Freelance travel writing as a career

Freelance travel writing as a career

A career in freelance travel writing might lead you into writing copy for travel-related websites, contributing to destination guides, producing features for magazines or newspapers, reviewing tourist attractions or hotels or even creating a whole book about your experiences. In short, it’s a career that’s as varied as you want to make it.

Most writers start by generating online content, as there is so much more demand. However, as you build up your portfolio over time, you may be able to move into the more lucrative print market.

But can you really make a career out of freelance travel writing, and what will it involve? Well, let’s see.

Going it alone

There’s no doubt about it, working as a freelancer in travel journalism can be as tough as it is rewarding. You’ll need confidence in your writing ability and plenty of perseverance to get through the first few months but, over time, you’ll build up a network of contacts and long-term sources of work that will make you feel more secure. If you have to pin motivational quotes above your desk then so be it!

A career break spent abroad or long term travel plans can be a great springboard into careers in travel writing. Doing it this way can feel much less scary than just quitting your job and starting to look for freelance work. You can spend time researching and writing articles while you travel, and start to build up a portfolio before you return – if you plan to come home, that is.

Finding freelance writing jobs

Your freelance travel writing career is what you choose to make of it. Spend time looking online to get an idea of all the types of jobs out there. Think about what you’d most like to do and where you’d really love to see your writing published. Your dream might be to get a full length feature on a subject of your choice published in Conde Nast Traveller, so keep that in the back of your mind as you go. You might not be able to achieve it straightaway but there’s no reason why you can’t make it happen. It’s important to be ambitious and have a goal in mind for your freelance travel writing.

Across all the different sorts of travel journalism, you’ll get to work with lots of different people including editors, other copywriters, public relations staff, as well as all the interesting people you’ll interview for your articles. You might even end up with your own literary agent and publisher.

Read more about the nuts and bolts of finding work in our other article, The five rules of finding travel writing jobs.

Choosing the right path

There is no set path into becoming a freelance travel writer. Some people work their way up in a magazine, others start their own travel blog and get scouted by a publisher and others publish articles in lots of different places throughout their careers. So the good news is that as long as you’re writing, you can’t really go wrong when it comes to career progression.

And there are anough challenges to keep you going over the years. Keep setting yourself ever-evolving goals and you’ll always be achieving new things.

Funding your next adventure

Aspiring travel writers often ask how much money they’re likely to earn. Unsurprisingly, the answer is that potential salary varies…

If you want a freelance travel writing career, we’ll hazard a guess that you’re probably more keen to see the world than living the good life at home. You might dream of spending years travelling through India, writing as you go, in which case you’ll hardly need any cash to live comfortably. If you plan to work from home however, you’ll have to think about how much you’ll need to pay your living costs and fund the lifestyle that makes you happy.

Careers in travel writing can certainly earn you a good living, and travel journalism can be quite lucrative, but it’s worth realising up front that it’s unlikely to buy you a luxury sports car or a countryside mansion.

You’ll have to set your own rates, usually by the hour or per word. Work out how much you can write in an hour – including research and editing time – and decide what you think would be a reasonable rate. If you’re just starting out, your fee will have to reflect your experience, but as time goes on and you win more work, you’ll be able to start charging more. 

A little bit on the side

If you’re savvy, there can be perks. Many travel writers manage to get holidays, weekend breaks and meals out at some of the best restaurants for free in exchange for a bit of PR. If you’re clever, you can then make money on top by then selling articles about your experience. However, such work trips are relatively unusual these days and should not be your sole motivation for a career in freelance travel writing.

So, before you declare your passion for travel writing and throw in the towel at your existing job, think carefully about whether it will allow you to live the life you truly want.

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Finding freelance travel writer jobs: 5 rules

Finding freelance travel writer jobs: 5 rules

There are freelance travel writer jobs to be had out there, even if you’re just starting out. Follow our five simple rules to discover how to get writing jobs and you’ll be getting paid to travel the world before you know it!

  1. Build your portfolio

    To answer those ‘travel writer wanted!’ advertisements, you’ll need to be able to respond with some samples of your work – a portfolio. Potential employers and editors need to see that you can write well, understand a bit about your style and also see you as a professional.

