Want to start a travel blog the right way?
Starting a travel blog can be an awesome source pleasure – and passive income!
My blog generated $150,000 last year with affiliate marketing which (just in 2019) let me to travel to Thailand, Chicago 4 times to see my family, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Utah, Wisconsin, nearly every major destination in Colorado, and do a 2-week road trip with my dad.
I teach people how to build successful WordPress websites through website design and SEO; it’s not a travel blog! But it does allow me to travel whenever I want and took me from being completely broke to financially free in 4 years (you can read my full story on this about page).
There’s a lot of poor advice on how to start a travel blog and make money. People will try to refer you to bad hosting (Bluehost), complicated WordPress themes, and slow loading plugins; all of which can hinder your progress. I wrote this post to show you how to start a travel blog the right way, and the easiest! I’ll also show you how to make money with affiliate marketing.
A little bit about me:
I love this blog with all my heart, but let’s be honest, I’d rather travel!
In 2017, I moved from Chicago to Denver when my SEO traffic tripled in just 3 days – thanks Google! I packed my Mom’s car and booked it to Denver, Colorado. A year later, I made $150k/year, bought my own car (the Benz below), and started traveling all over the world. I don’t have to go far from Denver to see some of the most beautiful views. And since all I have to do is write some blog posts once in a while, it gives me plenty of time and money to live freely.
I realize I’m one of the few bloggers who was able to make this happen. I see many people struggling in Facebook Groups to get traffic, sales, and confused on how to start a travel blog. I take tremendous pleasure in helping other people succeed and hope you take my tips to heart.
1. Purchase Domain & Hosting
SiteGround was rated the #1 host in numerous Facebook polls and is who I recommend.
Their speed, support, and overall reliability are worlds better than other entry level hosting (Bluehost, HostGator, GoDaddy). It’s easiest to get domain and hosting through the same place.
Select Your Plan – there are 3 plans to choose from (StartUp, GrowBig, GoGeek). StartUp is the cheapest option and should be fine for your travel blog (unless you need to host multiple blogs, on-demand backups, or staging, then you will need GrowBig+). Take a look at their features page to see the features each plan comes with, otherwise their StartUp plan is fine. Be sure to sign up through the WordPress hosting page which makes the setup process easier.
Sign Up And Choose Your Domain – while signing up, you will be asked if you have a domain and the option to register one. Fill out the form and choose the server location closest to your blog visitors. You don’t need any of the add-ons which have little benefit and cost extra money.
2. Install WordPress
Once you sign up, SiteGround will email you a link with their launch wizard.
Choose “start a new website,” select WordPress, and create your WordPress login info.
You will then see a confirmation message.
3. Login To Your WordPress Admin
After completing the launch wizard, SiteGround will send your WordPress login via email.
Go ahead and login!
4. Make Your Blog Secure With SSL
Adding SSL should be the very first thing you do when starting a travel blog. This makes sure all your blog’s links + images are HTTPS from the start. The steps below show you how to add SSL.
Step 1: In your SiteGround account, go to My Accounts → Go To cPanel → Security → Let’s Encrypt SSL, then click “activate free.” This will install a free Let’s Encrypt SSL on your domain.
Step 2: In WordPress, go to SG Optimizer → Environment Optimization → Enable HTTPS. SiteGround will ask if you want them to configure HTTPS automatically, which you should do. Once that is done, refresh your travel blog and you should see HTTPS is in your domain name.
5. Choose A Travel Blog Theme
I highly recommend using Astra themes for your travel blog.
They look very nice, are mobile responsive, fast loading, built in WordPress, and they have multiple travel blog themes to choose from. In this guide, I will be using the Travel Blog theme as an example, but they also have other travel themes like Outdoor Adventure and Wanderlust.
Step 1: In WordPress, go to Plugins → Add New → search/install the Astra Starter Sites plugin.
Step 2: You will see a prompt to install and activate the Astra theme. Do it.
Step 3: Choose your page builder. Elementor is the most popular, but the Travel Blog theme from this example requires Gutenberg. It just depends on which theme you want and which page builder that theme requires (different themes are built in different page builders). Page builders basically control how you build pages but most page builders are very user-friendly.
