The idea of it seems unreal. Travel the world – all expenses paid – writing about the most interesting places, exciting attractions and luxury experiences. This is the life of a travel writer. With thousands of books, magazines, websites and podcasts devoted to travel, all of them needing content, more people than you think are able to live in this fantasy world of professional travel writing. But how to get started? This introduction to travel writing will help begin you on a journey that can take you around the globe.
Who can be a travel writer?
Travel writers come from all walks of life, although as with most media in the United States, the field has been predominantly white, male, hetero and abled. A new level of consciousness among publishers, however, should have anyone not fitting into all of those categories encouraged. The travel writing industry is BEGGING for more female, LGBTQ+, disabled and BIPOC writers.
While these long-overlooked groups travel in HUGE numbers, their perspectives have traditionally been ignored. That’s no longer the case and opportunities abound for travel writers from minority backgrounds.
Retirees also make up a considerable percentage of the travel writing profession. As more and more people retire earlier and earlier, 50-somethings with time on their hands and a passion for travel are increasingly exploring the field as a “second act” to whatever their professional career was.
Noreen Kompanik, founder of TravelWritersUniversity.com, exemplifies this transition. The registered nurse spent 30 years in hospitals before taking a beginning travel writing workshop on a whim. Within five years of taking that course, determinedly following the steps it put forth, Kompanik published hundreds of travel articles and was invited on all-expenses-paid trips across the United States, Mexico and Caribbean.
This could be you.
The good news about the introduction to travel writing is that there are no professional certificates, degrees or licenses required. You just do it. You fake it ‘til you make it to borrow a popular phrase.
Skills required for travel writing
Obviously, travel writing requires an ability to write. Don’t let this scare you off. You don’t have to be a brilliant writer to be a travel writer. Solid will suffice.
Do you write effective memos at your current job? Did you get good grades in high school or college English class? Did you like writing book reports. Do you like reading travel books and articles? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are, your writing is good enough to enter the field of travel writing. Perhaps not good enough to write for “National Geographic,” but those writers are the best of the best with decades in the field. Concern yourself with breaking in and getting started.
You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great, and the more you write, the more travel writing you read, the better you’ll become.
In addition to writing, you’ll need to hone your observation skills to become an adept story finder and storyteller. Yes, much of travel writing is simply putting together “10 best things to do in Acapulco” stories, so-called “listicles,” mere compilation of activities, dining, spas and restaurants, but if you have a knack for the overlooked, the unexpected, the unusual, colorful people and slice-of-life anecdotes, your travel writing career can soar.
Travel writing freelance vs. travel blogging vs. being a professional travel journalist
Make no mistake about it, the people earning a full-time living – paying the mortgage, supporting a family – as travel writers are few and far between. There are more professional athletes in the United States than professional travel writers. But make no mistake about this either, there are countless opportunities for paid, and unpaid, but highly compensated, travel writing, beneath the rarified few who earn their living this way.
Candidly, as an introduction to travel writing, pursuing this as a profession is risky. If you can start in college and take years working from the bottom up, that’s one thing, but as a mid-career transition, it’s difficult.
HOWEVER, as a source of side income, or perks – free travel, free meals – the field is ripe for the taking. Travel writers are largely “paid in experiences.” If you’re looking to put kids through college, pay off credit card debt or need world-class health care supported by your employer, travel writing isn’t the answer.
Most travel writers are freelancers. They “pitch” story ideas to editors at various publications and if those editors are interested in the story, they’ll assign the freelancer to write it. Travel writing and freelancing is a hustle. If you’re not comfortable selling yourself and your ideas, sending 10 pitches to receive one “yes,” you may find the profession frustrating.
Or, you may be better suited to blogging. If you’re more interested in travel writing as a hobby, side hustle, lasting journal of adventures and just something fun to do, with a potential for earning money down the road, starting your own travel blog could be a wonderful outlet to fulfill these interests.
WordPress is a popular and relatively easy to use build-your-own-website/blogging platform which doesn’t require any coding expertise. If you have a comfort level with computers, chances are, with some trial and error and online tutorials, you could build yourself a professional looking WordPress site to host your travel blog for less than $500 per year.
Create a niche
Since you’ll be starting from the bottom, the best way to distinguish yourself is by developing a niche. Very few newcomers break into travel writing as “generalists,” writing about biking the French countryside one week, the best sidewalk cafes in New York the next, and road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway after that.
For your introduction to travel writing, narrow your focus to expand your reach. It sounds counterintuitive, but the more well-defined your niche, the greater success you will find by establishing yourself as an expert in that niche.
I developed a niche around the intersection of art and travel. Not many people write about art to begin with, fewer still connect it to place. My travel writing focuses on art festivals, museum openings, traveling exhibitions – art events people can go to. Specific, yes, but a travel interest for tens of millions of people and one offered by every city of size in the world and countless small towns.
In just four years of exploring the art + travel niche, I’ve been on countless all-expenses-paid press trips. I’ve had to TURN DOWN trips to Vienna, Venice and Toronto because my travel schedule has become too busy with all the cities and museums inviting me to come write about them – and paying my way to do so.
This is the power of a great niche. Find an area large enough where a big number of travelers (at least tens of thousands annually) are interested in experiencing it and a large number of destinations are interested in promoting it, but not so large where you’re competing against hundreds of other writers from huge publications to “own” the space.
Common niches of cruising, luxury, food and wine, road trips, national parks, Europe, Disney, etc. have already been exploited.
What do you know best?
Chances are, this is your local area or where you travel regularly.
Coastal North Carolina.
Colorado mountain towns.
The lakes of Minnesota. Texas Hill Country. The Berkshires.
Sites of African American history.
Chicago. Fort Worth. Madison, WI. Tucson, AZ. Buffalo, NY.
Travel for sports and sporting events.
Florida beach towns.
America’s best city parks. Aquariums. Arboretums. Zoos.
Fishing. Gambling. Travel meets conservation. Birdwatching.
What do you like to do when you travel? Chances are, other people do to. This could be your niche.
Your pitching, blogging and writing will have greater success and authority when its grounded in an area you’re deeply familiar with.
A proven, repeatable, step-by-step method for introducing people from all backgrounds into travel writing has been developed by International Living, a company which specializes in helping Americans live overseas.
Following this introduction to travel writing, take the next step and join the Travel Writer’s Cafe, a supportive community that offers training for beginners, monthly live trainings and access to editors who want your stories and destinations that want to bring you to visit.
Good luck! You can do it!