“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” — Karen Lamb
Starting a travel blog is both an exciting and overwhelming process. You’ll have an online space where you can tell stories of your travels, showcase your most beautiful photos, connect with likeminded people and even earn money. But it doesn’t happen overnight.
I started She Needs Less so I’d have a place to not only share my experiences with travel and minimalism but also help others experience the same, with information on everything from how to pack and budget to planning an itinerary. When I first started writing and sharing my experiences, I was amazed at how many people read my articles and encouraged me. The positive feedback offered a huge confidence boost and helped me keep going.
Using this guide will show you how to start a travel blog without making the amateur mistakes that scare most bloggers away and you’ll be on a path to earn money.
Starting a Travel Blog Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Before I continue, I’d like to preface this how-to guide with the mistakes I made while creating She Needs Less. I did not set up my travel blog in an ideal way. My backend was a mess, the site looked weird, I wasn’t thinking about monetization, and my design and processes were very inconsistent. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2019 that I joined the Superstar Blogging Course and got She Needs Less up to speed for growing traffic and monetization.
This guide is made from the processes I used to set up She Needs Less, plus the corrections I’ve had to make in recent months thanks to the travel blogging course I wish I had from the start. I’ve included all the details on Superstar Blogging at the end of this post if you want to join the course, as well as mentioning its specific perks throughout this article.
Now that I’ve put all that out in the open, on to my guide on how to start a successful travel blog!
Get Excited & Passionate About Travel Blogging
You’re doing it! You’re making a blog! Don’t get overwhelmed with all the little steps ahead or give yourself an insane deadline to have your site ready. Dare I say enjoy the process. Take one step at a time. When you get overwhelmed, walk away from the blog and take a day or more to just think. It will help you get clear on your travel blog’s mission in the long run.
Think About Your Audience & Monetization From the Start
When I started She Needs Less, I was not thinking about my customer or monetization. Sure, I planned on making a living with my blog, but that was for “someday down the road”. I just wanted a space to write and share my travels and minimalist musings. Don’t be like me.
You don’t need to feel bad for wanting to make money and thinking of your blog as a business. It does your readers (and eventual customers) a great service when you are getting paid for what you are passionate about. It enables you to create even more amazing content and products!
Use Your Passion to Create Value for Your Audience
Think about what you want your blog to be about, who will read it and what they will find value in. Build your blog for and around your target audience. They are going to be both the customers that you engage with and pay your bills, so give them what they want!
I am saying all this assuming you are only starting a blog about something you’re passionate about. If you are passionate about your chosen focus, it will show to your audience and your site will thrive. If you’re creating a personal travel blog just to make money, you’re gonna have a bad time.
- How old is my target audience?
- What are their interests?
- What kind of income do they earn?
- Where are they?
How to Choose a Domain Name for Your Blog
Okay, now comes the fun and often hardest part of starting a travel blog. By now you know what your blog’s focus will be (a.k.a. your passion) and it’s time to come up with a domain name that reflects that focus.
WARNING: When you start brainstorming and typing domains into the search bar, it will seem like all the good ones are taken. It’s not true! Everyone experiences that, so don’t give up!
The Perfect Domain Name
The perfect domain name is relatively short and catchy and has no hyphens or numbers.
The key here is to choose a domain name that is timeless, easy to remember and not based things that frequently change (e.g. where you are traveling, how you are traveling, how long you are traveling).
Make a List of Keywords Associated With Your Focus & Get Creative
Get out a pen and paper and make a list of all the keywords associated with your focus. Seeing everything laid out in front of you will help you go through the ideas and find the best name for your travel blog.
When I am brainstorming domain names and business names for an idea, I immediately start thinking of all the words, rhymes, and phrases associated with the focus. Once I’ve narrowed down my favorites, I start trying each in the internet search bar to see if they are available.
Bounce Final Ideas Off Friends & Family
Before you move forward with purchasing your domain, bounce final ideas off friends and family. If you are in Facebook groups for bloggers, those are a great place to take a poll on final domain names.
When coming up with a name for my travel blog, I wasn’t a part of any blogging networks or groups. Once I joined Superstar Blogging and got access to the closed Facebook group of travel bloggers, I realized how invaluable it is to have a community to bounce ideas off of. Other bloggers working through the same things as me post questions and helpful advice that the whole community benefits from! Not to mention, Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt) is in the group and gives amazing advice and tips from years of experience.
