The Truth About Freelance Travel

Free trips! Exotic vacations! First-class travel, everything paid for! Ah, the life of a travel writer. All you need to do is bang out a few words about it and you’re part of the besotted brotherhood of pampered travel journalists.

Oh, yeah: First you need to sign up for an pricey course that tells you how to cash in on all these free trips travel purveyors are dying to toss your way.

That was effectively the message of a pitch I recently received to sign up for a how-to-be-a-travel-writer course. The course might be okay-I didn’t fork over the $300 to find out-but the pitch offends me.

I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time, mostly in the travel arena. I feel compelled to dispel or clarify some of the myths about travel writing.

FAQs About Freelance Travel Writing

Do you get offered all sorts of free trips? Yes. But remember, I’ve been a productive writer for more than three decades. Public relations people representing travel destinations, outfitters, and adventure-travel companies know me and know that if I take a trip, they’re likely to get covered in a major national magazine.

Can anyone get in on the fun? No. Most trips are offered to “writers on assignment.” The public-relations folks setting up the trip want to know exactly who you write for, and often ask for proof of assignment. Usually they’re looking for firm newspaper or magazine assignments-not assignments from blogs or websites. They want to know your track record, and they avoid writers known as trip grubbers.

Do you take any of these free trips? Occasionally.

Dirty Little Secret: Few magazines or newspapers can afford to pay writers’ expenses. You’re on your own. Very often, the only way to write about a great destination is to have the expenses paid by someone else.

Because Dirty Little Secret No. 2 is: Your writing fee won’t cover the cost of the trip. You won’t even break even.

So you get cool paid vacations? These are far from vacations! I travel to some amazing places, but I’m working. Taking notes, photos, hustling interviews, moving at three times the speed of a casual traveler to see everything I can, to get a full and balanced picture of the place in a limited amount of time.

And then magazines pay you for it? Yes. Assuming I deliver a good story. It’s a great life.

But here’s Dirty Little Secret No. 3: Even when my expenses are paid, my fee doesn’t necessarily cover my time on the road.

So how do you make a income as a freelance writer? That’s the point of my book, Write Where the Money Is. It’s absolutely possible. But it takes hard work, serious commitment, and understanding of countless tricks of the trade.

It’s easier if you’re not counting on writing income as your living. And, frankly, easier in almost any arena other than travel writing.

Be wary of programs that promise you the sexy life of a travel writer. Don’t assume it’s all mai tais on the beach. Be a travel writer to earn a freelance writing income, not to take free trips.

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