How To Start a Profitable Travel Blog: A Step by Step Guide
Becoming a travel blogger may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. This guide is meant to walk beginners through the steps to start a travel blog from scratch. As a travel blogger, you’ll have the freedom to work from anywhere and create a lifestyle you love. With 2019 just around the corner, it’s time to get started. Turning your love for travel into a profitable business has never been easier.
Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I will get a commision at no cost to you.
My Travel Blogging Journey
I first considered becoming a travel blogger back in 2015. At the time, I was teaching English in Spain and came across Gloria Atanmo’s adventures on her blog, The Blog Abroad. Seeing another Nigerian American woman my age traveling to exotic places for a living was inspiring. But I dismissed the idea of being a globetrotting blogger. I thought it was wishful thinking, ridiculous, and even irresponsible.
For a long time, I believed that I had to work a 9 to 5 at a respectable organization to be a responsible adult. Isn’t that what we’re all told? Fast-forward 3 years, and I’ve done a complete 180. After working office jobs in both the private and nonprofit sectors, I learned that I don’t have the personality, stamina, or temperament to work long hours for someone else. I absolutely despised being an employee! Sitting in a cubicle and taking orders from a superior was soul-crushing for a fiercely independent, nomadic spirit like me.
In the months before I quit my job, I did a lot of soul-searching to figure out my next move. What am I good at? Which projects would I do for free? What would make me excited to wake up every morning? I was completely honest with myself. Through this process, I decided that I wanted to create a career combining my love for writing and travel while helping others in a meaningful way. That’s how Somto Seeks was born. In just 9 months, I went from working as a nonprofit fundraiser to working with major travel and lifestyle brands. I want to show you that you too can create a profitable travel blog and live the life you’ve always wanted.
If you’re thinking of starting a blog, start with these two steps. You want to make sure you’re in it for the right reasons.
Decide why you really want to start a travel blog
Take the time to do some serious soul-searching. You need to find a compelling reason to start and continue to grow your blog. Trust me. There will be times when you want to pull your hair/braids/weave out and scream, especially in the beginning. Without a compelling why driving you, YOU WILL QUIT. That’s almost guaranteed. Creating a successful blog is a time-consuming, long-term commitment.
What are some examples of compelling reasons? Maybe, like me, you hate being an employee and have committed to being your own boss. Maybe you want to inspire people to take their first international trip. There could be a million reasons. You have to decide what is most important to you in life. Freedom? Independence? Then make sure the blogging lifestyle aligns with your life goals.
Make a commitment to stick to your goal no matter what
So you’ve identified your why and decided to start a travel blog. Well done! Before you start, commit to making your dream a reality. You will have doubts and fears, get rejected by sponsors, and struggle to get traffic in the beginning. Promise yourself that you will stick it out until you reach your goal! It gets much easier as you as you gain more experience.
Now let’s talk about the steps to create a profitable travel blog and become location independent.
1. Invest in a travel blogging course
This stage is critical. There’s so much information and misinformation about travel blogging. There is also a TON TO LEARN if you’re new to the blogosphere. Avoid information overload by sticking to one comprehensive source. Tony Robbins said something like this: if you want to be successful, find people who have achieved your goal and emulate them. This is the formula to be a successful travel blogger.
Following Tony Robbins’ advice, I researched the most successful travel bloggers. That’s how I came across Nomadic Matt, who gets over 1 million page views a month and has written a New York Times bestseller. He created a course called The Business of Travel Blogging, which is aimed at complete beginners. Before I started writing any content, I invested in this course. The Business of Travel Blogging helped me come up with a master plan for my blog. It encouraged me to think long-term and envision great possibilities for where my blog could take me.
In addition, The Business of Travel Blogging provided a step-by-step guide to set up my blog. I needed a ton of help with the technical stuff so this was a godsend. I also learned how to research my competitors, identify a target audience, and build an irresistible brand.
