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Seven Tips to Start Your Travel Blogging Journey

This guest post is written by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site

So you want to be a travel writer? So do a lot of people. In fact, I can’t think of one person who wouldn’t love to get paid to travel. To try, lots of people start travel blogs. Some just do it for fun; others do it seriously. Some would like to get paid but can’t be bothered to really put in the time, so the few hundred they make off advertising is enough for them.

In 2008, when I started my travel blog, I could count the number of travel blogs on one hand. Now, there are hundreds upon hundreds: it’s a cluttered field. So how can you create a successful travel blog that moves beyond the clutter, gets you noticed, and helps fund your travels? Here are my top seven tips.

1. Be an expert.

The best travels blogs are written by people who have traveled, or are traveling. No one wants to take travel advice from someone who doesn’t travel. Many travel bloggers start blogging months before they actually start traveling. But the casual readers you want to attract want tried and tested travel advice. They want an expert—someone with experience. It’s simple advice, but it’s so often overlooked. People who start a blog six months before their trip and realize they don’t have content either stray off their subject, or commit the next sin…

2. Skip the generic advice.

One of the mistakes most beginner travel bloggers make is that they write generic articles. They make lists of what to pack, lists of how to pack, posts on how to find a cheap flight, or other topics every traveler should know. Google any of these terms and you’ll find millions of results.

When I first started out, I did this too, but in order to be successful, you need to differentiate yourself. Yes, these tips are important and I have a special section on my site for beginner tips (after all, beginners need them). But they don’t retain readers over the long term. You need to be different.

What advice can you offer that no one else can? What experience can you impart? For example, I talk about money a lot. I talk about how to use frequent flier programs for free flights and find unadvertised deals. I break it down. I show you, rather than telling you. I don’t tell you what to pack. I tell you where to go and how to save when you’re there. Forget about an article called, “10 Things to See in London.” Instead, write a piece titled, “A Historical Walk Through London’s WW2.” Tell people information that can’t easily find—take them off the beaten track.

3. Be a good writer.

Travel is about a telling a story. You want to bring someone else on the journey. Travel isn’t about you: it’s about your reader. In telling a travel story, you are putting the reader in the picture, connecting them to that place and time. You don’t need to be Ernest Hemmingway or Bill Bryson, but you can’t just blog about what you did on Sunday.

A good travel blog tells a story that brings people to the place. Most people won’t end up going to that location, but what keep readers coming back to your blog is telling a story that your reader can relate to. For example, my post on making friends in Ios is about Ios but it’s really about connecting with people. That’s something everyone can relate to. My post on Budapest describes good things to see in Budapest, but also talks about the joy of enjoying understanding local culture. Write a story that connects with your reader.

4. Be a personality.

When you think of ProBlogger, you think of Darren Rowse. The Four Hour Week? Tim Ferris. SEOmoz? Rand Fish. When we think of big sites, we think of the personalities behind them—their creators. They are the personality, and we identify the brand with them.

If you’re going to be a successful travel blogger, you need to be a personality. You need to be out there dominating a certain travel niche. Be the best backpacker blogger, be the best boomer blogger, or the best family travel blogger out there. This means having a voice on Twitter, having personality in your posts, and relating to people. You are the voice. And people are going to follow you because they have a vested interest in your life and your travels.

5. Or don’t.

If you don’t want to be a personality or deal with social media, and you just want to relax, another way to make a successful travel site is to create destination-specific blog. Destination-specific websites rely on SEO. These sites are a bit less work and can bring in a lot of money, but you’ll never be a “name.”

Sites like Travel Fish and Boots N’ All are very good, have a lot of traffic, and make a lot money—but could you name the person behind them? Most can’t. Probably most people in the travel industry can’t either. But creating a destination website is your best alternative to creating a travel blog, where you need to be a personality. All you need to do is focus on some juicy keywords, and yours can be the number one site on Mexico.

