A Counterintuitive Guide On How To Start A Blog, Travel For Life And Make A Living On The Road
In this detailed guide on how to start a travel blog, we’ll be covering all the essential information, technical skills and pro tips that will supercharge your skillset to make sure you launch your blogging business with a bang.
Included in this article:
Introduction to blogging and why travel is still a viable niche
Why become a travel blogger during a pandemic?
Part One: How to start a travel blog in 2021
- How to set up your travel blog
- How to choose the right name for you
- Securing the best domain
- Getting a great deal on hosting
- How to design your site with a customisable theme
- How to use plugins to optimise your blog
- Create a great site structure with awesome pages
Part Two: How to build an audience
- The magic of personal storytelling
- Get to know your audience
- The importance of SEO for blogging businesses
- Become a Social Media pro
- Benefits of professional writing training course
- Attend a blogging conference
Part Three: How to monetise your blog
- Affiliate marketing
- AdSense and the display network
- Sponsored posts
- Freelance gigs
- Travel specific monetisation
- Creative commissions
- Recommendations – pro tips from ten years of blogging
Introduction to blogging and why travel is still a viable niche
You’re here for a reason. You want to know how to start a travel blog. I get it, I was once where you are today – at the beginning. And the beginning is a very exciting place to be.
Ten years ago, when I started this blog, the travel blogging industry looked quite different. The major shift today for would-be travel bloggers is the pandemic. Navigating the world in the post-pandemic world is going to be different. The same, but different.
As with any industry, travel blogging is a dynamic situation, changes can happen that shift the ground that you thought was solid. It’s important to remember that these shifts represent opportunities.
Start a travel blog today!
So, while many will believe travel blogging in 2021 to be a tougher gig than it was in 2011 or 2001 or nineteen ninety-whatever, I’m here to tell you that there’s never been a better time to start a travel blog or any other niche.
During the last decade, I’ve started and flipped a travel blog that is so niche that it has become the go-to destination guide for the town that it represents.
In tandem with that, I’ve run this blog to share my passion for bike travel and adventure. Between these two projects, I’ve created financial freedom and enabled my dream to cycle around the world and live anywhere I like.
This maverick guide on how to start a travel blog is designed to show you the possibilities that exist to make money online blogging about something that you love, right now, today.
We’ll explore the possibilities of how to start a travel blog in any niche through the lens of a local destination site and an adventure travel blog.
Why become a travel blogger during a pandemic?
Post pandemic there is going to be a boom in travel. Folks have been locked down, cooped up, not able to travel for so long that when the restrictions finally lift, there’s going be a huge appetite for travel stories and destination guides.
As I alluded to earlier, it’s also possible to create an award-winning, niche popping, destination travel website closer to home.
How to start a blog about your local town
You don’t have to travel the world to become a travel blogger. Where you live and your local area just happens to be a new and exciting place on some happy-go-lucky travellers bucket list.
Consider the possibilities of starting a super-specific, hyper-local travel blog about the town, neighbourhood or region that you know best. That’s exactly how I started my travel blog more than ten years ago.
PRO TIP: readers will come to know your vibe through your writing style. Make your work unique by crafting compelling personal stories about your home town – an authentic voice is far more likely to resonate with readers and keep them coming back for more – regardless of the destination or niche.
Part One: How to start a travel blog in 2021
Let’s jump into the detail of how to start a travel blog in 2021. I’ve made these essential steps easy to follow and super simple to action. If you have experience already and are looking for specific information, just skip to that section
How to start a travel blog – the set-up
First things first, let’s understand how to set up a travel blog from scratch. There are many ways to start a blog in 2021. Blogging platforms come in all shapes and sizes with different features and functionality.
I myself work in WordPress. It’s open-source software that is used widely across the web. I find that WordPress is easy to use for a non-technical specialist and offers the best results across a range of important factors, such as SEO. More about that later.
