Becoming a travel blogger seems like a great idea in theory, but as you get the ball rolling the process can get increasingly overwhelming. To be full time and make a living from your travel blog, it's not quite as simple as just throwing up a few posts and having a Twitter account or Facebook page. Being successful in blogging takes a lot of strategy and good business sense, as well as talent for telling stories and presenting them in a way that inspires people to see the world.
From finding your niche to website design, social media tips, and knowing your audience inside and out, this guide is designed to take you from the beginning stages right up to how to make money from your blog, with advice from some of the most successful travel bloggers in the industry.
Consider what you enjoy about travelling – people, food, wildlife, history – and make that the central theme of your blog. Passion is at the root of great writing, and making that shine through in your blog will keep readers interested. Sticking to what you love will keep your enthusiasm and motivation up, too.
Remember, you don't have to cover everything about travel on your blog. If you don't go to museums when you're travelling, don't bother writing about them; if you love camping but hate hostels, stick to camping advice. You don't need to catch everyone in your net – do what you love to speak to the people who love it too.
You might not have a blog topic that you want to fully commit to right away – and that's fine! In these first stages, the most important thing is that you're writing something. Don't be afraid to experiment and play around with different ideas. Write often and about a range of different things – what you find the most enjoyable will quickly make itself known.
"Finding your niche sounds really complicated, but it's really just about finding your passion and distinctive voice, and then pursuing that relentlessly,” says Bret from Green Global Travel. “It's OK if you don't find it right away, or if the path meanders a bit along the way. It's more about following your instincts, trusting your gut, ignoring all of the noise that says 'successful bloggers have to do this or that', and blazing your own trail.
“It takes time, energy, experimentation, passion, patience and persistence to build a brand you truly believe in. But once you do, it makes all of the other elements that make up the business of blogging fall into place a lot more easily and organically."
Bret and Mary from Green Global Travel are some of the industry's most influential voices on the topic of deciding a focus for your blog, having spoken and written about blog branding many times.
First impressions are key – and this philosophy also applies to websites. Creating a strong design for your blog – one that's easy to navigate and understand – is important as this is one of your first chances to hook in a reader. And this is the travel industry: visuals are key.
Travel bloggers Charli and Ben from Wanderlusters have put a huge amount of work into their own blog design, giving them plenty of top tips to share...
“A unique and engaging design can set you apart from the wealth of new travel blogs vying for a place in the industry. Stand out from the crowd with a distinctive logo or cutting-edge blog theme, publish engaging photography and video within your posts, and construct a concise and navigable menu to catalogue your content.
“Make it easy for your readers to interact with your articles by activating a social sharing plug-in and commenting system if they're not already implemented within your chosen theme. And put together a captivating ‘About Me’ page to grab your readers' attention and inspire them to follow your adventures.”
Knowing exactly who you want to speak to will help guide your every blogging move – from the kind of stories you're writing and which social networks you're most active on, to which brands you partner with in the future. Having the reader in the forefront of your mind is an effective way to stay focused.
I've personally found a lot of success in having a specific idea of my audience for my own blog, Gotta Keep Movin'. My first piece of advice would be to start by asking yourself a lot of questions: How old are my audience? Are they mostly male or female? What kinds of things interest them when they travel? How do they behave on the web – do they like long stories or quick posts? What other travel publications do they enjoy reading?
Try to answer questions like these as precisely as you can, and create an ideal reader profile. Use this profile to guide your content, blog design, social media strategy... everything. Your reader should be the first thing you consider when making any decision for your blog.
As you become more experienced with blogging, you'll start to hear words like 'Google page rank', 'affiliate marketing', and 'SEO' (search engine optimisation). Running your own website is quite technical behind the scenes, and that can be overwhelming for beginner bloggers. It's tempting to try to learn it all, but getting too deep in all the technicalities will draw your attention away from your writing and readers and towards Google slavery instead – not a place you want to be.
Stay focused on publishing outstanding travel content, but reserve just a small chunk of your blogging time to learn the tricks of the trade. Moz's Beginners Guide to SEO is a strong starting point – work through it bit-by-bit and begin to implement the strategies into your work.
