Home Advice For The Young At Heart How I Turned $6,000 Into A Multi-Million Dollar Travel Empire (The Broke...

How I Turned $6,000 Into A Multi-Million Dollar Travel Empire (The Broke Backpacker’s Business Journey)

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broke backpacker

by Will Hatton, founder of The Broke Backpacker

For more than fifteen years, I’ve been embarking on thrilling adventures to remote, off-the-grid destinations — and, for many of those years, I did it all on a budget of $10 a day.

I started documenting my travels online in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same. All of those that thought it wasn’t possible. I wanted everyone to be able to taste that very same life-changing freedom I was experiencing on the road…

My name is Will Hatton, and I’m the man behind The Broke Backpacker. My journey started at the tender age of nineteen when I found myself hitchhiking through India, immersing myself in its vibrant culture for over two years. With no fancy gadgets, I scribbled down my first blog posts on a battered iPod touch while navigating the unknown territories of the world.

Fast forward to the present day, and things are looking very different. As I write this article from the mesmerising Island of the Gods, Bali, in Indonesia, where I currently reside, I can’t help but reflect on the incredible path that led me here.

Over the years, my passion for travel propelled me to experiment with various online ventures. Along the way, I’ve founded a total of nine different businesses, each teaching me invaluable lessons, especially during the challenging times of the global pandemic. Despite facing numerous setbacks, I’ve persevered and came back stronger. Every frickin’ time.

Recently, I’ve fulfilled a lifelong dream of opening up a hostel – not your average hostel, though. Tribal Bali is the island’s first custom-built co-working hostel, designed to cater to aspiring adventurers that have ditched their desks to step away from the norm and forge their own destiny. I believe we’ve really built something unique and it continues to inspire me every day!

But believe me, reaching this point has been a whirlwind adventure, filled with triumphs, setbacks, and countless lessons learned.

In this article, I’m thrilled to take you along for the ride, sharing the ups and downs of my entrepreneurial journey. I’ll shed light on the invaluable lessons I’ve gathered along the way, empowering you to transform your own passion for travel into something truly extraordinary. 

Buckle up, fellow wanderers, as we embark on this wild ride together.

Laying the Foundation: Launching the Travel Blog

The early, early days of The Broke Backpacker began with handwritten notes I shared with fellow travellers during my time in India. Back then, travel blogs focusing on extreme budget travel were scarce. I was couchsurfing, camping and sleeping in train stations, really pushing my comfort limits – and very few people were covering that style of travel online.

On January 30th, 2013, the site was born with a mission to prove that travel is possible for almost anyone, even with no money, as long as they are capable to FULLY embrace discomfort — and to come out infinitely stronger on the other end.

In my ten years of travel blogging, there were significant moments that shaped the trajectory of The Broke Backpacker. I ventured into destinations like Venezuela before they became popular, I embarked on a journey from England to India without taking any flights, I hitchhiked all across Iran and through Pakistan’s wondrous peaks… and the raw accounts of those journeys started finding their way into the likes of BBC and the Daily Mail, earning valuable backlinks that would help build my authority in Google’s eyes.

As the site gained traction, I recognized the importance of building strong content silos, providing practical information for adventure planning. Our extensive backpacking guides, like the comprehensive guide to backpacking Europe, became our cornerstone pieces of content.

Additionally, our gear guides gained recognition for helping readers choose the right equipment for their hiking expeditions, their camping trips, you name it. Over time, we expanded to include “Where to Stay” guides and hostel recommendations, establishing a strong partnership with Hostelworld along the way.

As our audience grew, The Broke Backpacker became a trusted name in the travel community. Our content aims to inspire, educate, and inform, with writers who have firsthand experiences in the real world. Our readers can relate to the authenticity we put on the table. We have contributors from all around the globe living the broke backpacker lifestyle, keeping our content fresh and genuine.

We focused on ranking for relevant backpacker keywords, tailoring recommendations based on our readers’ preferences, whether they were digital nomads, couples, or party enthusiasts. Our readers trust our word, which often leads them to book through our platform, allowing us to earn a commission and reinvest in our growth.

Money is not all, obviously, and we do also prioritise serving our audience with valuable guides on topics such as avoiding burnout, maintaining mental health, travelling responsibly, reducing plastic waste, and staying safe at festivals, for example. We cover it all.

