One hand taps at the keyboard while another clasps an icy margarita. No headphones necessary – the lapping sound of waves is enough to soothe you through another day as a travel blogger. You’ve spent the morning snapping Sepia-toned photos of the beach for Instagram, and now you’re journalling your thoughts on how the small island you’re volunteering in has left you permanently inspired.
Sound like a dream?
Yep, it is. And nothing more.
Travel blogging is arguably one of the most misrepresented careers out there, including by bloggers themselves. By nature we tend to
hold death grip the most far-flung, dreamy aspects of a job that isn’t our own. And that’s exactly what’s happened with blogging.
Now, I’d be lying if I said travel blogging isn’t great. It’s awesome. What began as a hobby for me three years ago has now become my main source of income. But travel blogging is so radically different from how I’ve just painted it above, and I think it’s important to make that distinction before quitting one’s day job.
I’ve received approximately a bajillion e-mails (give or take) asking how to create a blog, and how to earn money doing so. Today I’m finally going to walk you through how to start a travel blog for leisure or possibly a living. Sit tight – this may take awhile – here’s the basic how-to’s of running your own profitable travel blog (without selling out)!
How to start a travel blog
- 1 How to start a travel blog
- 2 How to make a profitable travel blog: 5 tips to success
- 3 Work conditions & pay
- 4 How to start a travel blog: The thrifty gist
- 5 Additional Resources
1. Decide on a purpose or niche
If you’re blogging for fun, you needn’t stress about this; your purpose is simply to journal your ideas and adventures. Easy!
If your end goal is to earn money, you should pick a niche. The exception to this is if you wish to run a lifestyle-focused travel blog where readers are following your adventures. Otherwise, people should be able to land on your website and get a clear idea of your expertise.
Now, it can take time to figure out your niche, and it may even change as you blog. This happened to us as we’ve gradually moved away from blogging solely about our travels, and transitioned mostly into sharing cost-cutting advice and guides.
Here’s some quick questions to help you figure out an area of focus for your blog.
- Why do I want to blog? What information am I passionate about sharing with others?
- What are my strengths and expertise? How can I weave these into a blog?
- What types of blogs do I like? Why do I like them?
- What are my interests? Some ideas: cooking, hiking, adventure travel, animals, culture, language, food, eco-tourism, luxury travel
2. Choose a blog name
Pick a name,
any name. Rookie mistake. Do not just pick a name at random! Choose something that conveys your intended theme or message in a few words. I cannot emphasize how important this is if your end-goal is to make an earning on said name.
Some quick tips on choosing a blog name:
- Make sure it reads cleanly in a URL. For instance, “As Sweet As Anything” may sound okay, but assweetasanything.com is not only long, but it begins with the word “ass”. Avoid excessive length and ensure it reads well once smushed up in a URL! We recommend Namecheap for registering a domain name, so try a few of your ideas in their search tool to see if they are available. (Note: our recommended web host Siteground mentioned below include a free domain name, so if you’re signing up with them, don’t buy the domain name on Namecheap!)
- Choose something that represents your niche, but consider longevity. Doing a 6-month trip to Asia? “Jen in Asia” is a great blog name for 6 months. What happens after that? What if you travel to Europe? If you want to blog long-term, then think long-term with creating your name, which is the face of your brand.
- Pick a name that makes sense. How to know if a blog name makes sense? Ask people. Brutally honest people. Seriously, find your meanest friend, write a list of ideas, and show them. Also – sleep on it. I know you’re thinking all the good names are taken, but be patient. Re-visit ideas with a fresh set of eyes to relive your first impression of it and find that perfect name!
- Check if social media channels are available under that name. This is important for discoverability and consistency with your branding. Check availability of your blog name on Instagram, Facebook Pages, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube/Vimeo, Snapchat, and anything else you can think of! You needn’t drop a blog name entirely if you can’t grab it on all those platforms, but it is ideal to have them.
3. Choose a web host
Okay, so now you have a name. Where does the rest of the blog come from? You need to choose blogging software for managing your blog. WordPress is the most popular (it’s what we use), as it has many free plug-ins and themes to quickly get your site off the ground. WordPress itself is 100% free, but you will need to pay for a web host to actually install it on and serve your blog posts from.
Note: Many blogs are recommending Bluehost, but errors, complaints, and slow-loading websites have put it on our “avoid” list.