Start your blog in WordPress
You could set up a free WordPress.com blog right now, in just a couple of minutes. It would do the job and you could start blogging about your travels immediately.
However, this will look a bit amateur, in the long run, offer you less credibility as a professional travel writer and could seriously impact your future potential for growth. In my opinion, it’s better to get this right from the get-go.
Otherwise, you may find yourself faced with the painstaking and expensive task of migrating your hard-won travel blogs, photographs and videos from a WordPress hosted site to your self hosted, personalised domain.
How to choose the right name for you
When I set up this blog, the initial concept was designed around a self-made charity cycling challenge. Our ‘challenge’ was to cycle 20 countries in 100 days.
That could have become the domain and ‘brand name’ for that particular journey, however, in the long run, it would have been limiting. As a name, it was WAY too specific and a mouthful for folks and Insta handles alike. You can hire me to help you workshop your blog.
What’s in a name?
After much agonising and consultation with trusted friends, the name Really Big Bike Ride was chosen. It felt loose enough to encompass all the possibilities where bike travel and cycling adventures were concerned but also specific enough to target the travel niche and fulfil our planned cycling challenge.
Choose a name that feels right for you. It’s important and there’s magic in it. Take the time to consider how the name will sound ten years from now. Because once you’re established, it becomes an extension of who you are.
That said, it’s also not a deal-breaker for a successful blogging career. As you’ll see in the next section, there are many variables that can alter your expectations when it comes to choosing a name.
Securing the best domain
The next step is making certain to secure the name of your choosing as a domain. A good domain should short, sweet and to the point. At this stage, it’s useful to have a shortlist of possibilities when you come to buy your domain.
I recommend BlueHost as the place to buy your domain and the subsequent hosting. It’s quick, easy, and excellent value for money. BlueHost provides a professional service with a 99.99% uptime. A gold standard in the industry.
Getting a great deal on hosting with BlueHost
Visit BlueHost*, armed with your domain name and credit card in readiness to make the purchase. The shared plan offers the best value for money and is perfect for beginners just starting out in blogging.
Hosting can cost anything from $8 – $80 per month depending on the service level you choose. Happily, BlueHost have agreed a special discount for my readers – just $2.95 a month – saving you a handsome four dollars per month.
Best value blog hosting
The screenshot below shows the page that you’ll see on your screen. Click the link to the ’Shared’ hosting and go through to the next page. Now, it’s time to register your domain name. If you already have one, simply type it in, for example, www.reallybigbikeride.com
You will now be asked how long you want to host for; an initial 12-month stint or a longer commitment of 36 months. The longer the agreement, the lower the cost. Choose the option that suits you best.
How to design your blog with a customisable theme
At this stage of the set-up process in the BlueHost back office, you’ll be asked to pick a theme. A theme is the overall design ‘look and feel’ of your new blog.
Choose a theme that reflects your style. Colours, navigation and structure of the theme can be customised at a later stage. For now, just pick the theme you most like the look of.
WordPress blog themes are excellent
In the past, I’ve used the standard WordPress recommended theme which are named for each passing year. For example, 2012 or 2021. WordPress releases a new theme each year and they tend to be elegant, robust and easy to use.
There are thousands of paid for themes available and it’s possible to have a designer fully customise a theme to your own design. This is something for much later on, when you’ve established your blog with tons of great content. The important thing is to start writing.
How to make the best of your blog functionality with plugins
Now that you have your domain, hosting and theme all in place you have a brand new blog! Congratulations. The next step is to add some useful plugins. There are hundreds of thousands of plugins.
I recommend a light touch approach since these can slow down your site speed – a slow website is a no-no with search engines. I use Yoast SEO and Monster Insights. These are practical and effective tools to help promote your new blog.
Keep it simple, just start writing
For more technical detail on how to set up a website, a quick Google search will yield enough results to keep you reading for the next few years. Again, the main thing to do now is to start writing. And that starts with your blog pages. It’s time to log in to your new blog and craft some compelling copy.
