Are you thinking of starting a travel blog? I’ll be sharing with you my best tips that will help you get started — based on my experience of travel blogging for over 10 years!
Whether you want to blog just for fun or hope to earn a living from it, it’s crucially important to set up your blog the right way. I didn’t do this when I started out and had to learn the hard way.
If you set up your travel blog correctly, it will make it way easier to update, easier for people to find, and will let you earn money from it in the future.
While it takes time for a blog to become successful, it’s not difficult to jump in (it won’t take much money or technical knowledge). In fact, you can get set up today by just following a few simple steps.
Watch my 3 important tips for starting a travel blog today:
Is it the right time to start a travel blog?
First, let me answer one of the most common questions I get about travel blogging: is there too much competition these days?
It’s true there are many more travel blogs today than there were just 5 or 10 years ago. However, the number of people using travel blogs has also increased dramatically.
If you want to blog for fun, then you should definitely go for it. I miss the days when most blogs were just sharing experiences from the road. It’s the purest reason to start blogging. (Of course, blogging ‘just for fun’ can still have many side benefits. More on this later.)
If you hope to have a commercial blog, then you may feel a bit more intimidated by the blogs already out there.
If so… I feel ya!
In fact, when I started blogging waaaay back in 2012, there were so many other amazing blogs already, just like there are today. Some people even said I was ‘too late’… ha! I started a blog anyway… and I’m so happy I did. Two years later I quit my job to become a full-time travel blogger.
Not everyone might have such a positive result, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers. If I had, I would have literally missed out on my dream job.
The same opportunity exists today for two key reasons.
Firstly, there is always room for new voices and perspectives. Destinations change, trends change, and when you’re starting fresh you can write about what travelers most want to know about today. Old blogs naturally die off after many years, making room for new ones.
Secondly, the total audience for travel blogs is growing every year. Here’s an interesting example: when I started out, only 15% of my blog’s visitors came from mobile devices; now it’s 60%. People are browsing travel blogs more and more — and increasingly on their phones while they’re already in the destination.
Wait, why am I even talking about this openly? Well, I’ve put some partner links in this post, so I stand to benefit by sharing information. Otherwise, maybe I’d keep all this to myself 😉
All that said, I do think it’s more difficult to stand out as just a general travel blog these days. It’ll be easier if you focus on a topic, like a country or a region, or a specific style of travel. Some blogs find their niche right away, but many of the most successful travel blogs found their specialty after writing about various topics for a while.
Vlogging vs. blogging?
You might wonder if vlogging might be better than blogging for making money. Vlogging is definitely more visible and more people want to do it just since it’s so personality-based, but it’s not necessarily more lucrative.
To give you an idea, you can easily earn $20 per 1000 visitors on a blog (and that’s just with banner ads, not including other monetization methods). Meanwhile, a YouTube travel video typically earns only around $2 per 1000 views. If you’re a famous vlogger like Nas Daily or Drew Binsky with millions of views that obviously still adds up in a huge way, but if you have a small channel it’s hard to earn much with it. A small blog on the other hand can already make a decent income.
When should you start a travel blog?
Honestly, the sooner the better!
There is actually a technical reason for this. The longer your blog and domain name exist, the better it is for the algorithms.
Most blogs don’t get that much traffic in at least their first 6 to 12 months, but that’s because they’re still in Google’s so-called ‘sandbox’. This is a period during which Google is still watching your site but not yet ranking it much.
Until Google trusts your site, you’ll basically be put in a waiting room. So launching your blog early means you’ll get out of the sandbox sooner — which is when many more people will discover your blog.
This is why just having your site and domain up with a couple of articles is hugely valuable in getting to that point. Since most people come to blogs via search engines, this is really fundamental.
I didn’t know this at all when I started. I travelled for a whole year before I started Indie Traveller (while I was traveling around the world long-term), which in hindsight was not very smart. I should have been blogging right away (even if it was just occasionally) in order to gain credibility with the algorithms.
When you have a domain name it also accrues a metric called “domain authority” the longer it is live, giving you more chance for your articles to be recognized by search engines.
How to set up a blog properly
The best thing you can do in the beginning is to set up your blog in a way that’s totally future-proof and will help you blog in the best way.
Why worry about future-proofing? Well, your blog might take off, or you might want to develop it in different ways. It’s a good idea to ensure the foundations of your blog are solid.
For this reason I do not recommend using free services like Medium.com or other such blogging platforms. You won’t control your own content (you usually have to give a perpetual license) or the domain, you can’t monetize it, and the platforms can change the rules at any time.
Also, avoid Squarespace or Wix. I know, they’re sponsoring just about every podcast or YouTube channel these days. But these ‘easy website builders’ are best for a portfolio site or, say, promoting a small business like a restaurant. They’re not ideal for a content-driven travel blog.
The software that basically 95%+ of bloggers use is WordPress. It’s simply the blogging platform. You can even expand it with thousands of useful plugins and themes, many of them completely free. If you want to use external services in the future, such as for a mailing list, you can be 99% sure it’ll work with WordPress.
It’s key to have your own installation of WordPress on your own site (“self-hosted WordPress”). This ensures you can do anything you want in the future, such as including advertising or sponsorship, without any terms & conditions ever stopping you.
How do you do this? It’s simple.
In fact, it takes only about 10 minutes:
Step 1. Sign up for a hosting plan
A hosting company takes care of serving your pages to users. And having your own hosted space lets you do whatever you want. A paid host doesn’t care if you put ads on your blog, or customize it with plugins, or anything like that.
