The ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, summed it up best when he said, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I’ve been a travel journalists for over twenty years and my only regret is that I didn’t start travel writing when I was younger. Most people think of it as glamorous. They visualize a Bert Wolfe type television host or a National Geographic journalist paid a fantastic stipend and transported to the wilds of Africa with a complete entourage to smooth the way.
Well, if that what you expect when you enter this profession, I’m here to take off your rose-colored glasses. There is only one Bert Wolfe and a small percentage of writers get accepted by National Geographic. Still, there is nothing I would rather do.
Naturally, you need to work on mastering your grammar and spelling. It helps to learn to take great photographs. However I consider these the five most important tips I can offer to help you be a successful travel writer.
Don’t go into travel writing to get rich.
Even experienced writers work for very little compared to the hours involved. You spend a lot of time traveling to the place you plan to write about, Once there, you want to get an in-depth look at things the average traveler may not think about. This is what gives your article life.
You need to eat while there. If you are planning a food and wine article, you will need to dine at the better-translate more expensive- places. You need good tools; luggage, dependable cell phone, laptop or tablet, camera and either notepads or a good recorder. You must have business cards to pass out to identify yourself. If you are free-lancing, you need to send out queries to sell your article.
The initial investment in time and money is staggering. When you become more established, you’ll be invited on fam trips (Organized trips for journalists hosted by hopeful destinations) and with a few pieces under your belt, you can usually pick up a phone and get free accommodations and other perks at a prospective destination.
Do not be easily discouraged.
After all that outlay, when you submit your first sparkling article, you may get a “not interested” reply. Worse yet, you may wait in vain for any answer until you realize that magazine is not buying. Just go on submitting until you get a “yes.”
You must be flexible.
There will be times when you have planned a kayak trip down a peaceful stream. You wake to thunder and downpour. No way can you just sit in the hotel and moan. Switch to a interesting museum and take the kayak trip another day.
Be able to get along with others.
Everyone is different. When you are on a fam trip, you spend a lot of time in close quarters with other journalists. If you are a night person and find yourself sitting on the tour bus with a morning person who prattles joyfully on while you struggle to just stay awake, it can be daunting. Sometimes, you need to pull out your laptop and politely tell you companion “Sorry, I have some work to do.”
Then again, you might find yourself seated next to him as you return to your hotel late one night as he is yawning and stretching. Turnabout is fair play.
You must be open minded.
Often you visit a place that is diametrically opposed to your customs and beliefs. Say you are deep in bayou county of Louisiana and your tour host brings you to a cabin where a man is busy skinning a nutria. Your first impulse may be to walk away. If you do you may miss a wonderful story. Instead look at the Cajun culture that the man in front of you represents.
I’m not a sports fan. On one fam trip in Macon, Georgia, one of our major stops was the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. I wasn’t interested. Still, there we were and I made the best of it. Incidentally, the Sports Hall of Fame article was the first one I sold from that trip.
Go into travel writing with these traits in mind and work hard at it. It’s a job where you can earn a successful living as well as have some wonderful adventures.