To log in just go to —> http://yourdomainname.com/wp-admin and click Pages, New. There’s a navigation panel on the left-hand side with all the sections of your new blog. Pages is near the top.
Create a great site structure with awesome pages
A new blog will tend to have just a few pages, to begin with. One of the most important is the ‘About Me’ page.
This is your moment to introduce yourself to the world, explain what you plan to write about and to share the intention of the blog that you’ve created. The ‘About me’ page is one of the most widely-read pages of any website. Make it count.
You could have a ‘Contact me’ page and perhaps a page to list the destinations that you’ve visited. Your blog posts are separate from pages. Pages are static and form part of the top navigation (the main menu across the top of the website).
Having these pages created at the very beginning means that your blog looks professional to visitors from the very start. It’s advised to do this before you send out social media links or share the domain with friends and family.
Blog posts are a different kettle of fish. A successful travel blog or any blog for that matter relies on high-quality content that people want to read. And that’s what we’re looking at next.
Part Two: How to build an audience as a travel blogger
OK. The juicy part. If you’ve read this far and you’re new, congrats – you’re set to start and the next bit is super essential to your success. If you’re an old hand and you’re refreshing yourself with a different perspective, this next section is for you.
In this second section on how to start a travel blog, I’m going deep dive into the skills that you’ll need to garner a loyal readership. Through dedication to your craft as a writer, you can succeed as a blogger in any field. This is the number one to remember.
A pro bloggers toolkit
However, to start a travel blog in 2021 and make it pay, you’ll need a toolkit that supports your efforts to steer your way to the top.
Starting with the magic of personal storytelling, we’ll cover travel blogging essentials such as the subtle art writing for SEO, how to network like a boss and craft a PR pitch. Plus, how to do proper keyword research and use social media to make your content fly.
The secret to blogging success
Before we begin, I’ll say this: blogging is hard graft. You’ll need a monster work ethic, a flexible skillset and rock-solid persistence. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. This is your reality check. It’s tough but possible.
The benefits of the travel bloggers lifestyle more than make up for the years of effort, energy and investment you’ll make to succeed. If you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll be grand. Let’s do this!
The magic of personal storytelling
In the days before Instagram Influencers and high profile social media stars, there were bloggers. Personal blogs about everyday life shared the highs and lows of ordinary folks experiences. A ‘weblog’ was a simple diary entry shared online for the world to see.
Blogging is the foundation stone on which successful social media content is built. Your ability to craft an interesting personal story that resonates with your audience is the key to a successful blog.
Finding your authentic voice
To find your authentic voice, start by writing honestly about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Readers need to be able to relate to you and the best way to do that is to sharing openly about how it is for you.
There’s an immediacy and magic in writing with vulnerability. Learn this craft and your blog will sing. These posts will serve to create meaningful connections at the early stages of your travel blogging career.
Consider the long term
Destination guides, listicles and things to do are tempting formats since they’ve been uber-popular over the years but consider the longevity of your work. How will it age as your travel blog grows? Focus on quality writing over quick win attention spamming and you’ll benefit in the long term.
Your readers’ trust is earned over time. Don’t blow it on a whim. Just because other folks do it a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to follow. Blaze your own trail.
Popular posts from my blogs of this style include:
Get to know your audience
By now, you really will have a good idea who you’re writing for. You’re a travel blogger after all, so it’s likely that within the travel niche you’ll have a picture in your mind about the audience you plan to serve with awesome content.
Your audience could be called your tribe. A tribe is the group of people you most relate to. They’re the folks that you want to hang out with and be friends with. Tribal marketing is a fun way to either make friends and nurture good relations or it’s a sure-fire way to alienate a segment of the population, even if only temporally.
Tribes trigger emotional responses
The tighter the tribe, the stronger the sentiment. In my case, adventure cycling folks are divided along technical lines; kit specifications, wheel sizes and cycling philosophy all play a part in where the tribal lines are drawn in the sand.
