The people behind seven popular travel blogs share their personal insights and tips on how you can start a successful travel blog.
Their stories and experiences showcase the path you can follow in order to become a great blogger. I hope their words inspire you. The post is long and full of practical advice so let’s get started.
Why did you start your travel site in the first place?
Earl Baron (EB) of Wandering Earl: I wanted to know if the experiences I was having during my travels would be of interest to anyone else. And so I figured that a blog would be the best platform for me to test that idea out.
My biggest success has been creating a travel site that has become my main business, one that can support my current lifestyle of constant world travel.
Matthew Kepnes (MK) of Nomadic Matt: I started my site as a way to create an online resume for writing. I wanted to write guidebooks for Lonely Planet and figured if I had a website with posts as well as some writing on other websites then it would have been easier for me to do so.
My biggest success as a blogger came when I got a book deal from Penguin Books to turn my ebook into a print edition book.
We stumbled upon the vast community of travel writers online and realized that we could perhaps take our site to the next level and even make some income off of it. We then bought our own domain, focused more heavily on providing quality content, and began to engage in social media.
Andrea Spirov (AS) of Inspiring Travellers: When my husband and I decided to take a year off for a sabbatical I thought it might be nice to start writing about our experiences. Originally I wanted to interview other travelers, in particular those that we would meet in hostels who were doing really interesting things while on the road. But eventually we also decided to write about our own experiences and the site just evolved from there.
Our biggest success has been the steady increase in traffic over the last two years. We also meet a lot of fascinating people through our site and I consider that to be as much of a success as any numbers or advertising revenue that we generate.
Cameron & Nicole Wears (CW) of Traveling Canucks: We started our travel site before embarking on an around the world adventure. Originally the page was designed to update family and friends and to share our travel stories.
As our travels continued, we found that our readership was growing. People were actually interested in our adventures, stories and photos. This inspired us to take our travel blogging seriously and write for a much wider audience.
You always want more page views, followers and advertising dollars – it’s never enough! We love to travel, so a big success for us has been attending press trips to fantastic destinations.
We’ll always remember the first time we were offered an “all expenses paid trip” to the Dominican Republic in exchange for some posts and social media loving. We had one of those “we finally made it” moments.
Christy Woodrow & Scott Calafiore (SC) of Ordinary Traveler: We wanted to share our stories with family and friends while we were away. It also seemed like a great way to keep track of our photos since photography is a huge part of not only our personal lives, but our professional lives as well.
I would say that our biggest success is the relationships that we have formed with other content creators. This may not be a success to some people, but for us it is extremely empowering to meet other people who have the same passion and drive as we do.
I won’t lie though, seeing our monthly reader numbers grow gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling and makes me feel successful as well.
Mary Gabbett & Bret Love (BL) of Green Global Travel: We’re insatiably curious about traveling to new places, meeting new people, seeking out new experiences and new ideas, and love sharing those things with other people in a way that will hopefully inform and inspire them to travel.
Our biggest success has been in getting big-name companies to approach us before we really even knew what we were doing as afar as running a site. Several companies approached us about working together back when we were barely getting 10,000 page views a month.
Working with such high-caliber companies DEFINITELY elevated our profile considerably.
How to start your travel blog today
When asked about their biggest mistakes, three of our features influencers mentioned not starting earlier.
EB: Not starting a site earlier in my travels. I’ve been traveling for 12 years but have only had the the site for 2 years… it would have been excellent to have been writing and interacting with the community from the beginning!
DH: Our biggest mistake was to not start sooner! When we first started traveling, we wish we had known that there was this big, crazy, travel blogging world out there, and to make a real ‘go’ of our travel site right from the start.
SC: Our biggest mistake has probably been not starting sooner. I know, that’s a stupid thing to say because it’s never too late to start. This is a tough question though. It is really hard for me to think about life and business in terms of mistakes. I like to look at things as a learning experience rather than a mistake, otherwise I might drive myself mad.
BL: In our first year we weren’t focused, had no clue what we were doing on social media, and weren’t even on WordPress. In some ways, our relaunch when we moved to WordPress was like starting all over again.
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Come up with a special content angle
AS: The biggest mistake has been not having a more well-defined niche as I think those sites that have one tend to have a lot more success than general interest sites in a genre.
DH: Be yourself. At the beginning we struggled a bit with what kind of website we were and what we wanted to write. A few months in we found our groove and our voice and have stuck with it.
There’s no point trying to ‘force’ a certain kind of style onto yourself, it will show in the writing and will more easily wear you down. Do what you love and the rewards will come.
AS: Find your voice and don’t try to copy what others have done – you are what will engage readers and keep them coming back. People tend to follow personalities that they can relate to.
How to make your design pretty
MK: I think it was failing to recognize how important design is to a website. I had a bad design in the beginning. Moreover, I also didn’t make it easy for people to be able to sign up for my website. I think that lost me a lot of readers and now I can’t help but stress the importance of design to people.
CW: Pay attention to the details. Don’t add too much sizzle that will slow down your page and frustrate your readers. Be clear with your message. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your site design.
Be prepared to put in the hours to make your site a success
EB: These days, I spend about 30 hours per week working on my site and that involves writing posts, adding new pages, promoting content on social media platforms and general maintenance of the site.
MK: I spend all of waking time blogging if I am not doing anything else. After years of doing this, my site is a full time business and like any business it takes up most of my time. I have people working for me now – I have a part time assistant, PR agent, and designer. I spend my days writing posts, networking with other authors, writing articles for other websites, answering email, and overseeing a few other websites. It’s very time consuming.
