Wondering how to start a travel blog and not too sure where to begin? I bet you are tired of reading the same information on all those full of fluff guides which don't actually answer your question. Here is why I created this blogging for dummies article. This is the first of my blogging series on how to become a successful travel blogger.
Creating a blog is not about knowing how to set up a website correctly, but understanding the importance of having a great brand from the start, creating a killer business plan and learning how to properly promote your business.
Blogging for Dummies - Preface
What is more alluring than having the financial independence that you need whilst being able to work remotely from any part of the world? Perhaps you are used to hearing words such as “digital nomads” more often than not. These are the people who quit their full-time jobs in pursuit of creating their own businesses in a digital environment.
Being a digital nomad offers you the flexibility to work from home (or anywhere else as long as there is internet connection), craft your own working hours, be in charge of your own schedule and ultimately work and earn money for yourself.
Blogging has become increasingly popular in the last decade. In fact, there are currently over 150 million blogs and this figure is set to increase. This means you have a lot of competition, but the fact of the matter is that over 50% of bloggers give up in less than a year. Why? Because they put effort into writing articles and see no results. Why? Because nobody takes the time to guide them step by step on how to create a successful travel blog. Having a professional travel blog is like having a business. You need a plan, an investment, a sound marketing strategy and the perseverance to make it work.
Far too many people believe that writing content is enough to attract readers when in reality, a lot more goes into a successful travel blog than you might think. And whoever tells you that success comes over night, is not telling the whole truth. Running a travel blog as a business requires time, patience and dedication.
Everyone dreams of having a successful online business but few people are willing to put in the necessary effort needed to make it a dream come true.
If you are planning on writing a blog just for your family and friends, then my blogging for dummies advice is not for you. There are many articles online on how to set up a new blog for cheap. They are probably your best bet.
What I can do for you, however, is offer you several comprehensive guides, in which I am going to teach you, step by step, what it means to be a professional, successful blogger. Together, we are going to go through essential topics such as the creation of a good business plan, creating a good brand from the very beginning and understanding what SEO is and why it is the most important marketing tool you should keep in mind. This is the first guide of the series which focuses on the basics of how to start a travel blog.
My guides' purpose is to show you how to transform your blogging hobby into a real, successful and sustainable business.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller
1.Blogging for Dummies - The 5 commandments of blogging
1.1. Do it today
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” Confucius
Don’t wait up, because your time is running out. Start your blog today. Write. Take that class. Nobody expects you to do it all from one day to another, but it is paramount that you get the ball rolling. All you have to do is start, the rest will come with time and perseverance. The secret of running a successful business is starting one right now.
1.2. Don’t be afraid of failure
“The bedrock of all good pieces of writing is 10 bad drafts. Maybe 20.” Mark Birbiglia
When I first started blogging, I was constantly afraid of how others will perceive my writing. What if they don’t like my style? What if they leave mean comments at the bottom of my blog post?
But then I realised that not trying is worse than failing. When you start in a new field, your work will never be as good as your taste. It takes time and practice until you become good enough. Only a fool will ever look at their creative work and be satisfied with it.
1.3. Take each failure as a lesson
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie
Your blog might suck. Your logo might suck. All you have to do is learn from your failures and strive to do it better. It’s hard to listen to criticism because harsh feedback is never appealing. In fact, most of the time people tend to become defensive and rather angry when they receive negative comments. “Who are you anyway?” “As if your style is better than mine!” “Whatever, I am better, you just don’t know it yet”.
These are the sort of reactions people have, and, I promise, these are nothing but detrimental to you and your business. If listening to strangers bashing your work might not be your style, invite friends over for pizza and drinks every week. Read them your blog, show them your work and ask for their honest advice. Failures will help you learn the most.
1.4. Don’t force it
“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy. “ Robert Tew
You might not be meant to be a blogger or a traveller or a fashion diva. Don’t force something you don’t enjoy. In fact, this is my favourite commandment of them all.
When I was younger, I was afraid of telling everyone that I won’t become a lawyer despite my legal university degree. I was so concerned about what others will say about it, that I was prepared to force it. To put things into perspectives, both my parents are legally educated and successful lawyers. Quitting law school was not an option. Finishing my studies and not pursuing the same career, was even more of an argument starter.