How to Buy a Domain Name
There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites you can buy domains on but the most convenient way to buy your domain name is through the same provider you choose for hosting.
If you buy your domain name on a platform that you do not want to use for hosting, you will have to go through transferring your domain to the hosting platform and it’s a hassle you can easily avoid. Choose your hosting and then purchase your domain name and it’ll be smooth sailing.
What is a Website Hosting Service?
Now you may be wondering, what is hosting? The hosting service you choose is the technology that allows your website to be viewed on the internet. It stores your site’s files and serves them to the web when your domain name is searched.
How to Choose Hosting for A Travel Blog
Before you choose a hosting service, make sure it is compatible with WordPress.org and has 24-hour support and a great reputation for quick speeds and affordable upgrades.
SiteGround for Travel Blog Hosting
In the travel blogging world, BlueHost is by far the most popular hosting service. I used BlueHost when I started She Needs Less and while I don’t believe I fully utilized their customer support, I wasn’t satisfied with my site’s speed and the assistance I received regarding setting up an SSL and site security.
I switched to SiteGround at the beginning of 2019 and I’ve haven’t had a dead end with customer service to date. SiteGround did a complimentary site migration, helped me set up the SSL and a few seconds were shaved off my site speed almost immediately after switching. SiteGround offers secure hosting, amazing customer service, free SSL and a ton of complimentary services (including uploading your theme for you when you purchase on Theme Forest).
If you’re still having hesitations after doing your research, take comfort in the fact that SiteGround is officially recommended by WordPress.org.
Setting Up Your Hosting
If you choose to go with SiteGround for your hosting, you can get your site set up for $3.95 per month. The “StartUp” plan offers everything you need for your first travel blog and the first step is purchasing your domain name (just $15.95 per year), so no time is wasted!
Domain Privacy Protection
You’ll come across plenty of add ons while setting up hosting and poking around the interface, but the only one I recommend getting from the start is domain privacy protection. It’s just $1 per month on SiteGround and it keeps your contact information private. Without domain privacy protection, your personal contact information is available to the public.
How to Choose a Theme for Your Blog
Choosing a theme for your travel blog can take weeks if you let it. Themes cost anywhere from $20-70 if you purchase on a standard site, but with thousands to choose from, it becomes a black hole of indecision and nitpicking. Do you want a minimalist look? Magazine style? Food?
Before you start looking at themes, think about what specific features you want on your site and make a list of any sites with the design and look you’re going for.
Get a Vetted Theme With High Downloads, Reviews & Support
You’re most likely going to come across 10+ themes that you just love, so be prepared to narrow it down based on the quality of the theme. If you’re inexperienced with coding and building websites (like me), stick with themes on Theme Forest and only consider ones with 500+ downloads, plenty of reviews and reliable support.
I fell absolutely in love with the Backpack Traveler Theme but quickly realized it has mediocre reviews and would cause me trouble at my skill level. From then on I only included themes with the above criteria in my search. I chose the Zeen theme and couldn’t be happier! If you like the way my site looks or certain elements, check out Zeen. It has five stars, more than 1,600 sales and it comes with the amazing Tipi Builder that makes building out your site a breeze.
WP Theme Detector
If you love a site’s theme, try typing the URL into WP Theme Detector so you can add the theme to your list of potentials.
Get Your Theme Setup for Free
Once you purchase your theme, you still have to upload it to your WordPress site. When you use SiteGround for hosting and buy your theme on Theme Forest, SiteGround customer support will upload your theme for free in just a few minutes. All you have to do is reach out to customer service.
Getting the Hang of WordPress
If you are a complete newbie to WordPress, fear not!
I had never seen the backend of a WordPress site before creating She Needs Less and I’ve done just fine. Be patient and give yourself time to poke around and get familiar. Watch videos on YouTube, learn the basics of coding as you need and just keep pressing on.
It’s rarely a quick process, but anything you can’t figure out on your own can be figured out with a little Googling or help from customer support. If you want immediate help without spending thousands on hiring a good developer, invest in the Superstar Blogging Course.
Get Access to a Professional Developer for Life With Superstar Blogging!
When you join Superstar Blogging, you get access to Matt Kepnes’ developer, Chris. He’s funny, Australian and shockingly quick. I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than an hour for a response even with the crazy time difference! To date, he’s helped me fix issues with my SSL, MailChimp integration and AMP glitches. I’ve worked for online businesses with money to blow and know how expensive a good developer is—so getting access to Chris from the course is a serious steal!
