I’ve gotten a lot of messages over the two years that I’ve been blogging asking me how I started my blog and today I am finally going to answer that very big question and share some detailed instructions as to how you can also start your own blog. (The title of this post is “how to start your own travel blog” however these instructions are essentially the same no matter what topic you’re looking to write about!)
I briefly discussed this in my Q&A video, but Airplanes and Avocados started as an escape from a miserable first year of university. I had taken a gap year before starting school and had the opportunity to travel to so many incredible places, so when I had to stop traveling to start school I was pretty upset. I started A&A in my dorm room in Ottawa as a way to keep my wanderlust alive and relive all those amazing times I had while I was abroad. I had always enjoyed writing and sharing stories with people, so blogging came very naturally to me, and soon enough I was hooked! I dreamed of quitting school and traveling the world full time, writing about all of my adventures to millions of readers around the globe. While that vision has changed slightly, I am still very much in love with writing and exploring this great planet, and that passion has shaped A&A into what it is today.
Starting my blog wasn’t easy, it took a lot of research and sleepless nights, and a whole lot of trial and error before I finally figured out what the heck I was doing – and even now, two years later, I’m still learning!
If you’re wanting to get into travel blogging for a fat paycheque or free travel, I’m going to stop you right now. While travel blogging does have incredible perks, they don’t come easy. I was blogging for well over a year before I saw a cent of income from my website. Travel blogging is not all press trips and first-class upgrades; it takes a lot of work to start generating income from your website and even more to get large companies to pay you to travel the world. Like I said, these perks are incredible and they do exist, but please do not start a travel blog under the assumption you’ll soon be going on sponsored trips around the globe. You’ll need to put in the work first – maybe years of it – before you reap the rewards of travel blogging.
Now, if you’re willing to take on that challenge and work your ass off, then keep on reading!
This post is going to focus on how to start a professional, monetized blog on a paid platform. If you’re just looking to start a hobby blog for fun, and don’t want to pay to build your website, then this post may not be as helpful to you. To help you decide whether you should build your site on a paid platform or a free platform, I’ve done a quick comparison of the two below.
|Paid Platform||Free Platform|
|· Usually a monthly fee (paid annually)
· Setting up just as simple, but more time consuming
· Custom domain
· More professional appearance
· Monetize your website through ads
· More plugin and theme options
· Complete access to backend files (so you can make coding changes if necessary)
· You own the website entirely and have full control
|· Free – no initial start-up costs
· Easy to set up
· Sub domain (yourwebsite.wordpress.com)
· Less professional appearance
· No option to monetize your site
· Limited plugin and theme options
· No access to backend files
· The website still belongs to the hosting platform, if they go out of business tomorrow, your website is gone
Hopefully, this quick comparison has helped weed out whether or not you want to put in the time and effort to make this a professional, monetized site, or if you prefer to just write for fun for your friends and family. (Which is totally okay too! And probably a lot less stressful!)
For those of you who have decided that you want to self-host your website and want more information on how to get started on this journey, keep on reading! Below I’ve laid out detailed step by step instructions to hopefully answer all of your blogging questions.
Decide what you want to blog about and find your niche
Unfortunately, the travel blogging industry and the blogging industry in general, is incredibly oversaturated. Just being a “travel blog” isn’t enough of a niche. You’re really going to need to think about what sets you apart from other travel blogs. What can you offer that nobody else can?
For example, Airplanes & Avocados is a travel blog that focuses on sustainable travel and ocean conservation. My niche is ecotourism and I focus more on tropical destinations near the ocean, rather than other destinations that other travel bloggers may highlight.
Think about what will set your website apart. Can you write about traveling on a budget, or luxury travel, couple travel, or traveling with children? Most people who are just starting out are scared to narrow down their niche because they’re worried about having too small of a target audience, but that’s exactly what you want. If you have a small target audience, chances are you’re the only one blogging about that topic, so that entire small audience will be looking at your blog. As your website begins to grow you can expand to more broad topics, but don’t start broad with the intent to narrow it down later. Start with a specific niche and once you expand, the following that you’ve gained will want to stick around as you write about more topics because they’ve fallen in love with you and your content.
