How to Be a Travel Writer
From Twain to Hemingway to Fermor, a romantic image of the travel writer exists. See the world, meet fascinating people, experience incredible places… and document your adventures along the way! While we may not reach the iconic status of these three authors, anyone with a love of writing can hit the road and chronicle their travels. As such, here's a step-by-step guide for how to be a travel writer.
In addition to writing about his and Jenna’s travel and work adventures, Chipp is a CPA and founder of Walutes Capital, a real estate development and accounting firm. Wearing this “other hat,” Chipp offers real estate investment and development consulting services to clients. If you’d like help with your own real estate investing journey, contact Chipp here to set up an appointment!
Step 1: Define How You Want to be a Travel Writer
“Travel writer” is a fairly broad term. Before buying a one-way ticket, it’s important to define what, exactly, you want to do. Are you an aspiring novelist, looking for inspiration around the world? Do you see yourself writing travel memoirs along the lines of Fermors A Time of Gifts? Do you want to write in-depth features for the likes of BBC Travel? Do you want to write full-time for a guidebook company? Do you want to start your own travel blog? Or, do you just want to see the world and record your reflections in a personal journal?
No wrong answer exists, but it’s important to determine how you envision yourself as a travel writer. This answer will determine writing style, platforms and publications, and, ultimately, the path you’ll take to achieve your travel writing goals.
For example, when Chipp took his first overseas trip (a hairbrained, low-budget hitchhiking adventure through Europe during college), he simply wanted to journal. As a solo traveler, keeping a travel journal A) lets you refine your writing voice, while B) treating your journal like a fellow traveler, someone with whom you can share all your thoughts and experiences. Translating that plan into reality simply meant buying a rugged travel journal and starting to write. (NOTE: Journaling isn’t mutually exclusive from other writing paths; Chipp kept a journal all through his time in Afghanistan and eventually published a memoir from those scribblings).
On the other hand, when we set off together on our overseas travel and work adventures, we knew we wanted to create a travel blog, something to share our stories with friends, family, and other aspiring full-time travelers. With this vision in mind, we had to take more concrete steps than just buying a journal.
Step 2: Identify Your Travel Writing Niche and Voice
Regardless of how you define “travel writer,” establishing this vision allows you to move onto the next step - identifying your niche and voice.
As a writer, your niche aligns with your target readership. Practically speaking, you can think of it in terms of how someone would find your writing via a Google search. That is, in the ideal world, what should someone type into Google to find your travel content? Reverse engineering our niche, we’d love for people to find us by searching for something along the lines of: “travel blog about using remote work to fund full-time travels.” Interested in adventure travels with young children? Your niche could align with a search like this: “how-to guide for adventure travel for families with little kids.”
Defining your niche allows you to focus your writing. A Marine Corps aphorism states, “if you try to defend everywhere, you defend nowhere.” Translation? Analyze the situation, choose the most advantageous place to defend, and focus your efforts there - otherwise you spread yourself too thin. As a writer, an analogous situation exists: if you try to write about everything, you likely won’t write well about anything. Identify your niche and excel within it. Down the line, you can certainly shift your focus, but start by channeling your efforts to be a travel writer in a single direction.
Next, you need to define your voice as a travel writer. A somewhat abstract term, your voice represents your personal writing style, your “written fingerprint.” Casual or formal? Embrace jargon and slang or stick to “the king’s English?” First-, second-, third-person point of view or some combination?
When someone reads a piece of your writing, your voice should identify you as the author. It will align with both how you want to be a travel writer and the unique niche you seek to fill. For example, someone seeking to write articles for a formal travel guide likely wouldn’t use a conversational, first-person voice. Conversely, travel bloggers looking to engage their audience probably wouldn’t want to rely on an overly formal, haughty voice.
As with your writing in general, your voice will likely evolve. But, as you launch your travel writing adventures, it makes sense to think about exactly how you want your voice to “spring from the page.”
