Deciding to start a travel blog is a big decision and it isn’t easy, but with a combination of skills and luck, it can be a lucrative way to catalog your travel experiences.
For those who plan to travel anyway, and who already appreciate the benefits of travel journaling, and who have a knack for marketing, travel blogging can be a path towards creating sustainable passive income, in a similar vein to becoming a travel influencer.
My Experience Starting Blogs
I began blogging in college over 20 years ago, in 2002. I continued blogging with some big successes and some failures in the decades since. In fact, by the time I started graduate school in 2015, a curating lifestyle blog was my full-time income (thankfully sparing me from the near-inevitable fate of graduate students in Seattle: working as a barista). I’ve built 6 blogs from the ground up and worked with every major ad network and affiliate program (Which are, as you’ll learn in this article, the primary methods for monetizing blogs).
Steps to Successfully Starting a Travel Blog in 2023
In this article, I share many of the tips I’ve learned as a travel blogger with two decades of experience- plus I share many of the master tips that I’ve learned from being part of an exclusive group of high-earning bloggers and travel bloggers.
It sounds obvious, but this is the hardest part for the vast majority of brand-new bloggers.
You will likely experience all kinds of internal conflict as you begin your journey to starting a travel blog – including imposter syndrome, maladaptive perfectionism, insecurity about your writing, or a belief that it’s “too late” to start.
All of these insecurities can be worked with along the way as long as you don’t let them keep you from actually starting.
Once you’ve got 25 or 30 posts on your travel blog, then you can begin the process of evaluating your work and honing your skills. The momentum that comes from getting a project underway is a key part of successfully starting a travel blog.
Use the WordPress Platform
There are countless content management systems out there- and at least a solid dozen of them have legitimate tools for a new blogger to start a blog- but if you use anything other than the WordPress platform, you’ll have trouble earning from your travel content.
Why? Most travel blog advertisers have adapted to the most popular platform which is WordPress. If you don’t use WordPress, you’ll have fewer options for ad networks and, thus, access to fewer publishers, less competition for advertising space, and lower advertising rates.
At First, Forget Design
Similar to the advice above to just start, don’t get hung up on how your blog looks in the early days. Since the vast majority of travel blog readers are on a mobile device, many successful travel bloggers are completely ditching aesthetics in exchange for simple pages that load lightning fast.
As your blog traffic grows, you can develop the design, if desired, but design alone won’t grow your page and your traffic and your viewers – content will.
Study & Integrate “E-A-T”
E-A-T stands for expertise, authority, and trust. A decade ago, it was easy to write content on any topic and rank in search engine results. Today, spurred on by misinformation trends, Google’s algorithm is developing the ability to differentiate between people with authority to write on a subject and people who don’t.
While E-A-T seems to apply more to blogs on the topic of money, health, and wellness, it doesn’t exclude travel bloggers. To help get a boost from the E-A-T aspect of the algorithm, write a good author’s bio that will display on every post.
when writing your author bio, be sure to very specifically describe why you believe what you have to say is worth reading. If you have a degree or advanced degree, mention your educational level (even if it may not seem relevant), and describe your experience traveling, languages spoken, and other experiences that may lend credibility to your writing.
Brag on your Expertise
Additionally, in every travel blog post that mentions a destination, add a short paragraph about why your experience in that place matters – did you stay longer than most people? Did you stay with a host family, speak the same language, or have another experience that gave you access to a unique experience?
Did you visit destinations in a specific niche (like my passion for reporting on the experience of riding ferries in waters around the world) or apply a specific lens (like my reports on what it’s like to travel as a plus-size traveler or a person with limited mobility) to your travel?
All of these things, as much or more than the info you actually present, can help boost the success of your travel blog one post at a time.
Learn about copyright and only use images with permission
One of the biggest mistakes that travel bloggers make when starting a travel blog is using images they don’t have the right to use.
Even if you “found an image on the Internet” or “it didn’t have a name/watermark on it” you can legally only use images that you have taken or that you have permission to use. You can get permission through verbal permission from the photographer or a digital license from a stock photography website.
Don’t shrug this one off. It may not seem like a big deal, but using a photographer’s photos without their consent can expose you to having your website shut down due to a DMCA violation or worse. Although your blog may be small now, the goal is to grow- and as you grow, you’ll become a prime target for the newly emerging post-licensing industry, in which AI scans for stolen images and uses a legal team to assess post-licensing fees that can reach into the thousands.
Avoid Posting Photographs of Yourself
Unless you’re gunning to make it as a travel influencer (in which case, read my guide to becoming a travel influencer) avoid posting pictures of yourself on your travel blog. This is a mistake that many- if not most- travel bloggers make.
The reason you should avoid posting pictures of yourself on your travel blog is that as you build a travel blog you are actually building a liquid asset.
Blogs are bought and sold every day through online business brokers. If your blog becomes even mildly successful and attracts the attention of advertisers, it can be sold for a good price (blogs regularly sell for prices in the high five figures into the mid-six figures).
However, bloggers who have made their website about themselves have an uphill climb if they decide to sell: blogs heavily centered around a single person’s image may scare off buyers who fear that the revenue is dependent upon the continued appearance of that person.
