7 Steps For Starting A Successful Travel Blog

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Indiana Jo blogging at the beach.

You’ve decided to start a travel blog? Congratulations! I’ve been blogging since 2010 and in a good year, I can earn over $100,000. It can be a dream career but it’s competitive and there’s a lot to learn. I’ve created this post as a framework and packed it with tonnes of resources. While you can get your blog online quite quickly, mastering it will take longer. Bookmark this page and return when you’re ready to tackle more topics.

I’ve assumed you want to make money from your blog or get sponsored trips. Also, as WordPress and Google are dominant, my tips are geared to those platforms.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Plan your travel blog

I know it’s tempting to get your blog online ASAP but take at least a few hours to plan. Here’s what to consider.

1. Define your purpose

People start travel blogs for different reasons. Is it a hobby blog? Do you want to quit your job and blog full-time? Do you want fame and fortune or a place for your photography and writing? For many, the goal is to make money. That’s a fine pursuit but it’s not really a purpose. A better purpose, more likely to earn you money, is reader-focused i.e. share my amazing travel tips about Los Angeles (and monetise it when I can).

2. Choose a niche

The days of general travel and lifestyle blogs are over. The ones you still see online were typically started years ago. You’ll find it easier to succeed if you launch a new site with a specific niche. How niche? It’s a balancing act. You want it broad enough that you don’t run out of topics but not too broad that it’s too competitive. You also want the scope to expand into related topics. I have a Prosecco Themed site which now includes Italian drinks and cocktail recipes.

3. Research the market

You need to know who your potential competitors are. Type your niche into the internet, see what’s out there and whether there is a gap in the market. In all likelihood, you won’t find a gap (travel blogging is saturated) but don’t be disheartened. Focus on standing out from the crowd. You could write about a destination you know really well. Or maybe you have a particular travel style (rock climbing?). If all you see are huge brands and no blogs on the first few pages of Google, it’s a hyper-competitive niche. You may need to rethink.

4. Consider monetisation models

Most blogs won’t make money for at least a year or two, but it’s worth thinking about monetisation models. The main ways to earn money are: from ads placed on your site, affiliate income from recommending products, hotels or tours, and sponsored deals with brands. Monetisation can be very precarious so it’s good to diversify your income.

5. Think about your Audience

Who is your blog aimed at? Families, honeymooners, backpackers, luxury travellers? How old are they, where do they live, how much do they earn? Once you know your intended audience, write for them – a backpacker won’t need 5-star hotel recommendations. There’s a wonderful synergy if you and your readers are alike e.g. you’re a solo female traveller writing a solo female travel blog. Don’t choose a niche just because it seems profitable. Expertise is important – a married man won’t gain traction in the solo female blogging space.

6. Choose a blog name

There are so many options for your blog name. If you have a niche, including the destination in your blog name can help. If your site is about you, using your own name is a good option. In all cases, make sure your blog name is short, simple, easy to spell and memorable. If I could go back, I wouldn’t use Indiana Jo. Sure, it’s short and fun but it’s regularly confused with Indiana Jones, and people think I’m from Indiana – I’m not!

7. Check domain name availability

A domain name is a website address e.g. indianajo.com and if you’re serious about blogging, you should own your own domain. Buying a domain name is cheap (under $20). You can check if your proposed blog name is available at Namecheap. You want a domain name where the main TLDs (top-level domains) e.g. .com, .net, .org etc are available. This prevents audience and business confusion. Imagine if there was another travel blog at indianajo.net. Bad.

Tip: It’s easier to buy your domain name through your host when you set up your hosting plan and website. That way you can skip some technical steps like changing Nameservers (pointing your domain to your host). If you’re not ready to buy a domain, you can instead get a ‘blog name’ on a free blogging platform e.g. WordPress.indianajo.com or Blogger.indianajo.com.

