There is no clear-cut, simple path to getting travel writing jobs. But there are things you can do to help find the path that’s going to work for you.
Throughout this post and the website as a whole, I’ve tried to collate all the advice I’ve received from my colleagues, and the things I've learned along the way.
Many might disagree, and I may well have missed some things, but I hope this gives some practical advice to get your started in your travel writing career.
My advice to those looking to break into travel journalism is as follows:
1. Live, breathe and write travel as often as you can
You’ve got to know the tourism industry, as well as the travel media, and you have to read, read, read.
There are hundreds of magazines out there covering travel and you can’t read them all, but keep up with the biggest names – Wanderlust, The Sunday Times Travel, Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Condé Nast, CNN, Lonely Planet et al – and you’ll be on the right track.
Here is a list of all the biggest UK publications in the industry.
2. Write well
As mentioned in point one, writing is essential. Writing well is what will get you far.
This might be easier said than done, especially with little experience and without an editor to refine your copy, but so long as you’re reading, your writing should get better and your voice will mature.
Here’s a piece I wrote when I was the RoughGuides.com editorial assistant. Here’s a recent piece on Namibia written as web editor three years later. Can you see the difference in style and flair? I learned by reading and writing every day, so you can too.
3. Understand the industry
You’ve got to know how it works to be able to become a part of it. There is one essential thing to understand: no publication is going to pay for your travel.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions in travel writing. Many think my employer pays for me to travel around the world to write thousand-word articles on our website. It’s not so.
So how do I get to travel if the publication doesn’t cover it? The answer could be that you pay your own way (which, let’s face it, is unrealistic for the vast majority). But usually, the answer is PR.
Tourist boards, hotels, resorts, airlines and tour companies all want their name in the travel columns of newspapers and on the most popular websites. They want to be all over influential social media accounts and featured in prestigious travel magazines. And they’ll pay a pretty penny for it too.
In exchange for funding your trip through their public relations budget, these tourism companies and organisations will expect a certain level of coverage in your chosen publication. There are two ways this can happen: press trips or self-organised individual trips. You can find out more about those here, and read about the ethics of it all here.
4. Network on social networks
Follow all the travel writers and editors you can find on Twitter. Get your handle in their list of notifications when possible (but don’t become a stalker) and they’ll recognise your name when you finally get to pitching ideas.
And don’t forget to write your own tweets too: fill your timeline with travel-related content and pictures and you’ll look like the travel expert you’re purporting to be.
Stray away from contacting editors on Facebook (many won’t take kindly to this medium), and try to keep any work-related messaging on social media to within office hours.
LinkedIn is one social network most editors won’t mind you contacting them on, so don’t be shy. Find a way to connect with them, whether it’s an introduction from another connection or through a common employer or school, and send an Inmail. Be short, confident and concise. Offer links to your portfolio, and if you want to pitch, ask for an email address to contact them on.
5. Network in real life
There are a ton of resources out there for travel writers so you should use them too, even if you can’t consider yourself a professional yet.
If you’ve interned and had articles published, get yourself on TravMedia (you may need to prove you’ve done some travel writing).
This invaluable resource is full of story ideas from PRs (which should always be taken with a pinch of salt – remember, they’re being paid to sell these places to the media) and contacts for most of the editors in the industry.
By just signing up to the daily email, you can keep up with what other travel journalists are writing, as well as seeing what’s going on in various destinations that might be worth covering.
TravMedia also hold face-to-face networking events: there’s the occasional evening MediaPlace evening do and then the annual IMM full-day event, both used for networking with fellow writers, tourist boards and PRs representing all manner of travel clients.
Then there’s the World Travel Market. One of the biggest travel industry get togethers in the world. There are hundreds of exhibitors, from tourist boards to airlines to travel tech companies, all looking to buy and sell products over the four-day event. Press accreditation is relatively easy to get, so sign yourself up and then read our guide on how to make the most of WTM.
Here is a list of really useful resources for travel writers.
6. Don’t write for free
This is a contentious subject among so many journalists and isn’t constrained to the travel writing industry.
I had a rule when I started out: I’d write for free to get my name and words out there when I was a student, but as soon as someone paid me for my work that was it. As soon as the money changed hands I became a professional writer and I wouldn’t offer my services for free to anyone else.
I generally feel, for students or complete newbies (not already professional writers), writing for free for ‘exposure’ is OK. But to continue doing so once you’ve broken into paid writing is actually more harmful than it is beneficial in many cases. Some editors may not take you as seriously as you’d like if you’re seen to be writing regularly for publications that don’t pay.
Your words are valuable. By writing for free you’re devaluing not just your own words, but other writers’ too. Why should publishers pay for their words when they could get yours for free?
7. Be resilient
This is a requirement for any journalist, not just a travel writer. You’ve got to have thick skin. You’re going to be rejected – if you’re lucky, otherwise you’ll just be ignored – hundreds of times.
You’ll receive one reply for every fifty pitch emails sent and you’ll spend hours crafting ideas that no one wants. It’s exhausting and sometimes unfruitful, but when you begin to reap the rewards, I can almost guarantee it’ll be worth it.
It’s a highly competitive and saturated industry, and even the best writers will struggle at times. Don’t let it discourage you, though. It’s a profession worth fighting to find a space in so keep your head high and carry on.