An Introduction to Travel Blogging

A stray photo of Sawmill geyser that didn't make the cut for the last post

A stray photo of Sawmill geyser that didn’t make the cut for the last post

A while back I wrote an introductory article about travel photography, and some time after that it occurred to me that I’d never done something similar for blogging. I get questions often enough from readers wondering how I started IO, so for those who are interested, here’s my advice.

Setting up

First off, let me start by saying that I have very little expertise at website creation. I’ve only done it once in my life, and it’s just not something I have much interest in. The best advice I can give you here is to get online and do some research. Just like I blog about going RVing, there are people out there who blog about web design, and you’ll get much better information from those people who are experts in their field than me who learned only as much as I needed to get IO off the ground and then promptly forgot.

As I recall, it took me about two-three days all told to get the back end part of my site purchased and/or downloaded and then set up, and that was with step-by-step directions I’d gotten from my own research at the time (sadly the e-book I purchased with those step-by-step direction is no longer around, it became outdated).

Now, initial set up doesn’t need to be as complicated as it was for me. If you’re getting free hosting through Blogger for instance, there isn’t as much work you need to do on your end, but you’ll find you have less flexibility in how the blog works. Which is better? It depends on what kind of blog you want to start.

I always knew that I wanted IO to be a resource blog. I wanted it to look professional and respectable, and I knew eventually I wanted to write a book and sell it through my blog, and these things required the flexibility of paid blog hosting. If you’re just looking for a way to keep in touch with friends and family while you travel though, you probably don’t need to put as much effort (and money) in as I did.

With that said, here is what I use. This was all new and shiny in 2011 and may not be the best option now, so again, do your research.

Bluehost is the company I used to purchase my domain name (that’s the actual interstellarorchard.com link) and host this blog. I pay them $26 a year for the domain name and privacy service, and $263.76 every other year for the hosting. (So IO costs me about $13.16 a month.)

WordPress is the platform I use, and it was a free download. Now, last I checked, there were two different versions of WordPress, and mine is the self-hosted kind. You could also have a WordPress blog that is hosted by WordPress, but there were limitations with that, so I chose to pay Bluehost to host it for me.

Woothemes is where I purchased the Canvas theme for a one time fee of $70, and this step is where I most recommend you look for something newer. I like the way Canvas looks and it’s been pretty easy to work with, but it will not translate into a mobile version for those reading my blog on their smartphones, and starting this year search engine ratings are influenced by whether they’re mobile friendly or not.

Plugins and Widgets. These aren’t strictly necessary, but I’ve downloaded several add-ons to make IO function better. Some of these change things in the background that readers would never notice, for instance the “Google XML Sitemaps” plugin allows search engines like Google and Bing to “find” IO easier, the “ZenCache” plugin makes IO load faster. And some of these are very visible, for instance when you make a comment on IO, you’ve probably noticed the “Comment Luv” thing that lets you link back to your own website, that’s a plugin. The box at the top of the website where users can sign up for the IO mailing list is a widget I downloaded. Here’s a list of the rest of the plugins and widgets I use (you can search for them right from your blog Dashboard to download):

  • Akismet
  • All In One SEO Pack
  • All Related Posts
  • Delightful Downloads
  • Digg Digg
  • EZPZ One Click Backup
  • Subscribe to Comments Reloaded
  • WP-Stats-Dashboard

After that I spent several days on the front end of the blog, fiddling with colors, fonts, layout, and graphics. It probably wouldn’t have strictly taken that much time, but the graphic side of web building interests me more, and so I spent more time on it. Like with all the travel photography I do, I used Photoshop to make the blog header, and the lined background.

Now’s where we get to the part of blogging that I have more experience in. The writing side!

Writing posts

When most people think about travel blogging, they think about journal posts. For friends and family, journal style posts of “today I went here and did this” will keep everyone up to date, but it won’t be very interesting for those who don’t know you very well.

