Starting a new blog or setting up a website is not hard at all… in essence. That’s what programmers and web designers will tell you. But those who tried it while having absolutely no knowledge of HTML or CSS know that creating a blog is not simple at all. It’s a complex mosaic of different elements connected through various platforms. You have themes, plugins, web hosting providers, cPanel, and tons of tiny settings you need to coordinate between all the pieces of the puzzle. If all of this sounds totally unfamiliar, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’m going to show you how to create your blog using WordPress and finally start earning money from your traveling and writing.

I’m not a web designer, nor have any clue about HTML, codes, programming, and similar technical requirements. I am a writer who spent two months learning how to build a travel blog. Everything you see on our site is created with visual editors. Except for the insertion of the Google Ad Sense code, I haven’t used any programming tools (the one time I tried, it crashed my website.) My first advice to writers – don’t tweak your blog! Yes, “tweak” – another fancy word that web developers use. You’ll find lots of them on the net, talking about inserting code snippets like it’s a piece of cake. if you don’t plan to become a web designer yourself, just ignore them! Read these tips and instructions carefully and follow them step by step to skip the trial-and-error process that I went through and get your blog running up in just a few hours. Sounds interesting? Well, I wish I came across an article like this when I began with this online adventure. Just keep on reading, you’ll thank me later!

STEP ONE: WEB HOSTING AND DOMAIN NAME

I promised to show you a way to build your blog in a couple of hours. First of all, you need these two things: webspace purchased through a web hosting provider and your own domain name. Some web providers activate your account immediately after the purchase of a hosting package but some need up to one day to prepare the web space for your site. I recommend that you choose your hosting service first for one reason – lots of providers have an option for a free domain name included in their plans. I made the mistake of buying my domain name first through NmaeSilo only to find out that my future choice of WestHost as my hosting service had a free domain name included. Now I’m paying NameSilo for something I could have had for free. Although you shouldn’t choose your provider on the basis of a domain name option, you’ll save time and money if the service you chose (for other important reasons) happens to include a free domain name as part of their offer. So what are those “important” things you need to look into before clicking the “Buy” button?

Choosing your web hosting service

Choosing a web host is very important! If you don’t make the right choice you might get stuck with annoying technical problems for at least a year. There are so many providers out there and their promises can easily fool you. I’ve read dozens of articles on how to choose a web service and which companies offer the best deals. In literary all of the articles, two names come up as somewhat of a standard – BlueHost and HostGator. The safest choice is to go with either of those two. I am currently using WestHost since they had the lowest prices at the time. Also, they are present on the market for more than 20 years and have fantastic online support. If you decide to explore more options, beware of these things:

  • Bandwidth and storage. For a travel blogger, the more important of these is bandwidth. Bandwidth is the maximum rate of data transfer in a given period while storage space is how much data can you upload on the server. In my case, I got 50 GB of storage space and I don’t see how am I ever going to spend that limit. You’ll only have to upload images and write text in your posts – videos are usually shared through YouTube and Vimeo. With the first ten posts I published, I had 5 MB of data uploaded. So, not much worries there. But bandwidth is far more important. I couldn’t understand why until I had a post that went viral. My limit of 10.000 visitors monthly, which I thought it’s impossible to overstep in the first year of blogging, almost got crossed this month. I am already thinking of upgrading to a better plan but now I won’t have the big discount that all of the providers offer for first-time customers. That’s the second “beware” on this list.
  • All prices for web hosting packages are promotional. That means that you’ll get those prices only for your first bought package. After that, the prices go as high as three times the promotional price. That’s with every hosting service. If you think you found the right one, buy at least a yearly plan – the first month you’ll be writing articles and promoting your blog, so a one-month plan would be a waste of money. Another thing you should be careful about is that some of the providers offer their low prices only for 24- or 36-month plans. I bought my hosting package for $25 but I’m expecting to pay around $100 next year. Hopefully, the blog will pay itself out and earn some extra money, of course.
  • Check the provider’s uptime rates and reliability. Web hosting is also a complex job and companies have troubles from time to time. That means that their servers might go down and the uptime rate tells you how often a provider goes offline. If you become very popular, it is not good for your brand to be unavailable much often. That’s how you get to BlueHost and HostGator once again – they are probably the most reliable service providers today.
  • Online support is very important. In the first days of your blogging process, you might need a lot of help from professionals about things that sound weird to your ears (still do to mine!), so good support from your hosting provider will be very helpful. That’s how I chose WestHost – they always had someone online even before I bought their plan. In my initial days of blogging, they were extremely helpful. (I’m not getting paid by them, only sharing my personal experience.)