Step 4: Choose your travel blog theme. Look at all the themes including the ones built in Elementor, Beaver Builder, Brizy, and Gutenberg. When choosing a travel blog theme, the most important thing is that it should look very similar to how you want your own blog to look. If it doesn’t have something specific you want, you can always install a plugin to add functionality.
Step 5: Import your theme by clicking Import Site. When you do this, Astra will automatically download all content, plugins, widgets, and WordPress customizer settings to your own blog.
Step 6: Once the import done, refresh and your travel blog should look exactly like the theme:
Other Travel Blog WordPress Themes
I listed a few other WordPress travel blog themes below. Some are more difficult to customize, don’t load as fast, aren’t as easy to import, don’t get updated frequently, and may come with challenges. That’s why I recommend Astra’s travel blog themes; they’re both easy and reliable!
6. Name Your Travel Blog
In WordPress, go to Settings → General (this is where you’ll name your Travel Blog).
Your travel blog name will appear in Google’s search results and should usually be the same as your domain name. Leave the tagline blank and do not change the WordPress or Site Address.
7. Start Customizing Your Blog’s Design
You can change many elements of your travel blog in Appearance → Astra Options.
Things You Can Do In Astra Options:
- Upload logo
- Upload favicon (16x16px site icon)
- Change footer layout + copyright area
- Change font family, size, weight, line height
- Change navigation menu layout on desktop + mobile
- Change layout of pages/posts (fullwidth, sidebar, etc)
- Change color of text, theme, link, link hover, header, background
- Customize information on your blog (author, publish dates, category, etc)
- Customize the sidebar on your travel blog (if you have one) and it’s width
8. Create Destination Categories
You’ll want to add a few blog categories to categorize your posts under.
Add your blog categories under Posts → Categories.
For travel blogs, these are usually destinations (eg. Africa), or topics that can make you money with affiliate marketing (travel gear, flights, hotel recommendations) or whatever general topics you want to blog about. There is no perfect number; 4-5 should be plenty if you’re just starting. You can always add more once you actually start creating content under that category.
9. Add A Travel Map
Step 1: Install The Interactive Geo Maps Plugin
Go to plugins → add new → search/install the Interactive Geo Maps plugin.
Step 2: Add And Customize Your Travel Map
In WordPress, go to Maps → Add New. Here you can customize the map’s design including the region, colors, background, font family, borders, map size, title of the travel map, and more.
Step 3: Add Your Locations
To add a marker to your travel map, click the location on the map then click “Add Marker Here.” It will show you the region name and latitude/longitude of the marker. Once a marker is added, you can name the marker (eg. Denver, Colorado) and even add a link to the marker. For example, you could write a post on something related to “Denver, Colorado” then link to it here.
Step 4: Add The Travel Map To Your Page
Once your travel map is finished, edit the page you want to add the map to. Copy the shortcode from the map then add it to the page. When you preview it, you will see the travel map is there.
10. Design The Homepage
To edit any page, go to Pages → All Pages → Edit.
For the most part, you will point, click, and edit. If you’re using Gutenberg (or Elementor depending on your theme), you may want to watch YouTube videos to learn how to edit pages.
Everything is basically click and edit:
Here’s a tutorial on editing pages with Gutenberg:
11. Design The About Page
Your about page is one of the easiest pages to customize.
Just like your homepage is point, click, and edit, so is your about page.
12. Design The Contact Page
Everything is the same as far as editing, but this page should have a contact form.
To edit it, go to WPForms → All Forms → Add New. Everything is drag and drop. You can add, delete, and edit fields. Use it for a contact form or even a subscribe form for collecting emails.
To add a form to the contact page, copy/paste the form’s shortcode onto the page:
13. Create Your Navigation Menu
You will need to create your pages first before adding them to your navigation menu.
You can do this under Pages → All Pages. Your theme already comes with pre-built pages which you can use as templates (you’ll still want to customize them), delete, or you can add new ones.
Once your pages are published, head to Appearance → Menus. Drag and drop pages from the left to your navigation menu to the right. Dropdown menus can be created by dropping a page under another page with an indent. You can also add blog posts or custom links to your menu.
