How To Keep Your Blog Active When You Are Traveling: Part 2

May 26, 2016 by Anil Polat  

This is a two-part series on preventing your blog from snoozing when you hit the road; you can catch up with Part 1 here. This is a guest post by Priyank Thatte who has been traveling the world for the past nine years while also working at a full time job. He publishes a detailed account of his travel stories and pictures on his blog: Final Transit which has been online since 2007. In this post Priyank shares some of his tried and tested techniques to keep your blog active when you are away exploring the world. You can follow him on Twitter @finaltransit and Facebook.

keep blog active travel

When it comes to priorities, we all know that traveling comes before blogging. Yet, I have heard many travel bloggers struggle at balancing the two. Years ago on my trip to Peru and Ecuador, I was constantly scrambling for Internet access and stressing about the next blog post. I skimped out on sleep, and nightlife, and the outdoors for a week before realizing what was going on. After a moment of reflection, I made the hard choice of deciding to forget about my blog and focusing solely on travel. My blog snoozed for several weeks, but hey, at least I got to enjoy Macchu Picchu and hike the Quilota loop on my own terms.

You shouldn’t have to make that choice thanks to all that preparation you did above. Aim to have three to four weeks of ready-to-go posts that you can either schedule in advance or publish manually with little updates.

2.1 Go Mobile!

WordPress has made it easy to blog from a cellular device, with apps for both Android and iOS. The app syncs with the web instantly, so you can never be away from your blog. You can pretty much access the same functionality that you can through a desktop browser, such as drafting and editing posts, working with media, etc. It’s easier on a tablet computer (e.g. iPad) and if blogging is all you require to do, you don’t need to haul a laptop with you.

wordpress mobile

The drafts that you created using tips above can now be finessed and published quickly. In addition, if you are used to uploading photos on Instagram or Facebook, why not do the same directly to your blog! Open up the draft post on Kyrgyzstan you created above, add pictures and descriptions from the Osh tribal market, and hit the big red button that says Publish. Now you have a post that is published in real time with few hours to spare to go out and enjoy the city.

2.2 Take Notes As You Go

gozleme turkey travel

Backpacking on your own on a shoestring budget means long wait times for buses and trains and shared vans. All that time offers a perfect excuse to take notes and write in your journal. I was a bit apprehensive about writing in a notebook with a pen (when was the last time you did that?), but after trying once and filling up half my diary with rich memories, I became a total fan of this technique.

Writing with hand will not only help you remember your stories better, but also yield many blog-worthy ideas. Not to mention the role journal writing plays in keeping us grounded and happy during those lonely moments away from friends and family.

For those preferring digital journals, I suggest using a plain-text notepad app for ease of copy-pasting content to WordPress.

2.3 Guest Posts

If you’ve been blogging for a while, you have probably been pitched by guest bloggers. Perhaps now is a time to give it a try. Be careful of what you are agreeing to: most of the people offering guest posts either write advertorials (advertisements posing as articles) or generic low-content clutter that spans most of the internet today. It’s advisable to have a clear set of guidelines on your blog (see example here) for guest contributions.

Guest posts can offer a rich complement to your niche, bring some fresh content, and more importantly give you a moment of respite from having to be ON all the time. PS: You are reading a guest post right now! 🙂

cafe window writing

3. Tech Hacks

You’ve got the content, you’ve got the tools to get it online, now we’ll look at making sure nothing on your website breaks when you are not looking. The section below is a bit technical, so feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below.

3.1. If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

It’s always a good idea to run diagnostics on your website periodically and upgrade your theme files to newer web authoring standards. I always suggest people to do it in advance so you aren’t scrambling to get things in order. I get how tempting that next version of Foundation, or Bootstrap, or a theme you are designing yourself can be, but, for the web designers out there, do not get into website tweaking mode just before a trip. Murphy’s law will apply, and something will stop working at the last minute!

On the same lines, I suggest laying off that bright red “update” button for manually updating your plugins, theme files, or WordPress core few days before a trip. Incidences of conflicts and errors due to plugin updates are more common than you think. For people that use a large number of plugins or a custom theme that relies on particular plugins, it adds another level of conflict complexity with not just the WordPress core, but also with other plugins and your display theme.

