and by the end of the year we were nearly making enough cash to cover our travels.
Of course it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and at the end of 2015 we wrote an article called ‘Behind The Scenes: It’s Time To Fix Ourselves’.
Travelling through Asia while working on our website and freelance career had taken its toll on our health and relationship, and Alesha flew home for a few weeks to give ourselves a break.
Alesha and I had talked about whether we should mention anything on our website, and in the end we decided to write the post. We figured we owed it to our followers to explain the reality behind all the beautiful photos and stories we were putting up every day.
On the 19th of December, 2015 we published the post, while Alesha was with her family in Australia and I was sitting in a hostel in Bulgaria.
The next morning we woke up to literally hundreds of emails and comments from people wishing us all the best, and sharing their own stories of relationship struggles while travelling. It appeared we weren’t alone, and the support we received was overwhelming.
Our editor at BuzzFeed privately messaged us and asked if she could re-share the story on their website. We felt it was too personal to be put in front of millions of strangers and thought no one would care, but in the end we agreed.
The story went viral, and had been picked up by websites like CNN, MSN, The Daily Mail, Yahoo and dozens of others. We did radio interviews and even featured in a segment on Australian breakfast TV.
It wasn’t our intention, but by publishing something other than the typical ‘living the dream’ lifestyle that gets thrown around a lot in the social media world our blog grew into something else.
Our 15 minutes of fame was of course short lived, much to Alesha’s happiness at being out of the public spotlight for such a personal topic (she hated all the attention). But we had gained a lot of new followers from the exposure, and suddenly NOMADasaurus was on a new level in the world of travel bloggers.
A Year Of Progression
Alesha and I met up again in January 2016 and we vowed to change our travel style for the sake of our relationship and health. We put our ‘Thailand to South Africa without flying’ challenge on hold, and luckily our audience understood why.
We still moved around a fair bit that year, attending our first influencer conference (side note: we have always hated the term ‘influencers’ and almost never refer to ourselves as that, but that’s the buzzword these days) in Istanbul, heading back to Australia due to a family emergency, trying to get healthy in Thailand before eventually ending up in Europe for a change of pace.
The growth of our website resulted in us taking more of a business-focused attitude towards it.
With the income we were now making through various streams like freelancing, content creation, sponsored posts and affiliate sales we spent money on a new design, hired an assistant, put more energy into creating usable content (rather than diary entries) for new readers and kept our social presence as active as possible while exploring Europe.
The editor who had published our ‘Behind The Scenes’ story at CNN asked if I would like to start writing for them, and before I knew it I had more than a handful of bylines with them. That in itself opened up new doors.
Later that year we secured what many new travel bloggers consider the holy grail – a paid press trip.
A national tourism board actually paid us money to come to their country and write about it. Up until that moment we had received a lot of ‘comps’ (note: nothing is actually ‘free’ in this industry, as there is always work involved), but we had never been paid for that kind of thing before.
This was it. The moment all bloggers aspire for, and we were over the moon.
As soon as that job finished we were invited for another paid press trip, and for the first time since we left Australia in 2014, we started to see our savings account go up rather than down.
It wasn’t easy, and more of our time was now spent sitting on our laptops in cafes and hotel rooms than actually out exploring the places we were in, but it started to look like little old NOMADasaurus could become a full-time job.
We flew home again and on October 22nd, 2016 Alesha and I got married in Western Australia, surrounded by 45 of our closest friends and family. As cliché as it sounds, it honestly was the happiest day of our lives, and we were excited to see where life would take us.
At the same time we had made a decision to fully commit to NOMADasaurus and turn it into something big. We had seen the potential of running a professional travel blog, and neither of us wanted to go back to the days of working for someone else.
In December 2016 we moved to Chiang Mai in Thailand for 2.5 months. At this point it would be the longest we had stayed in one place for 3 years, and the whole purpose was to grow the blog as strongly as possible and generate new income streams.
We created more content, hired new writers to assist on our website, outsourced as much mundane work as possible, and even bought ourselves a whiteboard with a list of weekly goals – that’s how committed we were.
We purchased another website, secured some of our writers different work with other websites, which brought both them and us more money.
No longer would we simply write stories, take photos, update social media and see what would happen. It was time to hustle. It was time to take NOMADasaurus to the next level.
A New Direction
In February we headed to Argentina, and joined the adventure tour operator One Ocean Expeditions for a promotional campaign to Antarctica – at the time the biggest partnership of our careers, and by far the best destination we had ever visited.
We were at an interesting point in the NOMADasaurus brand where companies were now reaching out to us almost daily, with offers of tours, hotels, experiences and products for us to promote on our channels.
What many readers might not know is that for every one brand we are paid to write about on our social media and blog, we turn down at least fifty. The brand affiliations we go with don’t come without a lot of serious consideration on our end.
Occasionally we would be invited to destinations that conflicted with our current schedules, so we were able to send a few of our writers to them on our behalf.
Alesha’s photography had reached a level that, as her husband I am extremely proud of, but more so than that thousands of other people also loved, and more companies than ever were paying for her images.
