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How to Build a Travel Blog That Matters- Part One: The Basics

I quietly celebrated a major milestone this week. On July 23rd, 2009, I published my first blog post on Twenty-Something Travel: The Twenty-Something Travel Manifesto.

Six years. Six years!

My first press trip in 2011

I’ve been travel blogging for six years, and during that time I’ve gone from 79 page views my first month to over 150,000 views a month on average.

More importantly:

  • I quit my job and gradually built a business that allows me to be a full time blogger and freelance writer.
  • I’ve traveled all over the world, mostly on my own dime, but occasionally as a guest of tourism boards and companies.
  • I met a guy at a travel blogging convention and a little while later, I married him. I lived in China, Argentina and Mexico before finally making a home in Seattle.
  • This blog has become a major resource site, with two wonderful staff writers (and possibly a third in the next few months) and many loyal readers.
  • I’ve become a better writer (a published writer!) and a more confident and purposeful person.

It’s pretty safe to say that travel blogging has completely transformed my life.

Blogging in Spain in 2015

Many other things have happened in the past six years: I’ve watched the travel blogging industry balloon from a small group of a couple hundred to literally thousands of aspiring bloggers. I’ve seen creative people doing fabulous work, and entitled gimme-pigs who act atrociously. I’ve seen a lot of great opportunities and learning experiences evolve, but also a lot of get-rich quick schemes and downright bad ideas.

So, although I don’t like to write about blogging that often, I’m doing something different today. In honor of 6 years of blogging, I thought I would give you all of my best blogging how-to advice. Since I actually have a lot of it, I’m going to split this over two, maybe three, posts.

First up: the basics of how to actually, technically, create a travel blog.

One of the reasons travel blogging has become so popular is that the barrier to entry is exceptionally low. Anyone can start a blog, all you need are the following things:

A Domain Name

Your domain name is the address people use to find your blog. It’s usually closely related to the actual name of your blog, so think hard about this. Make sure it represents you, is easy to remember and easy to tell people about. Try to get a .com, and avoid words with ambiguous spelling and dashes (I am so tired of telling people it’s “twenty DASH something travel dot com.”

Ideally a good blog name should be memorable, unique and self-explanatory. Before you commit to anything, do a web search to make sure your name of choice or something close to it isn’t already being used by someone else established.

Go Daddy is the most popular company for this but I disagree with a lot of their politics, so I prefer NameCheap for my domain name buys. However, if you sign up for BlueHost (discussed below), they’ll give you a domain name for free!

A Host

Your host is where your blog lives- they are responsible for making sure your blog is up and running and accessible by everyone. I’ve heard many horror stories of hosts messing up blogs, taking down blogs and just generally providing terrible customer service, so you will want to pick your host carefully. Quality is more important than going with the cheapest deal in this case.

For several years I used HostGator with mixed results, before upgrading to WebSynthesis. That however, is a pretty pricey option that’s only good for blogs with major traffic. If you’re just starting out I recommend BlueHost. They’re cheap and they have good customer service (including live chat if you hate talking on the phone like I do). They can also help you get a domain name for free, which is a nice bonus.

Setting up WordPress

This part can be a little bit intimidating if you’re not a techie, but I managed to do it on my own long before I had Mike to defer to on this stuff. If I can do it, you can too!

WordPress is the software that helps you create your blog. There area couple other options like Ghost and SquareSpace, but WP is by far the most popular and recommended. It’s highly flexible and most designers know how to work with it, so it’s the best all-purpose option.

My friend Lauren has a pretty good overview on how to install WordPress on BlueHost or here is a more generic guide.

Finding a Theme

Once you have WordPress installed it’s time to pick a theme! Your theme is the basic design of your blog. It’s what makes it look pretty! You’ll want to pick a simple and usable theme. You can change your theme fairly easily later on if you get tired of it or want to give you blog a facelift.

WordPress has some pretty decent default themes for those just starting out. I am also a big fan of WooThemes– and not just because my husband works for them! I have been using WooThemes on this blog since before I started dating Mike, and long before he started working for them.

Part Two: Creating a Quality Blog

Okay, now that you’ve got the setup out of the way- and honestly you can knock all that stuff out in an afternoon if you’re focused, it’s time to think about the important stuff- primarily content. I will be talking about this in my next post, on Monday.

Note: This post contains a handful of affiliate links, which means that if you buy something via the link, it helps support this website.

18 Responses to How to Build a Travel Blog That Matters- Part One: The Basics

  1. Kate July 24, 2015 at 7:27 PM #

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your tips.

