The world of travel blogging is a whimsical one that is often shrouded in questions: How do I become a travel blogger? Where do I begin? How do I earn money? How do I gain a following? How do I earn free travel? To be a full-time travel blogger is to be greeted with eyebrow raises as your career borders on mythical, as people try to wrap their mind around the fact that you can live off of writing what you love and get paid to do it.

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When I started travel blogging over two years ago, I could never have imagined how my foray into both the world of blogging and travel journalism would lead take me on assignments around the world, connect me to incredible brands and talented writers and have me write for such amazing publications as Travelettes, FOOD & WINE, VICE and more. For those who are dreaming of starting a blog but are unsure of where to begin, consider the following guide!

1. The first step: Deciding what to blog about

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Anyone can start a blog but what will ultimately differentiate the hobby bloggers from the professional ones will be passion. Before you start a blog, before you even come up with a blog name, decide on what your blog will be about. If you’re a self-proclaimed foodie who finds themselves devouring news on restaurant openings and chef gossip, then your blog should be about food. If you’re a fashion addict who can’t get enough of Women’s Wear Daily, then make your site about style; and if you’re addicted to globetrotting and love writing about destinations, then focus on travel. It seems easy enough but as someone who has started and stopped at least 3 blogs in the past, you have to be very honest with what is your passion because a strong blog will require you work on it every single day. Whether you are writing blog posts, updating social media, promoting or networking your brand – you should love what your blog is about as it will quickly become your life.

2. Choosing a blogging platform

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While there are many blogging platforms popping up like daisies across the web, Blogger and WordPress are the two main players that you’ll be deciding between when launching a blog. There are some key differences between the two platforms:

  • WordPress provides thousands of templates vs. Blogger who offers limited blog templates.
  • WordPress allows flexibility to customize your template, modify features, enhance templates; while Blogger is a bit more rigid.
  • Moving your website from Blogger to a website hosting provider can prove complicated, while WordPress proves easier and more conducive to website transfers.

While there are other reasons that WordPress outshines Blogger across the board, it is mainly that creative freedom to develop a blog and design it as wanted that drew me to WordPress.

3. Mastering SEO for your blog

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I’ll admit it, when it comes to SEO the concepts flew over my head like the equations I used to struggle with in my college math classes. In the end, I hired a freelance SEO specialist who took a look at the back end of my website, offered advice on an SEO plug in and gave me basic tips on maximizing my SEO over the course of a month. To save readers money, here are some of the tips I learned from my SEO specialist:

  • Yoast is the best SEO plug-in to use, hands down! This plug-in makes SEO easy by basically “green lighting” your posts when the SEO is strong and by giving you the steps to maximizing a page or post’s SEO. Think of it as SEO for Dummies where you simply fill in the information Yoast requests and the plug in does the rest.
  • When uploading photos to use in posts make sure they are labeled with descriptive words! As my SEO specialist explained, to upload am image labeled “12g53.DSC” means it will never be found by anyone, but to rename that photo as “Cafe du Monde in New Orleans” is to make the photo visible to anyone looking up New Orleans or Cafe du Monde images (another good pointer is to use the plug-in WP Smush, which minimizes the file size of images you upload to help keep your website moving fast).
  • Maximize keywords in your posts and make sure the keywords are shown throughout the post as well as the post title.
  • Hyperlink terms within your blog posts – whether you call out a brand, book, etc. – it’s a good way to drive SEO.

4. Start building up your social following

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Once you decide what to blog about and set up the basic framework of your site, it’s time to focus on building your social following to draw attention to your website. Building your following is the hardest step of blogging and admittedly the step that separates the bloggers that go on to become widely recognized and the ones that remain in the shadows. Building your social following is a painstaking process that you will end up doing every day – whether you’re pushing your posts out on Twitter, building and maintaining a Facebook page or creating YouTube videos. When it comes to social media, remember that it is better to engage with your readers over just speaking at them. Imagine your social conversations like a dinner and you’ll quickly understand why bloggers who ask their followers questions tend to be more successful than those that share a blanketed, unpersonalized update. I will not sugar coat the fact that building a social following is difficult (it is something I do daily) and a long process, but it is fun to share updates with your followers and watch as your numbers swell.

5. Don’t be afraid to pursue opportunities and ask questions

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If there is one takeaway to have from this article it is this: one of the reasons my website is where it is today, the only reason I have partnered with brands, been paid for my work, been sent on assignment around the world, been featured in media or published is because I dared to ask for it. This is not to say that after two months of blogging I approached tourism boards and brands with the savoir faire of a professional blogger, but once my blog had reached a good following I began approaching travel brands and pursuing travel opportunities.

Of course, some of my e-mails in the beginning went unanswered or were rejected but in time I soon found I was able to secure amazing things by simply throwing my hat in the ring for consideration. I reached out to a podcast I admired and offered to do a piece on becoming a freelance writer, I reached out to be a speaker on brand/blogger partnerships for the New York Travel festival, I reached out for the opportunity to join a press trip to Miami, I reached out to two travel agencies to review their tours in Morocco and Vietnam and (in many cases, much to my surprise) my simple inquiry blossomed into a full blown opportunity.

6. Be consistent with your blog and posting

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I try to update my blog every other day if not every day; the fact is that there is a world of bloggers out there and the ones that post infrequently will fall to the sidelines. Take a look at your favorite travel bloggers – you’ll notice that (barring any life events like having a baby, getting married or being somewhere without internet) they update their websites daily, sometimes multiple times a day. The key here is consistency – if you want to keep readers visiting your website and enjoying your content, it is important to keep creating stories and posts for them to read.

7. Always look for ways to grow and evolve your blog

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Keep evolving your blog as it grows, look towards your favorite travel blogs and take note of what worked for them! This is not to say copy their content (that’s a big no-no and quick way to be ostracized in the writing community) but if you notice that they have a travel shop that seems to be successful, have a plug-in that you like or admire the person who designed their website, there is nothing wrong with taking note so you can apply and personalize these concepts to your own blog.

Although there are many tips to becoming a travel blogger–some straightforward, others a bit more complicated—they will always boil down to one simple truth: if you want to be a successful travel blogger than you need only to put in the time, effort and passion towards the dream to see it become a success. I am a firm believer that anyone with a knack for writing, passion for travel and determination to succeed can become a travel blogger so long as they are dedicated and have a love for what they do.