So, you’re off on a once in a lifetime trip (or even just a jaunt to the next town over) and want to start a travel blog? Here’s what I wish I’d known before I began my travel blog.
1. Define Your Purpose
People start travel blogs for many different reasons. Mine was initially set up to keep my friends and family up to date on my trip, provide a record for myself and scratch my writing itch. Other people want a place to showcase the best of their photography, to network with other travellers and bloggers and some people strive for fame and fortune. Whatever your goal, try to have a clear purpose at the beginning to help you position and design your blog for those needs.
Of course your blogging purpose may change over time – after a year I realised I had enough experience and material to help other travellers, which seemed a better purpose than boring my friends and family with yet more intolerable tales of endless days on exotic beaches. If you think you might have it in you to keep your blog going long-term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind.
2. Consider Your Audience
Initially, almost all blogs are going to be aimed at your friends and family but if you ultimately want to reach a broader audience, consider who your readers might be – family travellers, flashpackers, silver surfers, bargain basements backpackers, all of the above (now there’s a challenge). If you’re looking to get traction on your site, consider your audience and write with them in mind. Ultimately, your blog should be less about you and more about your readers and what you can do for/offer them.
3. Think About Your Blogging Name BEFORE you start a travel blog
If you intend to blog under your real name and that name isn’t particularly common, you probably won’t have a problem. However, if you decide to choose a pseudonym, like ‘Indiana Jo’ (no, that’s not my real name in case you were in the slightest bit unsure), you should do some basic checks before you commit:
- is another blogger using that name (you don’t want to create blog and audience confusion)?
- is your intended blog name available on the social media networks you might want to promote your blog on (facebook, twitter, google plus, instagram, pinterest etc.)?
- is the url available, in case you eventually want to buy your own domain name?
Unfortunately, I didn’t do too well on this front when I started out, using the snappily titled (or so I thought) ‘Jo Blogs’ pseudonym. However, not only was this already an incredibly popular name, the domain name was already owned by an employment agency ‘Job Logs’ (waste of the domain name if you ask me!). As a consequence, I’ve been through at least one blog name re-brand, confusing my readers in the process and still don’t have consistency across social media networks to promote by blog name – this is still very much a work in progress for me!
3. Pick Your Platform
(Top marks if you figured out there are two #3s in this post…it took me a while. However, I’m just going to stick with it rather than cutting out some vital tips to get this back to a 10 list article!)
This is perhaps the biggest tip I wish I’d had. Before I started my blog, my computer experience comprised Microsoft Office and use of Google to book holidays and read the news. Typing ‘start a travel blog’ into aforementioned search engine blinded me with options and I settled with the one that, at the time, seemed easiest to set up (a platform called Weebly).
However, as I started to blog, I quickly realised that my first choice of platform was too demanding for my impossibly slow Latin American internet connection prompting my first migration, to Blogger.
Over a year later and having stared in envy at the various plugins and whizzy features on other travel bloggers’ sites, I took the plunge and moved once (well, actually twice) more – to WordPress.com (first the free version, then self-hosted version, WordPress.org less than a month later #fail).
In the process, being the I.T. novice that I am, I lost my RSS subscribers and the good Karma I’d generated with Google, which sent people to my site. In short, I committed blogging suicide (did I mention: #fail).
Although I’ve recovered my traffic, it involved a lot of hard work and I can’t emphasise strongly enough the importance of picking the right platform at the beginning. From my experience, that ‘best blogging platform’ is WordPress and for most start up blogs, the free version will be sufficient, with the potential to migrate to the self-hosted, more technical and whizzy version down the line.
However, here are a few articles from people who have much more expertise in these matters than me, to help you decide which is the best blogging platform for you.
In a bit more detail: Blogger versus WordPress.com from makeuseofus.com
If you’re looking for something different, here are a few I’ve not tried out – let me know how you get on:
A note on hosting
There are so many companies out there to choose from and making a decision can feel a bit like throwing an arrow at a target in the dark. I currently use Performance Foundry and I couldn’t be happier. They’re not the cheapest option but they are the best choice in my view. Instead of a large company, this small team is on hand to help whenever anything goes wrong. In my case, all problems have been ironed out within 24 hours. They even help with installing plugins so you don’t have to fiddle around. Also included in the fee is some development time each month so they’re constantly working on improving your site in the background. Perhaps best of all was the fact that they took my site speed from 1 minute load speed to a matter of second. Vital if you want to rank well on Google and stop your readers clicking off.
