It’s often said but I’ll repeat it here: travel blogging is not easy. It’s not an instant ticket to fame or fortune, and honing your writing style and gaining an audience takes time. That said, starting a travel blog does not take much time at all, and it doesn’t take any technical expertise either. So there is truly nothing stopping you from getting started today.
In this post I’ll share with you some step-by-step info on how to start your blog, and how to set it up properly so you won’t be getting into any frustrating issues later.
What’s your goal?
It’s a good idea to ask yourself now what your ambitions are. Is your travel blog just to post diaries to share with your friends and family? Is it a fun way to improve your writing? Or maybe you actually want to use your blog as a portfolio to get writing gigs or to make money with the blog itself.
Not sure yet? Then you can relax. Many people don’t know the real answer to this, and that’s okay.
Your ambitions can grow with your blog over time. Maybe it’s just your personal blog for now, but it could become a hobby-with-benefits or maybe even a dream job later. I myself started Indie Traveller on a whim, and I had no idea I’d still be blogging many years later.
The best thing is just to get started, gain an audience, and see how things go.
But while you don’t quite need to know the end-goal right now, it is super important to set up your blog properly. If you choose the wrong hosting solution or blogging platform right now, it could end up really biting you in the butt later when you want to expand or improve your blog.
The problem with free blogging platforms
There are some dedicated travel blogging platforms out there such as those as Travelpod or World Nomads, and free hosted blogging systems such as the one at WordPress.com. These are okay if you are just blogging one trip for your family and friends.
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 or WordPress.com? Forget about it — it’s against the terms of service and commercial activities will get blocked. 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? Many free blogging platforms don’t allow it or make it very difficult.
I ended up being locked into the wrong blogging system myself. I initially built my blog on top of a fairly esoteric blogging platform, but two years later I hugely regretted not going with my own self-hosted WordPress install. (I’ll get into the difference between this and the WordPress.com version in a minute).
Migrating all my content over to a self-hosted WordPress was an arduous technical nightmare. So 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.
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…
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. 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 out there (I recognize a thing or two from my own work!).
At first, be laser-focused on simply producing content. Publish often, but don’t be afraid to improve some of your older posts as well. I personally learned a lot from itinerating on archived posts and not just writing only entirely new material.
After a while, you can start dedicating more time to promoting your blog as well. When you think you’ve hit that stage, check out my 10 Ways To Promote Your Blog & Grow Your Audience.
If you want to earn money with your blog, then I recommend checking out some general resources on this topic. I got a ton of value from sites like Pro Blogger (free) and Fizzle (paid with trial). They deal with professional blogging in general, not just travel blogging, and so they give you a bit of a broader view than some of the more specific courses out there (though these seem to be good as well).
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, the key thing now is to just start writing and to start publishing.
Note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I earn some commission on any sign-ups made through them. (I use Bluehost myself and am very happy to recommend them.)