6. Use photos.

Most people don’t travel all the time. However, we all love seeing beautiful places we’ll never visit. That’s we all had tropical island posters back in college, and calendars in our cubicle. It’s why we love The Big Picture from Boston.com. How many of you have really read National Geographic? Mostly we just look at the pretty pictures.

People simply love good photos. So have big photos that attract the eyes. You can write a great story, but without images, you won’t get a lot of return visitors. I would love to hear about your safari. But you know what I would love more? Huge pictures of the Serengeti, lions, elephants, and gazelles. Travel is as much about photography as it is about writing.

7. Stay focused.

Pick a niche and stick to it. Remember: you want to be an expert. No one wants to hear about backpacking from someone who takes cruises or women’s travel tips from a guy. When you’re an expert in your niche, you attract traffic naturally because people always go to the best for information. You don’t buy books on physics from college students—you buy them from Stephen Hawking.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. That’s the worst thing you can do in the travel niche. The world is a big place and there are simply too many ways to travel—you could never be good at covering them all with authority. Just because you have a travel site doesn’t mean you should talk about all the forms of travel. Stick to what you know.

Travel is such a personal experience that you will turn people off quickly if they don’t think you actually know the location and type of travel you are talking about. The good news? Travel is a big industry: you’re sure to find readers if you blog in this space.

Do you have a travel blog? What tips can you add?

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.

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Comments

  1. Excellent points. They are said by Matt who has been there and done it. One of the best travel bloggers.

  2. Hey Matthew – great content and advice.

    It’s the question of how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? Because being an expert comes with a certain level of responsibility… to your readers, to your followers and to your paying clients – and my take is that most people aren’t willing to poke their neck out and “rock the boat” by being the leader in their field.

    I’d be curious what others think?

  3. Jools Stone says:

    Not been at this game very long myself, but I agree you can’t be all things to all people. For me it’s points 3 or 4 which go hand in hand and which I try to focus on. Find your voice through developing a writing style.
    The thing about a niche is tricky though. Seems to me the successful travel blogs are all in one big pool: RTW adventure travel. Is that even a niche anymore? My little nano-niche – train travel – is so small it worries me. Sometimes there’s a gap in the market for a reason! The thing about photos is true, but a little saddening too if you see yourself primarily as a writer.

  4. Nathan says:

    Great tips Matt, always so much to learn from you . keep it up! :)

  5. Is it just me, or could these tips apply to any kind of blogs?

    They are good, and I can relate to many of those, even if I don’t blog in the travel nich. Well, so far… may be my next project? I already set foot on all continents after all.

    More seriously, if these tips apply to all kinds of blog, it simply means to me that they are good. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Excellent tips Matt, I am going to use this article as a reference for all the people who ask me for advice.

    bww, it is possible to combine your tips #4 and #5. I have a destination-specific blog — India — and I am cultivating a personality associated with it.

    Cheers, thanks for sharing.

    Mariellen
    aka Breathedreamgo

  7. Sven Graham says:

    I’m interested in point 2. generic advice.

    It seems to me this applies to pretty much every blog. Generic Advice is probably good to get some SE traffic, but then again,that’s not what makes the traffic of a successful blog.

    On the other hand, I can definitely see how applying your unique view to generic topics can be of value.

    Besides I usually do some research if I write an article to see what’s already out there. If your article is already on the net, you don’t really add much value, do you?

    Seems to me like you gotta walk a line there.

  8. Write well, provide pretty pictures, develop your platform via social media outlets. All good generic advice and well worth following.

    “In 2008, when I started my travel blog, I could count the number of travel blogs on one hand. Now, there are hundreds upon hundreds: it’s a cluttered field.”

    Perhaps the most telling sentence in the whole article.

  9. Mike says:

    I would also add the use of video! Video makes your site come alive and is as close to the real thing as the reader will get! I use it on my site daily and the positive comments I have recieved makes me think that video on Blogs is the future!

  10. Great job Matt! If anyone knows about travel blogging it’s you ;)

  11. Be Predictable.

    When you’re first starting off it’s great to write daily, every other day, etc. I made it a goal to publish every Monday-Friday at 7am (and still do).

