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travel blog adviceThere are literally thousands of travel blogs on the Internet and they come in all different shapes and sizes. Travel Blog Advice will teach you what you need to know about travel blogging including why you should start a travel blog, the potential benefits of a travel blog, and the ways to set up a travel blog.

For those of you who’ve had a travel blog for some time you may be interested in reading more about these topics.

My name is Anil Polat and I’ve been travel blogging for over 3 years and some of my other blogs include foXnoMad, Tech Guide For Travel, and How To Travel With Pets. I don’t have all of the answers but would like to share what I’ve learned about travel blogging with you. I hope that you’ll add to the discussion and leave your own tips and advice in the comments section of each post.

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This post is kindly brought to you by Bupa Travel Insurance who make getting online quotes easy so you’re covered no matter where or how you travel. [What is this?]

macbook pro 15 inch keyboard

Some time has passed since I wrote my 13 recommended WordPress plugins for travel blogs and while I can still vouch for a few of those, in many cases it’s time for an update. WordPress itself has extended its functionality to incorporate what once required plugin support while savvy coders have expanded their plugins to encompass others. All of this means that some plugins aren’t useful or needed any more while in other cases it’s better to simply add a bit of code directly into your WordPress site itself.

  • All In One SEO Pack WordPress SEO – I perform extensive SEO testing on a number of WordPress websites and since I updated this list last, the results have strongly favored WordPress SEO. Although it’s prone to conflict with other plugins you may have running and not exactly intuitive to set up, putting some effort into a careful install plus brushing up on proper configuration can markedly improve your travel blog’s search engine visibility. (Download WordPress SEO)
  • good photo of Peregrine FalconGoogle XML Sitemaps – It’s now integrated into WordPress SEO plugin, killing two birds with one plugin stone.
  • Maintenance Mode – This plugin creates a nice little ‘Under Construction’ page for your site. It’s customizable, easy to use, and should only be activated as needed. (Download Maintenance Mode)
  • Spam Karma Akismet – Spam Karma is no longer updated but Akismet does a great job of replacing it. Bundled with every WordPress installation, if you’re not already using it, you can download Akismet here.
  • TinyMCE Advanced – Adds a number of icons to your post editing screen that were lost a many WordPress updates ago. It makes it easier to insert video, adjust pictures, and change font sizes. It’s worth mentioning however that TinyMCE Advanced tends to conflict with other plugins, when in doubt, it’s the one to check. (Download TinyMCE)
  • Whydowork Adsense – If you use Google’s Adsense to make some money with your travel blog, this plugin makes it easier to put ads – or any other code for that matter – within posts. You can even configure it to show ads X number of days after a post is published or in random spots. (Download Whydowork Adsense)
  • danish mailboxesWP-ContactForm Contact Form 7 – More stable than my previous recommendation, Contact Form 7 lets you create contact pages like this and place it anywhere on your travel blog. It also comes with a built-in spam filter plus additional formatting options. (Download Contact Form 7)
  • WP-DBManager – Although WordPress comes with a built in database backup utility, this plugin lets you create backups at intervals of your choice and can be configured to automatically optimize your database every month, although I would suggest activating this feature on an as-needed basis. (Download WP-DBManager)
  • Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP) – Both Outbrain and nRelate do a better job of showing recommended posts beneath an article, although they’re not specifically sorted by relation to the topic at hand.
  • Yoast Breadcrumbs – Now integrated into WordPress SEO.
  • Sucuri Security – The service costs $89.99 per year for a single site which is a bargain considering that price includes security monitoring, protection, and clean up if required. The plugin helps integrate the Sucuri service into your WordPress installation. (Download Sucuri Security)

Generally, I try to be relatively consistent with the plugins I use across foXnoMad, Travel Blog Advice, and my other blogs, but these aren’t all of the ones I use. The others perform site-specific functions but try to remember when it comes to plugins, less is more. A cluttered installation of plugins on your WordPress back-end can slow or shutdown pages when conflicts inevitably occur.

Many travel blog dilemmas, like forcing external links to open in new tabs, using a trailing slash for site speed and improving SEO or enabling SSL for password security can be accomplished with a few lines of code in the right place.

What are some of your favorite and go-to WordPress plugins you would add to the list above? I look forward to hearing your recommendations, in the comments below.

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kira zalan live chatOver on foXnoMad from 7pm-9pm US EST today, Thursday November 7th but you can leave your questions below or directly in the chat comments here right now. In addition to writing, she’ll also answer any questions you may have on pitching stories to publishers, coming up with a good story, and breaking into the writing world. I hope you have time to take advantage of the opportunity and think you’ll find some excellent travel blog advice.

