I’ve been a travel writer now for 12 years and have visited over 50 countries in my job, but it hasn’t all been beer and skittles.
Sure, it’s a cool job, and most of your mates will hate you… but it’s worth breaking down a few myths if you’re thinking of becoming the next Bill Bryson.
1. You travel – and you keep a diary – so you’re a travel writer
There’s more to this gig than telling people what you did. Editors are inundated with everyone from teens to grannies telling them EVERYTHING about their trips away. But you need to give them more: think of angles, and avoid the dreaded… “and then we went there…”
Some magazine editors have told me they receive upwards of 100 such submissions EVERY DAY.
2. People will fund your holiday
They might… once they know who you are – and more importantly, know that you’ll be published. It’s no good ringing a five-star hotel and telling them you’re writing a story about them and you want a room unless you have proof – previous stories, previous trips to the area that resulted in stories etc.
I have friends who think I can get them in for free at various clubs, hotels and restaurants because I’m a known travel writer, but everything has to be pre-arranged and approved by people who check your credentials.
3. Your work ‘holiday’ will be like everyone else’s holiday
It’s a job so there will always be responsibilities you have towards getting the story… you’ll have to write notes about every interesting thing you see and write down conversations you have with people (even at a bar!). Everything you do should add towards the flavour of your story.
There will also invariably be an assortment of hotel inspections and conversations with PR reps and hotel GMs. I once inspected seven hotel bathrooms in a single day on a trip to Lombok.
4. You will see the world
Yes, you’ll see more of it. But before long you’ll realise you’ll see the same parts of the world over and over. Why? Well, some places sell better – if thousands of Australians are going to Fiji and Bali, chances are editors will want lots of stories about these places. Within two years of being a travel writer I’d been to Thailand four times.
5. You will make enough money to live
Only a very small number of travel writers in this country make enough from travel writing to live. Most write travel stories on the side and freelance in other areas of writing – or have a semi-regular job sub-editing. It’s not just the irregular work – it’s the irregular payment.
Even when you’ve sold a story you’ll usually have to wait till it’s published before you’re paid. I always have thousands of dollars owing to me, but my landlord won’t accept that as rent! (I’ve tried).
6. Editors are keen to try new writers
As a writer with no previous experience, your pitch will have to be good to convince an editor to use you. Editors have a team of writers they know can produce good copy on time – as it is, they rarely get to use their favoured writers enough to stop their grumbling!
That’s not to say they won’t use you – but make sure you have an attention-grabbing pitch with a great angle (don’t assume a destination is enough to sell a story, even if it impressed the hell out of you) and pictures. I’m still trying after 12 years to get some editors to even know who I am.
Anyone still want to be a travel writer?
Cover image by gnuckx on Flickr