Choose a name and purchase a domain
People always ask me how I came up with the name “Airplanes & Avocados” and the truth is, I really don’t remember. I remember hours of mindless scribbles and reject names scrawled on a scrap piece of paper, trying to cleverly combine terms related to health and travel (A&A’s original niche) and then eventually landing on Airplanes & Avocados.
Take your time deciding what to name your website. It should be a name that you keep forever, so you’re going to want to pick something timeless that you’ll love today and ten years from now. It might take you a while to settle on the perfect name, so be patient and resist the urge to choose the first thing that comes to mind. (If I had done that this blog might be called Airplanes and Asparagus).
Some more helpful tips for coming up with the perfect blog name are:
- Try to make it short and sweet, or at least easy to remember
- Be unique (avoid calling your blog “Adventurous Sally”, this is a widely popular name in the travel blogging community and your blog will easily get lost in the mix)
- Avoid using numbers and symbols
- Make sure your domain name isn’t already taken (also be sure to Google your proposed name beforehand, the last thing you want is your new travel blog sharing a name with a raunchy website)
**another helpful tip is to make sure your domain name is available on all the social media channels you’ll plan to use**
Once you’ve settled on the perfect name for your website, it’s time to purchase your domain. There are a variety of different websites that offer domain purchasing, but I personally purchase mine through Bluehost, which is the same company that I use to host my website. We’ll get into the specifics of how to purchase and set up your domain name in the next step when I talk about setting up your web hosting.
Set up good web hosting
This is where I usually lose people. Although web hosting sounds like a scary, foreign term, it’s actually simpler than it seems and the most important part in setting up your website. Web hosting is essentially buying a little piece of real estate on the internet where you’ll, well, HOST your website. Your place on the web will hold all of your websites data, blog posts, photos, backups, and everything else that’s associated with your site.
As I said before, I use Bluehost for web hosting as do many other bloggers. Their customer service is always timely and incredibly helpful, their plans are affordable, and I’ve never had issues with my site crashing or running slowly. Bluehost is also very beginner friendly; their interface is very simple and they have a ton of resources available to help you get started.
Bluehost has a variety of different plan options, but for those just starting out, I recommend the 12-month basic plan. You can always upgrade if you need to later!
After choosing your plan, you’ll be taken to the screen where you can register your domain name. You’ll want to enter your new domain name in the “new domain” section and you’re good to go!
To finish off the setup process, Bluehost offers a bunch of additional add-ons to your package. Personally, I think that the only necessary one is “domain privacy protection”. Adding this to your plan ensures that your private information (home address, phone number, etc.) won’t be visible to your site visitors.
To finish off, you pay for your entire 12-month package now and are billed again in a year. Then you’ll want to log back into Bluehost with your username and password to complete the next step of the set-up process.
Now that you have your hosting set up, it’s time to install WordPress, which is the platform you’ll create your blog on. WordPress.org is the most widely used platform among bloggers and is even used by huge sites like BBC and CNN.
WordPress is pretty straightforward and very user-friendly, but if you ever need a little bit more direction you can check out the great tutorials and resources that WordPress provides for users.
Install a theme and customize your site
This is where the fun begins and you have the opportunity to play around with the look of your website and customize it any way you’d like.
The first thing you’ll want to do is install a theme, which is essentially just the way your website is laid out. Again, this is a step that requires patience and a lot of thinking. You don’t want to be changing the layout of your website every week because that will be very confusing for your readers, so make sure you’re in love with the theme that you choose.
