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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

How to launch your own travel blog

Whether you're a professional travel writer or capturing vacation memories for family and friends, times have changed. Back in the 1980s, I pounded out articles on an actual typewriter, using carbon paper for copies and white-out for corrections. We spent hundreds of dollars on film processing and to this day have boxes of unsorted photos clogging our closets. Poor Bud lugged a giant camcorder around on his shoulder. Sharing memories meant heavy photo albums and grouchy VCR equipment.
Now I submit articles on my laptop from anywhere in the world. I upload digital images and text, and in a cyber-moment it's off to my editor. And for several years, I've been sending travelogue emails home to family and friends - a running commentary of our journeys, complete with attached or embedded digital images.

But today, even that's old hat. Nowadays blogs, which store your text and images on a server out in cyberland, allow professionals and amateurs alike to craft ongoing personal stories about their travels, all illustrated by pictures and even short video clips. Readers, friends, family - anyone with online access - can view it instantly.
If you think of a blog as a long-winded discourse on the obscure opinions of even more obscure people, you're not alone. That's what I thought. Then I saw a few travel blogs that had pictures, colors and design. They were appealing to the eye, fun to read and sometimes even full of useful information.
But could I do it? Yes, and so can you.
Several online platforms provide theme-oriented templates, like cooking, sports, books or travel and lots, lots more. I picked Blogger (blogspot.com) because it's free and said I'd be up and going in 15 minutes. (True!) I liked the snazzy travel design templates and found that I could customize my homepage with my own photos. In no time I had my very own blog: travelswithchase.blogspot.com. You can have as many as you want - say one for each vacation (jonestriptoitaly.blogspot.com, or disneyinfebruary.blogspot.com). I chose a general title to keep everything together. Entries, or posts, as they are called, can be organized by date, usually with the most recent right at the top. That made sense to me. I could keep going week after week, month after month. It would all be there, in tidy chronological order.
Once you have your blog name (they'll tell you right away if it's already taken and offer variations for you to consider), the real fun begins: designing your look. I started with a beach picture in the background for a dreamy feel. You can pick from their online photo bank, or upload your own if you have one that's a great mood-setter.
Next I picked a font style, something that goes a long way toward establishing your look and feel. The standard Times New Roman seemed too newsy and the fun "Andy" too child-like. Trebuchet was just right for me, clean and easy to read.
My biggest fear was designing the layout. Should I have the daily posts in the center or off to the right? Would my feature photo look best at the top or off on the left? But blogspot.com offered several layout options, with key elements like the "About Us" and the title placed in various spots on the page. The good news is that no matter which platform you choose, there's a tutorial and a help blog. Honestly, though, the decisions are all one-click easy. I relaxed, poured myself a glass of wine and tried several before I settled on my look.
Now it was time to jazz up the page with what blogspot.com calls gadgets: photos, links, slideshows, videos and more that you can place around the page. This seemed daunting until I clicked on the tool button and a simple pop-up screen appeared. In two clicks I added a favorite photo. Even better, the gadgets can be added or deleted with a simple click. Pop them in, pop them out, try another, go back to the first. It's a piece of cake. They can all be changed and updated instantly. One of my gadgets even links directly to the Sunday Monitor Travel section and the archive of my columns and features - one click and you're there!
But the building block of a blog is the post, your daily (weekly?) log entry. On blogspot.com, you compose text in a pop-up screen, add images, upload video clips and "hot" links to relevant websites (restaurants you've enjoyed, sites you've visited). You can preview the post before the world sees it, and edit or delete it even after it's gone live.
Frequency is the key. When we were on the road this winter, I had tons to post about. January's posts explore the Florida Keys - finding dog-friendly restaurants, beaches and parks, hanging out with friends, watching sunsets. In February we moved to Mississippi's Gulf Coast and were wowed by the beaches, architecture and that famous Southern hospitality. St. Maarten in March was exciting - in addition to hiking, boating and sampling restaurants, we witnessed a shooting while having lunch on the French side and got to learn how gendarmes work.
Now that we're home, posts will be more about exploring New England, planning our next trip and what's happening in the world of travel. But the winter of 2011, complete with pictures, videos, stories and links, won't fade - it's just a click away. Why not try it with your next vacation? Your friends and family will thank you.

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