It’s been almost five years since I started this blog. I can barely believe it. When have I ever committed to anything that long?
I could have never imagined when I created “Memoirs of a Young Adventuress” on Blogspot that it would take me around the world, help me follow my dreams and get me paid to travel.
Which goes to show you, anything is possible, guys.
I get a lot of messages over the years asking anything and everything (seriously the range is astonishing) something that has popped up over and over again is “so, um, how do I do what you do?” Basically how to start a blog.
While that could mean a million plus things, I assume it’s how to start a blog AND make money. Hey, I do both of those! And while I am not sure I’m the best person to ask since I’m terrible at anything technical, I have definitely learned how NOT to start a blog from 5 years of trial and error.
So without further ado, here are my 10 best tips for starting a successful, kickass travel blog!
1. Pick a really good name
It’s all in a name. Seriously, it really is. In today’s world, more or less everyone has the attention span of a toddler. You have about 2 seconds to make it count – pick a damn good memorable name the defines what your blog is all about.
If you want my advice, and you are looking to break into the travel blogger community, avoid the following words if possible:
How do I phrase this? They are taken. They are oversaturated. They’re unoriginal and boring. They’ve been claimed by top serious bloggers already who have been established for years and years. When I am introduced to a new blogger with one of these words in their blog name, I usually forget what they are called before the conversation is even over.
I know I am sounding really harsh here and obviously there are exceptions, but the reality is there are thousands of people trying to “make it” as a travel blogger. You have got to stand out.
You also have to remember that your name is your brand, so if you include words like “backpacker” or “budget” you’ve just pigeonholed yourself into traveling cheap for a long time! No 5 star free hotels for you my friend. Travel styles change and evolve, so be very cautious and remember that.
Pick an interesting blog name, pick one that defines your goals and aspirations as a travel blogger. Pick something different and unique, and definitely memorable. And make sure you pick something that can travel with you over the years because once you’re in the game, it’s really really hard and expensive to do a rebranding and renaming of your blog.
So for example if you start a blog while you’re an expat in New Zealand or Spain, but you plan on moving around later on, don’t put the countries in the title of your blog.
And for god’s sake please pick a name that reads well, especially squashed together into a website URL.
2. Host your blog
Hosting whaaaaaat? If you are technically challenged like me, here is where you start to get confused. Don’t worry though, if you set up through Bluehost, which I recommend you do, as it’s cheap and easy and painless, you can’t mess it up. And they let you do your domain name and everything, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Everyone has to host – hosting your blog means you’re paying for your own slice of internet real estate, everyone has to do it. Enjoy it while it’s cheap – I shouldn’t complain but once you get up there in traffic, it gets a hell of a lot more expensive to host. Grumble. Grrr. Sob.
And I can tell you from personal experience that Hostgator SUCKS and who would ever use GoDaddy after those scarring Superbowl commercials?
First you will go through step by step to set up your hosting with Bluehost.
Step 1 – click on that green button that says “get started now.”
Step 2 – pick a plan
Step 3 – check to see if your kickass blog name (domain name) that you thought up is free and available. If not, go back to step 1 and rebrainstorm a better name. Remember, you probably want a .com name and you really want it to be something that people will remember.
If you’ve already bought a domain name on another site, you can switch it over.
Step 4 – chose your package info.
I’d register your blog for at least a year – I’m on year 5. Domain privacy protection will keep nosy people from seeing your personal information about hosting your blog. Obviously, you will want to back up your blog, but you can do that with plugins.
I don’t know what Google Apps for work means but Google doesn’t need anymore money, so I would skip that.
Aaaaand done! How easy was that? So much less painless than when I did it.
3. WordPress all the way
Why was my blogging start so painful? Because I made a colossal fuck up by choosing to use Blogspot over WordPress in 2010.
Why Liz WHY?!
If you know zero things about how blogging works technically, I suggest you make some blog tech savvy friends immediately who can save your ass over and over and over the years (cough cough Michael Tieso cough cough).
