Almost Fearless

Whatever You Do, Don’t Become a Travel Writer: Day 11 of 30w30d

This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.


30 ways in 30 days, expat, bad advice, visa, all around the world

I’m addressing this in a separate post because this question was one of the most common emails that I received about this series.

Want to travel the world, write about it and get paid all at the same time?

Of course you do! The connection is obvious, you’ll combine two things together and you’ll have an advantage because you’re already traveling. The problem is, it’s obvious to everyone. And there are a lot of travelers.

The same phenomena happens in the small business world. Everyone loves food. So why not open a restaurant? The answer is that the skills needed to cook a great meal or host a dinner party are not at all the same ones needed to run a restaurant. You’re working on razor thin margins. You need a mercenary’s command of budgeting and your staff. Yet, year after year, thousands of people open their first business as a restaurant and most of them fail. Why? Because they had no business owning a restaurant.

The same can be said about travel writing.  Loving travel and being good at writing about it are not the same thing.  Are you meticulous? Do you like to research? Can you write at a professional level? Would updating a guidebook and running around a city 12 hours a day making sure that phone numbers and maps are correct make you happy? Are you willing to spend 20 hours researching and writing a piece for $50 in the beginning? Have you ever worked in the industry before?

Most of the travel writers that you read in magazines have been doing it for over 5 years.

Other people, like myself, who find a way to make a very modest living between writing and blogging have a prior history (and trust me, I’m no role model for success). I was an editor in high school. I had my first piece published at 15. In college I co-founded a writing society and was chosen to met Allen Ginsburg. After college I worked in a publishing house for a year. After that I learned about web technologies and can write HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP. I have had blogs since 1999. Two years before I started this site, I wrote a novel (unpublished). These things don’t matter, no editor cares about them, but I’m trying to illustrate something. Most of the travel writers I meet have similar pasts– maybe it’s a PhD or a prior career as a textbook editor. The point is that any prior experience really does help.  Some people make it look easy– until you find out they have a MFA in creative writing and four years at a magazine under their belt.

If you want to do it, absolutely, go for it. I just needed to get it on the record: if you’re picking travel writing because it’s a quick or easy way to make a buck, you’re mistaken.

Now, if you still want to become a travel writer, there are just seven pieces of advice:

  1. Write about your hometown first and get as many published clips as possible.  Do this is well before you begin traveling.
  2. Join Media Bistro and read all their articles before you start pitching publications.
  3. Write every single day. Writer’s block is a myth. You’re a professional.
  4. Write broadly until you figure out your voice, your niche and where you want to be. (That means work-for-hire if necessary, even if it’s corporate).
  5. Plan your articles before you travel, not after the trip. Try to get as many assignments before you leave as possible.
  6. Reach out to people to get feedback on your writing and start a blog.
  7. Don’t forget: the industry is small. Try not to burn too many bridges in the beginning with your newbie ways.

Then prepare to spend all of your free time writing, researching, reading about writing or thinking about it.  Are you suitably scared off yet?  Good!  This is a good thing.  Next week there will be a post about 101 things you can do to make money and still travel the world, without being a travel writer.

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”


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