I love being a travel blogger. What once started as just a creative outlet has become a full-time job and a location-independent lifestyle. Every day I get to do things I intensely enjoy doing… and get to make a living from it!
In this guide, I will share everything I’ve learned about starting a travel blog and how to set yourself up for success — whether you just want to do it for fun, hoping for certain side-benefits (like free travel), or maybe aiming to one day make a living from it.
Just a little word of caution: gaining an audience, let alone earning money with a travel blog, is not easy. I just want to be clear about this.
Maybe that wasn’t the impression you were given. Some bloggers seem to present travel blogging as some kind of easy cure-all for all of life’s problems. “Just start a travel blog, quit your boring life, and follow your dreams! Soon you’ll be riding a unicorn!”
But this is not going to be that kind of post. If you want to start a travel blog, I think you should do it first of all because you think it’ll be a fun creative outlet. Other things can certainly flow from it, after some time, but you should have realistic expectations going in. Remember there are thousands of ways to make money online or jobs that let you travel – blogging is just one of them.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at how to start your travel blog in the best possible way, whether it’s just to share stories with friends or to one day become a professional blogger.
In this guide:
Reasons to start a travel blog
Why would you want to start a travel blog? Well, here are some of the most common reasons, roughly in order of difficulty:
1. Just for fun!
Hey, maybe you just want to blog about your travels for friends and family. Cool beans! I think this might actually the best reason to get started. If this is you, maybe you’ll just want to skip straight ahead to setting up a blog. If you follow my step-by-step guide, you can be up and running today! In fact, it only has to take about 10 minutes.
2. To learn new skills
Another great reason to have a blog is simply to become better at things. Blogging can teach you about writing, social media management, photography, marketing, entrepreneurship, and a billion other things.
I learned more than I could have ever dreamed of with Indie Traveller (as well as a previous blog I had before this). I acquired new skills rapidly, but I also made many new friends and colleagues and even got my foot in the door for some amazing jobs over the years.
3. To travel for free
Yep, the rumours are true. As a travel blogger, you can often stay for free in hotels, get free tours, or even get entire trips paid for by tourism bureaus or marketing agencies — all in exchange for publicity, of course.
Getting freebies was never a key motivation behind my blog, but it can certainly be a good goal. Remember you do need to be transparent to your audience, and that freebies may sound better than they are (you’ll still need to be work for it and give sponsors the exposure they’re hoping for). Still, you can get offered some pretty crazy stuff, particularly if you have a knack for personal branding and social media.
4. To build a portfolio
Your blog can also be a perfect launching pad for a freelance or consulting career. What better way to get gigs in travel writing, social media management, or WordPress consulting than having an amazing public showcase of your work? The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and your travel blog can be a very convincing pudding for prospective clients.
Some bloggers even leverage their blog to promote secondary businesses, such as selling travel photography courses, or taking people on group tours to their favorite destinations.
5. To earn a direct income
And finally, yes… it is possible to earn a living directly from a travel blog through things like advertising, affiliate links, or product sales. This is what I’m doing right now, and I’m making a six-figure income from Indie Traveller.
Do keep in mind this can take many years to develop. Most travel blogs never reach that stage. You’ll need a lot of visitors to make a meaningful income directly from a blog. Just putting some ads on a small travel blog is going to earn you peanuts; you’ll need to be in it for the long haul.
Travel blogs are a bit like Pokemon in that they can transform from their awkward cocoon stage into potentially amazing income streams. But most blogs are also like Magikarps — those stupid flopping fish that you hope will become a powerful all-destroying dragon one day, but probably never do.
Then again, if it’s not your blog that ultimately becomes that ass-kicking dragon, maybe it’ll be you. The one thing you’ll be guaranteed is the experience, the skills, and the creative outlet.
Of course, if you don’t quite know what your goal is yet, that’s okay too. Starting a blog takes very little investment, so it’s something you can simply try out to see if you enjoy it.
Many successful blogs right now are just a year or two old, so that tells me it’s definitely not too late to start one.
What’s true though is that the pioneering days of travel blogging are behind us. 5 years ago you could still get a lot of readers by posting average content. Nowadays you need to write better posts to get noticed, and it can really help you focus your blog on a specific sub-topic in travel.
There are quite a few incumbents out there, including my own blog. But the internet remains a pretty level playing field. If you publish interesting or funny or in-depth posts, you can beat even the big names out there like Lonely Planet or The Culture Trip. In fact, one advantage you’ll have is simply in the freshness of your posts. Travel destinations are always changing and so there’s a natural decay to articles already out there.
How to set up a blog (the right way!)
Regardless of your ultimate ambitions, I highly recommend taking the time to set up your blog in a way that’s professional from the start — as this will save you a lot of headaches as your blog grows and evolves.