Add Google Analytics
Before you even get started on building out your theme and creating content, add Google Analytics to your site. It’s never too early to start tracking traffic to your site and learning about your audience. Plus, if you get it out of the way now, there’s no way you’ll forget and miss out on valuable insights!
All you have to do is go to Google Analytics and click ‘Start for free’ and log in with the email you will use for your travel blog. From there follow the instructions and place your unique tracking ID in the Header of your site or wherever your theme specifies.
Must-Have Plugins for Travel Blogs
Plugins needed will vary greatly from site to site, but the following are free, must-haves for any kind of site.
- Yoast SEO – SEO
- Smush – Image compression and optimization.
- Askimet – Protects your site from spam and malicious content.
- WP Rocket – Speeds up your site with caching.
- Grammarly – A browser extension that helps with spelling and grammatical errors.
Set Up Social Media Accounts for Your Blog
If you haven’t already started making social media accounts for your online business (yes, we’re going to start thinking of travel blogging as a business now), start now. I am no expert in social media and I try to stay off of it as much as possible, but it’s free and there’s no denying how valuable it is!
But There’s So Many
Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter are the most popular for travel blogging, but there’s value anywhere you can tap into your audience. If I had to choose just one, I would choose Pinterest as it’s easy to use and it’s one of the first places many people go when researching travel plans or destinations.
Consistency is Key
I have a lot to improve in my social media game, but I do know that consistency is more important than anything. Post consistently and have a consistent brand and voice. People love knowing what to expect from their newsfeed.
Add This Content to Your Blog First
As daunting as it may be, at some point you’re going to have to write. Maybe writing doesn’t intimidate you at all or maybe it makes you avoid opening your computer and eat pints of ice cream. Either way, you have to start somewhere and here’s where:
People will land on your page from a piece of content you’ve created, but they will stay and become a loyal reader because they like you.
Your about page is certain to change and grow so don’t stress about making it perfect. Simply tell your readers who you are, why you’re an expert on your blog’s focus and what they can expect to see on your site. Include at least one nice photo of yourself, like a headshot or you doing something you’re passionate about.
Shorter Version of About
Create a shorter version of your about or a short biography no longer than two sentences. You can easily use it for bylines on guest posts, interviews and pitches to other sites.
Depending on the theme you chose, you may have different options for a contact form. Contact Form 7 is a popular plugin if you need to find one on your own.
Make it easy for your readers to contact you with your email and any other way you’d like to connect. Be sure to include enticing copy that gives readers an idea of why they might like to contact you or collaborate.
How to Write A Blog Post
Everyone has a different process for writing and the process largely differs based on what kind of article you’re writing. I strongly encourage you to find your own process, but I’ll outline my general process below and resources that have helped me.
How to Write a Blog Post Step 1: Ask yourself “what’s the story?”
You have an idea for an article—maybe it’s based on a trip you just took or an insight that was revealed to you. Open your Word Doc or New Post page and start outlining.
- What’s the story?
- What is the main message you are trying to convey?
- Who will find value in the message?
National Geographic writer Don George has an amazing series on Travel Writing That Matters that offers practical advice for your writing process, before, during and after.
Once You’ve Identified the “Story”, Choose the Best Format
Browse through any popular travel blog or resource and you will notice there are numerous formats for blog posts and articles. Longform, listicle, numbered lists, photo stories, social articles, news pieces, etc. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in the beginning, just choose whatever makes sense and you know works for YOU. It’s better getting a 500-word article out than aim for a 2,000-word piece that you never publish.
You Don’t Have to Be Traveling All the Time to Be a Travel Blogger
A common misconception about travel blogging is that you need to be traveling full-time. As a blogger just starting, it’s natural to think you need to take a trip so you have fresh material. If you have a trip coming up, great. Otherwise, I recommend creating content around your most recent experiences in reverse chronological order—that way you cover the freshest material first.
Exhaust your current material for content before you worry about “needing cooler content” that you have to do something for, like take a trip. Write about where you’ve already gone until your next adventure.
How to Write a Blog Post Step 2: Put Words on the Page
Nothing has to be perfect. The most important part of writing a blog post is simply writing. Even if it makes no sense, start writing all the thoughts that come to mind surrounding your chosen topic.