Two weeks before your holidays is the time you want to focus on getting your work and travel organized, and there is no reason for the added stress of fixing your blog or fiddling with new tech tools.

broken macbook

3.2. Switch Off Or Restrict Automatic Updates

Back in 2013, WordPress introduced the automatic background update feature in an effort to promote better security, and to streamline the update experience overall. Sounds good in theory, but these auto updates have more than once broken my blog while I was traveling. While these updates are being applied, WordPress goes into maintenance mode, and is at times unable to leave it

  • Tip – To exit the maintenance mode, log on to your site using FTP and delete the hidden file that’s called “maintenance” in WordPress root.

Another issue that might happen is a plugin conflict – because your plugin is incompatible with the update. My solution to this is to disable auto updates. Easily done by adding this piece of code to your wp-config file:

define( ‘AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED’, true );

While there is nothing so dire that can’t wait a few weeks for an update, you also don’t want to be exposed to critical security threats that get fixed in WordPress’ “minor” updates. An alternative setting which I use is:

define( ‘WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE’, minor );

WordPress Codex has an entire page dedicated to more options for achieving various levels of control over automatic updates.

3.3 Control Commenting

Spammers are always one step ahead of you and your blog posts may get inundated with spam comments easily without you noticing it. It’s worse when a post is published automatically and gets filled up with spam comments while you were traveling. There are few things you can do to greatly reduce this risk:

  • Start With WordPress Default Commenting Settings – Found under Settings > Discussion, I typically go with:
    • Comment author must fill out name and email, and
    • Comment must be manually approved, or
    • Comment author must have a previously approved comment.

Depending on your blog, it might be a good idea to switch off commenting on older posts as well.

  • Akismet – Akismet is an excellent spam check plugin that comes pre-installed with WordPress. You will need an API key (completely free for personal blogs) to activate it. Once in a while Akismet will mark a real comment as spam, but that’s pretty rare and you can un-flag it.

Alternative third party commenting systems can replace WordPress default and provide you with not only a spam guard but also many other tools such as points system for commentators, like buttons, recent posts, etc. While such functionality can also be configured on the native WP comment engine using functions/plugins, why not rely on experts if you are going to have such features. Some of the top external comment systems are Facebook, Disqus, Livefyre, IntenseDebate, Google+.

3.4 Hire An Internet Wizard

There are many Internet techies that can help you take care of your blog and make sure nothing goes wrong when you are away. If you are going to be offline for a long time, or you need someone with more expertise to resolve a technical issue, I highly recommend retaining someone (try right here, contact Anil). Think of it as insurance for your blog so it doesn’t cause you anxiety when you are away. Services usually range from pay as you go plans, to one time troubleshooting fee; a simple Google search will reveal a host of other options.

Conclusion

As you can see, with a little bit of planning and forethought, it is not very difficult to update your blog regularly when you are traveling or having intermittent internet access. Hopefully some of these techniques can help you keep your blog active while you are surfing and sipping delicious cocktails on a beach away from the grid.

Happy travels and blogging!

Thank you very much Priyank for sharing your advice on keeping a travel blog going when you’re traveling. You can keep up with Priyank on his blog Final Transit,on Twitter @finaltransit and find him on Facebook as well.

Have any questions for Priyank? Let him know in the comments below!

How To Keep Your Blog Active When You Are Traveling: Part 1 Of 2

May 24, 2016 by Anil Polat  

This is the first in a two-part series on preventing your blog from snoozing when you hit the road, written by guest author Priyank Thatte. Priyank has been traveling the world for the past nine years while also working at a full time job. He publishes a detailed account of his travel stories and pictures on his blog: Final Transit which has been online since 2007. In this post Priyank shares some of his tried and tested techniques to keep your blog active when you are away exploring the world. You can follow him on Twitter @finaltransit and Facebook.

blogging while traveling

If you are reading this article on this website, chances are you are addicted to travel and technology just like I am. I like using tech tools to make my travel more fun and efficient, particularly because I, like most of you, am not a full time traveler. Most of us have day jobs, with precious little vacation time, and want to maximize our time traveling and exploring.

Now if you are a blogger that loves traveling, you are probably anxious to go to places that have limited access to internet because you don’t want to be away from your blog too long. Periodic spells of inactivity or absences from blogging/social media can be detrimental to your rankings and network. At the same time, the last thing you want to do on your holidays is spend hours writing a blog post, researching, editing photos, or worse, troubleshooting your blog on unreliable internet access.

