The Shooting Star has recently made it to the top 30 travel blogs in India (based on global Alexa rankings). While I still have a long way to go to reach the level of the world’s top travel bloggers, this post is an attempt to share my experiences and experiments so far.
Many of you have asked me on Twitter and via email, as to how you can go about starting your own travel blog and what it entails, and this post is something of an apology to those unanswered questions! I started my travel blogging journey in May 2011, before which my blog was a platform to rant about life and share the occasional travel tales. I must also confess that I started (and dropped) 5 blogs before The Shooting Star, each after a few posts, when I faced the writer’s block. That is perhaps the greatest challenge of starting out as a blogger, travel or otherwise – you might receive little or no traffic in the initial days, and a lot of efforts may feel like they are going unnoticed. If you can stick it out during this time, you’ve won half the battle.
By the time I decided to focus seriously on travel blogging, I had already travelled in most of Southeast Asia, and was setting out on a two-month sabbatical from work, to Europe and Spiti. Having travelled to places seldom blogged about before, I was genuinely inspired to share my experiences and explorations on the blogosphere.
Before you decide to start your own travel blog, ask yourself why you’re doing it. If it is to make quick money or score sponsorships, you’d be better off looking elsewhere. Travel blogging is hard work and will earn you nothing, atleast in the first few years; you need to feel passionately for both travelling and blogging to create a successful travel blog.
Ask yourself also if you’ve travelled to enough places, and have enough experiences to write about. Do you have enough pictures from these places? Or will you be writing about experiences that you can easily find creative commons pictures for? Perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given is, “travel for the love of travel while you still can, because once you become a successful travel blogger, travelling will never be the same again.”
2. Pick a niche.
Once you’re convinced that you have enough fodder to write about, start asking yourself what’s a niche you should focus on. There are plenty of generic travel blogs out there; can you offer something unique? You could consider focussing on luxury travel, responsible travel, offbeat travel, culture-inspired travel, budget travel or something more creative.
Personally, I started out without a well-defined niche, and took a while to reach my current focus on offbeat and experiential travel. The idea is really to attract and captivate your audience, by setting their expectations about what they can read by following you.
3. Select a blogging platform.
WordPress and Blogger / Blogspot are the biggest free blogging platforms out there, and it’s largely a matter of personal preference to pick one. Having used both, I personally recommend WordPress.com, for its user-friendliness, beautiful themes, professional templates, degree of flexibility, and SEO potential.
One reason why people choose Blogger over WordPress, is that the latter does not allow advertising with Google Adsense (though it has recently introduced its own, albeit less efficient, version of ads called WordAds). To be honest, I don’t know many people who make much money through advertising on their blog, and if advertising revenue is your end goal, you shouldn’t be starting a travel blog anyway!
Many amateur bloggers tend to start out by investing in a self-hosted website, but unless you’re a techie clued in to the ways of Google, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. You need to be focussing all your energy on generating good travel content, and let the technicalities take care of themselves. Not to forget, the added pressure to succeed after having invested in a website and its optimization.
4. Set a posting goal.
Commitment to your travel blog is the single most important thing. You might be starting a travel blog with a long term goal in mind – to break into travel writing, or to establish yourself as a credible blogger that travel companies might be interested in working with – but in the initial stages, set goals for the smaller picture.
Most importantly, decide how often you are going to post content on your blog, and stick to this frequency. I personally recommend posting one well-written, engaging post once a week, rather than several low-quality posts several times a week.
5. Use pictures.
When I first started travel blogging, I was only interested in sharing my experiences in words. Over time, I learnt that people first get drawn to the pictures you share, and for many, that’s where their attention span ends. It’s just something that we, as bloggers, have to learn to make peace with.
You don’t have to invest in a fancy camera if you’re not a photography buff. I use a humble Sony Cybershot (digital) camera, and try to look for moments that not many people would capture. Recently, an international publication has approached me about commissioning a photo essay, proof that what you capture is much more important than the equipment you use to capture it.
If you find yourself writing about something abstract, or if your own pictures don’t do justice to the experience you’re sharing, search Flickr Creative Commons to find pictures you can use – pictures under the Attribution license only need a simple credit back to the photographer. Remember not to lift pictures from blogs or website without permission, as you’ll only harm your own credibility.
6. Interact with other bloggers.
The blogosphere is an awesome community of people. Once you’ve started (or started thinking about) your own travel blog, you need to get out there and start reading and interacting with other bloggers. A great way to make your presence known is to leave comments on other blogs; you can give feedback on their posts, answer questions they maybe asking, or share your own experiences from a place they’ve written about.
Make sure that you use your blog profile while commenting, so it links the bloggers and other commenters back to your blog. Gradually, you’ll also realize the value of each comment posted on your blog; you’ll realize just how disheartening it is to put your heart and soul into a post and not receive any comments from your readers! Make an effort to reply to all comments on your own blog, so as to ensure that your readers know that you value them.
7. Get active on social networks.
Facebook and Twitter are excellent ways to join the existing community of travel bloggers, as well as generate traffic to your own blog (they are the second biggest sources of traffic to my blog after Google). Grow your social networks, especially Twitter, and establish yourself as a credible voice in your selected niche of travel blogging. Remember that more important than sharing links is engaging with existing influencers.
Every Tuesday at 3:30 pm IST, you can join the #TTOT (Travel Talk on Twitter) chat, and interact with fellow travel enthusiasts and travel bloggers; it is not only a great source of new travel ideas, but also helps keep you motivated about travelling and blogging. Similarly, you can join fan pages of travel bloggers you like to read and existing travel blogging groups, and start understanding how these platforms are best used.
8. Start search engine optimization.
SEO is the holy grail of blog traffic. The idea is to create visibility for your blog on Google; for instance, if you’re writing about street food in India, your blog should appear on the first page of Google when people search for that or something similar. Challenging as it sounds, blogging platforms like WordPress or Google ensure that the technicalities are taken care of on the back end. All you have to ensure is that your blog posts and photographs are tagged with relevant keywords that people might be searching for.
9. Value your blog.
Something that I personally feel is an issue with many Indian bloggers, is that we don’t value our blog and our content enough. We accept unbelievably low rates for advertising and sponsored posts; a “something is better than nothing” kind of attitude. It is important for advertisers and sponsors to understand that blogging is hard work, and if we, as bloggers, don’t convey that, we’ll always remain poor!
10. Have fun!
If you start a travel blog purely with the intention of making money or scoring free travel opportunities, chances are you’ll get burnt out soon enough. Ask any travel blogger and they’ll tell you that blogging is hard work; you will be spending a lot of time and effort in the initial years, and the money or sponsored travels might not come until much later. Something common across most travel bloggers (myself included) is that they are absolutely obsessed with their blogs, and absolutely love blogging about their travels, returns or no returns. So if travel blogging is something you think you’ll really love to do, get out there, travel, write, and have fun. The blogosphere is a wonderful place to be!
Do you have any other tips or questions for starting a new travel blog?
Confessions of an Indian Travel Blogger