How to Create a Successful and Profitable Travel Blog
Just sit back and image it… traveling around the world while you blog about your travels and earn enough money from your blog to pay for everything. That’s the dream many travel bloggers have. And it’s a pretty damn nice dream. Hell, I’ve dreamed about it.
Well, buckaroo, it ain’t that easy. In fact, there are only a handful of people that earn a part-time wage from their blog and there are even fewer that make a full-time income. Furthermore, the travel blogging market is super crowded and hundreds of new blogs are created every day.
I don’t mean to scare you away, but I think it’s important to be realistic. So if you’re still reading, that’s a good first step.
But now some good news! Travel blogging is still in its infancy and people are always hungry for awesome content. There are still opportunities for bloggers that can produce awesome writing, photos, videos, and other entertaining information. Furthermore, companies and tourism boards are finally starting to see that travel bloggers can be a valuable marketing tool, so there are bound to be more opportunities for bloggers.
The beauty of the web is that once something gets popular, it can explode exponentially. So, with a lot of hard work, it is entirely possible to earn enough money to help fund your travels. And who knows, maybe you too will join the ranks of the top travel bloggers that make enough to travel the globe from their writing.
What You’ll Find in This Guide
This guide will break down everything you need to know about starting a successful travel blog. We’ll start with the fundamental nuts and bolts of creating a blog, and we’ll work our way up to SEO, marketing, and monetizing your travel blog.
Table of Contents
- Building a Strong Foundation and Creating a Roadmap to Success
- The Nuts and Bolts of Setting Up Your Blog
- How To Make Money With Your Travel Blog
- Next Steps For Taking Your Blog To the Next Level
Before you start blogging like crazy, it’s smart to spend some time thinking about your goals and expectations. These first few steps will have a major impact on your blog’s trajectory, so I urge you not to gloss over this section.
Setting Realistic Expectations and The Myth of Travel Blogging
First of all, if you just want to create a blog for fun or for keeping people back home updated on your travels, then you can skip down to the section on setting up a blog. If you want to try to create a popular and profitable travel blog then keep reading…
As I’ve mentioned previously, serious blogging takes a lot of work and you have to be super dedicated if you want it to be successful. Writing articles is very time consuming. Editing photos and editing your writing takes way longer than you’d expect. Don’t forget to add social media work and emails. Whew… before you know it you’ve got yourself a full-time job. Ask any of the most successful bloggers and they’ll all tell you the same thing.
It also takes a looooong time before you start seeing any progress. I barely had any readers my first year and my site took about 18 months before it made a dime — and even then I was only making a few bucks a month. Most bloggers get frustrated with the lack of success after a few months and quit. I know firsthand that staying motivated after spending countless hours working for no reward is very tough.
Even if you do stay motivated enough to keep blogging regularly, it doesn’t mean you’ll make a ton of cash. Very few travel bloggers make more than a couple hundred dollars a month (we’ll discuss the finer details of making money from your blog later in this article). There are other perks like getting free press trips — but even then, you’ll end up paying for some stuff out-of-pocket, and trips like these aren’t easy to come by.
Another problem with travel blogging is the initial cost of traveling— you have to actually travel before you can be a travel blogger. Remember, most travel bloggers don’t see any earnings for at least a year. That means you must first save a decent chunk of change to travel long enough to get your blog off the ground.
Want to know another secret? A large majority of travel bloggers are actually “digital nomads” — which means they work remotely doing jobs that can be done anywhere, like web design, graphic design, programming, editing, consulting, etc. That is what pays the bills… not travel blogging.
But it can be rewarding, and if you’re dedicated, it is certainly possible to start something successful.
Consider Creating a Hybrid Blog
Travel bloggers generally fall into one of two categories — bloggers that journal about their adventures and bloggers that write how-to and informational articles. Both can be successful, but both have their own challenges.
Most bloggers fall into the journal category. This means they give personal trip reports and post photos of their adventures as they’re traveling. This type of blog is great for showing your personality and telling entertaining/inspirational stories to your readers. These bloggers can truly make a personal connection with their readers — which is always great. However, there is one main problem with this type of blog… it takes constant updating to build an audience. And once the travel stops, these blogs usually die off. And once the blog isn’t updated anymore, most of the readers will also leave — which makes it very hard to become profitable.
This is why the most successful journal-type bloggers are long-term travelers that are abroad for a super extended amount of time or expats living abroad that write about where they live. This gives them a long time to build an audience and generate content. Eventually, the most successful bloggers make enough off their blogs to pay for their travel so they can continue traveling.
On the other hand, informational bloggers focus on giving practical information to other travelers. They write articles that are similar to what you’d find in guidebooks — like “the best castles to visit in Germany” or “how to bike from Paris to Amsterdam.” This information has a longer shelf-life, so someone reading it two years after it was written will still find value in the information.
However, this information can be a little dull, it doesn’t have much personality, and it isn’t super fun to write. Additionally, you have to really know your subject matter in order to write in-depth articles that your readers will find helpful. Another downside is that it’s hard to build a long-term audience because readers are searching for one specific piece of information and once they find it, they’re gone.
The most successful travel bloggers have hybrid blogs that combine both the journalistic trip reports and more in-depth informational articles. This is what you should eventually shoot for because you’re able to make a personal connection with your readers by blogging about exciting day-to-day travel and you’re also able to use your expertise to create informational articles that help your readers plan their trips.
It’s not easy to start a hybrid blog. Often a blog will start off as a trip journal and then morph into a hybrid as the blogger becomes more of an authority in their niche. I think it’s safe to say that all the most well-known travel writers fall into this category.
Write About What You Know and What Interests You
Bloggin’ ain’t easy. Blogging about what you don’t know is extremely difficult. That’s why you should stick with what you know. Plus, if the information you’re writing about is interesting to you, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.
Don’t Focus On Making Money at the Start (But Don’t Ignore It, Either)
I’ve alluded to it before… travel is probably a bad subject to blog about if you’re interested in making money. There are other subjects that will bring in a lot more cash.
I can also guarantee that you won’t be able to stay motivated if you’re mainly interested in making money — especially because it’s nearly guaranteed that you’ll have to work for a year+ before you start seeing any money.
For example, when I first started, I thought I would make a lot of money by referring people to buy plane tickets to Europe. Then I discovered I’d only make about $6 per plane ticket sold. I then realized the competition for selling plane tickets is crazy high and I had no chance of making much money from this segment of travel. In fact, I think I’ve gotten credit for selling about five plane tickets over the past four years.
You should initially focus on creating a blog because you love travel. Then, once you have a kick-ass blog, you can start finding ways to monetize your site. Furthermore, if your site is geared to solely selling things from the start, your readers are not going to stick around.
We’ll talk more about making money from your blog later in this article.
Pick a Niche
There are thousands of people blogging about their travels — most are the typical “follow me as I travel around Europe/wherever.” This is a perfectly fine path to take, but if you choose this route, you should know that you’ll be competing with thousands of other similar (and many established) bloggers. This will make it difficult to stand out or gain popularity.
The key is to target a specific niche. Targeting a niche is smart because the more you focus on your area, the better chance you’ll be seen as an expert in your field. Basically, it’s easier to control a large chunk of a smaller pie than control a tiny sliver of a huge pie.
The goal is to become such an authority figure on your topic that you become best place to learn about that niche. People trust experts because experts know what they’re talking about. For example, if I’m going to Berlin, I want to read a blog from someone who really knows that city — not someone who spent four days there as he traveled around the world.
There are hundreds of niches. I mainly blog about preparing for backpacking in Europe. David Lebovitz blogs primarily about French cooking and traveling around France/Paris. The Sartorialist has become world famous for taking photos of fashionable people all across the world. Both these writers focused on one subject, they then dominated the subject, and now they get hundreds of thousands of visitors.
You can focus on anything — ultra-low budget travel in Europe, luxury travel in Eastern Europe, foodie travel blogging, traveling with kids, biking across Europe, traveling as a couple, solo-female travel, budget baby boomer travel, vegan travel in Europe, blogging about European street fashion and interior design. If you are super familiar with a city or destination, you can focus on a single topic for a single city — like budget travel in Amsterdam. Lifestyle blogs are also super popular these days, so you could create one that has a strong travel theme.
