Getting paid to travel is the ultimate dream of any writer, right? Lounging on white, sandy beaches with the crystal-clear blue sparkling water just beckoning you for a day of fun, all in the name of “work.” I can’t imagine a better gig, but for many writers, it’s not just a dream, but a reality.
It took me about five years into my career as a freelance writer before I realized that travel writing was an actual thing. Not like an occasional perk of writing or something that writers did now and then to write off a business trip, but an actual-to-goodness job that can pay you enough to live off. I was amazed that such a career could exist and decided right then and there that I wanted to be a travel writer. But how does one achieve the elusive title of “travel writer?” Here are some tips I’ve discovered along my quest to join the world of travel writing.
Realize it’s not about free vacations
I have joined a few online travel writing groups in my hopes of becoming a travel writer and one of the most frequently-expressed frustrations I hear from the “real” travel writers in the group is that other people tend to think that travel writing is all about free vacations and fun; but it’s not. Just like any other job, travel writing involves hard work and aspects that are decidedly unglamorous, from hotels without hot water to horrible flight delays to traveling through mysterious viruses. Don’t go into travel writing thinking it’s just a way to score free trips or you’ll set yourself up for failure.
Make it known that you are a travel writer
Think back to when you first got started as a writer. You had to first declare to yourself and to the world that you were a writer, right? That meant telling your family and friends, putting “writer” in your bio, or maybe getting some business cards printed. Becoming a travel writer is no different. Name and brand yourself as a travel writer and work to establish your credibility in the field. Especially if you’re active on online systems such as LinkedIn or Contently, adding the world “travel writer” to your bio, resume, or credentials can help editors search for travel writers find you.
Don’t depend on press trips
If you haven’t heard of them before, press trips are these seemingly magical unicorns where PR companies working with resorts and travel destinations will host journalists to the property to show them the attributes and aspects of the vacation experience. The thought is, of course, that the journalists will then write about the destination. And while they can be a great idea in theory, it is more challenging to write an unbiased article about a free, all-inclusive vacation experience you have had vs. say, paying for it yourself and seeing how a “normal” guest would be treated.
Also, accepting press trips comes at a price because if you take one, some prominent publications, such as the New York Times, will blacklist you forever, meaning you can’t write for them for travel related pieces. Ouch.
Take a course
There are many helpful courses you can take that can help introduce you to the basics of travel writing. For instance, Holly Johnson is a writer and blogger who has been able to make a lot of money from writing and traveling. To the tune of $200K a year, being able to retire her husband, and taking some exotic vacation pretty much every month. Not too shabby.
You don’t have to travel the world to be a professional travel writer. Start small! Try looking in your local area, region, or state for attractions or experiences that are well-known to you, but maybe not the rest of the world. There are hidden gems and cultural destinations, foods, customs, and traditions no matter where you are, so you might just be surprised by what you can discover near you as you get started in travel writing.
Avoid travel writing clichés
If you want to stand out as a travel writer, you need to avoid falling into the trap of writing using only clichéd travel phrases. Don’t write about your time spent “meandering the charming streets sampling the delicious local cuisine” because let’s face it, that’s been done. Instead, look for the original places and people that can make your stories come to life.
- Tips for getting started as a travel writer from Lonely Planet. As a fairly new travel writer myself, I found these tips enormously helpful, both in terms of practical aspects to look for while you’re traveling and tips for actually writing a travel piece.
- New York Times travel writing policy. Curious about what a prestigious travel publication like the NYT actually requires of its writers? This FAQ comes straight from a former NYT editor himself.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.
Do you think you have what it takes to be a writer in today's market? Show us a sample of your work here.