So you want to become a travel blogger, but you’re sick of wading through unsubstantial, vague and (kinda) BS advice?
Welcome, friend. Let me grab you a virtual cuppa tea.
If you don’t know me yet, my name is Christina and I’m the crazy girl behind the keyboard at Happy to Wander. This month I’m rolling out something pretty epic that I’ve been working on for a while…
Today marks the start of what I’m affectionately dubbing ‘Blogtoberfest’, a free month long series of guides on how to create and market the epic travel blog of your dreams. Throughout October, I’ll be sharing 4 in-depth articles that provide practical and transparent advice on each of the following topics:
Okay soooo I admit yes, this is really meta. I’m blogging about blogging, and I always told myself I’d never do that, but I’ve been so frustrated lately with the resources out there for travel bloggers that I felt it was ample time to step in and address a very real problem.
When you Google ‘how to start a travel blog’, you get dozens of articles that show you just how simple it is to get started. They walk you through the steps of brainstorming a name, picking a host, all that fun stuff… and then the last step usually ends with “create content and go!”
… and then you’re kind of left out there in the dust.
There is so much content out there that encourages you to follow your dreams, start a blog, quit your job, become a digital nomad, etc. etc. After all, what beats getting paid to travel? BUT on the flipside, when it comes to actual advice on how to grow your travel blog, build a following, gain a loyal readership and *gulp* approach sponsors, information tends to be really vague, disorganized or you know… secretive?
Unsurprisingly, when you’re a newbie blogger, broad instructions like “use social media”, “learn SEO” and “promote your content” don’t really mean a whole lot. The question we’re often left with is ‘how?’ which most guides conveniently gloss over. There’s still a lot of secrecy in blogging, which bugs me a lot…
Come on guys, we’re bloggers, not ninjas.
I mean, have you even watched High School Musical?! We’re all in this together.
… and with that idea is how this No BS Guide was born. This isn’t your typical ‘how to start a travel blog’ post, with vague directions like “get on social media” – no, no. This guide is gonna take things miiiiles further and bring you action items and genius tips that will help you create a blog you’re proud of. I’m not going to sugarcoat or give you crazy overnight success stories and stats… What I’m presenting is an honest collection of wisdom I’ve acquired over 2 years of being a pretty mediocre blogger, and what I’ve learned to do recently to turn that all around.
No BS. I promise!
So before we get started, make sure you’ve got a blog already set up (as I mentioned, there’s plenty of resources about this online already), and come back here to supercharge your progress.
Why listen to this doofus?
Okay, I guess this is the part where I have to awkwardly flaunt my credentials. This is especially awkward because honestly, I don’t really think I have any. I’m not a six figure blogger, I’m not a full time travelista who does this for a living, I barely make enough on this site to cover the expenses it takes and you know what? Sometimes even putting on pants in the morning is a struggle.
I’m not doing this because I think I’m some kind of mega genius blogger guru. I’m giving you guys this info for free because I remember when I was first starting out and how lost I felt. All the big bloggers made it look so easy, and made me believe that if I just worked hard and believed in myself, the readers would come. And eventually so would the sponsorships, then the free trips, the dream life, and before long, the ability to afford extra guac at Chipotle.
Fast forward about two years, that dream life still hadn’t arrived. What. happened?? Sure I didn’t devote as much time to my blog as I should have, but surely I was worth more than 5000 views a month? *whimper* right, mom???
I worked hard, but I didn’t work smart. I didn’t know how. And I feel like there’s so many of us who are in that same boat. If I had known what I know now when I first started, then I would be miles and miles ahead in my progress. Throughout the past two years, I must have devoted hundreds of hours (no joke) to researching blogging tactics, only to find all the important information scattered across the Internet, buried in vague blog posts across different niches. After struggling for years, I finally sat down and created a proper strategy. This happened literally a month ago. It took me two years to find my magic sauce so-to-speak, and in that month? Daily page views have pretty much doubled, I’m getting new subscribers daily (compared to a non-existent email list before) but most importantly, I finally have a blog that I’m genuinely proud of.
I love this feeling. I love feeling like I’ve found my groove and that I’m actually getting somewhere. And I want you to feel the same way.
My goal by the end of this month is that you’ll all have a idea of how to take your blog to the next level, and create a successful baby (that’s what I creepily call my blog) that you’re proud of. My promise to you is that I’ll be completely honest and transparent. No BS, I pinky swear.
So next week is when we’ll dive deep first into specific guides and strategies, but for now here are 7 pieces of advice that would have saved me a lot of time and grief 2 years ago. These are the driving principles now behind this blog, and since implementing them only a month ago, I have seen a dramatic increase in engagement, traffic and all that happy stuff.
The 7 Golden Rules of Epic Blogging
Pinpoint your audience and only write awesome content that they’ll love.
There’s always talk in blogging about finding your niche and establishing yourself as an authority in one specific topic. There’s merit in that, but I think a better strategy is to identify your target audience, and cater your content to them. While this might sound like picking a niche – it’s similar, but not exactly the same.