A common theme is about whether to run 26” rims or 700c. This conversation can elicit strong feelings on both sides. It’s a basic but simple example of how content can trigger an emotional response from readers.
And that’s the business that you’re in when it comes to tribal marketing. Test out a few ideas to see where the land lies with your tribe. Be warned – it’s not for the fainthearted. *trolling can arise from divisive blog posts 😉
Example of tribal marketing on Really Big Bike Ride and The Whitby Guide:
Is the Brooks B17 the best bicycle touring saddle ever made? (*spoiler – I believe that it is the best SADDLE ever made.)
9 reasons why goths love Whitby – this post was well-received because Whitby is synonymous with gothic culture. A shoo-in for virality.
The importance of SEO for blogging businesses
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the art of creating content that performs well in search engines. Sounds simple enough but there is a whole world of difference between getting it right and your content performing well and getting it wrong and not appearing at all.
SEO is something every blogger must learn. It’s the difference between success and failure, in my personal opinion.
Many believe that SEO is the key to building a passive income online. The secret to SEO is that once you have perfected the skill of ranking for your desired keywords you can achieve lasting success.
A popular analogy
What that means for a travel blogger is that you do the work once and the results continue without additional effort. A popular analogy of a tree; if the blog is a tree then SEO is the roots that feed it and make it grow.
It can take many weeks and indeed months, to rank well in SERP’s (search engine results pages). However, the time and effort to get this done right at the outset is critical.
Proper search optimised articles will feed traffic to your blog consistently over time. This is the key to generating a passive income while you continue to travel.
Create a passive income
I use a software called LongTailPro*. It’s an absolute game-changer when it comes to levelling up your content to compete in the travel blogging niche.
LongTailPro will tell me everything I need to know about a keyword. For example, it will show exactly how many searches a keyword gets each month, how competitive it is and how likely I would be to rank highly. It’s a simple traffic light system that makes it easy to choose keywords for your blog.
Armed with this information, I can make the choice to pursue the keyword as a possibility or to discard it as unlikely. The trick is to attack keywords that you feel are within reach for your content that will serve useful information to your readership.
Get organised for better SEO
SEO is the bedrock on which you build when you start a travel blog. Google some articles, watch a few YouTubes and later, hire a professional. It’s well worth the time, effort and investment to get it right.
A decent spreadsheet will help you to stay organised and take the pain out or remembering all the blog posts you’ve ever written. A reliable system will also help you later when you scale your blog using freelance writers and outsourced support.
Once you become established and you’ve mastered your craft, you may wish to farm out the day to day tasks to third parties to take a more strategic role in your blogging business. I use Trello to organise my workflows and share tasks with my freelance team.
Become a Social Media pro
Social media is another essential aspect of starting a travel blog that you need to factor in to your plans. First off, you’ll want to secure the @handles for each of the social channels you’re using.
There’s a character limit on Twitter and Instagram so if like me, you have a long domain, you may end up with an abbreviated handle. My Twitter is @RealBigBikeRide rather than ReallyBigBikeRide. A quick and easy fix.
Social media success
When it comes to social media success there’s a lot to consider; which platforms are best suited to your brand; will you manage the all individually or schedule content using software?
I use a blended approach depending on the time of year, travel commitments and workload. Sometimes I post manually, particularly when I’ve got an important new article to share. Mostly, for old content, I tend to reshare it at the best time using the auto-schedule feature on Hootsuite.
Hootsuite offers a useful scheduling tool that can help you organise your content. Great for more established travel bloggers with lots of content to share. The free version is great for beginners just starting a travel blog.
Choose the channels that work for you
For my niche travel blog, The Whitby Guide, I used Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Over the years I grew an audience on each to create a following of north of 100k.
Social media is an opportunity to develop a strong ‘brand personality’ and to share your work with a new audience. Once you’ve mastered the nuances of each channel, you’ll garner a loyal following that comes to love your updates.
