If John Denver’s song “Leaving on a Jet Plane” constantly plays in your head, you may have been cursed by the travel bug and have even fantasized about getting paid to travel. Staying at 5-star luxury hotels, walking on white sand beaches in Tahiti or exploring coral reefs in Bora Bora — such is the life of a travel writer. This fantastical life can be yours, for only $$$!
Hold on. Don’t quit your day job, just yet.
While it is possible to get all–expense paid trips once you’re an established travel writer, it requires hard work, self-promotion and is not as glamorous a life as you might think. Also, most travel writers do not make a full-time income from writing. However, if you have a passion for adventure and discovery, and love to travel (anywhere), the following tips can get you on your way to that jet plane.
1. Educate yourself.
Read, read and read. The more you read, the better you’ll write. There are dozens of excellent books on “How to Become a Travel Writer.” Buy a few and check-out the rest from your local library. Take a travel writing class through a university or reputable writing program.
2. Become a good story teller.
Make your “lead” (first paragraph) count and draw the reader in. If it doesn’t grab the editor, he or she won’t keep reading and you won’t get published. Travel writing is really about telling great stories and taking the reader with you. I love it when someone finishes reading one of my travel pieces and enthusiastically says, “I want to go there!” Or better yet, says, “I feel like I’ve already been there.”
3. Get comfortable selling yourself and your ideas.
This is probably the single most important piece of advice. Learn how to write a good query letter. Buy a book about this very subject and perfect the craft. If you can’t get an editor interested in your idea in a letter, you’ll never get published. Writing is only a small part of being a travel writer. Selling yourself and your ideas is probably 90% of the job. If you’re not comfortable marketing yourself, then this job isn’t for you.
4. Make your article the perfect puzzle piece.
Study (in detail) a few issues of the publication you want to write for, study the departments, the style, the word count, everything. Who’s the target audience? What stories have they run in the past? Make sure your idea is not too similar or too different. Go on-line and look for editorial calendars for the publication you’re querying. It helps to know what kinds of stories they plan on running six months from now.
Besides traditional print publications, think about where else you can write travel pieces. With the growth of on-line advertising and media, there are many different ways to get published. Write for free in the beginning, if necessary, to build up your “clips” (published pieces) and your reputation as a published travel writer. Start out locally, for your community newspaper, and regional/national publications will soon follow (and pay more!).
6. Write, write and write.
Start writing, every day (even if you’re not on assignment). Write about places in your neighborhood or a weekend trip you’ve taken. Just write. Start your own travel blog and become a well-known freelance writer! You’ll have dozens of articles (or extensive notes) to draw from when you do get an assignment. The more you write, the better you’ll become. Hopefully, by following these steps and practicing perseverance, you can turn your dream into a reality.
Liz Laing is a freelance writer and single mother of four. She has been published in national magazines, including Mothering and in-flights, US Airways and Alaska Airlines. Most recently, she’s been blogging about the “Best of L.A.” for CBS Los Angeles.com and some of the neighborhood Patch outlets. Her work can be viewed on her website www.lizlaing.com.