Being a paid travel writer is a pretty common dream. Nowadays, that dream usually starts with a blog. Here’s how to get yours off the ground.
By Sue Bedford
While travel blogging may have first emerged as a form of digital journaling—or as a way for fretful mothers to maintain a keen eye over their wayward young—it’s since evolved into a more complex beast.
Backpackers rely on such blogs for ideas, tips and up-to-date information for the latest info on transportation, accommodation and political situations.
Meanwhile, armchair travellers browse compelling posts and striking photos while stuck at their desk because anything is better than working on a Friday afternoon.
For writers, travel blogging is a fantastic method of honing your storytelling skills and sharing pertinent information from the ground. If you’re inclined to join those ranks, here’s how to create a blog that’ll attract readers beyond your envious friends and white-knuckled family:
Pick a Platform
You’ll find a lot of travel blogs hosted on Wordpress and Google’s Blogger, because both are free and intuitive—meaning you’ll spend more time posting and less time asking, “How do I make it do the thing?!” Wordpress offers more templates and customization options than Blogger, as well as the potential to upgrade to self-hosting, which is recommended if you plan to monetize your blog.
Tumblr is feasible if you’re focusing on photojournalism, although the end result isn’t as professional as it would be with Wordpress. If you want a deeper comparison, check out this post by Start A Blog 123.
Find Your Voice
“Dear diary” blogs that recount the events of your day tend to leave readers wondering “So what?” Conversely, blogs centered around a specific theme are more unique, in depth and engaging.
Before you begin, ask yourself what you’re trying to communicate. Are you reviewing sites, hostels and restaurants or offering travel hacks from a savvy nomad? Are you sharing historical and cultural information in a compelling and digestible manner? Are you focusing on big ideas or is your content lighter? As long as there’s a certain topic or tone rooting your thoughts, you can always branch out with individual posts.
Keys to crafting a fascinating narrative include knowing your audience; clearly identifying and succinctly communicating your thesis; showing, not telling; and checking your bias. If you need more information about actually crafting a travel story, you’re in luck—I covered that a few weeks ago.
Learn How to Use Your Camera
Unless you’re photographing for magazines, you don’t need a fancy camera. Learn how to use whatever digital camera you have by downloading the instruction booklet (as you’ve probably tossed your paper copy) and daring to venture beyond the “auto” setting; free sites like BeFunky or apps like Snapseed or Photo Editor Pro make editing simple.
If you have a decent smartphone, it probably takes awesome pictures in outdoor lighting—and even if it doesn’t, hey, that’s why Instagram invented filters.
Shamelessly Self Promote
Anybody born on this side of She-Ra and He-Man probably has a few social media accounts. However, there’s a difference between posting as your normal self and posting as a travel blogger.
In addition to advertising your projects ad nauseum and sharing travel-related posts, you should be vigilant of the tone, humour and implications of your non-travel posts. For example, if your blog is PG, then lay off the R-rated memes; if your stark political or religious opinions are not expressed in your blog, then avoid them in your posts as well.
I have a somewhat austere approach to social media: Not only have I unfollowed all of my Facebook friends (I was rained in at a guesthouse in Cairo and extremely bored) so I wouldn’t be distracted by videos of cucumbers ambushing cats, but I also paid a friend to hide/delete everything on my social media pages that isn’t related to something I’ve written.
Okay, so maybe I’m a little OCD—but that separation between Sue the human and S. Bedford the writer has made it astronomically easier to use social media as a tool without getting caught up in it on a personal level or feeling awkward about promoting myself.
Some bloggers garner readers by writing guests posts on other blogs. This is only effective if a) the host blog is more popular than yours—The Expeditioner compiles a list of the most popular travel blogs four times a year—and b) your writing stands out topically or stylistically from the host’s—otherwise, readers may not notice that you’re somebody new.
Travel blogging is a terrific method of practicing your journalistic skills, sharing your knowledge with an inquiring audience, and organizing your thoughts and challenging your analyses. Just remember that writing, photographing, posting and sharing may take more time than you expect, so allot for a learning curve and don’t allow it to take over your life.