Finally, when it comes to social media, numbers matter. The greater the following, the more likely you will be to land press trips, paid gigs and free hotel stays. Partners will be looking for added value and that starts with having an engaged following that’s large enough to make an impact.
Benefits of professional writing training course
Since writing is the core skill of becoming a successful travel blogger, it is perhaps wise to consider some kind of formal training to learn the tricks of the trade.
Personally, I’ve found that reading is the key to refining my writing skills. The more I read, the more I expand my vocabulary, understand different writing styles and learn new ways of communicating ideas with clarity.
To write well, read often
In this way, I enjoyed reading the works of Paul Theroux, Eric Newby and Mark Twain. I’ve also found inspiration in a number of books such as The Great Railway Bazaar*, Walden, and Getting Stoned With Savages.
Reading is an accessible, easy and free way to improve your writing skills and find inspiration for your next great adventure. You’ll find travel books in your niche that totally shift your perspective and steer the course of your travel blogging style.
Travel books I love
In my case, that included books about bike travel like Thunder and Sunshine, Janapar and Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle*. These journeys inspired my own bicycle tour around the world and helped me to improve my writing style.
Whether you choose a professional blogging course to help nurture your writing skills or simply decide that reading often and writing lots is the way to go, you’ll need to put the hours in to get results.
Connect with your Travel Tribe
Your tribe of fellow travel bloggers are out there scurrying around the world gathering content and hanging out in hostels, shooting the breeze. Fortunately, there are numerous Facebook groups that connect the diaspora budding travel writers and bloggers.
These groups are great places to get to know your travel tribe, to ask questions and share advice. In my case, these groups are particularly niche: cycling has its own dedicated subculture and forums.
Join a Facebook group to connect with your tribe
Networking is an important part of the travel blogging game so dive in and make a splash with your new friends. You never know where the next creative collaboration or niche travel project will come from. Drink deep from the well of wisdom.
For the general travel audience here are few groups to consider:
Attend a blogging conference
I was invited to attend TBEX Thailand way back in 2015. At the time I was in the middle of my world cycle and it didn’t quite fit with my itinerary. I was on a great cycling adventure. I didn’t need a flight to a business conference.
In hindsight, perhaps there was value to be had in going along. My friend went and she found that network to be helpful, supportive and inspiring. Not to mention the contacts that were made for later reference.
Travel blogging can be a lonely pursuit at times, which is something to remember when you’re making plans. Knowing that there’s an accessible support network to help you along the way is reassuring.
Plus, there’s the chance to put names to faces with important decision-makers of brands and tourism businesses that you want to work with.
Put names to faces
In my niche, adventure travel, there are specific events that bring together the best explorers and adventurers in the industry. The Royal Geographic Society hosts a number of events and weekends that provide much-needed support to first-timers.
I attended Explore hosted by Alastair Humphreys, a popular travel blogger and adventurer. I found the evening useful and made connections with a number of seasoned veterans. It certainly helped shape my around the world bicycle journey.
Who knows, one day, maybe you’ll speak at a travel blogging conference as an expert.
How to monetise your blog
Monetising your blog is the crux of the travel blogging career. It’s one of the hardest parts of starting a travel blog. Sure, writing content is simple enough but to do it well, it takes time and effort to develop the skill.
Learning social media is important and the basics of SEO are a minimum requirement. That’s not to mention photo editing, keyword research, networking and a whole bunch of skills you didn’t know exiting yet.
Make money from your blog from day one
But none of that matters unless you figure out how to monetise your travel blog.
All the blood, sweat and tears (and there will be tears) will mean nothing if you don’t know how to make a living from your work as a travel blogger.
When you start a travel blog this is perhaps at the back of your mind. There’s all the fun stuff to look forward to; exciting press trips, free hotel stays and the possibility of a nomadic life on the road.
