If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ve probably noticed a lot of changes in the last few months. While I’ve been writing this blog for almost 3 years (?!!!), last May I did a complete 180 and redesigned my entire blog. I left behind the world of study abroad and teach abroad blogs to the mythical land of “travel blogging”.
What is travel blogging?
Before the spring of last year, I had no clue! It wasn’t until I stumbled on an article by Go Abroad titled GoAbroad.com’s Top Solo Female Travel Bloggers that I had even heard of travel blogging. I decided to check out the blogs and soon became obsessed with Twenty-Something Travel, Legal Nomads and Adventurous Kate. Their blogs were interesting, visually appealing and user-friendly, and I found all three girls to be extremely relatable. I spent countless nights devouring their blogs, and found myself desperately wanting to be friends with these people!
After a few days of obsessing, I started reading their tips on blogging and how to become a “professional travel blogger.” Unlike many travel blogs out there, I never started my blog with the intention of making it a business. I just loved writing about my experiences and sharing my thoughts, memories, opinions, and photography with others. But after writing a blog for 2.5 years, I realized blogging was no longer just a hobby, it was a passion.
It was time for a change. A complete re-evaluation of my writing and my priorities. Rather than using my spare time to watch Netflix or surf Facebook, I spent hours researching and reading advice from other travel bloggers on how to start a travel blog.
I’m not the type of blogger who normally writes about blogging, and I’m by no means an authority on the subject, but I know a few of you reading this post either write a blog or are thinking of starting one. Whether you’re interested in starting/improving your blog, or you just want to know
Whether you’re interested in starting/improving your blog, or you just want to know why (and how) I made all these changes, this post is for you!
1. Be sure your blog is “self-hosted”
What does that mean??
The first step in transitioning from a hobby blog to a travel blog is becoming “self-hosted”. Firstly, this means having your own domain name. A lot of study abroad and teach abroad bloggers have a blog with the URL “www.name.wordpress.com” or “www.name.blogspot.com.” This is perfect for the average blogger because these domains are absolutely free, but if you want to be taken seriously you’ll need to drop the WordPress or Blogspot from your domain name.
Having a blog hosted on WordPress or Blogspot will also give you problems down the road. For me, it was a lack of stylistic options and storage space for my photos. To be honest, my blog was ugly. At the time I thought it was perfectly acceptable, but now I cringe whenever I think of it! Moving away from my wordpress.com blog gave me a plethora of new themes and stylistic options to choose from. Now I love how my blog looks! I also completely ran out of space to upload photos onto my blog, and had to pay WordPress to let me upload more. Trust me, that is not something you want to run into down the road.
So what did I do? I started a self-hosted blog! This means that rather than using WordPress to host all of my content on their servers, I pay a hosting company to do this for me. After much research and deliberation, I chose Bluehost as my server. It seemed to be the best out of the cheap-ish hosts, and they even have a live chat if you’re having any technical issues. Right now they’re having a sale where you can pay $3.49 per month for hosting and you get your own domain name for free!
If you are thinking of switching from wordpress.com to wordpress.org, here’s a great article explaining exactly how to make the switch. If I can do it on my own without paying for help, so can you!
UPDATE MAY 2016:
I recently moved from Bluehost to Siteground because I had too much traffic for Bluehost’s shared servers (I guess that’s a good problem to have, right?) The great thing about Bluehost is even if you sign a 3-year contract you can still cancel at any time and get a partial refund. Bluehost gave me my money back with no issues, and the transfer to Siteground was seamless and hassle-free.
I now equally recommend Bluehost and Siteground to newer bloggers. Siteground has a Start Up web hosting plan for roughly the same price as Bluehost, which is suitable for those getting under 10,000 pageviews per month. I currently have the “Grow Big” plan, but I may have to upgrade to the “Go Geek” plan in the next few months if my stats keep growing the way they are now.
I definitely suggest you shop around and see which host is right for you. If you are considering signing up for Bluehost or Siteground, I would really appreciate it if you click the link above before you do. I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, and that’s money I can put towards my blog that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
2. Make your blog visually appealing
After signing up for Bluehost, I went about installing wordpress.org. This is the version of WordPress for self-hosted blogs. It looks exactly like the WordPress you’re used to, but with more options and themes to choose from! You can even transfer all of your old content from your old blog to your new one. The only thing I lost were photo galleries on my old posts. If you’re thinking about switching, please switch sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to switch over, the more painful, stressful and time-consuming the move will be.
After switching from “www.adventuresaroundasia.wordpress.com” to the shiny new “www.adventuresaroundasia.com” I set about making my blog beautiful. I spent hours picking out a theme and redesigning to my heart’s content. While I chose a free theme (Catch Kathmandu), many people choose to invest in a premium theme.
For those of you who don’t blog, a theme is the basic structure of your blog’s design. While some things are easily customizable, major changes can’t be made unless you’re very HTML savvy. A theme basically does all the work for you so you don’t have to hire a web designer to build your blog from scratch.
UPDATE MAY 2015:
After a year of Catch Kathmandu, I finally decided to redesign my blog using a new, premium theme. I chose the Crescent theme through Mojo Themes, a really well-respected platform. I love how many customizable options there are, as well as the clean and elegant design. I was beginning to get a bit frustrated with the limitations of a free theme. For example, I was stuck with the ugly dark blue color, and my self-made “about me” widget was pretty horrific.
