blogging

Q&A: How To Create a Self-Hosted Blog

How To Start a Self-Hosted Blog

What process did you go through to create your domain names “http://lifeinlimbo.org” and “http://stephaniepellett.com“? I’ve attempted creating my own blog so many times it hurts, but I’ve always gone through Blogger.     -Sarah

Just over 3 years ago, I changed over from WordPress.com to self-hosting my blog and it’s safe to say that I’ve never looked back. Hosting my own blog has given me tons of freedom, including the ability to also host my own personal website and the podcast website, with the option to add an unlimited number of more sites if I choose to. By self-hosting, I can also embed many more widgets and add advertising options to my blog. Not to mention I am able to design my websites to look exactly the way I want them to using CSS and HTML. Obviously, hosting costs more than using a stellar free service such as WordPress.com, but for me it offers enough advantages to be worth it. If you’re interested in making the switch too, here are the steps you’ll need to take.

1. Choose a host

This is definitely the most important decision you’ll make regarding your blog. The host you choose will store your website on its servers, while allowing you all the freedom you want in terms of design and content. A host works behind the scenes to ensure that everything on your blog is running smoothly.

My hosting service has always been (and probably always will be) Bluehost. They offer unlimited storage and unlimited registered domains (ie. as many websites as you choose to have). They also have 24/7 support, if you ever need help with your site. I’ve only ever had one serious issue with my site since I’ve been self-hosting – I accidentally left my blog in a state of permanent maintenance mode – and I was able to resolve it over the phone in only a few minutes with a very nice Texan man. He was friendly, smart, and most of all very efficient in solving my problem.

And the best part about Bluehost? It’s so well priced. If you sign up for 12 months, it’s only $7 a month, or $84 a year. If you sign up for longer, as I intend to do the next time I need to renew my service, it can be as low as $4.95 a month. You can learn more about their pricing options here.

I did a lot of research before initially choosing my web host, and I’ve always been very happy with my choice.

2. Register your domain

How To Start a Self-Hosted Blog

The next step is to register your desired domain name. “Domain name” is just a fancy way of saying the URL of your blog. Mine, for example is “lifeinlimbo.org”.

One of my favourite things about Bluehost is that I can register domains from inside my dashboard and don’t have to use a third-party service. It’s very easy, and if your desired domain name is taken, they show you other options and their prices right away. I love having all that information at my fingertips. It can be dangerous though – I’ve gotten carried away registering a few extra domains for future projects and endeavors!

Domains usually cost about $12, but can be much more expensive depending on how popular the name is. I also personally purchase domain name privacy protection for my sites. Legally, you must provide your name and address when you purchase any domain, and that information is searchable online. For $10 a year, Bluehost allows you to protect your private details by masking them with their own information. You can learn more about domain privacy services here.

3. Install WordPress

How to Start a Self-Hosted Blog

Once you have secured hosting and a domain name, all you really have is a blank webpage. To turn it into a blog, I recommend using WordPress. It is hands down the best website software available, and it’s totally free. Once installed, you can have a gorgeously designed blog up and running within a few minutes, literally.

Through Bluehost, you can very easily install any platform you choose, including WordPress, in only a few minutes. It’s very simple and straightforward, and you can access the installation page from your account’s homepage like in the screenshot above. If you are using a different host, you can download the WordPress software directly from their website and install it yourself.

Once installed, you’ll have a link to a WordPress login page, ex. “http://yourblog.com/wp-admin” where you can sign in and access your WordPress dashboard. Once you’re signed in, you’re in an easy-to-use backend of your blog where you can easily install plugins, see stats, choose a theme, add widgets, write posts and upload photos.

4. Choose a theme

How to Start a Self-Hosted Blog

Now for the fun stuff! WordPress offers thousands of free themes, most very customizable, available to browse on their website. You can also find them in the “Appearance” panel of your WordPress dashboard.

There are many other awesome themes on the market, and most are fairly inexpensive. I personally use a heavily customized version of the free Brunelleschi theme on this site.