8. Check your blog name on social channels

Check your blog name is available across social media channels. If you have a super popular name, you might need to adapt it. For some channels, I’m @indianajoblogs. Don’t count on being able to ‘force’ someone to give up an inactive account. I’ve tried. If your blog name is taken across all channels, you may want to think of a new name.

Apple keyboard

Step 2: Set up your website

Setting up a website can be technically challenging. Earmark a few days so you don’t rush the process (and make mistakes). Below, I share my go-to blogging platform, hosts and themes. I’ve set up over 10 websites so these are tried and tested.

9. Choose a blogging platform

Unless you can code, you’re going to need a Content Management System. A CMS is an online blogging platform that lets you build a basic website, add some design elements and update it with content (blog posts and pages). There are several platforms to choose from. By far the most popular is WordPress, which is what I use.

I’ve also tried Blogger, Weebly and Wix, but WordPress is the clear winner. It’s geared for blogging, search engine optimisation (see below) and monetisation. If you want to do more research, here’s a comparison of blogging platforms. Here are the most popular platforms:

  • WordPress
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Wix
  • Blogger
  • Drupal

WordPress.com vs .org: If you go for WordPress, understand that there are two versions – WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com is easier for new bloggers as you’re hosted on the WordPress platform. However, you’ll quickly reach its limits and can’t monetise it very well. WordPress.org requires you to get your own hosting and has a steeper learning curve. However, if you’re serious, start with .org. If you do choose .com, you can migrate later. Here’s a more detailed guide to the differences between WordPress.com vs WordPress.org.

How to set up WordPress? There are loads of WordPress tutorials online but if you do it all in one go via your hosting company, you’ll get a simple 3-step setup: choose hosting, buy a domain, and install WordPress. Doing it separately and tying the elements together is more complex.

10. Buy website hosting

Unless you’re on a blogging platform that will host your site (e.g. wordpress.indianajo.com) you’ll need to buy website hosting. The main thing you need is a WordPress Hosting Plan (assuming you’re going with WordPress). I’ve tried many hosts and these are the three I recommend. They’re all secure, reliable, keep your site running fast, and offer value for money. Plus, they offer a WordPress Hosting Plan.

  • DreamHost is great for starting out. The right balance of price and support with introductory offers.
  • Siteground is great when your blog is growing (or for new bloggers prepared to spend a bit more).
  • BigScoots is for when you’re making some money. It costs around $100 a month but that includes ‘fix-it-for-me’ support. My site is hosted by BigScoots and I couldn’t be happier.

Bluehost: A lot of bloggers recommend Bluehost because they offer brilliant affiliate commissions. Nice for the blogger. Not great hosting for you. Squarespace is also appealing to new bloggers because they bundle together your domain name, hosting, blogging CMS and themes for a monthly fee. It’s tempting but many pro bloggers later move to WordPress for better site speed. Do your research.

11. Connect your domain, blogging platform and host

As I’ve mentioned, if you start with your host, the setup should run smoothly. Step 1: you’ll choose your WordPress hosting plan. Step two: you’ll choose your domain name. After you’ve paid for the hosting and domain, you’ll be guided to Step 3: ‘Install WordPress’. Your host will take you through all the right steps until you’re set up. No tutorials are needed! Tip: keep a secure note of all the various logins and passwords as you go through the process.

12. Design your website layout

With WordPress installed, it’s time to design your site. Frustratingly, out of the box, most websites look nothing like the slick designs you see online. You’re going to have to customise your site. But first, plan what you want your site to look like. Will you have an introductory home page with navigation? What topics (categories) will you cover? Sketch it out so you have an idea of what you want to achieve with your design.

13. Get a lightweight theme

A theme is a stack of code created to help you click, drag and drop a design into place. Most blogging platforms have a ‘theme’ store where you can download pre-designed websites. Choose your theme carefully. If it has too much ‘bloat’ (unnecessary code), your website will start slow and get slower as you add plugins, widgets, images, videos and content. Look for a lightweight theme. Astra, Kadence and Generate Press are consistently three of the fastest. I use Generate Press. They all have free and paid versions.

