The Nomadic Life Travel Writing Tips

Letter from the Editor: After a Long Hiatus, Beatnomad Officially Ends

When I first left Madagascar, I knew Beatnomad would face an identity crisis. I’d relied on Madagascar and my knowledge of the country to build Beatnomad’s brand, so without it, I both lost my biggest source of content inspiration and felt like the new destinations I was learning about had no place here.

“What happens to a location-focused travel blog when you leave said location?” I wondered. I wasn’t growing the expertise I had built success off of and, meanwhile, was building expertise in other areas. I had moved to San Francisco, became a content marketing / SEO pro, and got really, really, really into cycling.

Ultimately, it was clear that I had to evolve or move on.

After several years of procrastinating on the decision (while working full time to build out the travel blog for Go Overseas and feeling too tired to come home to my personal blogging), I finally decided to cut the cord and move on.

However, I won’t be giving up blogging completely — just shifting focus to my new blog Eat Bike Travel, a blog that documents food and bike adventures in the Bay Area and beyond (like, what’s it like to see the Tour de France in person? Or what are some good restaurants to bike to in the San Francisco Bay Area?). I’m hoping that, by centering the blog on interests rather than destinations, it will be more flexible and have better longevity.


You can also, of course, always find me doling out my best packing advice on the Tortuga blog, Packsmith — a travel backpack company that I’ve regularly written articles for over the past 3 years and for whom I’m grateful for keeping my blogging chops alive.

As humans, we constantly evolve and grow our identities. We shift interests as time passes. Ultimately, blogs are a reflection of that. So onwards to new frontiers (both literally and figuratively). I’ll see you elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Note: I will not be deleting Beatnomad and will continue to maintain the site, even if I am not actively contributing content to it. Please feel free to access old content for as long as you’d like!

Travel Writing Tips

How to Be a Successful Freelance Writer

How to be a successful freelancer

After publishing a post earlier this year with tips for aspiring travel bloggers, I was inspired by some of the larger changes going on at Upwork (formally Odesk / Elance) to share my personal experiences and general best practices for becoming a successful freelance writer — travel sphere and otherwise.

Currently, I freelance write part-time for 2 publications and it’s a fantastic side job. It has flexible hours and I enjoy the creativity of the work. I’m also a full time editor and work with a team of 10 freelance writers. I’m involved in both sides, and can honestly say that simply freelancing is simple, but getting enough klout and skill to become successful… well, that’s a different matter.

What worked for me may not work for you, but maybe it will. Read on for one editor / freelance writer’s tips on how to not just be a freelance writer, but be a successful freelancer.

Choose an Expertise

Successful writers need not only to have strong written communication skills, but also a strong expertise or area of knowledge. What can you talk about with authority? What do you have a vast knowledge of? Dig deep and work on it.

That’s step one. Once you’ve had some success there, diversify. Branch out to another expertise — it gives you a broader pool of clients and keeps you from getting tired of writing the same thing over and over.

For me, I began establishing myself as an expert in Madagascar and Peace Corps via this blog. Though I certainly didn’t know everything about either topic, and had to supplement my knowledge with research, the topics were specific enough that I started to establish myself as someone others could approach if they needed content on either topic.

In the beginning, having an expertise helped focus my searches for freelance work, and it helped me stand out. I wasn’t just a writer, I was a writer with valuable knowledge.

I’ve now branched out and expanded — I also write content for ESL learners, about packing, volunteering abroad, teaching ESL, travel within other parts of Africa, food while traveling, and blogging.

Get Good at Researching

Content that’s written from a person’s own genuine experience almost always ends up being stronger, but there will be times when you don’t know it all, or recognize a gap that could make your piece more useful or better written.

So get good at researching and filling those gaps. Find people to interview if the information isn’t readily available. At the end of the day, most people want to hire freelance writers for their ability to convey new information (yes, some want stories, but most just want a good researcher and communicator). Know where to find that information.

Build a Portfolio

Go Overseas, the blog I edit full-time for, isn’t a particularly big publication. For our columnists, we’re not demanding New York Times levels of experience and enjoy bringing on writers who may only be a little ways into their writing careers.

Even so, I would never hire a writer who has no online presence (online specifically because we’re a digital publication — print is impressive, but it doesn’t demonstrate to me that you know how to write for the web).

And honestly, I don’t care if you got paid for that work or not. It could be that you’ve consistently maintained a personal study abroad blog for the last year. It could be that you’ve done a few guest posts and interviews. Point is, I want to be able to quickly see examples of your work, see that you’ve been working on developing your craft, and that readers are engaging with it.