If Performance Foundry is a bet too spendy for you right now, I’ve also used DreamHost and I know many bloggers say good things about Blue Host, which happens to be one of the most affordable and best value for money hosts out there.
Companies I would suggest you avoid (which I’ve used an regretted) include Go Daddy – the ex-CEO used to be a trophy hunter, proudly killing an elephant for fun. Urgh. I also signed up for a 2-year hosting deal with Arvixe and immediately saw my site uptime plummet with it going offline several times per day. My load speed also ground to a halt. Sure, the hosting is cheap but it’s a false economy. I ended up leaving only 6 months in with no refund.
Some other hosts I’ve not tried include:
4. Pack The Right Kit
I confess to being a bit of a techno junkie, but my travel office has recently gotten out of hand. In fact, this morning, I was a credit card swipe away from purchasing an iPad mini 32GB Wi-Fi & 3G in Japan’s electric town, Akihabara, despite already owning an iPad 2… and travelling with a laptop, iPhone and mobile wi-fi device, amongst other items.
My problem is that I never started out with a plan for what kit to take, resulting in me picking gadgets along the way with each performing a different function.
If I were to select my travel kit from scratch, I would suggest the following:
- a decent camera: you’re going to take a lot of photos and images are the most visually appealing part of your blog. I would recommend one with a good resolution but, perhaps more important, decent zoom for those discrete people shots, which are one of the best ways to make your blog more interesting.
- a long term writing device: ok, that may sound a bit vague, but as tablets and netbooks merge in function and size, personal preference can dictate your needs. If you rely on a tablet alone, make sure you have a separate keyboard (tapping out long posts on screen can start to jar). Also, consider that iPads don’t have all of the functionality of a laptop, the main limitation being the inability to download software other than through iTunes, so consider whether an android tablet or netbook is better.
- connectivity: at first, hostel and café Wi-Fi is likely to be all the connectivity you need to upload photos and publish posts. However, as you build your audience, you will want to keep them updated with more than just posts (pictures on Facebook, tweeting on the move etc) so 3G mobile connection can become important. For me, I wish I had spent the extra and bought my iPad with 3G capability (hence my near purchase of an iPad mini with 3G today). I’m currently managing mobile connection via my iPhone and mobile wi-fi (with varying degrees of success), but one device, like a tablet, to do all of this, would work much better.
Tip: make sure that your device is unlocked so you’re able to slot in a local SIM in each new country you visit.
What you don’t need – an expensive laptop or as much kit as I have. Although I own a Macbook Air, I prefer not to travel with it as I spend way too much money trying to insure it and way too much time worrying about it getting lost, broken or stolen.
Update: since writing this post I have rationalised my tech kit. I missed my Mac too much so now I travel with:
5. Prepare For Hard Work
I had grand plans for my blog before I set off on my travels and the first few posts went up fine. But then my trip took over and without someone writing the posts for me, and with me too busy lazing in a hammock, I quickly realised that nothing was getting done. Cue: two solid days spent catching up on a month’s worth of posts.
The reality is that travel blogging requires a lot of effort. Even if you’re quick at generating ideas and committing them to screen, it still takes several hours per week to get a couple of posts live. If you do more than a couple of blogworthy activities per week, it’s easy to see how travel blogging can turn into a full-time job. Of course, blogging needs to be balanced with travelling – not an easy task to achieve. Which leads me on to…
6. Be Consistent and Constant
If you don’t want your blog to turn into a full-time job, with your travels and fun suffering as a consequence, the best way to tackle this is to set a realistic schedule. For example, I like to post at least once, if not twice a week. To achieve this I will spend at least one day a week having an ‘office’ day (even if that office space looks more like a local bar/hammock/long bus journey), and the rest of the time I will grab between activities/draft posts while I’m sat in bed at night (as I’m doing now).
