Is Travel Writing a Real Job?

Do you dream of being a travel writer?

Well, chances are you already are! Do you travel? Do you keep a journal? Take notes on facts such as bus times, the price of street food and the cost of a beer? Do you collect inspiring travel quotes? Take photos of absolutely everything and then use them to motivate other people to travel?

Have you even started your own travel blog to keep the folks at home updated? Well guess what… you’re already on your way to becoming a travel writer! All you need to do now is to figure out how to get paid for doing all this and then hey presto – Bill Bryson’s your uncle!

People ponder such ‘dream jobs’ as travel writing and think – how on earth could I get into that? Our advice? Stop dreaming, start doing! There’s no science behind travel writing and you don’t need to spend your backpacker budget on expensive travel writing workshops. Becoming a travel writing is simply about getting your writing seen by as many people as possible – and we’re here to tell you how!

5 realistic ways to get a travel writing job that pays!

Having excellent writing skills is, of course, an essential part of being a travel writer. But in today’s competitive writing world, it’s those writers who have a solid knowledge of how to take their own photos, how to work in WordPress to upload their own articles, how to promote their writing on social media, and who have their own websites featuring their writing portfolios who are most marketable! Gain some new skills that will make you more attractive to employers and you’ll have a one-up on the other 30 writers who apply for the same position. Today, bagging that dream travel writing job is all about thinking outside the box! Here are 5 ways to do that…

1. Start your own travel blog

The best advice for any budding travel writer is to DIY! Don’t wait for someone to hire you. Hire yourself! Get your work online in the form of a blog. It’s super easy to set up websites with the likes of WordPress, even if you are not tech-savvy. This will help you to get over any nerves about sharing your work with other people (even though this could just be your Mum and Dad) and it’s a fast way to receive feedback and constructive criticism of your writing – and see if it does what it’s meant to do – inspire people to travel!

2. Publish your own travel book

Do you have an epic story to tell? A different perspective on travel to share? Are you travelling in a unique and exciting way – hopping the whole of Asia on a pogo stick perhaps? Could you turn your experience into travel memoirs such as favourite travel books, Holy Cow, Tuk Tuk to the Road, Shantaram and Eat Pray Love? Or weave the truth with fiction in a thriller such as Alex Garland’s cult classic ‘The Beach’? 

Writing a book may seem like a huge task, but by breaking it down bit by bit each day – you may found you’ve written 60,000 words (the size of an average novel) while you’ve been away! So that’s just one page of an A4 word document a day for four months – the typical length of a backpacker’s trip in Southeast Asia! So put down that bucket and get typing just a page a day!

And, although getting a publisher for your book may be as difficult as getting a tuk tuk to fly, did you know that you can easily publish your own e-book and start selling it online – or even print your own books with print on demand services! Imagine how it will feel to hold your own book in your hands!

3. Get articles published in magazines

Although the digital age is here – who doesn’t love leafing through a good mag with exotic photos of your potential next adventure? There are many magazines out there looking for writers, from local to airline magazines or even try to pitch your work to the likes of National Geographic and TIME Travel.

Before you choose your topic for a travel article, imagine you’re the editor of a travel magazine who opens their emails in the morning with your article sitting in the inbox. What do you want to receive?

Every month here at S.E.A Backpacker Magazine we receive hundreds of articles and some catch our eye more than others. The worst: “How can I write for you?” “What type of articles do you print in your magazine?” All this info can be found on our website and if the writer was serious about writing for us – he could have found it for himself! As we’re goodhearted folks, we always reply and direct you to the right place, but don’t even expect a one-liner back from the big boys. Editors don’t like timewasters. Make their life easier and respect the magazine by knowing what they are all about.

Having been an editor, I’ve found it almost astonishing how many writers don’t even know what a pitch is. If you want to write for a certain magazine, do not… I repeat DO NOT… write to the editor and say something along the lines of ‘Hey I would love to write for your magazine. Going to be on Koh Phi Phi soon – want anything reviewed?’ You are almost guaranteed not to receive a reply. Instead, read a few of the magazine’s past issues, figure out their style and which sections might suit you best, and then come up with a few topic ideas for those sections. When you write to the editor (tip: find out his or her name and address them as such), tell them what specifically you love about their magazine, why you’d be an excellent fit to write for them, and then send them a couple specific topic ideas with a few sentences of detail for each, specifying which section you think it would be ideal for. You may find you hear back much quicker. But just in case, don’t forget to always follow up, as editors are busy people. Tip: Airline magazines often pay very well!

