So 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.