Last updated: 9th January 2017.
Starting a travel blog is the best decision I’ve ever made. Through this site, I’ve funded five years of full-time travel and gained a book deal for my travel memoir (along with a big New York City agent). I’ve been featured in large newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, the Independent, and the Daily Mail. I’ve been interviewed for BBC radio in front of an audience of 1.6 million listeners (terrifying.) I’ve worked with large brands, such as the New Zealand tourism board, HostelBookers, and Eurail.
Before starting Never Ending Footsteps, I had no writing experience, had no idea how to run a website, and had never even heard of WordPress. I didn’t even own a camera. I’d just graduated from college with a physics degree and was fully intending to throw myself into a career in particle physics — that is, after I took a year-long round-the-world trip.
Guys, I’ve now been travelling full-time for five. freaking. years. That’s five years of travel paid for entirely through this travel blog.
But success to me isn’t just about the money, the book deal, and media mentions.
Running Never Ending Footsteps has led to life-changing friendships with some of the most fascinating and inspirational people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. It’s helped me to conquer my multi-year battle with anxiety and an eating disorder. I even found my boyfriend of four years through my travel blog!
So yeah, I’d say starting that this site was the best decision ever.
There are approximately seventeen bajillion articles describing how to start a travel blog out there and I hesitated throwing my take into the mix for many years because of it. But after discovering the similarity of these articles, I couldn’t hold back. Because I’ve always been unconventional, and my blogging career path is no different. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing — in fact, I recommend actively avoiding it.
I’ve never joined Travel Blog Success and won’t tell you that you should; I think it’s expensive and unnecessary. I’ve had a strict no press trips or sponsored travel policy for three years and counting, preferring to make my blog a success so that I can just afford to go wherever I want, rather than traveling on someone else’s dime. I write about how not to travel the world and don’t try to pretend to be a travel expert. I’ve never had a regular posting schedule. I’ve done everything differently and that’s what’s helped me to stand out from the crowd.
Here’s how to start a travel blog:
- Find the perfect name to suit your personality.
- Set up hosting for your blog.
- Install WordPress.
- Learn how your blog’s dashboard works.
- Download a kickass theme.
- Design your logo.
- Install these essential plugins.
- Start building your audience and making money!
Step One: Coming Up With a Name for Your Travel Blog
Finding the perfect name is arguably the most challenging aspect of starting a travel blog — it took hours of brainstorming for me to finally settle on Never Ending Footsteps. You need to remember that you’ll likely be known for your site name for the lifetime of your blog, because changing it is a huge pain in the ass. Here’s what I recommend keeping in mind.
Find a way to stand out from the crowd: Names like Nomadic [name], Adventurous [name], Backpacking [name], [name]’s Travels, and Wandering [name] have all been done to death, and it’s unlikely you’ll find success with them. Is anyone going to remember Nomadic John when Nomadic Matt is so popular? Probably not.
Don’t forget to take a long-term view: Don’t call your blog Travel For a Year if your trip has the potential to last longer; don’t call yourself The Thirty-Year-Old Traveller for the same reason. Having a travel style in the blog name — like Backpacking James or Ruth Loves Luxury Travel could cause problems down the line if you decide, for example, you no longer want to stay in dorms every night.
Keep it classy: If you’re hoping to eventually end up taking press trips or working with companies in any capacity, think about how you’ll feel when handing over your business card or pitching for a trip. “Hey, I run the successful travel blog, “Sex, Drugs, and Travel” won’t necessarily make for the best first impression. Imagine introducing your site to the CEO of a tour company to see if it feels right.
Make the url as easy as possible to remember: I’d avoid a site name that contains more than around four or five words, and I’d also recommend against using hyphens, because they make it tricky to describe your url to people. Imagine being on a podcast and having to say, “my site is travel hyphen like hyphen a hyphen local,” or, “my site is Travel Like a Local with hyphens in-between every word.” Most bloggers I know with hyphens in their url has come to loathe it.
Make sure the .com domain name is available: It may not seem that important, but people are so used to websites ending with .com that they’ll likely forget any other domain extension.
Check out the social media options before buying the domain: Before purchasing your domain, make sure that the name of your site is available on every social media network you can think of. Especially important is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. It’s not the end of the world if your chosen site name is too long for a username, though, because you can modify it slightly. I’m NEFootsteps on everything but Facebook, for example.