Unless you turn it into a story. You’ll notice when I write my travelogue style posts, I explain not only where I went and what I did, but how I felt, and I write about the hardships as well as the good. This approach draws readers in, and makes them feel like they’re having the adventure right alongside me.

Not everyone’s writing style lends itself well to storytelling though, and not everyone has the ability to travel enough to fill a blog with journal posts (myself included). But there are other ways to build a following.

Be informative. There are a lot of wannabe RVers out there, looking for information on how to get on the road, and a lot of people already on the road looking for fixes to problems or tips on how to do things better.

A great number of my posts are “how-to” in nature, ranging in scope from RV maintenance to setting up domicile to organizing a small RV to health insurance and taxes. Chances are, you know how to do something that someone else would be interested in learning. Even if you’re not on the road yet yourself, you can write about how you’re preparing to go – I was actively blogging at IO for 10 months before I became a full-timer myself.

Be inspirational. Informational posts are good, but if you can manage to make them inspirational too, it’s like a two for one special. I think of this kind of as combining the first two categories: knowledge with a story. Don’t just tell people how to do something, give them the behind the scenes of how you learned this knowledge, or how it has helped you in other parts of your life.

People who read your travel blog are going to wish they were you. You’re an inspiring figure because you’re living the kind of life they wish they could live. So pass your good fortune along, and empower them to make changes to better their own lives.

Be funny. Humor is a great way to engage readers. You’ll probably collect some silly stories to share while you’re traveling, even events that don’t seem funny at the time may turn out to be humorous when you look back at them, of if you present them in a certain light.

Think about related topics. It’s hard to write about travel and RVing all the time, luckily there are many other subjects out there related to travel that your readers might be interested in. I’ve written about outdoor activities, photography, living simply, budgeting, and many other topics, including a lot of philosophy posts that I put under the heading of “deliberate living”.

Launch time

Once your new blog is set up and your first post is written, you might think you’re all ready to go. If you’re just intending to blog for your friends and family, you probably are ready to go and you can skip down to the next section.

But if you’re looking to blog for a wider audience, you’re not there yet.

First impressions are absolutely critical, whether you’re meeting that person face to face or online. Someone landing on your blog for the first time on average is only going to spend a few seconds glancing at your blog to see if it’s worth the time to read, so you need to capture their interest quickly to convert them to a reader.

The first thing they’re going to wonder is what the website is about. If your blog title doesn’t make it clear, you’ll want a good tagline that explains it. “Interstellar Orchard” could mean anything, I chose it for a title because I wanted it to stand out, but viewers landing on my blog for the first time aren’t going to know what I’m all about just from that, so you’ll notice right under my title I have the tagline: “Lessons on the full-time RVing journey”. That makes it clear that my blog is about full-time RVing.

The second thing you’ll want is something interesting for them to read. You don’t want to “launch” a blog with just one post up, what if that post is about something the viewer isn’t particularly interested in? They won’t come back if there’s nothing that holds their attention on the first visit.

I read somewhere that a person should have five to ten blog posts published before they launch, and it worked well for me. If you look back in my post archives, you’ll notice I had six posts with a publish date of 11/14/11, that was the day I launched IO. Three days after that The Good Luck Duck found me through a RV forum and mentioned me on their RVing blog, saying I was a young prospective full-time that had my head on straight. I don’t think Roxi would have been as impressed if I’d only had one blog post up at the time, I had 307 hits that day.

Once viewers have read through a blog post or two, the next thing they’ll look for is more information about you and your site, so you’ll want an About page to fill that need. A tip: Strangers aren’t going to be interested in your life story, they don’t know you yet and so they don’t really care. When writing your About page, make it less about you, and more about what your site can do for them, the viewer. You’ll notice on my About page, the top is about how IO helps pre-retirement folks go full-time RVing, only at the bottom do I give more information about myself, and even then it’s brief. I do recommend putting a picture of you in your About page though, because it’s easier for people to connect to a blog when they can put a face to the narrative they’re reading.