I had two options, I either suck it up for the rest of my days and live a miserable life or do what I think it’s best for me. Just because you start something, don’t be afraid to quit if it doesn’t fulfil you. In the past five years, I started and quit more projects than I could remember. But I stuck with two of them because they were right for me. And I promise you one thing: when it’s right, you will know it.
You only have one shot at this life, so change your mind, try new things, quit if you hate it. But if you like it and it gives you purpose when you wake up, NEVER, EVER, EVER give up. NEVER!
1.5. Be Yourself
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde
The compulsory cliché: always be yourself. But here is why this is one of the most important lessons of blogging. Whatever you want to write about, remember that people connect with people. I already know how X blogger writes, Y journalist describes her favourite places and Z celebrity likes to promote on social media. The fact of the matter is that we all know them because in one way or another they are unique. It’s ok to read others, get inspired and try to find your own voice, and although this may take a while, you will realise by the end of it, that it was your personality shining through your own words which conquered peoples’ hearts and unleashed your readers’ imagination.
Just do me a favour, forget all your favourite blogs for one day, and simply write an article about whatever inspired you during that trip to Italy, the delicious Spanish meal you had, or the overwhelming feelings you experienced when you finally found the perfect hiking shoes. Wait a couple of days, then read that article again. Isn’t this your best piece yet?
2.How to Start a Travel Blog
2.1.Blogging for dummies - Define your project objectives
“It feels good to be lost in the right direction.” Unknown
Blogging is hard work and there are currently over 150 million blogs out there. That’s a LOT of us. Plenty of people create new blogs everyday. But just as many quit after less than a year of blogging. Why? Because creating a new blog is like dropping a little pebble in the ocean. There is no ripple effect without a tremendous amount of hard work. You need to get others to like you, follow you, be interested in your writings. This takes time and effort. It’s easy to get lost on the way, hence many try to imitate other big bloggers out there. You need to be unique and innovative with your blog.
Once you decided to embark on a writing journey, you need to establish your objectives. Do you want an online personal diary? Do you want to be the “go to blogger” in your niche? Do you want to make a living out of blogging?
You need to figure out what you expect from your blogging venture because on a long run, this will be the very pillar of your business plan.
First things first, you need to find your niche. This was the one topic I was most confused about when I started blogging. I kept hearing niche this, niche that popping up everywhere. What is it with the niche and why is everyone obsessed with it?
Now I finally understand why finding a niche is really important: because this is going to separate you from the rest of the crowd. Remember the analogy of that pebble in the ocean? Well if you are just like everybody else, you have virtually no chance of getting noticed. That’s all you are: just another pebble being dropped in the ocean. There are already well established bloggers in general subjects such as travel, fashion, lifestyle etc. Start small, be specialised and once you are known, start expanding.
The more narrow and focused you are on your topic, the more people you can reach with your subject. For example, I love Japan and I decided to make my travel blog mainly about experiences, food and soft adventures in Japan. As a result, people came to me for advice on Japan, they wanted me to help them organise their dream trip. Brands from Japan were also willing to work with me because they knew I could add value due to the sheer amount of visitors I was getting on my targetted Japanese posts. Slowly but surely, I got to expand to other destinations as well, but kept my focus on “soft adventure travel and culinary affairs” because my husband and I love the outdoors and adore food. I didn’t try to be everything to everyone. I kept my focus.
Your point of difference can be your personality, your imagery, your writing voice or your type of content.
As with any business, you need to figure out what is your purpose, what is your mission statement and your vision. I strongly advise that you open up this Google doc I created for you. Now take as long as you need to figure out what is your purpose, then write it down.
Do exactly the same with your mission statement, then repeat with your vision. All businesses have a purpose, a mission statement and a vision which essentially guide the actions of the organisation, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides "the framework or context within which the company's strategies are formulated." It is a goal for what the company wants to do for the world.
An easy way to come up with your purpose, mission and vision is to ask yourself:
(Purpose) WHY - why is your business going to make a difference? The purpose is there to guide and tell you why you do what you do. In your case, tell people why you want to blog about your chosen niche.
