Posts Tagged "freelance travel writer"

Freelance Travel Writing Gear: my top 10 must-haves

Once, while sitting by the river and working on my laptop at an eco-lodge in Belize, another guest approached me and said, “Travel writing must be the life – you get paid to vacation and they buy you a free laptop.” There are a few things wrong with his sentence, but the one I’ll focus on here is the “free” laptop. Freelance writers aren’t given the equipment we need to do our job. We buy it ourselves and haul it with us wherever we end up going: camel riding in Morocco, practicing yoga in Mexico, or scuba diving in Belize.

Price is a major factor in deciding what I need to buy, but durability, weight, and multi-functionality matter too. The trick is to invest in gear from the States that I can’t easily find in foreign countries. Notebooks, memory cards, and toiletries are available all over the world, but my core list of crucial items were bought before I got on the plane. Here is a list of must haves to bring with me when I travel.

Travel Writing Gear: BackpackBackpack: Osprey Kestrel 

Osprey bags are well known for their durability, which was extra important when I had to carry my entire life on my back while I travelled throughout Belize for three months. Rips, tears, or broken zippers weren’t an option – and they weren’t an issue.

Travel Writing Tools: Digital CameraDigital Camera: Olympus PEN E-P1

What makes the Olympus PEN E-P1 camera the best bet for travel writers is that the camera body is lightweight and discreet, but still takes beautiful photos. The extended battery life allowed me to shoot hours of HD video and hundreds of still shots in Belize’s Mayan villages with zero access to electricity.

Freelance Travel Writer Gear: LaptopLaptop Computer: Apple MacBook Air

I’m a firm believer that anything I take with me on a trip has a good chance of not coming home with me. I proved I’m okay with that when I left my iPhone in Morocco. But if anything were to happen to my MacBook Air, I’d be devastated, and not just because of its high price tag. As a blogger, my light as air MacBook Air is my business partner and best friend. For me, the cost is justified because I don’t get a sore shoulder from lugging a bulky computer everywhere, and the MacBook Air is lightning fast, which saves me time.

Freelance Travel Writing Tools: StaplerMini Stapler

While in Morocco, I collected hundreds of business cards, menus, flyers, receipts, and promotional materials because that information becomes vital when writing articles after the trip. The easiest way to organize all that loose paper is to simply staple it into a notebook. Voila. Organized.

Travel Writer Toolkit - Business CardsBusiness Cards

I wish I’d printed out business cards earlier in my career. Having my name, contact information, and website on one little card is much more professional and organized than scribbling on a scrap of paper. In Latin America especially, business cards are a requirement. Not having one reads as amateur. Exchanging cards with anyone from hotel owners to interview subjects is as necessary as a handshake, mostly for formality.

Freelance Travel Writing Tools - SmartphoneSmartphone: Apple iPhone

A smartphone is like a miniature laptop that fits in my pocket. When I’m traveling I can quickly access travel apps and email, and take photos for my social media platforms. In New York City, I use it constantly to navigate the subway system. Oh, and that Starbucks app? Perfect for finding the nearest free bathroom.

Travel Writer Gear - HeadlampHeadlamp

Headlamps are the ultimate hands-free device. In Paraguay, I used my headlamp every night on my way to the dark latrine. In Belize, I put it to good use exploring wet and dry caves. And I can’t forget all those nights it illuminated my travel journal as I wrote down my latest stories.

Freelance Travel Writer Gear - JacketOuterwear: NorthFace Fleece Jacket

I spend very little money on clothing. Most of my travel stuff is destroyed in months and left in whichever country I’m visiting, but I made an exception with my NorthFace Fleece. It’s durable, washes well, and adds a layer of warmth without much bulk – features that more than justify the precious space it takes up in my backpack. I’ve worn it biking in China, hiking in northern California, and on the windy beach in Uruguay.

Travel Writing Tools - Garment BagSeatoSummit garment bag

I only pack one backpack when I travel, which means my hiking boots, emergency snacks, and underwear float around in one big compartment. Not cool. SeatoSummit garment bags changed all that. I tried them out on a trip to Portland and was able to keep my clothing clean, folded, organized, and away from my dirty shoes and clementine oranges.

Freelance Travel Writing Tools - Yoga MatYoga Mat

A yoga mat is my one essential non-essential when I travel. I’ve used it as a makeshift bed in Paraguay and for actual downward dog stretching in Cabo, San Francisco, and Belize. To transport the mat most effectively, I roll it very tight, secure the top with a rubber band, and insert the bottom into the exterior pocket of my backpack designed for a water bottle.

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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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Writing on the road: 10 things I couldn’t live without

Any traveller has a booty of items that they always find room for in their backpack. As a travel writer, the most important items in my travel kit are the tools and gadgets that help me do what I do: write. Here are the ten things you’ll spot if you rummage through my luggage.

