Starting a Money-Making Travel Blog

by | Jul 7, 2021 | Blogging | 0 comments

Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. I hope you won’t mind that this post may contain affiliate links, so that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

“How would you like the secrets to starting a wildly successful travel blog and learn how to make tons of money overnight while you are traveling the world?”

That’s how they get you; make big promises and lead you to believe you can build a blog, launch it, and have money flowing into your bank account immediately, from day one, while you spend your time sipping a fruity drink on a beach in Bali.

I’m here to say it just doesn’t work that way.

Time for a dose of honesty.

My travel blog, FrightenedTraveler.com, was started in February of 2020 and hasn’t made a dime yet.

The reason: Pandemic Baby! I started my blog right before they locked us down and any dreams I had of travel went by the wayside. But travel is opening again and it’s time we got out there, made some money, and had fun doing it.

What makes me think I can hand out advice about travel blogging?

For 25 years, I have been building and launching hundreds of websites and blogs, some for myself, and some for others. Before there was WordPress, I was hunched over my computer coding with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. I built my first online journal in 1996 before they were called blogs or even weblogs.

I was overjoyed when WordPress finally launched, and I threw myself into learning how to use it to build blogs and other types of websites.

I’ve had successful blogs in the mental health space, and while I didn’t monetize the suffering, I did build a large audience.

I’ve been involved with the process of building successful blogs for many years now, and I know a thing or two about what makes a blog go on to make money.

I started The Frightened Traveler both because I wanted to share my love of everything “travel” with the world, and I wanted to prove the principles that make a wildly successful blog can be applied to the travel industry as well. Plus I really love food, and donuts, and all the stuff that comes when you travel the world.

You Have Been Lied to About Travel Blogging

While most of the bloggers who offer advice about how to start a travel blog are honest and straightforward, I did find a few people and companies in my research that are only interested in selling courses and ebooks and will tell you anything to get you to take out your credit card.

Much of their content is boilerplate vanilla; advice they scraped from the thousands of other blogs about how to make money blogging.

As you will see in a few moments, a lot of that advice is good, but what is not good is what they are doing to your expectations. If anyone tells you that you can make thousands of dollars overnight and travel the world for free by blogging they are just not being honest.

Building a successful travel blog takes time and effort. It won’t happen overnight, and you won’t get rich anytime soon just by posting a few travel stories on a blog and filtered pictures on Instagram.

But you know what? If you build a travel blog the right way from the start, work on it faithfully every day, learn everything you can about the business of blogging, and promote your work to everyone who will listen, in time, you will make a very, very good living and still be able to indulge in all of your travel dreams and bucket-list destinations.

I’m going to prove it by taking my blog, The Frightened Traveler, from nothing and make enough money in the first year to finance my travels.

How to REALLY Make Money by Starting a Travel Blog

Sit back and grab your favorite beverage (and donuts) because I am going to layout in detail my process for building and launching a travel blog. I won’t tell you that it will, for sure, be successful because that is entirely up to you and how hard you are willing to work.

For example, I am sitting here typing this guide at my desk at 11:00 pm while my family sleeps in the other room. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been burning the midnight oil for some time now. During the day, I am a freelance writer on Medium and Newsbreak and that is more than a full-time job. This travel blog is my passion project, and I am willing to put in the work to see it successful.

I know if I work hard in the beginning, there will be a time when I can relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see your travel blog become financially successful?

If the answer is yes, we can get started!

It Starts With a Whole Lot of Research

Before I started building anything, I wanted to know what I was getting myself into by daring to start another travel blog in an already crowded space. So I started reading the blogs of the others who are already successful travel bloggers. Many of them have their own guides on how to build a travel blog.

Then I started reading blogging statistics on the OptinMonster website:

  • Each month, approximately 409 million people view more than 20 billion pages
  • There are about 70 million posts being published each month by WordPress users
  • Blogs have been rated as the 5th most trustworthy source for gathering online information
  • 77% of internet users read blogs
  • Over 80% of travel planning is done through the internet and is growing
  • 33% of US travelers use travel blogs for travel advice

So while most travel blogs are between 1–4 years old, there is still a huge opportunity for anyone wishing to make money by blogging about travel.

