Though in planning our round-the-world trip we used the Lonely Planet guides, The Rough Guide to First-Time Around The World, and Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel for advice, it was travel blogs, written by people like us, that were our primary source of information and inspiration. These blogs inspired us to write our own not just to document our trip but also to “give back” and help others make their dream of travel happen. Along the way, writing a travel blog has become a journey in and of itself. Here are my top travel blogging lessons.
From 2008 to 2011 I wrote a blog for my marketing business. Meanwhile I also wrote a couple of short-lived, project-based blogs and contributed a number of guest posts to various media outlets. So I was coming into Where Is Your Toothbrush? with some experience. Blogging here reinforced a lot of what I already knew and taught me a lot that I didn’t. Here’s what I learned and re-learned in the 18 months of travel blogging. (My work applying these lessons continues.)
Top travel blogging lessons: State your purpose
At the outset it’s easy to focus on the nitty-gritty: Should I have a hosted WordPress blog or WordPress.com? (The former!) Should this navigation button be here or there? What’s an RSS feed and where do I get one? How do I grow traffic to the blog? How can I make money from my travel blog?
Forget about all that for now. First and foremost, determine the purpose for your travel blog:
- Do I want a travel blog and if so, why? What do I want to accomplish with the blog?
- What is my travel blog about? What makes it different from the gazillion other travel blogs?
- Who is my travel blog’s reader? Why should they care? What will it do for them?
Not only are these the kind of questions to be asking all the time, the work of answering them in your mind and with your blog never ends.
Where Is Your Toothbrush? started as an online travel journal for our first round-the-world trip. Now that the trip is over, we’re shifting focus to describing how we made it happen so that people like us—the us in the dreaming-of-traveling stage—can do it, too. But whether we write about places or about trip prep we aim to show couples like us how to make themselves feel at home wherever they are.
Notice we did not set out to make money off the blog. We made our first dollars—beer money, really—only about 14 months into it. Forget about starting a travel blog to make money. It’s doable and plenty of people are good at it, but it takes years, lots of hard work, and it should be secondary to your travel blog’s purpose. Besides, when most people say they’re making money from their blog what they really mean the blog is a marketing tool for selling their books, services (graphic design, web development), consulting, or art (travel photography).
Having a purpose will guide you through your blogging journey. When you hit a writer’s block, have a crisis of confidence in your writing/photography, or get tired of blogging altogether, your purpose, the Why of your blog, will be the wind in your sails, the beacon, the map. Everything else is just logistics.
Top travel blogging lessons: Develop an editorial calendar
There are two schools of thoughts on editorial calendars: blog whenever you have something to say or blog on a schedule. I prefer the latter method because it forces me to write which forces me to come up with things to say. I need a butt-in-seat writing discipline because if I waited for the muse to strike, there would be no blog. The world doesn’t need another stale blog.
An editorial calendar is a set of topics you cover and how you organize and publish posts on those topics. An editorial calendar helps your purpose find its place in every blog post. I recommend having a specific schedule, with days assigned to certain kinds or even specific blog posts. An editorial calendar will then allow you to schedule posts into the future so your blog is active even when you are offline.
After the trip we settled on a schedule that’s arbitrary but that works for us and keeps us honest, most of the time anyway: Monday is for an original story by Lindsay or I, Wednesday is a photo day (Faraway Feline or Wordless Wednesday), and Friday is a Two Toothbrushes traveler interview day. Sometimes (like this week) we fall short but perfection is an ideal, not an objective.
Make editing, proofing, and promotion part of your editorial calendar. Writing is just the first step. Before you hit Publish, edit and proofread your writing thoroughly (Lindsay and I proofread each other’s posts).
Follow up each published post with promotion. Let your readers know about the new post on your favorite social media outlet (use a tool like Hootsuite for scheduling), via email if you have a mailing list, and in any other way that makes sense for you.
On a related note, your blog needs care not just on the content side but also on the back end. Keep your WordPress, your theme, and plugins up to date.
Top travel blogging lessons: Keep a notebook
You won’t always have your computer with you to write down your observations or thoughts, but you can always carry a notebook. Many a blog post, as well as my own writing, relies heavily on handwritten notes. Your notebook will become your first draft, saving you work later, and it will help you spend time productively on travel days or during long waits. My favorite exercise (thank you, Lindsay) is to describe my surroundings in detail without using any adjectives.
Top travel blogging lessons: Respond to comments
I still remember how excited I was when we received the first comment here (thanks again, Carmel and Shawn!). Every person who takes time to comment on your blog was in some way motivated by your words to do so. Respond in kind and reply to the comment. It fosters your readers’ engagement with you and your blog. It also increases the comment count casual visitors see when they come to your website.
Top travel blogging lessons: Don’t use pop-ups
Top travel blogging lessons: Connect with fellow travel bloggers
You probably didn’t include travel bloggers among your primary readers. Good, because they aren’t. They’re your peer group that will help you expose your blog to their audiences and thus grow your own, they’re your support system, and they’re your inspiration.
Relationships are only as good as you make them. Subscribe to and comment on travel blogs. Host guest posts and publish your own guests posts on other travel blogs (often travel bloggers will call for submissions or you can ask, nicely). Participate in travel bloggers’ groups on Facebook. Play nice.
Top travel blogging lessons: Worry about design and traffic later
Of course you want to have a good-looking blog. Keep your wallet closed just yet, though. The default theme that WordPress comes with is good enough and there are plenty of easily customizable free themes out there anyone can use to create a decent-looking blog.
Of course you want your travel blog to be read by millions of people. Many beginner bloggers worry about increasing traffic to their site, forgetting that people read travel blogs because they provide some value to them, not because they wish to be counted as a visitor. If you think of your readers as such and not as traffic, they will come. I like this rule: whoever comes is the right people. Wouldn’t you rather have 10 dedicated, engaged readers than a 1,000 ‘drive-bys’? I do.
Good tips! Love that you mentioned keeping an editorial calendar. I’m a huge advocate for editorial calendars for all bloggers. You’re spot on: they help keep you on track, but it’s also good to not beat yourself up if you don’t always post as planned.
It does keep us on track for sure.
This is a great post because it brings you back to the basics and not the fluff that is so easy to get caught up in. One of the best things for me as far as some discipline in writing goes, was the April A-Z Challenge, where I had to post everyday while keeping it true to our site. Then I did do an editorial calendar but that changed as needs changed and that’s ok too. Re pop up – I 100% back you. I must be the fastest person to click the X button.
Thanks, Paula. I should check the A-Z Challenge out, sounds like a true challenge! And I’m with you on adapting as you go, there’s no need to be a slave to the editorial calendar.
Really great advice, guys. Especially on making money (or not). Oh, and carry a notebook = brilliant! They are so handy for remembering stuff and exchanging into.
Thanks, Dan. The notebook rarely leaves my side (I just need to write in it more). Never leave the house (apartment, hostel, whatever) without a notebook!
Great post. You’re absolutely right about the notebook. I often find myself thinking, “Oh I will remember this and write about it later,” but those are the posts that never make it.
So much happens while traveling, one can never remember everything, even if it’s important. Writing things down in a notebook is a habit that needs to be developed, though, it won’t just happen. I am a living proof of that.