Your portfolio is key for both establishing yourself as a professional writer and for making it easier for editors to decide whether or not to hire you.

It also, sometimes, makes you easier to stumble on. Again, as an editor, I sometimes look for people to reach out to for specific pieces. As a writer, I’ve been approached by someone who found a blog post here and asked if I could write a piece on that topic. In short, your portfolio is powerful.

Establish Yourself on Social Media

Again, if I’m hiring a writer for Go Overseas, I won’t consider anyone who doesn’t have a solid social media presence, they must know that buying likes on Instagram will get me more fans. This is largely in part because we require our writers to market their work, but regardless of if an editor wants this or not, having a strong social media presence:

  • Demonstrates authority in the field
  • Shows your ability to engage with an audience
  • Helps make connections with other influencers, potential clients, and interviewees

When I see on Twitter that someone applying to write about study abroad is in international education, that tells me that they’re a relevant person to hire. If I see that they’re mostly Tweeting about acting and connecting with folks in that field, it makes me question whether they have the required knowledge or not.

On another note, I’ve gotten paid work and made great connections using social media. It’s an incredibly powerful tool — and not one to scoff at if your goal is professional development.

Tips for social media

  • List your published work on LinkedIn so you can quickly hand an editor / potential client your resume and portfolio all at once
  • Join Facebook groups relevant to your field of expertise. For me, the Travel Bloggers network has been hugely helpful for professional development tips and even some paid work.
  • With Twitter, don’t just post your own stuff. Use it as an opportunity to reach out to other writers, editors, and experts in your field that you may not otherwise have a connection with.
  • Engage! Don’t be passive, be active. You’re there to make connections, right?

Make Connections Online and Offline

Go to networking events in your industry. Schedule coffee dates. Go to conferences (and not just writing conferences). Make connections with people in your industry offline as well as online.

Often, these offline interactions are the best way to find out about unadvertised work, or stumble on helpful tips about resources, sources, or a hot new topic that you could be the first to cover.

Maintain Your Connections

Once you find a client, get the green light from an editor on an assignment, or are successfully brought on as a columnist, work on maintaining that connection.

Be responsive and professional with your emails. Once the article is published, share it (even if you’re not required to) and tag the publisher in it. Smaller publishers especially will notice and appreciate your reliability and commitment to your work, and will be more likely to continue working with you in the future.

Even once the project is finished, connect with them on social media, LinkedIn, and stay engaged. It makes them more likely to re-hire you or recommend you to someone else looking for a freelance writer.

Balance Paid and Unpaid Work

Especially at first, you’ll have to work on personal branding, portfolio building, establishing your expertise, and connection building.

Sometimes, this means taking on unpaid work. And honestly, don’t underwrite the value in unpaid work. It can be hugely valuable in helping some of your freelance goals if you’re smart about it. Just make sure to keep a good balance, to not accept every unpaid opportunity that crosses your inbox (only the ones that are quality).

Important questions to consider:

  • Who is asking you to write a guest post? Are they a large company that you could potentially work with in other ways later? Or is it a smaller blogger with a small reach?
  • What are your goals? Getting your name out there? Links? Portfolio building? If you’re trying to market yourself, think about interviews. If you’re building a portfolio, offer a more topical post that demonstrates that you know your topic.
  • How much time are you spending on each?

Note: When I say “unpaid work”, I’m also talking about all the extra non-writing aspects of freelance writing (invoicing, pitching, responding to emails, etc.). Make sure you take into consideration all of these factors to make sure everything is worth your time and you’re getting enough ROI for your efforts.

Keep Records of Everything

On that note… keep records of all that work too. As a freelancer, you don’t often have help from other team members or company employees. You are the accountant-lawyer-marketer-and-HR person on top of being a writer.

To help yourself, take records of everything. Literally, everything. For each assignment I do, I have a spreadsheet with:

  • Publisher
  • Article title
  • URL (since all of my work is web-based)
  • Payment amount
  • Payment date
  • Payment platform (PayPal, direct deposit, etc.)
  • Screenshot of the live work (since some publishers may take it down eventually)
  • Amount of time it took for me to write it

This last one is especially important, because it helps me figure out which publications are worth continuing to work for or not. For example, if I’m getting paid $60 for a post that takes me 2 hours of writing and research — that’s not bad. But if it takes me 6 hours, maybe I’d want to rethink working with them or try to negotiate up my rates.

