TOP TRAVEL BLOG RESOURCES
This is a quick cheat sheet for travel bloggers that contain a lot of the products and services that I use with my blog. This list is going to evolve over time as I’m continuously tweaking what works best in the travel space. I’ll make sure I update this page when I find resources worth mentioning.
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links. I personally use and endorse all the products and services that I list below and wholeheartedly recommend them to you because they are companies that I’ve found helpful in making my travel blog successful.
TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
Olympus OM-D E-M5 – 2 years ago, I slowly started shifting away my travel photography gear from my Canon full frame over to the Micro Four Thirds (M43) format. While it gives me massive weight savings, it doesn’t sacrifice any of the DSLR features I’m so used to (i.e. aperture and manual modes) and still retains the ability to change lenses. The beauty of the M43 is that you also don’t lose much in quality compared to most other DSLRs. I can now travel the world without putting the weight of bricks on my shoulders. As an added bonus, the E-M5 is also quite capable in video as well. Since this body has been out for a few years now, the prices have dropped considerably too so it’s an amazing buy. Remember – beautiful photographs is key to a great travel blog.
Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Lens – Paired with the E-M5, this is the best lens for travelling that covers the wide-angle range for those sweeping landscapes and the zoom range for portraits and close-up details. This thing is practically glued to my camera because while I’m on the go there simply isn’t enough time to be switching lenses. What I love about it is that not only is it versatile, the f/2.8 aperture gives my photos that creamy bokeh everyone looks for and handles low light very well. This is a top-notch high quality lens.
Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Lens – Completely opposite to the 12-40mm lens is this prime, fixed length lens. I’ve added this to my arsenal of travel lenses because it’s hands-down the sharpest lens I have ever owned. At f/1.2, the rendering of the images it captures is out of this world. The lens is a little long which I’ve had to get used to but as a result I’ve been able to use this for amazing portrait, tight detail and creeper (taking photos of people without them knowing) shots. The price tag on this baby is high but for me it’s been a worthwhile investment.
Olympus HLD-6 Grip and Battery Holder – With the E-M5 as small as it is, I found that it was hard to grip with my large hands and so I ended up purchasing the optional HLD-6 grip. The horizontal grip (depicted on the top) is what allows my right hand to comfortably wrap around the camera with the added bonus of an additional shutter button, making it even easier to take photos. The battery holder and portrait grip (depicted on the bottom) is a nice bonus in the package but I honestly don’t use it because it’s mainly for portrait shooters in the studio. It’s not worth the extra weight to lug around while travelling so I always leave it at home.
Wasabi Batteries for Olympus OM-D E-M5 – One of the worst things that can happen to you on the road is running out of juice for your camera. Unlike DSLRs, M43 cameras do use up a lot more battery simply because you’ll be using the live-view display to shoot that much more. Not wanting to break the bank, I went out in search of a cheaper alternative and eventually found Wasabi. This particular package comes with two batteries and its own charger. Having tested these in the field, I was very impressed with how they performed – they were practically like the Olympus originals. The charger itself was also a nice surprise because it’s designed WAY better than the one Olympus gives you. Extra batteries are essential for any photographer.
B+W 62mm XS-Pro Clear UV Haze with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating – Your lenses need protection and that’s where the UV filters come in. While blocking UV is nice to have, the real purpose of these filters is to protect the precious front element glass from being damaged or scratched up. Also if by some chance your lens takes a tumble and falls on the ground head first, the filter will take the brunt of the damage. Don’t skimp out here, make sure you protect your lenses. In my opinion, B+W makes the best filters out there so make sure you grab one of these for your photography gear set up. Note: This particular one has a 62mm thread that matches the Olympus 12-40mm lens but if you own other lenses, make sure to double check what thread it uses. For instance, the Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm uses a 67mm thread.