(Mission) HOW - how will your business achieve its goal? The mission is there to drive you. The mission statement is what you do to accomplish your purpose and how you are different from others. Tell the world how you are planning in achieving your purpose for your blog. The mission is there to deliver results and impact your strategy.
(Vision) WHAT - What is your business goal? Your mission is your vision in action, connecting your purpose with your impact. Your vision statement is where you want to be in the distant future. What is the ultimate goal of your company? Write down what is your vision for your blog and business.
Here are some examples of well-established brands’ purpose, mission and vision statements.
Purpose (REA Group) - “To make the property process simple, efficient, and stress-free for people buying and selling a property”
Mission (Google) - “Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
Vision (Ikea) - “At IKEA our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people”
Here are a few questions to help you define your objectives:
- Is there a need for your blog?
- What’s the unique selling point that sets your blog apart from others in the market?
- Who cares about your blog?
- Who is your target readership?
- A unique blog is not enough—Is there enough evidence of a need in the marketplace for your blog?
- Who are you?
- Are you doing it better than your competition?
- Why should others care about you?
- Are you solving a problem by creating your blog?
2.2. Blogging for dummies - Find a great blog name
“A good name is better than bags of gold.” Miguel de Cervantes
Naming your blog is the first most important step to becoming successful. Your blog name will become your brand, hence it’s imperative that you spend some time brainstorming ideas. There are several aspects you need to take into account when coming up with a new name for your brand.
First, you have to remember that when you make it as a blogger, your name will be everywhere.
Second, try to be creative. I know it’s tempting to want to be the next Nomadic Anna but Matthew Kepnes already established himself by being Nomadic Matt. The only thing you will achieve by copying these names is to lose credibility and be called a copycat.
You need to be original, daring, clever. Always remember that sometimes the simplest names are also the coolest. Avoid numbers, weird spelling and hyphens. Ideally, you should be able to tell someone your blog name without further explanations on how it’s written. Keep your name as short as possible.
Find a name relevant to your blogging niche. But don’t be narrow-minded. For example, as a travel blogger, don’t call yourself “Maria in New York” unless you are 100% sure you will only write about New York in the future. Same goes for “David Backpacks”. Unless you are dedicated to backpacking forever, don’t mislead your readers with a name which essentially suggests that you won’t be sleeping in luxurious hotels any time soon. Take all business aspects of your blog into account before naming your brand.
I already established that I wanted to be a travel blogger who is interested in long walks, hikes and great food. I knew that everyone can do soft adventure travels, especially people who love the outdoors and off the beaten path destinations. Eventually, I came up with the name “You Could Travel” because if you want to... you could travel the world and live an endless adventure. This lead to the creation of my tagline which is “Your Endless Adventure”. And since I love Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s main character from Around the World in Eighty Days, I figured that nothing would work better on my blog than a hot air balloon as a logo. But more about the importance of your logo a bit later in our guides...
Once you come up with a name, answer every question below. If at any point you answer “No” to any of the questions, find another name and repeat the process.
A few questions to help you find your travel blog name
- Is your name short enough?
- Is your name easy to remember?
- Is your name unique?
- Is your name relevant to your niche?
- Does your name look good on the internet? (Try testing this by typing yourblogname [dot] com)
- Will your name look good on business cards and any related stationary?
- Is your name available on ALL social media platforms?
2.3. Blogging for dummies - Find the right CMS for you
In order to create a blog, you need to carefully select a content management system (CMS) which suits your needs. Most people go with Wordpress as it is free, it has a very user-friendly admin interface and it’s flexible enough to allow customisation. There are several plugins available for Wordpress to enable you to make the most out of the platform. You will potentially need plugins for analytics, SEO purposes, Social Media integration, subscriptions and e-commerce.
Another overlooked option is Drupal. Drupal is also free but nowhere near as intuitive to use as Wordpress. However, Drupal has a series of advantages over Wordpress. Drupal is used by well-known brands such as Lush, BBC, Panasonic and the Economist. Drupal has enterprise-level security and provides in-depth security reports, hence why you’ll find governments using it, including the White House.