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porto portugal windows

Although there are both sides to the debate on whether you should or shouldn’t force all external links to open in new windows, if you decide to, don’t use a plugin to complete the job. With a few simple lines of code you can have links pointing to sites outside of your travel blog open in new tabs or windows when users click on them. Doing so potentially keeps people on your blog longer while not using a plugin helps you avoid potential conflicts with others you may be running.

Open Your functions.php File

You can find and edit your functions.php file in one of two common ways. Either through the editor in the WordPress admin interface (Appearance > Editor) or through FTP (wp-content > Themes > [Your theme in use] > functions.php). Once the file is open, copy and paste it to another file or your desktop, so you have a copy in case something goes wrong.

texas state capital buildingTwo Important Things To Note

The first is that some themes, like versions of the popular Thesis, have custom function files. You’ll want to place the code there if that’s how your particular WordPress theme is setup. (They do this to make themes more flexible with updates.)

The second is to place the code right above this – ?> – at the bottom of your functions.php file. Not doing so will either break your theme completely or result in lines of code hanging in your header. (Placing the code after the ?> or at the very top of the functions.php file are the two most common mistakes I find people make.)

Insert This Code

Be sure to replace “YOURSITE” with your particular domain name.

function autoblank($text) {
$return = str_replace(‘href=’, ‘target=”_blank” href=’, $text);
$return = str_replace(‘target=”_blank” href=”http://YOURSITE.com’, ‘href=”http://YOURSITE.com’, $return);
$return = str_replace(‘target=”_blank” href=”#’, ‘href=”#’, $return);
$return = str_replace(‘ target = “_blank”>’, ‘>’, $return);
return $return;
}

To have all links left by your readers in the comments section open in new windows as well, simply add these two lines to the code above:

add_filter(‘the_content’, ‘autoblank’);
add_filter(‘comment_text’, ‘autoblank’);

Hopefully now you’ve got all of the links you want opening up in new tabs or windows (which one depends on the browser settings of the viewer). In case you do notice errors, check the first two points above, and if all else fails, simply delete the code from your functions.php file.

Other Methods And Useful Lines Of Code

There are a number of alternate ways to do the same thing although I prefer this method over using jQuery. Using PHP reduces the chances of you running into code conflicts and will likely keep your travel blog loading faster as well. A few lines of code can go a long way, like using a trailing slash for site speed and improving SEO or enabling SSL for password security.

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macbook pro keyboard

No security is absolute and there isn’t a single password perfect enough to protect you from every type of hack that exists now or will in the future.

Unfortunately there’s no mystical password out there in the ether to that can secure all of your online accounts forever. One great password isn’t nearly enough. You need a layered password strategy that requires a unique login for each of your online accounts. But that same technology that forces you to have multiple passwords – giving you a headache – can actually relive you of having to do any additional brainwork at all.

Security Is A Strategy, Not A Solution

We tend to focus on the endpoints of security like a metaphorical egg. Hard shell around the exterior but once it’s cracked, nothing stopping you from the yolk. Having multiple passwords is like adding shell after shell to your online world and identity, so if someone does hack an account, they’re limited in what they have access to.

What most hackers do when they gain access to any of your online accounts is not immediately try to empty out your bank account. They’ll use your email address to identify other accounts, hoping you’re using a single password for all of them. Slowly gathering information, they’ll then take what they can get, whether it’s personal messages, money, or your questionable spring break photos. When you’re only using a single password, you can never been sure what’s been stolen if one of your accounts is compromised.

So, rather than having to change all of your passwords, set up multiple passwords so you only have to change one when the day comes you get hacked. Luckily, technology is on our side to do most of the work for us.

keepassxTools To Create And Track All Of Your Passwords

Don’t bother trying to conjure up complex passwords you’ll end up forgetting and resetting over and over. Your brain is the most complex computer in the known universe, use it for what its good at, which isn’t coming up with passwords.

  • KeePass (free) – My favorite password management tool, it lets you store all of your account usernames and passwords on your hard drive in an encrypted folder. You only need to remember the single KeePass password, then just copy and paste passwords as you log into Facebook, email, and your bank accounts. KeePass is also available on iOS, Android, Blackberry as a mobile app, which you can sync with your desk or laptop.

I have over 100 passwords stored on my KeePass, one for each account that’s randomly generated as complex as a given site will allow. Typically, my passwords are 16-22 characters long with numbers, symbols, upper and lower case characters.