Setting up your blog doesn’t require any technical know-how. In fact, you can do it in about 10 minutes. But be warned, it’s possible to set up your blog in ways that can become a real pain in the neck later.
There are some free blogging platforms out there like WordPress.com or Medium where you only have to sign up for an account.
Seems easy, but I advise against using these — at least, unless you have absolutely no ambitions at all beyond just writing for your family and friends.
You see, these platforms don’t let you add anything that’s commercial, so you can’t ever make any money from your blog. They also don’t let you expand your blog’s functionality using plugins or themes, which comes to bite you once you want to make your blog truly your own.
I experience this myself. In the early days of Indie Traveller, I was locked into the wrong blogging platform. Migrating all my content to a self-hosted WordPress.org install (this is different from the free account you can get at WordPress.COM) was an arduous technical nightmare. Trust me, you want to get this right from the start.
But fret not, here’s a quick and simple guide to setting up your blog the right way.
Step 1. Sign up for a hosting plan
A hosting company takes care of serving your pages to users. And having your own hosted space lets you do with it 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 interwebs. 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 out there).
There are many different hosting companies. I like to recommend Bluehost, which I have an affiliate partnership with. If you use my link to sign up, you get a special offer for Indie Traveller readers of just $3.95 a month.
There are plenty of hosts out there, but I’ve happily used Bluehost myself for many years. These days, Indie Traveller gets so much traffic that I’ve had to move it to a dedicated VPS at Linode.com. That’s advanced stuff, and I work with a freelance server administrator to manage it these days. But if you’re just starting out, then Bluehost is totally awesome and super easy to manage just by yourself. (It actually took me 5 years to outgrow my Bluehost account, and these days I still use it for running all my mailing list software.)
Simply go to Bluehost and sign up for their basic plan, which is good enough for any new blog. You’ll get unlimited storage and bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, and you can host an unlimited number of sites.
Bluehost also gives you your own domain name for free (or at least, for the first year). Having your own domain is essential… I’ll explain why in a minute.
Sign up for hosting »
Step 2. Install WordPress
All signed up? Great!
Now that you have a hosting account, let’s install on it your own local copy of WordPress.
WordPress is the most commonly used software for managing a blog. The HUGE advantage of using this industry standard is that pretty much any other service or plug-in can work with it. There are also thousands of visual themes, tutorials, and other resources available for it.
Once you’ve signed up to Bluehost, you’ll eventually reach your account’s control panel. Don’t be intimidated by the number of menu options here. Just find the Website section, and select ‘Install WordPress’. Select your domain name, and simply press “install”.
The set-up might take about 5 minutes. Time to make yourself a cup of tea or tell a travel story to your cat. Come back to your computer and WordPress should be all set up now.
Step 3. Sign in to your very own blog!
Okay, there isn’t really a step 3. You’re pretty much finished now.
Go to www.yourdomainname.com/wp-admin/ and lo and behold, your WordPress admin awaits you.
You might want to go to Appearance > Themes though 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 the theme in the future.
You might also want to go to Settings > General and change the name and the tagline.
Ta-da, your travel blog is now ready!
Later on, you’ll probably want to add an About and Contact page, or enhance your WordPress install with some extra plugins, or maybe switch to a premium theme. But you don’t have to worry too much about this now.
Rest assured, by having a self-hosted WordPress installation, your blog is future-proof and can be expanded and even monetized in the future.
The most important thing to do now is to start creating some content!
Why you NEED a domain name
Oh yeah, by the way, it’s super important to have your own domain name. Yes, even if you’re just doing a blog for fun (for now).
Here’s why. Firstly, if you web address looks something like http://mytravelblog.wordpress.com your address will be hard to remember and will look amateurish.
But a bigger problem is that you won’t be building up any so-called Domain Authority. Essentially, 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 it 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, all those imaginary ‘points’ that you’re accruing actually go to that domain, which you don’t own.
I’m glad I hosted my blog on indietraveller.co from the start. It meant that everything I did in the early days helped establish domain authority for my blog. This made SEO (Search Engine Optimization) much easier later on. Active domains with many links to them can also become quite valuable and can even be sold or auctioned.
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 Google. All that matters is that you’re a master of your own domain. (No, not in the Seinfeld way…)
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. Avoid GoDaddy as they are spammy and try to upsell you stuff you don’t need.
You can use the widget below to test whether a domain name is available. Be sure to always get one or much of your early efforts could be wasted.
Choosing a name for your blog
Honestly, it’s tough to find a name for a blog that isn’t already taken. It seems like every combination of ‘nomadic’, ‘wandering’, etc. has been used. So you’ll have to get a bit creative.
Consider blog names that don’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 into new unexpected directions, or even sell it. It’s nice to keep your options open and not tie it exclusively to your person.