The last thing to think about for launching is social media. Once you’ve converted a first time viewer into a reader, you’re going to want ways to keep them coming back. There are a lot of demands on our time these days, and not everyone is going to remember to click back to your blog to keep up to date.

I set up the Facebook page for IO, my Twitter handle, the feed for the blog through Feedburner, and the mailing list through MailChimp before I launched so that new readers would have several ways to keep in touch and I could start building a following right from the start.

Alright, with all that in place you’re now ready to launch your blog!

Keeping it going

Starting a blog is one thing, but the thought of keeping up with it, of finding things to write about on a regular basis for years to come, can be daunting. Here are some tips for keeping a blog going.

Establish a schedule for posting, and hold yourself to it. I decided right away that I was going to update IO twice a week. My initial posting schedule was Mondays and Thursdays, but for some of my seasonal jobs Tuesday and Friday has worked better. Having a schedule makes writing a habit, and it’s hard to break a habit. You’ll notice I put this blog post under the “work” category, and that’s because I treat IO as seriously as a second job.

Write your posts in advance. I like to write my posts up at least one day before they’re due to go up. That way there’s no rush, and if I’m having a low inspiration day, I have a little wiggle room to work with.

Whenever you think up something to write about, make a note of it. I started IO with a big list of topics I could write about, so that if nothing interesting happened during the that half of the week, I had ideas to fall back on. I carry my phone with me everywhere and when inspiration strikes when I’m away from my computer, I write a note down so that I can add it to that list later. This post in fact was on that list for weeks, just waiting for the right time to be written out.

Have a couple pre-written posts on standby for hard days. When you find yourself with a little extra time, write up an extra post, and keep it on standby for those days when you don’t have time to write, or aren’t feeling inspired.

Feeling stuck? Writing is a creative endeavor, and creativity isn’t always available on demand. Sometimes when you’re feeling stuck, you just need to slog through it even if you don’t particularly feel like writing. Even the best writers have days where it doesn’t seem fun or interesting. Sometimes though, when you’re stuck a break away from writing can do a world of good. There is no one size fits all and the longer you blog, the better a feel you’ll get for which kind of stuck you are.

* * *

And that covers it! I hope you wannabe bloggers out there find this article useful, happy writing.

For part 2 of this article, click here

Thank you for doing your usual Amazon shopping using my affiliate link.

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39 Responses to An Introduction to Travel Blogging

  1. Pete W May 26, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

    Becky, one other area is “be relatable”. I get turned off by RV bloggers whose posts are filled with how expensive their rigs are and all the fancy bling they are getting ready to add to it. The thing that appeals to me about you and others like rvsue is that you are real, and like most of us out here.

    Keep it real.

    PeteW

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

      The way I see it Pete, those blogs about higher end rigs written by people with more money to spend are relatable – we just aren’t the target audience. I’m very clear in my about page that IO is people who are single and/or on a budget. But there are people out there with a lot more money to drop on a RV, and they need their blogs to learn from too.

      I think what you’re trying to say is, pick a niche, don’t try to blog for everyone. And in that you’re absolutely correct. You’ll get more followers if you write for a narrower audience.

  2. Jerry Minchey May 26, 2015 at 10:32 pm #

    Becky,

    I like all of your posts and I very much like your photos, but the posts that I like the best are your philosophy posts that you put under the heading of “deliberate living.”

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:28 pm #

      Glad you enjoy those Jerry, thanks for your continued support. 🙂

  3. Oystein May 27, 2015 at 1:23 am #

    Have you looked at Godaddy for your hosting? Fees might be better. WordPress is a good solid foundation and the dashboard is workable for non coders. Lots of templates and caters to people who need simplicity or advanced options. WordPress is very popular so lots of widgets and plugins are available. So you picked a great blogging platform.

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      Now that I have it set up Oystein I wouldn’t want to go through the trouble to move it to a different host, even if it might be cheaper. I make enough from IO in a month to more than offset the costs, so I’m happy. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with my experience with Bluehost/Wordpress/Woothemes.

      • Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets May 27, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

        I’m with Go Daddy for hosting as well, and I’ve had NO problems other than their decision to not renew NASCAR sponsorship of Danica Patrick. But seriously, if you’re happy with where your at and it fits the budget, I say stay with it.
        Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Retirement…finallyMy Profile

        • Becky May 28, 2015 at 9:31 am #

          Thanks for weighing in Ed. 🙂

  4. Shannon May 27, 2015 at 7:23 am #

    Excellent post – I’m considering blogging as I’m getting closer to retirement and these kind of informational posts really help!

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

      Glad you found this helpful Shannon! I wish you all the best in starting your new blog. 🙂

  5. Janett May 27, 2015 at 8:17 am #

    Eee Gads! And you do such a good job at it all too! The reason I follow and enjoy “IO” so much is like Pete said…you’re just Becky from the Block! You write as though you’re having a live conversation (I know you know that) and the style of “IO” was well planned and stays true as a go-to resource blog.

    Yes, you do keep it real 🙂

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

      Yep, authenticity is important when blogging too. There’s actually a fair bit more I could write about the subject, but the post was already over 2,000 words and I was running out of time. I think I’ll put a “blogging part 2” on my list of ideas to write about somewhere down the line, so I can cover more. 🙂 Thanks for reading and glad you’re enjoying IO!

  6. Shelly May 27, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    Thank you Becky. I found every bit of that information very interesting. While I have no intention of blogging, it is interesting to know what it entails and what web designers offer to make your site professional looking and easily accessible.

    For me, when you use the cyan color I find it difficult to read on my device (Kindle HD). I like that your page is uncluttered. I love your pictures you add however, I wish some were of a better quality but understand it is easier to carry an iPhone than a camera. But mostly I love your writing style.

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed this Shelly!

      I intentionally shrink my photos to no wider than 640 pixels when I upload them for two reasons: 1: that’s the width of my posts, so it fills the space exactly and looks nice. and 2: I’m on limited bandwidth a lot of the time, and uploading the pictures full-size would use about 4x as much data, and take a lot more time.

  7. Jim at Growing Faith May 27, 2015 at 9:40 am #

    Thank you for another informative post! I had always wondered about Comment Luv. For some reason I thought it was only for someone who paid wordpress.com to host their site. I’m so happy it is a plugin 🙂

    These are great tips for a beginning blogger such as myself. Thank you!
    Jim at Growing Faith recently posted..PersecutionMy Profile

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

      You’re welcome JIm! Yeah Comment Luv is pretty awesome, it’s a good way to encourage readers to comment, because when they do they can share their own content.

  8. Jodee Gravel May 27, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    More good information with details I haven’t seen anywhere else – which is another reason folks come back 🙂
    I don’t remember how I found your blog, other than a reference on another blogger’s post probably. But one of the main reasons you’re on my roll is your age. Of course I wouldn’t keep reading if you weren’t informative and enjoyable, but I most appreciative reading the perspective of a woman decades younger who is pursuing an alternate lifestyle and making it work. There is something very hopeful to me that one can break away early from the cycle of life-sucking-life-styles and be not only comfortable, but happy.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Family in Tahoe and Driving the Eastern SierrasMy Profile

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

      That’s why there will never be too many travel blogs in the world Jodee, because everyone’s circumstances are a little different, and everyone has a different perspective to share. 🙂 As I responded to Pete above: finding a niche and capitalizing on it is a good way to find “your” people.

  9. Reine in Plano May 27, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    One way to attract those first time readers that can become regular readers is to be sure that you read and contribute to other blogs and forums that are related to yours. I found both you and RVSue through postings on http://www.casitaforum.com. You were both new or soon to be Casita owners and posted intelligent questions that needed to be answered. BUT the questions explained that the reasons you needed the answers were the plans to go full timing and had your blog address in the signature.