Drupal can support anything from one page static sites to something that has thousands of pages and readers. Drupal’s pages load faster and are able to handle large amounts of contents. These last two features enable Drupal to have an SEO advantage over Wordpress.
I’ll leave it up to you to make your final decision as you need to consider what type of blog you wish to have, what you’ll be using the site for and where you think your blog will be in the future.
I started with Wordpress and after a month I changed to Drupal and have been much more satisfied with it. But it is important to note that whilst Wordpress comes out of the box and can be cheap in the beginning, Drupal requires significant monetary investment right from the start.
2.4. Blogging for dummies - Blogging Domains
Now that you already have your blog name, it’s time to reserve your domain. This is essentially the name of your URL. It will be something like blogname [dot] com
I always use 123-reg to check and buy my domain as I find them the cheapest and most reliable. They are also the easiest to setup. Here are a few tips in helping you with your domain purchase. If your domain name is not available in .com I would probably decide upon a different name. Dot com is universal, international and you should always aim to buy it first. If you aim to write just for French people, let’s say, obviously you will want to purchase the .fr domain name as well.
Imagine the situation where you will have a localised travel blog which is yourtravelblog [dot] fr and then all of a sudden, someone else buys the yourtravelblog [ dot] com and uses it to create their own flourishing business. Your brands can become interchangeable or confusing. Someone could use your name in bad faith. Here is another scenario. You tell someone: hey I’m the blogger from “Your Blog Name" They do a quick google search and find the other business which is totally irrelevant to your travel blog. This will look bad on you, confuse your potential clients and even your worldwide audience.
Found a great name? Don't let it get away. Register your domain name right now!
- Go to 123-reg.
- Pick your domain name and see if it’s available.
- Buy the .com version first.
- Buy any other localised domain name such as .io .net .co.uk if you wish.
2.5. Blogging for dummies - Cheap hosting
You’ve purchased your domain name (YAY) and you selected the right CMS system for your needs. You are doing great!
Now it’s time to discuss hosting options. A lot of people go with Bluehost at the beginning. This is because Bluehost is super accessible, they have servers all around the world and they are VERY cheap. But they are also in the category “you get what you pay for”. Bluehost comes with a lot of mixed reviews so I am hesitant to recommend them. More often than not, I see bloggers moving away from them. This is because they have a lot of outages. You need your website to be up and running for people to find it, read it and engage with it. In a world where your business is online, you need to make sure online it stays! Since you invested so much time, energy and money into creating your blog, don't throw it all away because of a bad hosting provider.
Get Cheap Hosting
I am going to tell you about SiteGround, which is another hosting provider bloggers vouch for. In fact, most of my travel blogger friends use SiteGround. They are reliable, and their prices start from £3 (exc VAT). Hard not to love them, right? Sign up for cheap hosting here.
2.6. Blogging for dummies - Branding and Identity
We already discussed that through your blog, you are essentially your brand. You become interchangeable. Your blog name is incredibly important, but so is your branding and identity. As with all businesses, when you see Apple’s logo, you know that’s Apple. Same goes for Nike, Google and every other big brand out there. With time, you want this to apply to you too. You need to be clever about this one, as you will be associated with your brand and your brand will in effect become your identity.
Take You Could Travel. I already explained that I wanted the name of my blog to remind people that indeed they could travel. I then brainstormed about my ideal audience and I created a colour palette to suit them. Furthermore, I analysed what every colour on the market means and what type of emotions they create. I then moved on to creating a logo. I wanted something travel related, unique, minimalistic, which looks fantastic on stationary as well as online. This process took a while. I initially came up with a post stamp. I then started making my post stamp into something more and more minimalistic. I then added a plane inside the stamp. I then replaced the plane with a well-known landmark. This, in turn, created a great logo, which made me think of only one country. It simply wasn’t good enough. I live in Bristol, the home to the International Balloon Fiesta. When I’m out and about I’m bound to see a hot air balloon now and then. And the afternoon I saw one, was the day I got the perfect idea for the logo. A hot air balloon automatically makes you think of epic adventures. It was the perfect statement that You Could Travel! And worked like a charm in correlation with “Your Endless Adventure”.