If you decide to skip the research and just go with BlueHost, HostGator or WestHost, you can have your own webspace in just a few minutes. If you chose a provider that gives the option of a free domain name, one of the first steps in purchasing your hosting plan will be choosing your web address.

Choosing your domain name

A domain name is your site’s web address. It is your unique identity on the web. If you want your blog to look professional, your own domain name is a must. Putting your creative effort on platforms such as Wix, Weebly, or WordPress.com (a different thing than the web building software we’re going to use) is not good for many reasons, which I’ll explain in another article. The most important reason of all – if you want to transfer the site to your personal domain name and lose the platform’s branding, you’ll have to pay much more than buying the web hosting service we discussed earlier.

Your name should be telling the essence of who you are and/or what you do. In the past 30+ years of worldwide use of the Internet, most of the catchy names are already taken. Some of them are on re-sale but cost a bit more. Still, even if you’re ready to pay extra, I wouldn’t recommend it, at least not for a travel blog. An original name is far better than some dull, wanna-sound-corporate web address. For example, our family travel blog address (www.afamilyontheroad.com) tells exactly who we are and what we write about and so should yours! Don’t rush with your decision – a domain name is not something you can just change after a while without the pain of transferring your website at the cost of losing a large part of your already established audience. Go and make yourself a cup of coffee (tea is also OK!) before you make your final decision.

STEP TWO: INSTALLING WORDPRESS

Once you have your web space purchased, you enter the world of the cPanel. Wikipedia defines it as “an online web hosting control panel that provides a graphical interface and automation tools designed to simplify the process of hosting a web site to the website owner or the “end user”.” That means that instead of writing “alien talk” (that’s how HTML still looks to me) in a code editor, you get some nice icons and commands-for-dummies to set up the general preferences of your website. I’m sure there are limitless cPanel possibilities to change and tweak (remember that word?) your site but I skipped everything and just went straight to installing WordPress.

Before you click the “Install” button, I have to tell you that WordPress isn’t the only website building platform out there. There are other self-hosting CMS (Content Management System} platforms that allow you to control and manage the content within your website without technical training. Joomla, Drupal, and Craft CMS are among the more popular WordPress alternatives. But the purpose of this article is to teach you how to build and maintain your travel blog with the least amount of technical knowledge and in a very short time. That’s why WordPress is so popular – it’s extremely intuitive and thousands of contributors and app-developers work on improving the platform with themes and plugins on a daily basis. We’ll get to that a bit later. now, back to installing WordPress.

You scroll through your cPanel and find the icon that says “Install WordPress.” Click on it and wait for… you don’t even wait for it, it almost immediately installs in your cPanel. Go to WordPress, set up your basic info, like opening an account (if you don’t already have one), entering your primary e-mail, etc. From that point on, you won’t be seeing much of cPanel anymore. What you are gong to spend your days and nights with is the WordPress dashboard (see image below.) It is super-easy to use and you’ll figure it out instantly. Time to go to the next step – choosing the right theme for your blog.

WordPress dashboard

STEP THREE: CHOOSE YOUR THEME

WordPress is the most popular web building platform because of the vast number of themes and plugins to custom-build your blog. Most of them have a free version and a paid one. So far, I haven’t spent a dime and I don’t see why one should, at least not for a travel blog. The cost of it was that I spent days installing and uninstalling hundreds of themes and plugins before I got what I wanted. Finding the right theme is crucial, not only for the aesthetic impression your blog will leave but much more for functionality. This is the step which will take the most time. The good thing about WordPress is that you can change your theme without losing much of your preferences. I’m gonna give you some general tips but two pieces of advice are crucial for saving your time and your nerves.

