Because I regularly get questions about how to create a blog, I decided to put down as much as I could in this rather massive guide. If you’re starting a blog from scratch, I suggest you read through this guide from top to bottom. If you’re looking for information on a specific topic, feel free to click through to the relevant section:
How to create a blog: chapters
- Before you do anything
- The technical stuff
- Social media
- Travel electronics
- Content creation
- Networking and learning
- Money making
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BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING
I know, I know, you’re all excited to start a blog, but it’s good to sit down first and think this through. While you can easily create your own blog in a day, there are two things you should think about before getting started.
1. What will you write about? Be specific!
This might seem like a stupid question (“Travel, duh!”) but it isn’t. The answer to this question will determine your blog’s name, what it will look like and how you will run it. So just think for a moment.
How often do you travel? Where do you plan on traveling to in the following year? Is there something about travel that really excites you (beaches!) or something that really bores you (museums?)? Is there something about the way you travel that makes you unique or that stands out? Maybe you always travel solo, maybe you eat vegan, maybe you eat cupcakes everywhere you go.
Asking yourself questions like this and answering them will show you what your travel blog should be about. It will show you your niche. And believe me, you need one.
There are about 1,364,752 travel blogs out there. Okay, that number is completely random and totally made up, but you get the point. You will not stand out by writing about travel. You’ll need to go more specific than that. I knew this, but it took me a long time to stop fighting the obvious: that I should write about my home country Belgium as that is where my expertise lies. As that is the place I know best and as travel to Belgium is the thing I can really help people with.
You know you’ve found your thing when you can summarize what your travel blog is about in one sentence. Wonderful Wanderings? It’s the travel blog for people traveling to Belgium and Beyond.
Some examples of top travel blogs who’ve done a great job at establishing themselves as niche experts are:
- Adventurous Kate: solo female travel
- Chasing the Donkey: travel within Croatia
- Nomadic Matt: budget travel
- The Planet D: adventure travel for couples
2. Why do you want to start your own blog?
Granted, your reasons for blogging might change over time. It can start as a hobby and turn into a business. It can start as a side business and turn into your main source of income. It can start as your full-time occupancy and change into something you do on the side because of all kinds of reasons.
Still, it’s good to know when you’re starting a blog, why you’re starting a blog, as this will affect how you go about things and how much time you’ll spend on your travel blog. If you start a blog purely as a way to keep friends and family informed while you’re traveling or as a creative output, then there really are no “must-do’s”. But if you plan on growing your blog into a business in one way or another, there are. Below I’ve listed how to create a blog in several steps… and how to keep it running once you’re all set up.
THE TECHNICAL STUFF
Choose your platform, choose self-hosted WordPress
There are a lot of platforms out there on which you can start a blog. A lot of them are free as well. Luckily for you, there’s no need to compare them all as there’s only way one to go: self-hosted WordPress.
Self-hosted vs not self-hosted
What are the differences between having a self-hosted and a not self-hosted website?
1. Ownership of the domain name
With a self-hosted blog, you own your domain name. This travel blog is self-hosted and has “WonderfulWanderings.com” as domain name, whereas a not self-hosted version would be “WonderfulWanderings.wordpress.com”, for example. A well-known platform for not self-hosted blogs is Tumblr.
When you create a blog on a platform that doesn’t allow self-hosting, you’re dependent on that platforms performance and “mood swings”. If it suddenly decides your travel blog doesn’t comply with its T&C anymore, it can take you offline without an explanation. With a self-hosted blog, you are the sole owner of your data and you decide what happens to it. You’ll still need a server to host your blog on, but we’ll get to that later.
You cannot sell advertising on a blog that’s not self-hosted. Even if you don’t want to sell advertising on your travel blog from the start, don’t deny yourself that opportunity for later.
4. Plugins and custom themes
When you use a platform like Tumblr, the way your travel blog looks will depend on the templates and functionalities available on that platform. With a self-hosted blog, you can install customized themes or plugins.
Wordpress is the standard blogging platform. There are a few companies trying to compete with it, like Wix, but so far WordPress keeps outrunning them in functionality and user friendliness. Even the BBC and Beyoncé use WordPress!
If you’re still hesitant about WordPress, you might want to check out this WordPress vs Blogger comparison on First Site Guide. They have videos comparing WordPress with other systems as well.
