Okay, it’s probably not surprising, but… I 100% love being a travel blogger.
What for me once started merely as a creative outlet has become a full-time job and a location-independent lifestyle. Every day I get to do things I intensely enjoy doing… and get to make a living from it!
I know that must sound like a dream (and it is), but if you’re thinking of becoming a travel blogger too, I do have a few words of caution. Gaining an audience, let alone earning money with a travel blog, is not easy. And I think it’s important to say this up front.
Some bloggers seem to pitch travel blogging as some kind of easy cure for all of life’s problems. “Just quit your boring life, start a travel blog, and follow your dreams! Soon you’ll be riding a unicorn!”
Well, I think it’s better to have realistic expectations.
Because of how search engines and social media work, the reality is you just won’t capture an audience right away. It definitely takes some hard work and patience.
That’s why I always say you should start travel blogging because, above all else, it seems like a fun thing to do (which it is). And certainly, if you keep doing it for a while (at least a year), you can see where else it can take you.
In this guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned over the past 7 years about starting a travel blog and setting yourself up for success — whether you just want to do it for fun, as a hobby-with-benefits, or if you’re hoping to make a living from it.
How to start a travel blog:
- Why start a travel blog
- How to set up a blog the RIGHT way
- Why you 100% need a domain name
- What’s a niche (and do you really need one?)
- How to make money with a travel blog
- Tips, tricks & resources
Why start a travel blog?
Why would you want to start a travel blog in the first place? Here are some of the most common reasons, roughly in order of difficulty:
1. Just for fun
Maybe you just want to blog about your travels for friends and family. Cool beans! If that’s you, maybe you’ll just want to skip straight ahead to how to set up a blog. If you follow my step-by-step guide, it will only take 10 minutes.
2. Learn new skills
Blogging can teach you about writing, social media management, photography, marketing, entrepreneurship, and a billion other things. I learned more than I could have ever dreamed of with Indie Traveller and a previous blog I had (which was about video games). I rapidly acquired new skills, made many new friends and colleagues, and even got my foot in the door for some amazing jobs over the years.
3. Travel for free
The legends are true: you can often stay for free in hotels, get free tours, or even get entire trips paid for you. Of course, that’s in exchange for useful publicity. That means you’ll need to work for it and give sponsors the exposure they’re expecting. But if you have a knack for personal branding and social media, you can get a lot of travel experiences for free.
4. Build a portfolio
A blog can also be a perfect launching pad for a freelance or consulting career. What better way to get gigs in travel writing, social media management, or WordPress consulting than having an amazing public showcase of your work? The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And a travel blog is a pretty delicious pudding.
5. Earn a direct income
And finally, you can even make a living directly from a blog through things like advertising, affiliate links, or product sales. This is what’s enabling me to make a six-figure income from Indie Traveller right now.
Keep in mind you’ll first need a lot of visitors. The thing about using banner advertisements or affiliate links is that might make you barely anything for ages, and then suddenly quite a whole lot. I think you might not even want to bother with them in your first year, as it’s just too early. But eventually, you can get reliable and passive income from your content. This is definitely the hardest goal to achieve with a travel blog, but it’s also the biggest reward.
Of course, maybe you don’t know exactly how far you want to take your blogging just yet, and that’s okay too. The one thing you’ll be guaranteed is the experience, the skills, and the creative outlet. And remember that a travel blog is always something you can fully own and develop in your own way, independent of any platform or company.
How to set up a blog (the right way!)
Whatever your goals are, I highly recommend setting up your blog in a way that will keep working for you later. This will simply save you a lot of headaches as your blog grows and evolves.
There are some free blogging platforms out there like Medium or WordPress.com (which is different from WordPress.org) where you only have to sign up for an account. Seems easy, but I advise against using these.
Firstly, these free platforms don’t let you add anything that’s commercial, so you can’t ever make any money from your blog (whether now or in the future). They also don’t let you expand your blog’s functionality using plugins or themes, which will come to bite you back later. You also often have to give a perpetual license to your content to these free platform holders.
Make sure you choose the right platform. In the early days of Indie Traveller, I was locked into the wrong free blogging platform. Migrating all my content to a self-hosted WordPress blog (and not the free version at WordPress.com) was an arduous technical nightmare. Trust me, you want to get this right from the start.
Here’s how to set it up the right way in 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 with it 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 out there).
There are many different hosting companies. I like to recommend Bluehost, which I have an affiliate partnership with, though there are other good hosts out there.
That said, if you use my link to sign up, you get a special offer for Indie Traveller readers of just $3.95 a month. (You see, this post is actually an example of how you can monetize a blog! 😉 )
I used Bluehost myself for many years. Nowadays, my site is so big I needed a different type of host. But if you’re starting out, Bluehost is great and easy to manage. (It actually took me 5 years to outgrow it.) Don’t bother with their premium plans; if you just sign up for their basic plan, it’ll be good enough for a new blog. You’ll get unlimited storage and bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, and you can host an unlimited number of sites.
Bluehost also gives you your own domain name for free (or at least, for the first year). 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 on it your own local copy of WordPress.
WordPress is the most commonly used software for managing a blog. The HUGE advantage of using this industry standard is that pretty much any other service or plug-in can work with it. There are also thousands of visual themes, tutorials, and other resources available for it.
Once you’ve signed up to 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 actually pretty much finished now.
Go to www.yourdomainname.com/wp-admin/ and lo and behold, your WordPress admin awaits you.
You might want to go to Appearance > Themes though 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 the theme in the future. With WordPress, you can seamlessly switch between themes.
You might also want to go to Settings > General and change the name and the tagline.
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, or maybe switch to a premium theme. But you don’t have to worry too much about this now.
