Cory Carnley, a long-time Gainesville resident, considers travel to be more than a recreational activity or a once-a-year dip into the family vacation money. Travel, in Carnley’s opinion, is an opportunity, one that not only provides him with a unique, firsthand perspective on the locations and communities that make up the fabric of his country but also allows him to enhance his knowledge and understanding of the American experience in general.
Carnley appreciates the educational and experiential opportunities that travel in the United States provides, particularly the opportunity to meet with and learn from people from all across the country. He also appreciates the pleasure of being able to share that experience with others through his blog, which gives readers insight into the towns, neighborhoods, and landmarks that make the United States such a wonderful place to live. Cory Carnley is also a committed cigar fan who has earned certificates in tobacconistry, bartending, and responsible vending.
Carnley’s love for tobacco began when he was a child, but it really took off when he turned eighteen and smoked two celebratory cigars back-to-back on the same day. Soon after, he was elected as the youngest member of the Cigar Rights of America, the leading lobbying organization for the premium cigar business, making him the organization’s youngest member ever.
To further educate himself on the various different tobacco sectors, Cory Carnley has diligently researched and experimented with a wide array of tobacco products and accessories. He has done so for years and continues to do so now.
Carnley has extensive experience with a variety of tobacco products, including premium cigars, premium cigarillos, “gas station” cigarillos, cigarettes, pipes, hookah, chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco, and nasal snuff, among other things.
How did you get started in this business?
Honestly, I don’t think my path is very unique. In fact, it’s probably pretty pedestrian.
I remember reading a statistic a couple of years ago about millennials and their spending habits. The survey (and I can’t remember where it was from) found that like 75% of all millennials prefer experiences over material possessions. Concerts, exclusive dinners, and even travel were much more popular than designer bags and a home in the suburbs.
So, like other people my age, I packed my bags and left. Every chance I got. And, when I was doing some really cool stuff, I thought, “I should post this.” (I realize this is also very “millennial” of me.) It started as more of a digital diary. But the initial feedback was great. So I just kept posting. It sort of just evolved from there.
How do you make money?
It’s cheesy, but I’ve always liked the saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The sentiment is sweet. But a guy’s got to eat too.
I’m pretty fortunate that this journey began when I was a student in Gainesville. My expenses were pretty low. It wasn’t like I needed to work to survive. In a lot of ways, starting a travel blog was a hobby that snowballed into so much more.
But, to answer your question, a large portion of my revenue at first came from freelance work. As long as I had my laptop, I could write for various websites on my schedule. I’ve even dappled selling photos, but writing is more in my wheelhouse. Now that I’ve generated more of a following, ads and sponsored campaigns make up a significant portion of my revenue.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
That’s a never-ending struggle, isn’t it? I really felt I could sustain income consistently around 2019. But the pandemic derailed those plans. Travel essentially just evaporated overnight. Like most other content creators, I had to adapt. I definitely became more “road trip” focused on my getaways. I also took that time to geek out on the backend of my business, digging into SEO, how to build affiliate partnerships, etc. I’ve already seen a slight boost in profits from previous years. To be honest, I think most of my followers are just itching to get back out and travel.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I kind of touched on this earlier, but I never really stopped to question what I was doing because it wasn’t a “business” when I started out. I was just a kid on the road with a computer and a camera. One day, I just woke up, and it was like, “Wow! I’ve built this.”
When was the moment that you realized you “made” it?
Two things happened almost back-to-back in 2021 that made me realize I was on the map.
First, I had a follower reach out to me via social media and asked “my secret.” She was wanting advice on how to live the lifestyle I was living. It was flattering for sure, but it also was a moment of self-realization. If someone else wants to try to replicate my process, then something must be working.
Next, I had a company approach me about becoming a brand ambassador. That blew me away. Not only had this company noticed and liked my work, but they were also willing to invest in me. That was huge.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I think affiliate marketing is a must for any travel blogger. Admittedly, I didn’t quite see the benefit of this early on. Today, it’s one of the first tips I recommend. The ability to generate passive income through links to retail sites is a game-changer. Now, of course, the flip side is authenticity. You don’t want to oversaturate your own brand by hawking any and every product. It’s not a cash grab. It’s really a long-term play. Be selective and curate only items that you truly believe in.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Where am I going next? That’s a constant challenge always, but various travel restrictions have made planning ahead even more essential. Really though, the main issue I struggle with a lot is what products to promote and what partnerships I want to pursue. I’m pretty picky. I’m not allergic to money, but I don’t accept every opportunity that’s in my inbox either. I do feel I have a responsibility to my followers to only recommend the best.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Travel is my job. I think there’s a misconception that travel blogging is a care-free, toes-in-the-sand existence. But this isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. I’m not rolling in dough or working 20-hour weeks. I feel like saying that I’m a “hard worker” is a cop-out. So, I’ll phrase it differently. I’m successful because I’m a good student. I’m constantly learning. When I’m not soaking in rays, I’m soaking up all the knowledge I can. I’m never really on “vacation.” When I’m not creating content, I’m reading and researching. I’m analyzing data and brainstorming new ideas. The business of blogging requires energy and effort.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Have you seen my posts? It’s the view of the snow-capped mountains! I get to explore the entire globe on a daily basis. Yes, it takes commitment. But it’s also entirely worth it. I’m not stuck in an office. I’m not glued to a keyboard in a cubicle. This is really a dream come true. In all seriousness, I do love creating. Whether it’s an article, video, post, or TikTok, it’s great to share this with my community. Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes hitting “send” is scary. You never know how the world will receive your work. But when the likes and comments start pouring in, there’s nothing like that feeling. It’s addictive. That feedback is an affirmation that I’m pursuing something meaningful and special.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I hate to keep beating the same drum, but product and brand affiliations are my next big venture. For the last couple of years, I’ve produced content nearly non-stop. Most of that work has been recommendations on locations or destinations. I see these brand partnerships as a way to continue to offer advice and tips in a slightly different way. And these blog posts are “evergreen.” They can live on the site forever, requiring updates periodically.
Long-term: I would love to venture into product development. I’m not dying to peddle a “Cory Carnley” travel toothbrush or anything. But, more specifically, develop digital products to bring to market. Maybe it’s an e-book or how-to series. I see several influential travel bloggers offer courses and exclusive, paid downloads. This is an emerging area I’d like to grow into.
What business books have inspired you?
As I alluded to earlier, I devour books. In my opinion, nothing pairs better with a beach than a good read. My guilty pleasure is the murder mystery and thriller genre, but that’s not particularly helpful. A high school teacher once recommended, “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.” I pick it back up often. It’s a great reference for aspiring writers.
“Influencer” by Brittany Hennessy is another must-read. Even though it’s a little outdated, it’s still a great place to learn how to pitch, promote, and sell yourself.
Finally, I’m a sucker for anything in Jen Sincero’s “You Are A Badass” series. Her personal anecdotes and essays are real and relatable. I’m obsessed with her writing style and try to mirror it a lot in my own work.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t hesitate. Don’t sit idle. There are always a thousand reasons not to do something. Just write. Just post. Put yourself out there. I hate to keep coming back to corny “locker room” quotes, but hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is famous for saying, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I understand this more now that I’m older.
I think there is a tendency as a young content creator to second guess yourself. While it’s important to be thoughtful and deliberate, sometimes you just need to get into the game. It’s easy to get caught in what I like to call an “overthinking” loop. You can keep tinkering and editing and analyzing to the point that you never finish.
So I would tell young Cory Carnley: You don’t have to be perfect. Do what you love, get out there, and just improve as you go.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I am afraid that I am too busy to mentor!