Readers often ask me how to start a travel blog so I wanted to finally give my proverbial two cents. Granted, I am not a professional travel blogger- while I do make some money from my blog, I earn the bulk of my income from freelance writing.
But starting a travel blog is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Through my blog I’ve formed a network of friends around the world, improved my writing and photography and secured freelance writing jobs (every freelance job I’ve gotten was through this blog!).
Many travel bloggers discourage others from starting a travel blog but I love having one. But I will say this- DO NOT start a travel blog intending to make money.
If you’re starting a blog solely to make money, start a beauty blog. A DIY blog. A mommy blog. (Or better yet, don’t start a blog and look for a high-paying job!) As far as blogging goes, travel blogging is not even close to being one of the lucrative niches.
Blogging is not for everyone. But if you have a sincere love for writing, compiling lists, taking photos and spending an inordinate time on your laptop, travel blogging might be for you.
Read other travel blogs for a few weeks before buying your domain name.
Before you commit to a domain name, read other travel blogs. (Here is a list of my favorite blogs if you need inspiration.) Figure out what appeals to you- and what doesn’t. Pay attention to the little things like theme designs, commenting systems (Disqus v. CommentLuv) and About Me pages.
In retrospect I really wish I had done this- I jumped into blogging without knowing much about travel blogging and without a true branding for my site.
Speaking of branding, take time to brainstorm a creative domain name that really reflects who you are and what your site is about. Here’s Adventurous Kate’s guide to naming your travel blog.
Frankly I have no idea why anyone uses any other blog platform. The great thing about WordPress is that it’s infinitely adaptable- by installing Plugins you can create a unique site tailored to your tastes. And plus- it’s free!
As Nomadic Matt said,”If WordPress is good enough for the New York Times, it is good enough for you.”
Self-host your WordPress site.
It’s best to self-host your domain name (i.e. ashleyabroad.com rather than ashleyabroad.wordpress.com). This looks much more professional and gives you more control over your own site.
All you have to do is buy your own domain name and hosting package from a website hosting service. I use Hostgator for my hosting and couldn’t be happier with it- my site rarely, if ever, has problems and Hostgator has a chat feature that allows you to quickly troubleshoot site problems with representatives.
Here’s a great guide from ShoutMeLoud on how to install WordPress on Hostgator.
Buy a theme.
Unless you’re a code-writing whizz who builds websites in their sleep, you’re better off buying a theme.
I bought mine at ElegantThemes.com and am somewhat happy with it. One downside with ElegantThemes is the posting questions into the forum is a slow process- I wish that ElegantThemes had a live chat option like HostGator. I also dislike ElegantThemes’s annual billing system- I’d rather pay once and be done with it.
If I could do it all over again, I would probably go for the Thesis theme from DIY Themes*. It looks elegant and is supposed to be really easy to use.
*Note- one of my readers bought Thesis and notified me that it’s actually quite difficult to use if you don’t know coding, so it may not be the best choice for a beginner blogger!
Start social media accounts.
Upon launching my blog I also created a Facebook page, StumbleUpon account, Pinterest account and Twitter account, and now I also use Instagram. Out of these I’ve found that using just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is plenty- and I’ve found Twitter is especially useful for networking.
Also, be consistent with your branding across social media platforms: i.e. Facebook.com/AshleyAbroad, Instagram.com/AshleyAbroad, etc. It looks professional and is simpler for everyone.
Create a Gravatar account and comment on other blogs.
Spread the word about your site is by commenting on other blogs. First, create a Gravatar with a photo and description. This is helpful because it allows for your photo and description to come up when you comment. It’s also a good idea to write your name like, “Chris from Chris’ Travels”, for more visibility.
Commenting is also one of the best ways to connect with other travel bloggers, and as some of my closest friends are travel bloggers, I can’t help but recommend it!
Guest post on other blogs.
Another great way to promote your site. Here is a link to my guest posts on other blogs and websites.
Write well- and don’t forget about spelling and grammar!
Good travel bloggers remember that blog posts should not read like a travel diary. Anything that sounds like, “So I woke up this morning and had eggs and then met this cool girl Sarah” has me lunging for the “x”.
