I try not to blog much about blogging because I once read somewhere that you shouldn’t do that. Well, today I’m going to break that rule, so if you have zero interest in the blogging biz maybe just head over to my travel page instead.
Though come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I read somewhere else that the way to get tons of blog followers is to write about blogging. I hope that’s true – Internet fame here I come!
No, the truth is I get a lot of emails from people about to start some exciting travels who want to also document those travels in a shiny new travel blog. But the technical side of blogging can get complicated, especially in the beginning, while later on the money making side of blogging can feel like a downright mystery. So I’m writing this as a huge reference guide for people looking to start their own travel blogs, and possibly potentially make some money out if it as well.
And maybe I’m also, just a tiny bit, making fun of the hype around travel blogging. Because we have to be able to laugh at ourselves too, right?
1. Reevaluate – Are you sure you can’t be a fashion, food, or lifestyle blogger instead?
A lot of travel bloggers get in it for the money, which is totally smart because what better way to travel the world than making money writing about your travels? It’s just that travel blogs are so. freaking. boring. Amiright? See if you can’t swing fashion or food blogger first.
No but really, even some of the biggest travel bloggers who started years ago, before the industry was saturated, seem to be seriously struggling to make ends meet. There are tons of better ways to make money online. Transcribing can be a good online income, or if you want to write you can always freelance.
Then again, maybe you’ll be the next Adventurous/Nomadic [insert name here], who am I to kill your dreams? Travel blogging is incredibly fun and addictive, so chances are it’s going to become a passion project that you don’t feel the need to earn an income from anyway. Consider yourself warned!
The most important lesson here is: only start a travel blog if you are actually passionate about sharing your travel adventures. Blogging requires a huge amount of work and while it will start paying off (literally and figuratively), the only thing that’s going to get you through the tough times is passion.
2. Choose a really clever, memorable, and relevant blog name.
I recommend using something with “heart” in it, because that just sounds super professional and isn’t at all embarrassing to say out loud.
Okay, maybe not.
But there are some important things to consider when looking for a name:
- It’s short, memorable, and easy to spell
- A version of it is available on all social media platforms you’ll be using (my handle is @heartmybackpack on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter).
- It can grow with you – don’t choose a name with “backpacker” in it if you won’t always be a backpacker, don’t choose a name that will expire when you get older or change your lifestyle, and I know a lot of people recommend not using your name, in case you eventually want to sell your blog or take on new writers.
- Make sure the words in your name don’t look weird when written all together (so like, maybe don’t go for “travelershittheroad”)
- Practice saying your blog name out loud. You definitely don’t want to be embarrassed by your blog name.
3. Go self hosted
If you want your own dot com you’ll need to buy hosting for your website.
I used to use Godaddy, which had awful customer service, but switched to Hostgator and have never had a single problem (plus my site sped up a lot when I moved to them). Bluehost is also popular, though recently I’ve seen people having a LOT of issues with them so maybe they’re not the best choice anymore?
There’s actually a bit of a scandal going on in the blogging world (ha!) about people recommending Bluehost because their affiliate payout (so the money a blogger makes if you buy something through their link) is the highest. So while recommending Bluehost could make me rich, my honest recommendation would be to go with Hostgator. They have unlimited disk and bandwidth space, super helpful 24/7 tech support, and it costs next to nothing.
After buying a domain name and hosting (both of which you can do on Hostgator) all you have to do is install WordPress, which on Hostgator takes under two minutes.
4. Brand it!
Branding is so important to a blog. What I mean here is the consistent look and feel of your blog. You don’t want to be all over the place with colors, photography styles, and writing styles, because you’re only going to confuse your readers and make it harder to attract a loyal community who want to read each and every one of your posts.
So pick two or three main colors you want to use on your blog, one or two fonts, stick with the same style of photography, and be consistent in your voice.
One of the most important aspects of blog branding is the look of your blog, which will be determined largely by the theme that you choose.
There are tons of beautiful themes out there, especially if you’re willing to pay a bit, which I would say is definitely worth it because blogs are so visual. People often will decide whether to explore your blog or not solely based on how it looks. It’s harsh, but a reality of blogging!
One thing to look out for when choosing a theme is if the theme is well built and won’t slow down your site. I’ve gone with the Genesis Framework because their themes are very reliable and impeccably built. Definitely worth the money!
5. FIND A NICHE!
That’s in all capitals because it’s the most important thing ever. Mine is life after backpacking.