Tip: DO NOT use a theme with a page builder like Divi or Elementor. I’ve made this mistake. They are super slow and make it very hard to move away from (you have to redo your whole site design). WordPress has its own page page builder – Gutenberg which is generally enough and much faster.

14. Create a brand logo, profile picture and Gravatar

To create a solid online presence, you will want a logo, profile picture and Gravatar account.

  • Designing a logo: Canva is an excellent free resource for creating an initial logo with lots of templates and fonts.
  • Profile picture: choose a picture you like, crop it so it’s mostly just your face and use a relevant image e.g. you travelling rather than you with your Christmas hat on.
  • Gravatar is a ‘globally recognised’ avatar that integrates with your WordPress account (under ‘Users’) and will populate in useful places like blog comments.

15. Don’t prioritise design over content

It’s easy to get lost in perfecting your site design. But don’t let it stop you from blogging. Some of the top blogs have ugly designs but they’re not winning traffic for a pretty home page, they’re pulling in readers for their top-notch content. You’re not going to have many visitors at first, anyway (sorry). It’s okay to start with a site that looks bare and add to it over time.

16. Choose plugins that help not hinder

Plugins are bits of software you can easily install on your website to add functionality. A great plugin can supercharge your site. A bad plugin can leave you with security risks and speed issues. Different blogging platforms call them different things e.g. extensions or widgets. Usually, they sit in a library and you can add them to your heart’s content. Resist. Each plugin has a speed cost which ultimately means an income loss. If there is a good plugin, I’ve included it below.

17. Create essential pages

There are a few essential pages most websites need. These include:

  • Home Page – a blog’s home page used to be a chronological list of posts. Today, most blogs have a static home page. Think of it like your shop window. Fill it with your best stock (popular blogging categories and posts). Add more as you progress. Here’s my Home Page.
  • Contact Page – you can use a plugin like WPForms. Or do what I do on my contact page and just include your email address.
  • About Me Page – this is essential for demonstrating E-E-A-T (basically expertise, more below). You want to give your life story in so far as it’s relevant to your niche. Here’s my About Me page.

Over time, you might want to add more pages like a Work With Me page. I also have a page for a deeper dive into my newsletter and social media. And I have a fun Map of Places I’ve Been.

Difference between pages and posts: Generally, pages stand-alone and don’t change much. It’s where you put the info about yourself. Blog posts are your core content like your travel guides and tips. Posts are organised into categories, include a publication date, and will need updating over time.

18. Understand urls and permalinks

Having a little understanding of urls (a.k.a. permalinks) can go a long way in saving you from trashing your site. What is a url? It’s the website address for your post or page. Example: https://indianajo.com/top-travel-sites/

Important things to know are:

  • choose a good permalink/url structure. Have a simple structure with just the post name and no date. Set this up on day one and don’t change it. See the image above.
  • when you create a post, think hard about the url – make it as short and informative as possible. My url above would have been better as ‘digital-nomad-work-tips’.
  • do not change your url if at all possible and never, ever casually change your permalink structure. Any url change requires you to do an ‘address redirection’ in the same way you would if you moved house. Casually editing the url means nobody will be able to find your original post. Change your permalink structure, and people won’t be able to find any of your posts. This can kill your site in a minute.

Want to learn more? Here’s a detailed guide to changing urls.

Step 3: Get listed on search engines

Getting your site to show up in search engines can give you a massive traffic boost. Here’s how to get listed.

19. Install the Yoast Plugin (or similar)

Getting a website listed and ranking on search engines can be a full-time job (called Search Engine Optimisation, SEO). Fortunately, there are free plugins that will do it for you. On WordPress, Yoast and Rankmath are the two most popular. I use Yoast. Site-wide, these plugins will index and map your blog, add schema and submit it to search engines. On the page, these plugins have checklists for creating optimised content (image below).

