Travel Writing: 6 Assignment-Seeking Tips from a Digital Nomad

How to Find Travel Writing Assignments. Makealivingwriting.comSo you want to get into travel writing?

Every day you flick through dozens of glossy magazine features. You scroll past hundreds of aspirational Instagram posts about travel writing.

You’ve probably even heard about some Irish guy who started with a $50 ad on his travel blog and went on to earn $1 million in three years from travel writing.

It all sounds so romantic, like stepping into Ernest Hemingway’s shoes and galavanting across the globe chasing travel writing assignments. And you start to have thoughts like this:

  • Thought 1: Here I am in an office cubicle, staring at a screen that’s way too bright.
  • Thought 2: Where the hell’s the dimmer switch? Wait, maybe I am the dimmer switch.
  • Thought 3: I want a million dollars. Maybe I can earn that much from travel writing.

Is travel writing all fun and frolics on beaches with cocktails? No. But you can make a great living as a travel writer…I’ve been doing it for more than a decade.

Want to be a travel writer? These six tips will point you in the right direction…

Fast track or long delay? The truth about travel writing

Before you quit your day job to chase your travel writing dreams, you’ve got enough sense to get real about what travel writing is really like. And you come up with stuff like this:

  • You have to be lucky.
  • You have to be good.
  • Scratch that – you have to be great.
  • You have to work HARD.
  • Travel writing is glamorous. But only when it doesn’t suck.

Here’s the bad news: Some of this is true. Travel writing is probably the most competitive of all freelance writing niches. The pay per assignment is middle to low on average. And you’re probably not always going to be crisscrossing the globe on someone else’s dime.

The truth: Travel writing is as much about providing accurate, reliable information as it is poeticizing your observations and interpretation of a place or experience. So it is a job, not just a holiday. Editors get dozens of pitches every week and month, making it tough to stand out, especially if you’re new.

Here’s the good news: There are thousands of travel publications (check out this list of 100 that pay freelance writers) around the world that publish content every day. Some of them pay well, up to a $1 a word or more. And, with a little bit of insider knowledge, it’s possible to stand out, win commissions and make a decent living as a travel writer, even when you lack experience at the start.

Want to be a successful travel writer? Here are six things you need to know:

1. You don’t actually need to travel to be a travel writer

Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. If you just want a few travel bylines for your portfolio, or don’t have the finances or time to hop a plane to some exotic location, you can still be a travel writer.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you live in Chicago, and you know a lot about city restaurants, night life, best places to stay, entertainment venues, and off-the-beaten-path places to see.

Guess what? For every magazine, website or newspaper based elsewhere, Chicago could be an exotic destination worthy of a story. And you could be the person to write it. FYI – an estimated 55 million tourists visit Chicago every year.

Tip: You can write travel-related stories about your city for magazines and websites in the U.S. and abroad and get paid well.

2. You don’t need any travel-writing experience

When pitching for journalistic stories especially (as opposed to content marketing posts or blogs), the most critical part of your pitch is your idea. Think like an editor and make sure your pitch answers questions like:

  • What story are you hoping to tell?
  • Why is it important, and why now?
  • How does it fit your target publication’s mission?
  • Why are you the person to write this story?

If your answers to these questions are good enough, particularly if you have access (to events, people or places) that others don’t, experience isn’t as important.

Tip: When you pitch an idea to an editor, make sure it matches the publication’s voice, style, and content type. Target the right editor, at the right publication, and you’ll very often find a home for a great story idea, regardless of what you’ve done before.

3. You should market yourself as a travel writer

If you’re convinced you want to be a travel writer, make sure all your contacts know. Here’s how:

  • Change your email signature from “Freelance writer” to something more specific like “Travel journalist” or “Travel writer.” This is about merchandising and marketing yourself as someone editors can trust and will want to work with.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile. It’s another way to market yourself as a travel writer. Instead of identifying yourself as a jack-of-all-trades freelancer, give your LinkedIn profile an update that shows off your skills and experience as a travel writer.

4. You don’t need a huge network to land assignments

It’s easy to think the most successful travel writers have a massive network of contacts, years of experience, and maybe a rich uncle to fund some big adventures. Maybe that’s true for a few, but you can still land great travel writing assignments even if you don’t.

