Say what you will about my blog (and my frequency of writing lately…) but I can’t deny that my blog has become more successful in the past year since I took a break from writing.
I came back renewed and rejuvenated after a three-month break from December 2015 to March 2016. I dove into deep, long-form content and produced some pieces right away that made me truly proud to be a ‘blogger.’ Since then, I have doubled by traffic. It is by no means a massive, impressive number – but it’s my traffic. I’m proud that people find and return to my blog for the content I create.
Within the last year, I’ve also learned that my passion and commitment to creating good content has really helped companies I have worked with. I’ve received multiple return visit requests, and have established wonderful ongoing relationships even after some partnerships have ended.
Good content. A passionate writer. Partners who understand the value of bloggers. The world to explore. These are the ingredients you need to be a successful travel blogger.
This is not to say I don’t use tools, tricks, and tips to continually improve my blog. I’ve never written a ‘resource list’ before, but here it is. These are all of the websites, computer programs, and courses I use to run my travel blog. I have also included a section of tools I use to afford to travel as much as I do (as, let’s be real, that’s an important part of being a travel blogger!)
Technical Tools I Use to Run My Blog
At its core, my blog housed on a series of servers and technical systems. These are fundamental to ensuring my blog is always online, looks great, and can be updated (or read) easily.
Domains: I purchase and register all of my domains through BlueHost. While they aren’t always the cheapest, I used BlueHost as my website host for a long time. BlueHost provides a one-stop-shop for blog setup which is super handy when you’re first getting started.
BlueHost bundled domains and hosting starts from $2.95 per month. Learn more here.
Hosting: Every website has to be ‘hosted’ on a server, and I recently switched mine to a specific WordPress hosting service provided through Siteground. Using a WordPress hosting service means that the server is designed to handle the unique kind of traffic blogs generate, and is far more stable than a general website server.
Siteground plans start from $3.95 per month. Learn more here.
Speaking of WordPress…
Content Management System (CMS): The CMS is the back-end software that your blog is made of. There are lots of drag-and-drop CMS options (such as Squarespace), but the industry standard is WordPress.org. I have been running WordPress websites since approximately 2005, and my blog has been hosted on WordPress from day one when I started it in 2013.
Yes, design on other CMS platforms is easier, but WordPress is by far the most flexible. Don’t be swayed by an easy setup while losing out on powerful plugins and design options further down the road.
WordPress.org is free to install on most websites.
Theme: For design, I use a theme called Optimizer Pro. I used Optimizer (the free version) for a long time, and then wanted a few extra bangs and whistles. It’s super agile, but can be slow to load if you add too many features on at the same time. That said, I’ve had Optimizer Pro for over 18 months, and still love finding new features when I’m playing around in my design customizer.
Optimizer Pro costs $59 for one site or $199 for unlimited sites. Learn more here.
How I Create Good, Engaging Content for my Travel Blog
I’m going to be real with you here: I see lots of blogs creating really crappy content. You can certainly do this, and possibly get lots of traffic while doing so. I’d like to think that if you’re reading my blog for advice, you don’t want to write crappy content. Therefore, you should always seek to improve the craft of your travel blog. This comes in three forms: writing, photography, and videography.
To improve your writing, I highly recommend a course called Travel Writing for Bloggers by Travel Blog Success. This course was launched in 2016 and helps bloggers improve their writing – better content is good for the reader, and keeps them coming back!
Travel Writing for Bloggers is available for $97. Learn more here.
Another tool I love for writing is Grammarly. Grammarly is an in-window editing tool that dramatically improves the grammar, spelling, and structure of your writing. They have a great free version or offer a premium option for those of you grammar nerds out there.
Grammarly premium starts from $29.95 per month. Learn more here.
I admit: I don’t have a good photography course to recommend. It’s not something I’ve spent a ton of time on in my blogging career. When it comes to videography there’s only one course on my list: Videography for Travel Bloggers, also by Travel Blog Success. Video is one of the most valuable things I’ve added to my blog in the last 12 months, and this course was fundamental to my understanding of how to make engaging travel videos.
Videography for Travel Bloggers is available for $297. Learn more here.
Social Media Tools I Use to Build and Manage My Community
Oh social media – what a wily beast! There are a lot of tools and tricks you can use here to try and get ahead. Here are the top tools I recommend.
Social Media Scheduling: Far and away, Buffer is my top tool for scheduling social media. I use it for Twitter and Google+, as well as in a few Facebook groups I manage. Buffer has a free plan, but I gladly pay $10/month for their ‘Awesome’ plan. Yes, it is worth it, and yes, it’s as awesome as the name suggests.
Instagram Management: Instagram has a million tools you can use to try and manage your account. I use two:
- Grum – Grum is the only tool I know that allows you to schedule a post on Instagram and it goes live automatically. You don’t have to open an app or copy/paste anything. It’s amazing. Grum starts from $9.95 per month for two accounts.
- Iconosquare – Iconosquare is a great tool for keeping track of your account growth and comments. Iconosquare starts from $9 per month.
Hashtags: A necessary evil, there’s a great site called Display Purposes that will dramatically simplify an improve your Hashtag strategy. The best part is that it’s completely free to use!
Pinterest: I’m new to using a tool to manage Pinterest. After comparing it and Tailwind, I decided BoardBooster would be the most helpful in repinning some of my old content to my new followers.