B+W 77mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating – Outside of the UV filter, I’d only recommend one more type of filter, and that’s the circular polarizer. The purpose of this type of filter is to 1) cut down the reflection and glare of water and 2) to darken the sky and saturate the colors. Your landscape shots will thank you for popping on a circular polarizer. It will make your photos look that much more dynamic and will save you a heck of a lot of time post processing. The Kaesemann line from B+W is their highest which is why the price tag on this is a bit high but I’ve had a really good experience using this one which is why I’m recommending it.
SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB SDHC Memory – Although not as sexy as say a camera body or lens, memory is pretty damn important in the photography equation. No memory = no photos. Corrupt memory = cry yourself to bed. The importance of having a good memory card is paramount and for me SanDisk is really the only brand I trust. I’ve had cheap memory cards go bad on me and I’ve vowed to never let that happen again. The Extreme Pro is a good tier of card to have because it has 95mb/s read and write speed. That means that the camera can write photos to the card faster, allowing you to take the next shot that much quicker. It also means that when you’re taking high def video that the memory card can keep up. Some people ask me why I don’t just get a 64GB card and the reason is I much prefer having smaller capacity cards so that if one goes bad on the road, I’ll have another to use. If your 64GB card goes bust, you really won’t have a back up and you might lose everything in one go as opposed to just half. It hasn’t happened to me but that’s my theory anyways.
Lenspen – Have you ever checked out photos from your trip only to notice that there’s a dust spot that appears in one same spot in every single shot? Don’t be that guy. Get a Lenspen and get that gunk outta there! The brush side is great for getting big pieces of dust out and the felt side is great to remove the smaller pieces and even get rid of water marks.
Think Tank Retrospective 7 Messenger Camera Bag – After you’ve stocked up on ALL of that gear, you naturally will need a bag to keep it all in. I’ve had my fair share of camera bags over the years and so I’ve gotten pretty picky with my bag selection. Sufficed to say, this bag is one that I’ve loved ever since I got it. With 3 sections, I can easily fit my camera body with lens attached plus 2 more lenses. The many MANY pockets and slots it has is great for all the additional camera gear I bring with me and any travel things I pick up along the way. The back side is also big enough for my 11″ Apple Mac Book Air which is huge for me. It’s also incredibly comfortable to sling on your shoulder and the best part is that it’s completely inconspicuous so you’re not shouting HEY I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER COME STEAL MY STUFF.
Adobe Lightroom 5 – Once you’re done taking all those awesome photos, you know your job isn’t done quite yet. The post-processing workflow kicks in and you need software for that. Sure there’s Photoshop but to be honest Lightroom is more than capable of handling most of your editing needs. It does a fantastic job at cataloguing and organizing your photos. Editing is a breeze with the sliders – they’ve really made it beginner friendly. If you want to produce some serious eye-catching photos, post-processing is almost a must so you can do things like crop out that dude that photobombed your shot or bring out the color vibrancy of the flowers or even add a little bit of sharpness to really give your shot some grit. Lightroom is my go-to software to handle all my editing needs.
Backblaze – So you’ve finished post-processing all your photos and you have all of your files safely tucked away in an external hard drive. Now imagine the unimaginable, the hard drive dies or a natural disaster hits your home. You’ve just lost all of your files. Don’t let that happen to you. Sign up for Backblaze and have your files automatically synced and backed up in the cloud for only $5 a month. It’s a super slick program that runs in the background of your computer and any connected drives you may have.
STARTING YOUR OWN TRAVEL BLOG
Bluehost – I originally started Going Awesome Places on GoDaddy but after a lot of issues with speed and performance, I switched over to Bluehost. They offer an incredibly easy and slick way to get up and running ASAP with WordPress. Unlike GoDaddy, I was able to sign up for a free domain as part of registering. Bluehost is extremely affordable and the perfect place to set up your first travel blog. And if it couldn’t get any better, if you sign up using Travel Blog Breakthrough’s link above, you get a discount on their monthly membership. Bluehost also saved my behind once when I accidentally deleted my entire blog. I thought I was doomed but all I had to do was call in and they were able to restore a backup they automatically made the night before. Most don’t know this but Bluehost actually does monthly, weekly and daily courtesy backups for when the unspeakable happens. I totally get how setting up a WordPress blog can be overwhelming and complicated which is why I put together a guide that lays out in 3 steps how you can get your new travel blog up and running in less than a day.