I once got a job just because the boss was so sick of having to answer my emails and calls that he hired me just to shut me up. As an editor, I really learned why editors rarely get back to you on your first email – they just don’t have time. They have a million things to do, not to mention around 200 emails coming through every day – most of them pitches and press releases – and they just don’t have time to do everything. I always did, however, make an attempt to answer someone if I remembered they’d emailed before and I hadn’t gotten back to them. I can’t say for sure, but I think that’s what most editors do. So be sure to follow up, and be sure to remind them what you’re following up about. I would even go so far as to say follow up twice – but no more than twice, as after that, you’re just pestering, but hey – I can’t say that’s never worked for me!

4. Do freelance writing for other travel blogs

Freelance writing for other travel blogs is a great way to start out travel writing. 

5. Pitch stories to travel websites

Sometimes as a traveler, you get so wrapped up in getting from one place to the next and crossing each attraction off on your list, that you forget to notice the incredible details, and unique features that make each destination special. These tiny details are what travel editors are looking for. That batmobile tuk-tuk driver at Angkor Wat? Ask him a few questions. That random food stand in Chiang Mai that serves up exquisite duck curry? Jot down some notes on the atmosphere and dining experience. Editors often get pitched the same stuff over and over again, so they’ll love your unique ideas.

17 Travel Writing Tips for Magazines: Pitching Travel Articles

  1. Do your homework: Familiarise yourself with the style, tone and content of the magazine that you are pitching. Look at the article guidelines on the magazine’s website and do the basics right – things like word count, how they want the article to be submitted, and if they need photos.
  2. Fresh, new content: Read through back issues of the magazine, look at what articles that have been published recently and choose a different topic. The magazine won’t want a feature on diving in Thailand if they had one last month.
  3. Who is the audience? The most important question to ask. There’s no point submitting an article about the Top 10 Luxury Spas in Thailand to a budget travel magazine, or vice versa, an off the beaten track journey on local transport in Myanmar to Condé Nast Travel. Think about age, budget and culture.
  4. It’s a business! Remember that the magazine is a business and try to figure out how it makes money. Look at adverts. For example – if you send in an article lambasting all of the hotels in Thailand (a key advertising stream of that magazine) then your article naturally won’t get printed!
  5. Don’t get too political / controversial: If you want to be a news reporter, do that instead. Travel writing in most magazines is about information and inspiration. You’re not an undercover agent.
  6. Cultural sensitivity: Look at the limitations of the country of the magazine you are writing for – i.e. if you are writing for an airline magazine in Malaysia – choose your topic carefully to be sensitive to Muslim culture. i.e. An article about backpacking and an alcohol-fuelled lifestyle won’t go down well!
  7. Don’t be too personal: Travel writing can be a life-changing experience, but people are rarely interested in reading about ‘how you found yourself on a mountain top in Burma’ – make sure the article is about the PLACE – and secondly about your experience through that place.
  8. Don’t be too factual: Nobody wants to read a historical fact sheet they can get from Wikipedia or worst still, a dull itinerary of what you did day by day and had for breakfast – travel is about passion, sights, senses – make your piece unique.
  9. Openings are everything: 99% of the time, editors decide if they’ll publish the article within the first paragraph. I once heard a rumour that a big book publisher in London would decide on which books to publish after reading only one sentence. A now-famous-writer managed to sneakily get his book published by making the first sentence an entire page. It’s a cute trick – but might not work all the time!
  10. Email your best article: Don’t overload the editor by sending too many articles or ideas. Pick your best one or two and send those clearly and in simplest way possible.
  11. Persist – but don’t annoy! One email a day is not cool. Even the three-day rule doesn’t cut it with travel writing. Give the editor chance to read and get back to you. Editors are busy people, so don’t get precious or demanding! Everybody wants to work with someone who is friendly and understanding. Don’t demand that they get back to you by a certain time. An idea is to provide more options of articles if you don’t get a positive response to your first.
  12. Be prepared to work for free: We sometimes get emails saying: “I have an idea for an article, but I don’t want to waste my time writing it yet incase you don’t like it, so I will ask you if you like the idea first and then only write it if you do – therefore save myself time / effort”. Don’t Be a Lazy Writer! If writing is your passion – then write! Think of everything as practice and never be precious about adapting / experimenting with your style.
  13. Timing: Look at the publication dates. Is the magazine monthly? Quarterly? Time it right so that your article is one of the first to be considered that month. The longer the month goes on the more the content plan gets filled up!
  14. Don’t ask / expect feedback: Most editors will be too busy.
  15. Flattery gets you nowhere: Sending a gushing email about how much you love the magazine and how much you think you’d be able to write for it won’t get you anywhere – if you love it and think you can write for it – then just do it!
  16. Emailing your article: Keep your covering letter (email) short and to the point. Include a bio. of your experience as a writer. For most magazines, your best bet is to send a large excerpt of your article (around three paragraphs), an overall summary and thumbnails images. Entice the editor, just like you want to entice your reader. Remember the reason that they got into travel journalism in the first place is because of the same passion that you have, so play on that! Make the editor want to leave their desk and travel!
  17. Include photos: These days you have to be a photographer as well as a travel writer and vice versa. Images are very important for the editor to visualise what the article will look like in print. They also need proof that you have the images to back up the article and that by using your article they won’t have to source images from elsewhere which could be costly. Don’t fill up their inbox with hundreds of images – just pick the ones that you think relate to the article the best. Send it all in one email package so that it is easy to put it all together for the editor, they are not searching for elements and can set their eyes on the entire package in one go.