Get a domain name
Alright, you’ve decided on WordPress.org (Okay, I might have forced you a bit), but before you can install WordPress, you first need to buy a domain name and hosting. Yes, “buy”. Not to worry, it isn’t expensive and besides, you are serious about starting a blog, aren’t you?
Choosing a domain name
You’ve already thought long and hard about what your travel blog will be about, so you’ve probably come up with some names for it as well. Now, before you buy the domain name you have in mind, it’s important to head over to social media first. And by social media I mean every big social media channel:
You see, you don’t want to make the same mistake as I did. I decided on “Wonderful Wanderings” as the name for my own blog, but “WonderfulWanderings” as an account name wasn’t available anymore for all of those social media channels and so I’m stuck with different handles now, which makes it confusing for people who want to follow me.
- My Facebook page is: facebook.com/WondWanderings
- My Twitter is: twitter.com/WondWand
- My YouTube is: youtube.com/user/wonderfulwanderings
- My Instagram is: instagram.com/wonderfulwanderings/
- My Google+ page is: plus.google.com/+Wonderfulwanderings/posts – but I’m only really active on my personal profile there
- My StumbleUpon is: stumbleupon.com/wondwanderings
- My Pinterest is: pinterest.com/wondwanderer/
See what I mean? So when you’ve decided on a blog name, first go to all of these social media channels and check whether that name is still available on all of them. If it isn’t and you’re really set on the name, you can try a logical variation on it, but then do use that variation for all of your social media and not just for a few channels.
If you’ve decided on a name and it’s available on all social media channels, then you still need to check if it’s also still available as a domain name. With so many websites out there, chances are you might have to try out different options.
Every domain name registrar has a tool that lets you check if the domain name you want is still available. When I first started blogging, I bought my domain name from GoDaddy, but I now have it registered with HostGator.
A few tips:
- I know that there are all kinds of cool domain extensions nowadays, like .travel, but .com is still the standard so make sure you get that one (as well).
- Do not buy a domain name that looks a lot like an existing one and definitely do not buy the .net version of an existing .com website.
- Try to avoid hyphens.
- Avoid overused words. Yes, “wanderings” is overused by travel blogs today, so I failed miserably there. But hey, cut me some slack, I had no idea what I was doing when I bought my domain name. You can avoid the mistake I made!
- Avoid anything with an expiration date. My friend Stephanie (Sorry girl!) has a very successful travel blog called Twenty-Something Travel. You can image the headache she got when she turned 30. She found a way to work with it, but I suggest you spare yourself and go with a name you know will still be good years from now.
Get blog hosting
Like I mentioned before, running a self-hosted WordPress blog means that you are actually in charge of keeping it running. No worries though, as that’s what hosting companies are for. For a monthly fee they will host your blog on their servers and make sure it stays up.
When I started blogging I hosted my site with GoDaddy, but as I wasn’t entirely pleased with the customer support there, I later switched to HostGator. HostGator worked fine until my site became a bit too big for it to handle and so I recently moved Wonderful Wanderings over to SiteGround.
You will see that most hosting companies offer a free domain name for a year if you host your site with them so if you want to save a bit of money and don’t have a reason to buy your domain name from a separate company, you can always just get it at the same time that you purchase your blog hosting.
If you decide to go with SiteGround, like me, just surf to their homepage and click “sign up”. This will show you the different plans they offer. I’m currently on the GrowBig plan, but if you’re just starting out, the StartUp plan will do. You can always upgrade later.
Ones you’ve chosen your plan, SiteGround will give you the option to either enter the domain you’ve purchased before or to register a domain name through them for free.
After that it will give you a chance to review your order and purchase your hosting.
Now that you have your domain name and hosting, you can finally install WordPress. SiteGround offers you to option to automatically install WordPress. They have a tutorial on it here. If you rather do it yourself, you can find a tutorial for installing WordPress manually here.
Install a theme
You won’t be able to really create your own blog until you’ve installed a theme. Themes are the base for the layout of your blog. They’re like design templates. You can use them as they are or adapt them (change colors etc) to make your travel blog look the way you want.
There are tons of free WordPress themes out there and a lot of them will work just fine when you first start out. You can search for them directly from your WordPress dashboard, in the back-end of your travel blog.
