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6 Tips to Break Into Freelance Travel Writing.

travel writing tips

As a child, I always dreamt of being a writer. While my friends fantasized about being astronauts and detectives, I wished I could weave stories that would give wings to the imaginations of those who read them. I wrote often, but mostly for myself or on the many blogs I started before this one. It was only after I quit my job and moved back to India in 2011 that the dream of seeing my words in print revisited me.

At that point, I only knew that I wanted to write for travel magazines and newspapers; it wasn’t about the money, and I wasn’t looking at options for bank accounts to calculate my earnings from travel writing. I had no contacts in the publishing industry, knew no editors personally, and had no friends who were freelance travel writers. I was starting with a blank slate.

Fast forward almost two years, and my travel stories have appeared on BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, National Geographic Traveller, and India’s top three dailies. I’m a Forbes Travel Guide Correspondent for Delhi and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post. And here are 6 things that worked for me:

1)   Start small.

In the first few months, I primarily wrote online, and for anyone and everyone who accepted my pitch; it didn’t matter if they paid me or if it was a well-known publication. It helped me build both, my portfolio and my confidence. And when I was finally ready to pitch to bigger publications, I had enough writing samples to share, and the heart to accept rejections.

So don’t go after the big fish right away. Experiment with the smaller ones, perfect your style of pitching, build a rapport with editors who are more open to newbies, and gradually build your writing portfolio.

travel writing tips, how to be a travel writer

It’s okay to be a small bird in the big forest at first.

2)   Know who you’re writing for.

I’ll be lying if I said I read every publication from cover to cover before I pitched for it, or that I’m not guilty of sending irrelevant pitches in my early days as a travel writer. It was only when I began receiving pitches for guest posts on my travel blog that I realized how important it was to demonstrate that you understand the publication, the kind of stories it carries, and its target audience.

So while its exciting to email your story ideas soon as you think of them, take the time to see if it matches the nature of the publication you’re pitching to, and if something similar has already been covered in the recent past.

how to become a travel writer, freelance travel writing

A story on offbeat travel is likely to be more relevant for Nat Geo than say, a luxury travel magazine.

3)   Offer something different.

While a lot of tips on how to become a freelance travel writer focus on crafting a good pitch, I’ve found that what mattered more was offering a good story. My niche was travelogues from roads less travelled, and it occurred to me quite naturally, because that’s the kind of traveling I enjoy most. My story ideas sprang from my travels; I undertook none to specifically look for a story, and that’s how it should be in both travel blogging and freelance writing – ask yourself if you would seek a certain travel experience even if you were never to write about it.

If you’re a good writer, surely you can condense your story idea into a paragraph or two. And if editors like your pitch, they can always ask you questions about it. What everyone’s after is a unique storyline, and if you can offer one that hasn’t been done to death, you’ve won half the battle.

travel writing tips, how to become a travel writer

Having an uncommon niche can make you stand out and grow faster.

4)   Build your online presence.

Gone are the days when freelancing was a one-way game. I’ve been contacted by editors several times for stories from places I’ve travelled in, and that’s not because I actively update them each time I travel. It’s because I’m extremely active online, and if you read my blog or follow me on any of my social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), you’ll know not only where I’m travelling, but also what I’ve been writing about, places I’ve been published, and my progression as a writer. In a world where thousands of people are vying that freelance writing assignment, your online profile is what differentiates you and adds to your credibility.

Starting a travel blog (Read: Tips on How to Start a Travel Blog) is an excellent way of building a professional presence, brushing up your writing and photography skills, seeking feedback, and collecting your writing samples. Facebook and Twitter are the best channels for networking with fellow bloggers, freelance writers, and potential editors.

freelance travel writing, how to be a travel writer

Stay connected online to spread your reach among editors and fellow writers.

5)   Find and follow up with the right editors.

Obvious as this might sound, a large part of the battle is finding the right editor to pitch your story. I’ve spent hours, days even, waiting for editors to reply, only to realize that to excel in this field, following up is crucial. If you’re confident that your pitch is both relevant and interesting to the publication you’re pitching, pick up the phone and try to connect with the editor, tap your social networks to build a rapport with the editor over Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, and send a couple of gentle reminders over email a week apart. If none of that works, you may as well assume that your pitch wasn’t good enough and start from scratch.

travel writing examples, how to be a travel writer

Editors are busy people. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them via an unconventional gate online.

6)   Know when to stop working for free.

This is a major milestone in the life of a freelance travel writer, and one that I have to confess I’m still struggling with. This is the moment when you tell yourself that no matter how well known the publication or who’s asking for the favour, you will not work for free. After freelancing for two years and building what I think is a pretty solid writing portfolio, I am still asked for free content (with some even shamelessly stating how big a marketing budget they have to promote it!). I found a great deal of inspiration at TBEX and in Mridu Khullar’s blog, and have slowly started to realize that if I don’t value my work, I can’t expect anyone else to.