With the help of a graphic designer friend, I’ve completely redesigned my blog (again) and I’m really happy with how it looks now! I got a great deal on my new theme through Bluehost, which offered 12 different themes for $30 USD (as in, you pay $30 and they give you 12 themes you can keep forever). Just the Crescent theme itself is usually $45 USD! Bluehost constantly has great deals like this, which is why I (still) love them so much! For a poor student like me, these sales are gold.
3. Write good stuff
This should probably be #1. Basically, I learned a lot of things from reading all of my favorite travel blogs. To write good posts you have to read good posts. I spend so much time reading other people’s blogs. I like to follow all of my favorite bloggers on Facebook so their new posts show up in my newsfeed. I also have a Bloglovin account, which emails me everyone’s new posts in a straightforward email list every day.
The main thing I learned through reading is that I needed to stop stressing about documenting every place I visit on my travels in chronological order. I used to rip my hair out over trying to blog about every single place I visited. It’s just not going to happen. I still need to write about my trip trekking through Tibet, that one time I lost my passport in Nepal (sorry mom), hiking the rice terraces in Guilin and renting a motorcycle in Taiwan, to name a few.
No one wants to read your diary.
But you know what? Travel diary blogs are boring. No one wants to read about my trip to Taiwan in chronological order except maybe people who are planning on visiting Taiwan. Pick the best, coolest or most interesting aspects of your trip and write about those. For example, instead of writing about everything I did in Taipei, I wrote a post about Taipei’s street food and night markets. That way, even people who aren’t planning on visiting Taiwan can look at salivating pictures of shaved ice cream and laugh about the penis waffles.
I started realizing that my blog is more than just a place to talk about my travels and life in China. I’ve been trying to write more overarching posts about what I’ve learned from living abroad, and how these experiences have impacted me. I now organize my future post ideas into categories, pulling from different themes each time I write a post. I’ve got posts on Chinese culture, travel advice, politics, personal stories, travel gear reviews, etc. I actually have a notebook with 50+ ideas for future posts. Now all I have to do is just write them….
4. Join Travel Blog Success
Travel Blog Success (TBS) is the best class for beginning bloggers. Not only are there countless lessons you can take online, you also get access to private webinars with professional travel bloggers, forums, a super secret Facebook group and discounts for blog themes and travel conferences!
To be honest, I’m pretty cheap and I couldn’t imagine shelling out a few hundred dollars to join a travel blogging class. But the more I looked around the more I noticed that all of my favorite travel bloggers (literally all of them) were members of TBS. When a sale rolled around last may, I couldn’t help but jump on board, and I’m so glad I did!
How the course helped me
The classes have taught me so many things I would have had to spend hours and hours researching online. The webinars are amazing too! One of my favorite travel bloggers, Young Adventuress, recently did a webinar on how to use Instagram as a travel blogger. She has 24,000+ followers on Instagram and is often recruited by major brands for Instagram press trips. How cool is that?!
My favorite part of TBS is the very active, secret Facebook group. This group is full of professional bloggers that have no problem answering questions from newer bloggers. Reading all of their posts about working with brands and pitching to companies has inspired me to start working on a media kit of my own! If I’m going to spend this much time and effort writing and working on my blog, why not collaborate with cool and innovative travel services in Asia too?
5. Become a Social Media Pro
In the last few months I’ve created a Facebook page for my blog, and switched my Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest handles to my blog name. Keeping up with social media takes a lot of time and energy. In the last few months, I went from someone who barely understood how Twitter works to a person that schedules tweets in advance so I can tweet while I’m sleeping. I make an effort to post interesting and relevant content to each of my social media profiles every day. I also share other bloggers’ content too. It’s such a great way to make friends and support other people.
While I’m nowhere near a social media expert, I’ve been reading a lot of articles on how to improve my social media presence. Some of the best posts I’ve found are Girl Vs Globe’s advice about Facebook and the Hungry Partier’s “How I got 10k Followers”.
If you aren’t a travel blogger and never plan to be, I hope this post has given you a little insight into all of the changes that have been going on in the last few months. My life has been pretty insane, with updating this blog, freelance writing, and attending grad school. But busy is good, right? I really hope to make this blog something I can be proud of, and something you all enjoy reading!
If you’re about to move abroad or start a big trip and are thinking about starting a blog, go for it! The best advice I can give is to start out on a self-hosted blog right from the start if you see yourself writing for more than just an audience of family and friends. I can’t stress how painful it was to move to a self-hosted site after 2.5 years of blogging!
Also, be sure to manage your expectations. No one becomes an internet sensation overnight. It may feel like no one is reading your blog, at first. We all feel that way! But if you really want to improve your readership, try out my tips above and I guarantee you’ll see a huge improvement in the response you get from your blog. I know my life (yes, my life) has drastically changed since I moved to a self-hosted blog and started taking the TBS course.
Want to Learn More?
I’m constantly reading articles about how to improve my writing, search engine optimization (SEO), and social networking. If you’re looking for more resources on how to improve your blog and become a travel blogger, be sure to check out these articles below!
Finding the Universe: How to Become a Professional Travel Blogger
Adventurous Kate: How to Start a Travel Blog
That Savvy Backpacker: How to make money travel blogging
Globe Guide: How to Start a Travel Blog
Are you about to start a travel blog? Looking to transition to travel blogging? Let me know!