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Travel blogging is one of the most underrated industries in terms of value. Knowing what I know today, I would have focused more of my energy on building my blog rather than growing my Instagram (@simplysantos) back in 2017. The power of having something permanent, unique, helpful, and yours is priceless. A place to share your thoughts and opinions, collect memories, showcase your talents, and even sell products is something no other social media platform does as well.
There’s also a lot of bad or outdated advice out there. Having a background in engineering, I talk a little bit more about some small technical tweaks you should at least be aware about that will make a huge difference and save you a lot of time and headache.
While there are a lot of tips and tricks on how to figure out what to write about and how to get your content seen, this guide focuses on everything you need to know to start a travel blog (or any blog/website) and introduces just a few ways you can monetize your blog. With a little bit of time and consistency, you’ll be living your dream life before you know it.
1. Choose a Domain Name
Unfortunately, this process is way harder than it should be. Reminding me of the good old days of creating an AIM username, most names you think of will already be taken. You can check the availability of each domain name easily online at domain.com.
2. Choose a Webhost
Your WebHost (aka hosting provider) is where your website will live – all the files, settings, security, backups, and more will be located on their servers. While this may not seem important, it can make a big difference in the speed of your site, the overall cost of your site, security, and customer support.
The two most popular hosting services for regular WordPress blogs are SiteGround and BlueHost. I personally use and recommend SiteGround due to their better customer support, faster speeds (super important), and more features that you’d usually have to pay extra for or use a third-party plugin like a staging area (also very important).
Do your own research though and see what works best for you. Generally, the cheaper providers don’t include as much, and then will try and upsell you later. Speaking of, DON’T BE FOOLED BY GODADDY’S CHEAP INTRO OFFERS. They are the worst (sorry lol). While the choice is ultimately yours, I definitely don’t recommend GoDaddy for anything. **correction, if you have a domain name in mind but aren’t ready to make a site yet, GoDaddy can be a cheap place to park your domain for a year.
3. Install WordPress
Assuming your host is decent, it should be almost automatic to install wordpress. Once you’ve installed it, you’ll be able to create a username and password and login to the dashboard that way. (In order to access your site type in /wp-admin at the end. For example www.examplesite.com/wp-admin ) You can also access it via your webhost dashboard.
5. Configure your blog settings - do this first
Once you’re in the dashboard go to settings > general settings and do the following:
- Make sure your WordPress address (URL) and Site Address (URL) match exactly.
- Disable ‘anyone can register’ under Membership
- Set your language, timezone, and date preferences
- Save 🙂
Permalinks are the URL formats for your posts. Here, decide on the structure you want. Make sure you do this first because changing them in the future will cause you to do a bunch of redirections to avoid being penalized by google.
Navigate to Settings > Permalinks
A popular option is to select the post name option. You can also do a custom structure. This way, you can include the category as well. The available tags are shown, but a good format would be /%category%/%postname%/ so it would look like www.examplesite.com/blog/howtostart or, if your someone who really struggles with categorizing (me) you can do just the post name www.examplesite.com/howtostart
6. Pick a Theme
Choose Your Theme
Choosing a theme might be the most important thing in this entire process. You could, theoretically, hire a developer to design your site. But, especially if it’s your first blog, I’d suggest buying a premade WordPress theme.
Envato Market (Themeforest) is my favorite place to find themes. Elegant Themes is another popular one.
To save yourself a bunch of time – get a theme that’s 1) popular and highly rated (more support) 2) includes/is integrated with Elementor (thank me later).
Install and Setup your WordPress Theme (READ THE MANUAL!)
This is probably the only time I will ever suggest thoroughly reading supporting documentation of something. Thankfully, a lot of themes now have both written and video explanations. But the manual will walk you through everything you need to know.
Hello Daydreamers uses TheGem for Elementor theme from Themeforest.
7. Create a Child Theme
What most people don’t realize until it’s too late is that any custom changes you make to your theme will be overridden when you have to update it. YUP. Instead, you have to create what is called a Child Theme, which essentially is an editable version that only references the original, instead of actually changing it.
If you’re lucky, your theme might automatically come with a Child theme folder. Otherwise, you can follow this WordPress Guide on how to create one yourself (not gonna lie, slightly intimidating).
9. Install Essential Plug-Ins
Plug-ins are the main reason I choose WordPress over any other host. They make your life so much easier (usually). There’s a few I 100% recommend installing before doing anything and they are:
- Rank Math or Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO has dominated the field, so most people will recommend that one. Rank Math is newer to the game, but just as powerful. Rank Math allows a lot more perks when comparing the free versions of both.
- Akismet Anti-Spam
Filters out all the spam comments you’re about to get. Yes, you will get them. And a lot. Install this now.
- Site Kit by Google
The holy grail of everything google. This includes analytics, ads, and just everything google. Speaking of which, this would be a good time to set up Google Analytics if you haven’t yet.
One of the few plugins actually developed by WordPress, Jetpack literally does everything: SEO, Security, Indexing, Statistics, Social Media buttons, Speed Optimizations, backups, media compression you name it.
- Elementor Page Builder
Elementor is hands down the most useful page builder that exists. It’s so much more intuitive than WordPress Bakery/Gutenburg Blocks or even Divi. It’s easy. There are so many options. And if you’re smart and listened to my suggestion on getting a theme that integrates it, the options will be endless. Elementor is so good, that it’s the only thing I’ve ever purchased the Pro version for, ever.