The key is to give your readers a constant drip feed of content. I was very bad at this at the beginning when months would pass without a single blog word…followed a long time thereafter by a blogging marathon. Fine, if that’s how you work best. Just schedule your bulk written posts to give a more seamless and consistent view to your readers.
A word on the look and feel of your blog
For at least a year my WordPress Theme was an ugly mathematics-style graph paper background with a lurid red logo. Did I choose it because it looked good? Hell no! There were plenty of prettier themes out there but the one I choose – which is the same theme I still use now believe it or not – had the right layout, font spacing and size and function I was after. I later paid a friend around £250 to redesign the look and feel of my site, create a logo and pack of documents (Word for invoices, Powerpoint, business cards etc). If you have a friend who can do this for you or you have those skills yourself, do that. If not, there are plenty of design companies out there like 99designs.
However, don’t let designing your site stop you creating content. Some of the top blogs happen to be the ugliest things to look at but they’re not winning traffic for a pretty home page, they’re pulling in readers for their top notch stories and travel tips.
7. Promote Yourself – Shamelessly
Unless you’re treating your blog like your personal diary (which is perfectly fine, though be sure you have your privacy settings high if you’re sharing really deep and personal stuff), you’ll want as many people as possible to read your blog. While it’s lovely that Aunty Mildred reads your every blogged word with enthusiasm (and provides the occasional one-finger typed response in your comments box), what you really want is other travellers, wannabe travellers and bloggers to read your stuff and say ‘wow, that’s cool’ or ‘that’s helpful’.
Unfortunately, as a new blogger, traffic to your site can be low, which means you’re unlikely to pop to the top of Google’s search results when someone taps in ‘awesome travel blog’. So, it’s down to you to tell people about your blog and its awesomeness. Do this enough, sharing your work on social media platforms, and eventually the traffic will come.
Update: when I first wrote this post I wasn’t as engaged in social media as I should have been. I was chatting on forums and hoping people would find me. Since then I’ve done a lot to get into social media more but the challenge bloggers face is two-fold – i) there are dozens of platforms out there meaning that you can spend more time promoting than creating content and ii) social media platforms can change quickly in terms of importance. Foursquare, Stumble Upon and Vine seem less popular these days (for promoting purposes) while Google Plus is the latest hot topic. Even a presumably stable platform like Facebook is changing, giving less priority to pages that don’t pay for advertising.
So, what do you do? I don’t think I could call myself an expert, but for me, I pick two or three and stick with them. At the moment (2014) my priorities are facebook (where I have most of my followers), twitter and, increasingly, Google Plus, which all the experts are indicating is the next big thing. If you’re not convinced by Google Plus for promoting your blog, this article might help win you over. (If you want at least one person in your circles, you can connect with me and I’ll follow back). My next priories after these three are instagram (a lot of brands and businesses like bloggers who use instagram) and pinterest…oh, if only I can find the time, it will be Pinterest.
Warning: the ‘if I write it, the readers will come’ is a great philosophy and it can work in principle, especially with promotion. However, remember that 428 pictures of you stood on a mountain or outside various cathedrals, together with a description of your daily routine will only gather so much interest (unless your daily routine involves getting dressed up as a trans-gender gnome, which has a bit more interest to it). Write with your audience in mind – remembering that you’re there to help them and inform them about your travels, not bore the pants off them – and they should come back for more.
Tip: if you’re looking to manage your social media in one place and schedule social posts in advance, check out Hootsuite. If you really want to go pro, then Sprout Social is pricey but oh so good (there’s a 30-Day free trial if you want to try it first).
8. Get Ready To Become An IT Expert
As I mentioned, my I.T. skills were somewhat lacking when I first started out. Domain names, self-hosting, Search Engine Optimization, 401 re-direction and Google Analytics were all foreign concepts to me (and, on occasions, still feel that way). However, unless you have magically managed to monetize your blog early on, you’re unlikely to want to spend cash on an I.T. expert to do the techie stuff for you.
Blogging is a wonderful activity, whether you choose it as a hobby, career, or something in between, but the plain reality is that behind every blog is a website and in order to run your blog, you need to get to grips with running a website. Depending on your technical dexterity, this can take anywhere from a little to lots of time.
