Travel writing retreat group in Breckenridge

Beginners Guide to Travel Writing

So you want to be a travel writer? Good. You can! This beginners guide to travel writing intends to answer your most basic questions and get you pointed in the right direction.

Thousands of people from various backgrounds – many with no previous media or journalism experience – share stories of their trips and adventures on countless websites, blogs, magazines, newspapers, newsletters and social media platforms. No degree or certification is required and doing so doesn’t require a lot of money – no additional money, in fact, if you already own a computer with internet access and a smart phone.

At its best, travel writing offers deep personal enrichment, unforgettable experiences and a little side income to boot. Understand this, however, pursuing travel writing typically works best for those using it as a side hustle, primarily for experiences and perks, or in retirement, separate of a primary income. While there are thousands of travel writers, there are very few full-time, on-staff with a media outlet, professional, this-is-how-I-support-myself travel writers. There are more professional athletes than there are travel writers making their living exclusively this way.

As you read our guide to travel writing for beginners, no attempt will be made to sugarcoat the realities, to oversell the benefits or discount the obstacles. This guide is informed directly by the personal experiences of TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY and the TRAVEL WRITERS CAFÉ staff and the hundreds of successful and failed beginning travel writers we have worked with.

The best news is, if you’re serious about starting travel writing, there is a proven, repeatable, simple – but not easy – step-by-step process to follow which will get you there and a supportive network of likeminded people going through a similar journey. The process and teachings are cataloged in detail at TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY and the support network exists in our TRAVEL WRITER’S CAFÉ Facebook group.

TWU is a premium on-line resource where members receive access to hundreds of informational articles related to advancing in the field from tips on improving your writing and photography, to editor contact information and pitching strategy. The CAFÉ is our Facebook members community where we share member’s published stories, hot leads from editors looking for pitches, and general support along with regular instructional video webinars and chats. One monthly membership of only $49 dollars provides access to both services.

TWU and CAFÉ founder Noreen Kompanik started her travel writing career exactly where you are today. She was a registered nurse who loved traveling with no writing experience. She was intrigued about the possibilities of travel writing. Through some relatively expensive in-person and online courses, a lot of trial and error, and dogged determination, she has worked her way to the top of the travel writing profession with over 600 “bylines” – published stories – in major print and digital outlets. She takes roughly 20 “press trips” – all expenses paid, invitation only trips to write about a destination or accommodation – every year to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and across the United States. She earns tens of thousands of dollars annually for the privilege of doing so.

This lifestyle can be the upside of travel writing.

TWU and the CAFÉ share what she’s learned, along with the expertise of her travel writer business partners, streamlining the process from beginner to intermediate, providing a clear blueprint to follow in her footsteps.

TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY / TRAVEL WRITERS CAFÉ ADVANTAGE

“I love being a part of the community where I can learn from the best what I need to succeed as a travel writer. The monthly Roadmaps and Bonus Articles include actionable information that has upped my writer’s game. Opening the Travel Write’s Cafe Facebook group is the first thing I do each morning. The support and encouragement from fellow members helps me to stay motivated. Kristi and Noreen have given me the tools and confidence I need to continue to reach for higher goals. In the past year, I have landed press trips I never dreamed would happen.” – TRAVEL WRITERS CAFÉ member Sharon Kurtz.

Freelancing

As mentioned, full-time travel writing jobs are exceptionally scarce. Filling them, most times, are writers, reporters and journalists with degrees in those fields and years of experience which have allowed them to slowly work up the ranks in that field.

Don’t let that discourage you. The VAST majority of travel writing is not done by these people, it’s done by a global community of freelancers. Freelancers are non-staff writers, independent contractors typically writing for a variety of different publications – online and in print.

Publications would love to have large teams of exclusively staff writers producing stories, but doing so is far too expensive. Even two or three staff writers earning a livable salary with benefits and travel stipends to report their stories would require a vastly greater investment from the publication than using even hundreds of freelancers each year and paying them a couple hundred dollars per article.

Freelancing is a hustle, no doubt, but if you want to start travel writing without starting your own blog or website – and we’ll get to that later – freelancing is how you’re going to do it.

Almost all travel publications, even the big ones like National Geographic and BBC, rely heavily on freelancers for content (stories). Freelancing involves “pitching” editors story ideas you’d like to write. This means sending the editor(s) at the publication you’d like to see your article appear in an email detailing the story you’d like to write and why it would be a good fit for that outlet.

Pitching

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Who to pitch? Where to pitch? How to pitch?