I know, I know, most of the posts on this blog are from my backpacking days. Maybe I missed the ball a bit on this niche thing.
Or maybe my niche is mountains?
Basically, the deal with having a niche, or a specific focus within the travel blogging world, is to ensure that anyone who lands on one of your articles will love all the articles on your site. If you have a specific focus and write with a very specific reader in mind, then your blog won’t appeal to everyone, BUT everything you write will appeal to a smaller group of very engaged readers.
So if someone randomly lands on your blog because they’re interested in one article you wrote, chances are they’re going to want to stick around because all of your other posts will also appeal to them.
Because it’s much better to have a small engaged audience who loves everything you post than to write a bunch of random travel posts where someone might enjoy a few posts from your site, but other posts won’t interest them at all. Because then chances are they won’t want to stick around.
That said, I highly recommend narrowing your focus to something you are truly passionate about, not what you think will get you the most page views or sales of a product.
Want to know something bizarre? A while ago I was curious what the deal is with all those same bland travel listicles clogging my Pinterest feed, so I decided to write two similarly boring travel posts to see how they did. I only shared them on Pinterest, not my homepage or feed, and while one disappeared into Internet oblivion, the other is now one of my top performing posts. It took me less than 30 minutes to write and is totally dull, but I guess that’s how the Internet works.
Realizing this was oddly comforting, because even if I pretend not to care much about travel blog success, every once and a while I’m still going to get caught up in “omg page views!” Now I can remind myself that if that’s what I really wanted I could easily enough make that happen, it just wouldn’t be the same hobby I’ve come to love so much. (I mean, if I were a better writer/blogger I guess I could make that happen without the compromise, but that’s a whole nother story.)
Okay but clearly the real blogging lesson here is get yourself on Pinterest! If you learn how to use it right you can easily access an absurd number of people, regardless of how big or established your blog is.
UPDATE: I’ve already received a bunch of messages from people asking how to use Pinterest to grow traffic without spending a million hours a week on it. Surprisingly, I spend way less time on Pinterest than any other social media – no longer than an hour a week – but it is now my #1 source of referral traffic. Everyday I receive anywhere from 200 to 1,000 referrals from Pinterest.
I don’t really want to write more blog posts about blogging because I know most people reading this aren’t bloggers, but I’m also happy to share what I’ve learned about Pinterest with my fellow travel bloggers, as I do think that now Pinterest is the best and most effective way for new bloggers to quickly grow an engaged audience.
So I’ve put together a full Pinterest course with lots of videos explaining exactly how I use it (this will take under 30 minutes/week) as well as some of my best non-Pinterest blogging tips as well. There’s a lot of info in there, so check it out here!
6. Tell everyone how amazing your travels are!
Some days I’ll think travel blogging is the best kind of blogging, because you’re helping people plan their own trips, highlighting the beauty of places Lonely Planet doesn’t care to feature, and opening people’s eyes to the rest of the world. That’s always a good thing, right?
But other days it feels like a gross community of people telling the Internet how awesome their lives are because they get to travel all the time – well, as long as enough people read their posts so they can keep going on sponsored trips!
I often get way too enthusiastic about places and can’t stop with the exclamation points, but later I’ll look back in shame. Is there anyone out there who is not sick of me going on and on and on about Iran? Nope, didn’t think so. Guys, I’m so sorry.
And then there’s the whole weird monetization aspect of blogging. I haven’t been able to stomach accepting a press trip offer yet, mostly because the idea of traveling just to promote a place feels a tiny bit gross to me, but on the other hand, I get SO many emails from readers telling me that they’ve booked a trip because of something I’ve written, which sort of makes me think shouldn’t I be getting paid by tourism boards for all this promotion? It’s a tricky one.
Right now the bulk of my income comes from ads, which a lot of bloggers are very against, but I feel like no one really minds seeing a bunch of ads on my blog (do you?) and it’s a lot more honest than gushing about a trip that I only went on because someone else paid for it, you know? And the money I do make from ads allows me to spend more time blogging, which I figure is a win for my readers as well.
I also make money through affiliate links and a few occasional sponsored posts. If you’re interested in more details of how I earn money blogging you can read through a few of my monthly blog traffic and income reports here.
7. Don’t be afraid to invest some money into your blog
This is a little bit ridiculous, but early on in my blogging career I had this idea that I shouldn’t spend any more money on my blog than I made from it. I say it’s ridiculous, because who doesn’t spend money on their hobbies?
If there is one thing I could go back and change about how I developed my blog over the years, it would be starting to spend money on it earlier.
