How These 41-Year-Olds’ Travel Blog Earns 6 Figures/Year from Ads, Sponsorships & Affiliates 

When Esther and Jacob met many years ago, they went from dating to married within a year because they’re “crazy people who like to jump right in and then see what happens.” 

They followed the same strategy with their business.

While Jacob found early success on YouTube, it was eventually eclipsed by the travel blog Esther started, so they decided to go all-in on that.

Local Adventurer

was originally created in 2013 and today gets about 600k+ monthly pageviews and 300k+ monthly unique visitors. The blog earns over 6 figures a year, and they donate 30% of their income to various non-profits.

Keep reading to find out:

How they got started
Their initial growth strategy
Where their income comes from
Their changing marketing strategies
Their thoughts on SEO
How they create content
Their go-to resources and tools
Their biggest challenge
Their most impressive accomplishment
Their main mistake
Their advice for other entrepreneurs

Meet Esther Lee and Jacob Fu

Hi, we’re Esther (@estherjulee) and Jacob (@jacobthefu) of Local Adventurer

We run one of the largest travel blogs in the US and moved to a new city every year for seven years until we settled in Las Vegas during the pandemic. 

We have two cats (@catventurers) and we love climbing (@petiteclimbing) and exploring our greater backyard.

Why They Created Their Website

We started Local Adventurer after moving cross-country, leaving Atlanta, and realizing we had not explored much of our hometown because we were complacent and assumed we could get to it later. 

The blog was born in LA in 2013, but we went through many twists and turns before both of us became full-time content creators.

When we first met, Esther ran a photography business and I had been working in corporate for five years. I quit my stable 9-5 to become her business partner and started a YouTube channel with my brother for fun, mostly doing acoustic covers. 

The channel started to grow and, at the time, most of the biggest YouTubers were gathering in LA. We were fortunate enough to connect with some of them and competed in a YouTube show called Internet Icon

After seeing a boost in numbers, we decided to move out to LA so we could do more collabs and really dive into the YouTube space.

Our channel was called The Fu Music (which we’ve rebranded to Local Adventurer), but if you dig far back enough, you’ll see our old content. We even created a kids puppet show called The FuZees.

During this time, Esther started the blog as a hobby. We had tons of photos from our travels but never prioritized editing them since client photos came first. 

Over time, Esther grew organically, and when the blog’s potential outgrew our YouTube, I joined her full-time in 2015.

With both YouTube and the blog, we set a rule to pursue them full-time for a year at a time. 

After each year, we would evaluate to see if we were still hitting our goals and if the income potential was there. We were fortunate enough to have savings from our previous businesses to be able to pursue these businesses full-time to see if we could make them work.

How Much They’re Earning

For the past couple of years, we have consistently earned over $340k per year. We generally earn money through ads, affiliates, and sponsorships. 

The percentages have changed over the years, but in 2023, we earned roughly 65% of our income via ads, 20% from sponsorships, and 15% through affiliate sales.

If you’re interested in more of a breakdown, we posted monthly income reports in 2018/2019 here.

Our site gets about 600k+ monthly pageviews and 300k+ monthly unique visitors.

As for how much we work, our work hours shift year to year, by season, and even day to day. 

Running your own business means there is always something to work on, and early on or in cities like NY, we hustled the hardest. 

In 2019, we moved from NY to Las Vegas, to have a better work-life balance. During the winter, when it’s climbing season, we spend a lot more time outside. When it’s hot in the summer, we shift to spend more time behind the computer. 

Because of that, our work weeks can shift from 20 to 80 hours depending on these factors.

Their Main Marketing Strategy

We’ve shifted our focus on our site a lot over the years. 

In the beginning, we didn’t focus much on income and spent most of our time and energy building a deep catalog of content by posting a new article nearly every day for the first year.

This ensured that people finding our site had plenty of other content to explore, and it also taught us the discipline of posting quickly and efficiently. As a result, we continued to increase our traffic and domain authority.

My background was in sales and account management, so naturally, I built most of our business via sponsorships at the beginning. I was spending a lot of time reaching out to potential clients and, at first, we would do posts in exchange for products or services. 

I shared all my tips and tricks in an e-course that I had years ago. 

As our site grew, we began diversifying our income stream to bring more ad revenue and affiliate sales. We didn’t put ads on our site for a long time, but when we were ready to, we were well past the minimum traffic to join. We currently use Mediavine!

Most people focus their efforts on social media these days, but we tried to keep a stronger blog presence since it’s where the bulk of our income comes from. Our site is very SEO-driven, and we get most of our traffic through Google.

