At Atlas & Boots, we are periodically approached for advice on how to start a travel blog. To help future bloggers, we have put our knowledge into a comprehensive but concise guide below. This covers not only the technical aspects of how to start a travel blog but also the editorial, helping you to plan, maintain and grow your blog in a professional way. Without further preamble, let’s begin.
1. Choose your brand name
To start a travel blog, you must first choose a brand name based on your blog’s niche. Atlas & Boots is an outdoor travel blog but there are many niches to choose from: luxury, budget, female travel, solo travel, honeymoons, accessible travel, travelling with pets, silver surfers, couples, families, LGBT, food, faith, group, volunteer, eco, overland, business, architecture, history, fashion, cruises and photography.
Once you decide on a niche, think of a range of names using the methods below.
Personal name: Many entrepreneurs choose to start a travel blog based on their own name. In fact, this applies to not only one-person bloggers like Nomadic Matt and Wandering Earl, but renowned businesspeople like Disney, Ford and Chanel. This is a great way to add a personal touch but as a rookie blogger, be warned that it may be difficult to brand yourself as a professional site. If you do choose this option, avoid Nomadic, Adventurous, Vagabond and Wandering as they are already associated with established travel bloggers. For originality, avoid Travels, Backpacker, Globe and Journey too.
Descriptive: This describes exactly what a brand is about (e.g. A Luxury Travel Blog, Solo Traveler). Using this option to start a travel blog can be good for SEO as it caters to specific search terms, but also runs the risk of being too generic. If you choose something more specific, avoid references to your age, occupation or location (e.g. kiainkorea.com) as you may outgrow these.
Symbolic: Whether it’s a map, compass or atlas, symbols and metaphors offer a creative way to find a unique name for your travel blog.
Arbitrary: Perhaps the most well-known example of this is Apple. Apple. Nothing whatsoever to do with technology. It’s a bold option as it doesn’t immediately convey what you’re about but worth exploring nonetheless when you start a travel blog.
Altered: These names sound like words but aren’t really; they’re simply extended or altered versions (e.g. Spotify, Quizlet).
Invented: These are completely made up names (e.g. Exxon). Like arbitrary names, it may be difficult to convey your brand meaning but can be an effective way to find a unique name when you start a travel blog.
Blended: A combination of two separate words (e.g. Facebook).
2. Register your domain
Once you have searched for and found an available .com above, you can register it by clicking the green ‘Next’ button. Alternatively, read more about your hosting options in step 3. Before you proceed, it’s important to check social networks and register your handle if available (on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest as a minimum). A .com domain and social handles are important for strong branding when starting a travel blog.
3. Set up hosting
We use Gandi for hosting our travel blog, which we recommend. If you’re after an easy set-up, we recommend Bluehost who we use for our photography backup. They are WordPress’s officially recommended hosting company and have a super-simple installation process.
- Go to Bluehost and click the green button to get started.
- Choose the correct package for you. We use ‘Plus’ but the ‘Starter’ package will be enough to start a travel blog.
- Enter your domain name in the ‘New Domain’ box to register it for free.
- Enter your account information. Under ‘package information’, you may want to adjust the length of your initial signup. You may also choose to forego the extras. The one we recommend you keep is Domain Privacy Protection which hides your contact details from the public.
4. Install WordPress
If you have chosen Gandi for your hosting, you can install WordPress following these instructions.
For Bluehost, simply click ‘cPanel’ on the menu and then ‘Install WordPress’ which will take you through a set of installation steps.
When asked you where you’d like to install WordPress, choose your domain (http://www.nameofblog.com). Once the process is complete, click ‘View Credentials’ at the top of the screen. This will tell you how to access your WordPress dashboard, usually like so:
Admin URL: http://www.nameofblog.com/wp-admin
You can now click the Admin URL and log in using the username and password.
5. Install a theme
There are thousands of WordPress themes to choose from. We launched Atlas & Boots with a photography theme called Incidental before switching to a more minimal editorial-focused one. We recommend Envato’s marketplace at ThemeForest for professional themes to help you start a travel blog.
Alternatively, you can find innumerable free themes by searching in Google. These generally work well but be warned that the level of support will likely be less reliable than professional themes which offer direct access to their developers. Whichever route you take, make sure you choose a responsive theme (i.e. one that adapts to mobile and tablet screens) for your travel blog.
To install a theme:
- Download the zip file into a folder.
- In your WordPress dashboard (http://www.nameofblog.com/wp-admin), click ‘Appearance’ and then ‘Themes’ in the left-hand panel.
- In the main part of the window, click ‘Add New’.
- Click ‘Upload Theme’, then ‘Choose File’ and select your zip file.
- Once the new theme appears in the Themes selection, hover over it it and select ‘Activate’. It won’t ask you again so make sure you want to do this!
6. Install core tools and plugins
- Google Analytics: Set up an analytics account if you don’t already have one and add tracking code to your site. We advise using the ‘Add tracking using Google Tag Manager’ method as it will make future changes easier. If you just want to get up and running, however, you can use ‘Add the tracking code directly to your site’.
- Link checker: We recommend checking for broken links once a month. On Windows, you can do this using Xenu Link Sleuth. On Macs, use Integrity.
- Filezilla FTP: Professional bloggers will need FTP access to their site. Install Filezilla and set up access (see relevant instructions at Gandi and Bluehost). If you prefer, you can skip this step for now.
