How to Start a Travel Blog and Earn Money in 6 months (Part 1 of 2)
This article is inspired by a lot of our readers and travel coaching clients who have been asking us about how we started Two Monkeys Travel last May 2014 and grew it from there…We don’t claim to be experts, and we know that we have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way in a short time. This is the first time we have ever written a travel blog and we are learning and growing every day. This is not your typical “How To Do Guide”, but instead our online diary of what we have learned and achieved since May 2014, to rebranding last October 2014 and finally starting to earn our first money from the blog last November 2014.
Blogging is the general term used for someone writing or documenting about things based on his or her own opinion on any topic such as fashion, career, money making, and of course Travel. Travel + Blogging seems to be the perfect combination if you already love writing in your travel journal but to be honest – it’s completely different!
Jon and I only started our Travel Blog last May 2014 after talking to a guy we met in Bodhgaya, India. He mentioned that there was a girl who visited there before from the Philippines funding her travels by travelling! And we were like: “What? How? Is that even possible?” We had been travelling for quite a while by that time (almost one year) and had been paying for all of our expenses and we thought that our volunteering gigs were savings enough! But no, there are travel bloggers out there in the world, travelling for free! To be honest, our initial motivation was just to get discounts on Hotels and tours but the more I learned about this field, the more I realized that it’s not just about getting Free Stuff. It’s actually a respectable career that requires hard work and determination… I highly commend all of the travel bloggers who started this before us and still doing it.
After six months of a love-hate relationship with our blog, we have been able to grow our social media to the next level with great interaction from the right audience. We are relatively new, yet we currently have 90K to 150K Page views every month and are finally earning money by monetizing our blog with Affiliate Marketing. We signed up with Affiliate Window (this is where most of our income are coming from!), Webfluential and Share A Sale, all are FREE to sign up. Basically the Advertisers will pay you commissions when you sell their products on your website – we usually earn from Booking.com, Hostel bookers and other accommodation companies aside from running social media campaigns. I’ll talk more about it in the future!
So here’s the honest step-by-step guide on how we did it – including the mistakes we made and tricks and techniques to grow faster. (Here’s the Part 2: How to Make Money from Travel Blogging)
Start a Travel Blog – Tip#1: Think of a Blog Name
Jon and I were not writers before we started – when we were travelling on our own before, we both had an account with a free blogging platform but were only able to publish two diary style write-ups, and both of the accounts were just named after us! If you really love your name, then you can name your Travel Blog after you then add some exciting Travel related words – travelling, nomadic, wandering, adventurous, etc. (I’ve read an article that these words are overuse, but it’s up to you)
If you want to be more creative then think of a unique name that people can easily remember you – why not animal names? It doesn’t sound formal, but it’s catchy! It took Jon and me two weeks to choose the blog name, and we came up with the slightly “corny” and catchy name of Two Monkeys Travel – Why you may ask? It’s quite a long story, but the simple version is that Jon is the White Monkey and obviously I’m the Brown Monkey. We also know different travel websites with animal names like – turtle, goat, dinosaur, frog, crab, etc. It’s all up to you!
You can also have a formal blog name that has nothing to do with your name nor the cute animals, but we highly suggest to keep a travel related word on your title so people can easily recognise that you’re indeed a travel blogger (maybe for Google SEO too!)
Start a Travel Blog – Tip#2: Buy that Domain and INVEST in Hosting
Our first article was published on Blogger (www.twomonkeystravel.blogspot.com ) last April 25, 2014- as I’ve mentioned earlier, we didn’t intend to make it big as our initial plan was just to get discounts from Hotels in India – OOPS we were wrong (MISTAKE # 1)! Our first ever article, “Female Backpackers Beware”, was able to get 5,000 views in 1 week, mainly because of our click-bait title (MISTAKE #2) and we were so excited that we decided to write another one – Budget Backpacking in India. It had good views, so Jon and I agreed to buy our domain from GoDaddy and still keep the account with Blogger platform (www.twomonkeystravel.com) (MISTAKE #3) – Don’t use Blogger if you’re serious about your blog!
A good friend of mine taught us how to connect our free Blogger page to our new domain. It was June 2014, just before we flew to South America when we decided to have a giveaway package – Memories of Hanoi Article – which boosted our page views yet again. I was so ecstatic that I was already thinking of redesigning our blog (we initially just had the free themes installed on Blogger). That’s when I learned about self-hosted sites on WordPress.org and the disadvantages of using Blogger as a platform. We were discouraged and weren’t sure if we were even going to continue.
