When Hannah Spelt and Nick Noordijk decided to travel to Southeast Asia, they didn’t know that their trip would change their lives forever. They decided to document their travels on Instagram to keep their families and friends abreast of their travels, and they started to grow a following.
One thing led to another, and they decided to create their travel blog Salt in Our Hair. There were a lot of ups and downs along the way, including the global pandemic, but, through trial and error, Nick and Hannah found their way and grew their business beyond their wildest dreams.
Now, their website gets 600k visitors and they earn $30k per month.
Keep reading to find out:
- Why they went on their backpacking trip
- What they won that made all the difference
- Why they decided to create their website
- Why they quit their day jobs
- How they help local businesses
- How they grew their team
- Where their income comes from
- Their top marketing strategies
- Their thoughts on SEO
- Their approach to keyword research and link building
- How they create content
- Their go-to resources and tools
- Their biggest challenge
- Their main accomplishment
- Their main mistake
- Their advice for other entrepreneurs
Meet Hannah and Nick
Hi! Our names are Hannah Spelt and Nick Noordijk, both born (and mostly living) in the Netherlands. We’ve been in love since early 2014 and still are very much so. Hannah has a background as a graphic designer and I had a role as a senior web developer.
How They Began
It all started with our Instagram page.
In November of 2015, Hannah and I were able to take a temporary leave from our jobs and we went on an unforgettable backpacking trip for 4 months in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and The Philippines).
Our original plan was to travel to Australia, but we saved up just enough money to be able to travel to more affordable countries.
We got the idea to share our trip on Instagram to keep friends and family updated, but we had no money for a camera, so we participated in a raffle and we happened to win a GoPro camera just 1 week before we left! We paid just 11 euros for it!
That was the moment we started our Salt in Our Hair Instagram page.
We didn’t post anything professional, just GoPro selfies with a selfie stick, on a motorbike, on boats, between rice fields, etc. almost every day.
Our following started growing, but it was nothing major. Until, one day at the end of our backpacking trip, one IG post went viral and we suddenly had a few thousand followers when we returned home to the Netherlands.
We got back to our jobs, but people kept asking questions under our older Instagram posts about the locations in the photos.
Remember, this was February 2016, so there was no Instagram Direct Message or Stories, so it was a hassle to get back to everyone. This gave us the idea to start our website Salt in Our Hair, and simply let people go there to read everything about our travels.
Their Website Goes Live
So, in May 2016, we launched the first version of the website.
I started learning to use a mirrorless camera through YouTube tutorials, first on automatic, and later on manual.
We started to do small trips on the weekends and take holidays from work to create new content (photos and text) for our Instagram and blog.
Very little by little, we gained more traffic to the point where we were working 40 hours at our jobs and 40 hours on Salt in Our Hair as a side hustle without making any money from it. We didn’t have any ads or any proper affiliate links on our website for the first two years.
In late 2018, about 1.5 years after starting, we earned just enough to live from our site in Thailand and try out the digital nomad lifestyle. We had about 50 to 60k monthly visitors at this point. So we took a leap of faith and took on Salt in Our Hair as our full-time job.
I had some basic SEO knowledge at the time through my work as a former web developer, but I had spent countless hours learning through trial and error. We also learned the basics of photography. The first way we made money was through some affiliate programs for hotels.
We had massive doubts, as we were leaving good careers as a designer and a developer.
Looking back now, winning that GoPro was a key moment in the creation of Salt in Our Hair.
Their Previous Business Experience
We had zero business experience and we haven’t started any other businesses since. We had to learn literally every single thing from working with clients, negotiating prices, talking to the media, doing the accounting (across different borders), learning how to work with a camera, etc.
The experience we had was our web design and development skills.
The process of starting this business went with ups and also a lot of downs, but we always tried to keep in mind why this all started: because of our love for traveling (as opposed to making money)!
The problem was, we had no one around us to ask how things worked because that would’ve sped up a lot of things and saved us a few mistakes. We’re actually working on a massive course about everything we’ve learned since 2016, and people can sign up to show their interest.
