Love venturing to exotic lands then telling your friends? Fancy yourself a keen snapper? Done an extreme challenge you want to share? If the answer is yes, to one or all of these, then blogging could be perfect for you. Showcasing your best words and pics, it allows you to share your experiences and advice with fellow enthusiasts.
What is a blog?
A blog is a diary-type commentary for the web. It isn’t the kind of diary that you keep hidden under your pillow though – far from it. These entries get shared with the planet. People with passions use blogs to talk about anything: film, TV, books, food, travel.
It’s not complicated, even for the biggest technophobes – most blogging platforms (Wordpress, Blogspot etc) offer readymade, themed templates into which you can drag and drop your content. Once you’ve signed up you can be blogging in minutes.
The thought of joining the blogosphere can be daunting. You need to think of a subject. You need to pick a hosting platform, a blog name and a design. You need to decide whether to include images and videos, and how. Seek inspiration from blogs you enjoy. Don’t plagiarise, of course, but consider what you like about them: what works, what doesn’t; are they easy to navigate? Employ the same good practices.
“Before you decide on a name, platform or topic, take a deep breath and close your eyes,” says travel blogger Victoria Philpott (vickyflipfloptravels.com). Vicky, who blogs alongside her day job, suggests wannabe bloggers start by conjuring up their happiest travel memory and letting the story flow.
“Great content trumps everything else,” adds Alastair Humphreys, professional adventurer, author and blogger (alastairhumphreys.com). “Great design is only papering over the cracks if the content is weak. However, if you have great content and great design, you’re onto a winner!”
When it comes to layout, less is more according to Charlie Walker, a journalist who blogs while cycling around the world (charliewalkerexplore.co.uk): “Cluttered webpages are confusing. My blog is not cutting edge in appearance but it’s easy to navigate.” Pages should be neat, so readers can see what’s important. Charlie suggests buying a personalised domain name to mask unwieldy URLs (web addresses).
Blogging platforms such as Wordpress, Blogspot, Blogger, Tumblr and Ghost are all user-friendly - take a look at the different ones and see which you prefer. Using your own photos or videos is best, but you can use free stock-image websites or certain photos from Flickr under the Creative Commons License –be sure to credit pics accordingly; if in doubt check with the owner.
What you say, and how often, is up to you. Alastair reckons you don’t have to travel far to find something to write about. He advocates posting whenever you have an experience: “Start small, start manageable and build from there."
If you’re writing for fun or to keep relatives informed, publish an entry whenever you have something to say, suggests Vicky: “The more you write, the more you’ll find your style and learn about what you enjoy putting out.”
Do be ruthless with your copy: read your post through a few times before putting it live. Blogging no-nos include too much negativity, assuming readers will know what you’re talking about, and referring to past articles they may not have read – always include archived links if doing this.
The best way to maintain your blog is to keep travelling. Alastair says the trick is to visit interesting places and do unusual stuff when you get there: “Convey enthusiasm. Be different. Wiggle around until you find your niche. Travel well, write well, be different. The rest will follow.”
Vicky uses annual leave, bank holidays and weekends to fit her travel around work; if she’s not travelling, she writes about home (London) or previous trips. “I’m obsessed. I’ll do it [blog] on the notes app on my phone, write ideas in notebooks and spend my commute planning my next post,” she says. “I also have an endless list of past adventures to write up. I have more ideas than time to write them!”
Charlie writes his ideas while on the road, then uploads the finished content when he finds an internet café: “Most of my blogs are scribbled on sweat-soaked paper scraps while sheltering under a tree from the sun.”
But what is the trick to building that elusive blog following? The answer isn’t irritating spamming tactics, but publishing consistently engaging content. If you’re helping people, and answering their travel questions, they’re more likely to come back.
Promote your blog via social media sites but don’t bombard your followers with links. Instead, interact with them, ask questions. Also, read up on SEO (search engine optimisation) techniques, so you’re more likely to pop up in web searches.
Top tip: As you change direction in life, so will your blog. Just relax and let your fingers flow – you will naturally find your niche.
It’s increasingly difficult to turn blogging into money, but sometimes cash can be made through advertising. You need to increase your blog’s readership, to make it more attractive to advertisers. Network with bloggers in the same niche, speak to PR and marketing agencies, and create an ‘advertise here’ page on your site.
There are other benefits to blogging, from improved literacy skills to pulling in prospective employers. A strong following can raise your profile; some companies may sponsor those with well-read sites.
Charlie was funded for 18 months of his four-year expedition though he stresses that blogging is about his love of writing, not a prerequisite for an extreme challenge. “With a view to self-publicising and making a living it’s an important tool. However, when anything becomes essential it detracts from the freedom and spontaneity of the pursuit.”
Marie Javins, comic book editor, travel writer & blogger (mariejavins.blogspot.co.uk)
Why did you decide to start blogging? In 1998 I went on a Dragoman overland truck trip from Kathmandu to Damascus. People really responded; I could see there was a need, and I resolved to write for that audience, to travel for them. How important is your blog name, design and layout?
A consistent URL is vital to helping your readers remember where to look. It’s worth paying for a custom one. The design and layout have to be simple. People hate seeing lots of boxes, or sound files that start automatically.
I document all the budget travel and how-to tips I can. I try to include the type of information I look for myself when I travel.
It took a few months of steady, daily posting to build up a following. Conversely, it takes only ten days of erratic posting to lose almost all of your followers. Blogs no longer hold the appeal they once did and the days of the single travel blog pulling in a tonne of eyeballs have plummeted with the success of Facebook and Twitter.
Keeping up with my blogs is the most challenging aspect of travelling and working. After being on an endless minivan journey with your knees up to your chin and no toilet stops, the last thing you want to do is work. But you have to, or you won’t be able to afford the trip you’re on.
Master a few skills. Brush up on the functions of your camera or camera phone. Learn how to make video that doesn’t hog bandwidth. Your blogging platform should be whatever you are comfortable with. And last, if it’s not fun for you, it’s OK to stop.
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