We moved to Peru and had a hiatus from the “not-so-serious” website for about three months, until Rappler Philippines contacted us, saying that they wanted to re-publish our article! Oops, someone noticed and finally believed in us- (Thank you so much Wy!!) I spoke to Jon and we decided that it was about time to take it seriously and have a self-hosted WordPress account – the problem was that we didn’t know how to design, how to install, how to direct our old articles (5 articles and the others are guest post!) etc. We had no idea! So, I read another blog promoting Bluehost as the hosting company which includes the 1-click easy to install WordPress.ORG (Remember: WordPress.com is different from WordPress.Org).As newbies we loved the sound of that, so we invested some money and bought the 3 years hosting plan from Bluehost or Hostgator guess what, it comes with a FREE Domain – Jon and I didn’t know how to redirect our old domain (www.twomonkeystravel.com) so we decided to avail the free domain and purchased http://twomonkeystravelGROUP.com (Will tell you why later!). It’s time to change!
After one month of trial and error with different designs – we launched our brand new website on October 24, 2014 – the same time that Rappler Philippines published my first article on their website. We were starting to look slightly professional now! Woot!Start a Travel Blog – Tip#3: Design your Logo and Invest in Web design
This is the only thing that worried me as your blog design represents who you are before people even look at your write-ups. Our original logo was a hand-drawn design by my sister’s friend (Dr Arbe Serrano) for FREE. Then we purchased a $49 theme from My Theme Shop, but I don’t know how to optimize this awesome responsive creation. So we enlisted the help of my blogging inspiration and good friend, RM Nisperos (not a travel blogger) about how we could optimize it a bit and if he could help us with some redesign and oh it’s FREE, but we ended up paying a new designer to redesign our website, and it cost us $1000 for it.
UPDATE JANUARY 2016: We just changed our website design, and we paid $1000 for this. We’re not yet happy, but I think we’ll invest more money next year to do another re-design!
Our latest brand new design, April 2017. And we updated it again in June 2019.
Start a Travel Blog – Tip#4: Write For Yourself (then later on Tip#7: Write for Others)
This is now the crucial part – What shall we write? What shall we talk about?
Everything that I read online keeps telling me that I should find my “niche”, well, I don’t know! Jon and I don’t write Destination Guides as there are already a lot of established writers doing that during that time. We don’t have great cameras to use to create Photo-journals, so that’s not our niche either. We’ve had early online bashers for writing a ‘Click-bait article’ (which we both agreed to never do it again!). So what should we write about?
That’s when we’ve both agreed that we should just start writing about our life as a traveling couple – not to impress others but just to express ourselves and to show that an alternative way of life is possible. My English is not perfect and Jon has to edit most of my articles before we publish them. One article takes anywhere from 1 day to 1 week to write and we don’t do much photo editing either – we just recently learned that we have to change the file names of our Photos from DCIM, GOPRO111 when we publish them – (MISTAKE #4). Well, we didn’t care but now we’ve decided to finally install Photoshop on our laptop and we’re using PicMonkey.com for editing simple photos and collages for our Facebook posts.
But as a newbie blogger, don’t over-think the technicalities just yet – at this moment, just focus on writing about your experience – Creating interesting, fun, cool content is the most important part of a blog, so just focus on practicing how you express yourself as a writer.
So, I wrote my first 3 articles – Career or Travel, Why Not Both, Why I’m proud of my Philippines passport and 9 Trips to Take in Your 20s – which were published in Rappler PHL, they all went quite viral and Jon finally published his first official article – What I’ve Learned Dating a Filipina which was one of the most read articles last year.
This changed our blogging life!
Start a Travel Blog – Tip # 5: Learn about Social Media
Social Media is not just about Facebook – you also need to use Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumbler, Stumble upon, Triberr, Trover, Reddit, Pinterest, Bloglovin and so on! What the heck? Are you kidding me?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, before dating Jon, I had my very own free blog platform with 2 articles so during that time – I created a Facebook page for my Travel Quotes inspiration that was created last April 2013. So when Jon and I decided to have the Two Monkeys Travel Facebook page, I suggested that we use my old page which only had 88 likes and we were able to change the name from “Kach Me!” To “Two Monkeys Travel” last May 2014. Now, we currently have 8000+ Followers with very high engagement rate and reach, all of which are Organic. However, FB does have an option for boosting your post to reach more people to get more engagement – We’ve tried it 5 times on different articles that we think have the chance to go viral! It’s better to use that so you’re still in with the Facebook Algorithm. (After a year of working on our page, we already have more than 50K followers and high engagement)
If you’re a new blogger, don’t be impressed or disheartened with the high numbers of LIKES on other big time blogger’s Facebook pages, you need to look at the interaction (engagement rate) on their posts – that’s when you will know if their LIKES are real. I’m in charge of our Facebook page and I make sure that I reply to every message on our inbox and comments (We love our readers, more on TIP #7). Last November 2014, I finally discovered that you can schedule posts (hahahha!) Since our audience are mostly in Asia which is 12 hours ahead of South America, this is the best option for us! I post 3 to 4 times a day – targeting all of the time zones of our readers – Philippines, USA, Canada, UK, Middle East and Australia. The KEY here: Interact with your Audience.