    I was predictable. Readers knew when I would post and how frequent. Because I forced myself to write, I guaranteed them something. It’s so frustrating to visit a site a few days in a row and not see something new. It wastes my time and as a result, I move on to something new and maybe never return.

    At some point bloggers advise to stop the daily posting routine because the quality starts to fail. It’s possible that this could happen, but not always true.

    Sure some posts are better than others if you always write, but I think the benefits outweigh the risks. If I stop blogging and become unpredictable, readers will leave the site and go elsewhere. There’s too much competition. Bloggers need to always create new content to keep loyalty. It’s the same as any other brick-and-mortar business.

    So how do you manage the quality erosion? Vary the posts. Somedays I write lengthy articles (when I have the time). Other times it’s just a photo, video, guest post or republished post from long ago.

    They save me time in writing, keep the quality high and are interesting to readers. The site always remains fresh.

    Do you agree?

  12. Haven’t really thought about moving outside of the make money niche until recentlybecause I’ve been enjoying it but i know there is money to be made else where. Some of the points you made are true throughout the blogosphere. I especially like the be a personality or don’t sections because a lot of people choose to go for glory and become a ‘name’ where there can be more money in focusing your efforts.

  13. Dominique says:

    I can identify with Jools’ worry about being in a niche that sometimes seems too small.
    I write about Midwest US travel, which isn’t a particular populated niche, but the payoff there seems to come from being pretty well placed when it comes to Web searches about a number of specific Midwest topics. The vast majority of my traffic comes in to me that way.

    Photos have always been popular among my readers. They seem to generate the most interest, comments, and conversation across the SM channels I frequent. My photos aren’t always great art, but they relate to the topic I’m writing about. I often try to take photos as I travel and place them within my posts to help move my stories along and bring readers along to my written conclusion.

    One of the first things I did was to find the community of travel bloggers online. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice, encouragement, referrals, and general support that way.

    One last note-My end goal is being paid to write and/or publish, rather than being paid to travel. Trips and swag may be nice, but the unfortunate reality is that those don’t pay the bills. For now, my intermediate goal has been to build what publishers always called a “platform” for my work.

  14. Very sound points. Very common sensical but sadly a lot of travel bloggers seem to overlook these basics. Most blogs I chance upon (w/c I don’t even bother to read through) are generic. Dire.

  15. Mikeachim says:

    Thoughful roundup, Matt. :)

    Very much agreed with no. 2. There’s a real glut of generalist information now. It’s been done – truly flogged to death. The only way forward is to appeal to a niche – because the internet is such that even niche markets are whopping huge amounts of potential readers.

    And while I don’t usually agree with “x is travel and y isn’t” sorts of arguments…no 1 is very true. I’ll admit it, this nags at me regarding my site. I’ve traveled, but right now I’m not doing so. And that’s the reason I’m currently a fledgling travel writer with a travel-themed blog, not a travel-writer with a travel blog. :) That transition will sadly have to wait until I can hit the road for a good length of time.

    To 4) I’d also add: “connect with readers in a meaningful way”. I see this again and again – the people who really make waves are the ones who take time out to chat, whether in blog comments, on Twitter or elsewhere and elsehow. They’re accessible (time permitting, and if you’re saying something worth responding to). Readers matter to them, not just as traffic but as *people*.

  16. Ray Bentz says:

    My wife and I have been publishing our own Puerto Rico travel blog since early 2007. We focus on things on the island of interest to visitors and locals. A big chunk of our readers are from the island who are “looking for something to do this weekend”. I believe the key to our success is that we only write about things that we have done ourselves. That gives our readers a first-hand account of what to expect and guarantees the accuracy of the info we provide. Others in our niche simply rehash (inaccurate) info found on the web or in out-dated guidebooks. We also review each of our articles on a regular basis to make sure our info is up to date.

  17. Matt Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing this one. It has some great tips as we have played a bit with a travel blog for are trips. This gives some good strategies to make it more integrated and useful for readers.

  18. Banii says:

    I agree especially with tip 2 because if you want to have success you have to be original and write about something that the others didn`t write.

  19. The best one Be a personality!!

    That is totally 100% true! I identify your brand with you.
    Good person equal good brand :)

  20. d3so says:

    Travel blogging is something I plan to do once I no longer require working a job.
    It’ll be quite an adventure, I assume.

  21. Marty Herald says:

    Good points Matthew. Having spent 30+ years traveling around the world promoting the Hawaii visitor industry there are few things that irritate me more than reading an article by an “expert” about our Islands that contains errors or inaccurate jargon. Travel writer wannabes need to understand that it takes more than a 2 week vacation to qualify as an expert on a destination. Aloha!

  22. RumShopRyan says:

    I’m a big fan of finding a niche that you’re passion about and do everything you can to be come an expert at it. It won’t happen over night, but I will be a reward trip.

    My blog is RumShopRyan.com a Caribbean Travel blog. I am in love with the islands, the people, the water, the lifestyle…um and the cocktails. So that’s what I write about. It’s not even work, it’s a complete pleasure.

    I was on a recent press trip to the Bahamas and a boat captain asked us what our niches were. I was the only one that could say I specifically write about the Caribbean. Everyone else was about world or US travel in general. I think these niches will become very attractive to advertisers, so find yours. Be different.

    cheers!
    Ryan

  23. Diccon Bewes says:

    Great advice – but do you think it’s possible to combine most of the above? Good writing with personality and a niche market, focused advice and photos. Not forgetting coming with ideas to make the blog have its own identity.

    My blog started as the child of my book, Swiss Watching, but it now has taken on a life of its own. It’s less static than the book, which can make it easier, but always trying to give readers something new can be hard work. These kind of tips really help with that.

  24. I’ve always wanted to do a travel blog across America…

    One day!…

    David Edwards

  25. islandmomma says:

    I thought this was a first-class post. Well thought out and articulated, and good, really useful advice.

  26. Nice read Mat I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with all of these tips. Another key to writing a good blog is passion. As a journalist I know that the stories I HAVE to write never read as well as those I WANT to write.
    Posts with passion are obvious to readers, posts written because ‘you need to fill the gap’ are even more obvious!
    Come check out my blog http://www.backpackingjournalist.com – would love to hear your thoughts!?

  27. Hubby and I are just getting started with the idea behind http://emptynestersoffthechain.com. These will be good tips for us!
    I currently write about my own personal “journey” at http://livingthebalancedlife.com
    Bernice

  28. Jack says:

    Matthew, thanks for sharing with us your thoughts.

    Pictures, pictures and more pictures. I do think that travel blogs are great if they show us the nice pictures.

  29. Ross Corbett says:

    The travel blog market is absolutely saturated with blog after blog of the same old thing. Sites such as Matt’s are terrific and of a high standard but there are so many average sites out there now that it is strangling the market.

    I am currently re-launching my site from a ‘general’ travel site to a blog all about travelling around Great Britain. Like Matt says, this way I can become an expert rather than just another person trying to be heard in the busiest room you can imagine.

    Keep up the great work matt!

  30. jason says:

    Destination-specific can be very lucrative if done well in a high-volume area. Very good post.

  31. Ann says:

    Interesting point about marketing to your niche….I have overlapping markets since I am a mom, urban professional and travel loving African American. Although I write about travel (and I’m pretty new at this)…I also write in general about leisure activities (here comes the wine!) that I enjoy.

    I think you are spot on about travelling if you want to write about it…we have trips to Cabos, Tuscany, London, Paris and Grenada lined up for next year.

    Thanks again for the tips!

  32. Jennifer says:

    Great points.

    I think people can niche even more than they think they can.

    I have travel blog that is really just solo women fulltime travelers in RVs in the US! I just started it because it interested me, but figured I was in a very small, small category of weirdos.

    I am very surprised how many there are out there… (I get just over 4,000 unique users a month. Small time for around here, but I never expected to get 100 in such a small category.)

    Jennifer

  33. Andi says:

    Great tips! I definitely think the most important is finding your niche and of course writing well!

  34. Sally says:

    I have to disagree with point 3 — well, not the “be a good writer” stuff or the “tell a story stuff” but the “travel isn’t about you” stuff. If you’re the one doing the traveling, travel IS about you… and your reader… and the bus driver who yelled at you this morning… and the old lady who shared her lunch with you on the bus.
    My favorite travel bloggers and travel writers write about their personal experiences in a place — they not only bring me to that place but they hang out with me while I’m there. Bill Bryson is an excellent example of this — it’s his personality that sells his books, not the places he writes about.

  35. Jim says:

    Thanks Matt for rounding up the basics and herding them in back in front of us.
    And the comments from so many are just as informative as the post.
    And yes I agree with Sally , travel blogging is about you and your experiences in a place. Too often I read blogs and get the feeling the writer hasn’t even been there. But to read a good blog from someone who has a unique adventure or experience in a place, while at the same time imparting good general info on that place is the type of blog I read, and how I want to write. We’ve been travelling for 40 years, and will never run out of stories to tell and in doing so, hopefully I’ll inspire others to travel to those places, and to question about some of the issues I write about.

  36. Boy, would I love to be paid to travel. :)

    Most people do not pursue travel blogging because they claim they don’t have the money to travel… If that’s the case, then I suggest that you start by “travelling” your own city or neighborhood. It might seem uninteresting to you, but for others who do not live there, that can be already considered a travel destination.

  37. I think point #4 is key – be a personality and separate yourself from the crowd by posting with a consistent ‘voice’ and an interesting narrative. Too many travel posts I read are “We went here and saw _____ then stopped at the ______” followed by a list of ‘must sees’.

    That said, I wish Matt had written this a year ago and saved me a lot of head-scratching ;)

  38. Norbert says:

    Good points there. I would also add to be passionate and driven about blogging and traveling. If you want to make it in the long run, you have to give your all and be consistent. which brings me to a second point: be consistent. Let your readers get used to how and when you publish. This will help improve you return visits since they know you are reliable in your content delivery.

    And my final point is to be yourself and to connect with your readers. People just don’t read blogs because of the information, they also do it because they can connect and relate to your story. Connecting with your readers is what turns a blog into a community.

  39. suvs says:

    I would say the first point is the most important….One should be an expert in what he’s writing about…Content is really the king and in todays world only the best can get some attention.

    I own a suv car blog – http://www.suvblogger.com and now know that starting a blog is easy but maintaining a good content writing schedule is difficult especially in the initial days :)

    Best Regards,
    -Jigna

  40. Nice piece Matt with some really useful tips. I would point out the irony that one of the tips is ‘Skip generic advice’ and i’d say this is a fairly generic list (4.be a personality, 5.or don’t…)!

    Still, they’re certainly all useful, pertinent points and good advice for bloggers starting out.

    The point about picking your niche is definitely important and should shape your approach. I’d say to people like Jools that you shouldn’t worry about being ‘too’ niche – the more niche you are the more targeted your readers will be and the more likely they are to come back, become a true fan and spread the word. Taking it on to a being a business concept (which i realise isn’t everyone’s intention), it’s better to have 5 targeted readers/users who convert, than 5,000 who don’t. Obviously if you want 100,000 readers a month then it isn’t the way to go but then big numbers aren’t everything..

  41. Why, yes, I DO have a travel blog. ;) And, howdy, Matt — I used to frequent your blog back when I wrote for a (now dead in the water) start-up vacation blog/website called Viscape.

    What a niche I am in: small towns in Indiana — but it just goes to show that if you build it, they will come.

    My blog, little Indiana, has been featured on Indiana’s state blog and I am currently working out the details for another trip to another Indiana small town (because small towns rock, don’t'cha know!).

