Kristin Luna
    Career and Jobs

So You Wanna Be a Travel Writer?

Nomadic Matt’s recent post on how he started blogging as the ultimate goal to become a professional travel writer got me thinking about the industry as a whole, how the Internet creates this false facade that everyone is a writer and a sort of “why am I not getting paid to do this, too?” mentality, and thus, this post essentially wrote itself in the shower this morning. (To clarify, none of that is directed at Matt. I was just interested in his own motivations for creating his online persona, and the wheels started turning.) So many people claim what I do is a “dream job“—and you know my thoughts on that—mostly because they see the pretty stuff, and not the nitty-gritty, or think it’s something anyone can do. True, anything is something anyone can do, I’m a firm believer in that. If I’d wanted to become a lawyer, I’m sure I could have taken the required steps necessary, gone to law school, logged my hours in a summer associateship and, in the end, landed at a firm. Maybe not the firm of my choice, at first, but a firm nonetheless. Ditto to being an architect, a doctor, a bricklayer, a basket weaver. Accomplishing anything just takes the passion, the dedication, the persistence, and the willingness to work for peanuts for years in hopes that one day you’ll reap the benefits. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t.

In my FAQ’s, I’ve touched a bit on how I got into this crazy, chaotic career. I took a non-traditional path and somehow managed to piece together my own custom-made job that worked for me.  It’s not easy, I often bite off more than I can chew, but I’m doing what I enjoy, what I’m passionate about. That might not work for everyone, but it works for me. In his post, Matt mentioned Matador Travel’s travel writing course as a way to do the same, to get into this underpaid, unappreciated industry. I don’t necessarily agree. In my experience, you’re never going to learn travel writing by taking a class; the only way you’re going to learn it is by doing. Case in point: People like Auburn and Katie Hammel, who have done their share of travels and gruntwork, blogged about them, entered competitions and now landed as finalists over at Trazzler’s in-house writing residency contest. That’s the way to do it, folks: You have to work for what you want.

A few years back, I took a mediabistro Advanced Travel Writing course from a New York Times travel writer. Sure, I’d been dabbling in the industry a bit, but had nowhere near the experience I now do. Still, It was the biggest waste of $75 I’d ever spent. I ended up being that student, the one who taught the class, who knew the ropes better than the teacher. I did come out of there having learned one thing: This is a career that is not so much learn, learn, learn, but do, do, do. Travel writing is not formulaic; it’s a practiced art. You’re going to benefit far more from keeping journals, writing blog posts and sharing  your stories with others—whether via e-mail, blog, published article or spoken word—than you ever will sitting in a classroom for three hours listening to some has-been relive his glory days, back when publications actually paid writers’ expenses. Trust me, I’ve been the receiver of this scenario far too often. Also, do not, do not, do not go back to school thinking a journalism degree is going to help you. Unless, you enroll in a master’s program at Columbia, NYU or Northwestern—all of which you’re more or less paying for the connections and potential job interviews, and that does work for some—it is so not worth your time or money.

I say (and this is entirely opinion-based) skip taking classes entirely, and create your own syllabus, your own master’s course if you will. Travel. Take notes. Write about it. It’s as simple as that. Sure, you’re not going to start off being published in Conde Nast Traveler. You may never even end there either. But begin with small potatoes, with a blog, then move on to your local newspaper—FYI, in today’s shrinking newspaper climate, you must almost always submit an entire finished manuscript, as opposed to a mere query…even if you’ve written for them before—and some travel websites. Draw attention to your work, get noticed. Then, when you have the clips backing you, you can shoot bigger…shoot for the stars if you like!

Network, network, network. So much of the little success I’ve had has resulted from meeting the right people and the right time. Maybe they can’t use me now, maybe I don’t (yet) have what they’re looking for. But years later, I’ve often gone back to editors who once rejected me but admired me for my perseverance, and then got the work I was after. Attend conferences like the annual Book Passage workshop, which gets some of the biggest names in the industry together for a whirlwind weekend, and thus your name on their radar. Ask local editors you admire if they’d be open for informational meetings.

