Seeing the world and getting paid to do it sounds like a fabulous career choice, but the reality for many freelance travel writers is that it’s hard graft just to make enough money to get by. Here are ten tips for starting out in the business and maximising your chance for success.
If you want to be a travel writer, the good news is there’s nothing stopping you.
You travel and you can write, right? However, if you want to make money as a travel writer (and not be living with your parents at 45) it’s going to take hard work, patience and a lot of persistence.
Here are ten tips for getting started as a travel writer.
1. Build your own platform
It’s simple to set up your own blog and you can instantly brand yourself as a travel writer. Whether anyone apart from your mother reads it is another matter, but it not only allows you to flex your writing muscles, it’s also a great way of connecting with other writers. Having an online profile is increasingly important to editors, so sign up to a blogging platform like WordPress and get profiled up!
2. Do a short course
A short, industry-led travel writing course will not only teach you some valuable hands-on tips (so you won’t crumble if an editor asks you to include a ‘break out box’ or ‘sub head’), it also provides the opportunity to network with industry professionals and established travel writers. The Australian Writers’ Centre runs an excellent online course for travel writers.
You can wedge a very helpful foot in the door if you have an area of expertise. For instance, if you’ve been to Southeast Asia every year for the past decade, clearly you’ll have a unique insight and be able to position yourself as an expert.
Being a travel writer isn’t just about getting the cover story of National Geographic (but congrats in advance!). You can get practice (and even paid work) by contributing to destination pieces and travel forums, and even writing hotel reviews. There are also umpteen travel publications that aren’t as sexy as National Geo but will still get you published.
5. Find an angle
The quickest way to an editor’s trash file is sending a pitch without a clear angle — and finding a unique, compelling angle is your primary job as a travel writer. ‘A story on New York’ is not an angle; ‘Exploring New York’s underground music scene’ is. Master this step and you’ll stand out from the pack.
6. Avoid clichés
Who wants to read something that’s been written a million times before? ‘Hidden gem’, ‘bustling market place’ — you could probably roll a hundred off your tongue. But don’t!
Travel writer and editor Susan Kurosawa was once quoted as saying that any story that comes over her desk with the words “such-and-such is a land of contrasts” is immediately consigned to death.
7. Look for stories everywhere
You don’t always have to go to the other side of the world to find an interesting travel story. Remember, your hometown is the other side of the world to half the world’s population! Look for stories close to home, because who knows more about your town or city than you?
8. Pitch Perfect
Before you even put finger to keyboard to pitch a story, research your target publication thoroughly — from what kind of stories they publish, their readership demographic, if they accept completed features or just pitches, to whether they even use freelancers. Researching a publication and following their guidelines to the letter will give you a far stronger chance of success. While this can be time consuming, it’s a vital part of the process — and it gets easier as you start building a file of potential publications.
9. If it’s perfect, it’s good enough
Before you even dream of submitting a pitch or commission, make sure you’ve fact-checked, quote-checked, spell-checked, grammar-checked and edited your edits. Never ever send anything off to an editor that isn’t your best werkwrk work.
10. Keep going
Travel writing isn’t a job where you can get one lucky break and expect editors to be knocking down your inbox with offers to fly you to the Maldives. Unless you’re Bill Bryson, for every pitch that’s accepted there’ll be ten that aren’t. While the odds might sound depressing, if you write from the heart, have a great angle and pitch to the right publication, you’ll get there.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten tips for getting started as a travel writer? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.