2. Choose a niche
There are so many types of travel so you need to narrow what you’ll focus on. Are you into luxury travel, backpacking, solo travel, or sustainable travel? The best advice for picking a niche is to stick to what you know! If you were asked to give a speech about travel, what topic would you pick? Choose something that you can write about endlessly and with confidence. If you enjoy discovering the latest travel gadgets and have a lot to say about them, then travel gadgets could be your niche.
If you want to start a blog but don’t yet have any idea about a topic, think about what you do for a living, what your interests are and what you have to say about them. Visitors will love your blog and will keep coming back for more if you give yourself an angle. For example, visitors will like to check out the blogs of either people similar to them or people that they aspire to be like.
If you just escaped the rat race and moved to Japan, then living as an expat in Japan could be your angle. People who aspire to become expats would look up to you for inspiration. Many bloggers get bored after a while and abandon their blogs. That’s why you need to choose something that you can enjoy writing about. As you’re going about life and something happens in relation to your topic, you can’t wait to get to the nearest computer and update your followers.
Also, think about these questions. What do people ask you for advice on? How do you spend your free time? Do you live in an unusual circumstance? Do you have an unusual family? Are you a mother? There are endless possibilities for things that you can make a blog about. The world is waiting to hear what you have to say!
3. Choose a blog name
Now that you have an idea of what type of travel blog you’ll create, it’s time to choose a name. This should be fun. Don’t overthink it! Take some time to brainstorm ideas. Ask your family and friends for suggestions. Look for inspiration from bloggers you admire. In the end, make your name short, memorable, and at least a little bit original. Let it reflect both your personality and the subject of your blog. Here are some great blog names I’ve come across over the years:
- Republic of Rose – travel
- Alex in Wanderland – travel
- Roman Roams – travel
- How Not To Travel Like a Basic B*tch – travel
- Making Sense of Cents – personal finance
- Not a Model – fashion
- Man Repeller – fashion
- The Blond Salad – fashion
- Avocadu – healthy living
- Money Minded Mommy – personal finance for moms
- Somto Seeks – travel (just had to toot my own horn)
When choosing a name, make sure it will still work 20 years from now. Don’t choose something seasonal or short-term, like My Year Abroad or Best Summer Vacations. Your blog will evolve so you want a name that won’t anchor you to one subject.
4. Get web hosting
You have a blog name and a niche in mind. Now it’s time to register your website. To do that, you will need to use a web hosting service. Hosting is basically a storage space for your website online. I currently use Siteground for web hosting and absolutely love it. Here’s what makes Siteground so great.
A word of caution
Be very careful when choosing a web host because it will definitely impact the success of your blog. Specifically, avoid EIG companies at all cost. One of these companies is Bluehost, the first web hosting service I used. After dealing with security issues, slow loading times, and impersonal customer service, I switched from Bluehost to Siteground in April 2018. I couldn’t be happier with my decision! Siteground has made my website load faster and has provided me weekly security reports. I also love how responsive, friendly, and professional their customer service is. Please don’t choose Bluehost – it is truly awful and will give you massive headaches! The customer service also couldn’t give a toss about you. I personally know at least 10 bloggers who hate Bluehost with a burning passion. Siteground is consistently ranked #1 in Facebook polls on blogging groups. Take a look:
I think many bloggers recommend Bluehost not because it’s particularly good, but because the affiliate program offers high commissions. Don’t fall for it. Bluehost sucks! I wish I had signed up for Siteground from the beginning. It would have saved me nightmares and security scares! Right now, my website is still registered with Bluehost but my hosting is with Siteground. I’ll switch my registration to Siteground once Bluehost releases me from my contract.
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Register your domain name
When you pick a host (that is not Bluehost), your next task is to register your domain name. Your domain name is the URL for your website. Mine is somtoseeks.com. I recommend you register your domain and host your website with Siteground. The starter package is $3.95 per month. It includes registration for one website, automatic website backups daily, free email accounts, and 24/7 support.