I also had my own private Instagram account full of my selfies – and had 100 followers when we both agreed to change it to make our official Two Monkeys Instagram account and changed it to @2mokeystravel as our new username and made it a public account last November 2014. Now, Jonathan is finally getting involved with our Social Media and is handling our Instagram – we’re still growing it and trying to remove my old selfies (LOL!) The technique that he is using now is simple – using more travel related hashtags, liking other people’s pictures, observing what kind of shots are popular and posting three times a day. We don’t have a fancy camera so we’re just using our Samsung Tablet and Jon’s old iPhone4. The Key here: Learn to appreciate other people’s pictures and interact with Instagram community
Neither of us knew how to use this or what the benefits were at the beginning but we said we’d give it a go – we created our own Twitter account (@2monkeystravel) last October 2014, when the Director of SAB asked to tag us on her tweets about our articles in her website. We didn’t touch our Twitter account until we found out about Triberr and FB Groups Twitter thread where bloggers work together to share each other’s tweets – so we joined. I was just posting everything at the same time as I don’t know what this was for. I then had 45 UNFOLLOWS from my 100 followers the same day (MISTAKE #5). So a blogger friend told me about scheduling my tweets on Hootsuite, now whenever I join the Twitter thread and Triberr Tribes, I just post it there on Auto schedule for the whole week! Done! Just this 2nd week of January 2015, I’ve started using the Just Unfollow website to automate who to follow accordingly (however, it was too automated and we decided to stop using it). The Key here: It’s give and take! If you want them to follow you then follow them, if you want them to re-tweet your tweets then re-tweet others tweets! Simple!
Pinterest is already a big hit as another social media platform in the USA and they’re starting to launch it in the Philippines! As a travel blogger, Pinterest can be a great tool for us to share photos of our travels and dream destinations. It’s also a great way to drive traffic to our blog and increase our readers. We’re newbie in this field but still trying our best to improve our Pinterest boards. Pinterest has different boards for different topics and it’s up to you on how you will arrange it, in our case we decided to separate it per continent/ region. Remember, you need to pin photos from your travel blog, re-pin photos of other interesting articles from other websites and follow people who shares the same interest as you! Go check it out and start pinning! Let us know if you want to join our Travel boards too!
Since we don’t have great cameras beside our GoPro and don’t know how to edit videos, we’ve decided just to create our own YouTube channel and upload our raw videos. We have a few views already from sharing the videos on our FB pages. No brilliant ideas here but just for now we’re filling it with some of our interesting, yet unedited GoPro videos. The key here is to do what you can do now – You can add Video Editing to your list of things to learn later. Oh if you want to watch Jonathan’s TAGALOG TIME– then here’s our YouTube Channel (no editing, sorry!)
Google+, Tumbler, Stumbleupon, Trover, Reddit, Bloglovin – We’re just starting to use these social media formats, but the main tip we can give is to connect everything to everything else! Make sure that when you share something on Instagram, that you also share it on every other platform possible, for maximum exposure.
Start a Travel Blog – Tip # 6: Network! Network! Network!
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get it!” – One of my mottos in life which I think is also important in the blogging world.
You need to reach out to some of the more established bloggers to collaborate with, some of them are really nice, and they respond.
I got connected to the rappler PHL’s Lifestyle Editor by pitching an article to one of their employees before and look, we are now regular contributors and most of our articles go viral in the Philippines. So don’t be afraid to pitch your articles to higher ranking websites, there’s no harm in trying and they care about great material, not how famous you are! I’ve tried to reach out to different big time bloggers and editors. Oh we’re also featured in Cosmopolitan Philippines on their February 2015 Issue.
Remember I told you earlier that our first Facebook page started with only 88 Likes? We were able to grow it to 500 LIKES before by joining the Under 1000 Club Facebook Group – it’s a group of newbie bloggers with less than 1K likes on their Facebook page. They exchange liking, commenting and following each other’s Social Media. There are other more awesome FB groups for Travel Bloggers that you should join – We Travel We Blog, Travel Blog Chronicles and The Business of Blogging. The members are really helpful with all of your travel blogging related questions and the best part is that you’ll be able to network with other bloggers – interview, blog exchange etc. But don’t forget to share your knowledge – it’s give and take! If you’re a Filipino travel blogger then you should network so you can join the – Pinoy Travel Bloggers (PTB) group.
