Being a travel writer is a dream job, right? Sip mai tais poolside at a five-star resort (where you stay for free, of course) while jotting down some notes on yesterday’s zipline adventure and a soothing hot stone massage. All before an epic 10-course meal prepared by one of the best chefs in the world. And the best part is that you get paid to do it!
Yeah… not really. Sure, there are all-expenses-paid trips where writers are invited to hotels, resorts, and restaurants in hopes of receiving favorable press, but that’s only a small part of the story. activity. As a full-time job, freelance travel writing can be a tough, underpaid job that requires a LOT of hustle and bustle. And an even greater ability to deal with not knowing when you’ll get paid next.
So, just in case you’re about to give your opinion and head to Bali with a new Chromebook, we spoke to three travel guide writers to get their insider to understand what the job is. really to like.
The internet has made writing travel/guidebooks more difficult…
Today, anyone with a laptop and a few air miles thinks they’re a travel writer. And they all want a piece of the action. “The internet has revolutionized travel writing by opening it up to everyone with a cute photo or thought to share,” says Joshua Berman, freelance writer and author of four guidebooks. As a result, publishers (especially of guides) want writers to contribute a ridiculous amount of content to rival all the crowdsourced material online.
…and the salary even worse
Let’s just say you’re not going there to get rich. The sheer number of people who want to be travel writers and are willing to write for free has simply destroyed the business economy and turned them grossly in favor of publishing.
Obviously, how much you make depends on the type of writing you do, as well as the outlet, but for guides, you can make as little as $4,000. FOR THE WHOLE BOOK (!!) – and that includes your travel, expenses and research time. Smaller lists or columns can pay around $100 a pop, while magazine articles these days command less than a dollar a word.
“Professional travel writers don’t take on assignments because they like to travel,” says Berman. “They take assignments because it’s their job.”
Trips are rarely preceded by publications…
These days, it’s rare for publications to pay a writer’s fee. That’s why so many accept deals and press trips that are often offered by resorts, public relations firms, or state or country tourism boards. Otherwise, how are they going to rate a 5-star luxury hotel in Bora Bora on a writer’s salary? The key is to accept gifts and discounts WITHOUT letting them influence their subjectivity.
And if it ain’t a press trip, THEY pay for it
Often, writers pay for travel out of their overall income for the article or book, so it’s incumbent on them to spend as little as possible to actually travel.
Travel isn’t really that glamorous
If you’re covering your own expenses, there’s a pretty big gap between the level of luxury you’re reporting and the level you’re traveling at, says guidebook editor and book author Thomas Kohnstamm. Do all travel writers go to hell? “You might write about super cool places, but stay in the worst place in town. And you usually won’t be able to afford the stuff you cover.”
If you take a free press trip, however, it may be free — but it’s a hassle. Your days and activities are usually planned in advance and there is little room for spontaneity. And nights are often spent organizing your notes or working on other articles.
In fact, it’s nothing like being on vacation
Unless you spend eight hours at a desk when you go to the beach. Sure, you might be reporting from a fancy restaurant in Rio, but even if you eat there (and often you don’t), you keep taking notes, looking up phone numbers, opening hours, prices, etc. “It’s not the same as traveling for pleasure,” says Kohnstamm. “You may have one foot in the world of pleasure, but many more of you are working. It affects your ability to have fun in situations that should be really enjoyable.”
Adds Rolf Potts, author of the books Marco Polo did not go there and Wandering: “The main misconception is that you are on permanent vacation, having fun in distant lands and recounting your experiences. In truth, there are much easier ways to travel without having to take notes, collect stories and checking facts all the time.
He can also feel lonely
Generally, you travel alone. “I feel lonely sometimes,” Potts admits, “but that’s actually a good thing because it forces me to get out and meet more people.”
Travel writers must be hustlers
And not in a Nas or Three-Card-Monte way. It’s about busting your butt much more than writing chops. Most starry-eyed travel writers burn out quickly and find they’re not making money. Or even, that they went into debt for a signing.
These are the scammers who can make ends meet as travel writers, and mostly because they have a strong network of publishers they write for and are connected to various travel boards. Turning a one-week paid trip to Tahiti into ELEVEN different stories for as many outlets is how you do it as a freelance travel writer.
And even then, making ends meet is hard
Basically, you take article after article. And even then, that may not be enough. Many travel writers work second jobs, says Potts, who still teaches to help pay the bills. “There are easier ways to take a vacation,” he adds, “Travel writing needs to become a way of life.”
Sophie Claire Hoeller is the associate travel writer for Thrillist, and is convinced she did something wrong in a past life that cursed her to always fly within three rows of a screaming child. Follow her on Twitter @Sohostyle