Many people try to write a blog post starting with an introduction, body and conclusion. If you get held up in one section, just move on to the next. My articles usually start with a catchy opening sentence, go all over the place with the body and then I write the introduction at the end. While you need to ensure your blog posts are easy to understand and free of jargon, there’s no exact formula you have to follow. Many blog posts won’t have a conclusion,
You will never stop learning as a writer. No one is an expert. Enjoy the journey!
How to Write a Blog Post Step 3: Choose a Keyword or Phrase for SEO
All of the content on your site should be SEO friendly so your site is easy to find in search engines. There’s no need to keyword stuff, simply make sure the main keyword or phrase of the article appears in the title, a couple of headers, in the first paragraph and wherever relevant throughout the article. You can also Google the keyword and scroll to the bottom to the page to get ideas for supporting keywords under “Searches related to _”.
Free SEO Tools
Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest is an amazing free tool for finding keywords. You can see the volume of searches, competition and top links for any keyword or phrase. If you want to check your site’s standing with SEO and learn how to fix any problems, simply search your domain on the free SEO Site Checkup tool.
How to Write a Blog Post Step 4: Add Images
Unless you’re a professional photographer, you’ll need high-quality photos for your site.
The first three years of She Needs Less, I only used my photos. They did the job but they didn’t look professional and downgraded the initial impression of my site. For some reason I thought using stock photos was cheating. I now realize that’s ridiculous and have updated any mediocre photos with images from the following sites. Now, She Needs Less really pops!
Free Image Resources
In addition to these free image resources, you can use Adobe Spark to create amazing graphics for your site like ads, Pinterest pins, cover photos and more.
Paid Image Resources
If you’re made of money you can always go the route of a subscription to Shutterstock, Getty Images and others. You’ll have a ton more options but pay a hefty price each month.
Trello for Managing Your Editorial Calendar
If you have trouble organizing your work, meeting deadlines or simply getting all your thoughts in one place, try using Trello. It’s an amazing free tool that is completely customizable to your needs. You can create to-do lists, assignments with deadlines, an editorial calendar and more. I even used it to manage a network of freelance writers!
Utilize Customer Support!
No man is an island! As you continue building and growing your site, utilize customer support!
I CANNOT emphasize this enough. If the only thing you remember from this guide is this one point, you’ll succeed. Customer support is the most invaluable and overlooked resource. Use customer support anywhere it’s offered when it comes to running an online business, including WordPress, hosting, themes, plugins, Shopify, WooCommerce and everything in between.
If you avoid customer service at all costs because you hate waiting on the phone, try pressing zero a million times or holding it down until you get an actual person—it almost always works!
Connect With Other Bloggers
Connecting with other travel bloggers or bloggers in any niche you’re interested in is a great way to get ideas and encouragement and grow your site. As you get familiar with sites and build relationships with other bloggers, you’ll be in a great position to contribute content to their site and reach out for advice.
Get Inspired by Other Blogs, Not Discouraged
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re just starting and follow a ton of wildly successful travel blogs. Instead of getting intimidated, try to get inspired and use other blogs for ideas and tips.
Guest Posting & Freelance Writing for Your Travel Blog
Get ready to write for free—a lot.
Aside from SEO, the best way to drive traffic to your site for free is through backlinks on high-authority sites. When you pitch sites, it’s crucial to know the site and audience and do your research on the kind of content they need. Check the footer for a Contact, Contribute or “Write for us” section and follow any guidelines to a T. If you can’t find anything, you can always contact an editor or writer email and ask if they accept contributions.
Here are a few examples of my emails that have been responded to:
Hope you are having a nice week!
Does ____ accept guest posts? I noticed the site doesn’t have many articles on freediving and I recently visited Playa del Carmen, Mexico just to freedive in the cenotes and train.
Would you be interested in a piece on “7 Reasons You Should Learn How to Freedive in Playa del Carmen, Mexico”? I have images as well!
Hi ___ team,
Hope you are having an awesome week! Below are my bio and text article on freediving. I also have accompanying photos I can send over!
Tara Caguiat is a writer, yoga teacher and frequent traveler who encourages others to explore the world both above and below the surface. To read more of Tara’s work, check out SheNeedsLess.com or follow her on Instagram @freedivinggirl.
[Plain Text Format Article Body]
Choose Opportunities That Offer a Byline
Aside from building your portfolio, the most valuable part of guest posting is getting a byline with a backlink to your site. This is how you will drive traffic to your site. You want to make sure the link in the byline or any backlink to your site in the article has “<a href=” in front of it instead of “<a rel=”nofollow” href=” so search engines recognize your link in that site. You can check the code by highlighting the link in the published article and right-clicking “Inspect”. If it is no follow, I would not hesitate to reach out and ask for it to be changed as long as the site made it clear you would be given a link back to your site.
