So, you’re heading out on a big bike tour and you want to tell your mum, your friends and even the world about it.
Great! The good news is that sharing your photos, videos and stories is getting easier by the day. Internet can be found almost world wide and the technology you need to get connected from the wilderness is increasingly compact and affordable. Whether you actually WANT to be connected is another matter entirely…. (do you? do you really?)
In the end, very few of us will decide not to blog at all on a bike tour because it is nice to keep a journal of your tour, and it’s nice to share experiences with friends, family and other cyclists. But before you jump in head first and spend a few thousand dollars on kit (this is all too easily done), be clear on what you want and need from a blog. Here are some points to consider:
- What You Really Want – Are you just trying to let everyone know you’re okay and share a couple photos, or are you hoping to launch a travel writing career, become famous and impress sponsors? If it’s the latter, you’ll have to invest a lot more time and money in your blog.
- How Much Control You Want – Are you happy to stick with an out-of-the-box style or do you want to play with colours, designs and the ability to add extras like interactive features (maps, videos, polls) and advertising?
- Money, Money, Money – The simplest sites are totally free while the fanciest will incur hosting and domain fees and perhaps more time and money spent accessing the internet while abroad.
- Internet Connection Speeds – The more remote and less developed your destination, the simpler your site should be. If it’s too fancy, you’ll struggle to update it on slow (think prehistoric) connections.
- Technology – Will you carry a laptop? Having a computer with you makes maintaining and updating a website vastly more efficient and enjoyable but won’t be necessary if you just want to write a few simple lines every week. You may also consider a web-enabled smartphone, or an iPad. Before you buy something, list all the things you’ll want to do on the road (photo editing, journal writing, video editing, etc…) and make sure you’re getting the best gadget for the job. You may get more than one if you’re a real gear-head or have ambitious blogging plans.
- Your Technical Ability – If you’re not an IT whiz, and you can’t round up any brainy friends to help, stick with a simple solution. Even the best designed sites occasionally require updating and troubleshooting. This is frustrating to do while on the road with the right knowledge, let alone without it.
Which Type Of Blog?
Most bike tourists go with blogs from a few ready-to-go websites:
These blogs are great if your overwhelming purpose is to keep in touch with family and friends, you have no technical knowledge or if you only want to spend minimal money and time on blogging. They can also be great if you’re going somewhere with a slow internet connection because they tend to be fairly simple and quick to load.
On the downside, there’s little ability to customise these blogs. You’re generally limited to any themes and options offered by the host. Adding extras may incur a cost or not be available at all. If, in a worst case scenario, the site has problems or shuts down, it’s totally out of your control. It may not be easy to copy your content to another system, should you decide to switch to a different blog in the future.
You can spend a lot of time in internet cafes updating your blog, especially when the connection is slow. (Photo from Going Slowly)
A Few More Bells & Whistles.
If you’re a little more technically savvy, WordPress.org is a free piece of software known as a CMS (Content Management System). It’s one of the most popular, with 100s of plugins that offer a range of bells and whistles and the potential for increased control over your website. There are also apps for your Smartphone, so you can easily blog anywhere there’s 3G coverage.
WordPress software is free but you’ll have to sort out your own hosting package, domain name and you’ll have to install WordPress yourself (or pay someone to do it). Once it’s installed, you can pick one of the many free themes, buy a custom theme or get someone to help you out.
Most people who have really good looking WordPress sites spend a fair bit of time getting their websites to look and feel ‘just right’. Bike tourist Tom Allen builds websites for a living, so you might want to contact him.
In a nutshell, this a great option if you:
- Have some basic IT skills
- Want a more control over how your blog looks
- Don’t mind spending money to get the features you want
- Plan on doing a lot with your site. It won’t just be a blog but a way to showcase your work (photography, writing) while you’re on the road.
- Don’t mind working regularly on your site to keep it looking fresh and fixing any problems that arise.
- Will be carrying a laptop or netbook computer to make life simpler.
Stay Zen While Blogging
Now that you’ve decided what kind of site you want to create, here are a few more suggestions for happy blogging:
- Create your site well in advance of your trip. You want to understand how it works before you set off and have time to work out any niggles or add extra features. On the road, you’ll want to be cycling, not sitting in internet cafes!
- Follow the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid. Even if you are technically proficient, a lot of your readers won’t be. It’s the quality of your content that will keep readers coming back to your site, not a fancy flash intro or huge graphics and videos that take ages to load.
- A USB stick is very handy for transferring data from your laptop to a computer in a library or internet cafe. Wireless internet access doesn’t exist everywhere. Just be careful that viruses aren’t transferred onto your stick and back onto your laptop.
- Don’t let the website rule your life. Blogging is fun but you’re out there primarily to cycle so don’t worry if you don’t update it for a few days or even a few weeks. The expectant masses can wait! If you get too hung up on detailing every aspect of your trip as soon as it happens, you’ll find yourself deriving more stress than enjoyment from your website.
- Remember that some connections will be very slow. This is another reason for keeping your website as light as possible. Outside of places like Europe and North America, don’t count on uploading things like video clips or masses of photos without extensive amounts of time and money.
- Have a clear idea of what you want to do before you go into an internet cafe. Write down what you need to get down. It’s very hard to concentrate on writing great literature with 20 kids screaming Counterstrike commands around you. Trust us, we know!
- Using Google’s slimmed down Chrome web browser with the Google Gears extension makes updating your website faster. You can add this to your USB stick so it’s always on hand, in case Chrome isn’t installed on the shared computer you’re using.
- Photos tend to be big and tedious to upload. If you’re on a shorter trip (say less than 6 months) consider just adding a few pictures to your blog and waiting until you get home to work with the remainder. You may also want to make your photos smaller before uploading them. If the website service you select doesn’t host photos, you can upload them to a site like flickr or SmugMug and then link them into your blog.
What About TravellingTwo.com?
So, you want to know about us, eh? Well, we are very lucky in the website department. Andrew is an IT specialist and Friedel has the gift of gab so between the two of us, we’re pretty well covered.
The website is (as you’ve probably guessed) largely of our own design, based on a WordPress theme that we’ve adapted to suit our own purposes. Our domain name is registered with Rackshare, one of many such services online. The whole thing runs from a server that we jointly own with friends in London, so from start to finish, we’ve got complete control.
And how much does it all cost? Keeping our domain name registered and our server running costs over $200 U.S. a year. Then there’s the cost of buying and maintaining the server, purchasing our own laptop to work on and the countless fees we’ve paid to internet cafes and wireless providers along the way. It’s not cheap but we enjoy it and that’s the important thing.