10 Travel Writing Tips: For Self-Publishing Authors

1. Pick a main theme/focus of the book

Although you have loads of experiences and loads of stories to tell, from loads of different places, your first step should be to decide on a focus for the book. What are you trying to say?  You need a theme, or a few themes, that run throughout the whole book that will engage a readers’ attention. Travel (and life) is a messy affair, but your book should not be. Your theme could be a random idea like Tony Hawks’ books Round Ireland with a Fridge’ (where the author carries a fridge on his back through the Emerald Isle) and ‘One Hit Wonderland’ (where the author tries to get a number one single anywhere in the world), or a new way of doing an old adventure like ‘Tuk Tuk to the Road’, the adventure story of two girls driving a tuk tuk from Bangkok to Brighton, UK. Or, it could be a study of a concept within a country like Mike McIntyre’s ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ who tests the generosity of the American public as he attempts to cross the USA without a dime, catching lifts and bunking with strangers. What are some of the themes of your favourite travel books?

2. Focus on one country/region

Yeah yeah, so you’re a world wide traveller, who’s been to every country bar North Korea, and you want to write about all of them! However, from a reader’s perspective, it’s much better to read a book that is focused on just one country or region. Picking a focused destination will instantly make your book more sellable as someone who is heading to that country for travel can find your book more easily, If your readers are anything like me, they’ll love to read travel literature about the places that they plan to visit next!

3. Stop travelling, put your life on hold, hash it out all in one go

When I wrote my first book, I did it whilst living at my Mum’s very secluded farmhouse in the French countryside. I had no distractions, no friends to ask me to go the pub, just an endless supply of cups of teas from my lovely Mum!

Whilst on the road, leading the busy life of a backpacker, I had barely been able to concentrate long enough to write the first few chapters. At my Mum’s house, I wrote every day, roughly 1-2,000 words a day (making up approx. one chapter) and was able to finish the first draft of the book in around two months. I would recommend not re-reading chapters once they have been written a first time, it is too time consuming. Just plough through until you have all of the information down that you want to say. You can then go back and edit. And edit and edit and edit and edit and edit and edit and edit…

4. Pour your heart out

I’ve always thought that what grabs a reader is real honesty. Don’t try to make yourself look good or try to be someone you’re not. People admire brutal honesty and a lot of humour and shared compassion can be found in people’s mistakes and struggles. People don’t want to read a heroic tale of an unrealistic traveller, they want to see your human side, at times inspiring and at times vulnerable. Of course being so honest does have its complications, (do you want your grandma to know everything you did whilst travelling?!) – but we guarantee spilling the beans and pouring your heart out will be worth it in the end!