Their Thoughts on SEO

SEO is very important!

Our site is mostly SEO-driven, so we always do our best to create posts that will rank well. With our current strategy, we spend more time updating existing articles and ensuring that they are up-to-date.

When we started the blog, we knew the term SEO but didn’t know much about it. It’s been 10 years since Esther started learning it, so it’s hard to pinpoint what resources she used back then. 

She spent a lot of time reading SEO blogs to learn about it. But since the SEO space changes so often, we’re always trying to keep up with it. These days, we find tidbits of info on blogs, YouTube, and even social media.

Keyword Research

We use KeySearch to find what keywords we can rank for. It will tell you the traffic volumes, CPCs, PPCs, and scores, and also tell you what score to target according to your domain and page authority.

We’ve been fortunate to start early and build up our domain authority over almost a decade, so we don’t focus on link building. 

Early on, we guest posted and contributed to large sites and publications and occasionally exchanged links with friends.

Their Content Creation Process

We have over 1,000 articles on our site, so we spend a lot of time updating existing content.

With the rare exception, we write the majority of the posts on our site ourselves. These days, we upload 2-4 new posts a month and spend the rest of the time keeping existing content up to date.

We currently use ClickUp to help us manage our day-to-day tasks and give ourselves reminders on when to update which posts.

Their Email List

We have slowly grown our list to 7,800+ over the years, although I’m embarrassed to say we don’t push for it or use it much. We may focus on it in the future, but not at the moment.

Their Favorite Resources

I wish we had recommendations, but when we started the blog, it was hard to find these types of resources. 

Although there are now a ton of resources, experimenting, testing, and learning as you go were also part of the fun for us.

We don’t really consume much of this content now so it’s hard for us to personally recommend any particular resource. We were able to grow through scrappy, free resources.

Our favorite tools are our industry peers. 

We’ve learned more from other “colleagues” in our industry than anyone else. Since we all run our blogs a bit differently and make money differently, we always love talking shop to see what’s working and what’s not.

If you’re unsure of how to connect with these people, just think about who you admire and people in the same vertical as you. 

Look for people around your size that you can grow together with and reach out to larger creators for advice. 

Just keep in mind that they are busy and may not have time, but it never hurts to ask!

Another tool is KeySearch. 

Ever since we started using it for our SEO, it has made the process so much easier. We love being able to see what we should be able to rank for and run all our content through it.

YouTube is another. It’s amazing how many free resources there are on YouTube. You can learn practically anything for free.

Their Biggest Challenge

There isn’t a roadmap for building our business, and everyone does it differently. It took a lot of trial and error to get where we are now. 

At one point, we brought on additional writers, but that added a new level of stress (managing employees, making sure we were consistently making enough, etc.) that we didn’t enjoy. 

We made the decision that we didn’t want to scale and grow a big team and do 95% of the work ourselves. 

Because of that, we always have to evaluate how to spend our time best. We can’t do it all! 

We still call on some writers to help us if we’re unavailable but they just work with us on a project-to-project basis.

Their Most Important Accomplishment

Our site consistently ranks as one of the top travel blogs in the world based on traffic (there were a few sites that would gather this data in the past), and we’re able to do some good with the income it brings by giving back 30% of our income to 3 different non-profit groups.

What They Wish The Knew When They Started

Oh man, the list goes on and on. 

I wish that we had learned our current process with less trial and error to make things efficient, but Esther also loves the start-up part of building a business.

If I had to pick one, I would have talked to fellow bloggers much sooner. 

Find people who are open and willing to share about their growth and struggles. You can learn so much from each other and we all find ways to make this work that we can adopt from one another.

Their Main Mistake

We put ads on our site much too late. Esther fought me for a long time because she didn’t like the aesthetics of ads. 

Then our friend Josh from California Through My Lens finally convinced us to, and after looking at the numbers, I regretted all the money we left on the table.

We joined AdThrive around 2017/2018 where we started making $6-8k a month on ads. We eventually moved over to Mediavine, and our ad revenue continued to grow.

Their Advice for Other Entrepreneurs

Find something that you are passionate enough to work on even when you see zero progress and your motivation is low. 

It can also be lonely, so network with people in similar industries around you to learn from each other and support each other when times are tough. 

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re willing to work for it, it can be a worthwhile career!

Also, don’t compare yourself to others. 

You may not see all the failures or know how long someone’s journey is to get where they are. Most people aren’t overnight successes, so do what you can day by day, little by little.

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