8. Study, study, study!
Yes, I was a total nerd in school, but I’m not saying this just because I personally enjoy learning. There is a huge learning curve in blogging, and if you try to just learn it all as you go it is going to take a long time. I really wish I had started reading blogging resources way earlier than I did, because it would have saved me so much time and helped me grow my blog much more quickly.
And no, it’s not all about numbers, so if growing slowly is your thing then that’s totally fine. But I will say that I’ve come to love blogging more and more as my blog has grown, and I think a big reason for that is the community aspect of blogging. I love my readers to bits and they are definitely the reason I persist with this whole blogging thing.
9. Join a blogging course
If you are serious about growing your blog and think you will eventually want to monetize it, then joining at least one blogging course is the way to go. In fact, even if you don’t want to join one now, chances are that you will in the future. I contemplated joining Travel Blog Success (TBS) for almost a year before actually committing, and by the time I did go for it it had become more expensive and I had wasted time with inefficient blogging practices that I could have avoided had I gone through the TBS lessons. Ugh.
The problem is, blogging courses can be really expensive. They are hugely worth it (and not so expensive when you compare them to other classes you might take). But if you aren’t ready for the financial commitment, delve into ebooks instead!
My top two recommendations for new bloggers looking to get a bit serious and set up their blogs and social media channels in effective was are:
- 17 Strategies Used to Go From 17K to 350K+ Page Views in 9 Months // This book is actually written by a mommy blogger, but her strategies all apply to travel blogs as well and are so, so helpful. A lot of the tips she walks you through took me years to figure out, so I definitely wish I had read this book when I had just started my blog. And at $25 it’s a total bargain and perfect for people looking for lots of actionable advice without the commitment and heavy price tag of a full course.
- Strategies Worth Sharing // Facebook is my second biggest traffic driver (after Pinterest) and understanding how it works is key to blog growth. I only recently discovered this book and learned so much from it, even though I’ve been using Facebook for my blog for years. Game changer for sure.
Travel Blog Success (TBS) is probably the most well known of travel blogging courses, and not always for the right reason.
The truth is, I often wonder if the reason so many bloggers promote TBS is because the affiliate payout is huge – we get 30% of each sale we refer, which can translate to a lot of money. I know some bloggers make a lot of money from selling TBS.
So for that reason, part of me really doesn’t want to like or promote TBS.
But in reality its size has made TBS maybe the top community in travel blogging to be part of. Maybe some of the top bloggers joined so that they could earn affiliate money selling the course, but regardless, they are members and very generous with giving advice in the secret Facebook community.
In fact, a while ago I posted in the Facebook group asking for feedback on my blog layout and I received several detailed critiques from a few of the most established bloggers in the business. That alone was probably worth the price of the course.
At the same time, the course material doesn’t offer a ton of new insight for anyone who’s been blogging for more than a year or so. It’s definitely aimed at beginners, while I’d say the private Facebook community is where the more advanced blogging questions are addressed.
Basically, I recommend TBS to newer bloggers for the course material, and to people who have been blogging for longer for the Facebook group alone. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a fair price to pay for a Facebook group.
If you are an advanced blogger, a better option than TBS might be the Travel Blog Monetization Summit. This is aimed at people looking to make money from their blogs and potentially go full time with it, and it gives you all the resources to do so. It also comes with a secret Facebook community that, while not as big as TBS, is still very helpful.
Each and every talk from the summit gave me huge inspiration and a long list of things to change with my blog, and within a couple of months of viewing the course videos I was seeing a considerable increase in my blog income.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding how bloggers actually make money (aside from vague mentions of sponsored posts, affiliate links and press trips) and this summit dispelled a lot of that mystery. These methods definitely work, and you’re unlikely to come across them anywhere else – it’s like getting a secret pass to business conversations between top travel bloggers. In fact, one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with in learning how to monetize my blog is knowing how much to charge, and in this summit a lot of bloggers shared their exact rates sheets.
They’ve also added a course for beginners, which I haven’t done so I can’t really vouch for it, though if it’s anywhere near the quality of the summit it will surely be amazing. You can read more about both courses here.
Phew, I can’t believe I just wrote so much about blogging! Seriously though, I find the blogging world weirdly fascinating and have spent an embarrassing amount of time learning about it. It’s absurd to think about how much I know about blogging right now. Like, way more than I ever learned about anything at my super fancy liberal arts college.
The Internet, it’s so bizarre, no?
Disclosure: this post is full of affiliate links, duh!