It’s kind of like having your own plot of land on the internet. You can build your own house on it. And then you can add more rooms later, or even tear it down and build a bigger more awesome house on top of the original foundation. You can’t do that with just a rental space (like some of those free blogging platforms).
There are many different hosting companies, but I like to recommend Bluehost, with which I have an affiliate partnership. Bluehost is what I’ve used myself, so I’m most comfortable recommending them.
If you use my link to sign up, you get a special offer for Indie Traveller readers of just $3.95 a month.
During the signup process, you can choose a free domain name. Think of a name that isn’t taken yet and that reflects the themes or the travel style you most want to write about.
In most cases, there’s no need to bother with their premium plans; if you just sign up for their basic plan, it’ll be good enough for a brand new blog. You’ll get unlimited storage, bandwidth, email addresses, and so on.
Bluehost also gives you your own domain name for free (well, for the first year at least). Having your own domain is essential… I’ll explain why in a minute.
Step 2. Install WordPress
All signed up? Great!
Now that you have a hosting account, let’s install WordPress.
After signing up at Bluehost you’ll reach your account’s control panel. Here, simply select ‘My Sites’ and click ‘Create Site’.
Give your site a name, and in the next step, select your domain name. You can just leave the field where it says Directory empty. Then press “install”.
The set-up might take about 5 minutes — time to make yourself a cup of tea or tell a travel story to your cat. Come back to your computer and WordPress should be all set up now.
Step 3. Sign in to your blog!
Okay, there isn’t really a step 3. You’re basically finished now.
The technical side of starting a travel blog really isn’t so complicated. There are just a few tweaks you might want to make at this point.
Go to www.yourdomainnamehere.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 still easily change this later.
You might also want to go to Settings > General and change the name and the tagline.
Another small thing I recommend is going to Settings > Permalink and selecting the option “Post name” if it isn’t already. This ensures the internet addresses for your posts will look nice and clean.
Ta-da, your travel blog is now ready!
Later, you’ll probably want to add an About and Contact page, or enhance your WordPress install with some extra plugins. But that’s stuff for later.
Rest assured, by having a self-hosted WordPress installation, your blog is now future-proof and can be expanded and even monetized in the future. By starting off with this proper setup, you won’t ever have to do a complicated technical migration to another platform, and you’re totally in control of your own site.
All you have to do now is start creating some content.
Why you NEED a domain name
Oh yeah, one more thing: it’s super important to have your own domain name. Even if you’re just doing a blog for fun (for now).
Firstly, if your web address looks something like http://mytravelblog.wordpress.com it’s hard to remember and looks amateurish.
But the bigger problem? It’s that you won’t be building up any Domain Authority.
Think of it this way: when Google sees that you’re posting good content and getting links to your blog from other sites, it’s kind of keeping score in the background. The more authoritative sites Google sees linking to you, the more Google believes you’re authoritative as well.
But if you are hosted under a shared domain like wordpress.com, all those imaginary ‘points’ you’re accruing actually go to that domain, which you don’t own.
I’m glad I hosted my blog on indietraveller.co from the start. It meant everything I did on my blog helped to increase my domain authority. This made it much easier to rank highly on search engines.
Active domains with many links to them can also become quite valuable and can even be sold or auctioned.
These days it doesn’t matter too much if your domain is a .com or has some lesser-known extension as people will still find you through search engines. What matters most is that you simply own the domain.
As I mentioned earlier, if you sign up at Bluehost you’ll get a free domain name. If you prefer to get your domain elsewhere, I recommend using Hover.com. Avoid GoDaddy (even though they’re popular) as they are spammy and try to upsell you stuff you don’t need.
How to choose a name for your blog
Honestly, it can be tough to find a name for a blog that isn’t already taken, so you may have to get a bit creative.
Consider a blog name that doesn’t have your own name in it though. Personally, I just think this gives you more flexibility. Maybe you’ll want to share your blog with other authors one day, develop it in new unexpected directions, or even sell it. It’s nice to keep your options open and not tie it exclusively to your name.
Sometimes I wish I had come up with some astoundingly witty name that shows me to be an unequivocal genius at naming things. I ended up calling my blog Indie Traveller, which is hardly inspired. But it is, at least, somewhat easy to remember.
It also says something about the way I like to travel and it isn’t just limited to myself or my name. In the end, I’m happy that I didn’t go with Wandering Marek, or something to that effect, as I really wanted to have a versatile brand.
Still, if personal branding is important to your blog, then using your own name could still be a good move.
Can a blog really make money?
Many people actually find it hard to believe that a blog that anyone can read for free can make any money at all.
Whenever other travelers hear that I’m a blogger, the first thing I’m asked is “how do you make money?”. Like, they grab my collar and shake me around and scream “HOW… HOW DAMNIT??”.
(Seriously though, it’s the one question I always get. It’s either that or “what’s your favorite country?”.)
Yes, a travel blog can absolutely make money and be highly profitable. If you’re curious about the different ways that you can earn money, check out these 7 monetization methods for travel blogs. This post is published on my new other site, Boost Your Blog, where I help blog builders with practical tips based on my 25+ years of making websites.
I should caution that blogs are not magical money trees. It takes time and effort to make money with them. However, they do have the potential to be very lucrative and can run with very minimal overhead.
In the beginning, my advice is not to worry too much about monetization. It’s worth knowing what options you have, but it’s not yet worth spending hours adding affiliate links when your traffic level is still very low. Your time is better spent making great content and promoting it online.
The hardest part of starting a travel blog is simply to start. So try flexing those writing muscles and focus on topics you’re passionate about. See what works, get feedback, and watch your blog grow over time.
P.S. Don’t miss the special offer at Bluehost to get your travel blog started today.
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