Living the dream: How to start a travel blog and make it your job

Nomadic Matt is probably the world’s best known travel blogger. Follow these tips and maybe you could turn a travel interest into a dream job.
PHOTO: Nomadic Matt

Life as a travel blogger is for many a dream job which they imagine is one long carefree swing in a beach hammock on a far-flung desert island while sipping cocktails and posting about the experience.

There’s a hint of truth in that image, but for every financially successful travel blogger there are hundreds who gave soon up after realising the dream is an unattainable one for them.

On the other hand, if you are aware of the difficulties and are prepared to put the work in, your chances of becoming the next Nomadic Matt (probably the best known travel blogger), Nellie Huang or Aileen Adalid (two of the best known Asian bloggers) increase slightly.

Why now?

With the world being in a state of flux due to the impact of Covid-19, and the travel industry being one of the biggest casualties, this may seem like a crazy time to even consider starting a travel blog.

However, domestic travel is already picking up in some places and a slow trickle towards regional travel is likely to soon follow.

Given many of us have an unusually large amount of time on our hands and a good internet connection, there could be an opportunity in this most unusual of situations.

Goals and niches

It’s essential to have an outline of your goals and ideals from the outset. If it’s going to be a passion project, you will have more freedom than if you are intending to make a living from the venture.

Either way, it is important to focus on creating solid and regular content from post number one.

There are many well-established travel sites and blogs so finding a niche is important. Focus on something you know well and are passionate about.

Things like local street food , great regional hikes, tribal culture or deep dives into specific regions all lend themselves well to the current travel climate and could be monetised from direct interaction.

If and when you become established, you can consider realigning your goals.

Platforms

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There are many fully facilitated stages on which to create attractive and functional websites and blogs, and several that you can use without having to employ web designers or learning to code.

The easiest and cheapest is the original Blogger platform which is owned by Google, meaning search engine optimisation will be strong and your blog will be easier to find.

Blogger is free and lightly customisable, although it is limited in its expansion capabilities. Blogger is a good place to start without having to spend anything but not an ideal platform on which to build a substantial blog or website.

Many bloggers favour a WordPress theme. The template software offers many free themes, although the better options cost around US$60 (S$84) to U$100 (one-off payment). Using plug-ins to add features, themes can be customised and built into your blog site.

If you go the WordPress route you will need to purchase a domain name (from GoDaddy, or similar, for around US$15 a year) and find a host for your blog – essentially rent vacant online storage space from a company such as Bluehost, which offers prices from US$2.95 a month.

Although this approach is reasonably simple and very flexible, it does require some grasp of technology and means that you add to your administrative burden because the elements of your blog are spread between a host, a domain provider and your own template.

PHOTO: Unsplash

For an all-in-one solution, Squarespace is a viable option. You need almost no technical knowledge to set up with its customisable and attractive templates.

A web domain is included, and you can monetise and create a shop here once you’re up and running. Annual fees start from US$96.

If you simply want to get your work out and potentially get it seen by an established audience then Medium could be the option for you. The platform has become hugely popular and has a fairly sophisticated readership.

Essentially, you contribute your content to the platform and attract a following by using keywords, tags and searchable category designations.

There are monetisation options based on the number of “claps” (likes) your article receives, although Medium uses the payment platform Stripe and Singapore is currently the only Asian country it will pay to.

Monetisation

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Making your blog pay is a long and complicated game.

Monetisation comes in many guises: advertising (with Google AdSense), sponsored content (from brands or venues; known as advertorials in mainstream media and which should be marked as such), affiliate links (commissions through companies such as Amazon and Alibaba, which owns the Post), merchandising (selling guide books or other products) and consultation (such as selling courses on how to blog or managing social media for brands).

Some people simply use their blogs to showcase their talents with the aim of getting work as a travel writer or photographer. There is also no reason why you cannot use your platform to show off your video and podcast skills.

Tips

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Avoid sensationalist headlines that don’t deliver and keep content concise. Always write offline and keep a backup of your work.

Keep posts regular to gain traction. Posting worthy material once a week is a good target to aim for, although once sites have a lot of content, some bloggers slow down a little and post snippets between regular updates on social media.

Social media is key if you want to build an audience and monetise a blog.

Post regularly on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (the most popular platforms) or, if you’re writing for a younger audience – such as about backpacking or nightlife – on Snapchat and TikTok (assuming you’re not put off by the latter’s apparent privacy issues and it is available in your location).

Interact with followers. Most full-time bloggers cross-post daily to all platforms.

Social media posts can be anything from a link to a recent blog post or a timely image to a travel-related quote or a short news story. While travelling, it is a good idea to post Instagram stories and more regular content to build interest in real-time.

Don’t get lured into paying for courses that promise to make you rich. Travel blogging is a competitive business and requires a lot of hard work to get anywhere.

Freebies

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Free hotel stays and paid-for travel are offered by businesses looking for exposure, but not as often as some would-be bloggers might hope.

How much of your expenses are covered and the returns expected by your hosts are there to be negotiated, and your clout will depend on the size and quality of your following.

A relatively new blogger is unlikely to get anything for free. You need to build a following before even asking for a freebie as most tourism-related businesses are bombarded by requests from influencers, often to the point of annoyance.

As a blogger you are also your own publisher and moderator, and thus how transparent you are about who is paying for what is a personal choice. By not stating this clearly, however, you compromise your reputation with your followers.

Even for highly experienced writers, free travel remains elusive, and they certainly don’t do much swinging in a beach hammock on a far-flung desert island, sipping cocktails.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.