Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

By Tom Twardzik

You have a lot to say. You are smart and informed and you have a message or a story that will change people's lives. You've told your friends but this story calls for a large audience. You deserve to share it but you need a place where it can thrive. This is the time to start a blog, to build a home for your stories that will showcase them exactly how you want. There are many options and most of them are free. So which are the best platforms to host your blog? The nominees are…


Wordpress

Wordpress is the obvious choice and, if you've spent much time on the internet, it probably leaped into your mind first. The quick facts: it's free; it has a huge audience (over 300 million); and it powers more than seventeen percent of websites on the internet. That's a significant percentage of the global internet running through Wordpress's servers and an enormous pool of people who might see your post. Of course, that's no guarantee that anyone will read a given post—sharing and marketing blogs are topics for another story. But it is quite an advantage for a beginning blogger.

Wordpress is as free as basically any other platform: that means it's free to write, to use beautiful themes, to publish and to use all of the features most amateur bloggers will need to tell their stories. If your blog takes off, $4/month is a small fee for a custom domain name, 6GB of storage space and an ad-free blog. And if you go professional, you can upgrade to the Premium tier ($8/mo.) for advanced social features and monetization options or the Business tier ($25/mo.) for limited storage, an ad- and Wordpress brand-free blog and many other tools.

Basically, Wordpress is the general, go-to platform for anyone from beginners to small businesses with plenty of free features and enough, affordable premium tiers for most other needs.

Download the Wordpress apps for desktop, iOS or Android.


Blogger

The next best platform for most people is Google's Blogger. Google offers a simple start-up process, many nice, free themes and Google Apps integration. Because of this, it carries over the 15GB of storage from your Google Drive account, which means more free storage space than you would get from Wordpress for almost $100 per year. Blogger is simpler because it has fewer customization options than Wordpress. That means it's a faster process (with less decision-making) from conception to publication but it also means less personalization for those interested as much in the aesthetics of their blog as the writing.

Blogger does not have a premium tier: it's completely free, so what you have at the start you have for all time. This will be great for some and unsatisfactory for others, so be honest about your plans for the blog before you commit to Blogger. It also doesn't seem to have an iOS app or a desktop app, so if mobile blogging is important to you, this might be a problem.

Download the Blogger app for Android.


Medium

Medium is the writer's blog platform. Medium bloggers are not selling things; they are sharing stories and responding to the writing of others. Medium is entirely free to use for authors (it added a Members subscription this year for $5/mo. but it only affects how you read Medium posts) and it is focused on a simple, words-first presentation. You'll get to title, tag and add media to your post but beyond that, there is very little customization. There is no "blog" or webpage to design; writers (who are not publications) simply have profiles with their articles and the other things you'd expect: a profile picture, a list of what the author has liked ("clapped") and a list of their highlights from other articles. Medium is about reading and writing and not much else. If that sounds perfect to you (as it does to me), then you are undoubtedly the target Medium user. If you think you'll want more social features, a custom blog page or more detailed statistics, Wordpress is the way to go.


Postleaf

There is another option that lies apart from this list of blogging companies: it is called Postleaf and it is a completely free, open-source blogging platform that, because you own it, is totally customizable. However, it's bragging point is its utter simplicity. And the feature it brags about most excitedly is inline editing. This means that the post, as you type it, looks exactly like it will when it's published.

Its simple design does not equal a lack of features: it offers "Zen Mode" to focus on the text you're writing; it allows third-party widgets to be easily embedded. And it automatically generates SEO-compatible meta-data that go into those cute preview cards in your Facebook or Twitter feed. It has a file manager, uses dynamic images so an author doesn't have to resize images for four different screen sizes and lets you tag posts to keep them organized.

The installation process involves some coding words that might be intimidating for first-time bloggers and requires a web server. But you can try a demo right on the Postleaf website. Unlike an app, you'll have to download Postleaf's code to install it. But if you're looking for a completely different blogging experience and you're willing to work through a potentially-steep learning curve, go ahead and give it a try.

Download the code for free from GitHub.

Whichever platform you choose, don't get lost in the setup or formatting process. Your story is the reason that you're starting a blog and the words of that story should be the centerpiece. So go, write and share you story with the world.


Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.

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Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.

In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.

In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.

But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.

In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.

Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.

Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:

1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan

2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.

3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.


4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.

5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.

Here are charities offering support in Haiti:

1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.

2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.

3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.

4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.

via Tiffany & Co.

When the new Tiffany's campaign was unveiled, reactions were mixed.

Tiffany's, the iconic jewelry brand which does not (despite what some might be misled to believe) in fact serve breakfast, featured Jay Z, Beyoncé, and a rare Basquiat painting in their recent campaign.

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Road trips can be a lot of fun — but they can also drain your wallet quickly if you aren't careful.

From high gas costs and park admission fares to lodging and the price of eating out every night, the expenses can add up quickly. But at the same time, it's very possible to do road trips cheaply and efficiently. Without the headache of worrying about how much money you're leaking, you can enjoy the open road a whole lot more. Here's how to save money on a road trip.

1. Prepare Your Budget, Route, and Packing List in Advance

If you want to save money on a road trip, be sure you're ready to go. Try to count up all your expenses before you hit the road and create a budget. It's also a good idea to plan your route in advance so you don't end up taking unnecessary, gas-guzzling detours. And finally, be sure to pack in advance so you don't find yourself having to buy tons of things you forgot along the way.

2. Book Cheap Accommodations — Or Try Camping

All those motel rooms can add up surprisingly quick, but camping is often cheap or free, and it's a great way to get intimate with the place you're visiting. You can check the Bureau of Land Management's website for free campsites. Freecampsite.com also provides great information on If you don't have a tent or don't want to camp every night, try booking cheap Airbnbs or booking hotels in advance, making sure to compare prices.

Camping camping road tripConde Nast Traveler

If you're planning on sleeping in your car, a few tips: WalMart allows all-night parking, as do many 24-hour gyms. (Buying a membership to Planet Fitness or something like it also gives you a great place to stop, shower, and recharge while on the road).

3. Bring Food From Home

Don't go on a road trip expecting to subsist on fast food alone. You'll wind up feeling like shit, and it'll drain your pocketbook stunningly quickly. Instead, be sure to bring food from home. Consider buying a gas stove and a coffee pot for easy on-the-go meals, and make sure you bring substantial snacks to satiate midday or late night cravings so you can avoid getting those late night Mickey D's expeditions.

Try bringing your own cooler, filling it with easy stuff for breakfast and lunch — some bread and peanut butter and jelly will go a long way. Bring your own utensils, plates, and napkins, and avoid buying bottled water by packing some big water jugs and a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, try staying at hotels or Airbnbs with kitchens so you can cook there.

4. Avoid Tolls

Apps like Google Maps and Waze point out toll locations, so be sure to avoid those to save those pennies. (If it takes you too far off route, you might have to bite the bullet and drive across that expensive bridge).

You can also save on parking fees by using sites like Parkopedia.

Road Trip Road TripThe Orange Backpack


5. Save on Gas

Gas can get pricy incredibly fast, so be sure that you're stopping at cheap gas stations. Free apps like GasBuddy help you find the most affordable gas prices in the area. Also, try going the speed limit on the highways — anything faster will burn through your tank. Be sure that you don't wait till you arrive at touristy locations or big cities to fill up.

6. Get a National Park Pass

All those parks can get really expensive really fast. If you're planning on visiting three or more parks, it's a great idea to get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass. For $80 you can get into every National Park for one year.