It’s okay to accept unpaid assignments to build your portfolio, traffic, following, credibility and confidence, but once you’ve amassed enough of each, you’ve got to learn to say no.

freelance travel writers India, travel writing tips

Saying no isn’t easy, but it must be done.

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What tips do you have for aspiring travel writers? What is your biggest challenge as a travel writer?

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36 Comments Post a comment
  1. Another wonderful (and practical) post Shivya! I’ve recently found your travel blog and love the freshness of your writing. It’s only in recent years that I’ve started to travel again… and my journeys and Indian Yatras have spontaneously lead me to some amazing places, people and experiences. More and more I’ve been wanting to share these with others. So, thank you for the inspiration :) Look forward to following your travels… Mardi

    June 30, 2013
    • I’m glad I could inspire you to pen your own travel stories :) Looking forward to having you join my travels virtually too!

      July 3, 2013
  2. straight from heart yet its needed in this competitive and cunning world. Art of saying *No* is essential and effective way to grow. Done. *claps*

    June 30, 2013
    • Absolutely. And I suppose it’s something you learn with time.

      July 3, 2013
  3. somnath #

    Very inspiring tips! Thanks!

    June 30, 2013
  4. anishajayadevan #

    Thanks for this, Shivya! Those were some great tips. My friend always says that by doing what you dreamt of doing as kid, you become your own hero. :)

    June 30, 2013
    • Happy you found them useful, Anisha. And I agree with your friend :) Accepting your own self is the first step to that illusive feeling of happiness.

      July 3, 2013
  5. I agree with all your tips. I started my travel blog in August 2012. So far, I have my work published with CLAY, Journey Mart, AFAR and a couple of american online travel magazines. I know I have to be patient in order to see my work in bigger publications. But it’s okay…I aim at honing my skills with each write-up. Thanks again!!!

    June 30, 2013
    • That’s great going, Renuka, and reminds me of the start of my own journey. Hang in there, and I’m sure we’ll read you in bigger publications soon :)

      July 3, 2013
  6. This is a very helpful post. I have a few questions:
    How long do magazines like ‘The national geographic and ‘Wanderlust’ take to pay their writers?
    Any reliable website where travel jobs are posted?

    Thanks a lot.

    June 30, 2013
    • Glad you found it helpful, Ankita. The payment period and process varies with each publication. I’ve written for some online ones that need offline receipts mailed to them to process payment! I love the ones that pay promptly and via Paypal, but those are few in number. It’s best to ask the editor about the process and time frame.

      I don’t know of any websites as such that list travel jobs. Twitter again is a great channel for it.

      July 3, 2013
  7. Good One Buddy!!

    July 1, 2013
  8. Inspiring article

    July 1, 2013
  9. Every suggestion stands true and helpful. Thank you! :)

    July 2, 2013
    • Glad you found it valuable, Gayatri :)

      July 3, 2013
  10. It’s incredible that when something is on your mind is can spring up anywhere.
    I’m currently sitting at work at 3am on a night shift wishing I could quit this and focus full time on my blog and writing about travel. It’s great to hear from someone who has done just that! Loved reading this.

    July 4, 2013
  11. Anu #

    I have often wondered what to do, and where to start, especially when it comes to Travel writing. I’m still a novice working on my online presence and trying to write more often on my own blog. Sure your tips will be of great help to people like me who aspire to become writers..

    July 8, 2013
  12. Even I love travel writing but I am a novice too and havent written too many articles. Thanks for these tips.

    July 12, 2013
  13. Lovely blog great insights….guess its time to get started!

    July 22, 2013
  14. These are great tips Shivya, especially for someone who is still building their portfolio. Keep ‘em coming :)

    July 24, 2013
  15. This is absolutely brilliant Shivya! Mainly since I plan on becoming a travel writer myself. I was confused about how to start, where to start.. Your write up has given me a direction! Thanks a ton! Hopefully I succeed in my endeavor, I ll surely treat ya.. :)

    July 24, 2013
  16. Thanks so much for sharing these practical and inspiring tips!

    August 29, 2013
  17. A well crafted article to inspire budding travel writers

    December 30, 2013
  18. Hi Shivya,

    So young and yet so accomplished! Thank you very much for taking the time to share with us your wealth of experience and your successes. I’m looking forward to reading all your wonderful adventures.

