How to Set up a Travel Blog: Step-by-Step Basics for Beginners

set up a travel blogDo you want to set up a travel blog? Or perhaps you are thinking about overhauling or moving your current blog?  Given that we just went through the process of creating a new blog ourselves and it is fresh in our minds, we wanted to share the experience with you. This article discusses a step-by-step process for those who are new to blogging about how to set up a travel blog. We also give you all the information about our own choices at each step as an example. While there is no “right” or best way to set up a travel blog, this will hopefully give you a good overview of the steps and options that are available.

Define Purpose and Goals of your Travel Blog

The absolute first thing is to sit down and define the purpose and major goals of your website. You probably have more than one goal, so think about your primary goal and then think about any secondary goals, For instance, do you want to provide how-to information about travel within the U.S., have readers follow you along on your trip around the world, persuade readers to buy your travel products, inspire your readers to travel to Africa, etc. You also need to decide on and try to envision the type of audience you want to attract (e.g., backpackers, Baby Boomers, cruisers) and the overall tone of your website (e.g., informational, funny, inspirational, professional).

Our Example: Our primary goal is to share our travel stories and provide information to other travelers. It is also a writing outlet for me as I have always wanted to be a writer. In the long-term, we would like to possibly monetize our blog to help support our travels. We want our website to be focused on providing good information, but with a friendly tone. Easy navigation is important to us. We hope to attract a range of audience, with the focus on independent travelers who want to plan and organize trips on their own.

Choose a Domain Name for your Travel Website

Once you got the basic ideas down for the goals, tone, and audience of your website, decide on a name for your website. This will be useful in choosing a domain name–the website address–as you want the two to match or be very similar if at all possible.  Spend some time on this and come up with a few possibilities as it’s likely your first choice may be already taken. While there are ways to buy an already taken domain, it is simpler and less expensive to find an available domain. While there are a lot of possible web address extensions out there (.org, .net, .biz, .co), it is best to get a .com if possible as this is the most memorable for users. If you are wanting a free domain name, you can get one by getting one through WordPress.com, Blogspot, or Weebly but your website will be a subdomain of that website if you choose to use the free version (e.g., www.independenttravelcats.blogspot.com). Now, don’t purchase or create your domain name just yet, proceed to the next stop. 

 Our ExampleWe came up with a long list of possibilities, and rated each one. We spent about a week thinking about this. Then we went through the list to see what was available (we just typed them into godaddy) and decided on independenttravelcats.com. 

Choose a Content Management System or Website Builder

Next, you need to decide on a content management system (CMS) or website builder. A CMS is what you use to build your website, insert content and images, etc.  The choice of a CMS or builder will influence how you build your website and how much you can edit and add to it (e.g., plug-ins, available templates, how customizable your site will be). While some platforms are a more intuitive drag-and-drop platform (e.g., Weebly, Wix), others may require you to learn some coding (e.g., Joomla, Drupal). WordPress, one of the most popular blogging platforms, is not a drag-and-drop platform but is fairly intuitive and user-friendly and doesn’t require any advanced coding knowledge. If you are new to blogging and platforms, I would probably choose WordPress or one of the drag-and-drop platforms over Drupal or Joomla as although they have advanced functionality, for a beginner user they can be difficult to use. Google’s Blogger is one of the most popular free publishing platform choices and is fairly easy to use and customize.

A quick note on WordPress (WordPress.com versus WordPress.org): WordPress.com offers the ability to set up a free website, modify the content, and have free hosting; however, it is more limited than using WordPress.org as far as being able to change templates, add plug-ins, and change coding. WordPress.org offers free download of the WordPress CMS with more options for customization (e.g., more control over the actual code, ability to install plug-ins) compared to hosting your website on WordPress.com, but you have to find and pay for your own host.

Our Example: We played around with the free Weebly and WordPress websites for about a week. I found Weebly easier to use to design a website (I really like the drag-and-drop features), but I ultimately decided to go with WordPress as a platform as it has increased functionality in customizing the website. It has a bit steeper of a learning curve, but I hope that it will be worth it down the road once I become more familiar with WordPress. We also decided to go for the WordPress.org option (not WordPress.com) and have it hosted by an outside web hosting company. So that led us to looking into web hosting services (see below).