And I don’t know any of them except two. One is to KeePass itself, and the other is to my email account. All of the other places I log in regularly: Twitter, Facebook, and my blog require me to copy and paste the password from KeePass into the site. That’s literally 4 mouse clicks for some peace of mind. Not only do I not have to remember much, it’s quick – and I can probably log into all of my accounts faster than you can type in even the crappiest 123password!

  • Lastpass is an another free password manager. Easy to use. The premium version, which you’ll need for your mobile devices, costs $12 per annum.
  • 1Password is a sophisticated user-friendly solution, but it comes at a price. There’s a 30-day free trial period, after that, depending on the licence you want (family, pro, single), prices start at $49.99.

Passwords Aren’t Absolute – Use The Next Step When You Can

There are a number of ways to hack an account that’s secured by password only. A hacker may try guessing the most common passwords, breaking the site, or fooling you into revealing some of your account information. (Like this attack last year against Tumblr.) It’s easy to steal what someone knows – which is why many sites take advantage of two-factor authentication – something you have combined with something you know.

Both Paypal and many HSBC banking accounts have the option of two-factor authentication; in the form of a small password-generating token they send to you for $5 or less. These small devices display a new number every 30-60 seconds which you need to enter with your password. Just having the password isn’t enough.

Many financial institutions offer hardware tokens but typically don’t advertise them for consumer accounts. Call you bank and other money-managing service providers to see if they’ve got tokens available for account logins. That way, if your password is compromised, the attacker won’t be able to get into your account. Unless of course you didn’t follow my advice above and are using the same password for each login.

Don’t Just Keep Tweaking The Same Password Ending

It’s important, which is why I mention it again, that you don’t come up with your own passwords. Even if you tweak the same password root for each account (e.g. Kermit123!, Kermit-5566, etc.) for a computer doing the guessing, it really doesn’t matter at all. The most used password roots are widely known and generally consist of real words, sequential numbers, and proper names.

Go random and use a unique password for each of your online accounts, otherwise you’re only fooling yourself into feeling secure.

Rules To Login By

As a reminder, these are the basic best practices you should follow.

  1. Use A Password Manager – KeePass or LastPass are my personal recommendations.
  2. Generate A Unique Password For Each Account – Both programs can create randomly generated passwords for you. Use this feature and don’t bother trying to remember any of them, except the password for the password program itself.
  3. Ask Your Banks For Tokens – If they don’t offer them, suggest that they do.
  4. Don’t Send Your Passwords Over Email – It’s like writing your personal secrets on a postcard. If you do have to send a password, use Skype (chat or voice). The connections are encrypted.
  5. Any Password You Came Up With In Your Head – …isn’t a good password. Magicians have known for a long time, we all tend to pick the same random numbers.

You Know What To Do So Do It Now!

A dedicated 15 minutes should be about what you need to download one of the password managers above, generate passwords for each of your accounts, and then go online and change each one. A quarter of an hour is a small amount of time to pay compared to the effort it takes to recover from a hacked email, bank, and Facebook account. Oh and Twitter. Because you used practically the same password for that too.

Finally, keep in mind that none of your online accounts aren’t worth using a unique and randomly generated password. That off-the-cuff password you selected for your unused Pinterest account can reveal a lot about you.The first step, for a hacker, is the hardest; after that it depends on you.

I originally published this post on the Travelllll, which will be closing its digital doors at the end of the month.

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romanian ads

A question I received from Dean in the comments of a previous post (oops, over a year ago – I’m late, don’t hate) was how to work with sponsors when they want to advertise their products or services through your travel blog. That’s a broad question but I’ll try my best to narrow down that gray area between blogger and advertiser when you’re not selling a direct ad.

“I’d welcome your suggestions about working with advertisers when it comes to running competitions and promotions of their products/services, eg, what’s in it for me, what to ask for etc. Thanks.” -Dean

petronas towers shoppingProducts, Products Everywhere

Blog long enough and you’re certain to get companies of all sorts asking you to take a look at or blatantly promote their products and services. Most of these offers come as promotional scatter-shot. There has to be a trade off whenever you work with some other entity or person on your travel blog. That could be monetary compensation or content but whatever it is as a blogger, you need to look at it from your side.

Too many (especially newer) bloggers worry too much about what the other side is getting in a deal, acting so scared to lose any potential offer they promote everything for nothing. Trust me, the other side is already concentrating on what they want to get out of a deal; you can’t meet anybody halfway if you’re running after them.