Siteground – After 2 years with BlueHost, I decided I needed a boost in performance and was looking for better customer service. What I like about Siteground is that there are a lot of build in services to the hosting that are normally additional packages. Siteground has a built in CDN with its SuperCacher and there is built in technology in the hosting that prevents your site from being hacked.
Free Themes from WordPress – If you’re not quite ready to dish out money for a professional theme, WordPress has 2,781 free themes and counting. This is a great way to get your travel blog off the ground right away and allows you to play around with a few themes before committing to one long term. When searching for a theme here, make sure you look for ones that have at least a four star rating and also read the reviews. There are good ones out there and some really bad ones as well.
themeforest – WordPress provides a lot of free themes to but if you really want your blog to look above the generic themes, you really have to look to a place like themeforest for those “premium” themes. The Throne Theme by meks is what Travel Blog Breakthrough is currently running on and it’s completely what gives this blog the look and feel that it has. Without themeforest, I wouldn’t have been able to discover it. There are literally over 16,000 site templates available so happy hunting!
MailChimp – Sooner or later you’re going to realize you need to start a mailing list. Even if you don’t plan on mailing anything to people on your list, every blogger will tell you that it’s one of the first things you should set up because you never know when you might want to reach out to those fans on your list to bring them back to your site for new content or to pitch a new product. MailChimp is a product I’ve used from the start and continue to use today to manage all of my newsletter sign ups, to send automated e-mails that contain my e-book after they sign up and for newsletter creation and distribution. It’s incredible what you’re able to do with MailChimp under their free tier.
StudioPress – In the never ending quest to improve the blog and make it even more user friendly, fast, and optimized, I’ve been searching high and low for something better than my current theme on Going Awesome Places which is Sahifa. It’s a beautiful theme but unfortunately simply too bulky which resulted in some serious speed issues. Having improved my hosting with WP Engine, the next natural step was to change themes and everyone I talked to recommended either WooThemes, ElegantThemes or StudioPress. What attracted me to StudioPress was the fact that it was designed to be light weight, optimized for SEO, mobile responsive, and highly customizable with its use of the Genesis framework. While it was a little scary at first to learn a new framework, surprisingly it was incredibly easy to pick up and LOVE LOVE the new look I’m working on for Going Awesome Places. It’s time to take your WordPress site to the next level.
ElegantThemes – It’s probably worth mentioning that when I first started blogging with Going Awesome Places, I got my first themes from ElegantThemes. What I loved about them was that by signing up for a year subscription, I had access to 87 beautifully crafted themes. Contrast this to themeforest where you have to pay roughly $40 per theme. So while I still had membership to ElegantThemes at the time, I took advantage and was able to start with the Envisioned theme and then upgrade to Lucid theme after I had a better idea of what I wanted in a theme. Right now, the most popular theme on ElegantThemes is Divi 2.0 theme which has unparalleled control of your pages with its custom page builder. It’s their smartest and most flexible theme yet.
Revive Old Post – To win at the social game means figuring out your automation tools. This plugin is one of those that will help you tweet out your old posts on a regular interval. This way, none of your old content dies a horrible death.
OptinMonster – This is a must-have for any blog looking at new ways to get readers to convert to your newsletter. There are SO many tools built into OptinMonster that it has become the defacto plugin for top tier bloggers.
CommentLuv – This is a great plugin to attract other bloggers to leave comments on your blog. Whenever someone leaves fils out their website for a comment, this plugin automatically scans the domain for recent posts and will leave a link to that one of those posts as part of the comment. This increases the number of link backs to your blog and thus improving your SEO.
Comment Reply Notification – For some strange reason, this feature isn’t built in by default but what this essentially does is give the option for commenters to receive an e-mail when someone replies to their comment, thus boosting engagement.