Tip: Yoast and Rankmath have easy-to-toggle settings. Be careful! You are ultimately messing with the structure of your site and can easily cause problems without realising it. Ideally, set it and forget it unless you have a specific issue you know that you need to fix.

Yoast SEO boxes to complete on wordpress

20. Learn technical SEO

While SEO Plugins do a fantastic job of holding your hand at the beginning, there’s no substitute for learning about technical SEO. What are indexing, schema and sitemaps? You will need to know more in the long run. When you’re ready these are the best free resources:

21. Set up a Google Search Console account

Want to check your site health or see which posts Google is showing to readers? You need a Google Search Console (GSC) account. While you probably want to focus on creating content first, do get GSC set up so you are collecting data. Here’s how to set up GSC.

22. Connect to Google Analytics

You also want Google Analytics to track your blog traffic. The easiest way to connect to GA is the MonsterInsights plugin, which will walk you through the setup process. I use the free version. You can learn more about Google Analytics with this free GA course.

What’s the difference between Google Search Console and Google Analytics? GSC shows you the technical structure of your site (and any issues like indexing). It also shows you which blog posts Google is showing to readers in search engines. GA, on the other hand, tells you what is happening when people reach your site – which pages they look at, how long they stay on the page and their demographics. GA includes data on readers coming to your site directly, through social or newsletters (GSC doesn’t show this).

Step 4: Create content

Content is the cornerstone of your blog. Yet, creating money-making content isn’t as simple as writing what you like. Here’s how to write content that pays.

23. Learn keyword research

Keyword research can help get your content to the top of search engine page results (SERPS). What is keyword research? It’s a form of SEO that involves using tools to find out what internet users are searching for (keywords/phrases). The best tools give you data on monthly search volumes and how competitive a keyword is. Generally, if a new blogger writes a post about a very competitive topic e.g. things to do in San Francisco, they’re unlikely to feature highly in search engines. However, if they choose to write about a less competitive and more focused keyword e.g. things to do in Gas Lamp Quarter at night, they have more chance of being featured.

There are some free keyword research tools to get started. When you’re ready to invest, Keysearch is the most accurate tool. I have a paid account with SEMRush and a free account with Ahrefs which are both excellent and expensive SEO tools. But neither have accurate keyword data (they use estimates). Keysearch is both better and cheaper (yay!). Keysearch also has the best tutorials for learning keyword research.

24. Focus on reader search intent

It may sound obvious, but you should match your content with the reader’s search intent. For example, if someone searches for ‘how to start a travel blog’, they’re expecting tips about starting a travel blog. If, instead, you tell a personal story about how you decided to start a travel blog because your Mom likes Paris, you’re not matching intent. That’s fine but don’t expect search engines to list your post. The best way to understand search intent is to put the keywords/search query into Google and see the results.

25. Structure your content with headings

As all teachers tell you, structure is key. And when it comes to blog posts, you can easily optimise your blogs by using proper headers. In WordPress, you add ‘Headers’ which are tagged H1, H2 etc. Look at this post. My main title automatically uses an H1 tag (that’s how WordPress is set up). The rest I have inserted as H2 titles. In some posts, I have more sub-headings like H3 and H4. With a proper structure, you help readers and Google understand your content. Here is a good guide for using header tags in WordPress.

26. Use a table of contents

To boost your SEO and make your posts super user-friendly, add a table of contents. I use the free Easy Table of Contents plugin. Not only does it allow readers to jump to the relevant part of your content, Google likes TOCs, and it’s a good way to sense-check your post structure.

27. Include your E-E-A-T

When Google is deciding where to rank posts, it looks for signs of E-E-A-T – Expertise, Authority, Trust and Experience. In practice that means elevating posts from people who know about a topic because they’ve been there and done that. So, if I wrote a blog about health and money, I wouldn’t expect it to do well because I’m not qualified in those fields. However, I do have a wine qualification and run Prosecco tasting tours so my Prosecco site has E-E-A-T.

