Share Your Stack – How to Architect the Perfect Travel Blog, WhereTheHellAreTomerAndMichelle.com

When Michelle and I started hatching together our plan for our trip, I knew I wanted to grow, both as a person, and as a developer. The very first step that I could do to start growing was to pick a new technology stack to host our travel blog. I had already worked with WordPress, published on Dev.to, and I knew I wanted to host something (i.e. not Medium).

Requirements

Besides the basic blog necessities, my requirements were:

  • Static – This would be a simple site and I wanted to keep it light weight – no need for server side lifting here.
  • Easily updatable – I wanted to be able to easily update it and remove any roadblocks from publishing new posts or updating the site. Once you go CI/CD, you never go back!
  • Posts in Markdown – Markdown is simple, and it’s now everywhere. This is also a good way to separate your content from your site if you ever want/need to migrate your posts to a diffrent stack.

For a long time I had been hearing about Jekyll and Github Pages hosting and the simplicity and integration between the 2 technologies. This seemed as good a time as any to pick it up and run with it!

I use the Lagrange Jekyll theme for our site as it seemed pretty simple and we liked the way it looked (how does anyone pick anything??). I went ahead and forked the project and then started putting our own touches on it.

Basic Setup

Jekyll makes it very easy to customize certain parts of the site in the settings.yml file. We made sure to update our social links, About page, contact, etc.

We also definitely wanted our own domain name and not a github.io subdomain. Who would’ve thought that WhereTheHellAreTomerAndMichelle.com was available?? With my favorite domain name registrar, NameCheap, and $13, we were the proud new owners! Github Pages makes it easy to host your site on a custom domain name as long as the repository is public. Using the Pages Settings for your repo, it will configure your custom domain name by creating a CNAME file in your repository. Github Pages will also automatically take care of an SSL certificate, how thoughtful! We were off to the races!

Travel-ize It

Since it is our travel blog after all, we knew we needed to put our itinerary and picture slideshow on it. For the interactive map/itinerary we chose TravellersPoint.com‘s embedded map. I have used them before for my Eat, Pray, Code travel and loved what they provided. To customize the embedded map even further, I upgraded to a ‘Budding Member’ and placed the embed code directly in the Jekyll page. Since this is an iframe, I also added some Javascript and proper styles to ensure that the map works well on mobile as well as desktop views.

Pictures were slightly trickier. The first part was figuring out where to store my photos. I wanted to be able to upload only select photos, not have to worry about storage limitations (at least for the forseeable future), and be able to share a public album. Eventually Google Photos won out because of their ability to share an album publicly. (I am still open to suggestions of other photo storing/sharing solutions out there!)

The next issue with Google Photos is that I wanted to create an automatically updating embedded slideshow on our homepage. The tricky part comes with Google Photos’ lack of an API. Luckily, I came across this page where, given a publicly accessible Google Photos Album, it will create an embedded slideshow widget. At the moment this does not automatically update, I simply have to update the slider code every so often when I publish new photos to the shared album.

Publishing Posts

One thing that I was really looking forward to with this new stack (and Jekyll in general) was publishing posts in Markdown. As a developer, I love the simplicity and ubiquitousness of it, while still giving the author control over any elements they may need. When I begin to create a new post, I simply pop open my Markdown editor of choice, MacDown, and start typing away! When I finish a post and run it by Michelle for final touches and editing, I can publish it using a simple git push command!

Comments

I’m sure we’ve all come across Disqus at one point or another in our WWW adventures, and that is what I originally set up for our site. But seeing as I am a self hosting connoisseur, when I heard of Commento.io, I immediately knew I wanted to try it out. Luckily, not long after that, the Cloudron team pushed out the Commento.io self hosted application on their platform. I set it up on my Cloudron instance, imported all the data from the Disqus instance, and replaced the comments code with the proper Commento embed script. Viola! You now have self hosted, secure, and privacy focused comments on our site.

Analytics

Google Analytics is probably the go-to for many sites and blogs, but I have long been using Matamo (formerly Piwik), also self hosted. Using the Matamo Analytics dashboard to set up a new site is a breeze. Then, simply replace the Google Analytics code provided by default by the Jekyll theme with Matamo’s code, and push it up!

“But what if you get hit by a bus?”

Michelle, out of her love and thoughtfullness, one day asked me, ‘how do I publish new posts if you die?’ She had a point. Not only is she not a developer and has never used Github before, but the site’s repository is also only under my username.

After some quick research, I came across Forestry.io – a Jekyll CMS. This seems to be a fork off of Jekyll Admin, but either way, Forestry is a fantastic tool to make everything easier for managing a Jekyll site in the way of hosting media, direct integration to Github and Github Pages, and of course, creating and editing posts. And yes, they do offer a generous free plan for a personal site! Getting this set up was a breeze, the only slightly tricky thing was getting the media folder set up properly, but even that was done without a hitch. And since they support multiple users per site, both Michelle and myself have access to update our Jekyll site – including writing and publishing posts – through their CMS platform.

Stack Birds Eye View

As most good things in life, this took time and is not done evolving. You can check out the Github repository to see for yourself how each of the items above grew and were implemented over time. Sure, I had a general idea of what I wanted on the blog to begin with, but a lot of these ideas took time to develop and implement. Be sure to check out the final product (for now)!

2 thoughts on “Share Your Stack – How to Architect the Perfect Travel Blog, WhereTheHellAreTomerAndMichelle.com”

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stack 🙂 It’s interesting to see you went static, it definitely makes sense for this application, but I’ve always found it to be to constricting (no ‘live’ data), which is why we went the React + Node + Headless WordPress CMS route.

    In the future, should you want multiple authors, would you just commit and push up their content for them, or does Forestry handle multiple users?

    What are some ‘improvements’ you want to make to the site in the coming months/years?! Safe travels!

    1. Thanks for your response, Wes!

      I’ve come across the issue of having to implement a bit of dynamic content in the past, and for that I was able to use a few vanilla JavaScript lines on the front-end to get in whatever the situation called for.

      Yes, Forestry supports multiple authors! In fact, our Six Month Travel Update post (https://wherethehellaretomerandmichelle.com/journal/six-month-check-in.html) was authored by both Michelle and myself, and published through Foresty.

      Hmm, great question! First goal is to be more consistent with content 😉 But technically, I think I’d like to get the Google Photos widget to update automatically through some CI/CD pipeline so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Leave a Reply to admin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *