Thinking of starting a travel blog? Here I’ll be sharing with you my best tips that will help you get started — and avoid the biggest mistake you can possibly make in your initial blog setup.
But wait… who am I to tell you about travel blogging?
Well, at Indie Traveller I’ve been doing it for over 10 years!
I started blogging just for fun, but things kind of escalated. After just two years I became a full-time professional travel blogger.
The one thing I regret from my early blogging days is that I hadn’t taken the setup process seriously. I didn’t consider the possibility I might want to make money with it later, and so I ended up with a technical mess that could have been avoided easily. This guide is about not making the same mistake.
Firstly, I didn’t start my blog on WordPress, which was highly unwise as it’s the most common blogging system. Even worse, I set it up on a crappy free hosting service (which is definitely a bad idea). Embarrassingly, I also didn’t start my blog on my own domain (more about that later).
I definitely paid the price when my blog started taking off. Literally, in fact, because migrating my blog over to WordPress and a proper hosting service cost me over $2000 in billing from a technical expert who had to help me do it.
So, let’s do this better.
By taking just 10-15 minutes you can set things up properly right away. This will make the blog way easier to update, easier for people to find, and will let you earn money from it in the future.
Even if you’re going to blog just for fun, these steps will be highly worth doing.
While you can certainly use free blogging services for a travel blog, this tutorial will show you why spending just $3 per month on a proper setup can be hugely beneficial down the line.
Why you shouldn’t wait to launch your blog
First things first: my advice to new bloggers is to have a live (publically accessible) blog ASAP.
Even if you don’t think you have enough content yet, it’s better to just put what you have live where it’s visible and indexable by Google.
You’re honestly not going to have much (or any) traffic in the first months anyway, but it’s worth launching quickly for an important technical reason.
The longer your blog and domain name exist, the better it is for the algorithms.
Most blogs don’t get that much traffic in at least their first 6 to 12 months, but that’s because they’re still in Google’s so-called ‘sandbox’. This is a period during which Google is still watching your site but not yet ranking it much. A lot of people don’t know about the sandbox and get frustrated, but it’s really there to avoid spam sites and such from getting into Google too easily.
Until Google trusts your site, you’ll basically be put in a waiting room. So launching your blog early means you’ll get out of the sandbox sooner — which is when many more people can discover your blog and you can start growing your audience.
This is why just having your site and domain up with a couple of articles is hugely valuable in getting to that point. Since most people come to blogs via search engines, this is really fundamental.
I made the mistake of holding off for six months, just creating content while I was travelling, but not putting it out there yet. That basically delayed everything by half a year.
When you have a domain name it also accrues a metric called “domain authority” the longer it is live, giving you more chance for your articles to be recognized by search engines. More on this later.
The best blog platform to use
Even if you just want to blog for fun, it’s important to future-proof it.
It’s wise to ensure the foundations of your blog are solid. That way you can monetize or develop your blog later without any major headaches.
For this reason, I do not recommend using free services like Medium.com or other such social blogging platforms.
Why? You simply won’t control your own content. For example, on Medium you have to give a perpetual (i.e. unlimited) license for the content. They will, in a sense, own your work. You also can’t monetize it, and the platforms can change the rules at any time. Not good.
Also, avoid Squarespace or Wix. I know, they’re sponsoring just about every podcast or YouTube channel these days, which makes it seem like they’re the best thing since sliced potatoes. Honestly, they are pretty easy site builders that are good for making a portfolio site or, say, promoting a small business like a restaurant.
But they’re terrible for a content-driven travel blog.
The software that basically 95%+ of bloggers use is WordPress. It’s simply the blogging platform.
You can expand it with thousands of useful plugins and themes, many of them completely free. If you want to use external services in the future, such as for a mailing list, you can be almost 100% sure it’ll work with WordPress.
It’s key to have your own installation of WordPress on your own site (this is called “self-hosted WordPress”). This ensures you can do anything you want in the future, such as including advertising or sponsorship, without any terms & conditions ever stopping you.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this tutorial!
Note: if you get only the cloud version of WordPress at WordPress.org, you can’t monetize anything on your blog (you’re forced to only ever show WordPress ads). That’s why I’ll be showing how to set up the self-hosted WordPress, which lets you do anything you want.
Step-by-step: setting up your travel blog
Alright, here we go… I promise this will be easy!
Step 1. Sign up for a hosting plan
First, we need some space on the internet to put your blog. A hosting company takes care of serving your pages to users. If you’re starting out, I recommend using the budget-friendly yet capable Bluehost.
Having your own hosted space lets you do whatever you want. A paid host doesn’t care if you put ads on your blog, or customize it with plugins, or anything like that.
It’s kind of like having your own plot of land on the internet. You can build your own house on it. And then you can add more rooms later, or even tear it down and build a bigger more awesome house on top of the original foundation. You can’t do that with just a rental space (like some of those free blogging platforms).
There are many different hosting companies, but I like to recommend Bluehost, with which I have an affiliate partnership. Bluehost is what I used myself when I started my first blog.
If you use my link to sign up, you get a special offer of just $2.95 a month.
During the signup process you can choose a free domain name. Think of a name that isn’t taken yet and that reflects the themes or the travel style you most want to write about.
If you’re not sure about the name yet, you can skip this step for now and decide later.
In most cases, there’s no need to bother with their premium plans; if you just sign up for their basic plan, it’ll be good enough for a brand-new blog. You’ll get 10 GB of storage, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, and so on. If you need more you can always upgrade in the future.
Bluehost also gives you your own domain name for free (well, for the first year at least).
Step 2. Install WordPress
All signed up? Great!
Now that you have a hosting account, let’s install WordPress.
After signing up at Bluehost you’ll end up in your account’s control panel. Here, simply select ‘My Sites’ and click ‘Create Site’.
Give your site a name, and in the next step, select your domain name. You can just leave the field where it says Directory empty. Then press “install”.
The set-up might take about 5 minutes — time to make yourself a cup of tea or tell a good travel story to your cat. Come back to your computer and WordPress should be all set up now.
Step 3. Sign in to your blog!
Okay, there isn’t really a step 3. You’re basically finished now.
The technical side of starting a travel blog really isn’t so complicated. There are just a few tweaks you might want to make at this point.
Go to www.yourdomainnamehere.com/wp-admin/ and lo and behold, your WordPress admin awaits you.
Go to Appearance > Themes if you want to change the visual look of your blog. There are lots of nice free themes to choose from. Don’t worry, you can still easily change this later.
You might also want to go to Settings > General and change the name and the tagline.
Another small thing I recommend is going to Settings > Permalink and selecting the option “Post name” if it isn’t already. This ensures the internet addresses for your posts will look nice and clean.
Ta-da, your travel blog is now ready!
Later, you’ll probably want to add an About and Contact page, or enhance your WordPress install with some extra plugins. But those are later steps.
Rest assured, by having a self-hosted WordPress installation, your blog is now future-proof and can be expanded and even monetized in the future. And you’ll be totally in control of your own site.
Want to give your travel blog a flying start? Then check out my video with the 3 most important beginner tips:
Why you 100% need a domain name
One more thing that’s worth explaining: it’s super important to have your own domain name. Even if you’re just doing a blog for fun (for now).
Firstly, if your web address looks something like http://mytravelblog.wordpress.com it’s hard to remember and looks amateurish.
But the bigger problem? It’s that you won’t be building up any Domain Authority.
Think of it this way: when Google sees that you’re posting good content and getting links to your blog from other sites, it’s kind of keeping score in the background. The more authoritative sites Google sees linking to you, the more Google believes you’re authoritative as well.
But if you are hosted under a shared domain like wordpress.com or medium.com, all those imaginary ‘points’ you’re accruing actually go to that domain, which you don’t own.
Hosting your blog on your own domain means you’re immediately building up ‘cred’ and making it easier to rank more highly on search engines later.
Active domains with links to them can also become quite valuable and can even be sold or auctioned.
These days it doesn’t matter too much if your domain is a .com or has some lesser-known extension as people will still find you through search engines. What matters most is that you simply own the domain.
As I mentioned earlier, if you sign up at Bluehost you’ll get a free domain name. If you prefer to get your domain elsewhere, I recommend using Hover.com, which is a nice no-nonsense domain registrar that doesn’t try to upsell you anything.
But getting your domain through Bluehost is a little easier, as then you don’t have to manually connect your domain to your hosting account, which can get a little technical.
How to choose a name for your travel blog
Honestly… this may well be the trickiest part to getting started.
It can be tough to find a name for a blog that isn’t already taken, so you may have to get a bit creative.
Just one piece of advice: consider a blog name that doesn’t have your own name in it. Personally, I just think this gives you more flexibility. Maybe you’ll want to share your blog with other authors one day, develop it in new unexpected directions, or even sell it. It’s nice to keep your options open and not tie it exclusively to your name.
Sometimes I wish I had come up with some astoundingly witty name that shows me to be an unequivocal genius at naming things. I ended up calling my blog Indie Traveller, which is hardly inspired. But it is, at least, somewhat easy to remember.
It also says something about the way I like to travel and it isn’t just limited to myself or my name. In the end, I’m happy that I didn’t go with Wandering Marek, or something to that effect, as I really wanted to have a versatile brand.
Still, if personal branding is important to your blog, then using your own name could still be a good move.
It’s worth having a bit of a brainstorm and pitching names to a few people and seeing what they think before buying your domain name.
Okay… what’s next?
Your journey as a travel blogger is only just beginning!
Here are some other posts to help you out: