So you’ve planned your big trip and you are thinking of starting a travel blog to chronicle your adventures. You are thinking that you might even put some advertising on the site and make a little money to help fund your trip. Here are some hints and suggestions I’ve learned from running my travel blog for the last 18 months that can help you out.
For the purposes of this article, “travel blog” will be referring to a travelogue, or a blog about your actual travels, not blogs about the travel industry, airlines, hotels, interesting things you read about in the news from around the world, frequent flier programs, or travel gear. While they are “blogs” and are related to “travel”, that is not the focus of this piece.
Things you need to know
The biggest blogs on the internet tend to do with politics, technology, sports, and celebrities: ie. popular culture. While many people will put “travel” on a list of interests, that interest doesn’t really translate into making popular blogs. When people are interested in travel, they tend to research specific things about where they are going. Unlike the above-mentioned areas, travel isn’t something which most people follow like they do sports teams or politics.
There are tens of thousands of travel blogs out there. Probably more than any other single category. There are dozens of sites which do nothing but host travel blogs. Most, however, suffer from the same problems:
- They are updated infrequently. When you are on the road, it is difficult and time-consuming to update your website, so it usually just doesn’t get done. You can’t really work on your site if you are sitting on the beach.
- They are usually just a diary of daily events. Most of the writing seems to be like a journal entry rather than an article. Reading reports of what you ate every day gets boring for most people.
- The intended audience is friends and family. Most sites are intended as a mechanism to let people you know follow what you are doing and aren’t written for a wider audience.
- The trip eventually ends. By the time you can build up an audience (and it does take time) your trip is over. There is an enormous graveyard of old travel blogs out there for completed trips. It may make for a great memory going back and looking at it, but a dead site can’t carry an active audience. Most big blogs have had years to develop an audience and you won’t have that luxury.
So before you even leave the door, you have a bunch of things working against you.
Managing your expectations
If you can have an idea of what is facing you, you can better manage your expectations for what you can get out of your blog. Some things you could shoot for:
- Integrate into a pre-existing blog. If you already run a blog on some subject, try to just integrate your trip into your blog. The shorter your trip, the better it works. If your blog as some sort of area of focus, try to keep your updates at least tangentially related to your topic.
- Just set up a blog for your friends. You might get away just posting photos on Facebook, which is what about 99% of the people I see in hostels doing. Another option is to use travel blog hosting services like Travellerspoint or BootsNAll. They have simple blogs you can set up with tools which are specific to travel, like maps. They host thousands of similar travel blogs and have communities you can participate in.
- Set up your own site. Taking the step from a pre-made site to a site you manage yourself is an exponential increase in work. There are a lot of technically oriented people who just like to do that sort of stuff, so that isn’t a problem. Getting your own domain name, finding a server, getting a design is all an investment in time and money.
If you’ve read all of this and still want to be the Jack Kerouac of the internet, then you really have your work cut out for you. Contrary to popular belief, if you write a better post on mouse traps, the world will not lead a path to your site. Building traffic to your blog takes time and a whole lot of marketing. Unless you are already an internet celeb, you won’t have the luxury of hitting the ground running.
You are one voice in competition with a lot of others out there. You’ll need to get an education in search engine optimization (SEO), social networking (Facebook, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc), guest blogging, copyrighting, and photography.
I’ve found tremendous success with my Photography. While everyone brings a camera along on vacation, a simple point and shoot usually won’t cut it if you want to make photography a centerpiece of your site. You’ll at least need some sort of SLR with a halfway decent lens. You will probably need a laptop as well if you want to do any photo processing on the road.
Podcasting is also an option, but that also requires a lot of work if you are going to do all your editing from the road. A laptop is even more vital if you are going to do video editing, as I have never seen video editing software at an internet cafe. (I doubt if most internet cafe computers could even handle video editing).
The thing to remember is that everything you want to do has to be done away from home. You will often have limited or no access to the internet, so much of the marketing which other blogs can do, you can’t.
I’ve just scratched the surface of running a travel blog. In a nutshell, it is just like running a regular blog, but harder. You are constrained by time zones, internet access, and working in a niche with traditionally hasn’t been the most popular of areas.
All that being said, the hurdles can be overcome if you work hard and smart. You may need to spend some time at the computer instead of the beach once in a while, but if you are willing to make that sacrifice, you can run a successful travel blog.