Step 3: Create a Personal Platform as a Travel Writer
Unless you solely plan on writing a travel journal for personal consumption, you’ll need some form of travel writing platform, a place to build a portfolio of your works. This platform should directly align with your niche and voice, and it serves a two-fold purpose.
First, building a portfolio of written pieces allows you to market yourself as a writer. If submitting proposals or even completed articles/manuscripts for publication, the publisher will likely want to see a track record of well-written and well-marketed prior works. The hard reality is that, before committing to a writer’s work, publishers want to make sure that work will “sell” - either literally or indirectly via online clicks.
Second, building your platform allows you to grow and refine your writing style. No one’s born a Pulitzer Prize winning author - they continuously write, refine, and evolve as writers. As your portfolio expands, so too does your experience and abilities as a writer.
Realistically, your best option for building a travel writing platform is starting a travel blog. This allows you to A) publish whatever content you’d like, while B) tailoring the entire blog to your future travel writing goals. For instance, someone hoping to eventually write articles for local guide books could create a blog focused on in-depth, guide-style reviews of different places. This approach would allow you to practice your writing skills while building a portfolio for when you ultimately apply for a travel writing role with a guide book company.
Working as a travel writer in South Africa
Step 4: ID Potential Travel Publications and Submission/Application Guidelines
Steps 1 to 3 focused internally, that is, establishing your personal foundation as a travel writer. At this point, you need to start looking outward, researching where and how you’ll turn your Step 1 aspirations into reality.
Say you want to write in-depth culinary articles on local cuisines for online and print magazines. Okay, well which magazines? Consider this your market research time. Create a Google Sheet, and start listing potential publications on that spreadsheet. At the end of the day, getting published is a numbers game. You’ll be rejected by most, especially as an up-and-coming writer. But, if you submit enough proposals, eventually you’ll start landing pieces as a travel writer. So, the longer this list of potential publications, the greater your chances of success. And, directly related to this success, you need to follow submission guidelines to a T! You may submit an exceptionally well-written article to National Geographic, something right up its thematic alley, but failing to adhere to submission guidelines will make your article dead on arrival. Bottom line, set yourself up for success by following a publication’s listed submission instructions.
Now, assume you want a full-time job as a travel writer, not to just periodically publish articles. The research approach largely remains the same. Build a spreadsheet with a list of as many companies and associated travel writing positions as you can find. Even more than publishing an article, landing a full-time writing job will take a ton of effort, especially for new writers. Apply, apply, apply, and apply to some more positions. And, don’t take a generic, copy-and-paste sort of approach with these applications. It takes more time and effort, but follow the exact application guidelines for each open position, tailoring your application to that specific job opening. The higher the quality of each application, the greater your likelihood of getting the job.
Step 5: Stick to a Travel Writing and Marketing Schedule
We’ll wrap up with a particularly relevant quote by author Ralph Keyes: “Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration.” No matter whether journaling, blogging, submitting articles, applying for writing jobs, or drafting a manuscript, you need to embrace a schedule. Or, to paraphrase Keyes, find inspiration via routine.
The first aspect of your schedule relates to the act of writing itself. Whatever travel writing path you pursue, you should allocate a portion of your schedule to building your portfolio. Whether it’s every day, week, or month, continue writing pieces for your personal travel blog platform. This regularity keeps your skills sharp, and it allows you to continue growing a travel writing portfolio for marketing purposes.
Speaking of marketing…The second scheduling aspect pertains to marketing your writing. If you plan to A) publish works externally, B) land a full-time travel writing job, or C) some combination of the two, you need to develop a thick skin. Rejection goes hand-in-hand with publishing and applying to travel writing jobs. But, by crafting and religiously following a schedule (e.g. submit one article for publication every week, apply for one travel job every day, etc.), you will eventually succeed.
Best of luck on your journey to become a travel writer, and don’t give up!
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