    If you haven’t yet been paid for any travel writing work, it doesn’t matter. Many writers are hired for freelance travel writer jobs on the basis of their personal blogs, internships or other unpaid work.

  2. Network

    Ever heard the saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’? Well, this could never be more true than when seeking travel writing job opportunities. Luckily, networking doesn’t have to mean printing business cards and making awkward small talk at events and parties – you don’t even have to be a grade A charmer. We mean networking on the web.

    To network successfully online, you’ll need a blog that shows off your best writing. It could include articles you’ve written for fun as well as paid work and photographs from your travels. While it needs to look professional, it should also reflect a bit of your personality. Once you’ve got your own catchy web address, get your blog and your writing out there. Make the most of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and link up with other travel blogs to get your work seen and appreciated. While none of these are freelance writer job sites, if you link up with the right people and groups, before long you’ll start getting travel writing job opportunities.

  3. Start small

    Let’s forget freelance travel writer jobs for a minute. Another form of networking – and a great way of building your professional portfolio at the same time – is by landing work experience placements or travel writing internships.

    These aren’t necessarily easy to find, but you could start by searching the web and approaching various publications directly to enquire. You can find opportunities as well as other tips on sites such as The Travel Writing Portal.

  4. Apply online

    There are several good freelance websites that advertise travel writer job listings. Elance, PeoplePerHour and Freelancer are just three we recommend. With these sites, you set up your own profile and portfolio to apply for jobs. While it can be tricky at first to persuade potential employers to hire you, over time you’ll win jobs and start getting reviews and feedback that will boost your rating and make you more likely to succeed. What you charge is up to you and payment happens securely through the site direct to your bank or PayPal account.

  5. Make a proposal

    When you’ve got a good portfolio together of all your best articles, and you’ve had plenty of paid travel writing jobs, you should be feeling pretty confident. But don’t rest on your laurels, this is the time to start the toughest, but most lucrative, part of your journey.

    Phone or email travel editors to find out whether they accept pitches and if they’re looking for anything in particular. Consider publications such as in-flight publications and supermarket magazines. If they ask you to send through your ideas just don’t give too much away so that an existing employee can write your article instead of you!

    Make a note of how long you spend each day searching and applying for travel writing jobs. To begin with, this will be quite high but over time you should start to see the balance change and you’ll be working more than you are looking for work! If not, then go back through this article to figure out what’s going on.

  6. So what’s stopping you? Get out there and start job-hunting!

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How I Broke Into Freelance Travel Writing

How I Broke Into Freelance Travel Writing

Breaking into freelance travel writing is not so different from breaking into other types of journalism. Start with small jobs, such as articles for your local newspaper, and gradually work your way up. As your portfolio builds, you can attach clippings of your past work to the pitches you make to editors. Markets that pay a dollar a word can offer a steady living as you get involved with press and media trips that take you across the world. As your list of clients grows, you can bolster your career by starting a blog and pitching book ideas to publishers such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. Finally, you become a Harvard professor and retire comfortably, living out the rest of your days sipping martinis on a private beach. Right?

While I’m not exactly qualified to cover the last two steps, I do make a comfortable living from freelance travel writing and can offer some sound advice for beginners. For starters, you need to learn how to tell a story and develop your own voice as a writer. Without a doubt, the best way to do this is to write stories about where you live. While this is much more exciting if you live in, say, San Francisco and not Chandler, Arizona, writing about the places you know offers a variety of perks. For one thing, you already know a bit of the history and culture and, if you’re lucky, you may know people who can give you an inside perspective on local events.

I got my start in travel writing by showcasing local theatres, restaurants, museums and hiking trails for newspapers in Asheville, North Carolina. While the pay wasn’t great, it got me thinking about how to describe places to my reader in an inventive way. It also gave me permission to be a tourist in my own home: asking questions about the architecture or noticing trends in cuisine and fashion that I normally wouldn’t. Even if my home town wasn’t such a mecca for artists and outdoor enthusiasts, I still would have managed to dig up hundreds of story ideas. It’s easy to forget that even in such glamorous destinations as Paris or Buenos Aires, there are still regular people living regular lives. While a local landmark or hiking trail may not be news to you, it still counts as a tourist destination for outsiders.

