The short answer? No, it’s not. But it sounds great, doesn’t it? For a lot of young writers, nothing sounds finer than being a travel writer. Writers are natural wanderers, desiring to gain as much life experience as possible in order to create the most convincing and gorgeous pieces. And when you write for travel publications, you get paid to travel to the most beautiful places on earth. Your entire life would be a vacation.
But there are several myths that people operate under when they think about travel writing. And before you quit your day job and jet off to Aruba, you should be aware of them.
Writing about travel makes you a travel writer.Sure, in the same way that building a model rocket makes you an astronaut. That may be an extreme syllogism, but the point is that jobs writing about travel destinations, hotels, airlines, and even airline food are hard to find. Not only because there are hundreds of writers clambering for the job, but also because magazines just don’t need that many of the traveling breed. And fulltime travel blogger, which sounds like the Holy Grail of jobs, pays the rent for a very few divinely endowed souls.
If you do find a position, you’ll make a living.This is the bane of every writer on the planet, but it is especially true of travel writers. Even when connected to a magazine, you are not guaranteed a story. And if do get an assignment for a guidebook or other substantial piece of writing, many experienced writers say you spend most of your money while just doing the research, not even to speak of the time it takes to write the thing. Writers who really make money writing travel pieces have to combine guidebooks with a great appointment at a top travel magazine. Good luck finding both of those.
Travel writers write about places.Obviously, one of the main concerns is the destination. But a place is not, in and of itself, a real topic. You need an angle, whether it is “Hidden Gems,” “Exciting New Landmarks,” or “Eating Your Way across Spain,” your story needs to have clear and consistent direction. General information about Barcelona is not going to tempt even the most desperate editor.
Your experiences are a story. How you feel about a place is very rarely going to be as interesting as a local story. Unless you can build something bold and beautiful and moving that still persuades people to come and feel what you felt, any other angle is a better bet. Don’t be self-centered when it comes to your writing. Sure, in writing classes across the globe they tell us to inject as much of ourselves as possible into our writing, but that doesn’t mean it should be all about you—where you went, where you walked, what you did. Readers (and editors) are more interested in why they should spend the money to go somewhere than why you specifically found it exciting or dull.
You really will get to travel for free and you will be paid when you are published.No, sorry. Maybe for the top-shelf publications. Maybe even for some of the middle-shelf publications. But especially when you start off (you know, the time when you are the most strapped for cash), you are probably not going to see “all-expenses paid” on your assignment. And, unless your editor is a swindler, you will get paid, but not until long after your article or guidebook is published. That’s just the nature of the publishing industry.
These myths are generalized, of course. There are many writers who actually do get to travel for free, who write about their experiences in Bali, South Korea, Puerto Rico, etc. and are paid handsomely for this. But the path to that position is hardly ever paved in gold. As with any writing endeavor, there will be times when you are trying your hardest and no one wants to hire you or publish your work. You may even often be the most qualified writer, and the magazine or publishing company chooses not to send you because someone else is cheaper.
But off in the distance, there is the sublime goal. And it can be achieved if you are willing to power through the months and possibly years of scrimping and slumming it.