About 8 weeks ago I began building the travel blog: Epic Asia Travel. Two months later I feel like I’ve learned an incredible amount about travel blogging, travel industry, computer coding, WordPress self-hosting and photography. It’s exciting, but overwhelming. Although I know I’ve come a long way from not knowing what CSS, RSS and HTML stand for, I still feel like I’ve just skimmed the surface.
Starting a blog is exciting: it feels a bit like starting your own business. For example, this space (Epic Asia Travel), is a a space for all of my writing, photography, videos and thoughts. It feels good to have a space just for me. I’ve also become quite engrossed in building this blog (so much so that I think my final term grades are university may have suffered just a bit). It’s thrilling to start with an idea and actually build it. The wonderful thing about blogs, especially WordPress blogs, is the breadth of information and help available to fledgling website designers and bloggers.
For all of you out there that would like to start your own blog (travel or not travel related), I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned with you over the past weeks. I hope that this information will help you get the ball rolling on your own site and hopefully save you time.
Your theme is the pre-made design for how the website will look. WordPress has a ton of great free themes that are definitely suitable for most purposes. If you’d like to get into the code a bit more and tinker with the look of the site, a paid theme might be the way to go. I decided to go for a paid theme for this site.
I have experience with 2 paid themes. I first purchased Thesis theme from DIY Themes. Thesis theme is perhaps one of the most highly customizable themes available. The other major benefit of Thesis is that there is a bounty of information and helpful tutorials available all over the web. There are countless websites dedicated to Thesis theme tweaks and customizations. There are also hundreds of people who make helpful video tutorials on how to use Thesis. The total cost for Thesis theme (standard package) is $87. Included in the $87 is a free membership to the Thesis theme forum. I asked dozens of questions on the Thesis forum and received answers back in a very timely fashion. The forum also is a great resource for looking at older topics and questions that your blogging forefathers asked.
Although Thesis was great, I actually decided to “return” my theme for a full refund within the 30-day allowed grace period. Even though it was highly customizable, I wish someone would have told me that it is incredibly helpful, if not essential, to have some prior knowledge of PHP, CSS and HTML coding. The CSS and HTML coding for Thesis is not too tough, but to really get the site looking how you like it, some basic PHP knowledge is a must. At the time, I did not have any PHP knowledge and was simply hitting brick wall after brick wall. For this reason, I decided to get a full refund from Thesis.
After becoming overly frustrated with Thesis, I decided to consult with a friend who does web programming for a living. He recommended Canvas theme by Woo Themes. Canvas theme also claims to be highly customizable, so I decided to go for it and cough up the $50. I found a coupon for a discount and Woo Themes was offering a deal: 3 themes for the price of 1. So, for less than $50 I got 3 WordPress themes. The theme I am using right now is Canvas.
I’ve found Canvas to be a lot easier to figure out for the novice web programmer. There are a number of Woo Themes forums (one for each theme they offer) and the Woo themes staff (“Woo Workers” as they like to call themselves) are incredibly helpful. They are not as forthcoming when it comes to intricate CSS customization questions, but they are always helpful with suggestions and bits of useful code.
Before Starting Your Own Website:
There are a few things that are helpful to understand before starting your own website. Here are some good resources to do just that.
Lynda.com offers a number of video tutorials on everything from CSS, HTML and PHP, to digital photography, Photoshop, and Xcode. Membership starts at around $25 per month, which allows unlimited access to most of their tutorials.
The Lynda.com videos are incredibly helpful, second best to having a personal computer tutor right there with you. You can replay the videos as many times as you like to make sure you understand how to use the software or computer codes.
WordPress for Dummies is a great reference guide, mostly aimed at beginner to intermediate users of the WordPress interface. This book starts at the most basic understanding, answering questions like: “What is a blog?” and “Where should I begin?” If you feel like you know all that all ready, you can flip to the middle chapters which are helpful in terms of understanding how PlugIns and self-hosting works.
This is a good reference book to keep on your desk for whenever a WordPress problem arises.
Nomadic Matt offers several different e-books (which you’ll receive upon purchase in PDF format) on building a travel blog and making money from it. The two e-books I’ve used from Nomadic Matt are very helpful. They cover the basics of social media, site names, picking your niche, search engine optimization and themes. I highly recommend his ebook: “How To Make Money With Your Travel Blog.” It is only $17 and it is definitely worth it for a beginner travel website creator.
Other things to learn about:
After you go over all the above resources, I recommend you learn the basics of HTML and CSS to get you going.