After publishing a few articles in the local paper, I began seeking out better-paying markets that specialize in travel. Thanks to the global recession and upward trends in internet publishing, many print markets have been driven out of business. Unfortunately, that includes thousands of regional magazines and newspapers that travel writers used to could count on for their income. Luckily, I caught this trend early and began to research magazines that had both an online and offline presence. The best of these include AFAR, American Way, BETA Magazine, and Backpacker, all of which pay up to a dollar a word.

Despite the steady rise in work, I began to feel as if I’d reached a plateau. Many of my editors wanted real-life experience in international destinations, and I had never left the country. Gradually I began to formulate plans for a three-month backpacking trip in Europe that included jaunts through Ireland, France, Italy and multitude of other countries. Since I wanted absolute freedom in my itinerary, I decided to save money on my own and shunned opportunities for media trips and tourism assignments that might have shouldered some of the cost. Until this point, it was still questionable whether or not I was a masochist. By now, the debate was settled. Needless to say, saving five thousand dollars on a beginner’s freelancing income was a miraculous feat, survived only with the help of bulk supplies of Ramen noodles.

Nevertheless, I saved the money and took out a credit card, and in early 2009 stepped aboard a plane to Ireland. I had pitched a few potential stories to editors, but my most important decision was starting a blog for daily travel updates. I can’t stress this enough for up-and-coming travel writers. Thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, travel bloggers can reach a wide audience of subscribers and keep them hooked. Some advice I wish I’d received early on was to think of my blog as a novel-in-progress. That means finishing each

entry with tomorrow’s itinerary, a question, or a tantalizing quote that keeps your readers coming back. This works the same way as cliff-hanger chapter endings in a novel, and your readers will faithfully clamor to read each day’s update.

Use your blog to help keep notes of descriptions and other details that you’ll want to remember when you’re writing later on, and always add images to complement your story. After learning these techniques and others, it wasn’t long before I developed an audience that couldn’t wait to hear what happened next in my journey. Later, when it came time to write a book, I used my blog entries to form the outlines and began condensing the different posts into chapters. I considered this a win-win situation: while I got to keep notes, garner exposure, and build a loyal following, my readers got to live vicariously through my experience. This is the key function of the travel writer. You are not only a storyteller, but a conveyor of excitements; boldly plundering each experience and passing it on to your reader in an effort to introduce them to the world outside their lives.

After three and a half months I returned to the States and got to work publishing articles for different markets. I used resources such as the Writer’s Market books and Craig’s List forums to find private clients, and began writing for online publishers such as Trails Travel, Golf Link, USAToday, and The Washington Times Communities. Thanks to some personal networking, I also began editing for travel publications such as Adventure Traveler Online, all while maintaining a healthy schedule of traveling and writing.

Before trying to break into freelance travel writing, it’s best to ask if the travel writer’s life is right for you. Do you love having freedom over your work schedule? Do you love visiting new places, and finding new ways to tell old stories? Do you feel a certain bravado about watching your day unfold on your own terms? If so, then it might be worth your time to take a stab at travel writing.

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How to become a great freelance travel writer

How to become a great freelance travel writer

Can you write? We’re looking for a good, solid ‘yes!’ in response to that question because confidence is the first and most important thing you’ll need. However, every good writer can always improve and in the competitive field of travel journalism, you’ll need to take every opportunity to improve your skills and get ahead, whether it’s just reading a book or signing up for a travel writing class.

Learn from the best

There is a lot you can teach yourself before you pay out for travel writing courses or classes. Look online for great examples of travel writing and read them carefully. What is it about their writing that has won them a competition or got them published? How is it different to your writing?

You don’t have to change your style to imitate recognised writers, but understanding what makes others successful – such as a unique perspective or a descriptive way of writing – will help you up the game with your own work. Check out the winners of competitions such as the UK’s Daily Telegraph weekly Just Back competition, or the yearly Society of American Travel Writers awards.

Enroll in a course

To truly learn travel travel writing and make it your craft, you will probably need some professional guidance. Many professional travel writers enrolled on a travel writing class at the beginning of their careers – there’s certainly no shame in ‘going back to school’. If you like the feeling of learning in a classroom environment, then look for evening classes in your local area or research courses at your local colleges.