But, there is a lot of good content out there, and there is a lot of ugly.

I knew there was still room in this industry for someone like me because there are still areas I can work to improve and do a better job than is being done right now. There is still room for those of us just starting as long as we are willing to be the best at everything we do.

Jump on Google and start searching. Look at travel blogs, magazines, and websites. Look on social media at travel photographers and influencers. Go to the bookstore and pick up a few travel guides and other work from the superb travel writers out there.

  • What can you do differently?
  • What can you do better?
  • What should stay the same?

Find out as much as you can about travel blogs and blogging and use that information to build on the next step.

Brainstorm and Plan

Spend some time figuring out the best plan of attack before you start building. You will save yourself a lot of heartache and time if you don’t have to go back and fix what you messed up because you didn’t take the time to plan.

Find Your Purpose, Topic, and Niche

What is the reason you want to start a blog? Are you just doing it for the money, or are you interested in sharing your stories, experience, and photos? Do you want to share your journey while you travel the world or settle into destinations as a digital nomad? Do you want to connect with others who are passionate about food, wine, and adventure?

If you are just doing it for the money, you may be in this for the wrong reasons.

From your purpose, you will want to pick a topic or niche. You should want to narrow your focus as much as possible because there are already way too many generic travel blogs and to be seen at all; you need to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Are you:

  • A solo female traveling on $25 a day?
  • A plus-size mountain climber and adventurer?
  • A cruise ship junkie who never pays for your cruises?
  • A street food connoisseur with love for Asia?
  • An ultralight one-bag minimalist business traveler?

Whatever makes you special and different from everyone else can be your niche, and the topics you will write about will come from that.

If you can’t choose only one niche, pick a few, and see which one turns out to be either the most fun or most profitable. I chose “international traveler with a fear of travel | travel blogging consultant | travel gear enthusiast | expat living in the Philippines,” and I am waiting to see how things shake out and which path I should focus on in the future.

Decide on your niche quickly because you don’t want to be dividing your attention and focus on too many topics. Pick a niche to focus on and stick with it!

For me, I wanted to share my love of food and travel, specifically donuts and baked goods. I knew there was an audience looking for travel food, so I knew I was on the right track.

Branding (Look and Feel)

It’s very important this early on that you start thinking about what you want your blog to look like and what kind of feeling you want to convey.

The first way you can do that is with color. Pick a color or colors that best correspond to the feelings you get when you tell your stories and talk about your travel experiences.

What color combinations most speak to you?

Also, you should start thinking about typography and what type of fonts you want to use.

An excellent tool to help you pick your branding elements is Canva Pro. Canva can help you pick your brand templates, fonts, and color palette and keep the information all in one place. You can always refer back to or change an element in the future. Canva Pro can also help you create graphical elements for your blogs like a logo, social media images, and profile pictures.

If you find you just don’t have the time or the patience to design a logo or social media graphics, the best thing you can do is go to Fiverr and choose a talented graphic designer to do it for you. If you look carefully and read the reviews of each designer, you are sure to find someone with talent at the price you want to pay for their services.

You can also find a freelancer to build your WordPress blog if you don’t have the time, or better yet, hire a consultant like me to do it.

Pick a Name that Speaks to You

Naming is important. I picked Frightened Traveler both because I wanted to convey my fear of solo travel and because the domain name was available. It just so happened when I relaunched the blog that frightened traveler fit with the whole idea of traveling while a pandemic was going on, so I lucked out there.

The domain name is important, and while there are a lot of cool TLDs (top-level domains), always, always try to get the .com because if you say the name of your blog, your readers will automatically add a dot com to the end.

You can easily check which names are available and reserve your choice by using Namecheap. I’ve used them for years, and they are the best at what they do, and they only do one thing.

Don’t settle for the first name that pops in your mind, but think of at least ten and write them down. You can even ask family and friends to help you choose the best one.

When you do choose a winner, make sure, at this point, you reserve the corresponding social media handles. At the very least, Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Try to pick all the same or similar handles as it will be easier for people to find you on social media later.

Plan Your Content — Keywords

Now that you have a niche, look and feel, and name, take your topic and start to plan what your content will look like based on what your ideal readers want to see, and you find that out by using Google Keyword Planner (via Google Ads).

