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award-winning solo travel blogger

All-You-Need-To-Know Guide To Starting A Great Travel Blog In 2019

You know what surprises me? In this age of worshipping insta-famous ‘influencers’, there is still interest in the art of blogging. Based on a highly unscientific survey of the number of questions about travel blogging in my inboxes, blogging is still in vogue.

To answer all your ‘how to travel blog’ questions, I’ve teamed up with Bitcatcha’s Chief Strategist Daren Low to share useful tips on how to start and succeed at travel blogging. Bitcatcha is a resource for websites and online business solutions.

Daren is a tech wiz/internet marketing strategist who turned his blog into a profitable business, while I am a content specialist/part-time travel blogger in Malaysia with an award to brag about. Between the both of us, we hope to help you go beyond an influencer to become a thought leader.

Make an impact with travel blogging

Travel blogging can make an impact in people’s live is you write stories that goes beyond the pretty picture of travelling. Speaking of which, here’s a pretty picture of me in Milford Sounds, New Zealand.

1. What is the life of a travel blogger like in 2019

MEI: Eat, sleep, write, edit photos, social media, emailing clients, travel, repeat. Most people only see the glamour of travel blogging, but what we don’t show you is the amount of work that goes behind the scenes. Besides the actual writing, we have to manage the photography, videography, marketing, social media, sales, growth, branding, partnerships and more. It’s a lot of man hours especially if you are a one-man show.

I have a full-time job as a journalist. Between working and blogging, I typically need one week to complete one blogpost (you can’t rush art!). Work is demanding, so I only manage to blog around once a month. My daily routine includes checking blog stats, responding to client emails and comments, updating social media and other admin stuff.

Of course you can just blog for fun and not worry about any of this, but successful travel bloggers who go on all that free holiday you envy manage their blogs as a business.

On the flip side: Yes, top travel bloggers can make money from living a life of travel. Travel blogging done well can open doors to many exciting travel opportunities.

travel blogger lifestyle

The travel blogger lifestyle involves working hard and playing harder. Here I am with a lovely family whom I stayed with during a hike in Hsipaw, Myanmar.

2. Do travel bloggers travel for free?

MEI: Yes and no. Yes; there are sponsored trips and hotel stays that do not cost us money. No; it is not free, it is an exchange of services. We pay with our travel blogging services – which includes time spent on writing, photo or videography, social media marketing, brand endorsement and a platform to advertise to our legion of followers. Our brand and travel blog is an advertising platform, it is a product we spent years building. Good travel bloggers know the value of their platform. Great travel bloggers get paid for blogging/advertising services rendered.

3. Work travels are not fun. How do you travel blog without it feeling like work?

MEI: The downside about travel blogging is that it can turn your travels into work, especially on sponsored trips. Holidays become a writing assignment – you are constantly searching for interesting story angles, making sure you take that perfect photo, and all that obligatory social media updates… You may be in an amazing destination for free, but there may be a pressure to churn out stories.

I really love travel writing so it only feels like work if I’m on a client assignment that I don’t enjoy, e.g. a trip to a destination neither me nor my readers are interested in. My annual leave days are limited so I am selective about the projects I accept. It helps that I don’t feel obliged to blog about every personal holiday I go on.

4. Are there too many travel bloggers in the market?

MEI: Yes, the internet is oversaturated with travel blogs but it’s a wonderful problem. I’ve read travel bloggers who are gay, differently-abled, plus-sized, Asian, African… There are so many diverse voices sharing different perspectives on one thing everyone loves – travel. For me, it helps make the world a much more inclusive place.

But blogging business wise, it has become an incredibly crowded and competitive space. It is more difficult to build a following and brands are tired of every other blogger asking for free trips. However, there is still a space for you if you can build a niche and meet the demand for quality stories. I’m talking well-researched, insightful, educational, informational, and a freaking good read. Quality, engaging content is a gem in this era of listicles. If you are prepared to put in the hours, you can cut through the noise.

travel blogging awards

It took me five years of churning out quality stories before I won a recognition for my travel blog.

5. What makes a good travel blog?

MEI: Good content. Good travel blogs are relatable, insightful and provides value to readers – whether it’s teaching them something new, providing them the information they need, or transporting them to a different world with your words. A good travel blog gives readers a reason to return for more stories. It makes them want more after just one story. It asserts you as an authority on your niche, which will make your brand sustainable.

DAREN: Make sure your content is easily accessible for your visitors. A good website needs to be fast loading, mobile-friendly, and well-designed for easy reading. In short, user experience. Put yourself in your visitors’ shoes and understand what they like and dislike about your website. Then, present your content in a way that eases that shortfall.

