2 years ago, we had absolutely no idea how to start a travel blog. Now, we do know. And in 2000 words, you’ll know too.
Over the last 2 years, we’ve lived in Chicago absolutely GRINDING. Zach has been working full-time and getting his MBA at Kellogg at night. Julie has been getting her Masters in Nursing from UIC full-time, and working part-time as a cheerleading coach, nanny, and choreographer.
All together, we spent 60-80 hours every single week on school and work. Here’s the crazy part, we loved it! There was never a dull moment, and we were both learning so much about ourselves, each other, and where we wanted our future to take us. Then one night, drinking wine with our friend Kara, we decided to start a travel Instagram. Since then, we’ve evolved Ruhls of the Road into a blog , Pinterest, and Facebook page (and more channels coming soon…)!
How did we do it? A combination of sweat, laughter, and a little bit of luck. Let us tell you everything we know about how to bootstrap a blog without bankrupting your clock or your bank account.
Start Small and Grow
We started with an Instagram and only an Instagram. Why? Because that was the app we spent the most time on. If you’re not making something that you would enjoy yourself, then what is the point in making it?
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Who would have thought the view could have gotten any better when you are awashed by waterfalls. But it sure did when I turned around and saw Zach on one knee. Surrounded by crystal clear waterfalls and a gorgeous landscape, it was you who I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Guys take note: Plitvice Lakes National Park is a dreamy place to pop the question. Just don’t drop that ring down the waterfalls. 📍 Plitvice Lakes National Park, CROATIA • • • #proposal #throwback #love #travelingcouple #couple #travel #adventure #plitvicelakes #croatia #waterfalls #popthequestion #plitvicelakesnationalpark #nofilter #proposalgoals #shesaidyes #willyoumarryme
Another benefit of starting with an Instagram is that the time requirement is not extreme. Posting once per day is totally acceptable in the Instagram world, unlike other social media channels like Pinterest and Twitter, where 10+ posts per day is ideal.
With Instagram, the main requirement for success is to have stunning images and videos. What’s great about that? You don’t have to spend an hour writing your content. You can think of a clever caption (sometimes in class even…) and fire away once per day!
Once you have your feet under you, you have to put some effort into growth. Where do you start? Goal-setting, my friend.
Set Goals and CRUSH Them!
Goals will drive your success. 100% of the time. If you don’t set goals you will go nowhere. Sorry to burst your bubble, but facts are facts.
- Set goals that motivate you on a personal level. Whether your goals are to travel, to make money, or to help people, set a goal that you will be passionate about not chasing and achieving.
- Make sure they are achievable. An unrealistic goal will be de-motivating, and will probably lead to you not meeting it, and getting upset at thinking you’ve failed. Be aggressive but realistic!
- Time limits. Don’t say your goal is to grow your Instagram following by 1,000. Say you’re going to grow your Instagram following by 1,000 every single month!
- Can you measure whether you’ve hit your goal? Is your goal to ‘get a bigger presence online’ or to ‘travel more’? Those are terrible goals because you can’t measure them! Make sure your goal includes a number, whatever it is.
- Eyes on the prize! To your short term goals get you closer to where you want to be in the long term? If not, then get rid of them! Layout your goals so that once you crush them, you’re where you want to be!
Our first goal was to grow our Instagram following by 10% every single week. When we were at 100 followers, we wanted to get 10 more every week. Then when we were at 500, we needed 50 more every week. For ideas on how to grow your Instagram following, check out this article.
Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize!
What is more important? Getting an A on an assignment or writing and publishing this blog post? [Hint: The fact that you’re reading this gives you the answer.] In all honesty it is a tough choice, and one that comes up on a daily basis. If you’re going to take this journey, you better plan out your priorities or you’ll be left pulling your hair out every. single. day.
For us, we had to prioritize work, school, traveling, exercise, family, friends, Instagram & blogging, time together, and sleep. Our strategy was to map out exactly what percentage of time each priority should get each week. Here’s what we came up with:
- Work (25%, about 40 hours per week)
- School (15%, about 25 hours per week)
- Traveling (10%, usually 1 week out of every 10)
- Exercise (3%, 1 hour per day, 5 days per week)
- Family (5%, home for holidays, and weddings)
- Friends (5%, mostly weekend events!)
- Instagram & Blogging (4%, 1 hour per day)
- Time Together (4%, 1 hour per day)
- Sleep (29%, about 7 hours per day)
Might not be perfect but it has worked for us! You’ll have to make your own priorities, the important thing is that you sit down and do it. Focus on what is important to you and where you want to be.
Go write down your priorities. We’ll wait. Seriously, stop reading and do it! Let us know when you’re back.