    Writing a travel blog doesn’t mean you have to frequent Paris or Tokyo.

    A travel blog does not mean following the crowd.

    Write about the things that YOU care about. Your fans will follow.

    Small towns are *my* passion and I have turned that into fuel for my blog.

  42. Sarah Arrow says:

    I loved this post, thanks Matt. It’s easy to be be generic when starting out, but as you start to infuse the posts with your personality they become better, stronger.

    I don’t know whether to admit that I actually read the NG as well as look at the stunning images ;) reading what other people write means you have sources you can link out to for your readers to learn more, making your blog a valuable resource in itself.

  43. great points, matt. i always gravitate toward the blogs that interest me – whether that is topical or the voice. there are SO MANY travel blogs out there – it’s important to do what feels true to yourself. the readers will come!

  44. I have to agree with Ben, predictability is key. These are some good tips here. Having a personality is a great tip to keep in mind. Nobody wants to take advice from a computer!

  45. Quenton Cassidy says:

    Matt –

    Nice post. Another idea is for those less interested in customization and looking for something simple and easy is to use some established travel blog sites out there. My favorite is http://www.everlater.com although there are quite a few (travelpod.com, travelblog.org).

    Just another idea.
    -Quenton

  46. Matt,

    Love this post, I love traveling a lot, getting paid to do that is even better. I checked out your blog, it is pretty cool man. I have a project on my do list, once I get my current blog going. You got me inspired. Thanks.

  47. I have somehow become the author of an ‘accidental’ travel blog, about Shanghai.

    I say accidental, because I never intended to write a travel blog, but I found myself transplanted to Shanghai, and I just wrote about things I loved, was passionate about and interested in (namely….um……food and eating), and I took great pictures of those things. Now people see my blog as being expert in a narrow niche – food travel in Shanghai, and I field enquiries from foodie travellers all over the world who are planning to visit.

    All of matt’s points are really important when considering writing for a travel audience.

    -Readers want information, and the more specific, the better. Writing in depth, accurately and honestly, gives readers more than they can ever get from a guidebook, with the benefit of being very up-to-date.

    -Readers need you to be their eyes and ears. Photographs and video are the best way to give readers the feeling of ‘really being there’

    - Readers want ‘the inside scoop’ – they want to feel like your travel blog will let them in on the travel secrets Frommer’s and Lonely Planet overlooked.

    It’s not likely I’ll ever make much money from this ‘travel-blogging’ but I really love it, and have just finished writing the first of three commissioned iphone apps on Shanghai travel – a small start for a budding ‘almost wasn’t’ travel writer!

    Thanks for a really thought-provoking article!

  48. fabio says:

    I really like yur tips. I run a travel blog about my italian regione, Puglia, but still working on finding the right way. Thank you. Fabio

  49. Donna Hull says:

    Wonderful tips, Matt. I’ll add that one of the biggest mistakes a blogger can make is to think that the blog is about them. Everything you write, do or plan on a blog should be about your readers. Know who they are (or who you want them to be). When adding links to your blog roll, think about your reader. Will they benefit from clicking on them? Same with advertising and, of course, content. But go a step farther. If you’re tweeting or posting on Facebook, consider your reader again. Are you providing information that stays within your travel niche? It’s all about delivering relevant, quality content on a consistent basis.

  50. Megan says:

    I remember back when there were only a handful of travel blogs out there, me-go (my travel blog) was started in 2003! I would say that there are at least two kinds of travel blog readers—those that want to follow you and your travels and live vicariously through you and those that want to go to blogs for specific advice for planning trips.

    Although I think self promotion is a great way to start a career in travel writing, the amount of generic articles and blatant self-promotion/writing for SEO purposes alone especially from travel bloggers with very little travel experience, rubs me the wrong way. To each her own, I guess.

    My tip for travel bloggers would be to blog. Many start off with gusto and quit after 3 months. I am guilty of not updating from the road but what I now realize is that my readers would rather read two sentences from me on the road than waiting for a monumental post that I plan to write and never get around to completing.