Travel Writing Computers - External Hard DriveLaCie Rugged 500GB All-Terrain Hard Disk

The three golden rules of travel writing? Back up, back up, back up. I’ve lost work before and nothing feels worse. You’ll need to keep all your documents saved in more than one place, especially if you’re carrying around a laptop or netbook desirable to thieves. I’ve been using this LaCie external hard drive for the last couple of years, keeping it separate from my laptop at all times to minimise the chances of losing all my work in one fell swoop. This model is fantastically practical thanks to its thick rubber edging, and can even survive a drop down a canyon (it was a small canyon, but a canyon nonetheless!) – so there’s no doubt it’ll withstand the beating that it suffers in my backpack.

Freelance Travel Writing Gear - Camera ExtenderXshot Extender 2.0

I lugged a tripod around India with me for two months before handing it over to another friendly traveler in a hostel. I simply didn’t use it and although it folded up pretty small, when I’m out exploring for the day, it’s just another piece of kit in my day bag. However, my boyfriend found this neat camera extender with which you can you can take great snaps of yourself without the need to fiddle around with timers or find a suitable ledge to rest your camera on. We got some great pictures of us nicely framed in front of famous sights such as the Angkor Wat temples. And at half a kilo it won’t weigh you down.

Freelance Travel Writing Gear - Digital CameraPanasonic Lumix FZ45 digital camera

I’m a writer, not a photographer. But when I travel, I’m constantly taking pictures of my adventures, and as a writer I’m responsible for getting the best shots possible to help illustrate my articles. I did a lot of research before deciding to buy this SLR and I’ve loved every minute we’ve spent together. It’s not too pricey, not too big, it’s simple to use and there are still loads of settings I haven’t fully utilised. Plus, it captures great photos without needing to edit them afterwards. I love the HD movie recording – useful for taking short videos of performances and conducting interviews with locals – and the fact that its battery lasts a week-long trek without a recharge.

Travel Writer Tools - Ebook ReaderKindle Keyboard 3G

This piece of kit hardly needs an intro. At first, I just kept novels on my Kindle to browse on boring journeys. Now I get all my travel guides loaded up on here before I set off – much lighter than carrying around loads of books and easily searchable, too. I even put PDFs of my draft articles on here to read through, edit and show to others. I’ve got the keyboard version, which although slightly bigger, is much handier for adding notes to your literature – good for quick reference when you’re in the back of a tuktuk trying to figure out where you’re supposed to be going!

Gear for writing on the go - BinocularsDesign Go Lightweight Binoculars

I wasn’t bothered about these when a friend proudly handed them to me before I headed off on my first round-the-world trip, and you could hardly say that binoculars are vital for a travel writer. But it was worth carrying them around for five months because without these hanging around my neck, I would never have seen a jaguar in Brazil’s Pantanal. Now I’m writing this experience up into an article. Affordable and lightweight, it’s definitely worth adding these to your backpack – you might just spot something no one else does – and that always makes for a great story.

Freelance Travel Writing Tools - Laptop ComputerApple 11-inch MacBook Air

For me, a great laptop is all about battery life. After I’ve watched a film on a long bus journey and uploaded the day’s photos, I still want to be able to write notes from the day and edit my blog. For days at a time in South America, I was racing through Bolivia to Brazil and taking buses instead of staying in hostels for the night. Few would argue that Apple products offer the best battery life and my beloved MacBook Air consistently delivers the promised 5 to 6 hours between charges – a boredom fighter and fantastic work aid.

Freelance Travel Writer Gear - NotebookMoleskine Notebook

I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart, and there’s something romantic about jotting down notes on the crisp pages of a Moleskine that makes me feel forever on the trail of Hemingway. Plus, the smart black leather cover also does well at reminding me to get on with work rather than play!

Travel Writer Toolkit - Solar ChargerFreeloader Pro Solar Charger

This is another little gadget that I don’t use regularly, but it did come in pretty useful when I was driving and camping around New Zealand. Trying as I was to avoid pricey campsites with such luxury facilities as power sockets, this little beauty helped me keep my phone and camera charged each day by collecting the sun’s rays through the windscreen as I drove along.

Freelance Travel Writer Gear - Hand Crank FlashlightKaito Hand Crank LED Flashlight

When I’m camping out in the woods or spending the night in a town without electricity, this little flashlight casts the perfect amount of light to write notes by at night. I’m now on my second one, having left the first one with a family in the mountains of Northern Laos. Once I realised they had to do a day’s walk to the nearest town to buy batteries, I understood why they found this gadget so magical.

Travel Writing Gear - Voice RecorderSony ICD-BX112 Digital Voice Recorder

I adore this piece of kit. When you’re horse riding through the fields of Uruguay, or atop a camel in the African desert, a million thoughts are racing through your head and you can’t put them on paper until the experience is over. I like to clip this onto my shirt and describe what I see and how I feel so that later I can listen to the recording and jot down notes.

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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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