Choosing a theme can take some trial-and-error, so play around with it and don’t be afraid to switch it up. I’ve changed my theme many times over the years, and I always love a good redesign! If you’re just starting out, I would recommend resisting the temptation to buy a theme, even if it is only $30. Some themes are really worth it (though they tend to be more like $100), but most aren’t much better than a good, customized free theme.

5. Install plugins

A plugin is a program that runs behind the scenes on your blog to add on features. There’s a (free) plugin for almost anything you can imagine! My favourite plugins are:

  • Jetpack: a package designed and updated by the WordPress team that offers everything from site stats to awesome widgets to custom CSS.
  • Disqus Comment System: a streamlined, functional system for commenting.
  • Akismet: protects my sites from spam comments.
  • jQuery Pin It Button: displays a “Pin It” button when someone hovers over a photo on my site.
  • LinkWithin: displays other related posts at the bottom of all my blog posts.
  • WP to Twitter: automatically tweets the title and link of published blog posts.

I do have others not listed here running in the background of my site for other tasks, but these ones would be my top picks for someone starting their website from scratch.

To install a plugin, go to the “Plugins” menu on your WordPress dashboard (right below “Appearance”, see the previous screenshot) and select “Add new”. You can then search for any plugin you wish. You can also browse plugins on the WordPress website.

6. Customize your theme and add widgets + buttons

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 11.02.38 PM

Most themes these days have tons of customizable options, including the number and position of sidebars, which can make a huge difference in a site’s overall design. Most blogs have one sidebar on the right, for example:

Others have two sidebars, one on either side of the content, for example:

I’d suggest taking some time to explore your favourite blogs and make notes on what you like and dislike about each of their site designs. It depends on your theme, but this option usually comes built into your “Theme Options” page.

After that, it’s all about the widgets! “Widget” is the WordPress term for a little box of code that lives on your sidebar or footer and displays content. On my blog, that’s everything you see in the right hand column, from my “Welcome” photo all the way down to my affiliate links and what I’m currently reading. Take some time to explore the widgets that come built into WordPress, such as ones displaying your most Popular Posts, site archives or categories.

Most of the widgets you see on my sidebar are pulled from other websites (ex. Mailchimp) or custom coded by yours truly in HTML. Knowing even a little bit of HTML is immensely helpful when installing or creating widgets, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post. If you don’t know any HTML, the w3schools website is a great resource. You may also want to check out their tutorials on CSS if you want to do anything like changing the fonts, site colours or link styles from the default theme options.

7. Get blogging!

Realistically, this is the most important step on the list. You could stop after getting hosting, WordPress and a theme, and just get to the point of the whole thing and start creating content. Over the years, my site has gone through a ton of designs and themes and they’ve all built slowly on top of each other as my knowledge has grown and my style has developed. But the one constant is the writing. One of my all time favourite blogs, The Trephine, has one of the most simple blog designs I’ve seen, but she’s gained a tremendously loyal, interested following because her writing is amazing and true. And really, that’s the whole point of blogging.

So ultimately it doesn’t matter if you’re on Blogger or WordPress.com or hosting your own content – the important thing is to write true things down, reach out to others and stay passionate. I absolutely love that John Irving quote: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” and nowhere is that more true for me than when it comes to my blog. I’ve been blogging (aka spewing my thoughts) for a very long time. The earliest blog post I can find that’s still in existence (it’s on Livejournal and you’re never, ever finding out the name of it) was December 2006, and the post itself refers to two previous blogs that I, in the words of my 15 year old self, “grew out of”.

Safe to say, I’m obsessed and have been for a very long time. Like all things, my interest ebbs and flows, but if I’m ever away for too long I start to feel like I’m not myself anymore. Blogging doesn’t have to be that thing for you, but if it is, hold onto it and forget about what your theme looks like or what widgets you need to choose. You’ll get there over time. If you’re in it for the long haul, it doesn’t really matter how fast you figure it out.

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If you have any more questions about blogging and self-hosting, or widgets and themes and plugins, feel free to let me know in the comments below. Best of luck and have fun!