Choose a Web Hosting Service for your Travel Blog

The most tricky part for us was deciding on a web hosting service. A web hosting service is a type of Internet hosting service that allows you to make your website accessible online and provides space for your website on their servers. What we didn’t understand at the onset is that your domain name, web host, and publishing platform should all be thought about in conjunction rather than choosing one at a time. So you have already decided on a domain name, but depending on your web host, you may be able to get your domain name for free so wait to purchase it until you have decided on your web host. There are hundreds of possibilities when it comes to a web host (e.g., Blue Host, Blogspot, 1&1, DreamHost, Godaddy, Weebly, iPage), and you should do some online research about which one might be best for you.

Some things to consider when choosing a web hosting service:

  • Cost?:  Most web hosts charge between $3 to $10/month to host a website on a shared server with better rates if you purchase a longer contract. There are places where you can get a free domain name, host, and publishing platform (e.g., Blogger/Blogspot, Weebly, WordPress.com); however, these generally provide limits regarding choices and functionality (e.g., less flexibility in domain name, less able to make advanced changes to layout of website) but can be great places to get started if you are new to blogging. Once your website starts getting a larger audience you’ll want to think about moving to a dedicated server or cloud service, but these services are much more expensive.
  • What all is included?:  Is the space and upload capacity unlimited? Are there limits on the number of webpages you can build? Do they provide 24/7 support? Is there any sort of money back guarantee? Are e-mail accounts included? Is a domain name included? Can you choose any domain name or must you use a certain extension (e.g., the free domains at WordPress.com and Weebly.com have a WordPress.com or Weebly.com domain although you can still purchase a domain name of your choice and have free web hosting)?
  • What are other users saying?: Check out reviews online.  Ask friends and other bloggers what they are using and what web hosts they would recommend. You don’t want to pick a host with poor customer support or whose servers are always going down. Is it fast and reliable? How good are the support options? Is it a good choice for those who will be doing a lot of daily or weekly posting?
  • What CMS, web builders, and publishing platforms are supported? So this is important to consider if you have a CMS or web builder in mind (e.g., WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Weebly).  For instance, if you want to use WordPress, you need to make sure it is will work well with your web hosts. If you use Weebly for your host, you may not be able to use WordPress as Weebly has its own built-in web building platform that I do not believe is compatible. Some hosts also have one-click or easy installers for certain CMS or website builder platforms (e.g., Blue Host supports all the above platforms with easy installs) that can make it easier

Our Example: We decided to go with BlueHost because it is one of the recommended hosts if you are using WordPress.org and the reviews by users were generally positive. Bluehost was also advertising a price discount at the time and offers a money-back guarantee.

Fit Together your Domain Name, CMS, and Web Hosting Service Choices and Commit

OK, so now you should have a domain name chosen, a good idea of your web hosting site and its pros/cons, and a general idea of the type of platform you want to use to build your website and manage your content. It’s now time to take stock of how these three things fit together, commit to a decision, and start setting them up. For some people, these three things may be a package that are all set up together (e.g., you set up a free WordPress, Blogger, or Weebly blog with their free domain names), while for others these three things may need to be set up in series of steps.

Our Example:  First, we purchased our domain name through godaddy. While we could have purchased the domain name through BlueHost, we instead found it was less expensive to do so from Godaddy.  Then we purchased web hosting services from Bluehost and redirected the godaddy webaddress to the BlueHost server.  So, if you purchase an outside domain name, you’ll have to have it redirected to your web host. Your web hosting service should provide instructions on how to redirect your domain name if you need to do this. Next we installed WordPress.org through our BlueHost account. At this point we were then ready to choose a website template and start building our website and publishing content. Yeah, the fun part!

Set up a File Transfer Protocol Program for your New Website

Last beginning step. So one last thing that you will probably need to do is to set up a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program.  While its possible you won’t need this, especially if you are using a free hosting and website package, in most cases this is useful as it provides a simple way to transfer files from your computer to your website and vice versa.  You can also edit files through the FTP without having to actually log into your website. There are a lot of options out there (e.g., Filezilla, Cyberduck, Smart FTP, FTP Voyager) so check the options in relation to your computer and operating system compatibility, level of security needed, transfer needs (e.g., do you need to be able to transfer very large files), and how easy it is to use with your web host. Some of these programs are free open-source downloads and some come with a small fee.

Our Example: We chose Filezilla based on recommendations from family and friends, and it was a free easy install through our BlueHost control panel. We then configured Filezilla to connect with our BlueHost hosted website following directions from BlueHost.

There you go! A quick run-down of the basics of how to set up a travel blog.  I hope this is helpful and will get you started.

Do you have other tips about how to set up a travel blog? Opinions or experiences you want to share in setting up your own travel blog or website? Questions about how to set up a travel blog? Feel free to post them below.

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