March 30, 2017

Travel blogging: how to succeed without pain, have fun

This is first in a series of posts on travel blogging. Starting with the very basics in the present post, the series will take us to essential blogging kit for travel bloggers, professional tips, reliable resources on the web, and do's & don'ts

In preparing these posts, we have spoken to 9 travel bloggers (and the talk continues till the last post is written) to get their first-hand experience and tips/ cautions and have browsed a hundred good travel blogs to know their best practices.

This first post is for you if you are a regular traveler and want to have a travel blog for sharing your experiences and making money too. More experienced and established bloggers may find some information and tips given here rather elementary.

Before we go to actual work and tips, let's be realistic about what a normal travel blogger can achieve.

Travel comes first. The foremost thing that we want to tell you is that your lack of skills in blogging can be compensated but unless you are passionate about traveling, travel blogging is not for you. Once you start getting recognition and - if that is your aim - start making good money, the inspiration to keep blogging will come, but nothing will work long-term if you are not obsessed with travel.

Then comes blogging. Travel blogging is not just writing travelogues or posting pictures. For that, chat and social networking sites are much better options. Serious blogging requires hard work, discipline, time and of course commitment. Are you prepared for that?
 
travel blogging and photography
Photography is essential part of travel blogging.

If you have no doubts that you love travel and are committed to blogging, let's move on.

1. Ask basic questions beforehand, and find answers. 

When we start a business, we consider dozens of factors, don't we? Serious blogging is no less than a business. You MUST ask yourself some basic questions and find answers, even if you are in a great hurry to start your travel blog, even if you find this assignment boring and worthless.
     . What is my blogging aim? What is my target for the first six months, first year and two years, in terms of popularity, creating resources for my book, earnings or whatever my aim is?

     . Repeating it: Am I highly passionate about travel and will remain so for many years, or I am thinking of travel blog just to try to earn quick bucks out of it?

     . Do I have the technical, writing and photography skills needed for creating and maintaining a good blog? If not, how will I take care of that? (By hiring, taking a course, learning as I go, my girlfriend will help me in that, or in some other way.)

      Take days if you can't decide in one go. Talk to people. Look deep at the best blogs in the industry, especially from your area. Examine blogs that have content similar to what you will put on your blog. Assess what all you'd need to reach their level.  

      Decide how much energy, time and money you are prepared to invest in blogging. Is there going to be a long spell of inactivity due to exams, marriage, child birth, official engagements, relocation?

      If you come to the conclusion that you will be happy with being a hobby blogger but one who is acclaimed and talked about, you are relieved of the burden of monetization. But if you want to make travel blogging your primary profession, you must ask relevant questions in this area. You will  have to work at least 2-3 hours a day regularly on the blog. You will have to bother about all the technical skills. You will have accounts to maintain and to remember to make payments for blog hosting etc. You will have to keep thinking about how to 'sell' your next trip or e-book or whatever. 

      2. Come to specific questions on travel blogging

       . Where will I host the blog? 

      Blogs need to be hosted on the web space so that people can access them, and there are various options available.

      Hobby blogs can be hosted free on Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr etc. Even Facebook now has a blogging platform. Pinterest and Instagram suit you very well if you want just to post your travel photos.

      What this type of blogging requires is that you open a free account on one or more of these sites and start posting your content. In case of Wordpress and Blogger, you can spruce up the blog in many ways. If you are very new to blogging, this starter kit on blogging would do the required hand-holding.

      Professional blogs need a different approach. You can host your travel blog free on Blogger as it has free resources and the blog can later be mapped to an independent domain. However, since travel blogs need hosting of resource-heavy content (photos, videos), it is better to go for a self-hosted blog from the beginning. [You can visit this series on domain names and web hosting.] 

       . What will be my blog's identity? 

      Decide the name and URL (=web address) of the blog before opening the blog. You can change the blog's title any number of times you want, but changing the URL later can be very painful. 

      So, choose the URL carefully. It must be relevant to your blog in one or the other way. (It may relate to your location, name or content or a mix of these.) Keep the URL small and memorable. Let the URL not be such that it becomes restrictive when your blog grows. For example, the URL  tajmahal.com will become too limiting if the blogger started this blog on Taj Mahal and now wants to write about all monuments in Asia.  

      In the case of free blogs on Wordpress, Blogger etc, you can play with URLs as they allow you to open a number of blogs free, but if you choose to have an independent name (mytravelblog.com instead of mytravelblog.blogspot.com), you will need to pay for each URL that you register and renew the URL year after year after paying a fee.

       . How broad should my blog's content and appeal be? 

