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Freelance Travel Writing: How to get started

February 6, 2011 · 19 comments

It’s the hardest thing. You look at other writers in papers and magazines, and you think, “Okay, I could do that. But how?”

Kicking off your career as a travel writer is a slog, no doubt about it. And there’s no easy way around it. It sounds glib, but it really is going to take hard work, a bit of talent, and about 100 times that amount of luck.

I got my start in journalism up in Brisbane, working as a junior writer at a suburban magazine called Brisbane News. That’s where I took my first clumsy steps as a travel writer, too (in between the real estate write-ups and “what’s on” columns), taking the odd junket as a trade-off for a crappy salary and writing about it for the magazine.

Those stories were nothing spectacular, but they were a start. What really got things going, ironically, was quitting.

I left Brisbane News to spend a year travelling. Before that, however, I managed to organise a meeting with the travel editor of the Courier-Mail, and he promised me he’d consider any story ideas I swung his way.

Things didn’t exactly take off from there – I was way too busy having a good time to pitch or write many stories – but I at least got a few published in full newspapery goodness (including one on the gorillas in the Congo, above), and I was away.

Next up was a move to Sydney, taking a casual job on the Sydney Morning Herald sports desk. Still not exactly every travel writer’s dream, but it did give me the chance to chat to a few of the people in the know, so that when I had the idea for the Backpacker blog, I knew who to go to.

Fortunately that idea was given the green light, and four years later I’m still writing it. It was a case of right place, right time, right contacts and right idea.

Obviously not everyone’s going to have those circumstances, and I’m always getting asked how people can get their start in the industry.

The good news is, all the tools are right there in front of you, in the form of a computer and an internet connection. If you want to get into freelance travel writing, you need to start a travel blog. Now.

If you really enjoy writing and have plenty of travel experience, this won’t be a problem, and it’s the only way writers with no experience can guarantee that their work gets published. Get on the net and publish it yourself.

That way when you start pitching travel stories to newspaper and magazine editors, you can point them in the direction of your blog to sample your writing. That’s got to be better than asking them to blindly trust your skills.

It also shows your travel experience, and your dedication to the writing craft, as well as your writing style.

There’s another benefit to kicking off a blog, too. If you’re good enough, you won’t even need those newspaper and magazine editors.

My mate Anthony has been running The Travel Tart for only two years now, and is already fielding offers from all sorts of tourism agencies to send him around the world for free.

Ant’s a great writer who’s dedicated to what he does and works hard on it, and he’s shown what you can do when you strike out on your own. Get involved, I say.

Do you have your own travel blog? Give it a plug below!

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