The top question I receive from readers, by far, pertains to starting a travel blog and living a life of location independence on their own terms. Instead of scrambling to reply while on the road — often with limited Wi-Fi — I wanted to create a guide that can help people begin in an informative step-by-step format, with (fun!) homework assignments to make it happen.
There are only seven steps listed; however, I implore you to take your time with each and really put in the thought and effort that’s required to create a successful blog.
BONUS: Make sure to sign up for my FREE 5-day profitable travel blogging course, where I share a *new* strategy for turning your website into a sustainable business.
1. Think About Brand
Before even setting up your website you’ll want to define your brand. There’s no point in buying a domain name if you might change it three months later. Keep in mind the Internet is saturated with travel blogs — some great, some not — so you’ll really need to define your niche and what makes you stand out. For example, targeting a defined niche like fishing or mountain climbing might seem like you’ll get less eyes on those posts than general travel, but it makes you a true expert to those eyes (and can also help with targeting partners and sponsors down the line). Moreover, you’ll stand out in this sea of post scribbling vagabonds.
Other ways you may stand out are your voice, an interesting column or series, an interactive design, or unique product or service.
Remember, your brand isn’t just your niche, but your content, domain, design and voice. Take these into consideration.
Get Blogging: Find 10 blogs relating to your niche and make a pro/con list. What do you like and don’t you like about these blogs in terms of design and content? What are they lacking? Where can you fill gaps or do something better? Refer to this list as you setup your blog.
2. Craft Your Mission Statement
A Mission Statement is one of those things that sounds so simple in theory, but in reality can be pretty complex. Ask yourself what words you’d like your blog to be synonymous with, what values you want your blog to stand for, what your blog goals are and who you’re writing for. Think about your answers over a period of time (not in 10 minutes) and write your answers as well as any random related thoughts that come to you. It also helps to read the Mission Statements of bloggers you admire to get inspired.
Give yourself a break then come back to your notes. Keeping your brand in mind — your Mission Statement needs to reflect this — write out a draft Mission Statement. Keep it short and to the point, but written in your original voice. Before publishing, ask friends and blogger peers to give you feedback. Also, check out a few helpful resources on the topic, like these from ProBlogger, A Royal Daughter and Crafter Minds.
One thing I cannot stress enough: once you pin down your Mission Statement do not stray from it (note: that’s not to say you can’t change with it and it can’t grow with you). Don’t confuse your readers by going against your goals, and don’t ruin your reputation and your readers’ trust by selling out. For instance, if you’re a responsible tourism writer who vows to expose the negative and promote the positive in the industry, don’t talk about the joys of (irresponsible) elephant rides no matter how much a company is willing to pay for a sponsored post. No quick cash is worth ruining your reputation.
Get Blogging: Draft an About Page. Remember to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” (with “me” being the reader) and to include at least one great photo of yourself and a story — show, don’t just tell — depicting what makes you an expert on the topic. Look at other engaging About Pages for inspiration. Here’s mine, with a few others I love being The Everywhereist, Alex in Wanderland, Expert Vagabond and The Blonde Abroad.
3. Setup WordPress.org
While the free WordPress.com is okay, for full control over the functionality and design of your website — and to monetize it — you’ll need WordPress.org. You can see the graphic above for more information on this.
This also means you’ll need a hosting package. I recommend Bluehost as they offer 24/7 support, an uptime average of 99.9%, a simple interface, unlimited domains and disk space, and WordPress recommends it. Moreover, it’s budget-friendly starting at $3.95 per month.
I also highly recommend paying the extra money — typically less than $20 — to buy the domain (i.e. www.jessieonajourney.com vs www.jessieonajourney.wordpress.com). It just looks way more professional.
Click here for step-by-step instructions on installing WordPress.org.
Get Blogging: Setup WordPress.org and purchase your domain and hosting package. Setup an email account linked to your domain (i.e. email@example.com). Bluehost offers unlimited emails if you’d like to make a few different ones (ie contribute@jessieonajourney and firstname.lastname@example.org).If you're looking to create a professional travel #blog WordPress.com may not be your best option. Here's why. #travel #write Click To Tweet
4. Come Up With A Content Strategy
What topics will you focus on? What categories will guide your writing (and make up the navigation menu items on your homepage)? Are there any creative series you can do? For example, I have an Inspiring Travel Stories and a Travel ASMR series.