I now had a hot air balloon drawn inside of a post stamp. It was great, but still not good enough. After more trial and error I settled for just a nice, hot air balloon with the vibrant gradient colours I currently have on my website. You see, it’s important to realise that everything takes time. Absolutely everything to do with your blog, brand and business will be a process. Nothing happens overnight and everything evolves over time until eventually it clicks and comes into place. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but never lose track of your objectives. Don’t spend one month coming up with the perfect logo. If you have no inspiration, move onto your next task until one day it will just happen. But until you are happy with it, remember to come back and revise any unsolved issues.
2.7. Blogging for dummies - User Experience
I have been a user experience designer for several years and I very much love this subject. For the purpose of this guide, I will keep this brief and to the point. When you create a website and want visitors to have a good experience when they interact with your blog, you need to provide a great user experience. This means that your website has to be fast, easy to use and very intuitive.
Before you decide how you want your blog to look like, grab a few pieces of paper and write down how you envision your ideal reader’s journey. For example, if your reader lands on the home page, where do you want them to click next? How do you want to present the menu items for them to find the topic they are interested in? Do you want them to subscribe, how long before you try to lure them into giving you their email address? Do you have a store on your blog? Are you providing a seamless checkout process?
Always think of using visual cues for your readers. You are there to guide them on a journey. Creating a great user experience can take weeks of brainstorming, especially when you work on an interactive site. Don’t get too wrapped up in this as you are just starting out and it’s ok to start small and allow for your website to evolve over time.
Think of the UX as the experience, emotion, intuition and connection your reader will feel when they access your site. There are a lot of factors which contribute to these, including usability, accessibility, performance, design/aesthetics, utility, ergonomics, overall human interaction and marketing.
To quote designshack: “User experience is key for small and start-up businesses as well because the site is their first impression to users. This debut matters when it comes to directing future traffic and business to your product.”
As you grow your website over time, learn who your target audience is, create personas and improve on the user journey based on who your readership is. But if there is one thing I want you to take away from this is that you need to test, test and test more to figure out what your users like, understand and want more of.
For example, install heat maps on your blog and check where readers click and what parts are ignored. Allow for your design to evolve in accordance to what the user wants and needs and NOT what you think looks good. A great, fully usable site means great click through rate, lower bounce rate, sign up rates and epic goal completions.
I used to have a sidebar on my site until I realised nobody clicks on it. It was taking up a lot of vital space, which could be better used for other purposes. I also learned how to position ads and how to get more clicks from my readers. I didn't have to come up with new ideas every day, I just needed to listen to my audience.
For example, my website was teal coloured at launch. Even though a lot of people liked the colours, my audience didn't particularly care for it. They wanted something fresh, vibrant and more colourful. Testing and running questionnaires, it's the best way for you to offer your readers what they want. In doing so, you get loyal visitors and ultimately repeat buyers.
2.8. Blogging for dummies - Web Design & Development Part I
Designing a website can be wonderful, rewarding and very time-consuming. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can end up spending tonnes of time just researching what you like and what you want. And you know, sometimes that’s ok, but avoid this at the very beginning of your blogging career.
The design of your travel blog is important and first impressions matter. You want people to find your website because of your great content, but you want to hook them with your flawless design. Have you ever seen Medium? Isn’t reading an article on Medium like a dream come true?
Know that a lot of bloggers start with basic themes on their blog and that’s ok if it doesn’t bother you. As I mentioned before, I worked in the digital design industry for over 7 years, hence I simply can’t bear to look at an ugly website. Now beauty is subjective, of course...
I invested time, money and effort into creating You Could Travel, finding the right colour palette, creating the right structure and marrying the visual with a great user experience.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it right from the very beginning. It takes time, patience and practice before you figure out what you like and how you want it. If you are not a designer, pay a designer to help you out. Don’t employ a cheap designer, as they usually compromise on the quality a lot. If you can’t afford to get a designer from the beginning, open a google doc, create a design wish list and start writing down how you want your website to look like. Browse Pinterest and collect ideas and links. Every time you see an element you love on a different website, add it to your design wish list. Eventually, when your blog attracts enough readers and you start making an income, you can finally employ a good designer who will gladly implement the website of your dreams.