However, if you’re looking for something customized, a premium (read: not free) theme is the way to go. Wonderful Wanderings uses a custom-made theme based on the Genesis framework from StudioPress, one of the best WordPress theme frameworks out there. You can buy Genesis separately and hire a designer to create a theme or you can buy the Genesis framework in combination with one of the child themes (that you can also customize or have customized if you want).
Whatever theme you choose, whether it’s a free one or a paid one, make sure it’s responsive a.k.a. mobile-friendly!
Install some plugins
Congratulations! You wanted to know how to create a blog; with your domain name secured, hosting set up and WordPress with theme installed, you now have a running travel blog. It can use some extra functionalities, though, and that’s where plugins come in.
Plugins are a kind of extensions or third-party apps that allow you to add a specific functionality to your WordPress travel blog. You can download them in the “plugins” section of your WordPress dashboard.
Most plugins are free, but there are also some premium plugins for which you need to pay. Some of the basic, free plugins that I use:
- Akismet: protects your blog against spam comments.
- BackWPup: creates database backups of your travel blog. You can ask it manually to run a backup or set it to backup every 24 hours, 48 hours etc.
- Contact Form 7: a contact form that’s a bit more flexible than the standard WordPress one.
- Shareaholic: lets you add share buttons to your posts and pages. It also has a bunch of other options.
- W3 Total Cache: improves your travel blog’s speed if correctly configured.
- Yoast SEO: the best Search Engine Optimization plugin out there. Helps you to optimize your posts for Google search.
When you want to install a plugin, always check when it was last updated and if it’s compatible with the latest version of WordPress. You should always use the latest version of WordPress and it’s probably not a good idea to install a plugin that hasn’t been updated in two years.
Sign up for Google Analytics
When you’ve put all this effort into starting a blog, you also want to know if people are actually reading it, right? After you’ve placed a tracking code into your website (you can do that manually or use a plugin), Google Analytics shows you where your readers are coming from, how long they’re staying on your site, what they’re reading and more. Signing up for an account is free.
Sign up for Google Search Console
This platform gives you additional information about the on- and offsite performance of your travel blog. While Google Analytics focuses on what visitors to your blog do, Google Search Console (formerly known as “Google Webmaster Tools”) focuses on how your website performs in search as well as technically.
Get help when needed
The above stuff is pretty basic and there are tons of guides online that explain step-by-step how to create a blog and get the basic technical stuff right. As time advances, though, you might want to do some more specific and specialized things. Or you might run into some issues. One option is always to do the research and try to do/solve things yourself, the other is to get some help.
My tech hero is Chris Richardson from RTW Labs. Whenever there’s something I can’t fix or something I don’t know how to get done technically, I hire him to do it for me.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA STUFF
Alright, I’m glad we got the technical stuff out of the way. Now it’s time to get you up and running on social media!
Sign up for everything
If you hadn’t signed up for the biggest social media channels when I asked you to check if your blog’s name was still available on them, now’s the time. Even if you don’t want to be active on all of them immediately, it’s important to make sure you have the accounts for your blog’s name. There are so many channels and platforms out there and everyone has its own favorite one, but as a travel blogger you should definitely by present on Facebook (as a page!), Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram.
Get Hootsuite or Buffer
Hootsuite and Buffer are two tools or platforms that allow you to schedule social media posts so that you don’t constantly have to be online to tweet things, for example. There are other tools as well, but these two are the easiest to get started with, I think.
At the moment I schedule my tweets directly in Twitter and my Facebook posts directly into Facebook, but I do still use Hootsuite to manage my Twitter streams. In Hootsuite, you can set up streams based on hashtags, on Twitter lists you’ve created and so on. It’s an easy way to follow specific kinds of tweets or Twitter accounts.
Both Hootsuite and Buffer have free and paid versions. Obviously, the paid versions have more features.
Tailwind allows you to schedule Pins to Pinterest. It’s such bliss! There’s a free trial which consists of 100 scheduled pins and after that you pay $9.99/month. You can schedule images that you find online or upload images from your hard drive. I find it super practical. The only downside to Tailwind is that it currently doesn’t allow you to add a location to a pin.