Astra Options let you customize the design of your navigation menu:
14. Write Your First Blog Post
To write your first blog post, go to Posts → Add New.
The first step is to find a keyword (shown in next step) so you can drive traffic to the post through SEO. Write a keyword-rich title and starting typing away! Of course, don’t forget to add images and key information about your destination or whatever it is you’re writing about.
15. Optimize Blog Posts For Google
SEO (search engine optimization) is the most efficient way to drive traffic to your travel blog.
Step 1: Find A Long-Tail (Specific) Phrase
Go to google.com and start typing in a phrase. Use the Google Autocomplete suggestions to find a long-tail phrase (usually 3+ words) describing the topic you want to write about. Doing keyword research before going on your trip may entice you to visit specific places or learn about specific things! Sometimes, you can target 2-3 keywords if they are very similar by writing the post title to include both keywords (example: Tips For Backpacking in Yosemite National Park).
Step 2: Research The Keyword’s Competition
Google the keyword and click on some of the top results. If you answer yes to one of the following questions, the keyword may be too competitive and you may want to find a new one.
- It it a broad keyword?
- Do the top results cover the topic extensively?
- Do high authority sites (eg. org) rank in top results (you can use MozBar to check this)?
Step 3: Create An In-Depth Blog Post About The Keyword
Finding keywords and using them in the right places is easy. But in-depth content is what makes you rank. Do what nobody else is doing: make a video, infographic, and take spectacular photos.
Now for my best tip:
See the top of this article for an example. This is extremely helpful for both users and search engines: it organizes your post, lets people jump (and link) to specific sections, and gives you a better chance of getting award jump-to links and listed in Google’s featured snippets. See this HTML table of contents Github code or ask a developer to help (as it will require CSS styling).
Step 4: Use The Keyword In The Right Places
The most important places to use your keyword are:
- Post title
- SEO title + meta description (in Yoast)
- A couple of times in the content body
- Image alt text (doesn’t have to be the exact keyword)
Text length (in-depth content) and using quality internal/external links are also important. But the rest of on-page SEO is pretty much all about your content and you can ignore the rest of Yoast’s recommendations. Stuffing keywords to get keyword density up, or sacrificing a great title people will click on (just to use the exact keyword in the beginning) isn’t always worth it.
16. Use Schema When Reviewing Destinations
If you’re reviewing destinations, you should be using review rich snippets.
These add review stars to your search results (resulting in more people clicking your link and more traffic to your travel blog). You can use a plugin like All In One Review Rich Snippets or another rich snippet plugin. Simply install the plugin and markup the page by adding the review stars, author name, and other basic information. Wait a few days and you should see the stars.
17. Make Your Blog Look Nice When Shared On Facebook + Twitter
Uploading custom graphics makes your travel blog format nicely on Facebook + Twitter.
Here’s without custom graphics:
Here’s with custom graphics:
Step 1: Make sure the Yoast SEO plugin is installed.
Step 2: Edit any page or post, scroll down to the Yoast SEO section, and click the “Social” tab. You will see an option for both Facebook and Twitter where you can upload custom graphics.
Step 3: Create an image for each social network and upload them here. Facebook’s dimensions are 1200 x 630 pixels, Twitter’s are 1024 x 512 pixels. To make sure it’s working, copy/paste the page or post’s URL to Facebook or Twitter and make sure you see your custom graphics.
18. Monetize Your Travel Blog With Affiliate Links
This blog generated $150k in 2019 through affiliate marketing.
The “secret” lies within this post… in the first step of this tutorial, I referred you SiteGround’s hosting and make $150 if you sign up using my affiliate link. I make a point to write about topics (keywords) where I can provide value while referring people to affiliates. That’s why you’ll see travel blogs write a post on “how to start a travel blog” since hosting commissions are so high.
Step 1: Get Traffic Before Applying To Affiliate Programs
Most affiliates want to see you have decent traffic (and a good amount of content) on your travel blog before getting approved to their program. Once you do, many affiliates will bend over backward to get your referrals. Keep monetization in mind when writing your content so that when you do eventually get approved, you can add affiliate links to relevant existing posts.