    Paul and I have no desire to full time but we do enjoy our Casita and helping other folks out with Casita questions. Your forum posts were sufficient to interest me in finding out more about you so I checked the blog and decided it was worth following.

    Also giving credit to other bloggers where it’s due as you did in this post and have done in other posts provides reinforcement that you’re a good person and gives that blogger a chance to comment and refer folks back to you. In life you usually get what you give.

    One final thought on blogging. Be sure you have the internet access to post regularly (this is sometimes a problem when traveling) and notify your readers when there’s going to be a break for any reason.

    Good post and good blog.

    • Shelly in Durham NC May 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      As always you are absolutely correct, Reine.

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

      Yeah Reine, I already responded to someone above that there is a lot more I could write on this topic, but at over 2,000 words it was already getting long. Thanks for sharing these tips for newer bloggers, and someday I’ll have to write a part 2 to this with more information. 🙂 And as always, thanks for reading!

  10. Kristin May 27, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    Hi Becky,

    You are always such a great source of information for me; I appreciate your blog very much. After reading this post, I realized my blog site could be improved by making my tag line more specific (it’s currently “heartfelt exploring”) and I need to firm up and improve my “About” section so that readers find it more useful.

    Blogging is a lot of fun–I really enjoy it personally–but it’s also a lot of work and a lot of learning lessons. I’ve been blogging for eight months now, and I’m still learning something new all the time. It’s a process. I’m not giving up! Thanks again for the great tips!

    -Kristin 🙂
    Kristin recently posted..Top Ten Reasons Why We’re Moving to Bend, Ore.My Profile

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

      You’re welcome Kristen, glad you found this helpful! One of the great things about a blog is that it’s never “done”. You can continuously tweak and change things to make it better. 🙂

  11. David Michael May 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    Great post. Thanks for taking the time for sharing those initial steps!

    Question…why don’t you attract extra income from Affiliate Advertisers?

    THe blog, Retire by 40, makes about $2000 a month using different advertisements.

    Keep blogging!

    David
    David Michael recently posted..Eastern Sierra NevadaMy Profile

    • Becky May 27, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

      Earning an income from a blog is another one of those subjects I could have added here, but I thought it would fit better into a part 2 instead of the introductory post since not everyone is interesting in monetizing.

      Advertising is a tricky thing. To make the most money, you need a lot of traffic to your blog, a lot more than I get through IO. I couldn’t make $2,000 a month on IO no matter how many ads I threw up on it because I just don’t have the following. Meanwhile, advertisements bring down the quality of a blog, I know I get annoyed with blogs and sites with a lot of ads on them. And then what if the advertisement was for a product I didn’t love? I wouldn’t want to endorse something I don’t approve of, that would be leading my readers astray and again – bring down quality.

      I am a part of Amazon’s affiliate program, which I like because I get to choose what products to advertise, and I also a month or so ago signed up for Google Adsense (you’ll see the little ad at the bottom of IO), but I’m not sure if I’m going to keep it because it hasn’t done much for me. Good questions though David.

  12. Andy May 27, 2015 at 7:55 pm #

    Your description of writing style (“make it a story”) is a good point, and something I try to work on. Most of my blog is focused on hiking and the style I’ve been shooting for is a story-like journal. It’s as much for me to remember the different trips as it is to encourage others to explore the areas that I’ve visited.

    I’ve found my writing style is evolving – hopefully for the better. You’ve described exactly why I like to read your blog and what I try to focus on when I am writing. Keep up the good work!
    Andy recently posted..Hiking Savage/Christmas Creek PreserveMy Profile

    • Becky May 28, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Glad you found this helpful Andy. My writing style has evolved since I started blogging too, blogging is good writing practice, it forces you to write often.