Social media tips from other travel bloggers
How not to suck at social media, on Young Adventuress
An overview of the most important social media with do’s and don’ts, on Legal Nomads.
Get an email address that’s linked to your travel blog
Remember how SiteGround offered you a free domain name for a year? Well, most hosts also allow you to create your own email address based on your blog’s domain name. My blog email address, for example, is sofie[at]wonderfulwanderings[dot]com.
I highly recommend getting an email address like this as it looks more professional than a Gmail address. The only downside to an email address based on your domain name is that it’s quicker seen as possible spam by email providers.
Start an email list
If there’s one thing a lot of travel bloggers regret it’s not starting their email list sooner. Your email list will become one of your most precious assets as a blogger. Social media channels can stop sending you traffic, Google can change its algorithm once again, but you’ll always have the readers on your email list. So when you create your own blog, immediately also create an email list.
If you don’t feel like sending out a newsletter just yet, that’s not a problem. Email services like Mailchimp and Aweber allow you to automatically send out blog post updates while still gathering email addresses and building that list.
I use Mailchimp and love the way it looks, but I haven’t tried out Aweber yet so I can’t compare.
Obviously, it’s not easy to create a blog, let alone run one, if you don’t own a laptop or desktop. I’m sure you all know that there are a bunch of electronic devices that are handy if not indispensable to do our jobs.
These are the ones that I use:
- Samsung Galaxy SII (I know, I know. I just can’t get myself to pay €700+ for an iPhone)
- HP Elitebook Folio 1040 (Neither do I have the patience to learn something other than Windows)
- Fuji XE-1
- GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition
- WD Elements portable hard drives (Yes, multiple ones!)
- Sandisk memory cards
You can read more about other travel gear I use on this page.
You already decided what your travel blog will be about, so the posts you’ll write will be related to that topic about most of the time. But that’s not what I want to talk about in this section. I want to share some of my ideas about creating travel blog content and address some often asked questions.
F*ck the word count
That’s right, I said “f*ck”. But I used an *, so it’s okay, isn’t it? Anyway, one of the topics that will always be discussed in blogging is how long a blog post should be. Does Google seem to favor longer content at the moment? Yes. Does that mean all your post should be 4,000 words long? No.
There’s no point in writing a long post if you’re not saying anything. There’s also no point in keeping it to just 300 words if you’re leaving out all kinds of vital information. How long your posts are depends solely on how much you have to say about the topic addressed in those posts in an interesting way.
I feel a bit bad giving this advice as I’m not always good at following it myself, but I know that it’s valid. People read blogs because blogs are written by people. If they want dry information they’ll go to Wikipedia. So show a bit of yourself. Let your readers get to know you. You’re a cool person, right?
Decide on a schedule and stick to it
Now, I know this one is controversial. I know some rather big travel bloggers who pump out a bunch of posts one week when they’re based somewhere and then won’t post for two weeks while they’re traveling. While this doesn’t need to be harmful, I do believe it’s nice for your audience to know when you’ll publish something new, or better, how often they can expect to hear from you. If that’s three times a week, fine. If it’s just once a month, also fine. Wandering Earl only publishes one or two posts a month and it’s one of the most successful top travel blogs out there.
By sticking to a schedule you also help yourself. If you don’t have one it will be so much easier to postpone publishing and do other things. Like be on Facebook. All. Day. Long.
What really helps me is the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin. It gives you a calendar view of your scheduled and draft posts right in your WordPress dashboard so that it’s very easy to see whether you’ve been posting consistently or not and when you should start writing again. If you see an empty calendar, hit refresh. If you still see an empty calendar, make some coffee and get started.
Be an expert
As I’ve mentioned in the beginning, it’s not enough to decide you’ll write about travel when you decide to create a blog. You have to be more specific than that or you’ll get swallowed whole by the ocean of travel blogs out there.
The top travel blogs, the most popular travel blogs, the best travel blogs, they all have something that makes them stand out and the people behind those blogs are considered experts. Not only by their readers and followers, but also by other members of the travel industry.
That’s why I think that it’s not enough that you know how to create a blog, you also need to know how to build a blog and to me those are two different things. While everyone can create a blog in a day, not everyone can build a blog, no matter how much time they’re given.
