Nothing beats being able to travel the world and get paid to write about it. Yet breaking into to this highly desired and highly saturated field can seem impossible if you do not have a well thought out game plan. And then when you find jobs, it can be more difficult than expected to get ongoing ones that pay well and make your hard work worthwhile.
While being a general travel writer can be fun as you get to write, and learn, about a lot of exciting places, the fact is your best work will come from writing about places or areas of the travel industry you know well. And employers are more likely to hire and keep you as an expert guide that has a specific focus. The key is to discover your own niche within this niche.
Narrow Your Expertise
Once you have started finding work in the travel writing industry and have a growing portfolio, it is vital to hone your skills and focus yourself on a specific part of this field in order to develop your career and make better income. The more skilled and specific your expertise is, the less competition there will be. Think about what you know well. Think about your employment and travel history.
I have seen job ads specifically hiring those who work in the hotel industry to write pieces on hotels in a certain destination. Because I have lived in and traveled all over China and southeast Asia, I apply to jobs targeted toward writers for these destinations. Success has been hit or miss, but when I do land a gig, it usually pays much higher than those typical content travel articles do. Being able to speak firsthand about a topic is highly valued in the travel writing field.
Don’t Waste Time on General Job Boards
Know what areas of travel you are good at writing about and what you want to cover. Understand that searching for and applying to jobs within the general travel industry will only waste your time and possibly hinder your career development as you will inevitably run into work for low paying content sites.
Moreover, general content mills only pay a fraction of what you can make writing for higher quality publications such as airline magazines or well-known guidebooks. Hence, working for such content factories is okay as a substitute if business is slow, but not a viable long term career option.
Instead, directly look for and offer your services to quality companies that require your expertise. Search for jobs that apply to your skill set. Do this by looking for well-known publications within your area of specialization. See if such places are hiring or send an email inquiry. Who knows? Maybe your next assignment will be traveling back to one of your favorite beaches for research.
Leverage Your Skills and Experience
Are you tech savvy? Do you know a foreign language? Do you have a background in photography? These skills and many others are useful to travel magazines, blogs, and websites. Highlight your extra capabilities each time you apply to a gig. When I applied to be a Chengdu city guide writer for a website focused on expat life in China, I stressed my ability to speak Mandarin and hence perform on the ground research. I think this, like any other skill, gave me a leg up on the competition and landed me the job.
Good writing skills are obviously necessary to find a travel writing job but sometimes not enough to get a higher paying one. That’s why it is so crucial to center in on an expertise through marketing your skills and knowledge. If you have worked in the dining industry, for example, and also have writing skills, know that this gives you an advantage on being a dining guide writer in your city or other place of familiarity.
Keep Your Topic Localized
Readers don’t want to read something that sounds like it was written in a dark basement by some faraway person. They want to hear from someone who has sampled the exotic foods they are covering, who has sunbathed on the beaches they are describing, and who has trekked the trails they tell tales of. It’s difficult to talk about tackling the ruins of Angkor Wat if you have never been there. Readers, and clients, will notice.
Make sure to only choose jobs or pitch articles for topics that you can write like a local because either you are a local or because you have experienced it before. It will make you a more attractive hire for companies and a better read for viewers.
Give Your Articles A Flavorful Twist
Make your articles stand out by giving a popular topic a new angle. When there are already virtual truckloads of information available concerning spots like the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower, it is rare to see job ads wanting more pieces about those famous places. Instead of pitching an article about hotels in New York City, try one that details how to stay for free in the Big Apple or hotels that allow pets. Don’t simply cover Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco; make a list that compiles the best street acts there.
Write About Something New
When you make a pitch to a website or magazine, also consider articles that haven’t been extensively covered. Those living in or those who have been to newly found tourist destinations like the hidden and lesser known beach town gems of Cambodia and Vietnam have a good opportunity here. Moreover, those with inside knowledge of the hotel, dining, entertainment, or tourist industries of a particular area have options to create new and exciting pieces for a variety of websites. Utilize your unique experiences as a springboard to find work.
When I lived in Chengdu, China, I offered to put together one of the first English articles on the city’s bus system for a travel site about China. The editor loved the idea and accepted the guide, giving me ample pay without hesitation.
Spread Out Your Eggs
Travel writing is one of freelance writing’s most competitive fields. When you get a job, know that it may only be temporary. Also, know that there are herds of writers rushing to take your spot. Continuously look for more gigs. This ensures that when one is complete, you have others to work on or others waiting. As the old saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
About the author:
Nick Callos is a freelance writer and translator based in the United States and China. He specializes in travel writing and Chinese to English translation. Over the past few years, he has crafted his talents while writing for various clients as well as a number of sites across the web. When he has the time, Nick is traveling to exciting places and drinking tea with newly found friends. Always looking to network with other writers and clients, you can get in touch with him on LinkedIn.