Finding a niche was always tough for me because I have so many interests and ideas. I love to travel, but that’s not all that I am… I also love to bake epic geek-themed cakes, and create crazy gifts like a backpack made of snacks. How was I supposed to silence those integral parts of my personality?
Instead of picking a niche like ‘affordable luxury travel’ for instance, I’ve concentrated now more on picking an audience, hence why this site is slowly becoming more lifestyle-oriented.
In marketing, one tool of the trade is to create an ‘avatar’ of your ideal audience, and tailor your strategy around the needs and wants of this person. For me, I imagine my ideal reader to be a 24 year old sass-machine named Cass, who is a typical ‘lost millennial’ plagued by the woes of adulting. She loves to travel, but doesn’t see herself quitting her job and backpacking for the rest of her life. She’s a bit awkward, lazy and clumsy, but has a good sense of humour about it (and self-deprecating humour is probably her specialty). She’s pretty loud about loving food and alcohol though, and is probably more likely a fan of ‘cool girls’ like Jennifer Lawrence and Mindy Kaling rather than the Kardashians. She would prefer to travel cheaply, but is willing to splash out on awesome and luxurious experiences when the occasion arises.
If you’re identifying any bits of yourself in Cass, then I’m doing my job right. Now when I create content, I think “is this something Cass would enjoy?” which is why you’ll now find more destination spotlights and cool crafts on this site (along with brutally honest titles like The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Packing Light and Not Looking Like a Slob).
The key is this: if you want to build a big audience that loves everything you produce, you need to continuously create content that they’ll gobble up. If one day you’re talking about a hotel review in Dubai, then the next talking about 10 photos from your trip in Peru, the inconsistency is less likely to create a loyal fan. Sure, that mix of posts might appeal to someone who really loves travel generally, but you want to create content where your audience will go “ooooh – click -” for every single new post. That’s how you get the audience loyalty that creates a stable readership.
Let ‘value’ drive everything that you do.
Okay I’m gonna put on my ‘bad cop’ honesty hat for a second: people will not read your content unless it offers them something in return. That’s why blogs based solely around storytelling are much more difficult to get off the ground. I love ‘travel diary’ type blogs, but the writing and photos need to be really, really good for me to want more.
And that’s the reality. If the value you’re creating is solely “entertainment or inspiration” then success is tremendously difficult because you’re competing with not just other bloggers, but also entertainment/inspiration vessels like movies, TV, big news sites, etc. If this is the kind of value you want to provide, success is possible, but I also need to tell you that it’s a hard route to take. Think: why should people be visiting your blog rather than binging on Netflix?
Another option is providing value through tips and information. This is what many travel blogs do. The problem is, there’s thousands and thousands of blogs doing this, which means most topics have probably been covered. Creating unique value in this category is difficult. That’s why I’ve stopped writing very general and unsatisfying travel posts like “4 places to see in ___”. You’ll still see some of those on the blog (from before), which is because some people have found them useful, but I don’t like producing those anymore… Why? Because I feel like they don’t provide that much value to my readers. For the most part, you can find those recommendations in any guidebook, and there’s probably 133124135 articles about it online already. For me now, these destination-specific guides only appear on my site if they’re epic, packed with value, and more thorough than any other resource I’m able to find. Take my 99 awesome things to do in Munich post as an example.
Here’s my tip: make sure that your blog offers a type of value that no other blog can offer, whether that’s through your hilarious personality/storytelling skills, through your practical advice and tips or better yet, both. Your goal is to create value that your readers can’t get anywhere else.
Define your voice from the beginning, and make it authentic.
When I read my old blog posts, even from a few months ago, I cringe. No, more accurately, my whole body cringes. And then I want to burn it… all of it.
Hence why a lot of my old posts have been re-written or straight up deleted.
The reason for this ruthlessness is because throughout the past two years, I’ve experimented a lot with different voices and strategies. I’ve tried writing for SEO, I’ve tried being disgustingly cheery/positive, I’ve even (honestly) mimicked the tone of some of the Internet’s most famous bloggers. And it sucked. The writing was uninspired and inauthentic. While I’m my own harshest critic, reading back on those posts made me question why any brands would have wanted to work with me at the time. It was all so boring and samey.
That’s why now all my posts are injected with a fair amount of sass, honesty and most importantly, me. I’ve learned to write the way I talk, even if it’s different from how most bloggers talk, and I have honestly never been more pleased with my own content. Not to sound like a narcissistic psychopath, but now I actually smile and laugh when I read my own writing, and that’s a pretty dope feeling. Learn from my mistake: pick a voice, a voice that’s true to you, and stick with it.
Stop resenting other bloggers as competition – embrace them as a community of allies.
