From idea to creation to execution, everything you need to start your travel blog. If you’re on the fence about whether you should start a travel blog to record your trip, or go with a few other options, I outline that entire decision process here. While it’s easy to set up a website, in no way do I think that creating a successful travel blog is easy, nor something that is right for everyone. In my post on building a travel community, I outline my ideas on how I built this site’s following (it was an early mover advantage), and what new bloggers can expect.
If you’re sure you want your own place on the internet to call home (rather than a beautiful Instagram feed or a free blogging site), I get it. It’s nice to own a piece of the internet, and if you’ve read those other links, then you are going into it with the right expectations. Now, we’ll run through each step to get your site started today. From this moment to having a functional site usually takes anywhere from a couple of days to a week. Once it’s all up and running, then you can do the infinitely harder part, which is filling it with content and building a following. If you’re planning to make money, that’s an entirely other discussion that I talk about here.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Either jump right to where you are in the process, or start from the top and work your way through.
1: Pick a Name and Register It
This is the fun part! It took me several days to think of a name I liked, but A Little Adrift was the one that eventually came out the winner. For you, there are already going to be heaps of travel URLs taken, so you need to come up with a clever, fun, easy name that reflects your niche focus, your plans, and the blog you hope to write. Your travel blog name will most often be the URL you choose, so spend some time on this step.
Your domain name should:
- be short and memorable. Stick to 10-20 characters and something that is catchy if possible.
- be easy to type correctly from hearing it audibly. Use conventional word spellings and make it easy to shake someone’s hand and tell them your domain name.
- be unique. I think A Little Adrift is fantastic, but you can’t have it because it’s taken! :) Likewise, the Nomadic____.coms and Wandering___.coms are also taken. Get creative.
- avoid hyphenation. It’s possible, but not usually a good idea. Avoid numbers too, generally.
Some ideas for you to get the juices flowing:
- Are there any phrases you’ve always loved or others use to describe your life?
- Famous quotes or song lyrics you love?
- A specific philosophy you love?
- Do you already know your niche? Any fun concepts or plays on words there?
- Any cool plays on words with your name(s)?
Once you have a list of fun ideas, you have to see which are available. BustaName is a fun site that lets you input keywords and will output available domain names. I recommend a glass of wine on a Friday night and a couple of friends helping you toss around ideas, it’s more fun and will likely better reflect you if you have others weigh in on it.
Claim Your Piece of the Internet:
So great, got a name you love? Now you need to register it.
This step is fairly simple. NameCheap is a good choice if you just need to register your chosen domain. If you go with then it actually includes one free domain registration with a hosting package. I use GoDaddy simply because that’s where I started, but I don’t recommend them unless you already have an account and a reason to be there. Although some will recommend that you separate out your hosting and domain name registration, really you should just ensure you create a very secure account.
2: Choose a Hosting Provider and Sign Up
There are heaps of hosting options, but I have three thoughts:
- The best option for a new website is usually one of the low-cost hosting providers like HostGator or Bluehost. PC Mag lists out the best low-cost hosts for 2017 — Hostgator won this year, which means it’s a pretty great option, especially since it seems to always run a sale for new customers. Customers are favorable about the service and the company’s servers are up more than many low-cost providers. The affordability is the major selling point, but HostGator (and Bluehost too) also have one-click installs for WordPress, so you don’t need to know any coding or tech details to get the website started. Of note, some low-cost providers can make you want to rage — they are frustrating when things go wrong. In the end, going with good customer service and server speed is important so you don’t want to just rage (I rage-quit FatCow because my site was always down, and I rage-quit GoDaddy hosting because they wouldn’t help when my site got hacked through their servers). Using a low-cost provider is, honestly, just the best all around option for new bloggers. The affordability wins out, and it’s dead simple to get started. Until you know you want to run your website long-term, and until your traffic exceeds what they can handle, go with Hostgator. I used a low-cost host for about three years, and it served me well. This will generally run between $3 and $10 per month.
