Ask any travel writer who has been practicing the craft for some time and you will, more often than not, get the same response, “It isn’t really what I thought it would be.” If you believe that by merely proclaiming that you are now a travel writer, you will now be able to go for free, see the sights, write some prose and have a publication pay you handsomely for it, then you are in for a very rude awakening. Contrary to popular belief, travel writing is not easy. Sure travel can be easy, and the same goes for writing. But travel writing is not just centered around the writer. It is not as if the author puts words on paper and money along with accolades will fall from the sky.
In an era where anyone who goes on a trip, fingers with which to type with, and some sort of blog-like platform to publish their writing can, in essence, write about their travels. But, there is a stark difference between the person who writes about their travels and a trip writer, and that is that the latter is mainly doing it for payment. There are many ways to be compensated as a travel writer, with commissioned and assigned job being two of them. Likewise, there are many flavors of travel writers, some focus solely on hotels, while others can write about an immersive 20-day trek through the Okavango Delta on safari. But first things first, how does one get their foot in the travel writing door?
Budding travel writers believe that the main ingredient in this line of work is passion. They are of course incorrect. At best passion is a nebulous term and defining it is like pinning a tail on a donkey, blindfolded. Like most types of writers, the ability to convey thoughts, ideas, and experiences in written form is a crucial skill that a travel writer must possess. No one expects a newbie writer to pen a best-seller or award-winning article right off the bat. Good writing is a skill, and like most skills, it can take on through repetition and refinement. Unsurprisingly, the other essential ingredient is a willingness to travel, explore and experience new things and places.
It is a good place to start, but this conversation tends to turn towards economics and finances quickly. First get this in your head, the odds that you will be paid a significant amount of money for your first piece of writing will be slim to none, that is, of course, assuming that someone is willing to publish it.
As previously noted, some so many people fancy themselves as travel writers these days that the market highly saturated with “travel article” and “travel stories” with varying degrees of quality. Then there are the seasoned professionals, that have been doing this line of work for years. These individuals not only have the writing chops to turn in top tier material, but they also have had the time to develop relationships with publishers, PR firms and industry experts who are willing to vouch for their work. It means that for the significant publications, that pay the big bucks, veteran travel writers will always be engaged first, and be brought the assignments first.
Reading this, the budding travel writer may get discouraged, dismayed even. But, “Where there is a will, there is a way,” as the old saying goes. The majority of new travel writers tend to set their eyes on the large publications or big book deals from the get go, but they tend to overlook smaller publications and opportunities to get their work into people’s hands, thus allowing them to build a published body of work. Local newspapers, niche journals, and smaller online blogs/publications are excellent places to start. Sure their readership and reach may be a tiny fraction of the big names in the industry, but it will allow the author to generate a body of work that they can refer to in the future.
Regarding money, expect very little to nothing for the first handful of articles. Remember that you are just getting started, why should publishers shell out money for an unproven writer? Be humble and take your “lumps.” Earn their respect by producing great content, and then you will make the money that goes along with it. Even when you do get paid, don’t expect much. This stage of your writing career should be seen as a schooling in professional essay writing rather a money making venture that includes free trips. These will come eventually. Take this time to hone your writing craft and build relationships within the industry. Also, take this time to refine your ability to pitch book ideas to large enterprises.
Prepare yourself for what may seem like an unending wall of “No thank you’s.” And of course, the best way to get better at writing pitches it by writing pitches, lots and lots of them.