Know What Fits Your Site

Don’t even consider a product or service from an advertiser if you don’t think it’s useful or would be interesting to your readers. Companies approach you to promote their products for as little money as they can; don’t jump at every or many of the offers you get unless there is some clear benefit to your business. What you promote is a message about your blog and your online image, be discriminating.

Spread Out Effecticely

Many promoters want you to dedicate an entire blog post to their product or service. And, on rare occasions, something interesting enough comes along to warrant just that. (For example, when I did a Monster Inspiration headphones review.) On other occasions a product or service you’re given an offer to try may just be a good fit as part of a large blog post on a related topic.

Or as a free giveaway on Facebook or through your newsletter, something like I did with Swarovski Optik last month. Leverage the offers you receive and make them work for your blog naturally, so they don’t feel like a detour or distraction, but rather a natural expansion of your travel blog.

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facebook thumbnail linksOne of the most frustrating things about posting a travel blog or other link to your Facebook fan page is when that social network can’t seem to place a thumbnail with your url. Without the tiny picture, your link looks like an ugly excerpt of floating text in the timelines of all your followers – not very attractive to click on. Fortunately, there are two rather straightforward methods of getting Facebook to work a little harder and generate a thumbnail for the links you post.

Refresh Facebook’s Cache Using Their Debugger

The little advertised Facebook URL Debugger for developers is the easiest way to get a thumbnail for any link you post to Facebook. All you need to do is enter in the url you’re having trouble with and click ‘debug’. What this does is refresh the cache Facebook has taken of that particular post or page, which is usually enough to generate a thumbnail when you go to post the link again. On pages with a large number of pictures or thumbnails however (as I have on the side of foXnoMad’s latest posts) Facebook may get confused and pick up the wrong picture. In those cases, repeat the process a few times and that generally does the trick.

facebook debug tool

What To Do In Case Of Constant Problems

If the no-thumbnail problem is more than an occasional nuisance for your site, one of the most straightforward fixes is to implement the Facebook “Like” button on all of your travel blog posts and pages. That helps Facebook take over the Internet crawl your blog and the images on every page much better. Images placed at the top of posts and pages also tend to be picked up first by the Facebook thumbnail generator so don’t neglect pictures “above the fold.”

Finally, it’s important to properly code and label images when you post them and don’t forget to share your blog posts without ugly links on Facebook.

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One way to share links from your travel blog is to click the “like” button on one of your recent posts – but that only shares the content on your personal Facebook profile. Albeit with a clean link and thumbnail, as well, as any comments or post title you want to add above it. One problem that many bloggers seem to encounter when they want to post an article to their Facebook fan page is they don’t know how to do so without leaving the ugly URL in the status update box. The fix is really quite simple and will make your travel blog posts on Facebook look so much prettier and enticing to click.

facebook ugly links

First Step: Do What You’ve Been Doing

When you have a post you want to share on your Facebook fan page, you’ll initially follow the same steps you likely have been already. Simply write the text you want to convey or the title of your travel blog post, i.e. “Should I Buy A Tablet Instead Of A Laptop For My Travels?”, then paste the link to the story right after it. (Continuing the same example: http://foxnomad.com/2012/11/20/should-i-buy-a-tablet-instead-of-a-laptop-for-my-travels/)

  • In the status box you’d have this: Should I Buy A Tablet Instead Of A Laptop For My Travels? http://foxnomad.com/2012/11/20/should-i-buy-a-tablet-instead-of-a-laptop-for-my-travels/

Keep in mind I’m just using the title as an example, it really doesn’t matter what text you place before the link.

Wait Until The Link Preview And Thumbnail Show Up

Once you’ve placed your text and link in the status box – you know the drill – wait a few seconds for Facebook to automatically generate a pretty link with preview text and thumbnail. (Next week I’ll be covering how to get a thumbnail on your posted links for those pesky times Facebook refuses to do it.) Once the link is set and appears how you like it, simply highlight and delete the URL you pasted in the status bar. Now you’re left with only the text or title you entered and the pretty link.

facebook clean link

This should help keep your travel blog’s Facebook fan page looking clean and potentially increase your click-through rates.

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cloudflareOne of the simplest ways you can speed up and secure your travel blog with a few clicks is by using Cloudflare. That service, which I use on foXnoMad and my other blogs, acts primarily as an invisible security barrier to your blog to protect it from spam and hacking. In addition, Cloudflare is a content delivery network (CDN); which distributes parts of your blog to other servers, speeding things up overall. (Here’s my earlier primer on CDNs.)