These are the first obstacles encountered by beginning travel writers. At TWU and in the CAFÉ, we take the mystery out of this process leading writers by the hand through it. With our travel media industry contacts, we have hundreds of editor email addresses and are constantly updating our members about new writing opportunities.

Travel publications NEED content. They NEED freelancers. They’re constantly on the lookout for new writers. We go where they go to look for writers and pass their “calls for submission” – want ads for stories – on to our members.

To have stories published as a freelancer, you first pitch publications and if they’re interested, an editor will tell you exactly what story angle to take, word length, etc.

Pitching editors can be a time consuming, exhausting, frustrating effort. For beginners and experienced travel writers alike, many pitches go unanswered. Pitching also happens to be essential for beginning and advancing your travel writing journey.

At TWU and the CAFÉ, we make this process as painless as possible by continually providing members hot leads to editors looking for stories – editors with smaller publications and at the biggest media companies. Editors across the globe looking for an endless variety of stories from all seven continents and subjects ranging from dining and drinking, to resorts, museums, family travel, budget travel, sports, theme parks, art and culture, nature, history, outdoors, all-inclusive, you name it.

Our expert staff personally review member pitches when necessary, making sure every word is just right to maximize its potential for being accepted.

TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY / TRAVEL WRITERS CAFÉ ADVANTAGE

TWU co-founder Kristi Dosh ran her own successful public relations company, Guide My Brand, for several years. She successfully pitched her clients to media outlets across the world. She is an expert on pitching and works with TWU and CAFÉ members on crafting their pitches.

TWU also provides members with instructional ROADMAPS to improve their pitching success. ROADMAPS are detailed explainers written by seasoned travel writers providing insight into a specific travel writing related subject. ROADMAPS are one of the most important resources offered by TWU for beginning and intermediate travel writers alike

ROADMAPS focused on pitching include:

“Perfecting your pitch strategy”

“Improve your pitching success with timing”

“Pitches that work”

“Overcoming your fear of pitching”

“Successful pitches – word for word!”

TWU and CAFÉ members also have the opportunity to receive individual help with their pitching and specific pitches. Our pitch review service puts your pitches in the hands of our experts for a word-by-word analysis to ensure your pitch has the greatest opportunity at success.

TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY / TRAVEL WRITER’S CAFÉ ADVANTAGE

Not only do we aide writers with their pitch strategy and individual pitches, we connect our writers directly to editors. This may be the most valuable service offered at TWU and in the CAFÉ.

TWU has an entire section of FEATURED PUBLICATIONS profiling dozens of travel-related outlets in-depth, what kind of stories they’re looking for, and contact information for editors.

TWU also features ROUNDUPS, bite-sized entries offering hundreds of suggested travel publications to write for and how to contact them.

Check out this FREE article specifically for beginners providing a list of 13 travel websites which accept pitches and stories from FIRST-TIME, unpublished writers.

Another obstacle beginning writers face is how to achieve their first few “clips” – examples of their published writing. Most editors require would-be writers send them links to a few of their previous clips to demonstrate their writing ability. Anyone new to travel writing, naturally, won’t have any examples of their previous work so this often presents a roadblock to advancement.

We remove that roadblock for beginners and, best of all, the TWU and CAFÉ travel writing ecosystem also includes our own travel websites! We own and operate Rovology.com, a general North American focused travel website, TravelbyVacationRental.com, a global review service for travel by vacation rental properties, and BookCottages.com, a European focused general travel and vacation rental review site.

Writing for these publications is open EXCLUSIVELY to TWU and CAFÉ members, guaranteeing our members respected bylines and advancing them through the difficult beginning stages of travel writing. Countless TWU and CAFÉ members have used story assignments and/or promised coverage on one of our owned and operated websites to secure free rental stays and travel perks.

TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY / TRAVEL WRITER’S CAFÉ ADVANTAGE

Lastly, every Friday in the CAFÉ, we post FREELANCER FRIDAY compiling the best travel-related calls for submissions we’ve discovered after scouring our contacts and industry sites for travel editors in need of fresh stories.

Here’s an example of a FREELANCER FRIDAY from December of 2022:

No travel writing instructional service does more to put its writers directly in contact with editors than TWU and the CAFÉ. Period.

TWU and the CAFÉ go beyond the empty promises and lofty aspirations where other beginning travel writing educators stop. Our program offers serious tools for beginners committed to travel writing and access to resources clearly laying out the steps to follow to advance your career. Actionable, specific, detailed advice with direct, individual support available at every stage of your development.