- If you’re cash flush and need a mid-range option, then you can choose a host like MediaTemple or the higher service form Hostgator (they have one that compares to MediaTemple in features). I switched to Media Temple in 2011 because my traffic had increased past the low-cost hosts (a good problem) and I needed better server performance. This option runs $20-ish per month and you can run multiple sites on one account. The perks of a mid-range host are better uptime for your site, faster speeds, and better customer service. But I found that mid-range companies can expect you to have a certain amount of knowledge to run things on the backend. MediaTemple has a good backend and one-click install, but I still had to use their wiki to figure out databases and such when issues crop up, and I hired help twice when it went over my head. I run my sister site on my MediaTemple server, and my personal portfolio sit there as well (and the websites of several friends) — it all hums along pretty well with no issues. If you can afford it, if you know you’re running this site as a business for years to come, or if you need multiple sites hosted, there’s no reason not to start at the $20 a month level. But there’s also little need for this mid-range option for most starting bloggers. The low-cost hosts are a better bargain and will get your site up and running faster with the one-click installs.
- Companies like WebSynthesis are fantastic for larger sites. This is where A Little Adrift lives and it costs significantly more than the other options. For new blogs, it’s overkill. It runs $50 per month for a single site. The site runs quick as lightning and their customer service is great.
Which one is best? HostGator is highly reviewed all over the place by names you can trust. Bluehost is the one people love to hate — it’s cheap, and the free domain name is pretty handy if you are just staking claim on your piece of the internet. You can’t go wrong with either this early in the process, once your site is setup, you will entirely use the WordPress Dashbaord and rarely again login to your host.
Let’s assume you’re taking my advice with Hostgator, which is a good bet for new bloggers. Buying a hosting plan is a cinch.
- Navigate to HostGator and hit the yellow “get started!” button.
- Go with their “Hatchling” plan — it’s affordable and you won’t need most of the upsells for the first year at least.
- Buy at least a year; you only get that mega low introductory price if you buy it upfront. (Remember, I was on a low-cost host for more than three years and it worked perfectly for the size of your site as you grow).
- Fill in your details.
- If you have the chance to upsell I to “Domain Privacy Protection,” this will keep your home address blocked.
- Add in billing details and hit submit.
3: Set Up WordPress
WordPress is the industry standard right now and the only real blogging platform you should consider. You have a domain name and hosting, but you need a content management system that will help you load information to the internet. That’s what WordPress is. If you’ve used HostGator or Bluehost then this is a cinch and they have a “one-click” install for WordPress that will add all the files to your site and prompt you to build a back-end login. MediaTemple, 1 and 1, and the others also usually offer easy installs of WordPress because it’s the most popular blogging platform.
- It’s to get started. Log into your new hosting you just bought. Then navigate to your 1) hosting tab, and in 2) cPanel, use the 3) “Site Builders” section to install WordPress.
- On the next page click the “install” button in the “Do it yourself FREE” section. Then click the “Check Domain” button. Then accept the terms and conditions to get it all installing for you.
- Importantly, that will take a few minutes, then you will get a message that says “Your install is complete!”— you need to“View Credentials” and write down all those details so that you can log into your site the first time. Once you do, then you can change your username and password.
- Use that Admin URL in your browser, and log in with your credentials. Congrats, this is the WordPress Dashboard (aka Command Central) for your new travel blog.
- If you are on HostGator, then you now have to login to your domain host (Namecheapo or the like) and “point” your DNS to your server’s IP address. (If you have used Bluehost and “bought” your domain through them, then your site is ready to roll). Your HostGator account will include information on the series of numbers that you must use. This step is how your URL knows where in the world your servers and blog information is housed. This sounds more complicated than it is, and all of the domain name business and server companies have wiki pages explaining step-by-step how.
4: Prettify Your Site
You have a site! Congrats, I know there was some techie stuff to get here, but now it’s a lot easier. Your task is to build the website that you have in your head. It’s easier than it sounds. You’ll want to start by picking a theme. There are heaps of free themes out there, but I recommend springing for a moderately priced professional one. Paid themes from trusted brands have cleaner code and better for your long-term site health. A few options for premium themes:
- WooThemes: I use the Woo Canvas Theme and I love how simple and customizable it is. They have a whole library of apps and they’re great for SEO. They come highly recommended.