As I am a designer, I didn’t have to pay for the UX and visuals of You Could Travel. But I did invest time, and ultimately time is money. There is also a development cost on top of it as well as branding and identity if you don’t already have your own logo.
To quote Neil Patel: “I started blogging years ago because I thought it was an affordable way to drive more business to my startup. And although it’s effective, it isn’t too affordable. Sure it’s cheaper than most marketing strategies, but it still costs a lot of money to do it right."
Let me explain…
If you are trying to make money from your blog, you will have to spend money to make it. Here are a few things that you will end up spending money on:
Unique design – you don’t want to use a generic theme if you plan on monetizing your blog.
Custom development – there aren’t plugins for everything you need. It costs money to have a developer create unique email collection modules or make an ad that scrolls with the user.
A/B testing – if you want to maximise your revenue, you will have to A/B test your call to actions and monetization methods. If you don’t have the skill set to do this, you’ll have to spend money hiring consultants.
Social media marketing – sometimes to get more social love, you have to spend money. “
2.9. Blogging for dummies - Web Design & Development Part II
As with everything so far, when it comes to development you have two options: you either do it yourself or you pay someone to do it for you. If you can afford to invest money straight away, that’s great. Hire a great developer and allow them to create an amazing website from the start. This will mean that you will also have someone to rely on when you need security updates on your website, you have issues with your servers, something is broken or you simply need someone to help you improve your current site. I can’t stress enough how important it is to pick the right developer from the start. I mean, it might seem trivial, but you just decided to have an online business, so you need to have the right supplier. In your case, your developer will be your best friend. You need someone who adheres to the industry standards, creates clean and maintainable code, is easy to talk to and reliable. Don’t employ someone cheap unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences.
When you’re just starting out, chances are you can’t afford to invest thousands of pounds into creating that amazing website you want so badly. And that’s ok. Know that before I moved over to Drupal with custom design and custom code, I started out with Wordpress and paid £20 for a theme I liked. Why? Because I wanted to test the waters before taking the plunge. What if I didn’t like writing? What if I didn’t want to continue with my blog?
After a month of blogging, I invested heavily into creating the right design and custom Drupal development. In conclusion, it’s great to start with Wordpress and a basic theme if you don’t have money to invest right away, however, it’s good to consider that eventually, you need to be prepared to spend if you want quality and great results.
Things to take away:
Define your objectives:
Why do you want to be a travel blogger? How are you going to be different than others? What is your business goal and what are you trying to achieve with your travel blog?
Find a Great Blog Name:
Don't copy others but find your own unique name which sets you apart. Why are you trying to be a travel blogger? What is your brand? Come up with an easy to remember name which tells a story right away.
Register your domain:
Go to 123-reg.
Search for your travel blog name.
Make sure it's available in [dot] com
Buy your domain name.
Get hosting sorted:
Don't go for the cheapest provider out there. There is a good reason why so many people move away from them once they can afford it. Your business relies on being online. You need a hosting provider who guarantees that for you.
Go to SiteGround and sign up for a good hosting provider with great uptime!
Branding, Identity, Web Design and Development:
You can do it yourself if you have the necessary skills or pay someone to do it. Expect to pay serious $$$ if you employ a good designer. Always ask for Illustrator files as well as several image formats and sizes. Ask your designer to provide you with a transfer of copyright information at the end of the design process. Make sure you obtain the brand guidelines (although you can expect to pay extra for this document).
You can buy themes readily available for you to install. This is the most cost effective way to have a pretty website which enables readers to interact with. Once you are ready to invest in your blog, employ a designer (ideally a user experience designer with a focus on visual) to help you create the perfect website design.
You can get Wordpress, Google things and try to do everything yourself. This is a great way to get started but also very time-consuming. The learning curve can be exhausting, especially if you are not interested in development. Once you want to have a fast, great website, which is as secure as possible and enables thousands of readers to seamlessly use it, consider hiring a developer. You will also need a developer to implement your website design.
Do you have any questions about how to start a travel blog? Is there anything you would like to add? Please leave your reply in the comments section below.
P.S. This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you decide to buy something by using any of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me keep this website free and fun. Thank you!