But fear not, I would wholeheartedly say that if I can manage a blog, anyone can. There is plenty of information available online – it’s often just a case of time spent to work things out and, if you have techie friends, don’t forget to call on them. It will be a fair trade, because next time they want to book a trip, all they’ll have to do for destination inspiration, is take a look at your blog.
A word on looking after your kit and your data
I’ve had a hard drive die on me, which makes me pretty belts and braces when it comes to looking after my ‘office equipment’. Here you can find a list of the travel gadgets I wouldn’t travel without.
I use Express VPN to give me a secure network when I’m working in cafes (especially if I’m fiddling around with money). I helps immensely that Express VPN lets me watch Netflix from any chosen country I want – hey, a girl can’t be working all the time (or if you want an alternative, try Total VPN or Pure VPN). And for internet security you might want to check out Avast or AVG.
9. Keep Your Wi-Fi Addiction In Check
I will admit to having turned down an adventure or two through fear I’ll be away from wi-fi or internet for too long…and I realise in hindsight this was a mistake. Part of the beauty of travelling the world is getting off ‘the grid’, out into the backwater, up a volcano, into a valley, onto a hut-dwelling island or other remote place on earth.
If you engage in such activities, you’ll undoubtedly want to blog about them, but don’t worry about connection – a pen, paper and torch-light can serve you well when electricity doesn’t and you’ll be able to commit the experience to the web when you’re back to modern civilization. Take your blog seriously, but don’t let it define your travels.
10. Don’t Expect Your Blog To Pay For Your Trip
‘What do you mean I won’t make thousands of dollars a month from my blog?’ Actually, I’m not saying that you won’t – there are people who do very well off their travel blogs and do sustain their travels off their income. However, it’s important to realise from the outset that those people are in the minority and that most travel bloggers (myself included) need an alternative revenue stream to keep them in dorm bed and ramen.
I write for paying clients, other people trade hostel work for beds, some work part-time as teachers, others live off savings. The important thing to do is manage your expectations. You’re blog is very unlikely to fund your trip from the beginning or even in the short-term and you should plan your budget with that expectation in mind.
Becoming a professional travel blogger
Let’s be honest, many of us who start a blog have the hope or dream of turning it into a profession or at least earn a bit of money or some ‘freebies’ for all the hard work. And while you are unlikely to have your blog play for your trip in the first year of starting out, if you are serious about becoming a professional blogger there are some things you can do.
First of all, you should think about getting some professional training. I paid for a professional course and I would say that move really shifted me out of hobby blogging and put me on the paid blogging path, and I’ve not looked back. One course I’d highly recommend is Travel Blog Success.
I’m a subscribed member and although it is a paid service, membership includes lessons on how to make money online, how to pitch destinations for media trips and grow a worldwide following. And that’s not to mention access to a forum comprising over 800 community members, including some of the industry’s most successful professional-bloggers.
I’m also a member of the Professional Travel Blogger’s Association, which acts as a badge to the industry (and those who you want to work with) that you’re serious about your blogging game. However, note that there are minimum page view requirements before you can join – so there’s your first goal!
And if you’re looking for more inspiration, since writing this post I’ve had the opportunity to spend four days being trained by some of the world’s top travel bloggers. For more tips and things to consider if you want to go Pro-Blogger (a.k.a. make money from your blog), see my related article: 10 Tips On How To Be A Better Blogger – From The Experts
Coming soon – a website dedicated to travel blogging
Update: I’ve been fighting the urge to create a new website dedicated just to the subject of travel blogging…but seeing as that urge is refusing to leave me alone, I decided it was time to put that website together. I’m still in the early stages but it will be a resource with tips to help you get set up in your first 12 months and help you go from newbie to positioning yourself for some decent blogging success. As well as articles giving more tricks and tips, I’ll be putting together an ebook…or short walk-through course…or both.
If you want to find out when that website launches, sign-up below. Don’t worry, I’ll only send you stuff related to travel blogging (unless you’ve already signed up to my Indiana Jo newsletter, in which case you’ll get my travel-stuff too).
What now? Link to your blog in the comments below!
Of course, your next step is to go forth and blog (taking all the above tips into account). But don’t forget to leave a link to your blog below together with a bit about yourself – if nothing else, you’ll pick up at least one new reader (me!).
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