How do you find a balance between the two?

Simple Hacks To Keep Your Blog From Snoozing When You Are On The Road For Long Periods

I live in Toronto and have a full time job that I love. I also spend at least two months a year on the road. Blogging for almost 9 years now, I have developed some coping techniques that let me keep my blog going, while also doing what I love doing: travel off-grid.

My suite of tips below range from content creation to technology and are designed to optimize your online/offline time during travel. This article only covers your blog and not other instant social media such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

cat working on computer

1. Content Hacks

Some of the bloggers I know are go-with-the-flow personalities that publish when they feel inspired to do so, while others have established sophisticated workflows and schedules. Both these methods usually rely upon the ease of internet connectivity. When you are traveling, internet connections are often flaky; keeping a blog going therefore requires some forethought.

1.1. Setup A Blogging Calendar

First, look at your past blogging habits and decide upon a frequency that you could keep up with during travels. Between once and thrice a week is quite typical for most travel bloggers so I suggest you target that range.

Let’s assume you settle on a frequency of three posts per week. Once you know how often you are committing to post, consider using one of these tricks to automate one of those posts per week.

  • Setup a reoccurring weekly feature with a particular theme, such as Throwback Thursday or Foto Friday, etc. to recap some of your past travel misadventures and that stunning sunset picture that nobody has seen yet. Yes, Taco Tuesdays can also work on your blog as an excuse to show off what you ate.
  • Auto configure your blog to pull you recent posts from Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. You’ll have to be careful what you post on social media if you setup this link. Numerous WordPress plugins will help you with this arrangement.

Now you are left with two more posts per week to write.

1.2. Create Solid Story Outlines Using Your Imagination

This is a nifty trick I adapted from a previous blog collaboration with Anil about each others’ imaginary trips to Manila and St. Petersburg. Often times there is enough you can do from your desktop at home before having left for your trip. You’ll be surprised how much you can write simply based on your own knowledge, google maps, and information on travel websites.

st. petersburg russia

To give you an illustration, I am preparing to travel to Kyrgyzstan later this year and this is what I would do. First I gather the facts I know about the place: based on history of the Silk Route, political separation after the collapse of USSR, being in the middle of soaring mountains, about nomadic Kyrgyz tribes and Turkic origins of their language, and so on. I can then look up WikiTravel to jot down few highlights and places to see as well as read up on logistics for visas, flights, money, and food.

All this research material makes an excellent shell for a series of posts about Kyrgyzstan that can be refined once you are actually there and can experience these things yourselves. You’ll be prepared to blog live from Kyrgyzstan with minimum time spent in the internet cafes of Bishkek.

Go ahead, give it a try and compose few posts about your upcoming trip!

1.3. Write Content In Advance

If you are a part-time traveler like me, you probably haven’t blogged about a whole bunch of trips you have taken in the past year. Now is a great time to catch up and tell your readers about that exciting excursion to the cloud forest in Costa Rica. Write those stories up, edit pictures, format your post and have it ready to go for the next step.

You just made a plan for your third post of the week. For a three week trip, you only need to write thee of these.

1.4. Schedule Future Posts

wordpress schedule post

Now that you have a number of ready drafts, it’s time to post them. A day or two before you leave, look at the number of drafts you have and divide it by the number of weeks you are going to be away. It will tell you roughly how many posts you can publish hassle free. When you are ready, use the WordPress “Publish” box on the top-right corner to schedule your posts.

Some of my blogger friends are completely opposed to the idea of scheduling future posts, while others are just fine with a new post getting published while they are on a flight or away camping. I fall somewhere in the middle – I keep posts ready as final drafts, but only hit publish when I am actually online. As a result of this choice, I have very little control over frequency of posts, or posting at a particular time, say every Monday evening at 5pm, but I have the emotional satisfaction of being there when the post goes out.

One of the most precious advice I heard from inspirational travel bloggers @ThePlanetD was to be available online for a couple of hours after your post goes online. You can not only respond to the first wave of comments, but also fix any minor formatting edits you notice at the last minute.

As a courtesy, you might want to let your readers know to expect a delayed response, although most people these days expect it.