28. Write awesome, unique content

That might sound vague and obvious but in a saturated internet, it’s important to stand out with good, clear, high-quality content that is unique to you. Writing isn’t everyone’s strong suit. If you struggle to avoid travel cliches or don’t find it easy to put personality into your posts, here are some tips for writing engaging content.

29. Write content in topic clusters

With E-E-A-T in mind, one of the fastest ways to boost your content is to write a cluster of articles about the same destination. Whether it’s a suite of posts about Hawaii or Italy, you’re giving Google a signal that you’re an authority on the topic. And you’re giving readers more articles on the same topic. Write cluster-by-cluster and you stand a better chance of having earlier success.

30. Create a content calendar

Creating a content calendar will help you write content in clusters and achieve consistency. It can also help you pitch for sponsored trips and manage seasonal content (e.g. a post about Christmas Markets), both of which should be done months in advance. I use Trello for creating my visual content calendar, setting tasks and creating blog checklists.

Step 5: Add images and videos

Blogs need visual media as much as they need words. Here’s what I’ve learned about adding media to your posts.

31. Add unique images where you can

A photo is worth a thousand words and adding unique images to your posts is essential – nobody wants to see wall-to-wall text! Plus, adding pictures demonstrates E-E-A-T. If you don’t have good images, you can use free stock photos from places like Unsplash and Creative Commons but your own images are always best.

32. Optimise your images

Properly optimised images help your site run faster, keep your hosting costs lower and mean your images might get indexed in search engines. There are a few steps to follow: upload the right file type, use the right dimensions, compress the image size, and label them well. Here’s a full guide to WordPress Image Optimisation. There are some free plugins to help, as mentioned in the guide.

33. Include the image alt-text

When you upload an image, you’ll notice there is a box called ‘alt-text’. This is used by screen readers for visually impaired readers. Make sure you fill out the ‘alt text’ from the get-go. As well as being inclusive, it’s another signal to Google of a well-done site. Here is a complete guide to Alt Text Best Practice.

34. Consider adding video

While a picture is worth a thousand words, a travel video is worth a thousand pictures. Video creation doesn’t have to be time-consuming – even a photo reel synced to music can boost your post engagement. I use the GoPro Quik App for quickly stitching together video clips I’ve taken on my iPhone. You can see some of my videos on YouTube. Vitally, these videos can be monetised with ads.

Step 6: Promote your content

It’s good to have traffic from other sources than just search engines. Here are the best ways to increase visitors.

35. Post on social media

Social media can be a great way to promote your content and brand. Unfortunately, most channels want you to ‘pay to play’ i.e. buy advertising space. Consequently, you don’t get a lot for free, but you should milk the free option for all you can! On channels like Facebook and X, it pays to share content that is a mix of your own posts, general chat and other relevant articles. Instagram and TikTok is all about you.

36. Focus on your favourite social channels

Being active on every social platform is exhausting. You can either outsource it to an assistant or choose your preferred platforms and work them well. My favourites are Pinterest for visuals and Facebook because I like micro-blogging. Instagram is good for photos and videos (TikTok and YouTube are also videos). Experiment but I always come back to the channels I personally use the most.

37. Think about social monetisation

Many influencers monetise their social channels through sponsorship, brand collaborations and affiliate marketing. Strategise! My monetisation model is ad revenue. For that, I need people to click through to my site. Since more of my readers click from Pinterest and Facebook compared to Instagram, that’s where I focus. Tip: don’t build your business on someone else’s land. I’ve read horror stories of influencers kicked off channels for one wrong move, their entire income gone in a flash. Be active on social, but run your own platform, too.

38. Decide based on the data

Using Google Analytics, check which social channels are bringing traffic – likes do not necessarily translate to website clicks. As well as GA, all social platforms offer free business-level analytics for measuring which posts perform. Tip: Pinterest is a good long game. It’s the only channel that regularly brings traffic from pins I created years ago.

