All the Tools You Need for Travel Blog Success
Whether this is your first time on my site or your fiftieth, you might wonder: is it really possible to be a full-time travel blogger? Successfully???
While the answer depends on your definition of travel blog success, by my definition, yes, it’s entirely possible to be a full-time travel blogger, travel the world, and make good money. I know several dozen people doing that – and several hundreds more at my level, making pretty good money and traveling near and far from home as we can make it work. (Need proof? Check out my monthly recaps.)
In this post, I’m sharing an updated list of the top blogging resources and tools you need to start, grow, and make a living off your blog. These are all specific to travel blogging, but plenty of them work in other niches too.
Take a browse through the post to see what I recommend, then let me know in the comments if you have extra questions or need one-on-one help. I offer individual blogging mentorships to help you use these tools and accomplish your blogging goals. Read on for more.
Tools to Setup & Run Your Blog
There are two things you have to get set up to even have a blog: your domain and your host. Many people register their domains and do their hosting through the same company. If you want to do this when you’re starting out, I recommend using Bluehost to register your domain and host your site. Within 1-2 years, you’ll probably need better hosting and can switch your hosting to Siteground (and your domains too if you want). Here’s what I use to run this site (and my other sites!):
Domains – Bluehost
When I started blogging, like most people, I started with Bluehost. I like Bluehost for domain registration because they’re usually the cheapest, and their cPanel (“control panel”) is easy to use for registering and renewing domains.
Hosting – Siteground
Once you get a certain level of traffic (usually around 50,000 pageviews per month) you’ll need to upgrade to have better hosting and consistent uptime. That’s when Siteground‘s managed WordPress hosting is perfect.
Tools to Get Organized & Get Sh*t Done
Whenever I meet with or mentor fellow bloggers, they always say that they’re shocked how organized I am and how much I accomplish. First of all, I’m totally type-A and also a bit OCD about how I run my blog and other websites – so I use a lot of tools and build systems to keep everything organized. (Like children, having 2 sites is way more than 2x the work!)
The secret to my success is something I’ve finally turned into a course I call The BOSS. This course teaches you the systems I use to keep track of both of my blogs, my goals, my income, my keyword research, and a whole lot more. Until February 29, 2020, it’s 30% off, so sign up now!
Here are the main things I use to stay organized and accomplish my goals – especially writing goals:
Asana is my not-so-secret weapon for staying organized as a blogger. I love using projects, tasks, subtasks, and deadlines to move through all the stages of blogging work – from writing, publishing, and promoting articles to sending newsletters and creating landing pages like this one. If you need help getting set up in Asana, I offer that as part of my Mentorship program.
Okay, here’s my other truly secret weapon for travel blog success: accountability groups. Finding bloggers at the same level of ambition and motivation is really hard! I love my accountability group, where we wager real money to accomplish our blogging goals and tasks.
Inspired by the success of my own accountability group, I organize and help run accountability groups for other bloggers too. If you’re interested, let me know!
Tools to Make Your Content Sparkle & Shine
Creating content is 90% of the job!
Content is king in the blogging world. What – and how well and often – you write and publish is what will make or break your travel blog success. This is a marathon hobby/business, not a sprint, and quality matters.
In addition to learning how to write well, here are some other ways to help your content shine:
My #1 pet peeve with bloggers is errors in grammar and spelling. Grammarly is free!, people. Use it. Grammarly works to catch your spelling and grammar errors – and since quality and accuracy matter so much to Google for SEO, this is a pretty darn important thing to spend 2 seconds on each time you publish.
Good Camera Gear
For the first seven years of this blog, I shot photos on a Sony NEX6 (precursor to the Sony a6000) and my iPhone. I strongly recommend investing in a good camera with various settings and learning how to use the different settings. It’s also critical that you start to put yourself in your photos, to help personalize the stories you’re sharing.
I heard of Photolemur from fellow bloggers, and it’s the only thing I use to process my blog photos. Basically, it’s a simple tool that applies a photo editing preset to all your photos before you upload them. It cranks up the contrast, saturation, and HDR and makes all my images look more consistent – which I love.
Tools to Promote Your Awesome Content
“Follow me for awesome content!”
Now that you’ve written awesome content and optimized it to Google, you’ve got to promote it in other ways. Here are the tools I use everyday to help my readers find my latest and greatest posts.
First, let’s start with email tools. Email should be part of your blogging strategy from day one: if you build a great email list, it’s the best way to reach people without any other company (Facebook, Twitter, Google) getting in the way or limiting your reach.
I use ConvertKit to manage my “email funnels.” These are the places on V&V where you can signup on a form to receive a free download, then get signed up for a seven-day sequence of other emails on the same subject. Adding ConvertKit to my email strategy in early 2019 was a game-changer for getting new people on my list.
I use Mailchimp to manage my monthly newsletters. After people complete the email sequence in ConvertKit (or sign up on one of my other forms/pop-ups), I migrate them into Mailchimp for recurring updates. Mailchimp allows you to create beautiful, trackable email campaigns for free – up to 2,500 subscribers.