This is the first part of a two-part series on managing your blog when traveling. Priyank shares his technical advice on how to keep up with a blog when you’re focused on traveling in Part 2 you can find here.

How To Plan A Safe And Entertaining Trip To Tunisia

May 19, 2016 by Anil Polat  

tunis port de france

Travelers thinking about Tunisia are often wondering if it’s safe to visit while others might not even know why they would want to visit in the first place. In between those two questions is Tunisia, the north African nation where the Arab Spring began, Luke Skywalker was born, and the Romans built one of the largest bath complexes in the ancient world.

Safety First

Although you might be enticed to travel to Tunisia, finding out if it’s safe to go at all probably comes first to mind. There have been a few high-profile terror attacks targeting tourists but consider nearly four times have been killed in Belgium, for example, over the past 18 months. In other words, attacks are about as rare as plane crashes.

tunis bardo musuem

Tunisia is an Arab Spring success story, the only one really, with strong institutions unifying the nation as it continues to develop.

Where To Stay, Starting In Tunis

Direct flights from a number of European cities, including Istanbul, to the Tunisian capital Tunis are plentiful. I suggest staying in the Medina, or Old City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

tunis tunisia door

  • Dar Ya Hotel – Located in the white-walled medina, the Moorish architecture, excellent service, plus very reasonable rates make you feel you’re not quite paying enough for this accommodation.

It’s easiest to arrange a ride from Tunis–Carthage Airport with your hotel prior to your arrival, if possible. Taxis leaving the airport will tell you they have a fixed rate (that varies depending on your bargaining ability) although they should be using a meter. Before leaving the airport however, head to the bright red Ooredoo kiosk just beyond customs. You’ll be able to get a prepaid SIM card with plenty of talk time and Internet for around $15.

Tunis Sights To Seek Out

Start by wandering around the medina – if you do end up staying at Dar Ya Hotel, as you head toward the heart of market in the tiny square about a 2 minute walk from the hotel, look to the right for a white sign on the path. Between the hours of roughly 10am and 4pm, there’s a very small kitchen in the basement floor, where a single cook prepares Tunisian stuffed flat dough. (I’m unable to find the name from my rough Arabic translation.) The greasy snack is closest to a mix between Turkish borek and gozleme.

tunisian food

  • Best Places To Spend Time In The MedinaEl Abed for excellent grilled lamb, and Mhirsi Cafe Alta, a local coffee spot with plenty of shisha plus people watching. It’s also worth noting that shop owners in the medina are very laid back (compared to those in Marrakesh, for example) so you can stroll with hardly any hassle.

A lot of Tunis’ major touristic attractions are within walking or metro distance, in fact, you’ll probably not need a taxi at all in town. Architecture enthusiasts don’t miss Zitouna Mosque (hidden in the medina) and Cathedral of Saint Vincent de Paul.

zitouna mosque tunis

Day Trip To Carthage

Home to one of the biggest Roman bath sites ever built (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) Carthage is a 45 minute train ride from Tunis. You’ll take the first station of the Metro Leger de Tunis (TGM), a 15 minute walk from the medina. Head toward the Clock Tower and keep going until you hit water. Trains are frequent – usually once or twice an hour – and tickets are less than a few dollars for first class; an upgrade worth paying for. The stop most convenient for travelers is Carthage-Hannibal.

tunis clock tower

Carthage is a walking city, there are Phoenician and Roman ruins spread everywhere. From the train station, walk up the conspicuous hill away from the water and follow the signs to see the Roman Amphitheater. There are some other Roman sites from there (i.e. the villas) most will probably find dull. Instead, trace your steps back to the train station, then follow the signs to the Roman baths. Exploration of lovely coastal views, optional, free, and irresistible.

roman baths tunisia carthage

Food is rather scarce in Carthage around these sites so pack some snacks or see if you can find Pizza Phone. Forgive them for a poor choice in name that does not at all describe they quality or variety of their menu.