I’m guilty of this (as I’m sure we all are): scrolling through the deepest depths of the Blogosphere, mouths full of Häagen-Dazs, bitterly wondering how some bloggers became so popular, how they’re scoring cool deals left and right. Petty thoughts may or may not include: “ugh but her Instagram doesn’t even have a cohesive theme” or “have you seen her follower/following ratio?” Yeah, admit it, we’ve all been there.
It goes without saying that constant comparison is incredibly toxic. If you’re always comparing your milestones with others, you will never be happy because it doesn’t matter who you are, someone out there will always be doing better than you… and even when you become the very best at something, you’ll start to measure success by different means. This is why I urge you to never compare yourself to other bloggers, ever.. or worse, view them as your competition, because they’re not.
There’s over 7 billion people on this Earth. That’s a massive audience. And it’s not like there’s some law out there that says you can only follow one blog. That’s why you shouldn’t view your fellow bloggers as competitors. Do you think glazed donuts and chocolate donuts fight over who is more beloved? No, because they’re both effing delicious! So, be glazed, be chocolate, heck – even be pink icing with rainbow sprinkles. There’s an audience out there for you, no matter who you are.
… and when you work together with those other
donuts bloggers, that’s when the magic really happens. More on that later this month.
Always be learning and taking notes.
Hands down, the best way to improve your blog is to open yourself up to new learning opportunities every day. Devour posts about social media and trends, read the crap out of other bloggers in your niche, and most importantly, obsessively take notes and reflect. Do you notice a certain blogger absolutely killin’ it on Pinterest or Instagram? Write down why you find their posts appealing, or think about why they’re so popular and then use this knowledge to improve your own blog. Remember, take others’ success as inspiration, not as competition.
Accept that content creation is only 20% of your work.
Many new bloggers think that their work is done after they hit that ‘Publish’ button. Unfortunately, when you’re trying to get more eyeballs on your content, promotion is genuinely 80% of what you do. It goes beyond just pushing out content on your social media channels… That’s only the start. There’s also email marketing, reaching out to strategic partners, etc. We’ll go through that during this series’ Traffic Building Week, but just know that there’s a lot more involved in blogging than just writing. Bloggers wear many hats, and must learn many skills, so be prepared for that.
Understand that your blog is an investment, and you will need to put money into it.
I avoided for the longest time putting any money into this site. Honestly. I felt like if I wasn’t making money from it yet that I couldn’t justify putting any of my own dollars into running this blog. In hindsight, that wasn’t smart at all.
If you’re serious about creating a ‘professional’ and slick-looking blog that will appeal to readers, sponsors and brands, there is no overstating the value of a good host, an attractive theme, functional plugins and more. I used to Google for hours on end trying to find ‘free solutions’ to problems that a $20 plugin could easily fix. Sometimes, you just need to bite the bullet and spend the money. There are other times when it’s a matter of necessity. Last month I started getting more traffic. But, shortly after my celebratory dance moves and gross inflation of self worth, my site started crashing. A lot. All the time. Turns out, my basic hosting plan wasn’t enough to cover the database requests coming from these new volumes of traffic. Upgrading set me back almost $200.
Just as beauty is pain, blogging is… money. But if you view it as an investment into your own success, then it makes the financial burden a lot easier to take on. Plus, there are actually a lot of websites out there where you can get things like logo design, virtual assistants, etc. for dirt cheap, like at Fiverr for instance, where a new logo will cost the same as a Starbucks latte. Click here to see all the crazy services you can get for only $5!
Own what you do with confidence and put your best foot forward.
I suffer from Shy Blogger Syndrome. One day, I was meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time ever and his aunt told me she followed my blog. I almost projectile vomited. Isn’t it so weird that we bloggers put our lives out there on the Internet to scrutinize, yet as soon as someone from your real life mentions it, you feel super uncomfortable? I’ve never been one of those people that liked to talk about herself (lol worst blogger ever), so anytime someone asked me about my blogging, I preferred to downplay it. I’d dismiss it as just a hobby, as nothing special, never talked about it on my personal social media channels, etc. etc.
I can’t really explain it, but part of me thought that if I downplayed how serious I wanted to take blogging, then it would make things easier if I didn’t succeed. If you feel that same way, cut it out! If you’re not a fan of yourself, why would you expect others to be? Be confident about your blog, what you do and always put your best foot forward, especially when approaching sponsors. As a blogger, your work is valuable, not just to readers, but potentially for brands too, so own it. This attitude shift works wonders. Believe me.
So what next?
Stay tuned for next week’s post all about creating epic blog content. New posts will be published every Saturday.
Let’s have some fun this month! I think I’ve already established that I’m not your typical ‘blogging guru’… (or even a guru at all). I just want this series to be fun, relatable, no-BS and most importantly, I want to inspire those discouraged souls who feel stuck in a blogging rut and don’t know where to go next. If a dummy like me can get things off the ground and score free travel and perks, so can you. Of course, let me know in the comments what you want to learn this month too.
Let’s get this Blogtoberfest party started! Post!