A resource for travel writing jobs

In fact, there’s such a huge demand for travel writers, I created the site Pitchwhiz to help connect editors with freelance writers. Take a look at available assignments. Check out the resources to help you write a proper pitch, send it to the right editor, and you’re on your way.

5. Travel editors don’t care if you’re going on vacation

Seriously…I’ve heard from freelance writers far too many times with a pitch like this:

“Hi James, I’m going to Cambodia next week – would you like a story?”

This is a terrible pitch because it fails to actually promote anything that might be of interest. Cambodia is a place. It is not a story idea.

Tip: When you pitch an editor, you need to present an idea for a real story you can write about a destination, things to do, places to see, food, lodging, entertainment, not a play-by-play of your vacation.

6. You’ll win more travel writing jobs with great headlines

You’ve got a great idea for a travel-related story and slaved over writing the first couple of lede paragraphs. Then you hit the editor with your working headline: Travel Writing Story About Cambodia. Don’t do this. OK?

A lot of writers take the lazy way out and give their story idea a generic headline. Some don’t even include a headline. But if you want to win more travel writing jobs, you’ve got to take the time to write a great headline.

Why do headlines matter so much?

  • It’s a signpost that encapsulates your idea.
  • In about 6 to 12 words, it tells your editor why this story could be for them.
  • It shows the editor you understand the core angle or theme of your piece, and will (hopefully) deliver an article that doesn’t stray too far from that theme.
  • It’s the key sales mechanism for getting eyeballs (readers), which is critical if you’re writing for a blog, website, or social media.

Move up and earn more with travel writing

Instead of flipping through more glossy travel magazines and eye-candy destinations on Instagram wishing you were a travel writer, pitch a story idea to an editor. You never know where it might take you.

Need help landing travel writing assignments? Let’s discuss in the comments.

James Durston is a freelance journalist, author, and editor. He’s the founder of PitchWhiz and runs the site TravelWriteEarn for freelance writers.

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26 comments on “Travel Writing: 6 Assignment-Seeking Tips from a Digital Nomad
  1. Nilabh says:

    Hello, carol,

    I run a travel blog and can second whatever you have in the article for a good travel article

  2. Alex Marsh says:

    Really Amazing and helpful tips! Most of the travel writers I know do not really travel. They market themselves in the right manner. I think reading reviews about places and Multicultural research are very important parameters here.

  3. MANJUSHREE Biswas Maity says:

    Tons of thanks for the splendid information you have given here.

  4. James Durston says:

    This is a common concern. I don’t know where it came from to be honest, but it makes little sense to pitch on a one-for-one basis. Anyone who does a lot of pitching, especially if you’re reasonably new, will know one thing for sure: editors very rarely reply. Our ideas and our stories are our livelihood. We cannot hide these ideas silently in the wings when editors give us very little feedback, if any at all. As freelance writers it is our job to earn money from our ideas and stories, and earn as much of it as we can. We need to take care of ourselves, and that means we need to do everything we can to sell our stories regularly, frequently and quickly. My latest blog post on TWE described how I earned $1000+ from an idea because I pitched it to 2 different publications. It could have been more had I pitched it to more. In short, don’t feel like you need to walk on egg shells around editors. They were freelancers once too, in all probability. If more than one editor gets back to you, what’s awkward about saying the idea is already sold, and offering a slightly different angle, or different story to the second editor? If anything maybe s/he will respond quicker next time! Be respectful, be polite, be professional, and earn as good a living as you can!

  5. Hi,
    I just landed a travel writing job with an online magazine. I submitted it about 3 weeks ago. So far, it has not been published, but the response I received is that they liked my work and promised to publish it in an upcoming issue. I was told that the magazine does not pay its freelance travel writers. I agreed to write for them anyway because I am new to this. But I don’t want to keep writing for free. Obviously, I need to make money. I’m leaving for Cape Town, South Africa tomorrow and would love to write about my experience when I return. How would I go about marketing that to a travel publication?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, sounds late to market it ahead of time, Harvey, which can be a great way to go. Then you know exactly what you MUST do and see to file a piece for that particular publication.