  • Roman Coins Trick – You’ll have people coming up to you offering to sell Roman coins. They may be real but the prices aren’t realistic; avoid them and instead purchase from one of the authorized gift shops if you really want a Roman coin.

tunisia mediterranian coast

Oasis In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Even if the some of the Star Wars movie set locations weren’t near Tozeur, it would still be worth visiting the city built on the edge of a desert oasis. You can rent a bike or ATV (nearly all hotels in the small town offer this) and ride around in the vast palm trees for hours. Try to get to the outer edge on the fast side to see right where the oasis hits the desert for interesting photo opportunities.

tozeur oasis

sunset mos espa tunisia

Tozeur is a small town so you end up relying on your hotel to make arrangements more than you would a sizeable city. The Residence Tozeur Almadina‘s owner Tayeb is a big help, not to mention the hotel is a nice place to stay too. He’ll also be able to make recommendations for other parts of Tunisia plus put you in touch with local establishments that might be on your travel path.

tozeur tunisia

  • Best Ways To Get To Tozeur – Budget travelers who like the long road, there’s train from Tunis to Tozeur. It takes roughly 8 hours and you’ll probably be sharing your seat with a few cockroaches. The views are impressive though; however if insects aren’t your thing, budget Tunisian airlines fly from Tunis to Tozeur, a 40 minute flight.

Still Asking About Safety?

I’ve not mentioned it much because in terms of personal safety, Tunisia is very accessible to foreign travelers. Tourists who blend in reasonably and practice good travel security common sense should be able to avoid the most routine threat: pick-pocketing. Many though won’t be convinced, keeping prices low for travelers who do decide to visit Tunisia in the near future.

A Time-lapse Tour Around The Balkans, India, Tunisia, And Istanbul

May 17, 2016 by Anil Polat  

The technology I travel with has changed quite a bit since I first started out on an endless journey with an iPod, random point-and-shoot camera, and little else. You can learn to take better travel photos with any camera, but certain device-specfic functions like time-lapse have opened up new ways for me to show you the places I’m traveling.

Here’s a look around several cities I have visited over several months in time-lapse, using two iPhones models, a 5s and 6s.

Sunrise At The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is one of 5 tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you, even after your third visit. Having been multiple times, I was able to take my time at sunrise, entering first by arriving in line at 5 in the morning. That’s the best time to queue up (get to Agra, India the night before) since as you can see, the Taj Mahal grounds fill up with tourists fast.

Views Of Tirana From The Top Of Dajti Mountain

Not having an cash with me at the base station of the longest cable car in the Balkans (and no ATM for kilometers around) the girl at the ticket counter negotiated a credit card payment at the Dajti Tower Hotel. One of the staff escorted me to the top, where I got a rooftop view of Albania‘s capital (above this rotating 360 degree cafe) as a bonus.

Action Outside Of Istanbul Ataturk Airport’s Gate 222

The gates numbered in the 220s of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in Turkey have some of the best airport watching, video, and photographic opportunities. The upper 220s give you a view of seemingly countless Turkish Airline tail wings in a row, while 222 has everything from takeoff to landing.

The Sun Setting Over Tatooine

You can see how I set up this shot here, browse through a photo essay of the vanishing Star Wars sets in northern Africa, and learn how you can visit the Star Wars sets locations in Tunisia to see for yourself.

National Palace Of Culture In Sofia, Bulgaria Lights Up

This massive building in the center of Bulgaria’s capital is where you’ll find orchestral concerts, plays, and film festivals, with cafes lining the bottom floor. A long row of fountains leads up to it in the park around NDK (the Bulgarian abbreviation) but without a tripod, you’ll need to get creative.

Takeoff From Istanbul Ataturk’s Airport

If I knew I was going to get away with it, I would have prepared my battery for the entire flight (which ideally was a short one). Unfortunately, although in airplane mode, I haven’t been able to arrange an entire flight.. yet.

Time-lapse Tips For Your Own Travel Photos

There’s a noticeable difference in the resolution between the two iPhones (can you tell which is which) and it’s preferable to shoot time-lapse with a camera rather than phone for better lighting plus resolution in general. Also, you want as much movement in the frame as you can get around a few or single stationary focal point. Vehicles (boats in especially) help give a flow to enhance a travel time-lapse as only clouds can be dull or focusing only on a small group of people distracting, as they move too quickly to establish a visible pattern.

A lot of basic photography rules apply as well. For example using stationary points as leading lines which will help you take better sunset photos when traveling not just time-lapses. Finally, play around with time-lapse and be patient, the longer you wait (especially at dawn or dusk) the more motion, thus patterns, you’ll be able to capture.