I don’t want to go into the details, but if you trust me (which you shouldn’t) avoid Blogspot like the plague. Pretty much everyone uses WordPress so it’s a really valuable platform to know how to use for website stuff, and if you manage to screw things up a lot like me, everyone id familiar with the platform and you don’t need a specialist. Plus you can do pretty much anything with WordPress, which you can’t on Blogspot. And also, Blogspot is for 16 year old beauty and fashion bloggers from the UK. It looks unprofessional. Avoid.
Once you’ve registered with Bluehost, you can login to your control panel under “Website Builders” and install WordPress with just one click. Follow the steps to set it up, install it to your domain (your new website URL) and you’re good to go.
From there you will login to your blog from www.myoriginaltravelblog.com/wp-admin
Again, so much less painful than trying to switch a blog from Blogspot to WordPress.
4. Pick a theme and collect some plugins
Finally, the fun part, making your blog look awesome – pick a theme! WordPress has heaps of free themes you can use here. Otherwise once you get going, my advice is spend a little to get a really good theme.
I really like Woo Themes – and I use Woo Canvas, which I’ve been really happy with.
A wise friend of mine once told me when I shifted my site to WordPress that “plugins aren’t Pokemon cards, you don’t have to collect them all.”
Remember that folks.
Too many plugins cause too many problems. Here are a few of my basic recommendations:
- Askimet – protects you from spam
- Digg Digg – floating sidebar for social shares
- WP smush.it – shrinks file sizes
- FB social widget
- Yoast – the BEST SEO plugin out there
- W3 Total Cache – will help your site run faster
5. Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics is the industry measure for traffic on your blog. How many people visit your site a month, where they are from, where they are coming from, it’s all in there. It’s the standard tracker for website analytics worldwide.
You need to set up a Google Analytics account for your blog.
From there you can track your stats month to month and eventually this numbers are what you will use when you are pitching brands and tourism boards.
And don’t worry, 2.5 years ago when I attended my first travel blogging conference ever, TBEX Girona in Spain, I remember sitting at the buffet lunch with someone talking about Google Analytics and I had zero idea what that was. I was just using the counter that came with my Blogspot blog.
And look where I am now. It’s proof that if I can do it, you can do it.
6. Nab your social media handles
Publishing on WordPress is only one part of travel blogging, the other part is social media. You can’t avoid it. We live in a digital world where information is being shared online in realtime. Anyone who doesn’t get this is not living in the real world.
So once you have your name sorted, you’ll want to grab up the corresponding social media accounts for them.
- Facebook Page (not personal profile)
- Google +
What you chose to focus on is up to you. That depends on the kind of content you will be producing, what you’re interested in, ect. But it’s a good idea to nab up all the names just in case your focus changes over the years. You can just sit on it in the meantime.
My advice is play around with them all, download the apps on your phone, and then just naturally see where you are drawn and where you are interested in sharing content, and focus on that. Also, if you really want my opinion, I would focus on Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. Those three are the biggest, fastest growing social media channels at the moment. If you want to get ahead of the game, join them and be active on them.
Image source here
7. Join Travel Blog Success
I’ve written about blogging in the past here and there when I felt like I had relevant ideas and thoughts to contribute to the community, but in general, that is not the point of my blog. However, one of my most popular posts this year was how I make money as a travel blogger (my second most popular question of all time) where I touched on this a bit.
However, if you are really serious about building a travel blog that will lead to work and getting paid to travel the world, I really suggest joining Travel Blog Success.
TBS is a community of very experienced and up and coming bloggers who are positive, helpful people looking out for travel blogging as whole. We all help each other.
It’s the only travel blogging group that I am active in, so if you ever want my advice on anything, you will find it here. There are amazing forums and a secret FB group where you can ask anything you want without fear of judgement or hostility, and a series of courses that you can work through to help build you blog from the ground up to pitching your first press trips. There are webinars on so many different topics from experts in their fields to help you – I’ve given an hour long webinar with all my Instagram secrets in it.
