Aside from travel planning advice, one of the most frequently asked questions in my inbox is about how to start a travel blog.
If I’m being honest, that’s the question I most dread because it’s not a short answer! I always respond by telling people that if they’re getting into blogging as a hobby Blogspot and WordPress.com are good places to start, but that if they’re more serious, they should consider WordPress.org. And then I leave it at that…
Talk about giving you the short version.
Well today I’m finally going beneath the tip of the iceberg and giving you the step by step guide on how to start a travel blog (and I mean hold-your-hand-like-a-teacher because I’m not the most tech-savvy person and I know that I would be completely lost if someone left out the tiniest detail).
So what do I know about blogging?
Well, I’ve been doing it for about 7+ years during which time I experimented with Blogspot, created a new blog on WordPress.com, and then finally joined the ranks on WordPress.org shortly after meeting Sam. (I still remember him turning to me and saying, “What? You’re not self-hosted?! We need to fix that next weekend.” I think he was trying to get a second date.)
But back to you. You’re wondering how to start a travel blog from scratch? Let me help answer that question.
HOW TO START A TRAVEL BLOG
This is going to be a bit of lengthy post, but here’s a look at what you can expect to find here:
- Choosing your blog name
- How to host your blog
- Installing WordPress
- Choosing a blog theme
- Adding plugins
- Writing your about page
- Getting a Gravatar
- Having a social media presence
- Writing content
- Experimenting with your style
1. Choose a name and make it a good one
Choosing a blog name is hard! That’s like naming your child, or at least I imagine it is since I don’t have children…it’s at least as hard as naming your pet. You need a name that’s going to stick, something that’s catchy and memorable, but also something that you can grow with and that won’t box you in.
Try not to make it destination specific (what happens to Sally in Spain when you move?), or age specific (what happens to Teenage Traveller when you turn 20?), or budget specific (what happens to the Penniless Wanderer once you start earning the big bucks and your travel style changes?)
This is one step that you don’t want to rush, so take some time when choosing your name. When I was brainstorming potential blog names, I made a list of words I liked and things that I associated with travel. I played with these words, mulled them around while I was doodling or watching TV, and then I gave myself a few weeks to see if I liked the name.
I came up with “That Backpacker”. I thought it was playful, I thought it was catchy, and it’s what stuck.
2. Go self-hosted from the start
I know hosting sounds a little bit intimidating for non-techie people like me, but it’s basically like paying rent for your own little place in the internet. As a heads up, Bluehost has great rates and they give you your domain name for free if you decide to host with them. Not a bad deal, right?
Now for a step by step look at how to go self-hosted:
- Go to Bluehost and click ‘Get Started Now’.
- This will take you to a page where you are presented with 3 different plan options: Basic, Plus, and Pro. I would go with the basic option and then as your traffic begins to grow and your blog expands, you can always consider upgrading to Plus or Pro. Once you’ve decided on a plan you can hit ‘Select’.
- Next it’s time to see if your domain name is available. After having come up with the perfect name, this is the part where you keep your fingers crossed to see if it’s actually free! If it isn’t it’s back to the drawing board, but if it is, you can do a little victory dance and move on to the next step.
- Here you fill out your details under account information and tick off the boxes under package information. Keep in mind, the longer you host, the cheaper the account plan will be: 12-month $5.95 / month, 24-month $4.95 / month, and 36-month $3.95 / month.
Something you should also consider getting is Domain Privacy Protection. This shields your private information like your personal address, email address, and phone number from being displayed to the public.
Now you’re done with that part! Going self-hosted wasn’t so hard, now was it?
3. Install WordPress without having an emotional breakdown
But it’s not over yet.
Once you’ve completed the registration process with Bluehost, it’s time to install WordPress.
WordPress is the blogging software of choice and it’s used by the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters just to name a few. If it’s good enough for them, then it’s certainly good enough for your blog!
Now for a step by step guide on installing WordPress:
- To install WordPress, you’ll want to login to Bluehost, go to the cPanel, then to the Website Builder section, and click on the WordPress icon.
- This will bring you to the next page where you’ll ‘Install’ under the ‘Do it yourself (FREE)’ section.
- Next, you’ll enter the domain you want to install, and then click ‘Check Domain’.
- This will take you to one last page where you’ll have to tick that you have read the terms and conditions, and then you can click ‘Install Now’.
- Once you get a notification saying that your install is complete, you can do yet another happy dance! Woot woot!
- If you click on ‘View Credentials’ you’ll be able to see your username and password (you can always change these to something you’ll actually remember later on).
- Now type in your admin URL into the browser, and you should be able to login using the username and password you had in the last screen.
Et voila! You’ve officially logged in to your blog for the very first time!
Note: If for some reason you still don’t have a clue what you’re doing, I would suggest getting in touch with fellow travel blogger and tech guru Chris from RTW Labs.
4. Choose a blog theme and customize it
Now that the hard part is over, it’s time to get your blog all dolled up!
