The Lost Girls Bloggers (friends Holly Corbett, Jennifer Baggett, and Amanda Pressner) share tips for launching a travel blog and posting from even the most remote corners of the globe.
1. What are some easy-to-use websites for starting your own travel blog?
Newbie travel bloggers will probably want to get started by using a site that offers a basic posting template, rather than creating their own. Look for one that offers a space for text, pictures, comments and a map showing the countries you'll be visiting. Ones we love: WorldNomads.com, PlanetRanger.com and TravelBlog.org, which all provide free set-up and maintenance as well as a built-in community of travelers writing about their own adventures.
More tech-savvy travelers searching for greater flexibility, better design features and the ability to use HTML code to personalize their site might want to sign up on Blogger.com, or pay to purchase a popular a blogging program called Word Press. You'll have the ability to load slide shows of your images, sort your entries by subject and add a handy "search" feature for your readers.
2. What steps are typically involved in setting up the blog?
If you select the pre-formatted sites listed above, all you need to do is provide sign-up information, enter the country or region you'll be visiting, choose a name for your adventure and send out an email alerting friends and family about your new URL (or address where your blog lives online). If you're using Blogger or Word Press, you can set up the basics, then use HTML codes to change the look and formatting of your blog.
Before you leave, post a few test blogs and report any glitches to the site's technical support staff. It's a lot easier to fix problems while you're still at home, rather than from an internet cafe overseas!
3. What do you know now about blogging that you wish you'd known when you started?
In the beginning, our audience consisted primarily of family and friends whom we'd personally emailed about the blog. It wasn't until a few months into the trip that we learned how bloggers can increase the number of people who view their site. By registering our URL on various traffic exchange sites ( i.e. blogexplosion.com) and blogging community forums (i.e. bloggerchicks.com), we gained hundreds of new readers who would post comments and offer us great advice about the places where we were headed.
4. What equipment do you take with you and how easy is it to access and update your blog while on the go?
We took a Panasonic Toughbook computer, one of the lightest and strongest notebooks available (just over two pounds). And because it's so slim, we can easily slip it into a purse and take it out again to blog on those long, overnight train and bus rides. We have two Olympus cameras--the 720SW (that's shock and waterproof) and the SP500 which has a10X optical zoom for really crisp portraits of locals and wildlife. Both cameras also take video, which allowed us to leave our camcorder at home and still capture spontaneous moments that can't be confined to a still image.
How does all of this come together to create a blog? Well, we'd be completely stuck without our three USB flash drives (one per girl). Wireless internet is still hard to access outside of major cities and prohibitively expensive on this kind of trip. We type our text, edit our videos and select our photos directly on the Panasonic, moving the nearly-finished entry onto the flash drive. From there, we hit the internet cafe and pay between 50 cents and $3 an hour to upload the entries into our blogging program.
Thanks to hosting programs like Slide.com, Flikr.com and YouTube.com we're able to upgrade what could be a text-only entry into a colorful, interactive experience for our friends, family and readers. Sure internet can be painfully slow (sometimes, we're talking 20 minutes to load a single picture) but even the tiniest towns in the farthest reaches of the planet have computers and some sort of web connection. Even travelers heading "off the map" can still post blogs once they get there.
5. While exploring, do you jot notes for future blog posts, do you blog on the spot, or do you blog from memory later on?
While we each maintain a personal journal, we mostly construct blogs from memory (our own and each others) and use the photos we've taken as a reference. For us, it's more important to construct a well thought-out entry (and wait until we have access to a high speed internet connection), so our postings are often a couple weeks behind our "real time" journey.
6. What are some of the oddest places you've blogged from?
Kiminini, Kenya: During our volunteer experience on a farm in rural West Kenya we went without running water, consistent electricity and of course, internet. As we'd craft our blogs inside concrete huts, eight and six-legged guests would creep up and the down the walls and the local schoolkids would barge inside, jump on the bed and try to distract us by "plaiting" our hair or commandeering the computer to watch the DVD cartoons we'd brought. Blogging took a lot longer than usual, and once we'd wrapped for the day, we'd have to cram ourselves into an already overstuffed matatu (a 14-seater van packed with two dozen riders) to take our entries into town and upload them on ancient, 1980's style computers. An adventure, to be sure!
Machu Picchu: After a grueling four-day, three night hike along the Inca Trail, we'd finally made it to The Lost City of the Incas--and the last thing on our minds was updating The Lost Girls blog. But once we'd revived with ice-cream and our first shower in almost a week, we realized that we couldn't head back to modern civilization without waxing poetic about the ancient one right before our eyes.
Yangon, Myanmar: It's hard to render us speechless, but when we learned that several websites (including our blogging program) were banned by the local government, our jaws hit the dusty floor. How would we go without posting for so long? Our shock turned to intrigue once we learned from other travelers that the truly savvy could get unrestricted access to the web--if they visited the "speakeasy" style internet cafes hidden down shadowy alleys off the main drag. "Psst..hey man--you got Blogger? You got Gmail?" we inquired in hushed tones, hoping we'd get the hook up without actually knowing the password. It took a couple days of hunting, but we found what we were looking for--and managed to sneak in a blog or two before the guys in uniform caught on.
7. What do you think makes a good travel blog post?
People definitely love photos and video. They're most interested in hearing about the real, unvarnished, down-and-dirty experiences about our lives in a particular country (what the bathrooms were like, cockroach infested train cars, a humorous encounter with a local). We try to skip poetic descriptions of landscapes and zero in on the little, Seinfeld-like moments that make traveling abroad so fascinating. Friends and readers write and tell us they're reading the blog from their desks in the middle of the workday with a blizzard raging outside their windows. The want to read something funny, out of the ordinary, something that takes them away from their own day-to-day routine.
8. Which posts tend to generate the most feedback?
The posts that generate the most responses are the ones where we invite readers to respond to a particular travel-related question or dilemma (Why are young American men so scarce on the road? Which Lost Girl should have to sleep closest to big hairy spider?). We've been surprised by the strong responses to more humorous posts, such as "Interviews with Each Other." Some readers were turned off that we "rated" the Peruvian men, which they felt was too judgmental. Readers also like more service-oriented posts (ie, finding travel shots on the cheap, how to stay safe on the road, etc) that help them plan their own trips.
9. What role do photographs play? And what should you keep in mind when snapping photos for a blog?
When blogging, you're building a story as much with photos and video as you are with your words. I'd say in some cases, pictures are even more important than the commentary (they're worth a 1000 words after all!). We try to snap photos that will help to construct a great visual tale--the punctured bike tire, the humorously misspelled sign, the 14-seater van carrying 28 passengers--rather than just photos of ourselves posed in front of monuments and scenery. Since we're not always in a place where we can take notes, we also snap images that will help us to remember details later.
10. How does blogging about a trip change the way that you experience it?
While blogging doesn't inhibit us from living in the moment, we've occasionally felt the need to compromise our spontaneity in order to schedule in some blogging time. Sometimes posting a simple entry can take half a day, which can be frustrating when you only have a few days to tour a city. On the upside, blogging can make you more optimistic....when something goes south on the road, we tend to cheer ourselves up by saying, "Well, at least this will make a great story for the blog!" We also find that we're more inspired to pursue cool experiences, to take out the camera and start snapping interesting scenes so we can post them later. The simple process of articulating a personal travel moment and sharing it with strangers all over the online world can make you more appreciative and grateful for the opportunity you had to take the trip in the first place.