Now in 2023, here’s where we stand:
- We’re getting 600,000 unique visitors per month right now
- We’ve connected small, local business operators in Morocco, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Colombia to our readers.
If we have a great experience on a trip with a local company, we try to explain our business to him/her and see if they are open to us sharing their phone number or email in our guides.
For example, in Bali, we have been sharing our contact for 5 years, and the person now has 15 to 20 drivers each day driving for him, and that’s just clients from our travel guides.
We love structures like this, as we connect a small business directly to the reader.
We’ve expanded: we’re a team of 6 people all working on Salt in Our Hair. They are freelancers from around the globe! Apart from Hannah and I, we have:
- A photo editor supporting Hannah
- A writer and manager helping with everything from travel planning to emails
- A writer and translator
- And a new business manager
How Much Money They’re Making
We’re currently making $30k on average per month from Salt in Our Hair. Obviously, this changes month to month, depending on the travel seasons and client jobs.
A general breakdown would be:
- Affiliates: 43%
- Advertisements: 38%
- Jobs: 11%
- Webshop: 8%
In terms of jobs, we have various revenue streams that are irregular: work for tourism boards, licensing images, website advertisements, etc.
It’s hard to say how long it took to reach this level, due to the pandemic, but since December 2022 we’ve been maintaining this average revenue. So it probably took us about 5 years to get to this revenue level.
It’s a long time, possibly too long for people who are out there to simply earn money. But for us, it has been worth every single day so far. What an incredible journey we’ve been on, what incredible people we’ve been able to meet, and places we’ve visited.
Pre-covid we made about $15k to $17k per month.
If we were to set up a new website with our current experience, we will be able to cut this down to 1, max 2 years. That’s the reason why we’re putting together a course.
We probably each work around 40 to 50 hours a week, but it changes per day and per week as we’re never working 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday.
When traveling, getting solid hours of work is a bit more difficult. We also work a lot for clients like tourism boards.
Their Top Marketing Strategy
Once “inspired,” we provide a useful travel guide on our website. Our idea is to make written content a lot more interesting with a lot of images and video content.
It’s hard to give advice for this strategy, as social media companies decide what’s trending. But we still believe that you should post what you would like to see, and you will eventually create a select audience for it.
You should definitely go with trends, but ride that wave in your way. Pinterest is also still super interesting to focus on as it drives quite a lot of quality traffic.
The Importance of SEO
We get over 80% of our audience from Google, so SEO is the most important factor in our business.
When we started out, I did have some basic knowledge about SEO, and the rest was from reading and optimizing our articles.
We did a lot of testing. Not the way I’d do it now, but that was just the flow I was feeling good with. Right now, I’d probably take a small course on SEO or dive into some recent articles about it.
A course, however, can take you by the hand and advise where needed. SEO also changes all the time so it’s good to stay up to date.
We’ve never focused on link building.
We know it can be an important factor in your SEO strategy, but we’ve only done a handful of link building collaborations.
Our website has grown and has a solid DA/DR without it. Currently, we only collaborate with equally-rated websites that provide us with solid links.
This is really only two or three times a year, even though we receive 100s of emails per month requesting collaborations.
Their Content Creation Process
Our process is pretty streamlined, which I’m proud to say!
About 99.9% of the articles on Salt in Our Hair start from notes (and voice notes) from our travels.
Part of our travels is noting down everything, the smallest little details, so we don’t forget them when we start writing the guides.
Every two weeks we have team calls to set out the work for the upcoming weeks. Usually, we base articles on the season. If high season is coming up, we push those articles out first.
Then we decide what articles are up next and who does what. For example, the first draft is written based on our notes and SEO keywords, then it’s checked and finalized, photos are added, it’s published, promoted, linked to on the website, and finally translated to Dutch.
We publish about 6 to 8 articles per month.
We’ve always had a slightly large Dutch audience since we’re from the Netherlands ourselves, but this move definitely increased our Dutch audience quite a bit!