Read my step by step guide to start a blog on Siteground
5. Download and Install WordPress.
Your blog needs a content management system for posts, pages, ads, and all the information that appears on your website. There are several content management systems out there, such as Tumblr, Squarespace, Wix, Blogspot, WordPress.com, and WordPress.org. Which should you choose? WordPress.org. While there is a learning curve at first, WordPress.org is the most versatile blogging platform. Don’t confuse WordPress.org with WordPress.com. The main difference is that WordPress.com provides basic hosting in a shared space so features are limited. WordPress.org is self-hosted, meaning you can add as many customizations as you want. This is what you choose if you want to monetize your website.
To install WordPress on your hosting account, you can go the manual route or use an installer built into your hosting dashboard. Siteground offers quick, hassle-free WordPress installation. You can set up WordPress directly from your Siteground account.
6. Choose a Blog Theme
So you’ve downloaded WordPress. The next stage is getting a template for your blog and getting the look that complements the tone of your blog. There are a host of free themes available on the internet but skip them. They tend to have limited features and usually don’t come with technical support. Spend some money and buy a premium StudioPress theme with the Genesis framework. I initially bought a premium theme from WordPress.org but switched to the StudioPress for a few reasons:
- The Genesis framework, which stores the code for StudioPress themes, is widely regarded as the most secure and reliable on the market.
- StudioPress themes are highly customizable, which gives you the flexibility to create the look you want.
- It’s mobile responsive – these days, most people browse blogs on their phones or tablets. It’s important that your blog can adjust to different screen sizes.
Your blog theme matters it’s the first impression you give people when they visit your website. If your blog doesn’t look professional enough or friendly enough they may just leave. Visitors won’t stick around to read all the useful content you spent so much time writing.
Try to find a theme or template that reflects the ‘feel’ of your blog. For example, if you write about female travel and fashion, then you want something feminine. If you write luxury hotel reviews, you may want a theme that conveys opulence. When visitors click to visit a site, give them what they expect to find or they’ll just leave.
Make sure that you use a simple legible font on your blog. This is to ensure that your visitors can read it easily. Some more complicated fonts can be too off-putting and will, again, force your visitor to leave. Keep it simple because simple is always best.
Plugins are software available on WordPress that you use to add more customizations or functions to your blog. For instance, Click to Tweet is a plugin you use to embed a tweet onto a post. The business of travel blogging goes into depth about plugins. Here are a few must-have plugins I use.
- Yoast SEO – evaluates the quality of your search engine optimization (SEO.) More on that later.
- Social Warfare – allows visitors to share your posts on social media
- Google Analytics – tracks the performance of your website – page views, session duration, etc
Write 5-10 pillar posts
Before your blog goes live, you need to have content already published – a minimum of 5. Actually, that’s way too low. If you want to start out with a bang, write 25+ and the promote those posts til you drop. You’ll grow your traffic, build an audience, and monetize your blog faster. If I were to start my blog again, I would write more content and have a promotional strategy before launching my blog.
Because your first posts will be the first impression you give people, make sure they are informative and at least 1,000 words. Pillar posts are evergreen posts that cover the main subjects you’ll blog about. They establish your reputation as an authority in your niche. To decide what to write, lurk around Facebook groups, study your competitors, and research the most popular topics in your niche. Then write about that from a new angle. You can contradict a popular opinion or add something that other bloggers have missed. For instance, one of my pillar posts is A Walking Tour of Barcelona. In the post, I go against popular opinion, sharing why I think Barcelona is overhyped. To date, this post has gotten 21k shares! Don’t be afraid to take a stance on a topic.
7. Choose an email service provider
The best way to engage with your readers is through email. People are more likely to check their email than their Instagram or Facebook. They are also more likely to take action on something they received via email. Bloggers use email service providers to manage communications with their email subscribers. Imagine trying to send emails to 1000 subscribers through your Gmail account. It just won’t work. That’s why email service providers exist.
Now, which email service provider should you choose? This one is debatable. The major players are Mail Chimp, Mailer Lite, Aweber, Infusionsoft, and Convertkit. I started with Aweber but switched to Convertkit. I love Convertkit because it’s made specifically for bloggers.