You can choose to go with a free theme or a paid theme. When you’re just starting out you may want to begin with a free theme, or you might want to make the commitment and jump right into a paid theme. A paid theme is definitely a worthwhile investment if you’re looking to continue blogging because it will set your website apart from the others and paid themes usually have way more customization options.
WordPress offers both its own free and paid themes, however, you can also go elsewhere to find a paid theme:
Once you’ve purchased a theme, to install it on your website you’ll want to go to your WordPress dashboard -> Appearance -> Themes -> Upload -> Install -> Activate.
BONUS: Install Plugins
WordPress plugins are absolutely necessary to ensure optimal functioning of your website. Think of them as apps that will spice up the site and make the user experience that much better. Below are a few WordPress plugins that I recommend. You can easily install any of these by going to your Dashboard -> Plugins -> Add New.
- Askimet – protects your site from comment spam
- Jetpack – takes care of site security, website performance, traffic growth, image optimization, website appearance, and more
- Yoast SEO – helps optimize your content for search engines
- Google Analytics – tracks your website stats and performance
(You can read more about how to use Google Analytics HERE.)
Start creating amazing content
Now you’re really ready to start putting this website together!
Start first with a few key pages to lay the groundwork of your website. Some important ones that I would include are:
- About me – a place where you can introduce yourself to new readers and let people know what to expect from your website
- Contact – you can leave your email, social media handles, or install a contact form so readers know how they can reach you
- Others depending on your content – as you grow and you begin to settle into your niche you may want to add more pages like “Destinations”, “FAQ”, “Work With Me”, etc.
It’s also important to make sure that your social media handles are clearly visible on your page. You want first-time readers to quickly be able to see an area they can click to find your social media pages. Usually, most themes have a social media customization option with them, where you can display your social icons right at the top of the page. (You can customize these form your WordPress dashboard by going to Appearance -> Theme Options).
In order to create really great content, you’re going to have to plan ahead. I have never written an amazing blog post the night before it’s published. I usually plan out my editorial calendar month by month and start writing posts anywhere from 2 days to 2 months in advance, depending on how much research they require, photoshoots, interviews, etc.
Two important things to remember about blogging is that your content should always be engaging and original and you should be uploading regularly. It’s okay to search other blogs for inspiration, but don’t copy someone else’s ideas outright. People will catch on and will not appreciate your dishonesty. Come up with your own unique ideas and put an original spin on posts that may have already been written a hundred times.
It’s also always a good idea to get someone else to proofread your posts before you publish them. Get your family and friends to give you their opinions on some of your writing and check for spelling and grammar errors – it never hurts to have a second set of eyes on your work!
As you begin to plan your first few weeks of content you’re also going to need to think about the timing and frequency of your posts; How often do you want to post? How often can you realistically commit to uploading? Some bloggers are able to post every single day (I have no idea how they do it), and others post once or twice a week. Personally, I like to aim to post 2-3 posts a week and that’s what works for me being a full-time student with an already busy schedule. Think about your current commitments and how much time you have to dedicate to blogging and work around that. It may take some trial and error and fine-tuning, but that’s alright! And remember that quality is always better than quantity; don’t just put crappy posts up for the sake of putting up something new, people will appreciate good content more than frequent content.
To get you started, some of your first posts could be introduction posts about yourself, your new blog, and what your goals are for your website.
Keep writing and be patient
Remember that blogging success doesn’t come overnight.
I warned you at the very beginning that blogging wasn’t easy and for a very long time after starting out you may be writing to an audience of only yourself and your mom. The only way to really succeed in blogging is to push through this phase and keep writing great content.
The more you write and the more you get comfortable with blogging, the better your content will be and you’ll begin to establish your own distinct voice and settle in nicely to your niche. It was only after about a year and a bit of blogging that I found like I had really found my voice in the blogging world and established myself as a professional and expert in my field.
Great things take time and blogging is no exception.
I promise that if you stay committed and dedicated to your blog, and produce high-quality content that you’re passionate and excited about, you will find success in blogging.