I won’t get into the details of how to use it because there are plenty of great tutorials on YouTube about how to use the Keyword Planner, but what you need to end up with is a list of keywords and phrases that you will be targeting in your content.

For example, when I was researching this article, I searched the planner for the phrase “travel blog,” and I found out I could target the phrases:

  • How to start a travel blog
  • Make money with a travel blog
  • Travel blogging

You will notice throughout this whole article that I have referred to those keywords because that is what I know my readers will be searching for on Google to find me, and I have to include the phrases in my content, so when Google crawls my blog, they will know I’ve written about it.

That is a simple way of looking at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in the beginning and something you should be aware of when you create your content.

And even this early, you should already be creating articles and essays because you will want at least ten posts on your blog before you launch it. Get started early, and you can refine and rework as you go along.

Get Web Hosting

Since you already have a domain name from Namecheap, the next step is to get hosting, and like much of what I advise when it comes to blogging, I have very strong opinions.

A lot of people will tell you to find the cheapest hosting you can, but that is just not right. You must plan for the day when your blog is successful and getting tens of thousands of hits every month. If you have a host like Bluehost or GoDaddy, which is a shared hosting environment, you may be in trouble in the future.

Shared hosting may be slower, and you need to know that Google looks at page speed when they decide to display your link in the search results. So, when you are choosing a host, pick one that will always be available and will be fast.

For years I’ve used Siteground, and they proved themselves to be one of the best-managed hosting platforms there is. They operate on the Google Cloud and SSD hard drives, so you know they will be fast and reliable.

Get a Theme

A lot of people will tell you to pick a free theme when you are just starting, but there are some very good reasons you shouldn’t. First, you have to consider speed. You never know what kind of bastardized code those themes are running on, and most likely, you will never know you have a problem until it’s too late, and your reputation is damaged.

You will always wonder why your bounce rate is so high.

It’s best to buy a premium WordPress theme, and there is one company that you will want to deal with. I’ve been buying from Envato Market for a long time now, and I have to say that every theme they offer is top quality. Envato Market has some great themes specifically focused on travel blogs (it’s where I got my theme), and with their huge selection, you are sure to find the right look and functionality you want.

Once you choose a theme and install it, take the time to read the documentation to save yourself the heartache later on. You will want to refer back to your look and feel, and the logo you created in Canva Pro and add the elements to your theme so that your new blog will look exactly like you envisioned.

Once you have the basics set up, you want to choose your plugins wisely.

Choose Plugins

Plugins are primarily a matter of choice and preference. You should have something that blocks spam. I use Antispam Bee. WP Engine has its own security, but if you are using Siteground, I would choose a security plugin like iThemes Security Pro.

You can pick and choose other plugins, but before you get too many, download Yoast SEO. This plugin will make sure you are doing everything needed to ensure you are getting ranked in the search engines. Make sure you set up Google Search Console and Google Analytics in the Yoast plugin (refer to the documentation or watch this YouTube video).

Once you have all the plugins set up, start adding in your content.

Adding Posts and Pages

Now is when you should start adding your content as posts, but don’t just drop it in there as-is, you have to format it for readability. You will find out that most readers skim, and the better you lay it out, the longer they will stay.

As I said, you should have 7 to 10 pieces of travel content on your blog before you launch, so make sure you start early. You want to make sure you are providing the best content possible for your readers, or they will just go somewhere else for their entertainment.

What makes great content? That would take a whole article to explain.

But posts aren’t the only thing important on your blog. Some people have a “start here” page, where they walk the reader through the important features. At a minimum, you also need an about page, privacy policy, cookie policy, and affiliate disclosure, if you will be doing affiliate marketing (more on that later).

Feel free to copy mine; just make sure you change all the relevant information.

So at this point, you have everything set up on WordPress, and you have all your content loaded up.

What is next?

Monetize and Make Money with Your Blog

You have probably guessed I have very strong opinions, and monetization is no different. One thing I am adamant about is display ads. In 2021 and beyond, display ads will continue to be a problem. They are tacky, spammy, and often an eyesore. They destroy the readability and continuity of your content and are an accessibility nightmare.

I hate display ads.

I don’t use an ad-blocker because, for the people in the blogging community that do use ads, I want to be a support to them. But, I won’t use ad programs or linkshares on my own blog. I will put a tasteful ad in a sidebar, but the days where I would put garish, blinking monstrosities all over my blog are gone.

There are plenty of other ways to make money with your blog, and I will not hurt the quality and performance of my site with crappy ads.

Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs are one of the best ways to make money from a blog without selling your souls to the capitalist devils. Affiliate marketing is a large enough topic that it would take a monster of a post even to scratch the surface.

Thankfully, Neil Patel has made affiliate marketing simple with this post, but what you are doing is promoting other companies’ products and services. Just like I did in all of this article, you put links with your own reference number embedded, and if a reader clicks it and buys one of the products, you get paid a commission.

Some of the commissions are quite large.

In the travel space, there are hundreds of affiliate offers, and not just for the things I linked here, but for travel clothing, gear, flights, hotels, and apps. The sky is the limit, and all you have to do is drop a few links.

I can’t say enough good about affiliate marketing.

Selling Your Own Products and Services

There are many other ways to monetize, but I will briefly mention a few more.

Can you think of products you could offer to other travelers like T-shirts, ebooks, courses, apps, travel planners, leather goods, or even bumper stickers?

What about services, like tours, coaching, or consulting?

There is no limit to what you can offer and sell, and only your imagination is holding you back.

I chose to sell merch because I wanted T-Shirts with my logo for myself, so it was easy enough to set it up in WooCommerce and Printful and add the functionality to your blog.

Sponsorships

While sponsorships, where a person or company pays you to post a link or guest post on your blog, may seem like an easy way to make money, over time, your blog will appear as spammy as if you slapped ads all over the place, and you know how I feel about ads.

It may be a quick way to earn quickly at first, but avoid it as you grow.

As you go along and build your presence on the internet, you will find other ways to make money from blogging, but if you start with one or two, you can eventually build into working with brands on your blog and social media, going on paid trips, and becoming a brand ambassador.

But, there is one more thing I will quickly mention before you launch your blog to the world.

A Word About Social Media

Promoting your blog on social media is a topic that needs its own article, and I plan to write it soon, but until then, take a look a Social Media Examiner’s guide to promoting on social media.

Until your website gains domain authority and your posts start showing up in Google search organically, you should be promoting your posts on social media.

Pinterest will be your primary driver of traffic to your blog for quite some time, so get very familiar with it and set up a pinning schedule that takes into account when most internet users are awake and surfing the platform.

Facebook can be a great driver of traffic after you build a following, so get started right away gaining followers and likes.

Twitter is not only a good place to promote links to your blog posts, but the #traveltribe and #writingcommunity are great places to connect with other bloggers for help and support on your journey to success.

Finally, Instagram is a travel blogger’s dream. You are going to take pictures on your trips anyway, so why don’t you post and promote them on the Gram? After you’ve built enough of a following, you can be an influencer and work with brands and companies directly.

Having said all that, with Frightened Traveler, I am going to try to go it alone without Facebook and Instagram because they decided a long time ago that my blog was SPAM and they won’t allow me to link to it on their platform. No amount of appeals will help. They won’t even acknowledge me.

So my plan is to leverage other platforms like YouTube and Yelp, since I deal with food and reviews are a goldmine for foodie travel bloggers like me.

Keep learning and Doing

From here, the work only intensifies, because you are responsible for content creation, promotion, social media, traffic-building, SEO, and a whole bunch of other things you will learn along the way.

And that is key: keep learning!

Always be reading other traveler’s blogs and catching up on the lastest with content marketing, social media marketing, SEO, digital marketing, and business, not to mention everything happening in the travel industry as a whole.

Be Patient — You Can Make Money When You Start a Travel Blog

Keep hustling, because it will take time for your blog to gain traction and your traffic numbers to skyrocket. Give it time, and don’t get discouraged, because nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Again, nothing worthwhile is ever easy!

Be patient, and you will see the fruits of your labor before long, and you will be making money and traveling the world while you manage and promote your travel blog.