4. Select a theme
This is the fun part! WordPress comes with a few themes for free, so you can skim their options. If you really want your blog to stand out from the rest though, we recommend purchasing a professionally designed theme from Themeforest (they do have free ones too). Another drag-and-drop theme that is popular amongst travel bloggers and worth checking out is the Genesis Framework.
To ensure you’re getting an easy-to-use theme, see if the theme has a lot of sales and reviews, and whether the seller has created a lot of other WordPress themes before. After purchasing a theme, you can upload it directly from your WordPress control panel, and voila – you now have your very own travel blog!
5. Backup, backup, backup!
It is essential that you make sure your website is being regularly backed up. If you accidentally delete something, install a plugin that breaks your website, or even if your web host loses your data, you can always restore your site if you have a good backup!
Jetpack (by WordPress) has something called the personal plan. For $3.50 USD per month, you get daily, automatic backups of your website to their servers, anti-spam filtering on your comments, and priority support from WordPress with your questions. Restoring or moving your site is as simple as installing the Jetpack plugin, logging in, and clicking restore on the backup you need to retrieve.
We pay for this plan, and it’s worth every penny. If you take your blog seriously, there is no simpler way to backup your website.
6. Install essential plugins
One of the best things about WordPress is how many plugins are available. Can’t make your page look a certain way? Want to insert fancy photo galleries? Chances are, a plugin exists for whatever you need.
Here’s a few of our essentials:
- Jetpack: An official WordPress plugin with a whole toolkit of essential tools, like social share buttons, photo galleries, anti-spam on comments, and website backup. Some features are paid (like backup) but most are FREE!
- Yoast SEO: This toolkit will review your posts and give you tips to rank highly on Google (and thus get more traffic)
- WP Super Cache: An official WordPress plugin, this will drastically speed up your website by caching your pages.
- MonsterInsights: Let’s you easily integrate Google Analytics into your site, so you can track how many visitors you’re getting, your most popular posts, and more.
- Mailchimp: Mailchimp gives you signup boxes to collect e-mail addresses from your visitors, then send them newsletters using their easy newsletter builder. You can use the code provided on their website, or easily use their official plugin.
- Advanced Ads: If you’re looking to put ad space on your site, either with AdSense or by selling ads directly, this plugin is one of the simplest solutions.
As a general rule of thumb, try to install as few plugins as possible, since having too many plugins can slow down your website. However, there
7. Get posting!
It’s time to post your thoughts to the world. Once you’ve gotten a few posts up, share your blog with friends or family to let them know of its existence. Don’t be too hard on yourself in the beginning – just roll with it. The one and only way to get better at blogging and find your voice is to keep blogging!
How to make a profitable travel blog: 5 tips to success
Earning money blogging is entirely possible, but there are three things I feel obligated to disclose first:
- It will take longer than you anticipated
- It will be a lot harder than you think
- It will not always be enjoyable
If you’re really serious, don’t let any of this deter you. Is the blogosphere over-saturated with travel blogs? Yes. But can you imagine what the world would be like if musicians or artists had a “give up” attitude because of over-crowding? An excess of voices doesn’t mean there isn’t room for yours. You never know how your words could touch someone (or thousands!). If you have the passion, do it!
Tip 1: Write decently and honestly
While there is no shortage of blogs with mediocre writing that are raking in the dough, I do believe that blogs with honest, quality writing withstand the test of time. Such blogs are also more likely to be taken seriously by large brands and most importantly, followed long-term by readers. If you’re dreaming big, invest in your writing.
No matter how experienced you are, every writer can always improve. Here are some quick tips to writing decently:
- Always re-visit blog posts with fresh eyes before publishing. This allows you to re-read, catch errors & possibly restructure.
- Be concise. That doesn’t mean only write short blog posts. It does mean that each paragraph and sentence should be worthy of its space. Headings help make information more digestible.
- Be honest. The more raw and exposed you are, the greater readers will connect with you as a writer. Honesty, whether good or bad, leaves a lasting impression.
- Read as much as you can. Whether blogs, books, articles, or magazines, reading will improve your vocabulary, inspire your writing, and ignite your imagination.
In addition to reading novels and other travel blogs for inspiration, I strongly recommend the following two books to improve your writing. I’ve read them countless times, and still gain new insights each time I review them.