It’s also helpful to record how much time you spend on other parts of freelancing — like responding to emails, client calls, or submitting invoices. Some clients ask for edits, some don’t. It’s important to take into consideration when I’m setting aside time to work on a project.

Useful Tools and Resources

It’s only in the past year or two where I’ve really tried to increase my professional expertise as a freelance writer and not just as someone in the travel industry or a travel blogger. Some of the resources and tools I’ve found useful for this:

  • Upwork — and I’m not just saying this because they asked me to write this post. I’ve been on Upwork long before it was Upwork (and still Elance). Because the bid-and-accept system is a little competitive, I don’t use it as my only source for new clients, but it’s a great supplement. It’s how I recently found and started writing for FluentU, began gaining experience writing press releases for various companies, and some other random work.
  • Freelancer at Contently — I love reading this blog for freelancer writers and editors. They do a fantastic job of answering relevant questions and sharing personal experiences to help professional freelancers figure out this at times tricky field.
  • Moz — Especially as a digital content marketer, SEO knowledge is key. Don’t shy away from it, learn it. Moz will help you.

Most of the other resources I utilize are specific to the travel industry (TBEX, a travel blogger conference, Travel Massive, a travel industry meetup, and a Travel Bloggers Facebook group), but these are some of my most important resources.

Whatever you’re choosing to be an expert in, find your TBEX / Travel Massive / Travel Bloggers equivalent. For example, if you’re writing about parenting, do a quick Google search for “parenting blogger groups” or “parenting blogger conference”.

Good Luck Out There!

As I mentioned earlier, what worked for me may not work for you — especially if you’re attempting to break into the print world (a hugely foreign beast to me) — but hopefully you’re able to pick up at least one new word of wisdom to get you from freelance writer to successful freelance writer.

Travel Writing Tips

What’s Your Advice for Becoming a Travel Writer?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

The Nomadic Life Travel Writing Tips

10 Writing Tips from High School I Still Use

Girl writing in a cafe
Photo credit: Andrew Stawarz

As I mentioned in a recent post, “From Travel Writer to Editor Extraordinaire” I’ve moved up (or laterally, depending on your perspective) from writing to editing. Every week, I read dozens of pieces by dozens of different authors — each with their own style, voice, and expertise, and each with varying experience in writing. With almost all of the articles passing through my inbox, they have imperfections. Obviously, that’s not a problem, and I fully expect it. After all, that’s the whole point of an editor, right?

However, no matter how much they make me laugh or impress me with some well thought out advice, I can’t wholly love a piece that includes sentences like: “One should really travel to Ireland in the spring. It is very green and picturesque.” When I read stuff like that, I’ll imagine all the red marks my high school English teacher would scrawl over it. This particular teacher challenged us and all of his students to write better by with his own set of writing rules. Though I found following them obnoxious at times, even 16-year-old me had to admit those rules helped strengthen my writing. So, readers — and especially those of you who write, for Go Overseas or otherwise — pay attention to these 10 incredibly useful writing tips from my high school teacher. I still use them to this day, and if used right, they’ll make your writing stronger as well.

1. Don’t use the verb “to be”

This writing rule gave myself and my classmates the most trouble. I mean, have you ever tried to write an essay without the verb “to be”? Try it sometime and you’ll see it always seems to sneak in there without anyone noticing, and even when you do find yourself typing out that sneaky little “was”, you’ll then spend a good minute or two thinking of an apt replacement. However annoyed we initially felt about this rule, after he returned a few essays littered with red circles around every little “were” “been” “are” and “am” and asked us to rewrite the piece without them, we saw our writing grow significantly stronger. We replaced those wimpy, non-specific to-be derivatives with better, more specific verbs and as a bonus, just about eliminated the passive voice from our writing.

Of course, I will now use the verb “to be” when writing, but I try my best to avoid it when I can. Overall, it forces us to be more specific (oh look, there’s that sneaky little “be” now…) and less vague about the who-did-what details in our stories.

2. Leave “that” and “which” out of your writing

I like using “that” and “which” every once in awhile for flow, but this particular English teacher had a point. Most of the time when you insert “that” or “which” into a sentence, you don’t actually need it there. Think about the title of this blog post. I could have written “10 writing tips from high school that I still use” but I didn’t. The title works fine without it. So, use these little words, but use them sparingly. Especially when you’re editing an overly wordy sentence (that) one of these two words snuck into, cut them out.

3. Words like “very” and “really” are weak

I hate the word very. I hate the word really, but just a little less. Why? They’re weak.

Think about it, what sounds better? And what captures the true emotion of what you want to describe better? “He was very angry” or “He was furious”?