How Did I Choose Never Ending Footsteps?
I opted for Never Ending Footsteps for the name of my travel blog because it’s one that can grow with me. It doesn’t link me to a particular travel style, specific age, or length of trip. I wanted to choose a site name that didn’t include my name because — thinking long-term! — it would be easier to sell my site somewhere down the line if it wasn’t tied to me as a person. Finally, I liked that, while Never Ending Footsteps evokes a sense of travel, I could potentially transition it into something else in the distant future. Never Ending Footsteps would work as a name for a hiking blog or a personal development site, for example.
Step Two: Setting Up Hosting
Hosting was the scariest part for me, because when I started out I had no idea what it even was. Fortunately, it’s quick and easy to get it all set up.
I’ve tried and paid for four different budget hosting companies over the years, and Bluehost is the one I recommend. (HostGator had terrible support who often struggled to solve my problems, Site5 made my site so slow that it took several minutes to load, and Namecheap’s poor security had my site hacked within a few weeks of me choosing them).
Bluehost is affordable ($3.95 a month), their live chat support team are helpful and can usually fix issues within minutes, and — bonus! — you’ll receive your domain name for free. Setting up should take less than twenty minutes.
Head to Bluehost’s homepage. This is what you’ll see:
Hit that green button that says “get started now” and you’ll be redirected to a page outlining their different hosting plans:
As you’re just starting out, I recommend the cheapest plan, for $3.95 per month. At this point, you don’t know what’s going to happen with your site down the road, and you can always upgrade at any point when your site starts to take off. There’s no need to make a big investment now. Hit select on the starter plan and you’ll be sent to the following page:
Unless you’ve already bought a domain name, type your chosen blog name into the box on the left and click next. On the next screen, fill in your name and address.
Next, fill in your package details. Here’s what I always choose when I’m starting a new site:
I recommend starting out with the 12 month plan. It works out to be a little pricier per month than buying 36 months up front, but starting a travel blog is a huge commitment, and you don’t know if you’ll still be running it in three years. Pay for a year upfront and you can reevaluate in the future.
I also recommend selecting the Domain Privacy Protection option. This means that people won’t be able to look you up as the owner of the domain, giving them access to your address and phone number. It’s always good to protect your privacy! Next, fill in your payment information and you’re good to go!
Bam! You’ve now set up your hosting and domain name — easy, right?
Step Three: Installing WordPress
Now that you’ve signed up for hosting, it’s time to install WordPress. After you login to Bluehost, you’ll see the following screen:
Scroll down until you see the following box, then click on Install WordPress:
On the next page, click the green start button to install it on your site:
Next, select your domain name and click “check domain”:
Here’s how to fill in your details on the next page:
You’ll see the following screen while WordPress is installing.
Congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of a WordPress travel blog! What on earth do you do now?
Step Four: Logging In to Your Site
It’s super-simple. Head to http://yourdomainname.com/wp-admin and you’ll see this screen:
Type in your username and password and you’re in!
Step Five: Finding a Theme
It’s time to make your site pretty! Here are a couple of options for finding a theme, and I’ve used both of these on Never Ending Footsteps):
Elegant Themes: The very first version of my blog used a Elegant Themes theme (Cherry Truffle was my favourite), and I went through several other ones during my first couple of years. For $69 a year, you’ll gain access to 87 professional-looking themes. It’s great value for money, being able to choose from such a wide selection means you can play around with different designs, and the support team always managed to solve any problems I was having within 24 hours. You can browse all of the designs before signing up, too!
ThemeForest: If you want to use a theme with an even slicker design head to ThemeForest. There, you’ll pay around $50 per theme (the price varies, but averages out at around $50), but the themes available have hundreds of options for customisation, are usually responsive, and have a support team to solve your queries within a few hours. I’m currently using a ThemeForest theme on Never Ending Footsteps and I love it!
Once you’ve bought a theme it’s time to install it on your site. Themes will usually include installation instructions, so this shouldn’t be difficult at all. In Themeforest, for example, you’ll be able to download the installable WordPress file. Once you’ve done that, you can log in to WordPress, click on Appearance – Themes – Upload, upload the zip file, and you’ll be on your way to a beautiful site.