We do nothing specific to promote our Dutch website, but it was to also hook in the people searching on Google in Dutch. Our Dutch website is definitely not a 10 yet, but it’s a work in progress.
Their Email List
We do a monthly newsletter that we’ve named “Travel Letter,” with about 25,000 subscribers.
We are no fans of newsletter popups, so we’ve simply grown it through the form in the footer of our website.
We share a lot more behind-the-scenes stuff, like exciting things we’re working on, funny things that happened while traveling, our traveling agenda, and exclusive discounts, and you can also get a look into the Salt in Our Hair business.
We actually just gave it a massive overhaul, so feel free to sign up!
Their Favorite Resources
YouTube is the way to go to start out, when you’re learning how to set up your website, etc.
However, if you go down into the trial and error process with written content, it would be good to have an expert giving some tips on it.
Once you have that under control, optimize your website to deliver the best experience to your readers. Google values this very much and will put you higher in the results if your website is good.
We don’t have one specific YouTube channel to recommend; just search for what you’re trying to accomplish.
If you have a specific blog or influencer you trust, we recommend checking out if they have some information on their website or channel.
Their Go-To Tools
With only freelancers working on Salt in Our Hair, online collaboration is key. We use the following tools:
Trello, for our planning (from notes to publication), business ideas, and web development ideas.
Google Workspace, for everything from Docs, Mail, Jamboards, and Meet to Drive. Our entire team can easily collaborate here.
Adobe software, especially Lightroom, for editing photography for the articles.
Their Main Challenge
I would mention two challenges here.
One: Surviving a pandemic with a travel business if nobody is able to travel. This was the hardest, as the future was unsure.
We saw a huge decline during that period, and afterwards, our website revenue went back to about 10-15% of what it was.
And we were just on a growing streak with our site after a lot of years of hard work! Luckily, this picked back up after Covid.
We redesigned the website completely and continued setting out our ideas for the future. Once we had some trust, we hired our second freelancer to help with the Dutch website. That’s what we did during Covid.
Two: Wanting to do everything ourselves (and ending up burned out).
We found our freelancers through our community on Instagram! We’ve put out a story that we were looking for someone to help us out. A follower notified her friend (who she thought was a good match for us), we chatted (she didn’t know anything about Salt in Our Hair), and it was the perfect match.
We made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, figuring out how to work together. But the three of us did it, and two years later we started adding other freelancers. She’s now managing most of our business and is one of our best friends.
Their Most Important Accomplishment
That would be inspiring 600,000 people per month, through our website, with our travels.
It’s incredible to read and hear the trust our audience has in our travel guides. Often people reach out to us on the streets, telling their travel story, or they send a message thanking us. This feels surreal to us and we’re super proud of that.
What They Wish They Knew When They Started
I wish we had someone to ask or confirm things with, so we didn’t have to figure everything out by ourselves and we could have just focused on the work.
Understanding SEO has been a huge game changer in the growth of Salt in Our Hair, and with that, our revenue has grown.
Other things like learning how to photograph, edit, how to set up a social media platform, etc. were maybe easier to know from the beginning, but we actually like that there has been such a big learning curve. It made us much stronger.
Their Main Mistake
Our biggest mistake is not charging enough for the amount of work we were providing. There was no way to find the rates for this as it was not something that was spoken about as much as now.
When you become a plumber, you can have a look around and see what other plumbers are asking as a rate. This wasn’t (and still really isn’t) there in the social media and blogging world, so you really have to figure out what you’re worth.
Figuring out our rates for the tourism board is something it took many years to get right.
Their Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
I would say always be open to innovation and technology. Changes come, so it’s best to ride the wave instead of swimming against it.
For example, when TikTik and Instagram reels started, it was said that people were going to stop looking for travel content via Google.
But, rather than sitting around and waiting, you should always look into ways to use this to your advantage.
For example, we now actively promote destinations we travel to on our social media and link to our website for additional information. This also drives traffic and helps you market your brand.