Cloudflare also comes with several other helpful features, like minifying, that may be enabled by default. (Specifically if you’ve chosen to use their “Advanced Performance Options.”) Minifying, in terms of computer code, is essentially a process where the code is streamlined by removing irrelevant portions of it. There are a number of ways to minify code, including WordPress plugins and Cloudflare – though you don’t want to use both at the same time.

It May Be Obvious Or Not – Why You Shouldn’t Use Both

Implementing any form of minifying doesn’t often go completely smooth at first. Chances are there’s a lot of Java, plugins, and custom theme images floating around your travel blog. When you minify for the first time you may notice parts of your pages not displaying properly or certain plugins acting up. That can happen when you’re only using one minifying solution; when you use two, the problems aren’t always as blatant.

glass turtle

When Cloudflare has minifying enabled upon activation, you might not notice it conflicting with your other minifying plugin right away. Some typical symptoms can be site-sluggishness, images loading incompletely, or certain pages on your site showing up blank.

How To Choose The Minify To Use

Optimizing a site is like picking out a nice outfit – there are some general guidelines you can follow but in the end its an individual formula. Generally speaking, if you’re already using a minification service and it’s working well, use these services to test your page-load times. Then, disable that minifier and switch to Cloudflare’s, running the same tests. If there’s a marked improvement in loading times or responsiveness of your site you know which to stick with.

In my personal experience, after developing a number of sites, I’ve found that Cloudflare’s auto-minify feature works with fewer problems upon activation. Those of you not minifying the code on your travel blog and looking for a good option, I’d recommend you starting out with Cloudflare.

A Quick Check To Be Sure

If your travel blog happens to be running Cloudflare (which has a free version of their service by the way) be sure to log into your account, go to Performance Settings, and check your ‘Auto-Minify’ settings. If they’re enabled, be sure you’re not using another minify plugin at the same time. Also, sites running W3 Total Cache (my preferred caching plugin) should check under ‘General Settings’ that minfying isn’t enabled there either.

Provided you’re not using more than one minify service at the same time, it’s an effective and recommended way to reduce your blog’s loading time.

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green and orange jfold wallet

A question I often find in my inbox and see on travel blogging forums is, “how can I make money with my blog?” If a blog were a direct method of making money, everyone would have a blog. A blog is simply a medium; asking how to make money with it is like purchasing a new laptop and then asking the clerk at checkout how to develop your career around it.

A blogger needs to ask themselves, if they want to monetize their site, the right questions from the bottom up, not the reverse. Why should anyone give you money? This is the simplest question any business that stays in business regularly asks itself. If you’re not asking yourself why should anyone give you money you will fail at doing so. The reality is, even if you are asking that question, you may fail. But in the latter situation, the outcome is much more in your hands.

crowd of peopleHow Most People Go About Making Money From Travel Blogs

Whenever you earn a cent from your blog, the person or company sending you that money is paying you in exchange for something. Companies purchase text links to improve their search engine rankings, buy banner ads to promote their products to your audience, and donation buttons work because ultimately someone wants to help cover your costs (or travels) somehow. You are essentially monetizing an audience who happens to congregate on your travel blog (and by extension you and all of the places you hangout. Like Facebook.)

Keeping Your Content In Context

The quality of your content does not correlate to the amount of money a blog or other media format makes. (Which explains the success of reality television.) Generally the thinking behind ‘content is king’ is that good writing, photography, etc. will lead to a bigger audience. There is no guarantee that it will however (but producing an enticing formula for crap isn’t that easy either.)

Having an audience is only one broad layer of your monetizing strategy – you need to keep it in perspective to relevant websites on the Internet. How many people actually follow you? Why do they visit your site? What’s their demographic? How big is your audience to anyone who would pay money for it? Why would anyone want to give you money to communicate with the people following your blog?

Entertainment Vs. Problem Solving

So as you wander down the rabbit hole instead of staring at what comes out of it and happens to fall in your lap, you can take your monetizing logic one further step back. Why would an audience follow you in the first place? Most travel blogs and forms of media fall somewhere in between two pots – entertainment and problem solving. They can, of course, overlap (most of the best sites do) but people are exchanging their time with you for some gain. Maybe they like to laugh, get taken away on wild travel adventures, or learn the best ways to find cheap flights. How your audience grows will dictate how successful you are at being entertaining or useful and that audience may lead you indirectly to some income.

You may yet fail or succeed but you’ll be asking the right questions. Making money online is capitalism – the market dictates which bloggers make money and how – not communism where everyone makes something just for showing up. There are infinite roads from A to B; some lead to money, others are just you working for free. Now you’re thinking in the right direction. The rest is up to you.

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