Building a blog, to me, means building an audience, building a brand, building a reputation and building authority. The result of creating a blog is a visible and visitable (yes, that’s a word now) website on the Internet. The result of building a blog is being known as the person/website people go to for X.
What will your expertise be?
Know who you’re writing for
When you’re just starting out, you probably won’t have a solid reader chore and it might be hard to know who the “typical” (if there is such a thing) reader of your travel blog is. It’s your job to both create that reader and get to know him.
By “create” I mean that you should always write with a specific reader in mind. Give him or her a name, decide what his hobbies are, where he’s from, what his travel style is. Then write for him. Don’t write one post full of erudite language and historical and say things like “amazeballs” in the next while only showing photos. Unless, maybe, your typical reader has a split personality.
By “get to know him” I mean that you should put in the effort to get to know your readers. Ask them questions, answer their emails, interact with them on social media. Show them that you’re there and that you care. Be thankful that they’re spending a portion of their time reading your words.
NETWORKING AND LEARNING
Networking and learning, two things everyone running a business should do. Even if you don’t look at your travel blog as a business (yet), networking and continuous learning are essential to improve your blogging skills and get your name out into the industry field.
Of course you can learn a lot by simply surfing the internet, but there’s such a mass of information out there that it’s sometimes hard to find what you need or to even know what it is that you’re looking for. That’s why I’m listing a few places where you get advice, ask questions and exchange ideas on travel blogging.
On the road
On the road? Yes! You sure aren’t the only travel blogger out there, so why not meet up with likeminded spirits? A quick Facebook post or tweet can lead you to other bloggers traveling to the same places as you are. Meet them for a drink and talk business. Or not.
Conferences and trade fairs
Conferences like TBEX and Blogstock are specifically geared towards travel bloggers. They invite top travel bloggers to talk about things like building a brand, monetizing your blog, SEO and more. You’ll definitely learn something new during there. If not during the presentation, then definitely by talking to other bloggers.
Trade fairs like WTM and ITB are more focused on networking and meeting industry people. They can seem overwhelming as they usually they place in ginormous event halls, but if you wear sneakers you’ll be perfectly fine.
Chocolate knows there are Facebook groups for just about everything, including travel blogging. If you just do a search within Facebook for “travel blog” or “travel blogging” you’ll already find quite a few, but to make it easier I’ve listed some of the groups that I’m a member of:
- We Travel We Blog
- The Business of Blogging
- Travel Press Trips
- Travel Video Group
- Travel Bloggers Network
- Global Bloggers Network
When you find a group you’d like to join, you’ll need to send a request and then it’s up to the moderators of that group to let you in or not. When they do, make sure to read the group’s rules and follow them. In general, spamming and self-promotion are not done.
Also try to pay it forward. You might not be able to help often when you’re only starting out, but don’t hold back when you can. People will appreciate it.
The Professional Travel Bloggers Association
The Professional Travel Bloggers Association or PTBA aims to legitimize and professionalize the travel blogging profession. They offer advice and support to their members and connect travel bloggers with the travel industry. In 2014 they organized their first conference, TBCAsia in . Attending that conference and the press trip beforehand has changed my life and made me decide to quit my job three months sooner than planned.
Join Travel Blog Success
I recently published an entire post about what the Travel Blog Success course consists of and why I think you should join. You can read that here. In brief: it covers all the basics for beginning bloggers, from how to create a blog on WordPress to growing traffic, and ads in-depth information through webinars. While there are some other features as well, the real gem for me is the secret Facebook group where you get to interact with some of the biggest travel bloggers out there and where every question asked is one that will teach you something new.
If you’re serious about travel blogging, I highly recommend signing up for this.
You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you? It’s okay, I need to pay my rent as well, but I’m going to be completely honest with you: after three years of blogging I’m still full-on experimenting with monetization strategies. One thing that I do know is that the strategies that work are different for every travel blog and that you will really need to find your own way if you want to turn your own travel blog into a business.
That being said, here are some things you could try out:
This tactic is getting outdated and it could get you into serious trouble with Google, but it’s still being done and so I wanted to include it in the list.
Brand buy links not to reach your audience, but to improve their search engine rankings. Google sees this as cheating and will slap any site that does it if it finds out. You can read more about this here.