Some recommend that new bloggers, who aren’t raking in money yet, start with Mail Chimp. It’s free until you hit 2,000 email subscribers. The catch is that you can use Mail Chimp’s best features, like the analytics and testing. I think Mailchimp is a great option for starters. Just avoid Aweber at all costs. Aweber is the Bluehost of email service providers. The interface looks like the first version of AOL and the customer service is truly awful!
Looking at data for your emails is important because you get to know what your readers want. Convertkit allows you to test different email subject lines, check the open rate of your emails, and see what actions readers took after reading your email. You can tag subscribers based on certain actions they take and target those specific people in the future. Convertkit is one of the more expensive email service providers, but I think it’s well worth it.
8. Create a Pinterest account
Some blogging gurus will tell you to make sure your brand is visible on all social media. Set up Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Bloglovin’, and Stumbleupon, for your business. Yes, you should aim to do that within the first year, but focus on just one platform in the beginning. The most important social media for a new blogger is Pinterest! I learned this after spending months participating in Facebook threads and chasing Instagram followers. Doing that had almost no impact on my traffic, the lifeblood of any blog.
Pinterest is a visual search engine with a social component. I wrote a complete guide to Pinterest for travel bloggers. In a nutshell, you create graphics, called pins, for your blog posts and upload them to your Pinterest account. Then you share that pin to boards about the same topic so that users can click on it and go to your website. Pinterest uses an algorithm to decide the relevance of your pins how relevant your pins are depending on their subject and the number of clicks they get. Based on that, Pinterest shows your pin to a certain segment of it’s 200 million users who are searching for the information your blog posts provide.
As a new blogger, it is much easier to get your content noticed on Pinterest than on Google. It takes several months for Google to index and rank your website. With Pinterest, you can get lots of traffic from day one if you understand how Pinterest works. After realizing the power of Pinterest, I ignored other social media and focused on understanding how Pinterest works. In February 2018, when I started focusing on Pinterest, I had 846 page views. In June 2018, my page views climbed to 13,501. That’s a 1,500% increase! I credit this growth to three courses:
The Best Pinterest Courses
- Pinterest Ninja: Megan Johnson of Love Family Health is a real sweetheart. She truly cares about your success and will go above and beyond to help you. After purchasing her Pinterest Ninja ebook, I was so impressed that I signed up for her private coaching program. Megan made me a 30-minute video analyzing my entire Pinterest profile and wrote me a report with action steps to improve it. Even though our coaching session is over, she still makes herself available to answer my questions. Pinterest Ninja, which cost $39.99, is a good place to start if you’re brand new to Pinterest. You don’t need private coaching unless, like me, you want to fast track your results. Note that it takes time for Pinterest to start sending you boatloads of traffic. But, trust me. If you’re consistent, it will pay off! Pinterest now accounts for 80% of all my traffic.
- Pinteresting Strategies: If you get into the nitty-gritty of how Pinterest works, you need Pinteresting Strategies! As a matter of fact, I learned more about Pinterest from this ebook than from Pinterest’s own guides! Carly Campbell from Mommy on Purpose gets 200,000 page views every month from Pinterest. She really knows her stuff and explains the Pinterest algorithm in layman’s terms. Then she shares her Pinterest strategy in a step-by-step guide. The best part is that her eBook is only $32! Other less qualified Pinterest gurus will charge you up to $200.
- Pinterest Primer – If you’ve never used Pinterest before, there’s a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. But you can eliminate guesswork by learning directly from the pros. One of them is McKinzie Bean of Moms Make Cents, who shared her affiliate marketing tips on my blog. She has a free course for beginners called Pinterest Primer. The course covers how to set up your Pinterest account, create boards, perform keyword research, and other fundamental skills you need to succeed on Pinterest.