      At this point…while you’re there, be thinking about themes for a travel piece — maybe you saw new museums or attractions, or you were traveling on a bike, or with a small child, or heard about a hot food trend in the city you could write up. Gather your string on the trip and then see how many pitches you can spin out of it when you get home!

  6. Diane Young says:

    I’m leaving in a week for my 7th winter in a small Mexican town on the Pacific. James, your piece on travel writing has convinced me who’s better to write about the town and the area known as the Mexican Riviera than me? I already have the first draft of an article on frigatebirds, tropical seabirds on the Mexican coast, that I’m going to pitch to an in-flight magazine of an airline that flies there. So, guess what’s next on my to-do list after that? Thanks for pointing out the obvious to me. Duh.

    • That’s great Diane. Here’s another tip: pitch to MANY titles with your idea, not just one. The inflight you’ve identified may be a great fit, but for many reasons the commissioning editor may not buy it. You will increase your chances of scoring a sale if you pitch to 3, 5, 9 publications.

      • Diane Young says:

        Great suggestion, James, thanks, I’m on it!

      • Nina Peacock says:

        James, I thought it was taboo to pitch more than one editor at one time? What if two editors bite – then you are in the awkward position of telling one of them that you’ve pitched the story to more than one.

        • Diane Young says:

          I thought so too, Nina, but the editors haven’t even seen the story. It’s just a pitch, not a multiple manuscript submission. I doubt James would suggest it if multiple pitches were a no-no. Hey, if there were enough interest in my pitch, I’d send them all a copy of the piece and the high bidder gets it!

      • Carol Tice says:

        Good tip — check the destination maps of all the airlines you can think of, and pitch any that fly to the destination you want to write about! If you don’t know, that’s how they prioritize content, they want pieces on THEIR cities.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Is it Playa del Carmen? I took some of my girlfriends (including my great designer here, Keira Dooley!) there last February and we LOVED it and want to go back to Riviera Maya…maybe this winter!

      • Diane Young says:

        Hi Carol,
        No, it’s La Penita on the bay of Jaltemba, a beach town about 40 miles north of Puerta Vallarta. Mexico is a great getaway!

  7. Karin Bauer says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Ive been searching for information for the longest time. I always thought making a living as a travel writer was chasing rainbows but now I am going to pursue this dream again.

  8. Tom Bentley says:

    Good stuff, James. I heartily recommend the PitchWhiz site for travel writers, and really, all writers, since many of the editorial solicitations are for pieces on all subjects under the sun. (I landed pieces in Vox and Wired through PitchWhiz.)

    • James Durston says:

      Thanks Tom – yes Pitchwhiz collects all manner of story idea requests, and this is another point worth bearing in mind: don’t ‘niche’ yourself (can niche be a verb?) into poverty! Travel writing is competitive, averagely paid at best, and especially while finding your feet and regular clients you need to take what work you can get.

  9. I have sent numerous pitches along with follow-ups but do not receive any responses.

    I would like to sign up for Pitch Whiz, seems very helpful.

    Some of the pitches and follow-up I’ve sent, responded and told me, no need to follow-up they will respond back. That has been since June and July.

    • James Durston says:

      Hi Juaneca, yes, the non-responding editor is the bane of many freelance lives. It’s for this reason I advocate pitching to multiple editors and titles simultaneously. We cannot hang around waiting for a single editor to respond while we have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and generally need to earn a living. Pitch every idea to half a dozen titles and you’ll sell many more articles.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Agree — and if you’re worried about making some editor angry because it’s already sold (even though that almost NEVER ends up happening), reslant your story for each market a bit! Or pitch noncompeting publications. But keep pitching, ‘cos writers gotta eat. 😉

  10. how do I sign up for pitch Whiz?

    • James Durston says:

      Just head to pitchwhiz.com and sign up. Be advised, Pitchwhiz is designed to be used by writers who already have some experience. If you’re brand new and just starting out, you’re better off starting at travelwriteearn.com, getting to grips with how to pitch and structure your ideas, and then moving to PW once you can pitch professionally.