Starting your own travel blog or website

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Many beginning travel writers chose to start their own blog or website as opposed to, or in addition to, freelancing. Doing so prevents them from having to pitch ideas to editors and allows them to write about whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. Until said blog or website begins receiving enough traffic to start generating revenue, this will be done without monetary reward, but the freedom and flexibility are attractive.

Starting your own travel blog or website does require additional knowledge of basic coding, content management systems, graphic design – or your willingness to pay someone for helping you. While not terribly expensive, the web hosting and support does require an additional monetary investment on your end.

Understanding search engine optimization best practices and social media marketing will prove invaluable in any effort to launch your own travel blog or website.

If you have these skills, if you’ve created websites previously, this may be the right path for you. Hundreds of travel bloggers writing for sites of their own creation you’ve never heard of make great money and travel widely producing content exclusively for their own sites. A hundred times more tried unsuccessfully and quit.

TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY / TRAVEL WRITER’S CAFÉ ADVANTAGE

TWU co-founder Kristi Dosh also specializes in the economics and realities of launching personal websites. A blogger, website creator, writer, reporter and journalist since the early 2000s, Dosh has built a brand and career around her sports website – businessofcollegesports.com – and has also developed the TWU and CAFÉ owned and operated sites.

From SEO strategies and social sharing, to advertising networks, sponsored content, direct sales, affiliate sales, WordPress, web hosting, backlinks and more, Dosh understands the nitty-gritty, back-end work required of successful websites living in that world daily. She shares what she has learned and continues to learn through her ongoing education in these always-evolving field.

Dosh works regularly with TWU and CAFÉ members, counseling them on if starting a personal blog or website is a good idea for achieving their goals, and if so, how best to pursue doing so.

TWU has published a “travel blogging toolkit” to assist your efforts.

What to write about

Paris, London, Rome, African safari, India, Mexico City, Yellowstone National Park – all of these can make for wonderful travel stories. All of them have made for countless wonderful travel stories. Compelling travel writing, however, doesn’t require a popular destination, fabulous resort or luxury experience.

Chances are you live in, adjacent to or within 50 miles of a city, town, park, attraction, beach, river, lake, hotel, hiking trail, museum or historical site that people visit which, in the right hands, could make for a fantastic travel story. Does your city, or one nearby, host an annual festival, concert, sporting event? These can make for great stories.

Your beginning travel writing journey should start local, with what you know best. As much as travel publications are looking for once-in-a-lifetime “travel porn” stories from Tierra Del Fuego, they also want the quirky festival story from a small town. Under the radar, off the beaten path, undiscovered, out of the way locations and attractions which haven’t already been written about endlessly make for great pitches and stories.

Bottom line is, you needn’t spend a lot of money traveling to become a travel writer. Start in your own back yard.

We have an entire ROADMAP detailing how to start your travel writing career by focusing on stories local to you.

TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY / TRAVEL WRITER’S CAFÉ ADVANTAGE

When thinking about what to write, and how to distinguish yourself in the crowded field of freelance travel writers, think about niches. What aspect of travel are you most passionate about? What aspect of travel are you most knowledgeable about?

TWU and CAFÉ expert and travel writer Chadd Scott has developed his personal niche of arts writing within the travel sector to a contributor position at Forbes.com and freelance bylines for Fodors.com, SouthernLiving.com and Afar.com, along with various print publications. Doing so has landed him so many press trip invitations, he’s had to TURN DOWN invitations to Venice, Vienna, Toronto, Miami and other destinations because he’s simply too busy.

Scott helps members define their niches, like he has. He’s found that by identifying a niche, writers are better able to focus their efforts and stand out to editors. Instead of writing about an ecotourism experience in Utah one week and air travel trends the next, writers committing to a niche they’re passionate and knowledgeable about write with greater authority and attract the attention of editors and industry professionals in those areas more quickly, accelerating their rate of advancement.

Effective niches are often related to geographies – specific cities, states/provinces, regions or countries. Madison, WI, British Columbia, England’s Lake District, Kenya. Scott has further established a niche around Florida, where he lives, hosting a weekly podcast and writing regularly about the state.

Effective niches can also be related to activity. Birdwatching, camping, backpacking, sailing, music, golf, genealogy.

Effective niches can target specific travelers: luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel, travel for women, travel with kids, Black History travel, travel targeting specific religious affiliations.

Food and wine are popular travel niches. Too popular, in fact, to be effective for most. Drill down. Instead of defining your niche as “food” writing, how about pizza, barbecue, tacos, food trucks or sushi? Instead of writing about “wine,” focus on a specific varietal or region of production. Food and wine are such popular niches, you’ll need to drill down on them.

