Travel writing can seem like the best of both worlds for people who love writing and love travel – why not combine these two things great things and make them into a career? The opportunities to do just that are definitely out there if you know where to look. Travel writing as a career can be fun, exciting and lucrative if you are willing to put in a little extra work, and learn as much as you can about the industry and the system through which great work gets published.
We can get one thing out of the way upfront: Travel writing is competitive. Paying journalists for their writing, as well as their travel expenses, can be quite costly to most publications and they want to be sure that their writers are going to produce quality work. This means that you might need to prove yourself for some time before you get the high-paying gigs that you’re after.
But "paying your dues" could be well worth it, and at first you might find yourself covering stories that are off the beaten path, or writing for publications with more of a niche readership. You might also start to weave a travel component into your other writing. For example, if you currently blog about sports, you might want to start building your travel writing portfolio by incorporating some travel aspects into your current work. Maybe this just means traveling to a nearby city for a match or tournament of some sort, but you can still get your feet wet by treating even a short trip as an adventure worth writing about.
Travel writers should be passionate about travel from the start – if you aren’t willing to take on adventures and interact with locals, travel writing probably isn’t the best choice for you. That said, many travel writers don’t actually start out by getting paid to travel. They write about things that they would have done anyway, and then sell their stories to magazines, blogs and maybe even newspapers.
So if you already have stories to tell, where are the best places to get your travel writing published?
- Lonely Planet and other Travel Guides
Travel guides consistently hire writers to produce short reviews of places to eat, sleep, and see for interested travelers. If you are incredibly familiar with a particular destination, you can often be contracted to write extensively on "everything to do" in a certain city or region. Travel guides like the Lonely Planet hire both freelance and staff writers. These jobs are great, but not always easy to come by. You’ll have to be very consistent in your research, and constantly checking websites to see if a position has opened up. An up-and-coming guidebook or site might be able to offer more flexibility in a writing job than an established one like the Lonely Planet, but expect the pay to be lower. All great travel writers have to start somewhere! To find travel guide writing jobs, you are best off doing a quick Internet search for "online travel guides" to familiarize yourself with the major players. Then you can check each website to see if they are hiring writers, and get a sense of the tone and style of the travel guides and articles.
Transitions Abroad Magazine is another great resource for travel writing, as they accept a broad range of essays from writers who are already living, working and/or volunteering abroad. The pay isn’t great, but being published on the widely-read website can certainly help you gain experience and build your portfolio.
- Airline Magazines
We’ve all thumbed through our share of airline magazines while waiting for the pilot to turn off the fasten seatbelt sign, or for the in-flight entertainment to begin. It’s interesting to note that most of the articles in airline magazines are written by freelance writers. If you are at all familiar with the freelance magazine writing submission process, you should be comfortable jumping into in-flight magazines. If not, here are a few quick tips:
- Read the writer’s guidelines. Carefully. These requirements for article submissions are generally available under "contact us" for most in-flight magazine websites. Magazine editors know exactly what they are looking for, and the writer’s guidelines reflect that. If they say they do not accept general travel stories, do not submit general travel stories. If they mention how much they love celebrity interviews and profiles, consider that when thinking of stories to pitch.
- Read the magazine. This is a mistake that many writers make when they are sending out mounds of inquiry letters and pitches. The tone and style of a magazine is very important, and the more an editor can imagine your submission as part of the magazine, the more likely it is to be picked up. You should always maintain your own voice as a writer, but it doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about the voice of the magazine you’re pitching as well.
- Be creative. In the world of travel writing, the possibilities are endless. But you would not believe how many people submit travelogues of their trips to Paris or the Great Wall that don’t uncover any new territory. Airline magazine editors have read it all before, and they want something fresh and new. Maybe you can write about the parts of Paris that no one ever sees? Or about your day trip to a small town that had a great little bakery? These are the new, exciting stories that magazines want to see.
If you aren’t familiar with airline publications, you can find lists by checking out this directory of in flight magazines, or by doing a search for airlines you are familiar with. You can also find a list of the most heavily circulated in flight magazines at Cision Navigator.
- Blogs/Online Magazines
There are so many possibilities for travel writing on the web, and the best advice that I can give you for how to find them is to check for travel writing jobs on some of the big freelance writing sites. These sites are some of the best for credible, paid freelance writing jobs:
Travel Writers Exchange – Tons of information about travel writing, including links to job resources. This is a great first stop if you are just starting out in the world of travel writing.
Freelance Writing Gigs – A great resource for people just starting out in freelance writing, with daily job postings and advice from experts.
ProBlogger Job Board – A forum for people seeking and posting all kinds of blogging jobs, for beginners and experts alike! You’ll have to sift through a lot of the posts to find jobs relevant to travel, but it can be worth it. Make good use of the search feature to efficient seek out travel blogging jobs.
Craigslist – The old stand-by for finding gigs of any kind, Craigslist is a veritable smorgasbord of start-up magazines looking for submissions. Beware of any ad that asks you to write for free, unless they are offering to cover expenses. Don’t be afraid to look outside of your local region for work – many Craigslist postings are actually for writers who work virtually.
- Hotels, Resorts and Travel Companies
This is a trick that I picked up from a travel writer that I worked with – she had a 9-5 job, but spent all of her extra time traveling to anywhere and everywhere. And she never paid for a single vacation herself. How did she pull this off? Travel writing.
She started out with a passion for travel, and would write reviews of the places she went on a blog that she kept for herself and friends. Eventually, an adventure travel company reached out to her to ask her to come on one of their vacations, if she promised to write about it. She eventually began to marker her articles to blogs with larger readership, and leveraged that to get even more free vacations. She didn’t get paid big bucks for her writing, but she was able to get to see many places she would never have been able to afford otherwise.
If you are interested in pursuing this kind of travel writing, it is definitely worth it to reach out to some small to mid-size travel companies in your area and see if you can tag along on one of their adventures. You’d be surprised at how much a company is willing to give for a little free publicity.
These are just a few ideas to help you get started on your journey to becoming a travel writer. The most important things to remember as you embark on a new market like travel writing is to tell the best story that you can. When people read travel articles, they want to feel like they have been transported to a foreign destination. They want you to paint that picture for them. Whether it is quick blurbs for a travel guide, or long narrative stories for an in-flight magazine, as a travel writer you have the opportunity to make people want to see all of the sights that the world has to offer.
If you have any tips for travel writers, please leave them in the comments. You can also find out more about freelance writing in the Writing Jobs section of JobMonkey.com.