Always Deliver Quality Work When Guest Posting & Freelance Writing
You never want to whip up a quick post “just for a backlink”. No one likes that and sites will not want to work with you if you don’t deliver well-thought-out and professional work. With that being said, you should be credited for your hard work and a site that does not want to give you a byline is not worth your time when it comes to growing your travel blog traffic.
Guest Post Opportunities on Superstar Blogging Opportunity Network
Reason number 34,552 to sign up for Superstar Blogging is the Opportunity Board. All the members of the course post opportunities like paid freelance gigs, collaborations, guest post opportunities, affiliate opportunities, jobs and more. I’ve already received two backlinks for 100-300-word contributions to larger articles and made new blogger friends that I now feel comfortable reaching out to.
How to Have a Logo Made for Your Blog
Don’t’ stress over a logo. It’s really fun but not what makes you money and you can always have it redesigned later. In the beginning, I would create a free logo using something like FreeLogoDesign or DesignHill. When you are ready to design your own or work with a graphic designer, consider using Fiverr or 99designs. Other than that, I would post on your social networks asking for an affordable graphic designer. You’d be surprised how many of your friends have graphic design skills or recommendations.
Superstar Blogging Course by Nomadic Matt
The many perks included with Superstar Blogging are detailed throughout the article, but if you skipped right to this section, here’s everything you need to know.
Why I Chose Superstar Blogging Over Other Courses
I’ve always been highly skeptical of online courses with fancy ads of a hot couple talking about how their course will help you earn X per month for only $599. There were a few courses out there that I kept my eye on, but never really looked into and Superstar Blogging was one of them.
Its low price of $99, customer testimonials and Nomadic Matt’s reputation for quality content are what made me finally cave and buy it. I was ready to get serious about making a business out of my blog and with the 30-day, money-back guarantee, I had nothing to lose. In just Week 1 of the course, Superstar Blogging was a godsend with basic tips and details I had no idea about when I started my blog in 2016. The step by step program helps you with literally every detail that goes into creating a travel blog start to finish. It was created specifically for travel blogs, but the advice in the course could be applied to any blog niche that wants to earn money.
The Business of Blogging – Superstar Blogging Course Overview
Nomadic Matt has one of the most successful travel blogs on earth.
Even though I already had chosen my domain, hosting and theme, and had been writing posts for more than two years, I went through Superstar Blogging from the beginning. It was unsettling how many basic things were set up wrong in my site’s backend, ultimately hurting my SEO, site speed and overall chances of “making it” as a travel blogger.
What the Actual Course Includes
For only $99, Superstar Blogging offers a step-by-step guide to starting a successful travel blog, down to the tiniest detail. For that reason, the course is broken up into weeks so you can focus on just one section at a time.
Lifetime Access to Both Matt Kepnes & His Developer Chris
Throughout the whole course and after, you have access to Matt Kepnes and his amazing developer, Chris. You can reach out to Matt for tips with the course and Chris for all the technical roadblocks you hit.
If you’re familiar with what a good developer costs, then you know how invaluable having access to a professional developer like Chris is. He responds practically instantly and has helped me with everything from setting up an SSL certificate to fixing issues with my Mailchimp Subscription button.
If you get the course for nothing else, get it for access to a full-stack developer for less than the cost of a plane ticket.
Access to Private Facebook Group
Once you purchase the course, you get access to the closed group for Nomadic Matt’s Superstar Blogging Business Course. With upwards of 3,000 engaged members, you have a community to go to for help with every step of creating and monetizing your site. It’s the first place I go for inspiration and tips or feedback on my articles.
Access to Private Opportunity Board
When you log into the Superstar Blogging Course interface, you’ll see an “Opportunity Board” tab where members of the community post freelance jobs, guest posting opportunities, internships and more. It’s an amazing way to network with other bloggers and have a starting point for guest posting on other sites and getting guest posts for your own.
If you have any questions on how to start a travel blog or the Superstar Blogging Course, please reach out in the comments below!
There you have it, folks. Happy blogging!
This post contains affiliate links to services I recommend from experience. If you do decide to use Superstar Blogging, SiteGround or Theme Forest, I appreciate you booking through the links mentioned throughout the article. At no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a kickback that helps me keep She Needs Less going and growing!