Awesome, now you’ve got your priorities written out, now you have to hold yourself accountable. We sit down every Sunday and talk about how the week went, whether we accomplished what we set out to, and what we’re going to do better next week. The reflection helps us improve and make sure we are focusing on what is important to us!
Time (not money!) is the most importance resource you have. Use it wisely!
Make Time for Each Other
If we’re being perfectly honest, this one has been a struggle at times. When both of our days were completely full from the time our feet hit the floor to our heads hitting the pillow, it feels IMPOSSIBLE to find quality time together.
What did we do? We instituted a rule of 1 hour without our phones or computers for every day we were together. It usually involved watching Parenthood on Netflix, or chatting while doing meal prep. Nothing special, but the time together made us like each other more! Which only made it easier to start Ruhls of the Road.
It also helps when you’re able to travel together without killing each other…
Costs and Budgeting
Money. You know it had to be on here. How in the heck did we afford to pay for both our tuitions and to maximize our time spent traveling?? We budgeted!
We literally sat down with an Excel spreadsheet and went over all of our expenses. After we listed everything from rent and tuition to raspberries and tube socks, we ruthlessly started slashing. You should see our weekly grocery run now. It is basically bananas, oranges, whatever meat is on sale, potatoes, onions, rice, pickles, and yogurt.
Now we make a goal with how much we spend each month, and make sure to CRUSH that goal each month! What’s the result? We have some money left at the end of each month that we can deposit into our travel fund. The more we save, the more trips we take!
What else did we do? We made sure to spend like Scrooge on our vacations! Here are our 3 best secrets to booking cheap travel (you’ll have to read the blog for all 7):
- Don’t marry the destination before booking – If you’re smart, you’ll write down 10 places you want to go, and choose your destination based on the cheapest flight price. That’s what we did, and we have never paid more than $500 for a roundtrip flight (including multiple trips to Europe!).
- Find free activities (hint: they are everywhere!) – Free walking tours are our favorite thing to do if we’re visiting a big city. Otherwise, our number one activity is hiking! It is beautiful, physically challenging, and best of all FREE!
- Negotiate! – Everything is negotiable. Literally everything. We were TERRIBLE negotiators when we started, but practice has made us so much better. We’ve negotiated free hotel room upgrades, free appetizers, free airport transit, you name it!
Get Help and Advice!
We’re the first to admit that we get so much help from so many people. Help and advice is constantly coming in the door, you just have to recognize and accept it!
Story Time: Zach once spent 4 hours trying to figure out how to get the Instagram integration working on our site, and he still couldn’t wrap his arms around it. What did Julie do? Asked for help. She got the answer in 10 minutes. What does this mean? Girls are smarter than boys. And ask for help when you need it!
Being real, asking for help sometimes makes us feel weak. Internal voices shouting, “you can do this yourself, if you can’t you’re a loser!” Is there a hint of truth to what those voices are saying? No! Of course not! ALL PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD ANY SUCCESS IN LIFE HAD A TON OF HELP TO GET THERE!
I don’t care if you’re Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson or Zach ‘The Pebble’ Ruhl, you had help getting where you are. If you want to make your dreams come true, you can bet your ass you will need help to get there! Make sure you recognize when help is being offered, and be bold enough to accept it.
Choose the Right Software
We chose to build our blog on WordPress. That might not be right for you (we don’t really care!) but make sure to do your research before choosing. The important thing is that you consider what your goals are, and make the right choice to help you get there.
We chose WordPress because of the ability to personalize and because of all the capabilities it comes with. We were able to utilize some awesome plugins to make the site pop, including an Instagram integration tool and a custom gallery creator.
We did a lot of research into Wix and SquareSpace too, and those seem like AWESOME solutions. For us, we felt that there wasn’t necessarily a bad choice, but WordPress seemed to be the best fit with where we wanted to go.
There are a lot of people out there following their dreams, and it is AMAZING to use them as inspiration for yourself. But don’t spend your life trying to be them. You. Are. Not. Them. You are better. You are you!
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ―Dr. Seuss
If there’s anything we’ve learned on this journey, it is that the best piece of advice on earth is to be yourself. First off, it won’t be a struggle. Living your life trying to be someone else is freaking hard! We wouldn’t recommend it, speaking from experience.
Second, people will be able to tell. Genuineness will shine through in everything you do, and people will love you for it!
So What’s Next
Well, buttercup, time to nut up or shut up! Get your butt in gear, rev your engine, and peel out because the rest of your life is knocking on the door and it won’t be waiting forever!
If you want any advice on what we did, please reach out in the comments and we promise to tell you everything we know!
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