Freelance travel writing sounds like a narrow niche, and when you filter it further to those making a living through travel writing, that’s select company indeed. But there are a lot of part-timers and generalists in the travel-writing world, and it’s a fascinating way to see spectacular and unusual people and places — and bring back some dollars at the same time — while your main gig waits for you at home.
Before addressing some specific avenues for getting into and writing about this enthralling and wide world of ours, consider that traveling can open your mind in healthy ways, even if you’re not a writer. Whether you’re a carpenter of wood or words, traveling to interesting places can stretch your imagination and your freelancing skills.
Learning how to deal with people of different cultures, testing the limits of your flexibility — like trying new foods, reacting to a different sense of urgency and time or adjusting to challenging weather — can give you a sense of resourcefulness and confidence you can bring back to your business, which may help when the unexpected occurs. Traveling can also refresh your thinking, take you away from old habits and, upon your return, bring new skills to apply to your business.
The Entire World Is Your Office
Don’t forget that in the internet age, you don’t need to specialize in freelance travel writing to make a living on the road. I’m a business copywriter, as well as a travel writer, and my girlfriend is a marketing writer. We both work out of our home. If the internet connection is good, we can work out of anyone’s home. So, over the past few years, we’ve stayed in homes in Panama, the Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii (twice), essentially keeping to our regular working schedules, but enjoying the wonders of other countries, while not paying for lodging.
House-sitters must take care of a homeowner’s pets, garden and other items, but that’s a small consideration when we’ve spent one- and two-month stints in all these places and delighted in their pleasures. The service we use the most to secure housing is MindMyHouse, where you can check out listings for house-sits all over the world. It’s doubly beneficial for me, since I have many opportunities to do my freelance writing about the places we’ve stayed. You’ll likely need to pay for flights and food, but paying for two months’ lodging in Hawaii would be a killer without the house-sitting.
Train Your Eye to See the Story
Sometimes, travel writing falls into your lap. If you go to a particularly unusual place, you don’t need to be an experienced writer to cash in on opportunities. I’d already published many travel pieces when I went to a tiny island in Micronesia for a year to teach English, but since it was such an exotic locale, I could’ve sold articles about it regardless of prior publication. If you can write coherently (beyond simply gushing about sunsets), tell a story and, better yet, take good photos, you have a great shot at getting something in a paying venue online or in print.
Very few people visited the island I lived on, and it was a vivid, almost hallucinatory place, so my photos were intriguing just for their scarcity. Many current smartphones have great photo capabilities, so there’s no excuse for not looking for travel writing and shooting opportunities wherever you go. I still write about the Micronesian experience — and that was 12 years ago.
Traveling on Their Dime
If you get into a decent publication, a PR firm or a venue’s marketing arm may approach you about going on a press trip to write about the attractions of an area. You can also enter a travel-writing contest. I did well in a couple of writing contests for the popular Dave’s Travel Corner site, and he then connected me with people wanting press for their properties. So far, I’ve gone on press trips through Dave’s contacts to the Florida Keys, Las Vegas, Maryland and Myanmar, with all expenses paid.
Don’t restrict yourself to just travel magazines when you target your story pitches. All kinds of food and general interest magazines run travel features, though it’s sometimes easier to break in with “front-of-book” 250- to 500-word articles to get in an editor’s sight. Here’s a good list of magazines accepting travel pitches, including what they pay for the pieces. If you’re looking for overseas work, whether there’s freelance travel writing in it or not, check out Transitions Abroad.
Breaking into a mainstream travel magazine isn’t easy, but with experience, you’ll become better at crafting your story queries and moving up to higher-tier publications. Once you’re in the traveler’s writing mindset, you’ll see that the fruit vendor in Guatemala City who does incredible magic tricks is also the perfect subject for an article.
One of the best things about freelance travel writing is that you’re traveling. See the world, write about the world and you might forever carry those worlds with you.