    January 15, 2014
  19. Katherine #

    This is EXACTLY what I’ve been searching for! I have to thank you for putting this up for people, like me, to read!
    I’m not exactly an amazing writer, at least in the grammatical and structural sense of writing. I tend to write in reflection of how I speak, so there are either too many commas because I add them where ever I pause, or there are not enough commas because I *know* I put them in without need so I force myself to keep them out, even if they actually do belong in the sentence…*that* time.
    Anyway, I am so happy to have found this because over time I’ve now become very interested in doing some form of freelance writing. I’m fairly young, still in high school actually, but because of my literature teacher having us go over our PSAT test results and working more in-depth on our College Board accounts, the idea of actually going out to do freelance writing came relatively recently. I lived in Stuttgart, Germany for three years and while in Europe I was lucky enough to travel around into nearby cities/countries. Italy was where I frequented the most with me having had three week-long vacations there; Rome, Parma and Gaeta, and then Florence. I was at the perfect age to have these experiences as I was leaving middle school and entering high school. I can’t even begin to give justice to how much I enjoyed visiting the old palaces in England, the Saturday markets in downtown Stuttgart, and the beaches at Gaeta. While in Europe I also managed to learn a lot about the different cultures and different tricks and tips to a better spent vacation…
    One; while you can *normally* trust cab drivers in Germany more than in say, New York City, more times than not you are better off paying for a cheaper, all-day public transportation pass. In general European public transportation is a lot cleaner, more reliable, and a lot easier to use to get to ‘hot spots’ out in town.
    Two; those who live and work in countries that speak in languages you aren’t familiar with or know how to speak tend to respect you a whole hell of a lot more when you attempt to talk to them in their native language rather than just immediately slipping into English. Even if you end up saying “That neck looks eighteen” instead of “That necklace looks beautiful” while shopping in a boutique they will just smile or chuckle good naturedly and help you to say what you meant to say the correct way, all the while being somewhat more relaxed and kind as they attend to your shopping needs.
    Three; if you’re going to go to a foreign country to experience their culture, then EXPERIENCE it! Make sure you’ve got your phone fully charged and/or full of data, snag a couple of carry-with-you maps from the tourist stands, and get walking down the streets less traveled on! Go visit some of the smaller, less tourist-filled markets or festivals or just go to a less crowded restaurant and eat next to the locals who regular there. After all; there are already a lot of people who can say they went to the Hard Rock Café in Rome, but how many people can say they ate at a small Pizzeria tucked away within the crooked streets where they had hot chocolate that made them rethink everything they ever thought they knew about chocolate and had a long conversation about local history with an *actual* local?
    Finally, four; when your vacation is finally winding to an end try to avoid buying mementos that every other tourist who has ever stepped foot in that country would have bought. This means putting back the over priced T-Shirts with the name of the city/country on the chest, the magnets, the key chains, etc…etc.
    If I could spend my time taking short little trips or go bouncing around Europe to re-visit some of my favorite historical sights, or go to see some new hidden pleasures in another country, and then get the chance to write about it and explain the wonders of these cultures as well as some tips and tricks to travelers or to the merely curious, then I would be in heaven!
    The only thing better than that, in my opinion, was if there was a job where all I do is sit and read and debate/discuss with people the finer points of social order and politics of a fictional world, like say, Harry Potter or Vampire Academy.
    Anyway, sorry that I’ve written probably the longest and most tedious comment ever. Thank you for putting up these wonderfully helpful and honest tips and advice for people like me to read! :)

    January 24, 2014
  20. Lovely pics and Great post. I really love the way you present your self. Thanks for inspiration.

    March 13, 2014
  21. Shruti #

    Hi! I am a traveler and have been writing a travel journal since last ten years. I love to discover the undiscovered and share them with friends and family. I have always wanted to be a travel writer, but didn’t know how to. Your article has been a lot of help. Though I am a journalist and a public relations professional, i had very limited idea of as to how to begin my journey as a travel writer. Thanks for sharing such important tips.

    March 26, 2014
  22. hi shivya…i come from a business family with all the baggage that comes with it and more….im 29 years old…ive been feeling rusty about being in the business with a VERY VERY dominant heirarchy above me and been thinking about breaking away and doing something ive always been fond of doing…travelling. Ofcourse only travelling dosent pay bills and ive been seeing your posts on twitter for a while now…do u think its a good idea to break away at this age?? (i know im not that old but i hope u know wt im saying) id love to discuss this with someone who’s been through the mental impasse im at…im mentioning below my company website just to show you what im doing right now

    my email is zzbarafwala@gmail.com

    id love to hear from you and gain some insight.
    thanks

    May 23, 2014
  23. Swastik Chakraborty #

    Hello Shivya… such a great personality you are..
    I’m student(21) from Kolkata..
    always dream to travel like you r doing… But not interested in Writing.. that is why I dont think I can do anything in Travel Writing field..
    I love PhotoJournalism.. but can’t go for it bcoz of my bad economy…
    What can I do now??????????????? plzzzzzz suggest me……

    November 1, 2014

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