Please note that affiliate links are used in this post. If you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are absolutely and always my own.

Q&A: How to Blog While Backpacking

How To Blog While Backpacking

How easy has it been for you to blog so far [while you’ve been travelling], especially with just an iPad Mini? If you don’t mind me asking, which app are you using to help you blog?      -Jan

I got this question in a comment and answered it already, but I thought it was definitely worth expanding on in a full post.

While I was away on my trip, I used blogging as a way to keep my family and friends back home updated with what I was up to. Since I wasn’t sending out lengthy emails and was constantly on the move, blogging felt like an efficient way to keep everyone in the loop. Also, since I’ve been writing about my life online for almost ten years (before this blog I was on WordPress, and before that Livejournal, ha!) it feels more unnatural not to blog at this point. Whenever I go too long without using words and photos to express myself, I start to feel lost and out-of-sorts. Which brings me to my first piece of advice:

Choose a way of documenting your trip that works for you.

How To Blog While BackpackingBlogging on the road can be kind of challenging at times. Since I’ve been blogging for so long, I know how to fix typos from my phone, and how to easily edit the back-end html of my posts if something doesn’t look right. I’ve had lots of practice with typing out blog posts and hitting publish, so in general it doesn’t take me very long to write new content. But if it’s brand new for you as you start your trip, you might get frustrated along the way and give up if it starts to suck up too much of your time. After all, you’re on a trip to experience brand new parts of the world, not to sit around in internet cafes hitting your head against the proverbial wall because your latest post just went up in a puff of smoke.

But I think documenting is so important! Preserving memories is such a great way to process and appreciate them, and of course to have them for later. So that’s why I would definitely recommend looking at different types of documentation if blogging isn’t your thing. In the past, I’ve kept a scrapbook on trips, similar to Austin Kleon’s tour notebook. When a friend of mine went on an exchange to France, she wrote weekly emails to her family and friends that were full of anecdotes and photos. A lot of people I met on my travels were keeping a photo blog on Tumblr, and others are just consistent about uploading photos to Facebook or Instagram with detailed captions. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a method you’re comfortable with that’s easy for you to keep updated, and remember to:

Keep it simple!

When I was blogging on my trip, the whole process consisted of uploading photos to my Flickr account, pulling them into a blog post, and adding a few paragraphs worth of memories and favourite places I’d visited. I didn’t include any links, I rarely wrote captions for the photos, and sometimes I wrote very little. But the pictures spoke for themselves and I was happy to just get everything written down and shared with my loved ones back home. Almost one year later almost 100% of the names of all the restaurants and areas I loved in each city have disappeared entirely from my mind, but I would have been devastated to lose them forever. My sister spent this past semester gallivating around Europe and she was able to visit several of my favourite places because I got them written down in this simple form.

It reminds me a lot of one of my favourite sentiments: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” meaning done is better than perfect.

Pick good tools.

How To Blog While Backpacking

For the record, blogging from my iPad mini was totally fine. Definitely at times I missed having a full keyboard and some other features I like to use on my computer, but since I kept my posts so simple it wasn’t usually a problem. I realize that an iPad isn’t a traditional thing to bring backpacking and that it’s definitely a specialty item. Mine was a graduation gift from my father and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it on my own otherwise. But regardless of what technology (if any) you bring, you can still blog.

If you’re using a tablet, I would recommend buying an SD card reader for your device. This lets you totally sidestep the need to put photos from your camera onto a computer and saves you a ton of time. My card reader sometimes had a few issues but most of the time got the job done and couldn’t have been simpler to use. I have this iPad-specific one, but I’m sure there are similar products for other tablets.

I absolutely adore the Blogsy app. This one is specific for iPad, but I have also had great experiences with the WordPress app which is available on many different platforms for both phones and tablets. My favourite feature of Blogsy is that you can pull in photos from other social media platforms like Flickr and Instagram. Since I don’t have a mouse for my tablet, this drag-and-drop feature made my life a lot easier.

Before I received my iPad as a gift, I was planning to blog using only my phone and computers at hostels or internet cafes. If you choose this option, just make sure you bring a USB stick to keep your photos on and either a USB SD card reader to attach to the computer or your camera’s USB cord in order to upload your photos. I think this is definitely a good option as long as you test your tools before you leave and remember to keep it simple!

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I hope that helps! I absolutely love reading and looking at accounts of people’s travels, and I always say the more blogs the better. Memory keeping can be so valuable, so long as it doesn’t interfere too much with making the memories themselves.

If you have any more questions on this or any other topic, let me know in the comments or by email: stephanie @ lifeinlimbo.org. And if you have had success blogging while travelling, I’d love to hear your method! Add your thoughts to the conversation in the comments below.

Inspiration | May 9

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You’ve probably already seen this video about paying attention and losing the technology, but I thought it was really powerful and well done.

I adored these beautiful photos by Olivia Rae James. I just love her style, and all the flower crowns made the photos that much better. She makes me want to take better pictures.

I listened to an old episode of the TED Radio Hour this week about predicting the future. It was sort of scary and inspiring and exciting all mixed into one.

Joy the Baker’s guide to New Orleans made me want to go and visit immediately.

“Own your desires. Make joy a priority.” Danielle LaPorte wrote a pretty in-depth piece this week about our constant striving to be good in order to be spiritual. I’m still processing it, but there are parts I really liked, like this one:

I wanted to create an ecology for my life that included the rapture of meditation and guilt-free guilty pleasures, a way to live from pure intention without forsaking my primal preferences for, say, telling someone off, sleeping in, the occasional smoke after dinner, and staying up too late to watch stupid movies. I wanted a sophisticated devotion to life without sublimating my human wants — I wanted to lighten up.

Elise’s advice on blogging was absolutely great.

“Make things that help solve people’s problems. Operate like the world is already listening.”

I did my first barre method-inspired workout today and it was hard. I’ve been inspired lately to try new ways of working out – ones that are fun and effective. I’m not sure I’ll stick with barre, but it was fun to give it a try. (Related: I’m back to wanting a Fitbit, badly!)

Things I want to make soon: cast-iron skillet pizza | no-bake French silk pie | raw chocolate brownies.

Two Instagram accounts I’ve been loving lately: @xantheb (bright, colourful photos) and @dabito (so much ice cream and California living!).

Some oldies-but-goodies: thoughts on rejection (3 years ago!), how to make a hanging planter.

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This week I’ve felt a little off-balance, so I’m glad it’s the weekend again. I want to spend it re-centering with some beach yoga, relaxing with my friends, and preparing myself to start off next week on the right foot. As always, you can see my daily adventures by following me on Instagram @lifeinlimboblog. I hope you have a lovely weekend!

Looking Back on 2011

2011 was an awesome ride. Like any good roller coaster, there were some amazing highs and some crazy lows, and lots of drama in between. All in all, I think it was one of the best years of my life to date, because of all the growth and change I went through. I’ve learned a ton about myself and what I need, and that just means that 2012 will be an even greater year as I build on that knowledge!

What I Did

Where I Went

  • Ottawa twice: once for Winterlude, and once for Canada Day.
  • Quebec City for a romantic weekend away
  • Cancun, Mexico for a fabulous week in the sun with my family!
  • Los Angeles, CA for a week of surfing, eating, and exploration.
  • And of course, back and forth between my beautiful Montreal and Toronto to visit family & friends.

By the Numbers

  • Books read: 50
  • Blog posts: 77
  • Articles published: 14
  • Novels written: 1
  • Photos taken: 5, 391 in 167 events (according to iPhoto)

In 2012, I want to read more books, take more better photos, and travel as much as possible. Stay tuned for a concrete list of New Years goals & a round-up of my 2011 NYR! (Spoiler alert: I didn’t get as many done as I’d hoped, but I’m still pretty thrilled.)

What are your favourite 2011 memories? I’d love to hear them. 

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