Secrets to Earning Six Figures in Freelance Travel Writing

How Travel Writers Earn Big in 2016

Ever dream about earning big from travel writing?

It’s a popular niche in the world of digital nomads, freelancers, and wannabe writers. But can you actually make a living at it?

Yes. I’ve been a travel writer for nearly two decades. I’ve written about traveling through southeast Asia on a budget, hiking the Pisco Trail in Peru, combing through the ruins of Antigua, Guatemala, and many other adventures in the form of blog posts, articles, books, and copywriting projects.

I’m headed to the Philippines this week. But I’m not jet-setting from one exotic location to the next every week. That might be one of the biggest misconceptions about travel writing.

A lot has changed for travel writers since I got started. At one point in time, travel writers regularly took all-expenses-paid vacations to exotic locations all over the world on assignment for a long list of magazines. It still happens, but not like it used to.

So how do you make a decent living as a travel writer, and hit the six-figure mark? I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, because I’ve had to navigate the industry’s sometimes troubled waters, jet lag, and changing itinerary.

If you want to build your freelance business as a travel writer, here’s a few things you need to know:

More hats, more hustle

I surveyed 82 people when putting together the second edition of my book Travel Writing 2.0. The travel writers who are making $100,000 or more annually have one key thing in common. They all have 10 or more income streams related to travel.

If you want to be a successful travel writer, you have to wear more hats. A travel writer is seldom just writing anymore. The corresponding payoff, however, is the ability to control your own destiny and generate multiple streams of income from your craft. For example, I write for magazines, businesses, and travel sites. I sell books. And I run an online travel magazine and a couple of travel blogs.

Writing articles for editors is still a viable income stream of course, though the pursuit of pay in that area has changed in some fundamental ways. The print publications that have survived are thinner and leaner, which means less content and sometimes lower pay than before.

No shortage of places to pitch

On the other hand, there are exponentially more outlets to pitch to because of the rise of online publishing. There are literally hundreds of travel websites to pitch now. It used to be easy to keep track of places to pitch with only about a dozen travel magazines on the stands and a couple dozen custom publications. Now there are so many opportunities for travel writers, it’s impossible to keep track of all of them.

If you want to make a living as a travel writer, you can. Check out the resources at TravelWriting2.com or do your homework and pitch some of the old standbys like BBC, Lonely Planet, or my site Perceptive Travel.

Turn your travel blog into a business

Most travel writers I know run their own blog, along with writing for clients. But don’t stop there. Turn your travel blog into a business. Here are some other ways I (and many other travel writers) earn from a running a travel blog:

  • Direct display advertising
  • Network display advertising
  • AdSense
  • Affiliate ads
  • Sponsored posts
  • Long-term sponsorship deals
  • Social media promotion programs
  • Selling e-books
  • Teaching courses
  • Doing travel consulting
  • Leading local tours
  • Selling trip planning/itineraries
  • Participating in bundle programs

Realize there are far more viable ways to earn money from a travel blog than there were just five years ago.

Niching down in the digital age

One of the biggest changes in the travel-writing world is the decline of the generalist. In the pre-internet days, it made a lot of sense to say you could write about anything anywhere. In the digital age, that’s a detriment.

You need to find your niche as a travel writer. Maybe it’s writing about international travel on a budget, luxury resorts, cruise-ship life, ecotourism, or adventure travel. When you’re first starting out, you might bounce around writing about different travel-related topics for clients. But travel writers with a core specialty or expertise in one area now get a lot more work with a lot less effort.

Why? It’s easier to be found on Google when a client goes looking for a writer. They’re probably not going to search for a “travel writer.” Instead, they might search for “medical tourism writer.”

Find your niche in travel writing, and you’ll also find more clients willing to pay pro rates for your expertise. It’s also easier to get a “yes” when you send out well-written queries and letters of introduction (LOIs).

So where do you find well-paid travel writing gigs these days? At one point in time, magazines were the bread and butter for travel writers. But that’s changing.

Eight of my last 10 freelance jobs were not for outlets run by a publishing company. They were for company blogs or websites run by the likes of Gore-Tex, BedandBreakfast.com, and Viator. Most of them pay better rates, and on time.

Be your own brand

Another thing the six-figure travel writers all have in common is their own brand. These experts really hit the motherlode by running their own blog and attracting a like-minded audience.

It’s no secret that traditional travel publications are struggling just to retain subscribers. But travel blogs are gaining more readers each quarter. The top 50 travel blogs in the world reach at least 80,000 unique readers per month. Many travel writers have a larger following than the print version of Travel & Leisure—with 1/100th of the staff.

Develop your own brand as a travel writer, market your business and services, and take advantage of all the digital tools available to help you grow. That’s what the six-figure travel writers I know are doing, and more travel writers hit that magic number every year.

Keep in mind, most aren’t earning from just writing travel-related content. The income flow is more like that virtuous-circlefrom a diversified mutual fund portfolio, however, than a company paycheck. Some of those sources—such as profiting from social media influence or selling self-published e-books—didn’t even exist with any regularity until recently.

Those who do have a large body of work in different formats find it leads to a virtuous circle. The book supports the blog, the blog supports the freelancing, the freelancing supports the book. Media appearances help all three.

Book your ticket to travel writing success

The most successful travel writers hustle to make it happen by doing the following:

  • Find a specialty that you can own and even dominate. In the long-tail-keyword-niche world we’re in, being the go-to expert on Cartagena travel or wine in British Colombia can be much more lucrative than bouncing from one subject to the next each month.
  • Learn to do more than write. Many travel writing freelance contracts now require photos, video, or even social media sharing. For a travel blog, these are essential.
  • Pitch non-traditional outlets for work. Start pitching tourism boards, brands you like, or tour companies with no content on their website.
  • Add more self-directed income streams to your mix. There are very few barriers now to launching a blog, self-publishing a book, running a course, or selling consulting services directly.

If you really want to make it as a travel writer, you can. But don’t expect to spend most of your time sipping margaritas, traveling first class, and raking in piles of money.

Done any travel writing? Post in the comments about where you’ve found good pay.

Tim Leffel is the author of Travel Writing 2.0, now in its second edition. He runs five websites and has contributed to 50-plus outlets as a freelancer.

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