If you love to travel and find yourself spending way too much time checking out the latest deals on Travelzoo or Priceline, then you probably have a wanderlusting spirit and have thought…’hmm, I wonder what I can do with this?”
When I started FlipFlopWeekend, I initially intended it to be more lifestyle focused with a touch of Florida sunshine. But, then we went to Disney nearly every weekend…and Disney is what people wanted to read about…
Then, I travel-hacked my way to a great deal to Paris…and I wrote about it. Then, I had folks asking how I travel on a teacher’s salary…so I wrote about it.
And, alas, a travel-focused blog is born.
If you are interested in turning your passion for the world into a blog…that could potentially make money, here is some of my best advice on how to start a travel blog.
I mean…duh… right? Obviously, you have to have some travel experience and know-how in order to write about the experiences.
But, here’s the kicker… you don’t have to travel often.
It’s tough for everyone, especially those starting out, to be a world nomad.
So, instead of just a general idea of ‘Travel,’ I think it’s more important to understand the area where you are at and how you can leverage it.
I was really lucky to move to Orlando. There’s a little theme park here ( or two) that everyone seems to want to visit. (If you really don’t know which one I am talking about…click here…)
As educators, we can’t travel much for nine months out of the school year. We utilize our credit card hacking skills during that time and then plan for our bigger trips in the summer. The rest of the time is little weekend getaways and family fun here in Orlando…usually revolving around Disney.
So, be authentic. Be real. Let your audience know where you’re at. Odds are…most of them are there, too.
But think about your physical location.
Are there events and activities you can blog about if you don’t have an exotic destination on your radar in the near future?
Check with a local tourism office to see if there is any potential collaboration you can work out with them.
That’s how it starts…
Determine Who You Are And Pick A Good Name
This is important…but also don’t lose too much sleep over it. It’s a little hard to fully know what your audience is going to go for until you start pumping out content.
For example, I didn’t fully realize just how much real estate Disney content would take on FlipFlopWeekend, until I began writing about Walt Disney World tips and knew I had an audience that wanted it…so I wrote more. Had I known this on the front end, FlipFlopWeekend may have been called something different.
However, I don’t stress about my blog’s name, because the content is truly more important. The value you provide to your reader is more important. BUT, your name should reflect you and give a little bit of insight into what you are about.
FlipFlopWeekend came from me lamenting the fact that I was wishing everyday could be a weekend..which is when we get to really explore our local area and enjoy our Disney days. That thought, along with the fact that I really don’t like socks and would wear sandals and flip flops anytime possible helped me come up with a name that was truly unique and individual to my brand.
Once you come up with a domain name that feels ‘right,’ run it through a tool like namevine to see if the domain is available.
Don’t stress if it is used on social media channels. For branding purposes, utilizing the same name on the URL and across social media is ideal… you won’t be in dire straights if you have to come up with something slightly different for Instagram or Twitter.
Once you have a domain name idea, you are going to want to purchase it as soon as possible. Domain names are fairly cheap and can be purchased for as little as .99 on a site like GoDaddy. Personally, I purchase mine through Namecheap.com.
You can purchase directly through SiteGround or your chosen host, but I have found NameCheap to be more affordable and reliable. You can easily connect your domain to your webhost.
Don’t Skimp on Hosting
The free WordPress platform is passable if you are just starting out. But, you will be very limited in monetizing your site and ranking higher in Google without being self-hosted.
If you’re confused on the difference between being hosted or self-hosted, don’t stress. The concept is pretty simple.
If your website has either ‘wordpress.com’ or ‘blogspot.com’ attached to the URL, then you are not self-hosted and do not have access to all of your hosting files to your site. You are at the mercy of the host (i.e. WordPress, Wix or BlogSpot). This will limit the customization options you have through available plugins and software, and many advertisers will not work with a website that is not self-hosted.
When you are self-hosted, you will have access to your entire website and all of the files that make it run. You basically pay to ‘rent’ server space from a hosting company to store those data files, media and information.
There is a cost involved with becoming self-hosted, but it won’t bankrupt you. In fact, it’s a rather small investment considering the opportunities that await if you have a successful site.
I highly recommend SiteGround. I utilized another web host prior to switching to SiteGround and I cannot imagine switching again. SiteGround’s customer service is by far the best in the industry. Just check out some of these reviews:
You can get started on SiteGround for $3.95 a month. Their StartUp Plan will be perfectly fine if you are just starting out. You can upgrade later, as needed.
Just note that after the first year, the rate does go up to the regular price. You can choose to purchase one, two or three years in advance. If you are in this for the long haul ( and you should be), then purchase the full 3 years and you will save money overall.
In full disclosure, I have never used Blogger, Wix or Squarespace, so I can’t speak to those systems. However, WordPress pretty much runs the blogging world and I love using it. It can be intimidating at first, but once you get to know it, you will be thrilled with all of the functionality it provides.