The income kept growing, and the opportunities kept coming. More paid press trips landed in our inbox, and in 2017 we stopped running sponsored posts on our blog.
We had been doing some promotional work with a New Zealand adventure gear company with an enormous presence in Australia called Kathmandu, and we eventually signed on as brand ambassadors with them.
Seeing as we had honestly been using their equipment already for over a decade, this kind of partnership was something we could 100% get behind and are immensely proud of. Even if we weren’t part of their family, we would still buy their products.
We travelled to plenty more incredible destinations, like Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands and Brazil.
I was invited as a speaker to the world’s largest travel blogging conference, and our social media and website traffic kept on growing. We had our first 5-figure income month, followed by another, followed by another. It’s a trend that has continued.
After 3.5 weeks exploring Iran we returned to Australia to spend time with our family and continue to grow our business plans.
Earlier in the year Alesha had expressed a desire to run photography and adventure tours to one of our favourite countries ever, Kyrgyzstan, and deciding that we had nothing to lose we started to make that a reality.
On December 6th, 2017 we officially opened registrations for our first ever ‘NOMADasaurus Tour’. All 14 positions sold out in just over 24 hours. Perhaps the idea was even better than we had imagined, and we were humbled that it took off so quickly.
Which brings us to today. To me sitting on a plane, returning from a business meeting in Sydney with one of the world’s biggest companies, getting ready to start a campaign that is both challenging and rewarding at the same time. To Alesha drawing up 5-year business plans from a makeshift office in Western Australia.
What we are about to embark on is truly remarkable. Not necessarily in terms of travel or adventure, but in terms of where NOMADasaurus is headed in 2018. All the late nights staring at our computers in cheap hotel rooms has paid off.
It really has been an insane year for what started out as a travel blog for friends and family.
A few years ago I was working on a mine site in the Australian outback, slogging out 12 hour shifts for 28 days straight, trying to save money for our next trip, while Alesha was working 3 jobs in Margaret River doing the same.
One of my workmates casually said to me one day, ‘If you don’t build your own dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.”
That saying struck a chord with me. We had already been living a great life, built around our love of travel, but that quote now gave us more ambition.
We didn’t come from the kind of background some professional travel bloggers came from. We never owned a house to sell, or have high paying marketing jobs to quit in order to start travelling. We didn’t start our travel blog before we had even left home, purely to get free hotels and be ‘Insta Famous’.
Travel was our passion, and we had been doing everything we could to make it a reality. The list of jobs we did to stay on the road is as varied as one could imagine: packing parachutes at a skydiving centre, cleaning hotel rooms, door-to-door sales, running pub crawls, lift operators at ski resorts, crewing on a sail boat, working in a strip club (me, not Alesha, just to clarify), and it goes on and on.
We were never getting rich with money, but we were always getting rich with experiences. That’s all we ever wanted out of life.
Now we realise we can have both.
Some of our longtime readers have emailed us in recent months, saying they fear we are ‘selling out’, or getting too commercial. We understand their point, but we also disagree.
This lifestyle we have, this website you are on and all the camera gear we carry around unfortunately isn’t cheap, and we do spend lots of hours working to maintain it all. We need to make money somehow, just like everyone else does. We didn’t win the lottery or receive a large inheritance to keep us going for the rest of our lives.
For those that think by us having ads on our site, or being paid money to wear a certain company’s clothing means we have sold out then we are truly sorry, but we hope you understand why. Those pay cheques mean we can travel to places like Iran or Chile and hopefully inspire you to do the same one day. (We promise that we never promote anything that we don’t fully recommend though.)
We’ve worked hard to get to this point, while doing our best to maintain a level of authenticity and keeping true to ourselves at the same time. We’re also both in our 30s now (even if we don’t act it), and after a decade on the road our style is naturally going to change.
It’s impossible to predict what exactly is in store for us going into the next few years, but it’s safe to say it won’t be mundane.
We have just registered our new digital media and marketing business, we are bringing more people onto our team, we’re expanding into new fields, new contracts are coming in weekly. It’s an exciting time!
More importantly than all of that, we will continue to travel. We’ll keep taking pictures, visiting new destinations, sharing our experiences with all of you and hopefully motivate you to explore this world with us.
But now we have a newfound motivation to try something new.
The entrepreneurship spark is growing, and if you think this article is long you should see the list of ideas, both for business and travel, Alesha and I have in mind for the future.
We don’t want this story to come across as though we are showing off, because honestly we are just as surprised as anyone else about how life has panned out, and there is a huge element of luck in our success as well.
That was the story of how NOMADasaurus, the little blog we built for our friends and family, has evolved.
And even if it all goes belly up tomorrow, even if the brand completely collapses and we end up pouring beers in hostel bars again to get by, at least we worked towards building our own dreams instead of wondering ‘what if’.
From the bottom of our hearts thank you to each and every one of you for supporting us along the way. We would not be where we are today without you, and we hope you stick around for the next exciting chapters.
You only get one life in this world. Make it an adventure.
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