If you’re interested in it, there is a pretty good chance a lot of other people are interested as well.
Tips For Picking a Niche:
Blog About Your Passion — You’ll never stick with your blog if you’re not writing about something that interests you.
Your Niche Needs an Audience — Picking a focused niche is good, but choosing a niche with a tiny audience probably isn’t a great idea. This probably won’t be an issue for most people, but it’s something to be aware of.
Research The Competition — Don’t get too concerned about other people in your niche, but you should take a look at your competition. If the top person in your niche is a juggernaut in the blogging world, then it’s good to know what you’re going up against. Study them. Find their weaknesses. Or you can see what they’re doing right and try to do it better.
Can You Write A Blog Worth Of Info — Make sure your niche provides enough content to write about or you’ll have nothing to talk about after just a few articles.
Choose Your Blog Name and URL
Picking a name can be a challenge simply because so many names and URLs are already taken. Spend some time thinking of names that encapsulate the subject of your blog or something about you — you might have to get creative. I spent a solid week thinking of my blog name. Break out the dictionary or head to thesaurus.com to get ideas.
Once you have some names, start plugging them into NameCheap.com to see if the URL is available. If not, keep chugging away.
More tips for choosing a blog name and URL:
- Try to keep it short (I kind of failed on this one).
- Avoid hyphens if possible (the-savvy-backpacker.com wouldn’t be ideal).
- Check for similar names that might confuse your readers.
- A .com address is the best. Personally, I would avoid using anything else.
- Don’t use hard-to-spell words (people misspell “savvy” all the time so I failed again on this one).
- Try to make it memorable.
- Check social media profiles to see if they are available.
- Try to avoid two word names where the last and first letters of the words are the same — i.e. Travel Lovers – travellovers.com.
Setting up your blog is actually pretty easy, but it can get a bit confusing if you’re technology challenged.
Sign Up For Hosting and Buy a Domain Name
If you want a legit website, you’ll need to buy web hosting and a domain name. The good news is that web hosting and domain names are fairly cheap these days, so your initial investment is pretty low.
Web hosting is basically where all your website’s files/articles/photos/videos are stored online. Expect to pay about $5-$10/month for basic hosting.
Bluehost is a popular host, and plans start around $5/month. However, there are thousands of web hosting services.
Most web hosts offer multiple levels of web hosting, but as a new blogger, you should be totally fine with the lowest/cheapest level. You can always upgrade later down the line if your site becomes super popular, but there is no use in wasting a bunch of money on hosting you won’t use.
Other things to look for in a web host and other considerations:
- Bandwidth — Many come with unlimited bandwidth, but I wouldn’t worry too much about this until you have a lot of traffic
- Storage space
- Quality tech support
- Easy-install WordPress
You’ll also need to purchase your domain name (.com, .net, etc.) if your hosting package doesn’t come with a free one. A .com domain name usually costs about $11/year. Most people say it’s best to purchase your domain name from a different company than your hosting for various reasons. Personally, I find that it’s simpler to buy everything from one service, but you’ll probably find a better price if you purchase it separately. A favorite domain register that I’ve used is NameCheap.com.
The toughest part of buying a domain name is actually finding one that isn’t already taken. I suggest searching on NameCheap.com and they’ll tell you if your name is available for purchase.
Choosing a Blogging Platform (aka, Choose WordPress)
There are a number of blogging platforms but the best and most popular is WordPress. I run WordPress for my blog and just about every blogger I know uses it, too (so does CNN, The New York Times, Forbes, UPS, BBC America — just to name a few). Another great thing about WordPress is that most web hosts provide super easy “one-click” WordPress installation, so it’s really easy to set up. And because it’s the most popular blogging platform, there are a TON of tutorials online if you need help with something.
Additionally, WordPress is fast and it has thousands of themes (free and paid) that enable you to easily change the look and feel of your blog. We’ll talk more about themes later.
Setting Up WordPress
Once you’ve signed up for hosting and gotten your domain setup, it’s time to install WordPress. Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy on most hosts.
For this example, we’re going to use screen shots from Bluehost, but the process might look slightly different depending on your host.
Log into your website backend (it’s sometimes called cPanel) and look for the WordPress logo. Click the logo.
From here you’ll just follow the directions. Easy.
At one point, it will ask you to choose an administrative username and password. The default username is “admin” but DO NOT USE ADMIN AS THE USERNAME! Choose something unique.
The rest of the installation process only takes a few minutes. Now it’s time to start playing with your blog.
Access Your Blog
In your web browser, type www.yourdomainname.com/wp-login.php
This will bring up a login box where you will enter your username and password.
Once you enter your credentials, the WordPress Dashboard will come up. This is the command center for your blog, and it’s where you control everything about your site.
Choose a Theme
A “theme” determines the look and feel of your blog. There are literally thousands of themes available — both free and premium.
Within the WordPress Dashboard, go to the Appearance tab; there you will find all the free WordPress themes. From there, you can select the theme you like and see how your site looks. You can change themes easily with the click of a button.
If the free themes don’t tickle your fancy, you can purchase a premium theme. Premium themes can cost anywhere from $20-$200. Most of these paid themes come with technical support that will help you solve basic issues with your theme.
Premium themes come in a thousand different varieties to meet your needs — some are minimalist, some are designed for large beautiful photos, some let you drag-and-drop every element so you can customize your blog just how you like it. The possibilities are endless… literally. You can easily spend hours and hours trying to find the perfect theme.
I bought my theme from ThemeForest because they have a huge amount of themes and most are priced between $25-$50.
If you want something truly custom, you’ll need to hire someone who knows how to design WordPress sites. This isn’t cheap ($1000+), so it’s not a wise choice for a new site — you can always spend the money on a new design once you’ve started making money.
WordPress plugins are bits of software that expand the functionality of your WordPress site. There are thousands and thousands of plugins (most free but some must be purchased) available for WordPress.
Do a search for the best WordPress plugins and you’ll find hundreds of articles. However, I’ve listed a few of my favorites that I strongly recommend installing.
- Akismet — The best way to prevent your blog from comment SPAM.
- Digg Digg — Add a floating bar with share buttons to your blog.
- Disqus Comment System — A more robust comment system.
- Google XML Sitemaps — Creates sitemaps which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.
- Google Analytics for WordPress — This plugin makes it simple to add Google Analytics to your WordPress blog.
- iThemes Security — Help keep your site safe from hackers.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast — The BEST all-in-one SEO solution for WP.
- W3 Total Cache — Helps keep your page running quickly.
- WP Smush.it — Minimize your photo file sizes without losing quality so your site loads faster.
Again, this is just a small list, so search around for other plugins that look promising.
Note: Plugins are developed by third-party software developers, so quality control can be all over the place. Sometimes plugins don’t play well with each other, so you may discover that one plugin will make your site function improperly. The plugins above are all super popular and shouldn’t cause any problems, but other ones could.
Write Kick-Ass Content
At this point, your blog should be ready to go — you’ll make a few tweaks here and there, but the important part is to start writing a lot of amazing content.
I apologize if I sound like a broken record, but making money with your travel blog isn’t easy… actually, it’s pretty damn hard. But it is certainly possible!
How much can you earn from your travel blog? Most people will only make a few dollars a month, but I know of a handful that make over $100,000/yr — but obviously that is super rare. Personally, it took me about three years before I started making one or two hundred dollars a month, so I still can’t afford to buy that yacht and private jet — but I’m working on it.
Below is a list of the most popular ways that travel bloggers use their blog to make money:
Display Advertising (Banner Ads)
Banner ads are the easiest way to earn money from your site. All you do is slap them up and watch the pennies and nickels come rolling in. So yeah, banner ads don’t really pay much because people don’t really click banner ads. I mean, when is the last time you clicked one? The only real way to make much money is to have a ton of traffic — it’s really just a numbers game because the more people visiting the site, the more likely someone will click one.
You have to be careful because if you plaster your site in banners, your readers will get annoyed and not come back.
I use Google Adsense for the few banners I have on my site. They pay the best, so I wouldn’t bother using any of their competitors.
Note: If your site gets super popular, you can sell your banner ad space directly to companies for a flat monthly fee for a lot more money. Usually companies will contact you, but feel free to reach out to them if you want.
Affiliate sales are another popular way for bloggers to earn money. The idea behind affiliate sales is simple — you get a small commission when someone buys a product that you link to. For example, you post a link to Hotels.com and your reader clicks that link and then books a hotel stay worth $1,000. You would then get a small percentage (usually around 3%-5%) of the sale as a commission.
In theory this is a good system, but most merchants hardly pay anything. For example, I only make a $6 commission on selling airfare — even if it is a $3,000 sale. Smaller ticket items, like a $15 guidebook, will only bring about $.90, so this is a slow way to earn your fortune. Scummier things like getting people to sign up for credit cards pay a lot more, but the competition for credit cards is huge (and I feel a little unethical pushing credit cards).
Additionally, the reader has to make the purchase soon after they click the link (usually 24 hours – 15 days) or the sale doesn’t count. This window to make the sale is getting smaller every year.
Affiliate sales can be fairly lucrative if you’re getting 300k visits a month, but don’t expect to get rich if you receive 2k visits a month.
The biggest affiliate networks are CJ Affiliate by Conversant, AvantLink, and LinkShare. These sites represent the affiliate programs for companies like REI, STA Travel, Hotels.com, Expedia, RailEurope, HostelWorld, The Gap, and a ton more. Amazon is another huge retailer with their own affiliate program.
Make and Sell A Digital Product
One of the most popular ways to make a good amount of money is to create your own product — usually an ebook or an app. You’ve probably seen tons of bloggers offering to sell all kinds of ebooks and now you know why.
One of the most popular topics to write about is how to make money with your travel blog. Wait a minute… I should make this post into an ebook and sell it for $15. Ohh well, I guess I’ll just give away this valuable information for free and stay poor forever.
But seriously, selling ebooks is great because you keep a huge amount of the profit and there are no recurring costs. For example, with Amazon, the author keeps 70% of the sale of ebooks, so that $10 book earns the author a sweet $7. That may not seem like a huge amount, but what if you sell 100 books? What about 500? What about 1,000? It can really add up.
If you sell your book directly through your own site, you keep 100% of the profit.
You can create an ebook on just about anything that you’re an expert in — city guides, blogging, travel planning, travel hacking, travel with pets, marketing, social media.
A lot of blog owners will have three or four books.
Writing ebooks is great because you only have to do the work once. You write it and then you collect the money each time it sells. This is called passive income. It’s the holy grail of making money online, but it is super tough because the competition is high.
But don’t think that all you need to do is throw a book on Amazon and then watch the money roll in. A successful book takes a lot of self-promotion. That means you need to have a popular blog so you can drive more people to your books.
If you’re good with a video camera and editing, you can earn money by posting videos on YouTube. You’ll have to get a lot of views, but if your video goes viral, you can earn a few hundred to a few thousand dollars from the ads that YouTube places on/before the videos.
Don’t expect crazy money, but if you produce a lot of solid content, you may be able to earn a few hundred dollars a month. For reference, I have a friend who earned about $5,500 from a video that got about 4 million views.
YouTube is also great because it will drive people to your website which can help boost all your other advertising methods and raise your “brand” image to the rest of the travel world.
Companies may eventually ask you to post about a product or service and they’ll pay you. Popular bloggers can charge $200-$500 per post, but it takes a long time before you get to this level.
Unfortunately, your loyal readers won’t like these posts too much since it doesn’t seem genuine.
Google is also starting to treat sponsored posts similarly to selling links (see below) so I’m not sure how much of a long-term strategy it is.
First off, I highly recommend that you don’t do this.
OK, here is the 411 on selling links. One of the main factors that Google uses to determine if a website is a quality site is by how many other sites link to it. The reasoning is that people will share the best sites and they won’t share the crappy sites. Google uses this info to help determine what pages get shown in the search results.
A lot of online marketers will purchase links in order to game the system so that Google will display their page higher in the search results.