And I can’t say too much yet, but there are some exciting things happening in the Travel Blog Success community in the next few months that I am deeply involved in, so it’s a good time to join!
Also I might as well mention here, if you really want help and to keep your blog running strong, I suggest getting your site managed by a professional. These are the guys who keep your blog updated and running smoothly, who fix things when you break them, back up your site, and save your life when your site goes down, etc. Right now I am using Performance Foundry which is run by a blogging friend of mine and couldn’t be happier – for me it’s worth every penny.
8. Create a solid “About Me” page
I have been meaning to update my About Me page for 2 years. Don’t go look at it. For an awesome example, check out Jodi’s from Legal Nomads instead here.
I am mentally chiding myself as I write this BUT I am saying it for you guys – the About Me page is likely one of the first pages people will click on when they land on your site. Make it count.
9. Don’t be a sell out
Once you start blogging and delving into this weird community of people who live out of backpacks around the world who you may or may not meet one day and who may or may not look like their Twitter profile pictures, you will realize there is a huge range of styles, passions, niches, genres, philosophies, business models, and well, ethics AS WELL AS a huge amount of people online looking to take advantage of you.
But don’t worry, it’s all part of the game.
If you want my advice, you need to remember one simple thing – your blog is your baby. Don’t give it away to strangers, don’t let just anyone play with it. It’s precious.
You’re going to get heaps of emails from people asking you for the moon and back. Tell them all to fuck off.
Unless it’s something that is super relevant to your blog or you see benefiting YOU somehow, ignore that shit. Or if you think they are decent, then tell them to kindly fuck off. People will be asking you for links on your blog, tell them no. Well, tell them $1000 then say no. You just link to the things you find relevant and important when and where you want. That’s what the gods at Google like.
Gaming the system doesn’t work guys.
Don’t give people things for free. It sets a terrible precedent for you and for the travel blogging community as a whole. We need to work together and not undermine each other.
One day you will get invited on cool trips. You will get offered “free” stuff. Say no to the things that don’t fit your blog and your niche. Don’t just take it because it’s free. The more selective you are, especially early on, the better your blog will be in the future.
Don’t sell out.
You will find that people will want to pay you in “exposure,” and as a newbie blogger, that’s exactly what you are looking for which is understandable. I did the same thing. My advice is don’t be an exposure whore – be picky and chose things that will ACTUALLY bring you exposure, not some random spammy podunk travel site doing a blogger list based in Israel.
I’ve been featured on pretty much every major news and travel outlet in the world, and you know what actually brought me traffic and new readers? It wasn’t National Geographic. It wasn’t Forbes. It wasn’t the Travel Channel.
It was Buzzfeed. It was Reddit. And it was the BBC. So really focus on the things that will actually bring you readers who will stick around and become part of your community.
10. Start creating and sharing amazing content
Finally, my most important point – create things that you are passionate about.
If you’re a photographer, share your best photos. Create tutorials to help non-photographers take better pictures. If you like making videos, make Youtube your blogging platform. Experiment.
If you’re a writer, share your stories, tell your tales, don’t worry about being wordy. Find your voice and run with it. Don’t copy other bloggers or travel magazines, be yourself! Blogs are all about you – don’t take the “you” out of it.
At the end of the day, people usually say it takes at least a year for you to start making money travel blogging. I blogged for 2 years for fun. 1 year working towards being able to do it full-time, and I’ve been doing it full-time for two years since.
It is SO MUCH WORK, I can’t even begin to explain how much work goes into this. You have to love it. Passion is what is going to drive you and keep you going, especially in the beginning when you aren’t even being paid for it. So protect that passion and run with it.
Create the best content possible. Good luck!
Do you have a travel blog? Are you interested in blogging? Have any questions?