Tailwind is a Pinterest scheduling tool. You can use it to schedule pins to other boards, add pins to a loop of repinning, and also find other pinners’ content to share.
Tools to Monetize Your Blog
Blogging… a bit of a messy nest!
Anymore, there are very few bloggers who start a blog “for fun.” Most of us want to travel more, earn money, or both. That’s totally fine: own whatever goal you have for your blog from day one.
If monetizing your blog is an important part of your strategy, here are the tools to use. I try to explain a little bit about each one to help you choose the right ones for your audience and your business.
The Ultimate Ad Network for Bloggers
Let’s talk about blog ads and making money as an early-stage blogger, real quick. First, nobody loves having ads on their site; we do it because it helps us keep our business going. Second, it’s important to have good ads on your site – relevant, beautiful, quality ads – if you’re going to have them.
When you first start blogging, you might be tempted to sign up for a service like Google AdSense or Ezoic. I don’t recommend doing tis right out of the gate. Initially, your focus should be on finding your niche, building your authority, and pumping out high quality content. If you do this, your site can grow quickly and you can qualify for better ad networks – and make way better money over the long run (remember, this is a marathon). You also won’t push readers away or increase your bounce rate with terrible or irrelevant ads. Google will like you more too, increasing your momentum.
If you follow my advice, then within a maximum of 12-18 months, you should qualify for Mediavine. I consider them the best ad network currently available for bloggers.
Mediavine is a small but powerful ad network that doesn’t allow bloggers to join until they reach 25,000 sessions (usually around 30,000 pageviews). While this might sound like an Everest of traffic, I went from zero to Mediavine in seven months on Space Tourism Guide. It’s possible. You can do it.
Hold out for Mediavine. It’s worth it, I promise. Now get back to writing!
Affiliate Networks Worth Joining
It’s hard to figure out what’s right for you and your audience.
If you do want to earn money right away, affiliate marketing is a great way to do it. You can add links to products (things you pack, the gear you use, etc.) and companies (airlines, hotels, tours, etc.) you recommend, and earn a small commission for each time someone clicks and/or purchases through your link. Amanda’s course mentioned above, “Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers: A Beginner’s Guide” is a great primer for learning the ropes in affiliate marketing.
Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to approach it, it’s time to join affiliate networks and programs. Here are my favorites. The first two are called “affiliate networks,” where you can find links to a bunch of advertisers all in one place.
CJ (formerly Commission Junction) is one of the biggest affiliate networks in the world. I love using their Deep Link tool to create links as I’m writing.
ShareASale is a smaller network owned by Awin, and it has a couple merchant/advertisers I really love (like Tieks). Their interface is also lovely to use.
Next, consider “direct” affiliate programs: these are ones you sign up for directly with the company who’s offering the product or service. I use two main ones:
Obviously. Everybody uses Amazon to monetize. They keep cutting their commissions (payout percentages) but they’re still the biggest ecommerce site in the English-speaking world, and you can create a link to almost any product.
I use Booking.com‘s direct program because they have better payouts than other hotel booking options – but they don’t offer a cookie, so you’ll usually see a Booking link next to another link, like Hotels.com.
Lastly, there’s a class of affiliate programs I call “overlay” programs. These require you to install a bit of code on your site, which will convert every external link possible into an affiliate link if it can. This means you may earn on links you didn’t know you could – or from merchants you aren’t signed up with on another network or program.
Skimlinks is the biggest overlay program you’ll encounter here on V&V. They take 25% of my commission from every sale I make, but they’re the only way I can earn on my Airbnb recommendations, so I keep them.
Sponsored Content Platforms I Love
Not all sponsored content has to feel icky.
One last way to monetize your blog is through “Sponsored Content.” This could be writing an article and/or placing a link on your site and being paid for it – or being sponsored to come on a trip and write about the destination in exchange. Here are some of the websites that I like which collect those opportunities into one place:
I recently joined Clever, and they offer a variety of sponsored content opportunities – from trips to blog content to social media. I’m still keeping my eye on them, but I’ve seen great opportunities across a number of non-travel niches.
Collectively works a bit differently – if you apply and are accepted, they email you whenever they have an opportunity that might fit you and your audience. No dashboard/application-per-campaign needed!
IZEA is one of the oldest sponsored content marketplaces, and they have opportunities primarily for social media campaigns – but sometimes for blog posts too. Payouts are pretty low, but depending on the work, it can be worth it.
Cooperatize has a small section of their site which offers sponsored content (blog post) campaigns. I’ve done some work through them over the years, and am always curious to see what they’re offering.
Okay, that was a LOT of information. But now you’re set to go out and create your own kickass travel blog, amirite?
If you feel like you need some help to get it all straight in your head and get motivated, I’m here! I offer one-on-one blog mentoring to help you get your blog off the ground, take it to the next level, and achieve your own travel blog success. In addition to SEO audits, getting all those great spreadsheets and Asana projects set up, and individual accountability calls twice monthly, you’ll have access to me for all your individualized questions you just don’t know where to find answers for.
If you’re ready to take the leap and level up, click here to learn more about blog mentoring and all it entails.
This post was originally published in March 2017, and was updated in September 2019.