DH: Between the two of us, we spend about 40 to 50 hours a week total. We each have our responsibilities: I do the writing, keep up on Twitter and Facebook, as well as handling all our ‘business’. Pete does most of the photography, all photo editing and handles StumbleUpon and Pinterest. We have outsourced our technical support as neither of us are WordPress gurus.
AS: On average I spend at least 40 hours a week on the site – it’s a full-time job. Researching and writing takes up the vast majority of my time with social media at a close second. Other tasks include responding to queries via email, including advertisers, advertisement maintenance (renewals, billing, updates, etc.). I also correspond with contributors and deal with the technical aspects of the website.
CW: About 25 hours per week. I spend time editing and tagging photos, which is very tedious and time consuming. Tasks include responding to comments, answering emails, and sharing our articles through social media. I also spend a lot of time sharing other travel bloggers’ work. Every day I leave about 10 comments on travel sites and I promote articles from travel bloggers through social media – what goes around comes around!
SC: I would say at least 15-20 hours a week on the actual site, but starting out we probably spent more like 30-40 hours a week getting things set up. The most time consuming tasks are writing, editing photos and uploading them to our site. These are daily tasks, otherwise we can easily get behind on our posting schedule. Lately we have spent a good deal of time optimizing old posts to rank better in search results and staying on top of social media.
BL: Between the two of us, I’d say we average well over 40 hours a week, usually working on it at least 4-5 hours a day. Tasks include writing, assigning and editing stories; editing photos and video; reaching out to potential advertisers and PR representatives; managing our team of interns; doing copious social media tasks; strategizing ideas for business growth; and then of course there’s the actual travel itself. We stay very, very busy!
How to get traffic and build an audience for your travel blog
EB: Create high-quality content. No matter how well you do with SEO, no matter how attractive your website or how catchy the titles of your posts, or even how visible you are on Twitter and Facebook, it means nothing if you don’t create content that is useful to your readers.
MK: Market outside your niche. Find similar topics and guest post on those websites. You can always market in your own niche but finding success outside your niche will lead to the greatest audience growth. I always post on lifehacking and finance sites because their audiences and missions align well with my budget travel tips. There is a lot of overlap.
DH: Do lots of guest posts. And I mean, LOTS, especially at the start. Right now we try to keep it to one guest post a month to control our workload, but we did many more in the beginning to reach a wider audience. Also, and this should go without saying, focus on producing high quality content. You want readers to come back and to also tell their friends about it.
The success we are most proud of is building the great fan base we have. We love the interaction we see on our Facebook page and the great comments and emails we get every day. That is the number one thing that keeps us going!
AS: Building consistent, quality content is the best way to develop a successful site. Networking and promotion on social media is also very important, but if you don’t have great content, no one will care. Start networking and spend a lot of time on it. We regularly guest post and give interviews. We belong to a variety of online groups and forums for meeting other bloggers.
You also need to be creative to think of new ways to promote yourself, with cross-promotion in other niches being a very important way to expand your reach. And don’t underestimate search, which can bring you significant amounts of traffic if you pay attention to SEO best practices.
CW: If you want people to share your story, make it memorable and provide value. I’m embarrassed by some posts that we published years ago. The writing was sloppy and disorganized. We focused on quantity not quality – big mistake. But that’s just a part of the creative process. Another mistake was ignoring the importance of SEO tactics. If you want to increase traffic and readership, search engines need to find your work.
Dedicate more time to social media. You can have the best content on the planet, but if nobody knows about it then you’re not going to get the recognition you deserve.
Be everywhere. Join networking groups and connect with other bloggers. Leave comments and share their posts. Engage with your readers and followers. Respond to comments and emails. Be helpful and give before taking. Your time will come, but you have to earn it first.
SC: Network. Relationships are key. Start out by helping other bloggers and most of them will be happy to return the favor by sharing your articles, commenting or offering guest posts on their site. Guest posts are a great way to get your content in front of a different audience.
It’s also important to stick with it, even through the tough times. Keep putting out great content while sharing it through all of your social media channels and eventually the readers will come.
BL: The brief version is to blaze your own trail, focus on killer content, set concrete (and attainable) business goals, work social media like a beast, treat others the way you want to be treated, and try not to focus too much on stats or monetization, especially for the first year. It takes a lot of time, patience, energy and talent to build a successful site.
What is your best lesson for beginners?
EB: Growing an engaged audience takes time, but in the end, as long as you stay focused and are willing to constantly learn, you will succeed. Those who don’t achieve their goals are generally those who eventually give up because they haven’t seen the results they were hoping for. Stick with it, push through the tough times and suddenly, one day, progress will be made and all of your efforts will have paid off.
MK: Learn website code. You don’t need to be a master at building websites or anything like that but being able to understand how your website works and how everything under the hood fits together will make your life a lot easier when there is a small problem that needs to be fixed, when you want to change a font color, or when you want to expand your website. Knowing how your website functions will make your life a lot easier.
CW: Don’t underestimate the time commitment that is required. Stick with it! There will be weeks where it feels like nobody cares about your site. Stay the course. It takes time. Be patient.
SC: Running a successful site is not a cake walk, but if you are aware of this, hopefully you won’t get discouraged as easily. There will be plenty of times where you will consider giving up. The web is full of all different types of people. Some people will lift you up and others will try to tear you down. Do your best not to let the haters get to you. Learning how to separate constructive criticism from negativity is extremely important.
BL: The sooner you treat your site like a business, the faster it will grow. If I’d known how quickly we could grow this business by giving it everything we had, I’d have done it right from the get-go! Also? Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do it.