If you’re planning a trip, then you’ve probably thought to yourself, “I should set up a travel blog.” The benefits are obvious and numerous. Your friends and family can keep up with your adventures and photos. You can keep a journal for your memories. If you get enough traffic, you can even advertise and make money.
But how do you do it? What if you’re not a geek? Fear not fellow travelers, we’re here to help! There are many different options available, and we’re going to go over the easiest and best ways to set up a travel blog for your next big journey.
First of all, you have a choice between hosting the blog yourself or setting up a blog with a free blogging website. If you host it yourself you will have ultimate control. However, it will cost you a little money and you’ll need to occasionally dive into the technical nuts and bolts of your website. If you’re a little timid, remember that plenty of tips, instructions, and tutorials are on the web to help you out. On the other hand, if you just want to write and not deal with anything technical at all, you can quickly create a blog on one of many free blogging sites.
First, we’ll give a rundown of some of the best free blogging services on the web. Then, we’ll give you step by step instructions on how to set up your own blog with a hosting company. You can then decide which is best for you.
Free Blogging Sites
We’ll start with an overview of some of the more popular blogging sites on the web. Some of these are oriented towards travelers, while others are not specific to any type of blogger. Keep in mind that some of these services, while free, require payment for more advanced features. After blogging for awhile, you may find that you actually want some of these features, or you may get frustrated that the service you use does not offer a certain feature. (We just want to make sure that you have realistic expectations.)
Travel Specific Blogging Sites:
TravellersPoint offers lots of great features for travel bloggers, including route maps, photos, and attractive blog themes. The community also has Wiki-like travel guides, forums, and photo galleries. A great site overall, we like it a lot.
TravelPod also lets bloggers add their posts to a route map and upload photos. Very easy to use, but with limited customization and options.
TravelBlog.org offers blogs with route maps, photo galleries, and videos. While very easy to use, the blogs seem to lack customization and many obvious features offered by most other free services.
General Blogging Sites:
WordPress.com has almost every feature you could possibly want in a blog, and even has features that you didn’t even know you wanted such as visitor statistics, a plethora of themes, easy to use writing and categorization tools, photo galleries, and the list goes on. If you pay for their premium service, you get even more. This is one of the most popular blogging sites on the web, and for many good reasons. (Don’t confuse WordPress.com with WordPress.org – we’ll get into that later.)
Blogger (a.k.a. BlogSpot) is ridiculously simple and easy. You can set up a blog in seconds, but the features are somewhat limited. They offer a huge variety of themes to choose from (but many bloggers have complained that they look childish). You can also upload photos, and video integration is very easy (especially since they are part of Google).
TypePad Micro is the free service of TypePad, a paid blogging service with tons of functionality. The free version is very quick and easy to setup, although the customization options are somewhat limited until you pay for the premium service. The free theme options are very attractive, and bloggers can upload photos and videos. Social networking tools are highly integrated to allow you to publish your post and then tell all of your friends on Twitter and Facebook. You can even post to your blog from your phone or email.
Tumblr got started in the niche blogging area known as “Micro Blogging” which means that your posts are often shorter and contain more media such as photos, videos, links, and quotes. However, Tumblr does not actually limit to the length of your posts. Tumblr offers a huge variety of themes and a long list of features including photos, visitor stats, social networking features, emailing to your blog, aggregating content from other sites, and more. It’s extremely easy to use and quick to setup.
Posterus offers many great blogging features and nice looking themes (but some you must pay for). They got their start as one of the first blogging services to offer the ability to post via email. You can of course post photos and videos, and set up your social networking accounts to push your posts to all of your other accounts. The interface is very easy to use as well.
Hosting Your Own Blog
Some say that hosting your own website is only for geeks, programmers, and the socially inept. However, don’t be scared away. Recent advancements in technology have led to the ability for “ordinary people” to create their own website. Although the steps are more numerous and complex than just registering for a free site, programming is not required and pointing and clicking is all you’ll really need to do for the most part.
Most serious bloggers, and many casual bloggers, claim that the benefits of running your own blog on our own site far outway the cost and any difficulties involved. The number one reason to create your own blog is that you can cheaply control your own domain name and personal brand. You’ll have total control over everything, something which no other service can match.
However, some money will be required, because you will need a web host and a domain name. Getting a web host is the first step, so we’ll dive straight into that as we go over the process for creating your own website.
- Get a web host (and a domain name): A hosting company owns the servers where you’ll set up your website. Think of it as “renting space on the internet.“ Usually, you will need to pay anywhere from $3 to $10 per month for a website. Often the hosting companies will throw in a free domain name (or several) with a new account. You’ll probably want to know what domain name you want before you setup your account. Sites like register.com can help you figure out if a certain domain name is taken. (Don’t purchase the domain name, though, because the hosting company you choose will probably give it to you for free.) Most hosting companies will have some type of easy to use “control panel” allowing you to configure and setup your website by clicking a variety of buttons. Rarely, if ever, will you need to get technical.
Make sure your web host supports PHP and MySQL. You’ll need those for setting up WordPress or most other popular blogging systems.
We recommend 1and1.com because they have great prices and terrific service.
Once you sign up for a hosting account, you may have to wait a few hours for it to be set up by the company.
- Download WordPress (or the blogging system of your choice): Instead of programming your website, you can simply download some free and open source software that runs your site (usually referred to as a Content Management System or CMS). WordPress is one such system and is generally considered to be the best and easiest to use for bloggers. You can get it from WordPress.org (not WordPress.com – the .org is where you download the software for your own site). Other popular and free CMS’s include Drupal and Joomla. They are more complex but offer more power than WordPress.
- Copy the WordPress files to your web host: Once you download the software (in this example, we’ll go with WordPress), you’ll need to install it on your site. To do this, you will most likely need an FTP program. This will let you copy files from your computer to your web server. If you don’t already have one, check out the free FileZilla FTP client. Your hosting company should provide you with instructions on how to connect to your website via FTP. WordPress.org also provides great instructions on how to setup and install the system on your site.
- Install WordPress: After copying the files to your server, you should be able to type your domain name into your browser and see the WordPress installation screen. You can then follow the steps to install your blog. It’s very simple and fast. However, you will probably need to go into your hosting company’s control panel and set up a database. This should involve just a few button clicks, but you’ll need to get the database name, location, username, and password so that WordPress can connect to it. Your hosting company should be able to provide instructions on how to set up a database if you can’t figure it out.
After following the WordPress prompts to give your blog a name and other parameters, you’ll be all setup and good to go. You can start blogging right away!
- Themes and Plugins: The “theme” of your blog is how it looks. A variety of themes are available for free on WordPress.org and elsewhere on the web. (We even have one here on BudgetYourTrip.com that you can download.) Many themes are customizable, but sometimes this requires some programming skills. Many themes allow you to customize the sidebar widgets commonly seen on blogs such as recent comments, advertisements, calendars, and so forth.
Here are a few resources for finding free WordPress themes:
- Standout (our theme)
- Thrilling Theme
- Top Themes on WP Explorer
- Smashing Magazine’s List of 100 themes for 2010
If you want to add more features to your blog, browse the list of plugins on WordPress.org. There you can find more sidebar widgets and other great features that add a lot of cools stuff to your blog.
Hopefully you now have all of the information you need to get started, whether it’s with your own hosted site or a free blogging service. As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a lot to consider.
If you need any help with your travel blog, we’d be happy to help, so post your questions in the comments. We have lots of experience with setting up websites, and we love seeing travelers fulfill their dreams!