Rest assured, by having a self-hosted WordPress installation, your blog is future-proof and can be expanded and even monetized in the future.
The most important thing to do now is to 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 you 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 it 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 helped to increase my domain authority. This later made it much easier to rank well on search engines. Active domains with many links to them can also become quite valuable and can even be sold or auctioned.
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 Google. All that matters is that you 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 as they are spammy and try to upsell you stuff you don’t need.
You can use the widget below to test whether a domain name is available. Be sure to always get one or much of your early efforts could be wasted.
Choosing a name for your blog
Honestly, it’s tough to find a name for a blog that isn’t already taken. It seems like every combination of ‘nomadic’, ‘wandering’, etc. has been used. So you’ll have to get a bit creative.
Consider blog names that don’t have your own name in it. Personally, I just think this gives you more flexibility. Maybe you’ll want to share your blog with other authors one day, develop it into 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, easy to remember.
It also says something about the way I like to travel, and it isn’t just limited to myself. In the end, I’m happy that I didn’t go with Wandering Marek, or something to that effect. I wanted to build up a brand that is versatile, though if your blog is very heavy on personal branding then using your own name could still be a good move.
What’s a niche (and do you need one?)
Let’s face it: there are many more travel blogs out there now than there were just 5 years ago.
That’s why it really helps to stand out and to focus on underserved topics.
It’s simple: if you pick your battles you’ll succeed. Do something different and you’ll get noticed.
What helps a ton is to focus your blog on a particular region, country, or style of travel. Specializing in some way or writing with a specific audience in mind is a great way to put yourself ahead of everyone else.
Even though I didn’t choose a specific niche when I started blogging 5 years ago, I think it’s the best path to starting a travel blog today. Applying any kind of focus can give you a huge advantage. Even if you’re just doing a blog for fun or as a portfolio-builder, it can help you gain more specific (and thus more desirable) skills and expertise.
Here’s why it’s good to have a niche:
- More specific search keywords are easier to rank for on Google, especially when you’re starting out
- Having related and interlinked content keeps readers engaged; they’ll often read more than just one standalone post
- It’s easier to become a trusted expert (or, say, an inspirational storyteller) when you’re focused on a particular topic.
- Marketers love targeting. If you have a smaller audience but one that’s clearly interested in a specific thing, then that can be hugely relevant to any commercial partners.
If finding a niche seems confusing right now, don’t worry about it too much. I’ve seen some newbie bloggers get totally paralyzed in trying to have some super genius niche idea from the start. But you might just not find it until you start writing and start interacting with readers. Many successful bloggers who found an awesome niche actually found it over time, pivoting after a year or two (sometimes even changing the name of their blog).
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. Keep an eye on reader feedback and visitor statistics, and you might discover your niche naturally.
Making money with your travel blog
Whenever I tell people I’m a travel blogger, the first question I inevitably get is “how do you make any money?”.
So here, in brief, are some of the common methods.
This used to be a bad way to monetize, but it’s had a huge revival recently. Forget about using Google Adsense banners; they’ll barely make you anything. Try instead to get your blog up to at least 25000 sessions a month and apply to be a partner at Mediavine instead. The pay is excellent and the people at Mediavine are super helpful.
These are special links that give you a commission if someone makes a purchase. For example, if you link to your favorite hotel on Booking.com with an affiliate link and someone decides to book there, you get a little kickback. It’s the same with many other products and services. I once wrote an article for Travelbloggersguide.com about how to monetize with affiliate links.
Another good way to monetize your blog can be through products that you’ve created yourself. Maybe you could write a book, create a course, or design custom merchandising that you can sell directly to your readers. (Need examples? Jodi at Legal Nomads sells beautiful bags and posters. Matt of Expert Vagabond sells prints of his photography. And many Instagrammers sell their Adobe Lightroom presets enabling others to achieve a similar look.) If you just want to sell one or two products then Gumroad is a pretty awesome payment processor and hosting platform.
As I said earlier though, many bloggers primarily use their blog as a channel to gain indirect benefits — whether that’s free travel experiences, freelance work, writing experience, or maybe one day becoming a brand ambassador (i.e. supported by a sponsor). These monetization methods typically rely more on having quality content and good personal branding than on gaining very large volumes of traffic, so they’re a much more common path to follow.
Some final travel blogging tips
Be patient. Finding an audience is not easy at first, but it can be a snowball effect. Getting your first 10 visitors will be waaay more difficult than getting your first 10000. People are accustomed to thinking linearly, so this can be a little counterintuitive. I wrote a little guide to gaining more visitors.
Tighten up your writing. Unlike in print, there are no wordcount limits on the web. That’s nice, but that also makes it all too easy to get into endless rants and meandering stories. Cutting the fluff and eliminating common travel writing cliches will do wonders for your writing. This post, the 7 Ways To Ruin Your Travel Writing, is a pretty amusing and insightful take on this.
Don’t get too distracted. I think content creation should be your main focus in the beginning. Worrying too much about monetization or SEO or even promoting your work on social media is going to be counterproductive. Maybe don’t try to make money with it at all for the first year, even if that’s your goal, as it’s like putting the cart in front of the horse. Start by creating stuff and sharing things with the world.
Always keep learning. The web is full of amazing resources that let you learn just about anything! You don’t necessarily need to buy a $500+ travel blogging course to figure stuff out. Just get a free 1-month subscription at Fizzle.co (they have some amazing video courses, and you can gobble up a lot of them just in their trial period). Or get some cheap courses during a sale on Udemy. Or simply read free tutorials online for whatever challenge you’re facing. It’s all out there if you look for it.
P.S. Don’t miss the special offer at Bluehost to get your travel blog started today. (That’s an affiliate link.)