How often will you post and what types of content? This might mean one interview, one feature and one photo per week (or whatever works for you). Remember to add in some evergreen content — content that’s timeless and will still be relevant in years to come.
Get Blogging: Along with writing one evergreen post — for instance, How To Make Friends When Traveling Solo or Lessons I Learned Traveling Alone As A Female; you can use this list of evergreen content types for help — create a mindmap of your blog. Let the map inspire the direction you’d like to take it. I also use mind maps for coming up with thorough and creative content.
5. Setup Your Social Channels
No matter how much you love or hate it, your social media channels are an important extension of your blog. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr … they all offer another way to promote your posts, projects and partners. You don’t have to sign up for all of them, but do think about what makes sense for your brand and setup those channels with your brand name. Or, as close to your brand name as you can; for example, I’m JessOnAJourney on Twitter, not JessieOnAJourney. Definitely setup Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Get Blogging: Setup your channels and get to know some of the popular tools for managing your accounts. Setup a posting schedule and stick to it as closely as you can. Scheduling tools like HootSuite and Buffer can help keep your social media channels organized (especially when on the road), while content management assistants like Edgar and RoundTeam have really saved me time on Twitter.
6. Buy A Theme Or Hire A Designer
Your theme (aka the design template) of your website shouldn’t just look professional, it should reflect your brand. For instance, if you have a budget travel site don’t have a beautiful theme that makes people think “luxury,” go for a professional theme that says “budget.” Spirit Airlines and Emirates should both have well-organized, attractive sites, but they should not give off the same vibes.
For those who are really looking to fully bring their own unique vision to life, hiring a developer and designer gives you absolute control. I used the services of the amazing Michael Pollock — for both of my sites (I also own Epicure & Culture). You probably can’t tell, but both use the same theme — Michael’s WP-Prosperity — but he customized it for me and tweaked the coding to make them look completely different. I couldn’t have been happier with his professionalism and ability to take my ideas and offer honest feedback.
Get Blogging: Look back at that pro/con list from Step 1 and take note of the design elements you do and don’t want. Then, head to sites like ThemeForest and WPZoom to start perusing. Click here if you’re interested in my theme, WP-Prosperity.
One theme I highly recommend is X Theme, which I recently downloaded for my tour company site NYC Tours & Photo Safaris. It’s a game changer for sure! What makes this different from many themes is it works like a drag-and-drop page builder. So instead of having to download tons of plugins and additional software, the theme comes with essentially every customizable option you’d need built right into it. There are 20+ homepage style options built in, as well. In short, it took months for me to build out my travel blogs AND I had to hire a developer which cost thousands. It took mere hours to do the same thing on my tour site using X Theme without needing assistance.When creating a #travel #blog your design should not only look professional, it should reflect your #brand Click To Tweet
7. Get Secure
After getting hacked 1,000 times using GoDaddy and their SiteLock offering (they kept pitching me the base level, which sucked, and then tried to get me to upgrade), I got fed up and switched to Sucuri. And wow, am I happy I did! They offer complete website security — as in they scan for, defend against and clean up nasty malware infections — for $199.99+ per year and will backup your entire site for $5 per month. While this might sound like a lot at first, trust me when I say you’ll pay a lot more than that if you get hacked. I have hackers try to get into my sites multiple times every day, and I can actually see Sucuri blocking them from doing their dirty work. I’m extremely happy with the service.
Get Blogging: Sign up for Sucuri. While you’re at it, download the free Akismet plugin to protect yourself from spam, as well.
Recommended Services For Budding Bloggers:
One-On-One Blogging Consultations [Tailored Coaching Done via Skype]
How To Start A Blog [Intro Online Class]
How To Turn Your Blog Into A Career [Advanced Online Class]
Great Escape Publishing Online Travel Writing School [Partner Programs]
What tips for starting a travel blog would you add? Please share in the comments below.