Make money from your blog
This section is for beginners and veterans alike who are looking for ways to make money from a travel blog.
I’ve worked my blogs as side hustles while I was in full-time employment. I’ve begged, borrowed and stolen to make ends meet. There’s no silver bullet and every travel blog is different but there has to be a paycheck in it. Otherwise, travel blogging is nothing more than an expensive hobby.
Let’s jump in.
Affiliate marketing is a quick and easy way to monetise your blog. There are a plethora of products that you can promote on your blog.
Start simple with a selection of popular products that will appeal to your readership. In the travel niche booking.com is the go-to affiliate partner for hotel stays.
It’s quick and easy to set up and commission checks are paid after the guest stay.
AdSense and the display network
AdSense is the Google-specific affiliate network that pays a commission for clicks on its display network. It’s an easy way to start earning money from your blog for a beginner.
Mediavine is a display network that serves ads based on user intent and cookie history. It’s perfect for travel blogs since the network has relevant partners that pay solid percentages for clicks.
The minimum requirement for a blog to join the Mediavine network is 17,000 visits per month. A sensible traffic target for a new blog to achieve in six to twelve months.
Sponsored posts have been an important part of the growth of The Whitby Guide. Historically, this blog was funded by B2B subscriptions which is similar to an annual fee for a sponsored post.
For those starting a blog today, the sponsored post is perhaps something for later. You’ll need a high domain authority and a lot of patience.
Requests tend to be other sites asking for links to irrelevant content which could harm your blog in the long run. Think carefully about the partners you choose to work with. Your readers will appreciate your integrity.
You don’t have to start a blog to work freelance writing gigs. You could just as easily join UpWork or Fiverr* to apply for paid freelance writing projects.
I’ve had success here in the past offering outsourced marketing services. I have a ten-year sales and marketing career to lean into as a skillset.
In transitional periods (after I sold my share of The Whitby Guide for example), I’ve worked on some interesting, well-paid freelance projects.
Travel specific monetisation for new bloggers
As a newbie travel blogger, you’ll likely be excited by the prospect of brand ambassadorships, paid press trips and free hotel stays.
I enjoyed my fair share of ‘free lunches’ as a food blogger back in the early 2000s. It’s fun while it lasts. In the end, you realise that you’re time is worth more than the ‘free’ experience you have been gifted in exchange.
Your skill and expertise as a blogger tend to outgrow these novelty perks. If after five or six years, you’re still supping free beers in return for your time and audience attention, maybe go back to the day job.
No such thing as a free lunch
There is a whole raft of opportunities to make money from your following. Sponsored social media posts, Instagram stories and sponsored giveaways are easy ways to leverage your audience for cash.
If you work hard to establish a large following, will you sell them out for a quick buck or make strategic partnerships that add value to the content they consume?
All of the above require enormous amounts of time, effort and expertise. Building the audience alone is a huge task. Selling the space to brands is a whole other skill set that requires another chunk of time and energy.
Selling your photography and creating bespoke video content are two further variations on the freelance theme. You don’t need to start a blog to work paid content creation gigs – they are available to anyone with a portfolio via UpWork or Fiverr.
Recommendations – pro tips from ten years of blogging
Congratulations, you made it! We’re done. You are now ready to start a blog.
I’ve written this guide to help offer some guidance and support to those starting out in the blogging game. I read stuff like this when I first started out and it helped shape my ideas and figure out what I wanted from blogging.
Financial freedom, the potentiality to live anywhere in the world and to see the world by bicycle were among the top priorities when I first started my blogs. I knew that blogging could become the key to location independent living and that I’d enjoy the process of making it happen.
It has been a heck of a ride. By no means a straight line to success, more a meandering ramble through the decade.
If I could give you just one piece of advice that will help you to succeed, it would be this: start writing today and never stop.
Keep working on your craft, ignore the doubters and persevere no matter what. You’ll find your way and become a superstar blogger, by hook or by crook, but keep writing and read often.