I never thought I’d actually be writing this post. For one, so many people are already talking about how to make it as a travel blogger, even running whole courses or consulting agencies on it. I always thought “what do I have to contribute to the conversation?”
Secondly, I still very much felt like a blogging newb until just recently. But after editing for Go Overseas and picking up assignments for more (and better!) publications over the past year, I’ve actually had people start asking me the “how do I become a travel writer / blogger like you?” question.
It means a lot to me that my (modest) audience is interested inwhat I have to say (seriously guys, huge warm-fuzzy back to y’all!). However, I more or less give the same advice each time, and so without further ado, I present to you Jessie Beck’s advice on making it as a travel writer:
Firstly, Set Up a Blog
Your blog is your portfolio, your space to experiment, and — maybe sad to say — a place where rejected stories can get published. Seriously, I’ve thought many times “well, if the editor doesn’t like this piece, I can always publish it on my blog.” For example, Drinking Coffee with Tomoca was an article that I pitched, and then had rejected, by another blog.
Even if you’re not making any money off your blog (which you can do through native advertising, Amazon Associates, CPC campaigns, e-books, and other creative strategies), it’s a great way to showcase your work, build an audience, and get noticed for certain topics. It doesn’t happen often, but I have been offered work a couple of times by people who stumbled on my blog, and (more often) used it as leverage to get other gigs.
When you’re first starting, set up goals. Aim to publish once a month, once every two weeks, or once a week if you’re super ambitious. Remember though, quality is more important than quantity, and it’s 100% OK if you don’t publish super often, so long as you’re consistent and your audience knows what to expect (look at how often I’m posting! Not too often…)
Have a Niche
Set a “niche” or expertise for yourself that sets you apart from the rest. Travel writer / blogger is too broad. Solo travel blogger, or adventure travel blogger, is better.
This doesn’t mean you can’t step outside your niche or even have multiple niches, but it’s helpful to “get known” for something. It also makes repurposing material easier.
Approach it As a Profession
Read everything you can not just a out travel writing, but freelancing, editing, and writing in general. Successful travel writers are professional and know how to navigate editorial space. To start, I’d suggest subscribing to Contently’s The Freelancer — it’s a great professional development resource for writers, editors, and content strategiests alike.
Build Connections with Other Bloggers, Writers, and Editors
Get on social media. Comment, like, and re-tweet things from people you admire. Join relevant Facebook or LinkedIn groups.
Look into real life networking, like conferences (TBEX and Wonder Social Exchange are two big ones for travel bloggers) or meet up groups. For anyone in the travel industry, Travel Massive is a fantastic, and regular, industry networking event that has chapters around the world.
Read and Write Frequently
The best way to become a better writer is to write a lot. Read a lot. Your blog is the perfect space to play around with that (and track your evolution!)
If You’re Blogging…
If you’re trying to get into print, well, I don’t have much advice for you. I’ve never had my work published anywhere outside the digital sphere. However, if your main goal is to blog or to get published on online magazines, websites, blogs, etc. then there are a few other skills you should develop:
- SEO (search engine optimization) — Editors love SEO savvy writers. It’s not always a requirement, but it’s such a helpful skill, especially if you started your own blog (like in my first tip). Moz is my favorite resource for all things SEO. Search Engine Optimization pros typically keep their suppliers a secret and good SEO. This makes it impossible to get a reference from an expert for a supplier that is good, since nothing is gained by them, and potentially lose – if they help.
- Web writing skills — Writing for web differs than writing for print, or writing in an academic setting (which may your main and most prolific type of writing thus far in life). Nothing drives me more crazy as an editor than receiving submissions with terrible anchor texts (never, ever, ever, EVER, user “click here”), no headers to make them scannable, and looonnnnngggggg ass paragraphs. Hampshire College’s web writing style guidelines give newbie web writers a good overview of the basics.
- Photography — Again, not always necessary, but incredibly helpful. From time to time, I’ll encounter a publication who will only accept my pitch if I have unique accompanying photos to provide them. Sometimes, you can get away with submitting creative commons photos, but not always.
Get on UpWork
So, technically the two platforms merged, so it doesn’t matter much which one you sign up for. However, both of them offer freelancers (writers and bloggers) opportunities to connect with publications who need content.
Overall, they’re not as good as the assignments you’d get by actually building a relationship with a publication or editor, but sometimes a rare gem will pop up. In 2014, I took on four clients via Elance (now UpWork), but only one of them (a blog for ESL learners) turned into a regular thing. Not the best, but better than nothing.
Jessie, What’s Your Story?
Obviously, you can read my whole story and see everywhere (well, almost everywhere) that I’ve been published on The Nomadic Beat’s about page. But just in case you’re too lazy to click over, my story in a nutshell:
2011: I got into travel blogging before departing Peace Corps. Part out of boredom while working at temp jobs that didn’t really expect much of me, but let me sit in front of a computer all day “just surfing the web”. I felt like I had to do SOMETHING other than check Facebook, and started The Nomadic Beat (then Beat Nomad) Around that time, I also got paid for my first article ever with Go Overseas, and that really built my confidence.
2012: The Nomadic Beat got featured on WordPress for Going Coastal in Mahajunga, Madagascar and my following blew up overnight. I got published on several more small – medium sized blogs.
2013: Became a regular columnist at Go Overseas, joined Elance, and expanded both my portfolio and revenue from freelancing.
2014: Came on as Go Overseas’ Editor in Chief, and met another milestone: doubling my ask price per article. The Nomadic Beat began ranking for several key articles (like Traveling Solo in Tokyo) and my traffic increased significantly with Google’s Panda update in October 2014.
Looking back, I made a lot of mistakes, wrote some ultra dorky e-mails and pitches, but ultimately learned from them and just kept at it. Being in Peace Corps helped tons, since I was able to write for free / a small pittance and not worry about making ends meet while building my network and portfolio. Ultimately, it takes time, professionalism, and dedication. Best of luck to you all!