If there’s one person who knows the value of trial and error, it’s Amy Fillinger. After trying out several different side hustles and running a photography business, Amy found her calling. She started a travel blog and then became a certified travel agent—an unusual combination in the sector. Between the two, she’s now bringing in $12k per month.
Keep reading to find out:
- More about Amy’s background
- Why she started a travel blog
- How and why she became a travel agent
- How much money she’s currently making
- Her main marketing strategies
- How she approaches SEO
- Her keyword research and content-creation strategies
- How she grows her email list
- Her current traffic numbers
- The tools she values the most
- Her greatest challenge
- Her main accomplishment
- The mistakes she’s made
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
Meet Amy Fillinger
My name is Amy, and I’m a travel advisor and travel blogger. I’m an interesting hybrid in the travel world because few people do both! Before working on the travel niche, I ran a photography business that I started around 2010.
I have always had a few side hustles, too. My goal has always been to try different things to work from home and spend more time with my kids. My three kids are currently 14, 11, and 9, and I also homeschool them.
I started doing some virtual assisting and became somewhat of a Pinterest expert. Previously, I managed Pinterest accounts as a side gig, but it never became full-time.
I have also done content writing, social media moderation, customer support, reselling, etc. I even sold soy wax candles for a while. None of those things were wildly successful, although some were better than others (the soy candles were not good).
I haven’t worked a “regular” job since 2012. My photography business did pretty well, but it was never a passion. Honestly, I got into it because I knew there was decent money in it, but it wasn’t particularly a dream job for me. I’m quite an introvert, so doing photography was not the ideal job for me, but I made it work. I continued photography while growing my travel business, but I started to outsource a lot last year and will sell the business at the end of the month.
Why She Started Her Travel Agency and Blog
I was at my sister’s house around Thanksgiving 2018. I remember it very clearly. My sister works for a large travel company (one that you’ve definitely heard of), so she had been in the travel business for a while.
She randomly asked me, “Why don’t you just start a travel agency?” Now, I knew that travel agents existed, but I didn’t know how big the industry really was. I had created some business cards for a travel agent I worked for as a virtual assistant (which I never got fully paid for!).
Once I realized that travel agents were still very much needed, I was all in! Travel was different from photography. It was something that I enjoyed talking about. As a consumer, I was helping people book travel for free long before I became a travel agent!
Amy’s Start as a Blogger
That ties into the second part of the question because the blog actually came first. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always had side hustles. I started my first blog around 2010, and it really took off in 2011. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to monetize, so it got a lot of traffic, but I never made a dime.
Around 2015, I realized that I had missed out! I started a new blog, but it was unfortunately all over the place. I made a little money, but it was all over the place.
The only posts that actually did well? Travel! I was always giving travel advice and ended up writing about it; those posts took off.
So, I started adding more travel posts to the existing blog. I moved all non-travel content to another blog (that no longer exists), and I started writing new content that was travel-only.
Eventually, I chose the name Luxe Aloha Destinations for my travel business, but my blog is just under my name. However, I bought the domain for Luxe Aloha Destinations and pointed it to my existing blog, Amy Fillinger. The blog traffic picked up quickly, and so did the travel business.
Amy’s Start as a Travel Agent
I officially became a travel agent in December 2018 and started booking trips in January 2019. Becoming a travel agent is fairly easy, but it’s not easy to be a successful travel agent. You don’t have to take a course or go to school to be a travel agent, but you do have to have certain credentials, such as a seller of travel licenses in several states and errors and omissions insurance.
The easiest way to do this as a new agent is to join a host agency. There are a lot of host agencies out there, but how they generally work is you get to use their credentials and split the commission. Eventually, you can earn your own IATA or CLIA card, which are required for most travel agent rates.
Those cards will make you a more “legit” travel agent. You can also get certified with resorts, cruises, boards of tourism, etc. I started taking any courses I could find right away, and I credit my early success to how hard I worked initially.
I started by selling Hawaii travel because it was what I knew. I love Hawaii, and I had been helping others plan Hawaii trips (for fun) for a long time. But I eventually branched out to the Caribbean and Mexico as well. I now also book other places, too, like Europe, Costa Rica, Alaska, etc. However, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Mexico are the bulk of what I do. I would say 70% of what I book is Hawaii. It’s definitely my specialty.
How Much Money She’s Currently Making
I make money in two ways from the travel agency: travel planning fees and commissions. From the blog, I make money from ads and affiliate commissions. I don’t offer a product on my blog yet, but that’s in the works. I’m currently working on guides for the four main Hawaiian islands I will sell on my website.
I will share details for two months because it does vary quite a bit. In August, I made $3223.83 from my blog. I made $5602.40 in September, which was my highest month ever, although it will likely be a bit lower for the next couple of months due to the time of year.
Most of what I earn on my blog – 70-75% – is through being a Mediavine Travel Blogger; the rest is from various affiliates. Most of my affiliate sales are from rental cars, hotel affiliate programs, activities, and travel-related goods on Amazon.
I earned $10,663.82 in August from my travel agency and $12,620.89 in September.