Plus, SiteGround will install your WordPress automatically!
Find A Theme:
You can start with a free theme and WordPress has a variety of options. However, it’s likely that you may find yourself quickly wanting something with better personalization and customization options.
Responsiveness– This means that your theme will adjust depending on the user’s viewing method. iPad, PC, Mobile… you want your user to have a good reading experience regardless of their device and a responsive theme makes it easier for you to provide it to them.
Support– Does the developer offer some support…even if only through the installation process. It’s been my experience that any time I try to switch themes, the transition is not completely seamless. Having some support from the developer can save time and frustration if you can’t seem to make your site look like you want. At the very least, you want to make sure that theme has documentation that is easily accessible.
When was the theme last updated?
If the theme has not been updated in the past couple of months, it’s likely that it may not continue to be updated, which can cause some issues with future pllugins you may want to run.
That being said… don’t go broke over a theme. I currently run my blog with the Breena theme, which I found on sale for $19 at one point and am very happy with it.
Install some Plugins To Make Life Easier
Once you have all of the above set up, you will need a couple of plugins to help you get going. Here is a quick video to show you to install a plugin:
Here are some plugin recommendations I have to help you get started:
Yoast SEO – If you want Google to pay attention to your site, then you need to make sure you are optimizing your posts for keywords. Yoast helps you add necessary meta tags, provides guidance on your post’s readability and helps you incorporate those keywords to keep you on track for solid SEO. The free version has suited all of my needs so far and is the version I use.
For some more guidance on SEO, I highly suggest you check into the free five day SEO Bootcamp from Paul Scrivens. He is the founder of Dare to Conquer and the blog community that I have gained SOOO much knowledge from.
Askimet- This plugin helps keep the spammers from infiltrating your comments section.
WP Maintenance Mode: This is a personal preference, but I like to set up a coming soon page while I work on building the site for a launch. Now, people will not necessarily be coming to your site before you promote it and Google starts ranking posts…but still, it makes me feel better knowing that when I take down the ‘coming soon’ page, my site will be presentable.
WP Fastest Cache – basically does some HTML voodoo and helps your site run faster.
Set Up Some Key Pages
Speaking of pages…there are some pages you will want to make sure you set up first, even before posts.
An About Page: This is where the reader gets to know you. Talk a little bit about yourself, why you created the site and how you hope to engage with them. Basically, let them shake your hand and be friends with this page.
Contact Page: How can readers get a hold of you…and how can brands perhaps collaborate with you? Your page needs to be set up with info on the best way for you to be reached and the type of communication you prefer.
Get A Good Camera
Visuals are an important part of any blog. In fact, people are about 50% more likely to retain information that they see, versus just what they read.
Plus, we’re skimmers. Let’s face it…you are probably skimming this now.
But, if I give you an image, you’ll stop the scroll.
This helps the bounce rates of your site by keeping your audience on the page longer AND it helps them connect your content to the information they are processing in their brain.
Admittedly, I am not anywhere near the pro level yet. I don’t even have a DSLR and when I travel, I don’t really want to carry around a bunch of equipment. That being said, I have found that I prefer to take pictures with a camera than on my phone… although most smartphones now are capable of taking blog-worthy photos and I like the quick snaps for insta.
I use the Canon SX620 and highly recommend it. It fits on a tripod, can take 1080 p video and can zoom up to 25X. It’s pretty awesome.
It’s important to mention that I went nearly a full year before purchasing a camera…if you have a solid camera phone, you could likely go much longer.
If you are not confident in your photography skills or writing about a topic that you physically can’t take a photo of, stock photos are always an option. Paid stock photo sites will reduce the chances of the same image being plastered all over the internet, but if budget is a factor, I recommend checking out Pixabay, Unsplash or Pexels to find some visual content for free.
Write Solid Content
This one may sting a bit…but no one care what you ate for breakfast. Now…if you are mentioning a breakfast spot you would recommend and say something like ” I absolutely loved the raisin and cheese danish,’ that’s a different story.
You need to write what people are searching for.
Now, you can put your own spin on it. Tell your story. But, basic marketing (aka getting blog traffic) 101 is to write what people are searching for. A great way to do this is to check for relevant keywords and see what is getting shared on Pinterest.
Before heading to a new destination, I like to create a Pinterest board and see what catches my eye. This gives me some ideas on different content angles I can utilize when I am creating my own content during and after the trip.
I discuss my Pinterest strategy and explain how I grew my Pinterest traffic more in this post.
I mentioned his SEO bootcamp above, but Scrivs also has a blogging boot camp that will walk you through set-up and content, as well. His community is one that I have been a part of for over a year and I have learned so much! I highly recommend it!
Find other travel bloggers you enjoy and interact with their posts. Develop relationships in the travel blogging community. Share other posts, and you will eventually have a network built that shares yours.