9. Learn as much as possible about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You don’t need to be a tech wiz to be a blogger. However, if there’s one technical aspect of blogging you need to understand, it’s SEO. This is probably the trickiest concept for new bloggers. During my first few months of blogging, I paid no attention whatsoever to SEO. It seemed too convoluted so I just focused on chasing Instagram followers. Ignoring SEO came to bite me in the behind. For a while, I got only 20-40 page views a day.
A good place to start is to take this free video course: Stupid Simple SEO
The basic idea behind SEO is to choose keywords you want to rank for on search engines (basically Google) and incorporate them in your posts. You need to do some research on sources like Buzzsumo, KWFinder, SEMRush, or Google Ad Words to find the best long-tail keywords. Those keywords are what your readers would search on Google to find your post. For instance, this post is about how to start a travel blog so the keyword I want to rank for is ‘how to start a travel blog.’ Notice that it is a phrase and not just a word or two. Someone new to travel blogging would research that phrase and maybe come across this post. SEO takes some time to master, but it is EXTREMELY important. That’s because the best traffic is organic traffic. You create high-quality posts with the right keywords and Google will take care of the rest. The Business of Travel Blogging walks you through the basics of SEO.
10. Monetize your blog
This is where people, including myself, get stuck. How on earth do you make money from your blog? Well, here are a couple of options:
- Affiliate marketing – promote products to help your readers, such as travel gadgets and courses. You can join an affiliate program such as Amazon Associates, Commission Junction, or a particular brand you love. Then you write reviews, advertise on Pinterest, and email your subscribers about the product(s). When someone buys a product you recommend, you earn a commission – a percentage of the sales. Commissions typically range between 3-40%. To earn a commision, you need to share a unique link, known as an affiliate link, with your readers. The most important advice for affiliate marketing is to only recommend products you have used and trust.
- Ads – join Google Adsense (don’t recommend), Mediavine, Adthrive, or any other ad network. When people click on your adverts you earn money. The more traffic you get and the more people that click your links, the more money you earn. I used Adsense for two months and removed it because it was slowing down my site. I made about $200 from it, which isn’t bad. But you also have to think about the user experience. If ads are plastered everywhere on your site, visitors may get annoyed and never come back. Mediavine and Adthrive are better options. They require 25k sessions and 100k sessions, respectively.
- Services – one of the fastest ways to make money from your blog is to offer a service. You could do coaching, graphic design, consulting, social media management, or anything you’re good at. I noticed that my Pinterest pins were performing really well and I enjoy making them so I started offering Pinterest services for bloggers.
- Online courses – there seems to be a consensus in the blogging community that creating online courses is the best way to monetize I blog. I agree. Why? First, affiliate marketing is dependent on other businesses. Let’s say one of your biggest affiliates closes its doors. Well, there goes your income. Next, ads are great but they depend a lot on your traffic, which can take a nosedive. Then services, like managing social media, are time-consuming and there are only so many clients you can take on. Online courses are evergreen digital products that you can sell for years to come. Their success isn’t dependent on your traffic or other businesses. They are also scalable, which means you can sell an infinite number of courses.
The Best Affiliate Marketing Courses
5 Day Affiliate Marketing Bootcamp – What do you know? I have a free Bootcamp for those who want to get started on affiliate marketing. The goal is to provide you with the knowledge and tools to make your first affiliate sale. Over the course of 5 days, you’ll learn:
Day 1: What affiliate marketing is
Day 2: How to find products to promote and join affiliate programs
Day 3: Where and how to promote your affiliate products
Day 4: The #1 rule to succeed at affiliate marketing
Day 5: The biggest affiliate marketing mistakes to avoid
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is by far the most comprehensive affiliate marketing course on the market. It was created by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, who makes over $100,000 per month from affiliate marketing. She definitely knows her stuff and lays out information in a way that is super easy to understand. If you’re a complete newbie to affiliate marketing, this course will accelerate your earnings quickly. It will also teach you the legal aspects of being an affiliate marketer, which is really important to avoid hefty fines from the FTC! Take a look at what it did for my affiliate sales:
Learn more about Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
11. Grow Your Brand Awareness
When you first start your blog, one of the hardest things is promoting it. You need to make sure people know your blog exists. There are smart ways to do this. Otherwise, you may spend a lot of time doing activities that won’t help your blog grow. Here are the best ways to promote your blog in the beginning.
