Lately I’ve been getting more and more questions from people about how to start a travel blog, so I thought I’d begin share some of my experiences.
It’s often said and I’ll repeat it here: travel blogging is not easy. Honing your writing style and gaining an audience takes a lot of time. Fortunately, starting a travel blog does not take much time at all, nor does it take any technical expertise. In this post I will tell you how to start a travel blog, and how to do so properly so you won’t be getting into any frustrating issues later.
First: what is your goal?
It’s a good idea to ask yourself now what your ambitions are for your travel blog. Are you starting a travel blog just to post diary entries to share with your family? Or is it a fun way to improve your writing? Maybe you dream of turning your travel blog into something serious down the line (and actually making money with it).
Many people actually don’t really know the answer to this at the start, and that’s okay. Maybe your travel blog will always remain a personal blog, maybe it’ll become a hobby-with-benefits or a portfolio piece, or maybe it will turn into your dream job. I essentially started Indie Traveller on a whim myself, not knowing I’d still be blogging two years later. The best thing is just to get started, gain an audience, and see how things go. While you don’t necessarily have to know the end point for your blog now, it is however super important to be prepared for the future. Choose the wrong hosting solution or blogging platform, and you will be kicking yourself later when things get serious.
The problem with free blogging platforms
There are dedicated travel blogging platforms out there such as Travelpod or World Nomads. These are nice if you just want to throw a few posts up that are no more than long-form ‘postcards’ for your family. But if things get more serious, you’ll be locked into a system that you can’t get out of. Want to monetize a blog on Travelpod? Forget about it. Want to add modules or plugins, or change the design so that your site looks unique? Not possible. Migrate your posts to other blogging software? Nope.
General free blogging platforms like WordPress.com and Blogger are slightly better, as they offer a bit more versatility with the look and feel. But you are still locked into a particular system that can be very difficult to move off of later. I made this mistake myself: I initially built my blog on top of Expression Engine (a fairly esoteric blogging platform) simply because it was a system I already knew, but two years later I hugely regretted not going with a self-hosted WordPress install. Migrating all my content over to WordPress was a long and arduous (and rather technical) nightmare. You want to get this right from the start.
Another problem with these free blogging platforms is that they don’t look professional. Your address will be something like www.travelpod.com/members/yourusername or http://yourname.wordpress.org/, but no one will take your travel blog seriously unless you have a proper domain name. Be sure to get one!
Step 1. Sign up at Bluehost
For your domain as well as your hosting platform I recommend getting a shared hosting account with Bluehost. Their plans are cheap and their tech support is superb. For $5.95 a month you get true unlimited storage and bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, and you can host an unlimited number of sites (so for instance if you have friends or family who want a site too, you can just stick them on there as well). If your site becomes super successful in the future, you can easily switch to a more powerful VPS or dedicated server (this costs more though it will take a long time before you hit this level). The bottom line is: it’s completely future-proof.
On sign-up you’ll be offered a free domain name.
Bluehost also throws in a free domain name. Getting your own domain name is key in not coming across as amateurish, and it will make it easy for people to remember your site’s address. Don’t be too hung up on getting a .com domain though as most of those are gone by now. I went with a .co domain — not used so often, but still easy for people to remember.
You can still use a domain you registered elsewhere, but if you sign up with Bluehost you’ll get the free domain and you’ll be all set.
After a quick sign-up, you’ll enter the Bluehost control panel.
Step 2. Install WordPress
Why WordPress? Simple: it’s the blogging platform that pretty much everyone uses. This means there’s a huge level of support, and free plugins for pretty much anything you’ll ever want to do with your blog.
The difference with getting a free account at WordPress.com and having your own self-hosted installation of WordPress is that you keep total control. You can add plugins, tweak things, change the theme (visual design) in any way you want, and so on. You can’t do this with a free account on WordPress.com.
Installing WordPress is very easy! Don’t be intimidated by the number of menu options in the Bluehost panel. Just go to the control panel, find the Website section, and select Install WordPress. Select your domain name, and simply press “install”.
The set-up might take 5 minutes. Time to make yourself a cup of tea or tell a story to your cat. Come back to your computer and WordPress should be all set up now.
Installing WordPress takes just one click – no technical knowledge required
Step 3. Say hello to your travel blog!
Go to www.yourdomainname.com/wp-admin and lo and behold, your WordPress admin awaits you.
Go to Appearance > Themes if you want to change the visual look of your blog. There are lots of nice free themes to choose from. Don’t worry, you can change theme very easily in the future (it takes just one click), so you’re not locked into anything now. Of course, there are a lot of blogs out there already using the standard themes, so if you want something a little more unique you can buy a premium theme. ThemeForest is a great place to look for beautiful themes.
You might also want to go to Settings > General and change the name and tagline of your blog.
Your blog is now essentially ready for you to start writing. Later on, you’ll probably want to add an About page, or enhance WordPress with some extra plugins, but you don’t have to worry about this now. The first thing to do now is to get started and create content — but you can rest assured that your blog is set up properly so you can get into the more advanced stuff later.
That was easy! Here’s what’s next…
Many people make the mistake of going for sub-rate blog platforms because they think setting up their own hosted solution is too difficult. But as you’ve just seen, setting your blog up in the legit and professional way is very easy and hardly takes any time.
Now comes the actually difficult part, which is the blogging itself! It takes a while to learn how to write good posts and how to grow an audience, so don’t give up. Be sure to read this post 7 Ways To Ruin Your Travel Writing by Fevered Mutterings. It’s very funny and will nudge you away from some of the bad travel writing clichés (I recognize a thing or two from my own work!).
Check out my previous post titled 10 Ways To Promote Your Blog & Grow Your Audience to take your blog to the next level.
But for now, it’s important that you don’t keep staring at that empty ‘New Post’ screen in WordPress. Your first posts don’t have to be perfect. Whether you just want to tell stories of your travels for others to see, or already have much grander designs for your travel blog, the key thing now is to just start writing and start publishing.