Blogging from the road, on your backpacking/walking/cycling/skateboarding/unicycling trip, is not only a realistic ambition: with today’s technology it’s also a piece of cake and costs very little.
Read on for a quick primer…
What Is Mobile Blogging?
Regularly updating a blog, such as the one you are reading now, without having to wait until you find an internet cafe or hostel or WiFi or kind host with an internet connection. Posting updates from the road or trail; whether it be your tent, bivvy-bag, hammock, or just lying on the ground.
What Might You Need?
A smartphone (iPhone, Android etc) and perhaps a Bluetooth keyboard is all you need. If you want to get fancy: a tablet or a netbook, 3G mobile phone or modem, a free Flickr/Youtube account, and a compact digital camera/camcorder. Really fancy? Full-on laptop, DSLR, pro video camera, sound recorder, paid Flickr/Vimeo account, satellite phone, solar panels, extra batteries, support crew, PR team, Google sponsorship deal, etc.
Let’s look at the options in more detail.
How To Set Up The Blog
The most popular blogging software by a country mile is WordPress, which comes in two flavours (hosted and self-hosted — this blog is self-hosted), depending on whether or not you know what a domain name and a hosting package are. The differences are incidental to this guide; both allow you to use a special set of administrative web-pages to post your blogs, both allow you to upload images, and both allow you to send updates by email.
If you are confident enough to buy a web-hosting package, most hosting companies will enable you to install WordPress with a couple of clicks. Setting up your blog is quite self-explanatory from there on, but if you need a guide, try WordPress’s Famous 5-Minute Install. If you have no idea what I am talking about, visit WordPress.com and they’ll do everything for you, free, except for buying you a domain name (like TomsBikeTrip.com) — instead you’ll get given one like adventureblog.wordpress.com, unless you pay extra.
How To Post Updates From The Road
If you’ve got a smartphone and a data subscription, download the WordPress App for your iOS, Android, Blackberry or Nokia device. That’s it. Write blogs using the app. Take photos with the built-in camera and add them to your articles. Charge it in petrol stations, cafes, public toilets. Today’s smartphone cameras and apps are incredible. Even my old piece-of-crap phone was used to take one of my favourite photos. Job done.
If you want to be fancy, use the smartphone or any other 3G/GPRS phone with a cable or Bluetooth function, together with the manufacturer’s connectivity software, to connect your netbook to the internet. This doesn’t have to involve large investments of cash: I used an old, donated Sony Ericsson W850i, which can be found now for about a tenner on eBay, and an Asus EEE 1000H netbook which I got on the cheap in Dubai while cycling there in ’09 — OK, the keyboard is in Arabic, but it works!
Scavenge free WiFi connections on your way through towns — coffee shops are a good bet. Connect your camera(s) or use the memory-card slot, with a free photo-manager like Picasa or a paid one like Lightroom, and resize and upload your pics to PicasaWeb or Flickr directly. Install blog plugins to make adding your pictures from Picasa or Flickr to your articles a cinch.
3G/GPRS data services are now available pay-as-you-go the world over, coverage is practically global, and speeds are far faster than we all had in our homes 10 years ago. As an example, in Norway I bought a Telenor SIM which allowed me unlimited data transfer for 10 NOK (about £1.10) a day. In Sweden, the same deal with Telia was around £0.85 a day. In the UK, Lebara gives me 10MB a day for free — I used around 5MB for each update (photos/words). In Mongolia, I bought £5-worth of credit and six weeks later I still hadn’t run out. In rural Ethiopian settlements, internet cafes connected via the mobile network were the standard. In the U.S., T-mobile charge $2/day for unlimited data on a pay-by-the-day basis.
Walk into a kiosk or high-street store; walk out with your affordable mobile data connection. It’s only going to get cheaper.
If you’re in the jungle or desert or out on the Arctic sea-ice and want to be really fancy, get out your full-size laptop, solar power system and BGAN connection. You, your attractive assistant and your support team already know how to use it, and you don’t need this guide.
How To Make It All Worthwhile
All of the technical kit is irrelevant. It’s what you’re publishing that counts, and a smartphone-blog will trash the most high-tech comms setup on a single key point: content.
A daily write-up of your mileage and how many calories you consumed, together with photos of the wear on your tyres or shoe-soles and the texture of the trail/tarmac, is likely to bore even the most nerdish armchair traveller within a few days. But these kinds of blog are all-too-common.
Successful travel writing depends on painting pictures with words; taking the reader there and imparting something of the emotions you may have felt and lessons you might have learned through your experience.
Successful travel blogging depends on keeping that reader with you; getting them to the end of each piece and coming back for the next one. Regularity can really help, as long as the material remains fresh. But if your trip is long, your followers may tire from repetitive reading as much as you may tire from repeating yourself, so once– or twice-weekly, or less, may be enough. Don’t do it every day for the sake of it — it’ll soon show.
Keep it varied. There is no need to stick to a daily formula; this can and will become — funnily enough — rather formulaic! Maybe focus on a particular theme of the trip each time, or a particular observation, train of thought or encounter. A broad spread of impressions can make for far more interesting and entertaining reading than an attempt to convey the full chronology of events. Less is more.