Get Paid to Travel: Can anybody be a travel writer?
“Can I really make it as a travel writer… what do you think?” I hear that question a lot. And on its heels I usually get an explanation that goes something like this: “See, I love to travel. And when I come back from a trip and send an email to friends about what I did, they always tell me I should publish my stories… but I don’t know…”
Let me give it to you straight: I think anybody can be a travel writer.
It’s not rocket science. It’s a skill. And, as with anything, given the right tools and a dose of determination, you can master it.
Sure, it takes time. But not nearly as long as you might imagine. Barbara Ash sold her first article to an airline magazine just two weeks after attending our In-flight Workshop in Houston this past December. And Roy Stevenson is now on his 52nd published article after attending our Travel Writing Workshop in Portland last July.
And it’s not as if it’s hard labor. Unless you consider checking out a spa or wandering through an open air market or playing golf on a faraway course unbearable.
Get Paid to Travel: It’s Not All Glamour
Now I admit: Travel writing is not all glamour.
There’s the matter of actually writing. And that can be downright painful. (I’ve been known to make appointments for full leg waxing to avoid sitting at my computer, staring at a blank screen.)
While “on the job,” I’ve gotten so ravaged by mosquitoes I looked diseased. I’ve been mugged. Had my clothes stolen. Slept in places where a pot under the bed stood in for plumbing. I’ve shivered through Dengue Fever. I’ve eaten three-inch-long tropical fish, bones and all, just to be polite.
But the benefits outweigh the challenges ten-fold. Not a day goes by when I don’t think, “I have the best job in the world.”
I’ve written stories from a castle in France… a beach in Honduras… a bull ring in Mexico… a mountain retreat in Panama… a loft in Montreal… and, as it happens, even my own hometown…
I’ve been wined and dined all over the world. And then been paid to write about my experiences. Not too long ago, I earned $500 for five paragraphs about a park 12 minutes from my house. Now that’s a good gig.
And it’s one anybody can land.
Of course, as I’ve said, you have to master the techniques that work best. But that’s a straightforward task.
Get Paid to Travel: Real Success Lies in Experience and Perspective
Beyond that, the real key to success lies in gaining experience and perspective as a traveler. In other words: The more of the world you see, the better you’ll get at making sound judgments about what you find, and the easier it will be to sell your stories.
When I first started out, I suspected that was true. And it was that suspicion which, to a large degree, spirited me to Africa.
I did a two-year stint there as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the northern tip of a 41-mile-long island between Madagascar and Mozambique. I taught High School English to students who already spoke French, Arabic, and Shingazidja.
And I learned about the world. About everything from being a woman in an Islamic country… to the curious habits of goats. From political coups… to malnutrition. From rain water collection… to Polio vaccines. And that’s just the start of it.
That experience stoked in me a passion for travel I’ve never been able to shake. And it’s informed my adventures — and my perspective as a traveler — ever since.
When I returned to the States, I took a job as an editor at a glossy international business magazine called Trade & Culture (now, unfortunately, defunct).
I got lucky there. It was a start-up. And since the staff was small and I was the only one not married and without kids, the publisher and other editors “let” me do way more than I’d normally have been tasked with as Assistant Editor.
At a more established publication, I would have been sending out rejection letters and getting my boss coffee. Instead, I worked with the designer to lay out the magazine. I helped choose the photos for each issue. I assigned and edited articles. I wrote the whole front of the book. I did press checks, going to the press in the middle of the night to check the colors and sign off on the run.
I wasn’t getting paid much in dollars. But I gained an invaluable education.
Plus we were writing about the smartest ways to do business around the world, about the cultural challenges, and so every day I was talking with experts who knew their regions inside-and-out. And through them, I was expanding my own understanding of the world. Gaining perspective.
Eventually I jumped to International Living, where I wended my way from Special Projects Editor to head honcho.
And I traveled. A lot. I was writing stories about the world’s best places to live, invest, retire, and travel. And I was assigning, buying, rejecting, and editing the ideas and articles travel writers sent me.
And that’s when I discovered that the suspicion I’d had all those years back, as I went off to Africa, was right.
The best articles, the ones I bought, were those strong on opinion, written by people who brought broad perspective to their writing.
They had real-world experience. And you could see it in their stories.
Now, these folks weren’t always the most polished writers. But they had something to say. Something my readers wanted to know. They could draw comparisons between this and that.
It was the content that drove the sales. They understood what my readers wanted to know, and I’d pay for their goods.
The writing itself — I was willing to fix that. And train them to fix that. It was, finally, the good ideas and the strong perspective that made sales.
Get Paid to Travel: It Really Ain’t that Hard if You Know the Tricks
That said, the issue of training these writers began to loom. I regularly found myself rewriting an article (because the content was valuable) and then slapping the author’s name on it.
That created a lot of work for me. And it wasn’t really doing the writer (or the editors who would come after me) any favors.
Sure, the writer was gaining a by-line. But I’d essentially written the piece. And now that writer was out there brandishing this good-looking clip — fooling other editors into thinking she was in the habit of turning in polished prose.
Yet the rules for what makes a good travel article are surprisingly straightforward, easy, and learnable.
That’s when I started thinking about how — in a more systematic way — we could train a person with so much good content and strong perspective to write better articles. (Not just for us, but for other editors as well.)
I knew it was true: If those writers whose work I was spending so much time untangling understood just a few simple secrets, nothing could stop them.
Because they already had the hard part in hand. They understood my readership. They loved to travel. And they were thoughtful, experienced travelers.
They had something worthwhile to say.
Now we just had to teach them to say it better. To frame it in such a way that editors would see, immediately, that it would be perfect for them.
Get Paid to Travel: The Secrets to Success, Laid Out in Plain English
I “went freelance” back in 1999 — pregnant with my first son. And that’s when I turned my attention to writing The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program.
My aim was to hand over all the secrets, all the techniques, all the tricks-of-the-trade a person with a passion for travel could need to turn their experiences into articles that would easily sell.
That program is in its Third Edition today, and — I’m proud to say — really does work. Thousands of would-be travel writers have used it to turn their passion for travel into profits.
And today they’re no longer just wondering “Can I make it as a travel writer?” they’re actually doing it.
They’re turning their vacations into tax-deductible adventures. They’re writing about what they find as they explore the world. They’re easily and effortlessly combining their strong perspective as travelers with their know-how as writers. And creating articles editors cannot resist.
And because they can sell their pieces, they’re cashing in on the perks this line of work can offer. Resorts are happy to have them stay for free — because they’re likely to deliver some “press.” Museums invite them to openings — because they can count on a mention getting published…
It really is “the best job in the world.”
So can you make it as a travel writer? Absolutely.
Just keep traveling. Noticing. Enjoying the discovery and the adventure of it. That’ll give you the perspective you need to anchor your success. The rest is academic.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Jennifer Stevens is the author of AWAI’s Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program. A freelance writer and editor these days, she spent years at the helm of International Living, buying, editing, writing, and publishing travel articles.
Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]