  2. Lisa July 24, 2015 at 7:35 PM #

    A ‘good blog’ is rather about the Content than Design/etc 🙂

    • Steph July 24, 2015 at 7:37 PM #

      That’s what part two is about 🙂

  3. Margarita Ibbott July 24, 2015 at 8:14 PM #

    Great post. Beautiful design and easy to navigate is also important. Having a good host that is not down and has good tech support also makes a good blog. Making sure you’re blog loads quickly – also important. Yes, absolutely, content is important but so is the stuff that makes it easy for your readers to enjoy the experience that also so counts. I’m with Bluehost also and WordPress.

  4. Deepti July 25, 2015 at 3:48 AM #

    Great post! I recently moved to Bluehost and purchased a domain and I’m excited to keep improving my blog. I need to start working on my design and my pages! I’m excited to read the rest of the posts from this series.

    xo, endlesspostcards.com

  5. Lyla G July 25, 2015 at 8:22 AM #

    Great advice and congrats on 6 years! I am looking forward to reading the other posts on this topic.

  6. thegreatamericanweddingexpo July 25, 2015 at 8:05 PM #

    This comment is a bit misleading… “you can knock all that stuff out in an afternoon if you’re focused”. If you know code and are tech savy you could knock it out in an afternoon. But if you are like me, I do not know code. I have had an extremely difficult time understanding how to put my website togther. Even sourcing it out, it is still a challenge figuring out how to get my pictures to show up, adding in my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, getting my email from Blue Host. I have been working on this for 11 months now and it is just now starting to look like a website. I haven’t been able to figure out how to send a newsletter to the people who have signed up for it. It’s always one thing or another. It is very frustrating. So you can see your easy breezy comment just doesn’t work for me. Glad it did for you though!

    • Steph July 25, 2015 at 10:20 PM #

      Actually I know nothing about coding and I managed to do it all in one day, but obviously your mileage my vary. You are right that it’s definitely not intuitive.

      • seatonsaleSeat On Sale July 27, 2015 at 1:36 PM #

        Coding it might be hard on your first tries but after couple of try and searching it on google for codes. it’ll be more easier for starters like me. You can also use bootstrap.css or w3cschool.com, You can get a lot of insights.

  7. Dorothea July 26, 2015 at 8:33 AM #

    Happy anniversary!! 🙂 I think the domain name and the host matter less, I know of many blogspot/wordpress.com blogs that are booming. What actually gets people to follow you are the things you publish (regardless of where you buy your domain and hosting). Make it interesting, make it funny, and always try to come up with some fresh idea.

    I think another important thing is persistence and determination. Many fine writers give up in their first months, because they’re not satisfied with the visits they get. 🙁

    • Steph July 26, 2015 at 12:24 PM #

      I used to be pretty anti-Wordpress.com, but now that Mike works for them I’m coming around. Only problem with WP.com blogs is they are harder to monetize.

      You are dead right about persistance.

  8. Where's Zoe Now? July 26, 2015 at 11:07 AM #

    Looking forward to part 2! Blogging will always be just a hobby for me so I’m happy with the free wordpress.com hosting and an out-of-the-box theme, but I’m always on the lookout for useful advice on the content – like you say, that’s the important stuff 🙂

    • Steph July 26, 2015 at 12:28 PM #

      If you are just hobby blogging than WP.com works perfectly. It’s only if you want to monetize that it becomes an issue.
      Content stuff coming tomorrow!

  9. I Am In A Place July 27, 2015 at 12:00 PM #

    I have JUST begun my travel blog and these yes, I ended up choosing a free theme from WordPress. I guess I just need to be consistent and persistent!

    Looking forward to the next post 🙂

  10. Anna Shirley July 27, 2015 at 9:44 PM #

    I like such kind of post. I am beginner – in blogging, in WP, in traveling, in photography,…. but I love that all. If your post help me to avoid some fatal mistakes, I´ll be happy. Happy anniversary! o)
    Anna

  11. The Luggage List September 12, 2015 at 12:33 PM #

    Great tips and overall “A-Z” process. Bluehost is such a great host for the money. People can spend a lot more but unless you’re planning on getting an insane amount of traffic. Even if your traffic grows, you can always upgrade.

  12. Monkeys & Moments November 17, 2015 at 1:13 PM #

    I love every advice in this post and other parts of the series. Starting a travel blog was such a challenge for me, It is still a struggle for the most part but it’s okay because I know it’s a slow process and I’m learning more each day. I try not to get frustrated or focus on the traffic I get. I try to come up with good content and focus on my writing. Reading experienced travel bloggers’ advice on starting a new travel blog in this process has been very useful and I consume that content like nothing else. 20s travel has been one of my favourite travel blogs for years now. I like your voice and style. I also think you are very inspiring. So thank you for the great articles.

  13. Jasmine Dedomo May 25, 2016 at 5:28 PM #

    Thanks for the tips. I’m a newbie here…

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