Even if you don’t dream of flipping a blog, the best advice for how to start a travel blog is to aim towards being able to make a profit if you get tired of travel blogging, need to exit, or simply find yourself in a situation where you need cash more than you need a travel blog.
Begin Building a Mailing List Immediately
Many new travel bloggers avoid setting up a way to collect email addresses for a mailing list until the blog is successful, but for best results, you should begin building your mailing list on day one.
Not only can a growing mailing list help you reach viewers and get them to return to your site, but a mailing list also adds value to a travel blog if you do eventually decide to sell.
Create Digital Assets
Offering some kind of digital downloads, such as WanderBig’s library of free travel-related downloads and printables, is an excellent way to stand out from the crowd of travel bloggers writing about the exact same topics.
Taking your own experience, for example, a knack for data science, infographics, or graphic design, and offering unique resources for download can be a great way to draw in new visitors to your new travel blog, grow an audience that returns, and build your mailing list.
Learn basic SEO
In my opinion, learning about SEO to start a travel blog is a double edge sword. On one hand, many bloggers spend time analyzing data that could be used producing content, on the other hand, content produced without an understanding of the keywords that people are searching for (and how competitive those keywords are) can be wasted content.
If you’re just starting out with a travel blog, I recommend learning as you go. Focusing too much on learning SEO before you start can result in lost momentum and a failure to launch, so it’s generally better to learn a little bit as you go. A good content development podcast (like the Theory of Content) on your daily walk or watching SEO videos on YouTube over your lunch break can be a solid start to learning.
Write as Much as You Can, as Fast as You Can
For the last six months or so, I’ve been monitoring new travel blog admissions to Mediavine (a top ad network for travel blogs) as they are announced on the publisher’s Facebook group.
When new travel bloggers are added, I check out their site map to see how many posts their site contained before they were able to gain admission into this elite ad network. The result? Always more than 100, usually more than 150, but rarely over 250 posts.
These numbers seem to indicate that more content = more traffic. Of course, it’s intuitive, right? The more you write the more keyword you’ll rank for in search results, and the more visitors you’ll have on your site.
Since 150-200 posts seem to be the sweet spot for reaching the 50k monthly sessions needed to gain admission to premium ad networks, what I recommend (and what I’ve done with WanderBig.com) is this:
- Write and publish 200 posts as fast as possible while maintaining quality (each post should be at least 800 words)
- After 200 posts, scale back (or pause) writing new content.
- Take a course or watch a tutorial series on SEO.
- Begin back at post #1, editing, adding new information and longer length, and improving the post.
- Work your way through all of your 200 posts, editing, updating, and developing more value in the posts.
Regularly evaluate what is working
When I started a travel blog in 2019, I didn’t expect to be a site focused on Seattle tourism. However, as international tourism dropped off in 2020 and my Guide to Pike Place Market, post on Solo travel in Seattle, and Riding a Ferry in Seattle took off, I went with the flow, and developed more content based on what I’d learned from years of exploring the city as a local.
As you start a travel blog, pay attention to the posts that don’t get much traffic and compare them to the posts that do. Ask: What makes them different or similar? How can the success of the high-performing post be built on in future posts? Understanding this can be a key to writing content that gets views.
Collate your Work into an Ebook
Once you have multiple posts on particular topics in your area of expertise, create downloadable ebooks from your existing content. It’s free and easy to convert a group of travel blog posts into a travel book using the WordPress plugin Print my Blog. This e-reader formatted version of your posts can be offered as a premium asset used to entice new mailing list subscribers to sign up.
Work your Way to the Best Ad Network
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I began to start a travel blog was not knowing to climb the ladder of publishers as my traffic grew.
Instead of earning more and more from each view as my site grew in size, visitor volume, and authority, I was still serving as on my site with Google’s entry-level ad publishing software, AdSense. The month I left AdSense for Media vine, my first blog’s advertising revenue jumped from $400 a month to $1500 a month with no change in traffic!
The hierarchy of advertising at the time of this writing is generally:
Thriving with your Successful Travel Blog
If you follow each of these steps and don’t give up, your blog will almost certainly shine. Blogs with 200 or more posts that are accurate, well written, and easy to understand can be expected to grow and thrive. All blogs grow at a different rate, but expect numbers to trend upward as you continue to develop your site and create more original content.
Admission to the Mediavine ad network typically signals a peak for many blogs. It’s the point at which the travel blog you started not so long ago will begin to transition to a full-time income capable of supporting full-time travel.
At this point, you can continue to build new content and grow your site’s traffic or your brand, or wait 8 months after joining Mediavine (a sufficient period to establish long-term profitability) and sell your blog.
Is it too late to start a travel blog?
It’s true that the travel blog niche seems saturated, and reports are- especially as travel is still gearing back up after lockdown- that the travel niche is one of the hardest genres to build an audience.
Despite this challenge, your voice matters. If you have a unique take on travel or a particular ability to describe a place in a way that can help another traveler, you can start and succeed at travel blogging even in 2023.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.