Write useful blog posts that other people will want to read and share. Useful could mean entertaining, informative or emotionally moving- just try to ensure that others will find value in what you’re posting.
And don’t forget spelling and grammar. I use the built-in spell check function on WordPress and always double-check the copy several times before publishing. (Though some readers have commented that I make typos once in a while- my apologies!)
And poor grammar can derail otherwise high-quality writing- sentences like “I should’ve went” or “I could of done” make me shudder. For grammar I like Grammarly’s free grammar checker- my memory of AP Style is diminishing and it’s so helpful to have an automated checker remind me that it’s a.m. not AM.
Post prolifically… at least at the beginning.
When I started Ashley Abroad, I worked obsessively for about 12 hours a day for three months. I posted 3-4 times a week, emailed bloggers I admired, guest posted on as many blogs as possible, tweaked my site design constantly and read countless blog posts, articles and books on how to blog successfully.
That initial effort was so, so necessary, and so worth it. 18 months later, I still work hard on my site- I try to post 2-3 times a week and keep up all social media- but I definitely labored way more at the beginning.
If you’re just starting out, read this super helpful post from Nomadic Samuel: How To Create A Successful Travel Blog In Your First Year Of Blogging. It gave me a lot of motivation as a beginner blogger.
Don’t just write about travel.
To be honest I think a lot of travel writing is tired. I’ve moved away from, “What I did in [Insert Exotic Place]” to more personal topics like navigating life as a twenty-something and the downsides of long-term travel.
I think personal posts are cathartic to write as well as helpful to read. There’s nothing more helpful when you’re fighting through a dark time than to realize someone else has the same problems, from break-ups to weight gain to moving abroad.
Don’t forget- readers want to know who you are, not just where you went.
Take better photos (and resize them!)
To take great photos you don’t need a fancy dSLR- an iPhone or other smartphone will work just fine.
When I started my blog I read Bethany Salvon’s beginner photography guide, Getting out of Auto. It was so helpful! I keep on hand and reread from time to time to refresh my photography knowledge.
Also, photo editing goes a long, long way- I used to use Picasa but now I use Adobe Lightroom which I got on sale for $100. For me it was a great investment that has really made a difference in my photos.
Also it’s best to resize your images before uploading them so that your web pages load faster- I resize to 600 pixels but a lot of blogger resize to 640 or 800 pixels. (P.S. you can easily resize imagines in Picasa or Lightroom using the Export option.)
Be original + be an expert.
My blog gained traction because it was a little unique; I wrote about the experience of living with a French family in Paris. When starting a blog resist the urge to be a jack of all trades; be an expert in something, whether that be yoga in India, scuba-diving in Thailand or working abroad in Australia.
The best way to do this (and this may be slightly drastic) is to live abroad for your first year of travel blogging. Now hear me out- by living abroad you will not only become an expert at something, you will also have time to run a blog (blogging on the road is awful). And you will also have a primary income and won’t be relying on travel blogging!
Figure out what your readers enjoy reading.
I find my most popular posts fit into one of three categories: Informative posts (i.e. How to Become an Au Pair), personal/emotional posts (Why I Honestly Came to Bali, Remembering My First Love- South America) and life-as-a-twenty-something musing posts (Is It Smart to Travel Young?).
The only way to figure out what your readers like is by trial and error. As you become more experienced you’ll learn which post ideas are duds and which are worth fleshing out.
WordPress Plugins I Love:
Akismet, All in One SEO Pack, CommentLuv, Google Analytics for WordPress, Jetpack by WordPress.com, nRelate related content, Simple Social Icons, Simply Instagram, WP Slimstat, WordPress Database Backup
Other plugins I use but installed a long time ago and kind of forget what they do: Disable Trackbacks, Google XML Sitemaps, Yoast Breadcrumbs, W3 Total Cache, No Self Pings
A few more notes:
A lot of readers ask me how long it took me to make money from blog advertising. I got my first ad money about six months into blogging. For more info on how to monetize your travel blog I’d high recommend Nomadic Matt’s Guide, How to Make Money with your Travel Blog- it’s what I read when I was first starting out. Also, I never reach out to advertisers- they email me and we go from there.
Do you have a travel blog? What tips do you have for beginner bloggers?
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