WordPress offers numerous free themes (which are great to start out with), however, if you want to be able to customize your blog and set it apart from the rest, you’ll want to invest in a professional theme.
A few different options include:
When it comes to choosing a blog theme, it’s a very personal choice, so browse through the various options until you find something you like.
If you come across a blog you really like but you can’t figure out the theme because the details have been removed from the footer, (or you’re too shy to ask!), you can type in their blog URL into the WP Theme Detector and it’ll tell you what theme they have installed.
I’m using SimpleMag by Themes Indep, just in case you were wondering. No need to look up that on the WP Theme Detector!
5. Add some handy plugins
A plugin is a little bit of software that adds a specific feature to the functionality of your WordPress site. You don’t want to go overboard with these since too many plugins can create some wonky overlaps, but here are a few that I like to use:
Akismet – Helps protect your blog from spam.
CommentLuv – Automatically places a link to a reader’s last blog post when they leave a comment. This helps build a sense of community and it helps people discover new posts.
Contact Form – Simple contact form that allows people to contact you. Messages go straight to your inbox.
Digg Digg – Allows you to place a floating sidebar with social media buttons so people can share your article via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and other platforms.
EWWW Image Optimizer – Reduce file sizes for images within WordPress.
Google Analytics by Yoast – Makes it easy to add Google Analytics to your WordPress site so that you can have a better idea of your traffic and demographics.
Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin – This adds a little checkbox to the comment form requesting that the user clicks it to prove they are not a spammer.
Limit Login Attempts – This limits the rate of login attempts, including by way of cookies, for each IP address. I wish there weren’t a need for this, but there are hackers out there who have nothing better to do than to try and hack your site.
WP Super Cache – Caching helps your website run faster.
WP-Optimize – This plugin helps you keep your database clean by removing post revisions and spam.
Adding plugins to your blog is easy. You just have to go to your ‘Dashboard’, click ‘Plugins’, and ‘Add New’.
6. Set up an about page
Your about page is where readers go to learn a little bit about the person behind the blog. Aside from your homepage, this is going to be one of the most read pages on your travel blog from first time visitors, so you’ll want to spend some time on it.
Add a photo of yourself, tell us what got you started blogging, and be as personable as possible. People like to read about other people!
7. Get a Gravatar (not an avatar)
You know those pictures that appear next to your name whenever you leave a comment on someone’s blog? Well those are called Gravatars.
If you want a photo of your face to show whenever you leave a comment, you need to upload a picture. Otherwise it’ll show a default image of a little monster with frizzy hair. No, really, just try leaving a comment on one of my blog posts and see what happens .
It’s nice being able to put a face to a name, so don’t skip this step.
8. Hop on social media and network
So you started a travel blog, but now what? People need to be able to find you, and that’s where social media comes in.
When I first started blogging some 7+ odd years ago, I didn’t know ‘travel blogging’ was a thing. I thought I’d had this novel idea, “I’m going to write about travel in an online format because it has never been done before!” Ha!
While there were less of us doing so back then, I certainly wasn’t the first one, but it would take me a few years and one failed blog to realize that there was a whole community out there that I could connect with.
I’m not saying you should join every single social media platform out there, but being active on a few sure helps. I’m mostly active on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest (maybe that is one too many!), and I’ve made sure that all of these are connected on my homepage so that people can find me on whichever platform they prefer using.
Also, it’s best if you can use the same handle on all your social media profiles (in my case @thatbackpacker), as that makes it a lot easier for people to find you.
9. Begin writing content
“The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read.” ― Austin Kleon
Now comes the fun part!
You started a blog because you have stories to share, right? Well, you are ready to get started.
Some people will tell you that you need to blog prolifically when you’re first starting out, but I’m going to suggest you just do your own thing. Blogging prolifically helps if you want to see fast growth and turn your blog into a business (that’s a whole different can of worms), however, for the majority of people blogging is just a fun hobby.
Don’t take the fun out of blogging by forcing yourself to post 3 times a week. WRITE AS OFTEN AS YOU FEEL LIKE IT! For some that may mean posting once a month, for others once a week, and some people may enjoy posting every single day. Do whatever works best for you.
This is your blog and you get to make the rules.
10. Find your groove
It can take a while to find your voice when you first start blogging, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try out new things. Play around with different writing styles (narrative, journal, listicles, poetry – I’d love to see some travel poetry blogs!) and images (photos, sketches, watercolours, collages).
Get creative and try something new!
It’s great to look at other blogs for inspiration, but don’t get stuck in the mindset that your blog needs to look or read a certain way. We don’t want to see a carbon copy of someone else’s blog, we want to see what YOU can bring to the table.
And I believe, that’s a wrap! Hopefully this guide will help you get your blog off the ground in no time, but if you have any additional questions or comments feel free to leave those in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to get back to you!
Do you have any other questions about how to start a travel blog?
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