39. Use a scheduling tool

Social media algorithms like to be fed regularly. Waiting until you have a pithy quote or great selfie won’t wash. Get those posts lined up using a scheduler. There are lots of free and paid tools. I use the free Meta Business suite for Facebook and Instagram posts.

40. Keep readers with related posts

The people already on your site are the best people to promote to. Using a plugin like YARP (Yet Another Related Post Plugin), you can create a reel of further posts for your readers to hop to. Be aware that lists are automatically generated and won’t be perfect. See the image below: the ‘related’ content is a mix of Africa, Asia and Italy. So, don’t use them as your only tool (see internal linking).

related post screenshot with images

41. Add internal links to your content

If you’ve got two related posts, make sure you link from one to another. Continue this as your site expands, creating a web of relevant internal links. This is a hugely successful SEO strategy as it helps Google understand your website. It also gives readers somewhere else to click once they’re finished. There is a whole strategy to it so here’s a great guide to internal linking.

42. Put your social accounts on your site

Social media traffic is a two-way street. You want people to come to your blog from your social channels, and you also want your readers to go over and follow your social accounts. To place quick links, I use the free plugin Social Icons Widget.

43. Set up a newsletter subscription

Start collecting subscribers early on. There are lots of email subscription services to use. The most popular free options for new bloggers are Mailerlite and Mailchimp. Tip: set up double opt-in to send a confirmation email. This filters out spam email addresses. Once you’ve got an account, you can add a sign-up box to your website (generate the box within Mailerlite or Mailchimp – they have full instructions).

44. Tell people IRL

Facebook once suggested I pay $50 to ‘boost’ my post to 11 more people. I would have reached more people by standing in the street and shouting. And therein lies a strategy. Get promoting. In the pub, at the gym, tell your hairdresser, remind your aunties. Every trip I go on, I leave business cards scattered around, slap branded stickers on walls and dispense travel tips like an expert. Cost: free (apart from the business cards).

Step 7: Site security and protection

The worst time to pay attention to site security is when things go wrong. Spend half a day now making your blog secure.

45. Get spam protection

Aksimet is a free plugin that filters spam from the comments section of your site. Install it and keep it updated. Be aware that not all spam is filtered so you will have to do some manual policing. As a general rule, if there is a link in the comments, it’s probably spam. Delete. You have to pay Akismet once you start making money but the fee is small.

46. Make sure your site is backed-up

Good hosting companies will keep a regular backup of your site but check the details. How often do they do it and how long is it kept? My host backs up my site but in the past, I paid for a backup plugin by Vaultpress. I had to do a reinstall after a developer screwed up some stuff and I was very grateful to be able to roll back a day. If you’re keeping costs low, there are some free plugins. Here’s a good comparison of WordPress Backup options.

47. Add a privacy policy

Privacy is a hot issue online and while each country’s rules are different, you’re almost certainly going to need a privacy policy. Don’t worry, there are plenty of templates online that you can use. Find a resource for your country. I use Rocket Lawyer here in the UK. As a minimum, there is a free WordPress Privacy Policy that you can install on set-up.

48. Use a cookies opt-in plugin

As well as a privacy policy, you’re going to need a Cookies Opt-In plugin. You see them on every site for a reason (it’s the law). Mine is managed by my ad network, Mediavine. However, here is a comparison of Cookie Opt-In Plugins. Do test it on your site as so many of them cause UX (user experience) issues. When you have a minute take time to understand how your site collects data about your readers, how it’s stored, and your legal obligations. Here’s a guide to Internet Cookies.

Let me see your site!

I couldn’t possibly end this post with the legal rules of Cookie opt-ins. And anyway, I want to see the product of all your hard work. Drop a comment below with your website and I’ll be sure to hop over and have a look. I also want your feedback. Would you like to read more tips? Do you want a printable checklist or content planner template? Let me know.

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A little credit to some of the bloggers I started out with: Sateless SuitcaseFoodieTownThe Occasional TravellerBeatriceBP.comTravel AddictsHelen in Wonderlust.

Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.