Anywhere people travel and anything they do while traveling or travel for, could represent a travel niche for you to explore and advance your career.

Here’s another FREE article from TRAVEL WRITERS UNIVERSITY offering advice to help start your creative juices flowing!

How good of a writer do I have to be?

Are you a good enough writer to be a travel writer? Answer these questions honestly:

  • Do you like reading?
  • Do you write clear, effective emails at work? Do you write professional proposals or summaries or reviews at your current job?
  • Did you get good grades in grammar and writing classes?
  • Could you write a good book review? Did you work for your student newspaper or yearbook?
  • Do you enjoy writing? Do you journal?
  • Do you have something to say? Are you funny? Are you observant? Are you empathetic?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are, you are a good enough writer to begin travel writing. And you’ll improve the more you write.

Most travel writing isn’t brilliant prose. You don’t need to have Maya Angelou or Earnest Hemmingway talent to become a travel writer. It takes no particular storytelling genius to write “7 best pubs in Chicago” and similar list-based stories popular with many travel publications.

Writing is a talent, sure. We each have an innate ability to communicate through the written word we’re born with. It is also a skill that can be improved with instruction and practice.

Like most things in life, you don’t have to be great to start, but you’ve got to start to be great… and candidly, 99% of travel writers never achieve “great.”

TWU has published many ROADMAPS related to improving your writing including:

“5 structural elements of an article”

“Writing strong ledes” (a “lede” is an opening to a story)

“Creating a sense of place”

“Creating a compelling title”

“5 ways to become a better writer”

Our staff also offers one-on-one coaching to assist anyone who feels they need extra attention to improve their writing skills.

Expectations

Hacienda Studio Suite with 2 queens- photo courtesy of Hacienda Encantada
Hacienda Studio Suite with 2 queens- photo courtesy of Hacienda Encantada

When will that first press trip invitation to the Four Seasons in Fiji land in your inbox? Are you a celebrity with millions of social media followers and direct access to editors at major media outlets? If so, pretty soon. If not, it could take a while.

In all seriousness, beginning travel writing takes time. It takes time before you’re receiving invitations to free stays at hotels and free meals at chic restaurants. It takes time before you’re being paid for your writing. It takes time before your bylines appear in outlets your friends and family read.

How much time depends on your willingness to put in the work, to send the pitches, to be consistent with your efforts. Countless beginning travel writers who are all fired up about the potential of this pursuit lose interest after a few weeks and a few unreturned pitches. They lose interest when the reality of the grind and the work and the writing – which, make no mistake, is hard – push the fantasies of jetting off to Tokyo on a press trip out of their head.

They lose interest when life gets in the way. When kids and jobs and spouses and families evaporate their available free time to pitch and write and network and learn. When those same things fail to support the pursuit. When available nights and weekends to pursue beginning travel writing necessitate being filled with movies and music and downtime to give your body and mind a break.

Travel is supposed to be fun, and there’s nothing wrong with simply being a traveler, not a travel writer.

How do you know if you have what it takes?

Can you commit three hours a week to your beginning travel writing? To reading Roadmaps, to reading travel writing, to pitching, to writing? If so, if you adhere to the TWU program and participate in the CAFÉ, we can almost guarantee you’ll be a published travel writer after four months. Published in “Travel + Leisure?” No. Published somewhere, yes.

Will you get paid for that work? Maybe, maybe not. If you are paid, it might only be $20 USD. Even the biggest travel publications, the one’s you’ve heard of, only pay freelancers a few hundred dollars for articles of 1,000 words or more.

We can’t state this more directly, do NOT pursue beginning travel writing if your primary motivation for doing so is monetary.

When will that first press trip invitation come? Again, how fiercely are you willing to pursue this? To pitch? To write? To pitch progressively bigger and bigger outlets? Maybe a year? Probably longer, but here’s another benefit to membership with TWU and the CAFÉ: Noreen, Kristi, Chadd and our staff receive so many press trip invitations we can’t take them all and regularly share leads and contacts for them with members.

TWU and CAFÉ membership has been kept purposefully limited. We’re not spending thousands of dollars a month on Facebook ads targeting dreamers and the easily deceived into joining our programs with little hope of success. We take our greatest satisfaction in our members succeeding. In their bylines and press trips.

We are distinguished by the individual attention we provide our members. We don’t have thousands of members, we don’t have hundreds of members, but the members we do have, we care about, we support, and we are invested in seeing succeed.

We hope you’ll become one of those few and experience the rewards of travel writing we have.

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