The financial success of The Broke Backpacker stemmed from our unwavering commitment to our core mission and our expertise in SEO and unique travel experiences. By implementing effective systems and assembling a team of exceptional adventurers, I built a formidable powerhouse that paved the way for expansion into other ventures.

From Backpacker to Business Visionary

There was a very important step I missed just there. Something that changed EVERYTHING…

Amidst my ambitious overland journey, I found myself backpacking Pakistan, a place that changed me for life. Since then, I’ve visited 5 times and I’m itching to get back (it’s happening soon amigos!).

And whilst travelling there for the second time in 2016, I had a crazy idea. I turned to my audience on Snapchat, which I had been developing through the unfiltered nature of my travel tales, and asked if folks would be interested in seeing this amazing country with me as their guide.

Without much thought, I tentatively put up a Paypal link to secure deposits and… overnight it sold out.

I suddenly had $6000 (12 x $500 deposits) in the bank. The most money I had ever had up until this point, which I immediately spent on trying to grow The Broke Backpacker, reasoning that I had 6 months before I led my first tour to Pakistan and therefore time to make the money back to fund the actual tour. 

It was a pretty big risk but… I had a plan.

The funds generated from this tour alone allowed me to invest further, hire writers, and focus on mastering SEO and targeting untapped niches. Fortunately, things worked pretty alright and slowly but surely, my humble travel blog was making its way to the top.

I spent a tough two years working my ass off until finally there was an explosion like moment where I was making enough to actually upgrade my lifestyle, and continue to invest in the growth of the blog. 

Diversifying Income Streams

I had always had a bit of an entrepreneurial eye, and as a young backpacker in India, I bought scarves and leather satchels and brought them back to the UK to sell at festivals. Whenever I returned to the UK, I packed my bag with as much hippy stuff as possible because I knew I could make 1000% selling it on eBay. 

I always worked on my travels and picked up jobs along the way. I’ve worked 100 crazy jobs all around the world: herding goats in the Holy Lands, handing out flyers in Vietnam, renting inflatable tubes in Laos, and unloading trucks. 

But it was online that I knew the real money was to be made. And so, when my travel endeavours started to bring in some cash, I decided to expand my efforts into different experiments.

In 2017, I launched several new online ventures to test out different ways to make money online. I experimented with content sites in all kinds of weird and wonderful niches, most of which have failed at one point or another – but others still bring a solid income to this date. 

I started a dropshipping company, Active Roots, in which I focused on selling backpacker essentials like hammocks and quick-dry towels. This crashed and burned hard during 2020 when shipping costs rose by 400%.

I also started an SEO agency with a business partner, which also crashed and burned hard in 2020 but I made about $30k out of it before it did – that one definitely counts as a success.

I also dabbled in cryptocurrency, getting in when a Bitcoin cost a mere $650… I traded an original investment of $9000 up to 7 figures at its height but lost almost all of this in a couple of short weeks. I ain’t much good at trading it turns out, and the anxiety and dreaming in freaking charts really didn’t help my mental health. Overall, my journey with crypto could have been remarkable but was not. One can still dream — can’t sell, won’t sell…

Amidst these diverse experiments and ventures, I never lost sight of my passion for travel. And it was during this period that I realised the immense potential to scale up my investments in the travel industry itself. With a keen eye for business opportunities and a deep understanding of the travel market, I began envisioning a project that would go beyond online ventures.

Inspired by my own backpacking experiences and fueled by the success of The Broke Backpacker, I set out to create something tangible — a one-of-a-kind hostel that would cater to the needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and digital nomads. This ambitious vision marked the next phase of my entrepreneurial journey, where I would bring together my expertise in travel, my knack for spotting untapped niches, and my determination to create a thriving travel empire. The seeds were sown, and it was time to turn dreams into reality.

The Travel Empire Grows

In the year of 2019, a spark of an idea led me and my buddy Mark to finally make the move on establishing a hostel. We both share a deep-rooted belief in the transformative power of travel, and the ability to sustain one’s life on the road through our very own entrepreneurial pursuits. 

This shared passion helped bring our vision into reality, and so, Tribal Bali was born.