Pinterest Pin It Button For Images – This is one of those frequently asked questions by bloggers. How do you get that “Pin it” button when you hover over a photo? It’s as simple as installing this plugin.
Pretty Link Lite – If you’re looking to monetize your blog, you’re going to end up dropping a lot of links on your blogs. Those affiliate links are long, ugly looking and obvious. What Pretty Link Lite does is mask it under your own domain. You just need to look at all my examples above and you’ll see that I’ve used this plugin for almost all of the links.
W3 Total Cache – The ultimate plugin to improve your page speeds. It’s quite the pickle to set up but once you do, it’ll boost your travel blog’s performance many times over.
WordPress SEO by Yoast – This should be the first plugin you install on your blog. There’s no other plugin that manages search engine optimization like this one does.
SPONSORSHIP PLATFORMS FOR TRAVEL BLOGGERS
Cooperatize – I joined this platform a few months ago and got my first sponsored post gig via the luxurious Rock at Ranch Creek in Montana. Although you’re not going to get a continuous flood of sponsored work after signing up, creating your account and having your profile up there is worth the effort because you never know when there’ll be a travel brand that will be looking for travel bloggers. I’m not sure how the pairing process works in the back end but when there is a match, Cooperatize emails you telling you about the opportunity and you’ll have the chance to either accept or decline.
IZEA – IZEA is a relative newcomer as well similar to Cooperatize where they connect brands and bloggers together. What’s different about this and Cooperatize is that you can actually view a lot of the open opportunities available and decide whether you want to “bid” for them or not. On the free tier membership, you get up to 3 “bids” per month. I found out about them when they contacted me for a sponsored post they needed travel bloggers for.
Seeding Up – I only recently found out about this recently but looks like quite the established platform to put yourself out there as a site that is accepting sponsored content and links. I haven’t gotten any work from this yet but will update this when I do. My thought with these platforms is that I might as well sign up for as many as I can since it’ll only increase the opportunities coming my way.
Call Recorder – This was pretty much my first software purchase for this blog and podcast. Trust me when I tell you that I scavenged the net for free versions of what Call Recorder can do but there just wasn’t anything out there that would 1) Work with the latest version of Skype or 2) offer nearly as many features as Call Recorder does. So what does Call Recorder do? Well, all those interviews I do, I have over Skype. Skype is something that most other travel bloggers have and is the most convenient to use. Call Recorder is an add on that lives inside of Skype that allows you to record both video and audio of any call you do. When you’re done, it basically spits out the appropriate video or audio files out to you so you can create your podcast. Some amazing features it comes with is the ability to quickly encode the audio using the conversion tools they provide and you can also split the audio tracks between the two callers which is really useful when you get down to podcast editing. For $29.99, you really can’t lose.
Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone – After doing considerable research on what microphone to get, I eventually landed on this one by Audio-Technica. The reason why I picked this one was because it was a mid-tier microphone that wasn’t on the low-budget end where I would have to upgrade a few months later but at the same time wouldn’t break the bank. This mic only costs $59.95. So far after recording a few TBB episodes, I’ve been very happy with its performance. It gives a level of professionalism to my podcast as it sounds just as good as some of the other podcasting pros out there. A big feature of this mic is that it is able to connect to the computer via USB which is something I would recommend for anyone looking for a mic. This means you can plug the mic directly to the computer and get your Garageband or Skype to recognize right away. The XLR connection feature is a nice to have if I find myself needing to upgrade to a fancy mixer board down the road but I would say it’s not entirely necessary for your first mic. Looking around Amazon, I found a great package that included the Audio-Technica mic and a pop filter that sits in front of the mic when recording and a foam ball to slide over the mic. This combo cost $69.95.
AudioJungle – The biggest thing you need to know about video is that the actual video is nothing without the right music and cutting your clips to the beat. With music, you’ll probably start off using music in your collection but if you truly want to monetize and make your videos stand out, you’re going to want to buy and license music from a site like AudioJungle. A lot of my latest clips on the Going Awesome Places YouTube channel have music sourced from here.