Sponsored posts can take many forms. The “bad” kind of sponsored posts are those which aren’t aimed at reaching the audience but are merely published for the link to a brand’s website in them. This is basically link selling as discussed above.
A more proper kind of sponsored posts are posts either written by the blogger or by the third party to promote or raise awareness about the third party. This kind of sponsored posts has as a goal to get the third party in front of the blogger’s audience.
Banners are the typical square or rectangular ads you see on many websites. You can sell the directly at a flat rate or work through a network, which will likely pay you based on the amount of views or clicks the ad gets.
Another way to place banner ads on your travel blog is by using Google Adsense, but you should be aware that you’re not likely to make a lot of money with Google Adsense if you’re traffic is low.
Affiliate marketing works like this: you recommend a product on your travel blog by using a special link and if someone buys that product by clicking on that link you earn a commission at no extra cost to them. For example, if you’d like to join the Travel Blog Success course I’m in and you do so by clicking on one of the links to TBS on this blog, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
Sometimes affiliate programs even have benefits for the buyer: if you sign up for Airbnb using my link I receive $25 or €23 Airbnb credit, but so do you. It’s a win-win!
And there are also some affiliate networks that have special programs for bloggers. CJ.com, for example, has a “Content Certified” program for bloggers with more than 10,000 unique readers/month. What it comes down to is that when you’re accepted to the program, you’ll receive a higher commission from the advertisers in that program. Want to get in? Just send me an email and I’ll hook you up!
However, it’s really important to only recommend products that you have tested out for yourself and that you believe in. How do you think your readers would feel if you recommend them a product, they buy it and then later they find out that it’s actually crap? Right. Your readers are everything. Be honest with them, always. And only recommend products and services that you really think can help them. That’s what I do.
Selling your own product
Ebooks, tours, merchandising, apps… There are all kinds of things you can create yourself (or have created) to sell on your travel blog.
Travel campaigns can take many forms, but in general these are campaigns during which you go on a trip to promote a certain brand or destination via social media and/or blog posts, during and/or after that trip. A campaign generally lasts longer than the duration of the trip.
Social media campaigns
Promoting a brand via your social media channels.
Contests and giveaways
Contests and giveaways are a bit different from sponsored posts as there’s the interactive element of the readers participating to win something. A contest can be designed specifically for the travel blog on which it appears, or a travel blog can also simply promote a contest that a brand is organizing through its own channels.
Whatever you do on your travel blog, you can do off your travel blog as well, right? Think freelance writing, videography, creating social media updates, photography, podcasts…
Figure out which type of content creation your best at, get even better and then put yourself out there, using your travel blog as a resume to get assignments.
I know the word “consultant” is used very lightly these days, but the fact is that if you’re doing a good job at something, you’re almost certainly doing a much better job than a lot of other people – people who are willing to hire you for advice and training.
Think of the knowledge you’ve acquired while blogging. Is there an area that fascinates you more? Something you really stand out in? Then why not put that knowledge to use to help brands with their marketing.
I haven’t spoken at a conference myself yet, but there are plenty of travel bloggers who have. Although speaking doesn’t always pay, it can and even when it doesn’t, it can often lead to great networking and work opportunities.
Offering travel advice, travel planning and tours
As a travel expert (you did become an expert, didn’t you?), you can help your readers plan their next trip. You can give them advice or create an entire itinerary for them. Heck, you could even organize tours for them!
Amanda from MarocMama organizes food tours in Marrakech, Ian from Where Sidewalks Ends takes his readers off the beaten path, Leif from Runaway Guide organizes stressless budget tours in South America and Asia and Wandering Earl guides his readers around all over the world.
Whenever you receive any kind of compensation or freebie from a brand you’re working with, that should be disclosed.
Money making tips from other travel bloggers
How to make money blogging in 3 easy steps, on Keep Calm and Travel
How we make money travel blogging, on Y Travel Blog
How to get paid to travel, on Young Adventuress
15 lessons from turning my travel blog into a career, on Adventurous Kate
And that’s that! I hope you found this post useful and now feel confident that you know how to create a blog. I don’t plan on blogging about blogging a lot (although I do have a blogaversary coming up!), so I tried to make sure I covered as much as possible in this one guide. If you found it helpful, please take a moment to share it. It would make me ever so happy.