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…and I’m not even from Indiana), 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, snapchat, 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!
Picking a blog name – I see lots of comments in forums from new bloggers that ‘all the best names are taken’. They’re not. That’s the beauty of creativity. You don’t need the words travel or wanderlust in your name. Have a beer with friends and do some brainstorming. I bet you stumble across the best name. Ever.
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. 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, 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
And, updated for 2017, check out the comparison chart from MakeAWebsiteHub as well as a brilliant summary of the pros and cons of the latests blogging platforms.
What about 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, Blue Host is one of the most affordable and best value for money hosts out there and a very popular starting point for new bloggers.
Companies I would suggest you avoid (which I’ve used and 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.
4. Pack The Right Kit
I confess to being a bit of a techno junkie. 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 love my Sony Nex, now the Sony Alpha because it’s the right combo of high quality shots thanks to manual functionality and interchangeable lenses, but with great portability (I can fit it in my handbag).
- 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, snapchat on the move etc) so 4G mobile connection can become important. I currently manage mobile connection via my iPhone and mobile wi-fi (with varying degrees of success).
Top 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. Although I own a Macbook Air, you don’t need to invest in expensive kit to get started.
Here’s what I travel with:
- Macbook Air
- Sony Nex
- Portable External Hard Drive (2TB for all those photos)
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 of the most popular courses is Superstar Blog Course.
Created by Nomadic Matt (one of the biggest travel blogs out there – and one that earns six figures) and a few other top bloggers, check out the Superstar Blog course. If you’re serious about making money from your travel blog, this course it packed full of practical tips that will get you up and running and, more importantly, earning money from your passion.
Want more? Check out these 10 Tips On How To Be A Better Blogger – this is the stuff I’ve gleaned from spending a weekend with some of the most successful travel bloggers in the business.
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 post 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. And that’s without any of the money making stuff like pitching brands and affiliate marketing. 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 used to post twice a week and I got into a good rhythm but it was too time consuming. These days I post one longer article and spend the rest of the time on marketing and pitching.
To publish once a week when I’m on the road, I try to work in the morning and do sightseeing in the afternoon. If I’m out for a whole day one day, I make up for it with a whole-day in the ‘office’ (a café/my hotel room/hammock). The rest of the time I will grab opportunities 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.
Updated for 2019:
In the past 7 years I’ve knee-jerked from one piece of advice to another, following social media platforms as they rise and fall, and losing valuable time in the process. I also spent my early blogging years using no social media, which was equally doomed because with one Google algorithm change, I lost half my traffic overnight.
Here’s what I’ve learned about promoting my blog:
- You’re going to have to experiment and find what works for you – but don’t do this casually. Get Google Analytics set up (free course here) and monitor where your traffic is coming from.
- Find the social media platforms that work for you – it’s not great secret that it will probably be the platforms you enjoy using. For me, that’s Pinterest. For a lot of people, it’s Instagram. Facebook used to be number one for bloggers but these days you get very little promotion on Facebook unless you pay. Which brings me on to…
- Be aware that we’re moving into a pay-to-play world. So, pick your favourites but diversity. When Facebook stopped sharing posts that you didn’t pay to advertise, many bloggers were furious. Enjoy the ad-free platforms while you have them but don’t build your future on them.
- Don’t waste time on the ones that don’t work for you – yes, social media numbers are something you’ll need to grow, so start growing a base of followers on the main platforms but if a channel isn’t giving you clicks or getting you paid gigs, why waste your time on it? Focus on your strengths.
- Go for organic growth – Instagram is awash with people touting six and seven figure follower numbers. Look closely and you’ll find most of those followers were bought to give the Instagrammer social proof. But brands and followers are getting smart to this, and they don’t like being duped. It’s a slower process but organic and engaged trumps big and bought.
- And leaving the most important for last – learn search engine optimisation. A facebook post might get you some traction on Thursday but a post that shows up in Google search on page 1 is going to bring you a lot more traffic in the long term. Here’s a good place to start.
These days I focus my efforts on SEO and Pinterest and I’ve had posts go viral on each of them. I play around on facebook and Instagram but they are not where my strengths lie so why bother investing energy to become mediocre in a space that’s already hyper competitive? Play to your strengths.
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 purple 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. Most bloggers love it. Personally, I prefer Buffer for its simplicity. And for Pinterest I use Tailwind and if you sign up with this link, you’ll get $15 off.
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.
Data security on the road
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 Nord 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 (Moleskine notebooks are the perfect size) 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…Immediately
‘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 that these things do not happen overnight and at least at first you’ll probably need an additional revenue stream.
Some people write content for paying clients, others trade hostel work for beds, some work part-time as teachers, others live off savings or do myriad online jobs like webdesign and translation. 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.
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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Photo credits: Keep calm