At least once a week I’ll get an e-mail from someone asking how to break in as a travel writer. I usually take the lazy way out and refer them to the Travel Writing Portal over at TransitionsAbroad.com. After all, it’s the first thing that pops up if you put the phrase in Google and since I helped put it together, I know the links are worthwhile.
If people ask me about a book, I refer them to the one simply called Travel Writing that Don George put together when he was at Lonely Planet. It’s not perfect, especially since it mostly concentrates on narrative writing and not much on “how to” stuff—which is what really pays the bills. But it’s better than most.
The thing is, what is a travel writer these days? There’s no set path like there used to be (a good thing) and there are at least 44 different versions of what that means in today’s hyper-media environment. I was reflecting on that this week as I am devoting most of my days right now to ghostwriting a business book for someone. It’s not as fun as galavanting around the world and writing stories, but it pays better and doesn’t require layovers. So of course I gladly do it when the opportunity comes along. I know other travel writers who write ad copy, do PR, color comic books, or work in an office part-time doing brainless paper shuffling. They’re happier and more secure having different streams of income.
Others, like Lara Dunston, make a living doing guidebooks and travel print articles, but work 7 days a week every week to make the numbers add up. Some, like my buddy Max at GoNomad, have prospered by creating something people want to read and taking some writing trips now and then when they feel like it.
There are a few elite writers like occasional Perceptive Travel contributor Edward Readicker-Henderson, who can get gigs with pretty much any magazine out there at this point, making a good living by writing long features about distant lands. That’s what everyone pictures of course when they think they want to become a travel writer, just as everyone who dreams of being an actor pictures themselves as a well-paid movie star, not as someone who has bit parts in commercials and is really a waiter after 10 years of effort. Unfortunately, the latter is far more likely. It’s just as competitive in writing, with a dwindling number of print outlets making it even tougher.
Although I don’t have any hard numbers to back this up, I would say the majority of travel writers are part-time hobbyists. A lot of them are retired or have made their money doing something else. Or they have a supportive working spouse. Or they don’t mind being dirt poor. Some are bloggers who are content to make some pocket change writing about their experiences, no queries to editors required.
So if you send me an e-mail asking a specific question about something related to this odd career choice, I’ll do what I can to help. But nose around and do some research first, because I’ll probably just send you to The 7 Myths of Being a Travel Writer. Because hey, I’ve got somebody else’s book to write right now…