Start A Travel Blog? 10 Things I Wish I’d Known

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.

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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.

A comparison of a few blogging platforms by BBC.

In a bit more detail: Blogger versus WordPress.com from makeuseofus.com

Whether to go with WordPress.com (free and hosted) or WordPress.org (paid of self-hosting but more whizzy) by Problogger.net

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
  • iPhone
  • Portable External Hard Drive (2TB for all those photos)

You can read about the 10 travel gadgets I wouldn’t travel without here.

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

start a travel blog

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.

You might want to check out my articles on How to Work and Travel (without Going Insane) – part 1 and part 2.

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.

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, I like Buffer for its simplicity. And for Pinterest I use Tailwind and if you sign up with this link, you’ll get $15 off.

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

Start A travel Blog

‘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.

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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!).

If you like this, you might also like:

15 Best WordPress Plugins for Blogs

20 Tips for How to Work and Travel Without Going Insane (Part 1)

20 Tips for How to Work and Travel Without Going Insane (Part 2)

Transitioning from Gap Year to Long Term Travel and the Challenges in Between

Why I Don’t Regret Quitting my Job to Travel

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start a travel blog

Photo credits: Keep calm

324 thoughts on “Start A Travel Blog? 10 Things I Wish I’d Known”

  1. Hello dear
    Love the inspirational list! Envious of these bloggers. Would love to start my own soon!
    I am confused over blogger and WordPress. Since, blogger is free and it also allows affiliated links along with adsense so i am a little hesitant about WordPress. Since WordPress has more plugins and i can host my blog and there is no threat as google slap in case of blogger. But rest every thing i can do on the blogger like having custom domain name etc.Thank you for posting such a good article.

    Reply
    • Hi Astura, taking the first step can seem daunting but you should go for it. The main difference between WordPress self hosted and the free options you mention is control. At the beginning this will matter less but if you goal is to monetise your site, you will eventually want WP hosted. There’s nothing stopping you trying blogger now and moving later. It depends whether you want to spend the time learning one platform then moving to another. If you do want to try it first, I’d try WordPress (free) which will be easier to jump up than crossing platforms. Good luck.

      Reply
  2. Hi,
    Thanks for this! It was very helpful! I recently started a travel blog but been a bit slow on the content front! Also, I need to start using Pinterest!
    Would love if you can check my blog and share your thoughts : talesandmiles

    Reply
    • Hi Tejaswi, Ive just checked it out – I love the clean design. I’d just focus on getting a bit more consistent on your posting dates. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Hey, this was super awesome and helpful! I am actually launching my travel blog today and so I’m learning new things everyday, but this was extremely helpful! Come check me out at Dianni Travels

    Reply
  4. Marvelous work!. Blog is brilliantly written and provides all necessary information I really like this site. Thanks for sharing this useful post.

    Reply
  5. Thanks, Jo – what a thorough and helpful post! Having recently started my own travel blog, I really appreciate the candid view of the hard work that goes into it (my learning curve was rather steep as well). I definitely struggle with the tension between “writing just to write something” and “writing something I care about writing.” So far, I’ve elected to follow the latter because I have to write about what inspires me which is probably not the best for SEO and traffic, but it is what it is. 🙂 Not so good at the drip feed, either: “Here, let me throw up on the page for all of you with everything in my head.” Ha. I’m going to keep this post handy – the links will be helpful as my blog grows!

    M Blake ( late flight out . com)

    Reply
    • Hi Blake, I’ve just stopped by your site – it’s looking good! Almost 10 years after starting my blog, I still struggle to find the balance between writing for humans versus robots. Good luck with the blog and travels.

      Reply
  6. Hey Jo,

    Thank you for writing this article! It’s still relevant for all starting bloggers despite the niche they’ve chosen. I like your flow with words and I’d like to include you in an expert roundup about blogging. If you’re interested, I’d send you the details via email. If you even have the time, I’d be more than happy to do an interview with you about travel blogging.

    Reply
  7. I just wanted to say thank you for this really helpful article. I’m just starting out with my blog, cool footing. com

    I need all the help I can get, it really is a steep learning curve.

    Reply
    • Hi Anastasia, I’ve just popped over to your site. It looks good and you have an amazing 2019 of travel lined up. My only suggestion is to either compress your front page image as it takes a while to load. Good luck with the blog.

      Reply
  8. Thank you for this wonderful article! I have recently started blogging (or restarted it rather and more seriously) as a means to scratch that writing itch and to also promote my published book/s.

    My blog is family friendly and has stories and observations from my traveling with my young kids, along with kids book reviews as well, as travelling and reading are two of my favourite things.

    I’m like you as well, not all that IT-savvy, but have had to learned to manage my website very quickly. It was a steep and frustrating learning curve and even now, I don’t think I’m using the full functionality of Squarespace.

    My blog link: storymummy . com

    Reply
    • Hi Story Mummy, well done on picking up the blog again and on the books. Keep climbing up that IT learning curve. I’m still doing it every day.

      Reply
  9. Your travel blog information help me alot to write about travel ,it’s give such a great information which is very helpful.thanks for sharing such a grate ideas.

    Reply
  10. A huge Thank you, Jo! I came across on your blogging post through Pinterest which has prompted me to make the commitment to (finally) learn from my readings (noting I’ve been reading ‘how to guides on blogging forever’! It seems I’ve stumbled along with my blog but fall short of the end goal (financial sustainability) so will make a concerted effort to sort that and download Sharon’s ebook! Thanks for the tips! My blog has a strong Aussie focus, with a number of posts featuring the Northern Territory.

    Reply
    • Hi Ann, I hope the blog is going well. It’s great to have a very niche focus. I recently started a niche site focused on a specific part of Italy and I’m finding my engagement is much higher. Good luck.

      Reply

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