Posts Tagged "careers in travel writing"

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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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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