  13. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets May 27, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    Haven’t even read this post yet, but as you know, we are big fans and want to support you when we can. I just made a Amazon purchase utilizing your affiliate link. Since this is our first time doing this, can you confirm that it DID flow thru your account? The purchase was a Garmin 2797 LMT gps.
    Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Retirement…finallyMy Profile

    • Becky May 28, 2015 at 9:41 am #

      I’ll keep an eye out for it Ed! I don’t get a kickback until the item is delivered to you, so it’ll probably be a couple days yet before I’ll see it. Thank you for using my link. 🙂

  14. J. Dawg May 27, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    Nice write up. I just migrated my blog from Blogger to WordPress and learned a lot of what you went thru. One thing I found important in writing my blog is to know why I’m doing it and stick to that objective. I found that I could easily write stuff to gain more traffic, write more often, write for a wider audience, and potentially earn some money. But I had to take a step back and ask myself what am I trying to do by having this blog? For me, it was about chronicling my journeys so I and my family would have something to look back on, it’s an outlet for expression, and I want to share my experiences with others. It wasn’t about making a buck or competing for an audience. I found if I stick to that purpose, its a very very enjoyable hobby.
    Thanks again.
    J. Dawg

    • Becky May 28, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      You’re right J. Dawg, authenticity matters. A couple people have already commented that they like IO because I “keep it real”. It would be a lot less fun if I strayed away from that to please the masses.

  15. Furry Gnome May 29, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

    Thanks for the good discussion. Lots of good ideas, with several that are new to me. Hope Yellowstone is going well.

    • Becky May 30, 2015 at 11:17 am #

      You’re welcome Gnome, Yellowstone is continuing to go well. 🙂

  16. Michael May 30, 2015 at 4:01 am #

    This is a very informative post, the best I’ve seen on ‘how to blog’. I bet it would make a good and useful book.

    • Becky May 30, 2015 at 11:18 am #

      Maybe someday Michael, I’ll work on putting together a “Part 2” first. 😛 Glad you liked it.

  17. JimS June 2, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

    Hi Becky,
    If I might make a suggestion about formatting post(s): Create an index of your posts. I find it frustrating going to someone’s blog, only having to sort through a very long page to figure out which post I read last.

    For many blogs, the only way I’ve been able do this is to go to a Month Pulldown Window, where a month’s long series of blog entries show up in sequence on a single page. I have to scroll all the way to the end of the page, then scroll up (sometimes several pages) to try and find the first post of that month and read it, only to find myself at the bottom of the page again. Then scroll up through that post, then the next one above it (hoping I don’t miss the title/header), then read down again. Then repeat the process. For someone who posts once or twice a month, no problem, but once or twice a week, I find my patience wearing.

    When I go to your website, for example, your main page is essentially an index. Just a few lines, along with the date (some don’t even post that), allows me to quickly scroll to the last post I read. I may not read your blog for a month, but when I do, it’s easy to find where I left off (thank you!!!).

    On the other hand, maybe I’m missing something obvious about those sites. But ya gotta make it easy for a blog grazer like me. 🙂

    Also, within a post, knowing where to begin a new paragraph seems to be a lost art. I’ll say you do an excellent job of this (now doubt due to paying attention in English and Lit classes 🙂 ).

    My advice to bloggers is to break it up after a few sentences, even if you’re not quite sure where it’s appropriate.

    Regards,
    JimS

    • Becky June 3, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

      You’re welcome Jim. That’s a feature I really like too and I’m not sure why more bloggers don’t use it, perhaps not all themes and platforms allow posts to be organized like that. I have noticed though that some blogs that list the full posts at least have clickable links of their most recent blog posts in the sidebar. Not with dates usually, but it’s relatively easy to just click the next post back until you find one that looks familiar.

  18. frugalrvgals July 18, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    Thank you so much for this post. Trying to learn as much as I can on the subject. It takes a while to work through what works and what doesn’t.
    frugalrvgals recently posted..Tour of My Truck Camper – ExteriorMy Profile

    • Becky July 19, 2015 at 10:24 am #

      You’re welcome frugal! Yes, a lot of blogging is trial and error since (much like RVing) there is no one right way to do it.

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