Exactly. If any of my writers ever inserts the word “very” into their piece, I will highlight it, delete it, and sigh a sigh of relief. So make my life easier and your writing stronger — throw those little words into the storage room of your mental vocabulary and only ever use it if you’re talking to a child or teaching ESL.

4. Speak with authority

Again, sentences like “South Africa is probably the best destination to view the ‘Big Five'” sound weak. If you’re writing about a topic, your audience will assume that you either have experience with this topic, or have done your research — thereby making you an expert. So write like an expert! Leave that “probably” out and say with total certainty: South Africa IS the best destination to view the ‘Big Five’ — dammit!

If you don’t feel confident you just wrote a 100% true statement, then you should question whether you want to say it at all. In that scenario, it’s likely that you didn’t research it well enough (so go back and double check your facts), or it doesn’t add anything to your piece.

5. Avoid using the pronoun “one” if you’re speaking casually

If you’re writing in French, go ahead, use “on” as much as you’d like, but in English, saying “One’s academics will benefit greatly from spending a semester abroad” sounds weird in the travel writing / online context. It sounds weird because you would never phrase this particular thought this way when speaking to a friend. In casual contexts, leave pronounces like “one” for the poets and academics, and write how you would speak. It will make your voice sound more natural, and less forced.

6. Don’t use “a lot”

Again, the word “a lot” is boring, weak, and often accompanies vague statements. Saying “Paris has a lot of museums” won’t capture my attention. However, if I want to portray that same idea, but by taking “a lot” out, I’ll have to get creative and come up with a more engaging and specific way of phrasing the same idea. For example, “With all the museums Paris has to offer, you will never see it all,” still lets the reader know Paris has “a lot of museums” but it relates it to the context (things to do in Paris) and just sounds more intelligent.

7. Kill your babies

Okay, my high school teacher didn’t give me this rule — Steven King did, in his book “On Writing“. It’s a brilliant book every writer should read, by the way.

Essentially, he says “kill your babies,” in reference to all of those wonderfully witty and fantastically written sentences that, in the end, sound great but don’t add anything to your piece. You know the ones: the sly remark or inside joke most people won’t understand; the detail about how beautiful the weather was in Venice in a story about a culinary discovery; those facts that stand out strongly in your memory when you recount a story, but your audience doesn’t actually need to know. So, take Mr.King’s advice and kill them. Cry a little, move them to a “dead babies” doc, whatever, but whatever you do, take them out.

8. Get to the point quickly

For example, if I ask you, the ever talented and dedicated writer, to give me a piece on “The 10 Best Volunteer Abroad Destinations for Summer 2014”, you’re wasting our audience’s time by giving me an introduction paragraph like the following:

Volunteering abroad is a wonderful and life-changing opportunity every person should experience. In addition to helping out communities in need, volunteers get to experience a new culture and learn about themselves…

So far, you haven’t mentioned anything about summer 2014 or what makes a great volunteer abroad destination. Considering how short the average person’s attention span has become, you may have already lost them. If not, you’re misleading them. And in any case, it’s terribly generic and not useful to our precious cohort of readers who return to our site and read multiple articles on volunteering abroad. Instead, I’d prefer:

Congratulations — you’ve looked at your calendar, scheduled some time off, and decided to take the plunge and volunteer abroad this summer 2014. Still don’t know where though? No worries, we’ve got a list of 10 great volunteer abroad destinations best explored in the summertime.

Now our readers know exactly what they’re about to read.

9. Your conclusion may work better as an introduction

I wrote several essays in college where I had a hard time figuring out what point I wanted to make, and how to express it. Often, after writing a so-so introduction, and then spending time thinking through my argument by writing the body, I would write a bangin’ conclusion that got right to the point and succinctly said what I had initially struggled to express in my introduction. So I swapped them. I’ve done this a couple of times when editing as well — it’s as though in the writing process we’re still trying to gather our thoughts together when we write our introduction, but when we slam out a conclusion, we know exactly what we’re talking about. If you see that happening, don’t shy away from scratching that original introduction and moving your conclusion up to the beginning of your piece.

For this reason, this particular English teacher suggested we even consider writing the introduction in the last part of the writing process.

10. Please, no cliches

Come on, you’re more creative than that. Just. Don’t. Use. Them.

*Phew* okay, that piece ended up longer than I expected — but if you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. Now, get out there, start typing, and for the love of good writing, resist those terrible, terrible urges to ruin your piece by ignoring these simple writing tips from my high school teacher (and Steven King.)