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, easy to remember. It also says something about the way I like to travel, and it isn’t just limited to myself (it also helped that the domain was available!). In the end, I’m happy that I didn’t go with Wandering Marek, or something to that effect.
What’s a niche (and do you need one?)
There are more travel blogs out there now than there were five or ten years ago. That’s why a common piece of advice for newer bloggers is to find a specific niche.
All this means is that instead of trying to be a general travel blog covering everything and anything, you try to specialize in some way and write with a more specific audience in mind. For example, focus on a particular country, or a particular travel style (budget, luxury, etc.).
I definitely agree with this common advice. Even though I didn’t choose a specific niche when I started blogging 5 years ago, I think it’s the best path to starting a travel blog today. Applying any kind of focus can give you a huge advantage. Even if you’re just doing a blog for fun or as a portfolio-builder, it can help you gain more specific (and thus more desirable) skills and expertise.
Here’s why it’s good to have a niche:
- More specific search keywords are easier to rank for on Google, especially when you’re starting out
- Having related and interlinked content keeps readers engaged; they’ll often read more than just one standalone post
- It’s easier to become a trusted expert (or, say, an inspirational storyteller) when you’re focused on a particular topic.
- Marketers love targeting. If you have a smaller audience but one that’s clearly interested in a specific thing, then that can be hugely relevant to any commercial partners.
If finding a niche seems confusing right now, don’t worry about it too much. I’ve seen some newbie bloggers get totally trapped in trying to have some genius niche idea from the start. But you might not find it until you start writing and start interacting with readers. Many successful bloggers who found an awesome niche found it over time.
The hardest part of starting a travel blog is simply to start, so try flexing those writing muscles, and focus on topics you’re passionate about. Keep an eye on reader feedback and visitor statistics, and you might discover your niche naturally.
Making money with your travel blog
Whenever I tell people I’m a travel blogger, the first question I inevitably get is “how do you make any money?”.
So here, in brief, are some of the common methods.
Banner ads. This used to be a bad way to monetize, but it’s had a huge revival recently. Forget about using Google Adsense banners; they’ll barely make you anything. Try instead to get your blog up to at least 25000 sessions a month and apply to be a partner at Mediavine instead. The pay is excellent and the people at Mediavine are super helpful.
Affiliate links. These are special links that give you a commission if someone makes a purchase. For example, if you link to your favorite hotel on Booking.com with an affiliate link and someone decides to book there, you get a little kickback. It’s the same with many other products and services. I once wrote an article for Travelbloggersguide.com about how to monetize with affiliate links.
Product sales. Another good way to monetize your blog can be through products that you’ve created yourself. Maybe you could write a book, create a course, or design custom merchandising that you can sell directly to your readers. (Need examples? Jodi at Legal Nomads sells beautiful bags and posters. Matt of Expert Vagabond sells prints of his photography. And many Instagrammers sell their Adobe Lightroom presets enabling others to achieve a similar look.) If you just want to sell one or two products then Gumroad is a pretty awesome payment processor and hosting platform.
Indirect income. As I said earlier though, many bloggers primarily use their blog as a channel to gain indirect benefits — whether that’s free travel experiences, freelance work, writing experience, or maybe one day becoming a brand ambassador (i.e. supported by a sponsor). These monetization methods typically rely more on having quality content and good personal branding than on gaining very large volumes of traffic, so they’re a much more common path to follow.
Some final travel blogging tips
Be patient. Finding an audience is not easy at first, but it can be a snowball effect. Getting your first 10 visitors will be waaay more difficult than getting your first 10000. People are accustomed to thinking linearly, so this can be a little counterintuitive. I wrote a little guide to gaining more visitors.
Tighten up your writing. Unlike in print, there are no wordcount limits on the web. That’s nice, but that also makes it all too easy to get into endless rants and meandering stories. Cutting the fluff and eliminating common travel writing cliches will do wonders for your writing. This post, the 7 Ways To Ruin Your Travel Writing, is a pretty amusing and insightful take on this.
Don’t get too distracted. I think content creation should be your main focus in the beginning. Worrying too much about monetization or SEO or even promoting your work on social media is going to be counterproductive. Maybe don’t try to make money with it at all for the first year, even if that’s your goal, as it’s like putting the cart in front of the horse. Start by creating stuff and sharing things with the world.
Always keep learning. The web is full of amazing resources that let you learn just about anything! You don’t necessarily need to buy a $500+ travel blogging course to figure stuff out. Just get a free 1-month subscription at Fizzle.co (they have some amazing video courses, and you can gobble up a lot of them just in their trial period). Or get some cheap courses during a sale on Udemy. Or simply read free tutorials online for whatever challenge you’re facing. It’s all out there if you look for it.
P.S. Don’t miss the special offer at Bluehost to get your travel blog started today. (That’s an affiliate link.)