5. Don’t complain/slag anyone off

The worst type of travel writing has got to be an endless stream of complaints and frustrations from the author. A reader wants to be uplifted and inspired by your travel memoir, not depressed! Annoying travel buddies, bad relationships, travel mishaps, bed bugs, mosquitos and transport delays – try to see the funny side within your writing and tell us what you learnt from the hardships instead of going on a ‘moanathon’.

6. Don’t be too introspective

At the same time as being honest about your feelings, don’t make the book all about YOU. As the book develops, people will indeed empathise with your character, but remember, this is not your diary (definitely save certain details just for that!) – readers will want to hear as much about the places that you travelled, as your emotional experience with them. Vivid descriptions of destinations, interesting and unusual characters that you met along the way, insights you gained are all valuable material for a good travel book!

7. You should aim at around 80,000 words and get it checked

Most travel memoirs are around 60,000 – 80,000 words. A good way of writing a book is to outline your chapters first and then focus on writing a little bit each day, that way your mind is focused on one section at a time. It might seem like a mighty task, but little by little, your book will start to come together. When your first draft is finished, it’s good to send it to friends for their opinions and expect to make lots of changes to your first draft. God knows what number draft I was on when I at last finished my book, but it was well over five! When you’re eventually happy with the final draft, my advice would be to hire a professional proof reader to go through your text. It just isn’t humanly possible to spot mistakes in a text that you’ve read so many times before. An outsider, with fresh eyes, will be able to spot the errors you’ve missed.

8. You can send your book to an agent / publisher

Book done? Great! What next? How do you get your book out there on the book shelves of bookstores? There are two routes to go down. First of all, you can try to get an agent, and subsequently a publisher, for your book – which will allow you to reach a much wider audience in the long run. However, this route can be very competitive as it is difficult to get your book noticed in such a saturated market – plus only a select number of publishers will take on a travel memoir – one of the hardest book types to market. You will need to research agents and publishers online (many well-established publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts without an agent, so you’ll need that first) and choose which ones you think are best suited to your book.

9. Self-Publishing is a good option

For my first book, (after going down the above route first with no success) I used Amazon’s self-publishing platform CreateSpace to self-publish. In the end, I was very happy with the service and ultimate quality of the book. Self-publishing meant that I could design my own front cover, add my sketches into the interior of the book, and have ultimate say over the final edit. It was my baby – and because it was such a personal story, it was good to have control over something that was so precious to me. The downsides of self-publishing are of course – that it is still hard to get noticed on Amazon, and unless a publisher picks up your book from Amazon, your book won’t be in the shelves of Waterstones, WHSmiths and Blackwells.

Front Cover Backpacker Business Nikki Scott
The front cover of my book.

10. Don’t expect to get rich, but do it anyway

Writing one book won’t make you a millionaire overnight, especially if you self-publish. The royalties that you make on each book are only fraction of the price of what the book sells for. That said, if you write say 10 books, you could be making a decent income from selling a few copies of each book a day! And what a way to make a living folks! We can think of far worse ways! What’s much more than the money, of course, is inspiring someone to travel with your words. So what are you waiting for? Get writing now!

Nikki’s book is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

Still want to be a travel writer?

And that’s about it! Travel writing (for me) one of the best jobs in the world – it isn’t accounting – so don’t make it into too much of a business. Experiment and HAVE FUN! Don’t be too much of a perfectionist and worry about every single word of your article. Don’t be afraid of people seeing / critisizing your work / getting knocked back – go for it!

You have to start somewhere and it is a learning process / trial & error / sometimes things won’t work, sometimes things will… just be friendly to everyone, don’t take yourself and your work too seriously. Be prepared at the very beginning to work for free / get experience with magazines / volunteer. If you are good enough and persevere you will get noticed / published and… paid for doing what you love.

It might sound crazy, but I made some of my most important writing connections at bars and clubs. Many of these led to long-time writing gigs that happened only because I shared a bit of chit chat with an editor over a glass of wine. It’s important to network, even as you’re traveling, and it might be worth spending a bit of your travel cash on a bit more of an upmarket place to meet the type of people you are looking for. If you know any locals, ask them where the professional-types tend to hang out, get a friend or two (not too many as groups tend to be intimidating for meeting others), put on your swankiest attire, and go get your networking on.

Travel writing is a tough game to break into. With newspapers and magazines crumbling the world over due to the changing nature of journalism, it’s harder than ever to get traditional writing jobs. But it’s not impossible!

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