10. Secure your Site with an SSL Certificate (HTTPS)
An SSL certificate secures your site and protects sensitive information such as credit card numbers, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. If you ever want to sell anything, you’ll have to have a secure site. Also, without an SSL, google will flag your page and the annoying “not secure” popup will appear. SSL encryption is also a really important for SEO as it’s one of the most important ranking factors for Google. Non-secure webpages are automatically pushed to the bottom of the results.
How to Get an SSL Certificate
Both SiteGround and BlueHost offer free SSL certificates with their hosting plans (I personally use SiteGround). If your hosting plan doesn’t offer an SSL it’s probably a good indicator that you should switch, but you can either purchase one from them, or you can get a free SSL certificate from letsencrypt.org
Not sure if a site is secure? One way to know if a site is secure is if it has https:// in the URL instead of http:// without an SSL
Create your first blog post, make your about you page, write anything and everything that comes to mind. The first requirement in having your website officialy recognized is to not have any demo content.
12. Submit your Sitemap to Search Engines
Once you’re happy with your website, it’s time to tell the world about it! You also have to tell Google, and the other search engines, that your site exists.
13. Get Organic Traffic
Ok so now you have a blog that no one reads. Time to change that! You’ll hear the term SEO thrown around a lot, and all that means is Search Engine Optimization – how likely it is that your post will show up in a google search – (YUP that’s the wholeeeee point). While SEO is a whole in-depth topic on its own (guide coming soon), at a bare minimum, be sure to do the following:
- Submit your sitemap for indexing
- Go through your Rank Math or Yoast SEO options thoroughly
- Make sure WordPress allows your site to be seen! (Settings > Reading >> Search Engine Visibility and make sure the box next to ‘Discourage search engines from indexing this site’ is UNCHECKED.
14. Get More Traffic using Social Media
- Pinterest – hands down the best way to bring traffic to your blog, especially if you are visually creative. It’s my favorite platform because you don’t need a large following for your posts to be seen and shared by a large audience.
- Facebook – share your articles on Facebook! Find groups that are in your niche and link to your articles that might be helpful.
- Instagram – swipe up links. Put it in your bio. Answer people’s questions with links.
15. Monetize Your Blog
The moment we’ve all been waiting for and finally the answer to HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH A TRAVEL BLOG?! While there are so many creative ways to make money online, the main ways travel bloggers (and you) make money from their blog are:
Affiliate Marketing involves affiliates (aka the blogger/you) referring a product or a service and then receiving commission every time someone purchases using their referral link or code. Almost every single company has an affiliate program, some being more lucrative than others.
How to get your own Affiliate Links/Affiliate Codes
Luckily it’s pretty straightforward. If you scroll down to the footer of most companies, you’ll see a link for “affiliates”. which will lead you to the sign-up page. There are also a few popular affiliate marketing networks where one account gives you access to hundreds or thousands of companies.
Once you start generating enough traffic, you can set up ads on your blog! While the amount is small, it’s completely passive. You get paid per view and a slightly higher amount per click. There a lot of ad programs out there, but the most common are:
Google Adsense (same as YouTube)
Media.net – Yahoo and Bing’s competition to Adsense
Mediavine – You need a minimum of 50,000 sessions a month, but the return is much higher than AdSense.
Ezoic – known to have the highest return. Requires 10,000 page views per month.
Have you noticed how almost everyone and their mother is either selling a course, preset pack, or starting a swimsuit brand? That’s because one of the best ways to make money is by selling your own product. Digital products are extremely easy since there is no inventory or upfront product costs.
WordPress makes it really easy to integrate a shop via WooCommerce.
With a big enough audience and solid enough blog, it’s common for bloggers to get trips paid for in exchange for a blog review. This can include a couple nights at a hotel or even an entire 2 week guided trip. Every company wants to improve their marketing, and a good way to up their score is by getting a backlink from a reputable related travel blog!
The main thing I learned during my first social media internship was: Emails = Money.
Setting up an email list is a great way to attract more readers to your blog, set up a sales funnel, and promote new and timely content. MailChimp allows you to integrate email lists with your website, keeping your entire look cohesive.
16. Speed up your Site
This is an entire skill of its own, and for a good reason. You’ll hear me talk about site speed quite a bit because it’s one of the easiest ways you can make your website stand out. Google highly regards a fast-loading webpage, and most people don’t optimize theirs as well as they should (bonus points if your theme includes support on speed and if you use SiteGround).
How to make your site faster:
- Optimize Images
- Reduce file sizes – WP Smush is a great plugin for this
- Lazy Load your images
- Use a CDN (included with SiteGround hosting – just saying).
There are a lot of plug-ins that do this. Be aware that some might break your site, so make sure to test it on a staging copy before publishing live. WP Rocket is one of the best ones.
Reduce the number of plugins.
And there you have it, the complete beginner’s guide on how to start a travel blog in this unique year of 2021. Congratulations! By now you should be on your way to having your very own blog. Drop us a link to your site in the comments, we’ll be sure to check it out 🙂
Check back soon for part two: How to Make Money with a Travel Blog (an in-depth guide).