Ah, to live the romantic life of a travel writer—galavanting around the globe, notebook in one hand and an exotic cocktail in the other. On paper (or at least on Instagram), it really does seem like living the dream.
But any seasoned professional will tell you there’s more to the story than what you see on social media. Travel writing is competitive, and landing those all-expense-paid gigs takes skill, practice, and a healthy dose of patience. It’s also a good idea to set aside some savings before you swap your desktop for a laptop and book that first flight—a travel writer’s salary is notoriously low, at least for those first starting out.
That said, a few trends suggest this career path may be becoming more realistic for more people. With remote work, freelancing, and digital nomadism on the rise, many professionals are now taking their roles on the road. If you’re already comfortable working while traveling and you’ve got some basic creative writing, journalism, or copywriting skills under your belt, you’re already on your way toward becoming a travel writer.
Here’s a primer on the skills you’ll need, the types of writing to explore, and how to land your first byline.
What Is a Travel Writer?
The travel writer job description is pretty self-explanatory: Travel writers tell stories about destinations they visit (or sometimes, even ones they’ve never been to) in order to showcase a specific locale.
What Does a Travel Writer Do?
Travel writers submit pieces for publication in magazines, blogs, travel brands’ websites, newsletters, and other print or digital outlets. They may pen feature stories, first-person articles, blog posts, listicles, itineraries, or contribute to ongoing columns. A more experienced travel writer may dabble in nonfiction books, novels, travel guides, or even launching their own publication.
But “making it” as a travel writer is about more than technical writing chops. To become a travel writer, you need to be able to tell compelling stories that showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly about a destination. Then, you need to be able to sell your stories to media outlets or brands.
How to Become a Travel Writer
Here are just a few of the skills you’ll want to nail to become a travel writer.
Learn to Write Real Good and Stuff
Taking a basic course on journalism or storytelling can be helpful background for getting started. You’ll also want to have a firm grasp on grammar, how to craft a narrative arc and compelling characters, and how to adapt your tone of voice for different styles of writing. Finally, an eloquent vocabulary is a prerequisite for any writing-related career, but especially for the flowery language of travel.
Nail the Industry Jargon
Familiarize yourself with AP Style and the Chicago Manual of Style; different outlets may also have their own style guides, so be sure to read plenty of previously published work on a site before sending in a story submission. You may also want to spend some time learning the jargon of journalism—for instance, a lead (or “lede”) means the opening line of an article, and “pitching” means sending ideas to an editor for consideration.
Speaking of which, another key part of travel writing—and any writing, really—is the ability to pitch. This may involve cold-emailing editors, or it may consist of filling out a story submission form online. Building relationships with editors via networking events or in online forums may also give you a foot in the door.
Master the Art of Interviewing
Many travel writers will interview locals or other experts in order to make their stories stronger. Like anything else, interviewing is a skill, and it takes time and practice to be able to conduct an interview, quote sources fairly and accurately, and weave source insights into a piece in a seamless way.
Dabble in Multimedia, SEO, and Social Media
The larger umbrella of “travel writing” might also involve a basic understanding of multimedia elements like digital photography and perhaps even some basic videography skills. At the very least, you should be prepared to pair stock images with copy in order to help readers visualize a scene.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is another useful thing to have a grip on as a travel writer. Publications may ask you to incorporate keywords in order to improve their SEO rankings and boost readership, so you’ll at least want to know the basics of SEO writing before getting started.
Finally, if you plan to create your own travel publication or blog, you may want to explore the art of social media copywriting/marketing. Many travel writers have a robust following on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter—and all of these outlets may be places to network or get noticed by a prominent editor or brand.
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Travel Writer Jobs/Career Path
There’s not a set list of skills that’s uniform to every travel writer job description—they vary from publication to publication, and even from project to project.
How to Get a Job as a Travel Writer
Before you land those first-class assignments, you’ll need to start where most writers start—at the bottom rung of the ladder, way back in economy. This may mean interning at a publication, scoring an entry-level gig like a fact-checker or editorial assistant, or slowly but surely building up a portfolio of freelance projects.
Aside from the hard skills we’ve already covered, you’ll also want to hone some soft skills to land a job as a travel writer. For example, strong communication will help you collaborate with editors, problem-solving prowess can help you get published and design your personal brand, and adaptability will help you handle all the road bumps along the way. Lastly, a can-do attitude—including a willingness to withstand rejection (sometimes, a lot of it)—are a must in any competitive career.
Travel Writer Salary
GlassDoor lists the median travel writer salary at around $55,000 per year in the United States, but the truth is that for many, the lifestyle is the primary payoff. Freelance travel writing is so saturated that many publications pay a pittance for submissions ($150 or so, before taxes), and some may not even offer payment at all.
But like anything, you get what you put into it. Joining a travel writers’ association may be one way to find work that pays competitively. And once you’ve established yourself as a coveted byline—or built a readership that attracts lots of eyeballs (and advertisers)—there may be an opportunity to make as much as six figures.
What Kind of Publications Can You Write For?
There is no shortage of places where you can publish travel writing online, from established media companies to DIY blogs on sites like Medium.
Building a full-time career as a travel writer takes both hard skills (like writing and photography) and soft skills (like dedication and perseverance).
Print Magazines and Books
Aside from the major players—Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, AFAR, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc.—there are a number of smaller, more niche publications that accept periodic freelance submissions. Getting printed in a few different airline magazines, for instance, may be one way to scaffold your way up to a coveted Nat Geo byline. If you’re unsure how to reach a specific outlet, simply Google, “How to pitch [publication].” Often, a site’s FAQ section will provide an email address for pitches.
Digital Publications and Blogs
Atlas Obscura and Culture Trip are two digital-only publications that accept user-submitted stories, although the selection process is still heavily vetted. You can also launch your own travel blog as a way to start publishing without having to pitch—experiment with a few different formats like first-person accounts; practical, utility pieces that offer readers a “how to” perspective; travel itinerary suggestions; and of course, those love-to-hate-them listicles.
Many brands today have their own proprietary blogs or content hubs where they publish bylined or ghostwritten stories. Think about the brands that you use when you travel—your favorite suitcase, travel pillow, etc. Check the company’s “jobs” page to see if they’re hiring writers or editors, or cold pitch them via email or on LinkedIn. Offering reviews, affiliate links, and brand partnerships are also ways that independent travel bloggers make revenue.
Take Your Travel Writer Career on the Road!
What do travel writers do, exactly? They travel, of course, and they write. However, the lifestyle is about much more than that. It involves a good deal of real, genuine work.
Still considering a career as a travel writer? Just as no two people experience a destination in the same way, no two travel writers’ career paths look the same. But if the road is beckoning, don’t be afraid of a few twists and turns. Becoming a travel writer may require some patience and perseverance. But, if you can break in and make a name for yourself, the payoff is sweet.
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How to Get Started as a Travel Writer