Step 2: Find The Right Affiliate Program(s)
The best affiliates have good branding (for higher conversions), high commissions (for higher payouts), and a competitive landscape (prevents them from abandoning you). Companies like REI and most popular hotels, flight services, and travel merchandise companies have an affiliate program. Google “REI Affiliate Program” or “Travel Blog Affiliate Programs” and do research.
It was no surprise when Amazon cut their affiliate commissions by 70% in April, 2020. Most people go straight to Amazon – they don’t need affiliates (at least, not anymore) and they had a history of writing content that outranks (competes) with their own affiliates so they go directly to Amazon. Don’t rely on 1 single company. Plenty of hosting companies offer $150/sale and will be glad to have your business – that’s why to some extent, that affiliate industry is safe. Find an affiliate program that has a nice balance of branding, commissions, and competition.
Step 3: Sign Up With Affiliate Marketplaces Or Individual Programs
Some companies have their own affiliate program and you can find it by Googling “company name affiliate program” (or check the footer of their website). Others are part of an affiliate marketplace like ShareASale, Impact, or CJ Affiliate (3 popular ones). The affiliate marketplaces let you join multiple affiliate programs, create links, and manage your programs all in one place.
Step 4: Install An Affiliate Link Management Plugin
The Thirsty Affiliates plugin is what I use. It lets you cloak/manage affiliate links.
Step 5: Test, Track, And Adjust Your Strategy
Learning how to monetize takes time. For example, I learned that including Facebook polls where some hosting companies were ranked #1 significantly improved my conversion rates.
Step 6: Blog About Topics (Keywords) With Affiliate Opportunities
Make sure you’re writing about topics where you can actually refer people your affiliate’s product/services. But again, don’t be salesy. This post you’re reading should be super helpful, but I also referred you to SiteGround’s WordPress hosting (an affiliate of mine). It’s a win-win.
Hosting has huge commissions which is why you see so many “how to start a travel blog” posts:
19. Install Essential WordPress Plugins
There are a few essential WordPress plugins that should be installed on your travel blog.
20. Setup Google Tools
Installing Google Analytics
- Sign up for Google Analytics
- Copy your UA code (eg. UA-000000-2)
- Install a Google Analytics Plugin
- Paste UA code into the plugin (Settings → Google Analytics)
Installing Google Search Console
- Install Yoast SEO
- Sign up for Google Search Console
- Use the HTML tag verification option and copy the code
- Paste code into Yoast (SEO → General → Webmaster Tools → Google Search Console)
- Delete everything outside the quotations, including the quotations
- Save changes in Yoast
- Click “Verify” in Search Console
21. Make Your Blog Load Fast
A faster blog can result in higher rankings, less bounces, and more sales.
Here are a few extremely easy things you can do to make your travel blog load faster.
Configure The SG Optimizer Plugin – in WordPress, go to SG Optimizer → Frontend + Media Optimization and configure these settings. While optimizing (compressing) images makes them load faster, you may see a loss in quality. Test a few images before enabling this permanently.
Activate Cloudflare’s CDN In SiteGround – In your SiteGround account, go to My Account → Go To cPanel → Cloudflare → Activate Free. This enables Cloudflare’s free content delivery network (CDN) which hosts your travel blog on over 200 data centers. This reduces the distance between your server and visitors and is especially helpful if you have global visitors.
Avoid Installing Bloated Plugins – avoid this list of 65+ slow plugins.
Avoid Gigantic Images – large images take longer to load. If your blog’s content width is 700 pixels wide, don’t upload 2,000 pixel width images! Although you should ideally upload images that fix the exact dimensions your travel blog calls for, you can cheat a bit and make them slightly larger (around 1.5x their recommended size) for high quality. I wouldn’t go over that.
And finally, use GTmetrix to measure load times:
22. Get A Custom Travel Blog Design
Looking for a more custom design for your travel blog?
We build search engine optimized travel blogs that are completely custom (we don’t use themes). If you’re looking for a more custom design with a proper SEO setup, contact our team.