Eight tips to become a travel writer

Travel writing can be a solo existence.

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  • As an established freelance travel writer myself, I agree with every word that Quentin has written. He has pretty much nailed it when he comes to describing the travel writer’s life. My only caveat would be: if you have the energy, drive and commitment to keep at it, being a travel writer can also be highly rewarding. You get to work for yourself, do something you love (write and travel, one would hope) and see the most amazing places you would never otherwise get a chance to see. But, as with any “arty” profession, only a very few rise to the top and are able to truly enjoy a decent income along with the perks. Before you plunge in, just think: how many singers/painters/authors actually make it, and what kind of slog do they have to go through to do so? And then make a choice with your eyes wide open to be a travel writer or not. In the meatime, don’t give up the day job…

  • Good advice Quentin, particularly the bit about coming on my course

    I feel I need to balance the scales a little here. Yes, it’s competitive (coveted professions always are); yes, it can sometimes be lonely (but not always – often you’re travelling with a group of other journalists or can take a partner or a friend) and yes, you’ll be paid a pittance. But, as Brian points out, you’ll be paid to do something you love.

    I spent 9 years in a “proper” job (an IT consultant working 70-hour weeks) and wouldn’t return to that world for all the iron ore in WA. When I look back at the experiences and memories I’ve collated over the last 8 years, it was worth every rejection, every delayed flight and every night spent eating tuna pasta at home.

    The only thing I’d add is that having taught hundreds of aspiring travel writers, there is one characteristic (over and above an aptitude for writing) that will determine whether you succeed: perseverance.

    I know so many talented writers who haven’t been published simply because they haven’t persevered and see a lot of ordinary writing out there from people who obviously have.

    Don some Teflon-coated rejection armour and keep popping up in someone’s inbox until you finally offer them something they want…or they publish you just to shut you up

  • Maribel Steel says:

    HI guys, I want to throw a bird among the pigeons and beg to differ…as an aspiring (not perspiring) travel writer with a vision-impairment, I have my own intrepid crew that have to accompany me on my trips across the globe, as my eyes, my photographers, my guides, my translators, my chauffeurs – it’s great fun, for me at least! No, never lonely, we have conquered many a terrain with my white cane, and now I can blame Rob for his advice to keep persisting, keep cracking the whip, so we never give up! Cheers, Maribel Steel

  • Rick says:

    Go for it Tori from South Australia
    The world is a beautiful place ,Explore it and let us all know what you see so we can follow in your footsteps at least mentally if not physically.
    I have travelled on my own all my life and cannot say that i have ever been lonely .Alone yes,but by choice.

    Good Luck

  • Heather Tyler says:

    As a writer who stumbled into travel writing (which continues to be a cherished sideline because it’s not economic for me) I agree with Quentin’s observations and sensible advice. I admire the full-time nomads, but I love my home too, and being able to afford to live in it. Travel writing doesn’t meet my budget, but it’s fulfilling in other aspects. Don’t give up your day job unless you’ve crunched the numbers. The goal posts are shifting all the time. It is indeed a shrinking market for paid articles. Dogged persistence is the key, and learning how to write in a unique style and better than the guy in line ahead of you. I was given sage advice many years ago: make the editor feel guilty for not publishing you.

  • I’ll second 99% of this. When people find out that I’m a travel writer, I’ll often hear: “Wow, I’ve always wanted to do that.”

    My first question is always whether it’s the writing or the travel side they’re interested in. If the latter, it’s not going to work. There are better jobs for seeing the world. If the former, good luck to you. As Quentin explains, it’s not easy. A lot of people can make a part time living out of it. Few can make a full time living. But my key tips…

    1. Develop a voice. You can always play ventriloquist and throw that voice, but you’ll get most work from editors who love you rather than kinda like you. If you’re interchangeable, you’re not going to be loved.
    2. You’re also not going to be loved if you’re unreliable. ALWAYS file copy before the deadline.
    3. Be the person that solves an editor’s problems rather than creates them. If they can chuck the job (occasionally a somewhat undesirable job) to you, and know you’ll do it well, on time, you’ll get lots more jobs.
    4. You can probably cut the adjective or ‘that’. You can definitely cut the exclamation mark.
    5. You’ll earn the most money from busting a gut doing boring donkey work research in places you don’t particularly want to go to.
    6. You can’t have a holiday from now on. It’s the rules. Just try it. You’ll be sat by the pool, all twitchy, shaking about not having a notepad to write things in.
    7. Write stuff in that notepad, no matter how silly or trivial it seems. It may not matter for the commission you’re on at the moment. It’s vital for the unexpected commission that comes in two years later.
    8. The greatest talent any freelancer can have is being able to come up with five story ideas almost instantaneously on the spot. Write any story idea you ever have down somewhere. You never know who might take it someday. And if you give five ideas, it’ll almost certainly be the fifth one you put in as scarcely coherent filler that gets commissioned.