1. Write, write, and write some more – aim to write 3-4 posts a week. You need content for people to read so they’ll want to come to your site. It is possible to get loads more traffic to your site and, not only that, but people will come to respect you for your knowledge and talents. Now you have people emailing you, tweeting you, and commenting on your posts. Giving people advice and sharing what you know in online forums is a great way to do this.
2. Contribute guest posts – find other blogs, newspapers, magazines whose topics align with yours and pitch a post. Look at what’s already popular on their site and come up with your own take on it. Many people will accept this and they may even make it a regular feature. This way all of the followers of the other blog will likely begin to follow your blog. Also, you should also allow people to make guest posts on your blog. They will share that post, which leads to more visitors to your site. There are plenty of opportunities out there for some really valuable networking. Christina Guan of Happy To Wander wrote this great post about paid writing opportunities for travel bloggers.
3. Minimize time on social media – Facebook threads are great for intermediate or established bloggers who want to extend their reach. If you’re just starting out, doing content promotion on Facebook threads is a massive waste of time. You need to lay the foundation for your blog first. for the time you’ll spend on those threads, the ROI is abysmal. I used to spend hours and only get a handful of clicks and comments. Writing consistently and getting your content out on Pinterest and on other blogs is far more effective.
12. Keep Your Blog Running
Did you know most blogs fail within the first six months? It’s because people get frustrated when they work their tails off but don’t get any visitors or make any money. People tend to feel that there is no point in writing if there is no one there to read what they write. However, it can take a long time for a blog to become popular with regular visitors and most tend to quit before they get their first taste of success. The sad truth is that lots of people quit right when they’re at the cusp of success.
The best advice is to keep going! Remember your promise to yourself from the beginning. You should push through it and carry on writing and posting content even when it appears that you are not getting many visitors. All it takes is for one post that you make to go viral and your blog will explode. Even if you don’t get a viral post, your readership will increase if you write content that solves people’s problems. Content strategy deserves a whole separate post, but just remember that you’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for your audience.
As one of the most common reasons that people fail at blogging is that they get disheartened at not having any readers, and yet one of the reasons that they don’t have any readers is because they have not fully submerged themselves into the blogging community. Join blogging groups on Facebook, attend blogger meetups, get to know others in your niche. In addition, you can also give advice on forums and leave thoughtful comments on other blogs once in a while. Do not try to do this alone! If you read my 4-month blogging report, you’ll see how doing everything myself cost me time and money. You need to get into the community and feed into it in order to get anything back.
A Recap of the Tools To Get Started on Your Travel Blog
The technical stuff:
Web hosting – Siteground basic plan
Blog theme – Studiopress theme with Genesis Framework
Email service provider – Convertkit
Travel blogging 101 – The Business of Travel Blogging
Pinterest 101: Pinterest Primer
Pinterest strategy – Pinterest Ninja
Affiliate marketing 101 – 5 Day Affiliate Marketing Bootcamp
Affiliate marketing strategy – Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
A Last Word.
Being a full-time blogger is far from easy, but I guarantee you that it is worth it! Imagine not having to ask anyone for permission to take a sick day. And you know two weeks of vacation every year is like imprisonment for travel addicts. It has been 10 months since I set my blog live and 7 months since I started monetizing it. I haven’t yet hit my income and traffic goals, but I’m making progress every day. I supplement my income with freelance writing gigs and sell things I don’t use to raise money to pay a virtual assistant. I’m in this 100% and I know I will make it. If you dream of the digital nomad life, stop dreaming! Take action and make it a reality. It will take time, but one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is freedom and autonomy.
What are your biggest doubts and fears about starting a travel blog? Comment below.
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