If you really don’t know what to do, then you should check out Nomadic Matt’s Travel Course!
Another option is if you’re 100% sure that you want this Travel Blogging life then I also recommend that you join Travel Blog Success – Jon and I agreed to invest $220 for a lifetime membership and to join this exclusive group. It’s a group of big-time, professional bloggers and you won’t believe who you are talking to! They have a secret Facebook group, exclusive deals, and travel blogging lessons on the blog! If you decide to join then wait for their promotion, you’ll be able to save 20%! See you there!
Start a Travel Blog – Tip #7: Understand your Audience – Write For Them
Now that you’ve done most of the things above, for sure you already have some readers. How do you know? On your WordPress.org site, you have the Jetpack application where you can track how many page views you have and you will see which of your posts have gained the most interest from people – then WRITE MORE on topics related to that. If you’re having issues with your grammar then check out Grammarly, a website that could help you proofread your work
How will you know your audience? Go to you Facebook report and check who most of your followers are. You should also install Google Analytics so you know from which countries your readers are from – from both statistics (which are pretty accurate) then you can craft your articles to suit your readers’ interests.
Another thing, write an article answering all of the frequently asked questions of your readers. They will appreciate you even more! Never trick your audience with your writing just for page views; we learned that the hard way and decided that having real readers who know us and consistently reading our articles is better than having more page views and attracting bashers! Just positivity!
Start a Travel Blog – Tip #8: Learn from your earlier Mistakes!
Aside from the grammar, I’ve listed above the common mistakes we made while starting this blog months ago. Try to improve them slowly but surely! Every blogger, even the pros, always have a lot of things to improve on. It will still take time but as long as you recognize your mistakes, ask for advice and learn from it, then you’re on the right track.
Start a Travel Blog – Tip #9: Interact with Your Readers
Jonathan and I created a Facebook group of Two Monkeys Travel Community readers so we can communicate with our readers directly and it turned out they are all communicating to each other!! We were able to grow it to almost 500 in 4 days but I decided to screen all the members before adding them. I also promised myself that I will reply to all the messages I received and I’m also helping some newbie bloggers like us who reached out to us (you can ask them!)
I’ve read this tip from two of my favorite blogs, Neil Patel and Pat Flynn, that you should make your audience feel that you care – SINCERELY and the only way to do that is to actually care sincerely! If you’re just thinking about yourself and becoming popular then good luck, you won’t go anywhere as your audience will feel that attitude. I’ve met different bloggers too who don’t respond to their readers’ inquiries, I won’t say that they are terrible people, because everyone has their own style. Jon and I are much more into interacting a lot with our readers since most of our new blog improvement ideas are coming from them! It feels great to help too, you know we’re yogis!
Tip #10: Be Inspired To Inspire!
Last but not the least, it is indeed important to keep yourself inspired. In our first 3 months of blogging, we got discouraged – writing an article took longer to finish than expected and we only had a few hundred views on our statistics aside from some bashers at the beginning. Good thing we didn’t lose hope, we continued and rebranded.
Blogging can burn you out, Social Media is really time-consuming and it will take most of the time in your day if you don’t have a time plan for it. I suggest starting your own blogging life schedule so you can balance it with travels. Remember, if you’re a travel blogger then you should be traveling and not just sitting with your laptop the whole day. If you’re a cake blogger, get up and make some cakes! After all, this is where your content comes from, right?
When we rebranded, we were just spending our whole day on the laptops – reading different tips, Facebooking, networking etc. but we decided that our lifestyle was becoming unhealthy. Now, we’re keeping to a 4-hour / day blogging schedule and the most important tip is to set a time limit using Social Media as it will take over and keep you distracted the whole time. My day starts with responding to our emails, inbox messages then drafting articles then the social media! Remember, we’re doing this to improve our lives – Find your balance!
Well, that’s it, I hope you learned something from our personal experience. The most important thing is to SET YOUR GOALS and NEVER LOSE HOPE.
PS Another technique: Do yoga and meditation before you start your day. It’s great for your mind and body!
Do you want to start growing your blog with the Two Monkeys Travel? We are actually accepting coaching clients, so if you want to learn how to improve your Social Media and Travel Blog in a sincere way, then please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or check details here.
Note: You must already know how to use WordPress and Social Media.
Next Topic: How to Monetize your Travel Blog (How to make money from Travel Blogging)Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links.
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