Pro-Tip: A good site needs to load within 3 seconds. You can check your blog’s loading speed on Bitcatcha’s server speed checker.

6. What to write in a travel blog?

MEI: Figuring out what to write is easy when you’ve found your niche. But first you need to identify what type of traveller you are – solo backpacker? Luxury traveller? Biker chick? You could write about your personal experiences, travel guides, niche reviews like airplane food, best hikes, or world’s funkiest toilets. Or you could be newsy and do travel news or write about amazing travel initiatives leading social change. The sky’s the limit! I started out by writing anything that inspired me and later focused on stories about solo female travel when I found it was a niche that I could make an impact in.

DAREN: Choose a niche that you are interested in. Produce quality content as if you are giving advice to your closest friends or family. It can come in different formats- photos, words or even vlogs. With that, you’re able to establish an expert status on that niche.

Choosing a niche is tricky because if you choose it for money only (so that you can sell something easier), you will lose interest after years. You need to find a balance between interest and ability-to-monetize. A rule of thumb to do this is to observe i) where does one make money from; ii) where does one spend most of their money on. There should be a common denominator between the two and that could be a nice, unique niche to dominate.

travel bloggers work remotely

Life as a travel blogger isn’t half bad when you have office set-ups like this one in Penang

7. How does a travel blogger make money?

MEI: Some popular blog monetisation ways are affiliate marketing, sponsored posts, merchandise sales, and advertising. But becoming financially sustainable requires time and consistency, so a lot of travel bloggers have full-time or part-time jobs to make a living. Even full-time bloggers may still have side hustles like freelance travel writing, travel planning consultation, blogging courses, blog consulting, etc.

8. How much money can travel bloggers make? Is there a future in blogging?

MEI: A travel blogger can earn anything between $0 to $unlimited! This summarised survey says the bottom 10% of bloggers make nothing, and the top 4% make six figures. The majority 47% make more than US$100 a month! A blog is a business like any other. Think of it like an ice-cream stall. You could be selling ice-cream by the side of the road, or you could be Haagan Daaz. If you have business sense and commitment, there is good money in travel blogging.

If you’re wondering, so I’ve made a grand total of $0 profit in the past five years! Yes, I need to work harder.

travel experiences for travel bloggers

An awesome part about travel blogging is opening yourself put to many exciting travel opportunities and experiences, like free diving in Pulau Kapas, Malaysia.

9. How much does travel blogging cost?

MEI: While there is potential to profit, travel blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme. In fact, it may not make you any money at all. Brands do not want to pay for bloggers to write about their products, hotels or destination; they usually offer free stuff in exchange for blogposts/social media posts. That means lots of work opportunities but no cash in the bank. Running a blog can also be very expensive if you have to pay for web hosting, domain and such costs. The cost vary depending on the services you need.

For a small set up like mine, I pay approximately US$150 (RM630) a month for hosting (Bluehost) and domain (Namecheap) to keep this blog alive. And then there’s the money I need for the actual travelling…

10. Does getting sponsors or freebies damage your credibility?

MEI: The expectations readers have for blogger advertising and for traditional advertising platforms like magazines and newspapers are very different. Bloggers are like word-of-mouth endorsement. If you endorse every tom, dick and harry, people will question your credibility and sincerity. Endorsing an established brand you really love can boost your credibility, but it can also backfire if you overdo it for the money.

11. How do travel bloggers remember everything they see and write about it after a trip?

MEI: I keep a journal during my travels and I take lots of photos. In my journal, I pen interesting discoveries, how I feel, what I saw and the things I want to remember. If I’m writing about a trip that happened a year or two ago, I just need to open my journal and photo album and all the sights, sounds, colours and smells come flowing back to me again.

Journalling on the beach in China

A sunny afternoon journaling on a beach in Xiamen, China. The journal serves both as a diary and notes for the travel blog.

12. How do travel bloggers take pictures of themselves?

MEI: Some people think we hire personal photographers… Come on guys, most of us are not Kim Kardashian! Though some vloggers do hire videographers and editors. For us solo travelling vagabonds, we take photos with a good camera and a sturdy tripod for that perfect timer shot. I always forget my tripod, so I’d place my camera on any ledge, book, rock, and even floor. Or we’d ask passersby to help us take a photo. As for editing, some may hire a photo editor but most bloggers do everything on Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

13. How to start travel blogging?

MEI: First thing is to set up a blog on a good blogging platform like WordPress, Blogger, Medium, Squarespace etc, Next, start writing and publishing. Dive head first into it and figure it out along the way, that’s how I did it. But that’s also cause I didn’t read this step-by-step guide. It helps if you have developer friends who can assist you with the technical aspects of setting up a website. Buy them pizza.

DAREN: Make sure the blogging platform you choose already has an established community where you can get help easily (if you are not a developer). WordPress is a good choice and it’s free to use! After setting up and publishing content, the next thing is to let people know about your content. A few things a blogger can do:

  • Search engine optimisation – learn the basics of SEO, especially on page SEO to help search engines discover your content easily. Practice good habits like good titles, optimising images before uploading, etc.
  • Get involved in communities like Facebook groups, forums, Quora. Share your experience with others. Be the initiator to do something that helps the community. For example, Mei’s sharing about overcoming fears of traveling solo.
travel writing panel

You know you’ve established yourself as an expert in your niche when you are invited to speak and sit on panels. This is one from ZafigoX 2018.

14. Where do I start?

DAREN: The main thing to focus is getting the niche right. Bloggers should spend time learning about their niche, rather than spending time figuring out the technical stuff such as keyword research, setting up WordPress etc. Not to say it’s not important, but not urgent at this point of time. All you need now is to explore what your potential readers need.

15. How often should I blog?

MEI: This depends on your content strategy and time. Blogging should be fun, so do it as much or little as you enjoy! If you care about your blog looking current, I’d say you should aim for at least a minimum one blogpost a month. If you care about turning it into a business, SEO experts recommend a steady flow of two to three posts a week. But remember, quality over quantity.

16. What do I need to start a travel blog?

DAREN: A blog is your little haven to store or share your thoughts and if you want, you can turn that into a career. Whether you want to do this professionally or casually, it’s always good to start producing content first, before investing in infrastructure. Use Facebook or Medium to share your experiences and thoughts. Get yourself used to deciding on topic and producing content first.

Eventually you will need to have a URL of your own to keep all your content structured in a more accessible way. FB and Medium are not a good place for that, the lifespan of your content in those platform won’t last long. Having a URL of your own means you need to purchase website hosting and domain services.

MEI: You need a passion for your niche, a love for writing, time, a good laptop, internet connection, and awesome friends and family to be your first readers. A knack for words and photos will come in handy, as well as patience as it takes time to be discovered.

travel blogging requires patiences

Pro-tip: the beach is the best place to find the patience you need for blogging.

17. What are some useful tools or resources for travel blogging?

DAREN: Site like Quora, Medium, Buzzsumo are great websites to explore the possible problems your readers may have when reading your blog. Use these 3 websites to figure out what are the common questions people have and that fit into your niche. Answer their questions and design your niche so that it helps people.

Some useful techniques for brainstorming your niche is to use value proposition and design gym. Practice using the value proposition canvas on Strategyzer and you will have a better understanding of your niche. With that you’ll be able to produce stories that resonate with readers.

MEI: Join a travel blogging community where you can seek advice and support. Just search “travel bloggers” or “bloggers” on Facebook and you’d be able to find plenty. Some practical tools: Google Analytics for blog stats, Mailchimp for sending newsletters, Yeost SEO WordPress plugin for SEO, Hootsuite for social media management, and Copytrack for monitoring stolen photos.

18. So… Should I start a travel blog? Any last advice for aspiring bloggers?

MEI: Don’t start a travel blog if your goal is only to make money and get free stuff. Start a travel blog if you truly want to help others with your stories. Find the value in your blog, and ask yourself how can you use it to help people? That will keep you going in this competitive, oversaturated space. Brands will recognise your sincerity and it will help you find succees in your travel blogging career.

DAREN: It is not an easy journey, be warned! But if you want to blog professionally, the potential is huge. You need to be persistent. All answers are available on the Internet. All you need to do is to start and do it step by step. Accumulate the number of content you have – quality counts, not quantity – you will get the expert authority and you will eventually succeed. Feel free to reach out for questions.

Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end of this blogpost! Use these tips and advice well, you deserve then. I hope we haven’t overwhelmed you, just remember to take it one step at a time.

If you have any unanswered questions, pop them in the comments section below. I’ll answer them ASAP and we might even do a part 2!

And of course, thank you Bitcatcha for sponsoring this travel blogging 101 story. :)

happy and carefree travel blogger

A happy and carefree Malaysian travel blogger in Bagan, Myanmar.

SEE HOW I DO SPONSORED POSTS:

Hotel review: The Lost Paradise Resort Is The Best Hotel In Penang For Unexpected Reasons
Travel gear: Why You Should Travel Light And How To Do It Like A Pro
Tour booking site: Why Family Trips Are About The Journey, Not The Destination 

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I’m dedicating meimeichu.com to honest travel stories that’ll teach and inspire. Do follow me on Facebook and Instagram profiles for more armchair travels. <3