ADVICE No.1

Write several posts before browsing through the countless number of themes!

I spent hours browsing themes based on their default demo layout. When you started creating your blog you probably had an idea of how your articles should look like. The demo versions offer poor layouts with Lorem ipsum texts (dummy text used in laying out print, graphic or web designs,) no galleries, sidebar settings, etc. After I designed several posts, the themes looked completely different. You can see how your home page displays the articles, how do images show, check the font preferences, and other similar settings that will determine the future looks of your website. Of course, you don’t have to write original, lengthy articles simply to see how your posts will look. Just copy/paste something from Wikipedia and add some photos from your recent trips or some images from the internet. See how your videos would look, how is your sidebar behaving, insert your logo, and just play around with your theme customization.

ADVICE No.2

Make sure your theme allows access to the Theme Header section if you plan to make some money with Google AdSense!

When I thought that I finally chose the perfect theme, my troubles and another waste-of-time period began. It took me days to figure out how to insert the Google AdSense Auto-Ads code. I installed third-party plugins to no aid, tried to (here it comes again!) “tweak” the theme with another plugin which crashed my site, spent hours reading about how AdSense works, and still nothing. One day, I replaced the theme with one that has access to the Theme Header section in the editor and inserted the code in one minute. The ads started working almost immediately (after 20 minutes or so.) and I was happy as ever.

Inserting the AdSense code (which you should acquire through your Google account, in case you don’t already have one,) is the only piece of programming you will have to do by yourself. I don’t want to sound like those guys I mentioned in the beginning but this step is really easy. You go to your AdSense account (once your website is approved for advertising) and copy the code for Auto-Ads. It is a relatively new feature which works by automatically finding the right places to insert ads on your blog: in-article, in your sidebar, on your home page, and wherever you set them up to appear when creating your personalized code in AdSense. Even if you don’t want to use Auto-Ads, you still have to insert the AdSense activation code. The next step is the one where you should be very carefulaccessing the HTML editor!

In your WordPress dashboard, scroll to Appereance>Editor and on the right side of the page, under the Theme Files menu, scroll to Theme Header (header.php.) You need to paste the Auto ad code (and/or the AdSense activation code) between the <head> and <head> tags in the editor window. Just make sure you remember what and where you pasted inside the theme header. If something goes wrong you should know what to delete. Check this image below for visual reference!

General tips for choosing the right theme

  • Don’t waste too much time scrolling through the countless options! Choose a theme that satisfies your needs for starters and get on to the next step – installing plugins. Remember that you can always change your theme without losing much of your settings.
  • Always check how your theme appears on mobile devices! Around 70% of my current traffic happens on mobile devices, both Android and iPhone. How your blog looks like on smartphones may be more important than how it will look on desktop computers.
  • Since your main job will be writing, choose a theme that has the most appealing font style and formatting to you! Changing that will certainly waste your time and energy because most of the free versions of the themes do not offer font customization.
  • Choose a theme that shows large enough image previews for featured posts! You are creating a travel blog and good-quality photos are essential for drawing audiences to your website. A theme that doesn’t show the featured image of an article will certainly not be suitable for your travel blog.
Check how your site looks on different devices and displays

STEP FOUR: INSTALLING THE NECESSARY PLUGINS

Plugins are essential for your blog to function as you want it to. There are thousands of free, paid, and combined plugins on the market. As I already mentioned, I still haven’t bought any paid plugin. My travel blog functions flawlessly and exactly as I want it to behave. These are the plugins that I use and consider to be essential for any travel blog:

  • Photonic Gallery & Lightbox for Flickr, SmugMug, Google Photos, Zenfolio and Instagram – Every travel blog should have nice photo galleries with photos from the destinations you write about in your articles. I spent days until I found the Photonic Gallery plugin. I recommend it for several reasons: (1) it has a lot of customization options, (2) it has a beautiful slideshow preset which is perfect for showing multiple images without the need to scroll for miles until you continue reading the article, (3) it offers a variety of popup galleries which look really amazing, and (4) it allows image feeds from Instagram and other photo sharing sites. You can check our Instagram Feed page to see how it looks.
  • Sassy Social Share -Social sharing buttons are an essential tool for attracting visitors to your website. After several semi-functional plugins, I finally discovered Sassy Social Share. It’s very easy to set up your preferences, both for mobile and desktop use. The buttons look professional and are extremely responsible, looking and behaving great on all types of devices. Also, it’s easy to change your settings at any time. They do have a paid version but I haven’t felt the need for anything extra from what is included in their free offer.
  • All In One SEO Pack – Search engine optimization (SEO) is the science of reaching online visibility of your website in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results. That’s practically everything I know about SEO. I installed this plugin and liked it for two particular reasons: (1) it didn’t slow down my site, and (2) it gives me the option of creating how will a post look in search engines, especially in Google Search. For example, the title of this article is “How To Start Your Own Travel Blog In No Time: WordPress Guide For Absolute Beginners,” while in Google Search it appears as “Start Your Own Travel Blog: Essential Tips For Absolute Beginners | A Family On The Road.” Also, it allows writing your own description under the title. The plugin sends important information to search engines and helps them recognize your site as worth listing.
  • WPForms Lite – Your blog will certainly need a contact form. You could show your contact details as plain text but it doesn’t look that good. Plus, it annoys users when they have to copy/paste something, especially when using smartphones. This plugin offers basic contact forms in the free version but that was all I needed. I don’t use other forms by this plugin because I decided to go with a third-party service for the subscription forms on our blog. I decided to go with the leader of email marketing and that is MailChimp. Their basic free plan offers 12.000 messages sent to your subscribers monthly. For a beginners travel blog that’s far more than enough.
  • WP Statistics – Statistics have nothing to do with the functioning of your site but are very important for knowing your audience. This was the second statistics plugin I installed and I still haven’t felt the need to experiment further. It gives you the most valuable information and has a great, fast online monitoring system. You can see how many people visit your site when a post is shared on social networks in real time, see which countries are at the top, which referral links did best, and other statistical data. This will be a huge help when you start getting your first visitors and subscribers.

I use two more plugins for which I’m not sure what they do exactly. First, there’s WP Fastest Cache for cleaning up unused files and cookie leftovers. The second one is Enable Gzip Compression. The plugin enables Gzip compression, as it says in its name, which is something that makes your site load faster. This is a function that programmers and web designers set it manually but I decided to skip that and just install the plugin. Both of these plugins do not affect my site’s loading speed.

Before we get to the final step, let’s make a summary of the process so far and how much time it will take

  1. Buying your web hosting plan and choosing a domain name – If you went directly with the proposed providers, without researching on your own, and if your chosen provider lets you use your webspace immediately, this will not take you more than 15 minutes. If we include the time to drink your coffee while deeply contemplating your future web address, step one will take about 45 minutes.
  2. Installing WordPress in your cPanel – as I said before, this step is super easy and fast. With the time you will need to set up your WordPress account, I’m calculating that step two will take about 10 minutes.
  3. Choosing your theme – This will take up most of your time. If you don’t get hooked by the excitement of exploring the vast variety of WordPress themes, 1 hour and a half will be quite enough to settle on something you like and finish with step three, at least for now.
  4. Installing the necessary plugins – This will also take a bit of time. The installing itself isn’t taking long, not for any plugin (less than half a minute for each one) but setting up the basics for every one of them will certainly take much longer. If you decide to go with my list of plugins, the whole process in step four should take about an hour.

SUMMARY: If you decide to trust me and go with the steps explained above, without experimenting much on your own, you can build and publish your travel blog in LESS THAN 4 HOURS!!!

STEPS FIVE AND BEYOND: START WRITING AND CONTINUE TRAVELING

That’s it! Now, everything is up to your creative potential and hard work. Writing is easy if you love doing it. Although you’ll often go to your WP dashboard to set up tiny things and preferences but now you’re equipped with the basic tools for running your website. Write a few articles from your previous trips while you fine-tune your blog in the first month or so. After that, when you get your first feedback and your first AdSense revenue, you’ll get even more inspired and willing to work. Then comes the time to invest in a new adventure, so start planning your next trip and start packing your bags!

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