- reEmbed: reEmbed is a super-useful tool that takes your YouTube videos and adds a professional interface on top, allowing you to embed videos that look self-hosted but without the lag of actually self-hosting. Upgrade to the Earlybird package to remove the reEmbed watermark.
Our list of recommended plugins with which to start a travel blog are below. To install a plugin, go to your WordPress dashboard (http://www.nameofblog.com/wp-admin). Click ‘Plugins’ on the left-hand panel and then ‘Add New’. Search for the relevant plugin, install it and activate it.
- WP-DB-Backup: Backs up your WordPress database.
- Mailchimp: Allows you to embed an email subscription form on your site. Note that you have to sign up for a Mailchimp account first.
- Related Posts: Allows you to surface related posts based on what a reader is looking at.
- Yoast SEO: Helps you optimise your pages for search engines.
- Popular Tabbed Widget: Promotes your most popular posts as well as your latest posts (see ‘Top Posts’ on our sidebar).
- Shareaholic: Offers readers an easy way to share your content on their social channels. After a year of suffering with AddThis, we found Shareaholic to be a breath of fresh air.
- Facebook Comments: A friction-less way to allow user commenting. We’ve seen a higher volume and better quality of comments with Facebook versus alternatives.
- JetPack and Akismet: These two plugins are sometimes packaged with new WordPress installs. The first gives you access to WordPress’s more sophisticated features. The second protects your travel blog from spam. If you can’t see them in your plugins list, go ahead and install them.
- EWWW Image Optimizer: Optimises your images on upload.
7. Prepare an editorial calendar
Phew. Now that the technicals are in place, let’s move on to editorial. The first step is to set up an editorial calendar. At Atlas & Boots, we blog two times a week and use Google Docs to plan a month ahead.
One of the joys of travelling is spontaneity but travel blogging is easier with a bit of planning. If you know what angle you’ll take on a specific city or attraction, it will help you find the right details while you’re there. For example, if you decide to write a piece on cheap things to do in Santiago or quirky things to do in Buenos Aires, you can make sure you visit the places you hope to mention and get all the information you need while there. Researching after your visit will be harder.
8. Create a pro-forma to record details
At the beginning of our trip, we often found ourselves asking things like “Hey, do you remember how much that ferry ride from Savusavu cost?” or “What was the name of that restaurant we went to in Port Vila?”
Writing a post weeks after an event can be tricky if you don’t note down salient details. To maintain consistency and genuine usefulness, consider creating a pro-forma to cover transport, accommodation, restaurants and sights (what is it, where is it located, what are the departure and arrival times and locations, when does it take place, how much does it cost, how can you book tickets, what tour companies can help and so on). This will be a huge help when you come to write up your trip reports on your travel blog. We know that diligently scribbling down details doesn’t quite chime with the fun and free-spirited ethos of travel but no-one said travel blogging was easy.
9. Invest in good photography
Over the course of the last year, Peter’s penchant for snorkelling, diving, jumping into waterfalls and being generally cavalier has seen the destruction of one digital camera, one GoPro and one iPhone. Despite this, we will continue to invest in photography equipment because imagery is so important in doing justice to destinations.
If you can’t yet afford a good camera or – like me – are a hopeless photographer, consider investing in good stock photography instead. Shutterstock has over 247 million royalty-free images and offers monthly packages to suit all budgets.
We’ve use Shutterstock to sell Peter’s stock photography as well as to source other imagery we may need on the blog. The Shutterstock Editor is particularly useful for creating custom web banners and bespoke social media posts.
10. Write well and read, read, read
An accusation often levelled against blogging is that it’s not real writing.
Choice quote of the day: “Blogging isn’t writing; it’s graffiti with punctuation”.
— Kia Abdullah (@KiaAbdullah) November 6, 2011
Much of the time, it isn’t even that.
It’s inevitable that mistakes will creep into writing but so many travel blogs have a lazy editorial philosophy. It’s not rare to find inconsistent capitalisation, typos that could have been caught with the lightest spellcheck and trip reports riddled with clichés. It may be that this bothers me (a former print subeditor) more than most* but if you want to create a professional travel blog, you need to write quality content.
Here are some starting points:
- Read, read, read – preferably travel books.
- Seek out award-winning writing and read as much of it as possible. The Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing is a good place to start.
- Read On Writing by Stephen King to understand the different levels of writing skill and identify where you fit in (bad, competent, good, great). Work hard on improving.
- Avoid travel clichés where possible (admittedly, it often isn’t). This list of clichés from The Spectator is a good place to start.
- Use a proofreading and grammar checking tool such as Grammarly to catch errors and improve your writing.
(*It bothers me no end that Atlas & Boots has switched currencies between GBP and USD in past articles. We will fix this one day.)
The Final Word
If you write it, people won’t just come. Marketing is a necessary evil and you must actively promote your posts. You must set up your email subscription list as soon as possible and you must focus efforts on growing your social channels. At Atlas & Boots, we read marketing blogs Buffer, CopyBlogger, Moz and QuickSprout to stay up to date on how to promote and grow our blog. Stay consistent in your schedule and don’t give up.
If you’re serious about spinning your travel blog into a business, we recommend The Business of Travel Blogging course by digital maestro, Nomadic Matt. At $349, the course does require a level of initial investment, but offers dividends in Matt’s expertise built over a decade of blogging.
Good luck and make sure you come back and tell us how you’re getting on.