Follower Growth & Engagement: Everybody complains about the follow/unfollow and like-for-like parts of social media, but it would be disingenuous of me not to mention the tool I use to help me with this. MassPlanner is a PC-only software program that I use to help my accounts grow and put my content in front of new people. It’s an incredibly powerful automation tool that I credit for most of my social media success in the last year.
Massplanner is available for $45 for six months. Learn more here.
Websites and Services I Use to Afford So Much Travel
The “travel” part of travel blogging is definitely the most expensive! To combat this, I use a lot of the same tools over and over to try and find the best deals. I’m not super savvy at this, and I’m sure there are better deals out there, but these are the ones I use.
To Find Cheap Flights: My #1 go-to website is Kayak.com. I use the Kayak Explore feature a lot too, which allows you to see all of the flights from your home airport within a certain price range and/or dates. It’s great for inspiring wanderlust! I also follow Secret Flying on Twitter to keep up with error fares and special deals.
The Best Airlines I Fly: There are three airlines I prefer to fly whenever possible:
- Alaska Airlines – An all-around great company with good customer service. They also recently merged with Virgin America, an airline I always enjoy flying too.
- Delta Airlines – Another great airline. I’m actually surprised every time I fly Delta because they keep adding new amenities, rather than taking them away!
- Frontier Airlines – When it comes to low-cost carriers in the U.S., Frontier is my favorite. I once had a terrible experience, but that seems to have been my one bad experience in a lifetime!
Luckily for me, all three of them fly out of Seattle’s airport! I am also enrolled in the mileage program for all three airlines, which means that I get cool perks like companion fares (through the Alaska Airlines credit card) and free flights about once per year (once I build up my mileage balance).
Speaking of credit cards…
The Two Cards I Carry Everywhere: In my wallet, there are always two cards:
- The American Express Platinum Card – This card requires an invitation to apply, but is widely considered one of the best credit cards for travel. Free lounge access, airline credit, rental car insurance, and 24/7 phone concierge service are all worth the hefty annual fee.
- My Ally Bank Debit Card – Ally is the best bank I’ve ever used, and they don’t have a single branch. Instead, they do everything online, which is super handy if you’re traveling the world. Ally will also reimburse ATM fees up to $15 per month, which is awesome for those unexpected times you need to get cash and can’t find a fee-free ATM.
For Accommodation: There are only two websites I use for finding accommodation when I travel. Airbnb is by far my favorite, and I book over 90% of my stays through them. I’ve also recently started using Hotels.com when I can’t find a great Airbnb.
Take $20-$35 off your first Airbnb stay by using my special referral link. Learn more here.
How I Reduce the Cost of Travel Through Partnerships
You can be honest with me now: raise your hand if part of the reason you want a travel blog is to reduce or eliminate some travel costs?
The word is out: travel blogging is a really good way to form business partnerships and get reduced or free tours, stays, and swag. The technical name for this is Influencer Marketing. I,it means using your influence as a content creator (for example through having a large, engaged social media following or attentive reader base on your blog) to help businesses reach new customers.
Mastering the art of partnerships isn’t easy, and there’s only one resource I know of to help: Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships. Another course produced by Travel Blog Success, this is the holy grail if you want to figure out how to pitch and win partnership work for your blog.
Applying the lessons I learned in Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards, I have worked with amazing partners like the Jordan Tourism Board, the national tourism agency for Germany, and NASA. Yep. NASA.
Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships is available for $197. You’ll easily reduce your costs that much in the first few months with the strategies in the course! Learn more here.
How I Make Money from My Travel Blog
All this talk about “reduced costs” is cool, but what if you could actually make money from your blog. Yes, it’s possible. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. I make money on my blog in three main ways.
Freelance Writing: Freelance writing makes up a substantial portion of my travel/blogging related income. By using the skills I learned in Bloggers to Bylines: A Guide to Freelance Writing (another Travel Blog Success course! Can you tell I like them?), I went from wondering if I could even pitch an editor to writing breaking news and stories for publications like Travel + Leisure, AFAR, and Lonely Planet.
Bloggers to Bylines: A Guide to Successful Partnerships is available for $197. Learn more here.
Affiliate Marketing: Learning how to make money by recommending other products or services is Affiliate Marketing, and it can be a good income stream as your blog starts to gain traffic. The best resource I can recommend for affiliate marketing is (yet another Travel Blog Success course, Affiliate Marketing for Beginners. This course is a steal and gives you a solid, strategic foundation for adding affiliate income to your blog monetization.
Affiliate Marketing for Beginners is available for $97. Learn more here.
Sponsored Content: You can publish sponsored content on your blog, your social media channels, or both. I use a bunch of different sites to find sponsored content opportunities. The most useful are Coopertize, IZEA, and CopyPress. I don’t love CopyPress as much as I once did, but they can be a good way to start making an income when you’re early in your travel blogging career.
All of these services are free to sign up, though you may pay a commission for any earnings.
How I Put All of These Tools Together to Make My Blog Successful
If you haven’t guessed, running a success travel blog isn’t easy. It requires time, dedication, and a good set of tools to help make it all run smoothly.
I’ve worked for over three years to test and use all of the tools I recommend on this list. I hope they help you start a successful blog, build a business, and see the world in the process!