Be a travel blogger now: Here are the tools of the trade

Editor’s note: Here’s part two of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. You can find the first one right here.

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Now that you have found your topic, let’s get your blog up and running.

Remember when I said you could literally set up a decent-looking travel blog in the time it takes to read a few paragraphs? I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t even exaggerating. But let me walk you through the process slowly.

The basic basics

Let me briefly mention the absolute essentials for a travel blog.

• A PC or computing device.

• A reasonably fast Internet connection.

• A camera and/or smartphone to take images, video or sound.

But you already knew that. After all, you are probably reading this online and take the above for granted. Just making sure.

Here are the other tools you’ll need:

A content management system. If you’re a serious blogger, it’s really a choice between WordPress and Movable Type. Both are free, and they can be customized. I like WordPress the best. There are other blogging platforms that can do the trick, including Tumblr, Blogger and Posterious. My advice: Stick to WordPress, and go for the hosted version, so you can have your own custom URL. It just looks better.

A theme. There are thousands of free and premium themes to choose from. I recommend taking it a step further and investing in either Genesis or Thesis, which allow for the kind of customization you use to have to rely on a Web designer for. I use Thesis for both of my sites, but Genesis has some good buzz, too.

A competent programmer. Even with a custom theme, you’ll need someone who understands the ins and outs of HTML, Perl and CSS. I found my last programmer on Craigslist, and he’s been with me for five years. Good guy. My advice is to hire someone who is recommended, but isn’t a friend or a friend of a friend. That way, if he – or she – doesn’t work out, it won’t be anything personal. Ah, the stories I could tell you about being locked out of my own site by an angry Webmaster. No, I’m not gonna bore you.

Email newsletter. You’ll probably want to offer some kind of email newsletter and an RSS feed. It drives traffic and can help you get the word out about your terrific content. The RSS feed is easy — just head over to Feedburner and follow the directions. I’ve been using Yahoo! Groups to send out my newsletter since 2000, and it works pretty well. Google Groups offers something similar (warning: you can’t really export an email list to any of these, but they are free).

The last phone you’ll ever need. There’s one device that can capture audio, video and text — and doesn’t require a Ph.D to use it. Now let us all pledge our allegiance to the iPhone! No, seriously, the iPhone is, to paraphrase Men in Black, the last phone you’ll ever need. Even the crappy iPhone 3 that I still use (retro!) is an effective multimedia device that can be used for almost any kind of blogging. If you aren’t a shutterbug, head over to Flickr and borrow some Creative Commons images to spruce up your blog. Photos make a huge difference.

It’s a game. Now go play. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about blogging is that it’s not a lecture — it’s a debate. And a game, too. So install the WordPress plugin for Disqus, which lets you manage your comments in the cloud and adds some really cool functionality to your site, and then drop in surveys from SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. Why? People really want to interact with the material you’re creating. Polls and forums let them do it. In time, you’ll find that your readers will give you direction on where you need to take the site. If you listen, you will be successful.

A few more thoughts on blogging success and tools. Almost anyone can afford the programs and gadgets I just mentioned, but there are a few ways to set yourself apart.

Attention to detail. Instead of iMovie, upgrade to Final Cut. Go for Aperture or Logic Studio instead of iPhoto or Garage Band. Get a SLR instead of relying on the point-and-shoot camera. People will notice your crisper photos and the rich audio of your presentations, and it will make them remember you and it will set you apart from the other blogs. Does it cost more? Sure. Does it take longer to learn it? Yep. But heck, it makes you look good!

Vigilance. Are you using these tools regularly, or only when you feel like it? Make use of these tools regularly, and if you have somewhere to be, you can always pre-post something, so that your followers always have something to talk about.

Responsiveness. Do you listen to the comments and feedback, when it comes to how you are utilizing these tools of the trade? For example, I had a dust-up on my site recently about polls. Some readers felt I was hosting too many of them. I listened — and cut back. Point is, you don’t want to fire everything in your arsenal at once. If you take the time to read your comments, you’ll know when to deploy your weapons and went to hold your fire.

Now you know the basics. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to commit acts of journalism online. But it’s not your father’s kind of journalism. I’ll explain.

(Photo: boz_rock/Flickr)