I started a second travel blog earlier this year, too, although I won’t share those stats since it’s unrelated to the travel agency. But I must say – it’s a lot easier the second time around!
I just got my first payment (from ads) for $366, so while it’s not making a lot of money, I have high hopes since it’s a little niched down than my main website. It’s Florida Travel with Kids. If you can’t tell by the name, it’s a blog about traveling in Florida with kids!
Amy Fillinger’s Top Marketing Strategies
My “strategy” is to create good content that answers questions. I do this primarily through my blog, using SEO to drive traffic to my website.
Pinterest helped a lot in the beginning. I used the skills I’d learned as a Pinterest manager for my own website. Pinterest is different now than it was then though, but I still get traffic from it.
SEO was always my primary goal, but that takes time. Close to 50% of my traffic comes from SEO, with 40% from social (mostly Pinterest, which isn’t really social media) and the rest from other sources.
The Importance of SEO
SEO is extremely important. My #1 goal is to rank in search. It doesn’t always happen, but it often does. I did not pay for advertising in my photography business, most of my clients came through organic search, so I knew it could be done, and that was my goal from the beginning.
And my overall strategy to achieve this is to provide quality content.
Most of my link building tactics have come organically with someone finding an article and linking to it.
I’m sure there are better ways, but I typically dive in as if trying to search for something myself. I’ve tried other strategies, but this works best for me. I just started using RankIQ last week, but otherwise, I do not use any SEO tools.
Amy Fillinger’s Content Creation Process
Most of the time, my content comes from someone asking a question. So if a client asks me, “What are the best hikes in Maui,” of course, I will write a blog post about that.
Ideas always come into my head, and I create a list. I recently brought on a content writer who does most of my outlines, although I still write some blog posts from start to finish. Essentially, I send her keywords, and she comes up with an outline. Then I go in and add images and links, and I personalize it.
I want my content to be cohesive, so I’m still very involved and spend a lot of time on every blog post. I publish content weekly, but I plan to ramp it up on my second blog and start posting multiple times a week for faster growth if I have the time!
Her Email List
I’ve had an email list from the beginning. I just offer opt-ins all over my website. Though I should probably offer a freebie or something, my email list has grown steadily without this. I have about 1,500 people on my list today. Still, I’d like to actively try to grow that number.
Achieving Current Revenue Levels
2019 was a good year, considering it was my first year, with over $100,000 in sales. I was expecting $300,000+ in my second year (and was on track for that), but that was 2020, and we all know how that went.
Last year was better, but this year is when it’s really taken off. I think this is because most people are traveling again, but also due to the work I put in when people were not traveling.
Travel agents earn money on commission. This doesn’t cost the consumer anything extra; it’s built-in. If a person books without a travel agent, the supplier/hotel just pockets the difference (or gives it to a third-party booking engine instead.)
Most people don’t know this, but travel agents don’t earn a commission on flights, even first class! Commissions range dramatically from 15%+ with all-inclusive resorts and cruises to 0 from flights, but it ends up averaging about 10%.
I just earned my first “bonus” last week. In September, I was the #2 seller of Sandals Resorts in my host agency (which has over 7,000 agents) and got an extra $100. So it’s safe to say that most of the money travel agents earn is from commissions!
How Much Traffic Luxe Aloha Destinations ReceiveS
The last 30 days have had about 40,000 pageviews, but it is seasonal, and some months it’s been closer to 70,000.
Amy Fillinger’s Top Tools
My favorite tools are TravelJoy (my CRM), Travefy (I use this for client itineraries), and my VA!
TravelJoy helps track all my client communication and allows me to send invoices, receive credit card authorizations, etc.
Travefy is what I use for my client itineraries. It allows my clients access to all of their activities via an app-based itinerary that my VA and I put together. My clients love this feature! It was a bit of an investment, but it’s easier than what I was doing before (itineraries in Google docs), and it makes my clients happy, so it’s a win-win.
Her Greatest Challenge
My biggest challenge was Covid, I don’t think I really need to say more! Otherwise, I haven’t had any substantial challenges. I learned a lot of lessons in my first business. Covid was rough, it was a lot of work, and I was making no money.
Amy’s Biggest Accomplishment
I’m making a good income while being home with my kids. I rarely work more than 40 hours per week. It might happen at the busiest times of the year (Q1), but I generally work about 25 hours per week. I homeschool my kids, and they are very involved in activities, and we travel a lot, so it’s a pretty good balance.
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
I don’t have any major things that I should have done differently. There were a lot of lessons with my first business! I just wish I had used a good CRM from the beginning.
Her Main Mistake
I haven’t made any huge mistakes, but I think many people make one mistake: trying to be the cheapest or serving everyone. I did that in the beginning with my photography business.
The only thing I wish I would have done differently with travel is to start charging a fee from the beginning. This gets rid of a lot of “tire kickers” and saves a lot of time. It also ensures that I make something, even if the trip is canceled.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
It’s really difficult to start a business. I think people should talk about that more often. You always see scammy ads about how to get rich quickly, and it’s mostly just garbage.
You’ll want to quit, and you need to know what’s coming. Figure out a way to get through it. Some people get lucky, but 99% of the time, successful people are the ones who just didn’t give up.