Social media is the means by which you get your content out there, so setting up social profiles once you have a few posts up is key. Dave and Deb of The Planet D were among the very first travel bloggers in the industry, having started their blog in 2008. The adventurous duo have since won awards for their inspiring website, and worked hard to build a huge social media following.
“To start building your following, concentrate on quality and consistency”, says Deb. “Don't get caught up in quick ways to build followers, but be patient and let your audience grow organically and naturally. It takes a lot of dedication to get your work noticed on social media: interact with influencers and brands, and consistently share quality information with them. Over time, they will begin to notice your work.
“Post daily on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, tweet regularly, and join Twitter chats to meet new people and followers. Post on social media a little bit each day, using scheduling tools like Buffer, Tweetdeak, or Hootsuite to help make it easier. Use insight tools like Commun.it and ManageFlitter (Twitter), Iconosquare (Instagram) and Facebook analytics to learn more about your followers and when they're online. But don't rely on tools entirely – listen to your readers and try new things for yourself, too.
“Most of all, have fun with it! Write and share the things you love, and your readers will feel that energy. People want to be inspired – so inspire them.”
One of the most aggravating travel blogging myths is that because it's a less established form of 'new media' and can include a personal perspective, the quality of the content doesn't need to be as polished as a newspaper or magazine. With that outlook, you may as well send the world of blogging down the toilet and flush it away forever.
Quality needs to be a top priority, and as the industry is becoming more crowded, it's needed more than ever to make you stand out. Take the time to research the subject you're writing about – look at it like a reporter or journalist would (because you are one, remember?) Be informed and authoritative to attract readers and potential industry partners who trust you as a source of travel information. Assume your readers' intelligence and come up to their level with engaging, useful, and creative posts.
Once you've got the ball rolling and built an audience, you can start thinking about working with other travel brands. Successful partnerships rely on pitching to brands that share your values and travel style, so you have to be strategic about who you choose to work with (instead of taking anything you can get!)
Becki Enright has been a consumer brands PR consultant for 13 years, and is also a British Travel Press award-winning blogger for her site Borders of Adventure. Having working in both worlds, Becki has developed expert knowledge in working for and with travel brands.
“A professional blog is a media outlet – treat it as such,” Becki explains. “Don’t chase after a brand for a quick freebies, but instead formulate a campaign idea and mutual relationship that has longevity. Make sure your pitch includes a solid overview of how your blog aligns with the client, and that your idea is on-point with the key messages of the destination or product, i.e. don’t pitch for luxury brand if you write about budget travel.
“Do your research and know that brand in its entirety: browse their website and social accounts, find previous campaigns, and familiarise yourself with their product – show this knowledge in your pitch. Golden rule: the blog and brand should complement each other, and offer mutual benefit to a shared audience.”
The big question on everyone's lips: 'How can I make money from my blog?' Money won't come quickly, in huge amounts, or without doing any of all of the above, but it will come if you've taken the steps to create an engaged, loyal audience. There are a number of ways you can leverage that audience in order to make you some cash – affiliates, brand partnerships, freelance writing work, consultancy, creating your own products... to name a few – and the most successful monetisation techniques will always keep that audience in mind.
Full-time adventurers Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market have worked hard over the years to build their blogging brand, allowing them to live off the opportunities their website has lead them to.
"We look at monetisation strategically and holistically: monetise not only your blog, but your platform, your brand”, the pair explain. “Take a look at your strengths and consider ways to turn those into income generation opportunities – publish an ebook on a subject where you've got expertise, pursue freelance writing opportunities that fit with your brand so you can use your blog as a portfolio, or pitch partnerships and ambassadorships with travel brands that complement your blog and are a good match with the interests of your audience.
“With brand ambassadorships be sure that there is a strong alignment in values between your blog and the company as these are long-term and deep relationships (We've been part of the Wanderers in Residence brand ambassador program with G Adventures for almost five years). Assemble a strong media kit for approaching brands, including not only your numbers (blog traffic, social media statistics, newsletter subscribers), but also your niche/story angles and the products you offer."
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