Many educational centres and companies offer travel writing classes via distance learning, so you can do all your reading and coursework in your own time, from the comfort of your own space.

Go on location

To really make the most of your love of travel and writing, why not join a travel writing class on location? Book a recommended one and you’ll find yourself being able to learn travel writing in a small group with some renowned experts in a beautiful place – perfect!

The organisation Travellers’ Tales regularly organises travel journalism courses abroad. Many courses also include photography as well as travel writing, so you could work on that side of your skill base as well.

Read up

There are plenty of good resources on the web for advice and ideas of how to build your career. Joining an online community is a good way of getting in touch with other budding travel writers. Try becoming a member of your favourite travel magazine or register with sites like The Travel Writer’s Life for insider tips and networking.

But while the web is bursting with information to help you, there’s also lots of confused, non-expert opinions getting in the way. In short, it can be hard to find genuinely useful information. That’s why is well worth investing in a couple of books, complied by experts, that will guide you through the process of becoming a freelance travel writer. They’ll offer, tips, great resources and practical advice whether you are a complete newbie or trying to advance your existing career. Check out the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing or Travel Writing 2.0 by Tim Leffel. Both are recommended as comprehensive resources from people at the top of their game.

Throw yourself into learning the art of travel writing and you’ll be all the better for it. Just remember to enjoy the journey!

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The freelance travel writer lifestyle

The freelance travel writer lifestyle

Freelance travel writing is, without doubt, the dream job. You get to explore the world, describe new experiences and spend time writing, all in the hours that suit you. But like any occupation, while it’s very rewarding, it can come with a few challenges. So if you’re considering travel journalism as a career, have a think about the kind of lifestyle it entails to decide if it’s definitely the thing for you.

The travel writing rollercoaster

There’s no denying that being a freelance travel writer can lead to some thrilling – and occasionally all-expenses-paid – adventures. Even interns sometimes get free trips to exotic destinations. You’ll have to write about them of course, you can’t sunbathe the whole time! Some writers can find themselves in tricky situations, for example deciding to review a hotel or location that wasn’t quite up to scratch.

And while there’s plenty of excitement in the freelance travel writer lifestyle, much travel journalism can be a little on the mundane side. You’ll find yourself taking commissions to write about the different types of cabin on a cruise ship, or tips on how to book tickets for musical performances. If this still inspires you to pick up your pen, then you might just be cut out for this career!

Timing it right

Ask any freelancer travel writer what they love most about their way of life and they will say the flexibility to work when they want. There’s nothing like choosing hours to suit you; taking a long lunch break or working on a Sunday so you can visit friends mid-week, or adjusting your working hours to look after your family.

However, to achieve this fine balance, you will need to be motivated. When you work for yourself, you will need to make yourself sit down at the desk and get on with things without a nudge from anyone. Some people can find this difficult. You’ll need to be very organised, keeping accounts for tax purposes, generating and chasing invoices, and managing your time efficiently. If you don’t know how to do this already, after a few months of being a freelancer there’ll be no stopping you!

From solitary travels to a people jungle

Writers tend to be introverts by nature. We like to wander alone, musing over our thoughts and spending time in our own private space, writing down our ideas. There’s no doubt that the freelance travel writer lifestyle can be solitary at times. Even if you have a partner or a family, you’ll sometimes have to travel alone for a commission and you’ll get used to spending time away from home in order to do your research and writing on location.

This can be hard for everyone, including natural introverts, so you and your loved ones will need to find ways of staying in touch and managing in your absence. Luckily, access to the internet is prevalent in all but the most remote locations. If you haven’t discovered it yet, sign up to Skype for free or low-cost video calling.

On the other hand, freelance writers will be faced with lots of different people in their day-to-day working lives and you’ll need a charming side to manage everyone’s (often conflicting!) expectations. You will have to deal with pushy editors changing your copy and public relations staff wanting you to write about particularly boring things. But for a lot of freelance travel writers, this is all part of the fun!

Despite all the pros and cons, there is no denying that a freelance career can be extremely satisfying, and as challenging as you want to make it. The world’s your oyster, so give it a go!