Tip 2: Be consistent and patient
Posting routinely is what generates interest and engagement from readers. How often should you post? That’s debatable. In our experience, it is far better to post less often with great content every time, rather than frequent posts that are rushed or subpar. Put simply, post as much as you can without compromising on quality. Only you can determine how often you can do that successfully.
Next: be patient. It takes time to build an authentic audience. Keep posting and remain active on social media, and people will stick around and follow you.
Now, many bloggers use what I call the “reciprocity approach”. With this strategy bloggers employ a “like for like” mentality. This involves following, liking, and sharing other blogs content, hoping they will do the same. This is a time-consuming tactic that we wouldn’t recommend, but some bloggers will swear by. Straight up, I think it’s annoying, it pulls time from other aspects of the blog, and ultimately builds an audience of bloggers, which is futile.
Tip 3: Talk to the experts
If you want to take your blogging to the next level and turn it into a real business, we strongly recommend investing the money on a blogging course. There is far too much information out there to learn in the blogging world. It is well worth every penny to have everything you need to know revealed to you in one place, plus get constant support. So, where to begin?
We’ve worked through two online blogging courses, and each offer great benefits to aspiring bloggers. Travel Blog Success is the first course we completed. It’s taught by established travel bloggers and explores everything you need to know to grow your blog and make it profitable. It’s hugely helped us make Thrifty Nomads what it is today!
More recently Nomadic Matt has come out with his own course, Superstar Blogging. It offers easily digestible information that is spot on in accuracy. From understanding how to really monetize your blog (especially with affiliates, which we primarily use), to crafting your writing skills (again, huge fans of this!) – everything that an aspiring blogger needs to know is provided here.
Surprisingly, one of our favourite perks of these courses is gaining access to the private Facebook groups. In these groups you can directly ask questions to fellow travel bloggers – yep, even popular ones! We read and contribute to the discussions almost daily. You can also request critiques on absolutely anything, or just share frustrations and insights at any time.
Some of my own blog crushes frequent the Travel Blog Success group, including Alex in Wanderland, Hecktic Travels, and Young Adventuress. In the Superstar Blogging course Facebook group, Nomadic Matt himself is responding to queries and offering input.
Being able to get such firsthand information from the pros is a major plus. Not to mention, it’s insightful to hear their tips and struggles. At the end of the day, this is virtually the only place where you can access such one-to-one interaction with bloggers of this scale. It is a great inspiration!
Tip 4: Have passion and be brave
Without passion, you will not have the motivation to post week after week, month after month, for an indefinite amount of time (possibly the rest of your life!). If you are inspired to share your stories and advice, then all you need is the strength to put yourself out there.
Unfortunately, fear prevents people from pursuing many creative endeavours, including starting a blog. If feeling afraid is a huge deterrent for you (as it is for many), I would strongly recommend Liz Gilbert’s latest book, “Big Magic”. It will help you find the strength to blog freely and not be afraid to share your quiet thoughts with the world. I’m not kidding when I say this book could change your life!
Tip 5: Decide how to generate income
Once you have sizeable traffic (and a burning passion to boot!), then the opportunity to monetize exists. How exactly does one generate money on their blog? There are several ways, and I’ll walk you through them here. (Psst, if you want to read more in-depth on this, check out TwelveSkip’s tips – her blog is filled with awesome blogging advice!).
Inserting Google banner ads (AdSense) onto blog posts is one way to earn money. As you’ve probably seen, we have ads on some of our articles. We feel it’s fair to do so in exchange for providing highly detailed free information to our readers. That being said, you need high traffic on posts to generate significant income, and most blogs find that ads are not worthwhile. The plugin we use that makes this easy to implement is WP Advanced Ads. In addition to using Google’s AdSense, it also lets you sell ad space to advertisers directly on your site.
Some products or websites provide a small commission or percentage of each sale via an affiliate link. This means a blog can insert a link for say, Amazon, to a product they are reviewing and receive a small amount if a reader clicks the link.
Affiliate programs often only pay out when you’ve made a certain amount (e.g. $100). As with ads, you need sizeable traffic to make decent money. In the blogosphere, most blogs earn the majority of their income on affiliates, and this is the case for us. We only use affiliate links for websites and services that we personally use and recommend, so it’s a great way to make a bit of money without selling out to your readers. To get started, we recommend signing up for Shareasale, CJ, and Affiliate Window, which all have agreements with many travel websites you might wish to promote.
Social media takeovers
This is more for the big blogs, but yes, you can actually get paid to takeover social media accounts of brands (usually Instagram). The idea is that it draws the audience of that blogger to a particular brand (similar to sponsorship – covered next). For smaller blogs, this is not going to be a main income stream (or even be an option at all), and you need a large following to land such opportunities.
A sponsored post is content written for a company that is published on your blog. For instance, a hotel may request you to review them in exchange for a free night’s stay, payment, or both.
Sponsorship can work well when the brand or product fits within your niche. It can expose readers to something or somewhere they’d love, and leave them inspired for their next trip. On the other hand, it can also leave the “ick” tastes of skepticism and bias on readers’ palates. There is also the issue of how to address pitfalls or bad impressions of a place or product, especially with pre-existing pressure from a sponsor. When the fit is right though, it works well (see example from Expert Vagabond below).
A sponsored trip usually means some or all expenses are paid for and/or you receive payment in exchange for providing content on a trip. Such content could include one or several blog articles, Instagram posts, or Twitter shoutouts, to list a few examples (note: what you provide is subject to negotiation).
The main issue with sponsored travel is that it often does not actually provide payment. Bloggers should request fair pay, but often this is not the case. At the end of the day, complimentary trips aren’t a sustainable form of income. You’ll have to get a backbone for negotiating, and/or find supplemental ways to earn on your blog.
If you have even the slightest knowledge of anything, you can write an e-book. Heck, even if you don’t, you can still write one. Many bloggers generate a significant income on e-books, whether that be guides or their own travel tales. Sound complicated? It’s not! Here and here are useful guides on how to publish one and generate a passive income stream.
How to earn money blogging without selling out
Yep, it’s possible. Our advice? Be selective, focus your efforts on producing quality content, and your traffic will come.
When brands or companies come to you asking for work, ask yourself: is this an opportunity I would be interested in enough to seek out myself? Do not develop “yes man syndrome”, accepting any and every offer that comes your way.
Look at it this way. The more misfit opportunities you turn down, the greater the credibility of your blog. In the long run, you will gain the respect of your readers for keeping it real. Reader respect = committed traffic. Committed traffic = long-term success. Let your blog be a reflection of your values. Remember, readers were drawn to that version of “you” in the first place.
Work conditions & pay
What is the pay like for travel bloggers? That’s as subjective as asking how much a musician makes. In other words, the answer depends on how big of a deal you are.
On average, it takes at least a year of FREE full-time love and labour to turn a profit on a blog (this was the case for us). Are you willing to invest one year of your time, with little or most likely no return, in the hopes of creating something lasting? If you have a genuine passion, the answer to this will be an enthusiastic YES.
Now, established bloggers can earn a lot – even six-figure salaries. But in saying that, I’m referring to bloggers who have been around for years. Are you going to jump from one year of hard work to a six-figure salary and a massive following? Spoiler alert: NOPE, you’re not.
Put simply, travel blogging is a big, fat unknown. Your income will vary from month to month, and there is no surefire way of estimating how much you will end up making, or how long it will take to get there. In the end, if you have the passion, you’ll want it bad enough to at least try.
Note: If you’d like some transparency in how much up-and-coming bloggers can make, check out MyTanFeet who up until May of last year were publishing monthly income reports.
How to start a travel blog: The thrifty gist
And there you have it – the basic in’s and out’s of how to start a travel blog and maybe even make it profitable. It’s indescribably harder than most people would dream, but for those who enjoy it, it’s highly fulfilling. Here’s a bite-sized summary of everything you need to get started:
- Get yourself set up with the basics – a blog name, domain, web host, social media channels, site backup, and plugins
- Focus on producing regular, quality content to generate traffic and committed readers
- Experiment with different monetization approaches such as ads, sponsored posts, and affiliate programs
- Get comprehensive insights from the experts – Travel Blog Success and Superstar Blogging both being excellent, all-encompassing courses that offer ongoing support via secret Facebook groups
- Keep it real – honesty will draw in a committed readership in the long-term
Here are some excellent and inspiring reads on blogging if you’re serious about starting a travel blog!
- So you want to be a travel blogger, do you? – Young Adventuress
- 10 tips for starting a kickass travel blog – Young Adventuress
- How to become a professional travel blogger – The Planet D
Have a question or still unclear about how to start a blog? Leave a thought below, we’d be happy to help you out. Happy blogging!