Step Six: Getting a Logo
A logo/banner is what you’ll use to differentiate yourself from other bloggers, so it’s kind of a big deal. In the interest of full disclosure, I got a graphic designer friend of mine to design the Never Ending Footsteps banner you see at the top of every page, so haven’t personally used the services below. However, plenty of my travel blogging buddies have and have been happy with the results.
Fiverr: You don’t need to invest a huge amount of money in a logo in the early stages of your blog, so for a budget option, I recommend heading to Fiverr and checking out what’s on offer. You’ll be able to browse reviews and examples of each designer’s work on the site to ensure you receive a decent looking end result.
99 Designs: Alternatively, you can set up a competition on 99 designs, where graphic designers submit designs based on your brief, and you can choose the one you like best. This is a more expensive option, but typically results in a more professional-looking logo.
Step Seven: My Essential Plugins for Travel Bloggers
With your site almost ready to go this point, it’s time to start thinking about WordPress plugins. These will help improve the functionality of your site and give you a ton of new features. Here are some of my favourites.
Akismet: I didn’t realise how much websites are inundated with spammy comments until I started this site. At the moment, I receive 2 or 3 spam comments a minute. Fortunately, I don’t have to see any of them because Akismet catches and deletes them automatically.
Comments Not Replied To: Building a community is important, and this plugin shows you a list of comments you haven’t replied to yet. If someone takes the time to comment on your blog, it’s worth taking a few minutes out of your day to reply. Plus, if your readers can see you reply to everyone, they’ll be more likely to leave a comment themselves.
Contact Form: This will add a form to your contact page so that people can email you.
Digg Digg: You’ll want to provide an easy way for people to share your posts, so make sure that you include a plugin to adds social media buttons to every post on your site. My favourite is Digg Digg.
iThemes Security: The last thing you want is for your travel blog to be hacked, so I recommend installing a security plugin to keep your site safe. iThemes Security has a ton of options for preventing people from breaking into your site.
WPTouch: Don’t worry about this if you have a responsive theme. But if not, WP Touch installs a mobile-friendly version of your theme, so that readers on smaller devices can read your posts without having to squint or zoom in. Having a mobile-friendly theme will improve your rankings in Google, too!
Yoast SEO: If you install only one plugin, make it this. Yoast SEO makes it so easy to improve your rankings in Google and is the absolute best SEO plugin out there. It comes with hundreds of features and options so I won’t list them out there, but needless to say: you need this.
Step Eight: Join Superstar Blogging
For a long time, I was against all travel blogging courses. I thought they were unnecessary and expensive, and it irritated the hell out of me whenever I saw travel bloggers gushing about them.
After five years of actively avoiding anything to do with them, Nomadic Matt invited me to check out Superstar Blogging, his travel blogging course, and I reluctantly agreed.
And then I was like, man alive! I wish I’d had access to this when I first started out!
Matt’s course consists of units on how to get your blog set up and looking beautiful (in way more detail than I cover here), how to create engaging content that will go viral, how to network with other bloggers and get media attention, how to optimise your site to rank highly in Google, how to create a kickass newsletter and what to include in it, and how to make money with your blog, work with brands, and create digital products. On top of that, you also gain access to a Facebook group, where you can ask members and Matt for blogging advice, access to a dozen webinars on how to make your blog successful, a huge and helpful list of suggested reading for building a business, and interviews with experts (who are not travel bloggers) in their specialist areas, like SEO and affiliate marketing.
In short, this course provides a ton of value and I wholeheartedly recommend it if you’re looking to learn everything there is to know about travel blogging from the most successful travel blogger out there.
Do I think it’s an essential? No. After all, I’ve found success without taking a course and so have many other travel bloggers. But I do think Superstar Blogging will significantly boost your chances of building a successful travel blog, help you start treating it like a business, and get you making money far sooner than you otherwise would.
Step Nine: Your First Blogging Steps
Create an about page: Before you even publish your first post, you should create an about page. The first thing I do whenever I arrive on a travel blog for the first time is find out who the blogger is, what they’re currently doing, and why I should care about them. An about page is so, so important. It tells potential readers why they should follow along on your journey.
Write your first post: Make your first post about you. Tell people why you started the blog, what it’s going to be about, where you’re going, and where you’ve been. Your introduction is how people will get to know you and it helps kick your blog off with a bang.
Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through: When I first started blogging, I was so concerned with being professional and being an expert that I ended up writing bland posts that read like a Wikipedia article. Little did I know that it’s your personality that’s going to convince people to subscribe. Once I embraced my inner idiot and started writing about the ways I’d screwed up on the road, my traffic skyrocketed. It’s so important to have a personality in blogging; don’t try to be a guidebook. Be a person. Be yourself. Even if you’re really weird :-)
Create a business plan: Nobody talks about this, but it’s so important! If you want to find success, you need to treat your travel blog just like any other business. How are you going to find success? How will you monetise your site? How will you build an audience? Where do you want to be in three months time? Or in a year? Which companies do you want to work with? Where do you want to be featured? Start thinking long-term.
Install Google Analytics: You’ll want to be able to measure your success, so Google Analytics is a must. This will allow you to track your traffic and find out more about your readers. Don’t get obsessive over it though! It’s far too easy to waste an entire day staring at your live analytics.
Find a network of bloggers at a similar level: I recommend finding a group of bloggers who started out at a similar time to you. Create a Facebook group and use it to bounce ideas off of each other. Share tips on building your audience, finding your niche, and making money. One of the best things I ever did was to make friends with other travel bloggers when I first started out — it helped me make my first advertising sale and find lucrative freelancing gigs, not to mention building wonderful friendships with some lovely people.
Stand out from the crowd: There are hundreds of thousands of travel blogs out there now. How are you going to stand out from the crowd? I’m a bit of a contrarian and if I see that everyone’s doing something, I try to do the opposite in order to find a niche. I saw that everyone was taking press trips and freebies, so decided I’d pay for everything myself instead. I don’t write advice on how to travel the world — instead, I write about my latest screw up because I want to show that travel isn’t always amazing. I don’t pretend that my life is perfect and that I’m living the dream — instead, I write frequently about my battles with anxiety and what it’s like to deal with a mental health disorder on the road.
For me, one of the most important steps is finding a way to be unique. Look at what everyone else is doing and think about what you can do differently.
You don’t need to do everything the way everyone says you have to: As an example, I didn’t start off by posting regularly and I never have. People say to post three times a week, but sometimes I’ve posted once a week for months on end. When I got a book deal, I posted once every three months and my traffic still grew. Interestingly, I once posted every single day for a month and my traffic dropped! Most important of all is focusing on your quality of writing. Don’t rush to post as much as possible if it’s going to sacrifice the quality of your work. Do what works for you.
How Do You Make Money With a Travel Blog?
A lot of travel bloggers recommend waiting until you’ve built a large and engaged audience before you even start to think about monetising your site, but I don’t think it’s necessary. There are plenty of ways to start earning money that won’t negatively affect your growth or annoy anyone who visits your site. Here’s how I recommend getting started:
Adesense: The easiest way to start making money with advertising is through Adsense. Sign up for an account, enter in the ad settings you want (I’ve received the most success with a 300×250 sized banner placed below the first paragraph of a post), and then you’re good to go! Download the Quick Adsense plugin, too, as it makes placing the ad code anywhere on your site straightforward.
Amazon: If you want to get started with affiliate marketing, Amazon Associates is best for beginners. Any time you mention a product on your site, you can search for the product through Amazon Associates, and then use that link in your post. Whenever your readers click on that link and choose to buy anything, you’ll receive a commission on that sale. Packing lists and gift guides are great for monetising through Amazon.
Other affiliate programs: As long as you don’t go overboard and stuff every single post with a ton of affiliate links (which can always be tempting!), there’s no reason why you can’t join other affiliate programs, too. Some popular ones that I use include World Nomads for travel insurance, Agoda and Booking.com for linking to accommodation I’ve stayed in, and Skyscanner for whenever I talk about finding inexpensive flights.
Most important of all: I use every single one of these companies and have done since the very first day I started travelling. If you hate Skyscanner and never use them, for example, don’t then recommend them to your readers just so you can make money from them.
Skimlinks: I love Skimlinks! It makes making money through affiliate marketing so easy. They have a feature called Skimwords, where, after installing their code on your site, it turns any mentions you’ve made of products into affiliate links. This is great if you’re lazy and forgetful like I am, as you don’t have to spend your time actively hunting down and joining different affiliate programs.
That’s honestly all I’d focus on right now. I’d steer away from monetising your social media and running branded content posts/sponsored posts in the early stages, if not forever, because they’re most likely to annoy your readers.
And that’s about it! Have any questions or looking for further advice? Ask away in the comments!
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.