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What I Love About Being a Freelance Travel Writer

What I Love About Being a Freelance Travel Writer

Like other freelance writers, I’ve always felt a slight feeling of nausea at the thought of working a nine-to-five job. Every day I wake up and go to my desk knowing that my creativity and articulation are the only things paying the bills. Although it can be a little frightening – especially during tax time – I find it exhilarating to watch the day unfold on my own terms. If a story isn’t making sense on paper, I just go for a hike or take a stroll to a local café and try again. If, at three AM, I get a great idea for a story, I send a quick e-mail to an editor and wake up the next morning to a brand new assignment.

Perhaps the biggest perk of being a travel writer is the license for guilt-free adventure. Whether it’s dancing with a local señorita or performing “detective work” at a neighborhood pub, being a travel writer gives you permission to experience each destination to its fullest. Contrary to popular belief, readers can sense when a writer is padding a story or using fluff clichés. I’ve heard more than one editor remark about tossing stories in the waste bin as soon as they see stock phrases such as “quaint”, “nestled”, or “resembling cardboard cutouts”. In other words: you have to truly experience the place you’re writing about if you want to write a good story.

As a freelance travel writer, your job is to find new places and tell new stories in a way that stains the reader’s imagination and makes them long to go where you’ve gone. I love this. It’s why I get out of bed in the morning. And because it’s nearly impossible to write an accurate, engaging story without experience, it forces me to get my head out of the guidebook and pay attention.

Which brings me to another reason why I love freelance travel writing. More than any other type of journalism, travel writing actually requires you to have a good time. I once tried to write a story about a weekend trip I spent in Dublin on the way to a writer’s conference. Due to logistical issues, I found myself constantly on the phone with conference staff and had no time for exploring the city. I was so preoccupied that I barely had a sip of Guinness in the airport before boarding my flight to Mali. Later, when I tried to write about my trip to Dublin, all I could summon were descriptions on how dreary the rain was.

One of my favorite trends in travel journalism is the recent boom in “experience tourism”. More and more readers are wanting stories about places that engage them both physically and mentally, with activities like ecotourism, volunteer work, and immersion. Instead of playing the role of tourist bystander, modern travelers are yearning to become important to the places they go. For me, this means even more opportunities to break the surface and connect with different people and their cultures. My favorite example of this is a week I spent volunteering at a work camp in Aix-en-Provence, France, that involved piecing together old Roman walls that had been buried for five centuries. After a day’s work everyone would reconvene on the patio for a bottle of du vin rouge while sharing our stories around a small fire pit. In addition to learning hands-on skills in masonry and excavation, my French vocabulary doubled, and I made some lasting friendships with the locals and other volunteers.

Thanks to conferences such as the annual New York Times Travel Show, travel writers can now talk directly with representatives of the tourism boards for different countries. Since practically every country profits from tourism, most travel shows have representatives just waiting to accommodate writers who can tell their story. One of my favorite aspects of travel writing is taking assignments from developing countries located in Africa, South America, Asia, or Eastern Europe. Since most readers are unfamiliar with these countries, you start to feel like you’re in unchartered territory. Why?

Because every travel writer and their cousin has written some blurb about cafés in Paris or coffeehouses in Amsterdam. But I don’t know anyone who’s written about, say, competing in an axe-throwing tournament in the Scottish Highlands, or witnessing a 2,000-year old shamanic ritual on an island in Lake Baikal, Russia. As a travel writer, you get paid to find that unique place or story and fully experience it with all your body.

And then comes the writing. With all of the allure and adventure of the job, it’s easy to forget that travel is only half of the job title. Being a travel writer means spending hundreds of hours crafting paragraphs and searching for the right words. It means sitting at your desk and revising stacks of pages for synapse and imagery, trying to find the best way to tell your stories. Fortunately, most successful travel writers have a passion for writing, and tend to find the act of filling pages to be as exhilarating as the traveling itself.

Of all the perks of the travel writer’s life, the writing is undoubtedly my favorite. It makes you see places and people in a different light, and keeps you searching for new ways to express yourself. As Natalie Goldberg famously said, writers live twice: experiencing each place one time in the flesh and another time on paper. I can’t imagine a better way to live.

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