      This too you must decide early to avoid confusion later on. You can choose to have the blog on a very narrow subject or it can talk about everything on earth or something in between. Think in terms of different niches and the ones you are interested in. As in the case of URL, let the field not be too restrictive. At the same time, the blog will lose focus and get lost in the crowd if you keep the field too wide.
       
       . How much money do I need to invest on blogging?

      On a hobby blog, you have a range to choose from, starting with no financial investment at all. 

      However, for professional blogging, you'd need to invest on the following -
      • buying and keeping the domain name (URL) [recurring cost]
      • hosting the blog on the web [recurring cost]
      • building the site/blog, buying a theme, plugins etc (web design) [mostly one-time spending]
      • promotional services including SEO, advertisements, email subscription, tech optimization; writing, proof-reading, audio-visual editing, creating e-books, etc [recurring costs]
      • buying software tools for photo and video editing, etc [one-time cost]
      • buying equipment and support, e.g. professional camera, high-end tablet, extra storage and power back-ups, sturdy internet plans [mostly one-time cost, some recurring]
      While some expenditure is unavoidable, you can buy some other services as you grow as travel blogger. If you develop expertise, you won't have to buy some of them.

       . How much time will I need for blogging?

      If you want to be an established professional blogger, you will initially need 4-6 hours a day, which should stabilize to 2-3 hours a day even while on travel, and many hours in between travels. Even if you hire people to do some of the tasks, you'd need time for planning, guiding, writing, travel management, etc.

      You will need to spend time on networking, reading, periodically assessing your blog, examining others' blogs, and other activities. We've dealt with networking separately below.

      Remember, you'd tend to waste a lot of time on some activities. Unless you manage your time well by advance planning and apportioning time to different activities, you'd spend much more time on something (e.g. trying to improve a bad photo's quality or in an unending argument in a forum).

      Blogging leads to many other activities (e.g. writing for a magazine) and since these become essential part of your 'blogging business', you'd have to find time for these too.

       . How much importance should I give to networking and engagement on the web? 

      Like all other bloggers, travel bloggers do online networking by commenting and receiving comments, being on forums and communities, through social networks and chats such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and so on. 

      Much of this networking is non-essential and wasteful. More so, if you are trying to become a  professional blogger. So, be clear which network or medium is best for being in touch with other bloggers and your clientele. Consider whether you are connecting to the right people and in the right way? Are your message effective in conveying your thoughts or getting an action from the recipients? Are you not wasting too much time on social networks?

      If you have been blogging intensely for a year or so, you'd find that you have more to give and less to receive by way of advice. Once you reach that point, you should start focusing more on building email subscription list, creating e-books etc to share your wisdom with visitors.

      3. Blogging and travel must complement each other.

      For sustainability and success of the travel blog, it is necessary that blogging and travel support each other and not compete for time and energy. 

      When you are planning a trip, you must plan the related blog post too. You should allot time for blogging at the end of each day and at the end of the trip. When taking pictures for fun and memory, you must click photos from blog's perspective too. 

      In many respects, a travel blogger is a travel journalist and so you must learn to think like a journalist. You must do a lot of pre-travel research. When on the trip, talk to people, learn a bit more about monuments and customs than an ordinary traveler, record small videos, eat local cuisine and learn how it is prepared, meet old people who are known to know special things about the place, and so on. You must learn to enjoy these activities so that the research for blogging does not become a burden and you also are satisfied with the trip as a traveler.

      4. Equip yourself well for blogging.

      As a travel junkie, you must already have all the things that a traveler needs, so we'd skip that. 

      From blogging angle, you must have a laptop/ tablet/ note on which you can jot down important points, take snapshots, create blog posts... The need for a good quality camera is obvious. If you do not want to invest in an expensive DSLR camera or find it a big bother, at least have an advanced compact camera. This type of cameras suit travel and yet have features not available on normal point-and-shoot cameras. No serious travel blogger recommends a mobile camera.

      You should know a bit of photo editing, and there are many free and paid editing software available. Professional photographers know Photoshop, the industry-standard photo editing software [or its free alternative, Gimp] but for blogging, you hardly need that level of expertise. It is always better [even when you are a Photoshop expert] to take care to snap photos with proper composition, light, distance/ zoom and in the right size and format. 

      Needless to emphasize that you would carry accessories such as extra storage disks and batteries, writing pad and pen, and (if into high-end photography) tripod and zoom lenses. You'd also have a proper mobile internet package or data card. 

      That's all for now. We'd talk about specific aspects of travel blogging in our next post in this series sometime in April. 

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