- Elegant Themes: These are well priced and still excellent options, with a lot of variety to choose from.
- ThemeTrust: This is a giant vault of themes, and the run the gambit on pricing, but they should be a good option too if you’re not a fan of the aesthetics of the other two.
Most of these are going to serve you well. Generally, premium themes in 2016 come with mobile responsiveness and decent customizability. You want both of those features.
In addition to a theme—which is the framework of how your site looks and how you navigate your site—you’ll likely need a logo. If you’re handy with graphics design, go to town. I am abysmal with graphics, however, so I hired Hannah from FurtherBound. She is exceedingly lovely and comes highly recommended. If you are in a pinch and just need something fast and cheap, you can design something yourself with Canva, generate one on the free engines like Hipster Logo Generator, or hire someone on Fiverr for $5.
You’ll also need some plugins to get you started. Within your site’s Dashboard is a “Plugins” section. I recommend installing:
- WordPress SEO: The Yoast SEO plugin is the best out there. Start right now with the intention of building strong SEO and you will be grateful for it. Make sure you enable the sitemaps feature. Yoast published a fantastic tutorial for setting it up.
- Akismet: This one is pretty standard and protects your blog from comment spam.
- Share buttons: Social media sharing buttons on your posts are important. You can use the free ones built into JetPack (which comes with WordPress), or I think these ones are pretty, functional, and affordable.
And you need to consider where you will host your photos. If you are a travel blog, then you likely plan on sharing those beautiful photos from your trip. But your best bet is not to host them on your site, but to instead upload them to a dedicated photo hosting site and then embed them on your website. This is definitely trickier than just uploading them, but it’s a better long-term plan. Hosting photos off-site makes your site faster and cleaner. Photos take up a lot of space, so over the years they can build up and overwhelm your site database.
One final tip, and it’s a biggie—don’t get lost in this step! It’s easy to spend weeks and months tweaking and fine-tuning the site to look perfect, but you should really spend your early efforts on content and community. Please trust me on this. Get the site functional, then get to work building the parts of it that will bring and keep visitors.
5: Build a Community
This is a huge next step. In addition to actually filling in your site (about page, contact, plans, etc), and starting to blog (stories, photos, plans), you need to consider how you are going to get people to your site, stick to your site, and generally love you so much they share your site with the world.
I wrote an entire post dedicated to building a strong community. It’s hard to pin down exactly how I managed to do that on A Little Adrift, but I did, and there are steps you can and should take from the very start.
Read my Travel Blog Community Building post.
Now that you’ve read that, you might be swirling around thoughts about your business model, your niche, and next steps. Here are a few more thoughts to get you started.
- Start an email newsletter right now: Go to MailChimp and sign up for their newsletter software. Seriously, the first 2,000 subscribers are free. Now, go add a signup form to your blog. You can figure out freebies or incentives later, but for starters you just need to ensure you are collecting emails for a newsletter.
- Learn Social Media: One of the best ways to grow your community and grow awareness will be through social media, both through your existing accounts and through new ones you join to promote your site. Jodi has a great social media primer guide here, it should help you decide which platforms you should join for networking and for building a community. SEOMoz also has a very comprehensive guide walking through all you need to know about social media right now.
- Learn the SEO basics: This is what I do for a living, SEO, so I wrote up a whole list of SEO basic steps for travel bloggers right here. Seriously, read it and start right now on the SEO basics, your site will thank you down the line.
- Build Great Content: You should pour your love and attention into this new site. Figure out your voice, write a lot, and write really great information that will help others travel within your niche topic. Chris G has a helpful guide to Flagship Content. I also recommend that you constantly better yourself from this point forward.
Since 2008 when I started this website, I have invested thousands of hours in bettering the site’s resources and also bettering myself. I took writing classes, I studied photography, I went to industry conferences, and I voraciously consumed information on how to better market and run an online business. You should have this dedication to this new site if you hope to make it a success and to make it into a business. It’s possible, there are so many avenues to success right now online, and if you are dedicated you can find a way to make your hopes of a travel community very real.
And once you have a new site, I’d love to hear about it. Shoot me a message anywhere on social media and let me know you’re a new blogger and joining our global travel blogging community. :)