Buying and selling links is against Google’s rules and they will penalize sites that break their rules.
It can be tempting to sell links. I know of one blogger who made around $5k/month (for a few months) by selling links. However, if Google catches you, your site could get penalized to the point where it won’t show up in the search results — which is bad.
Make Multiple Sites
Want to know a secret? Most of the most successful travel bloggers run multiple websites. They have their main site, then they’ll also make a few smaller niche sites. Each site alone doesn’t make a ton of money, but multiplied by three or four (or more), they start earning a decent amount of cash.
This does take a lot of work, but it’s also a good way to safeguard yourself in case one of your sites stops performing.
Tourists boards are always looking for good press, so many of them invite bloggers on trips to their country. Often they’ll pay for food, lodging, and activities. Sometimes they’ll even pay for airfare. These trips can be a cool way to travel, but you’re often working so much that you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. You should view these trips as work and not a vacation. Additionally, these trips can sometimes feel a little inauthentic because you’re being led around by a tourism board.
On the other hand, some tourists boards are much more open and relaxed about the whole thing and they’ll give you more freedom to do what you want.
Tourists boards want a lot of bang for their buck, so don’t expect to get any press trips until you have a fairly large readership.
Once you get popular, people may want you to speak to large crowds about travel and they’ll pay you. Obviously, you’ll need some public speaking skills. Additionally, this level of fame takes many years of blogging and a lot of travel before you’ll be asked to share your wisdom.
If your writing is really good, other travel publications may ask you to write for them. The pay for travel writing isn’t very good. Even established, full-time writers probably only make about $50,000/year (not including a bunch of free travel perks), but it takes a long time to get to that level. Even articles published in big name magazines like Travel and Leisure may only pay around $100-$200.
Ohh, and publications are notorious for taking 6-12 months before they’ll send your payment. Ouch.
As you’ve seen, there are multiple ways to make money from your site. Each method probably won’t pull in a ton of money on its own, but when you combine each method, you can start earning a decent amount of money.
Secure Your Social Media Accounts
Social media is super important, so you want to secure all your social media sites ASAP. I highly recommend Faccebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I also use Google+ just because it’s owned by Google. There are a few others, but these four are the most influential.
Read Up on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
For those not in the know, Search Engine Optimization is basically steps you take so that your website ranks higher in search engine search results. The ultimate goal is to boost your site to be the first result in Google for a specific search term.
This ain’t easy. In fact, the competition is fierce because just getting on the first page of the search results will give you a huge boost in traffic. Luckily, the basic steps are pretty simple.
Learning about SEO can quickly suck you in and leave you scratching your head. There is just so much information out there and it’s hard to really know what to believe.
Personally, I use this guide from Yoast (be sure to download the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin!) as my roadmap. Just follow it step-by-step and you’ll be in better shape than 80% of the other bloggers out there.
Remember, getting your pages ranked takes a lot of time. Some of my posts have taken 12-18 months before they showed up on the first or second page in Google. So have patience.
Set Up an Email List
Email is a great way to create a long-term relationship with your readers, so it’s smart to create an email list. In fact, many online marketing experts say that having a great email list is one of the most important things you can do to drive repeat traffic to your site. The two best services for creating email campaigns are AWeber and MailChimp.
Move Somewhere Cheap
If you look at the most famous travel bloggers, you’ll start to see something similar… most of them live someplace super cheap. That’s because it’s pretty easy to live in places like Southeast Asia for $1000/month. If you remember from earlier, travel blogging doesn’t pay a lot of money. However, if you’re making $2,000/month in some parts of the world, you’ll be able to pay for everything and still have a good chunk of change left over to travel. If you start making closer to a “normal” US salary while living someplace cheap, then you’ll really be able to save a lot of cash — way more than if you were living in the US or Western Europe.
I know a lot of people who live in places like Thailand and then spend three or four months traveling around Europe every year.
But you can even live cheaply in Europe! Berlin in the cheapest capital city in Europe and it has great connections to the rest of the continent. Even Spain and Greece can be very affordable (although it’s still considerably more expensive than SE Asia or S. America).
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