The idea of building the ultimate hostel for aspiring entrepreneurs and digital nomads to begin their online journeys had been a dream of mine for many, many moons…

The dream was to create a place that catered to the needs of digital nomads, aspiring entrepreneurs, and full-time travellers who were looking for a space that allowed them to 1. Hustle hard and 2. Still enjoy the best aspects of the backpacker lifestyle and community. 

Throughout my years on the road, I realised that there was a BIG gap in the market. As a digital nomad myself, I faced numerous challenges in finding accommodations that offered reliable Wi-Fi, quiet zones, and ample charging points. To that, you add great coffee, delicious food, a swimming pool, an almighty pool table… and you get a space where working travellers can really balance work AND play. 

The goal was to design a space that not only provided the essential amenities for digital nomads but also fostered a sense of community and collaboration amongst guests. We really believe we’ve created something special here and we are just getting started… 

Tribal has been specially designed to serve the entrepreneurship community, but it is a melting pot for broke backpackers, intrepid influencers, veteran digital nomads and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. We have individual co-working booths, plentiful rice-paddy views, delicious coffee, an extensive menu of healthy food and treats, lightning fast WiFi, standing desks and many different configurations of seating, tables, nooks and crannies. It’s sleek, custom-built and we have an incredible team on-site who really make the place feel homey. 

Moving forwards, we plan to expand Tribal and build some more private rooms, as they are literally fully booked weeks in advance, as well as adding in AC meeting rooms that can be hired by the hour. We are still learning how best to serve our community and we’re excited for these additions and some other secret projects I can’t quite reveal right now.

Tribal is a great place to network, to find your tribe, and to meet a friendly community of folks who have ditched their desks and stepped away from the norm with the dream of building their own online incomes or remote working their way to success. It’s honestly awesome to see so many folks from so many different backgrounds all working hard on forging their own destiny. 

Do come by and say hi if you ever find yourself around — and keep an eye out for exciting developments through Tribal’s Instagram.

Lessons Learned and Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

I have gathered some wisdom over my decade of working online, so here are some of my top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs…

Discipline eats intelligence for breakfast: it is your sword and shield with which you shall cut your way through the fray and onwards to victory… Develop a strong routine that guarantees you have dedicated work time each day and keep chipping away. It takes TIME to build anything worthwhile, be consistent. 

Minimise distractions: Limit your tendency to procrastinate and practise good phone habits – if your phone constantly distracts you while working, keep it in another room.

Focus on the ONE THING that truly matters each day: identify the key task that will make the most impact on your business and prioritise getting it done before anything else.

Know when to outsource: Some tasks are best handled by you, while others are better suited for people who know it better. Deciding which is which requires some finesse. Ask yourself: Am I the best person for this task? Is it a recurring task with expensive outsourcing costs? If either answer is yes, take care of it yourself.

Be patient, work hard, dream big: Many people give up too soon or fail to commit to the hard work, getting caught up in trivial matters like endless logo redesigns or excessive social media use in the name of “work.” By cultivating a strong work ethic, practising patience on your journey, and setting ambitious goals, you’re already way, way ahead of the game.

Embrace failure: Fail cheap, fail fast, fail young. Try crazy things when you have little to lose. 

Educate yourself: Modern Wisdom is an awesome podcast for that. Consider reading Tools of Titans for valuable insights.

Use the right tools: Trello is incredibly powerful for organising thoughts and projects. A roll of statically charged whiteboards could literally change your life… these are endlessly useful for planning, habit tracking and goal setting. Use a journal to strengthen your mental health, focus on your wins, project out the steps you will take to reach your goals.

If you’re on the fence, I strongly encourage you to take the leap and pursue your entrepreneurial dreams. It is entirely possible to create the life you desire if you can motivate yourself to consistently put in the effort. Expect a journey of at least two or three years before reaping the rewards of your hard work.

Be ready to pay the price. It is hard work, but if you can remain disciplined, optimistic and proactive, anything is possible. Get out there, get it done. 

 

Will Hatton started travelling more than a decade ago as a headstrong and penniless youth, but his years on the road quickly turned him into an expert of the budget backpacking trade. He travelled, he made mistakes, and through it all, he found his calling – to explore, to share, to learn. Will is passionate about the power of budget travel as a personal development tool, and about teaching others to ditch their desks, embrace adventure and to build an online income.