The thing is this lifestyle is not for everyone. I’ve had plenty of journalist friends who were far more talented and better writers than I but couldn’t hack it as freelancers. They didn’t do well with the whole never-being-off-the-clock side of the business (e.g. I log so many hours every day of the week, no matter the month or occasion—far more than I ever did while working in-house, while quite honestly making far less—and often continue writing into the twilight hours). If you work from home, there aren’t always boundaries. I had these grand dreams of being able to see matinees or catch up on missed seasons of TV shows when I made the office-to-home leap nearly two years ago. Quite the contrary. I find that if I’m home and not doing anything, I’m always working. Why watch Mad Men when I could be researching and pitching my next story? Why go see Transformers 2 when I could be harassing some unsuspected editor with “why haven’t you gotten back to me?” follow-ups? This is something I’m trying to work on, learning how to not always be on-the-clock. My sanity will thank me if I ever manage to get beyond this particular obstacle.

Others can’t take rejection. For every assignment I actually land, I’ve probably gotten (a minimum of) 20 “NO’s”—or even worse, been ignored entirely. I’m OK with this. I wasn’t at one time, no; every time an editor got back to me with harsh words, the little sensitive Southern girl in me me wanted to cry. Why don’t they liiiiike me? I’m a good writer; why won’t they hiiiiire me? Wahhhhhhh!

Now, I look at it as a blessing: At least editors are getting back to me, and at a time when staffs have been cut in half across the board, giving editors even less time to take a gamble on a new writer. A few short years ago, all my cold pitches went unanswered. At present, even though probably only two percent of my stories are even accepted—that’s something I bet you guys didn’t realize, huh? I GET MY SHARE OF “YOU SUCK’s” just like the next girl—and that I put so much time into stories that might never see the light of day, I still look at rejection as progress.

I remember my mom wallpapered her kitchen with rejection letters after finishing her MBA from Vanderbilt in the 70’s. I’ve taken this own approach and saved every NO response in a file; in fact, I’d say I’ve collected enough to wallpaper our entire three-bedroom, three-bath house as of now. And that’s likely just from my 2008-2009 letters alone. But it serves as a reminder of all the work I’ve put in. And when I do land a huge assignment, it’s just that much sweeter. I’m hoping one day when I’m a New York Times bestselling novelist (ha! we all have dreams, right?), I’ll look back at all those e-mails and laugh. Maybe even some of those editors who rejected me time and time again will come knocking down my door, wanting to interview me or have me write for them.

In fact, I only became a freelancer thanks to rejection: I interviewed at nearly every magazine and major NYC paper in existence—from the New York Times to Travel & Leisure to Details to many crappy B2B publications—with multiple follow-up interviews at many publications, and no one wanted to hire me. Fine! I’ll find my own way to do what I love, was my own mentality.

Many people can’t take the heat and the inconsistency of this business. Some weeks I pitch five stories; others, I pitch 25. Some months, I have 15 assignments (on top of my contract work with 7×7, Bayer and Frommer’s) that, all added up, equal a mere month’s salary; others, I get two cushy stories that are all I need to survive—cushy, that is, in terms of pay, not effort put forth; to clarify, if you ever break down freelance writing to an hourly wage, it’s simply. Not. Worth. It. I might scream if I actually worked out what I made per hour.

Some can’t take the unknown. This is the hardest part of the job for me. Sure, I have enough income this month, but what about six months from now? Magazine lead times are so far in advance—and you often don’t get paid until the story hits the newsstands—that you’re always looking far down the road (ditto to pitching in accordance to editorial calendars). And then there’s all the time you spend doing your own accounting, and tracking down publications, demanding they pay you. When I wrote a story for Real Simple, I didn’t get reimbursed for expenses or paid for my work until 11 months after they promised to pay me. And no, you can’t charge late or courtesy fees either.

If you really want to do this, you’re going to have to start small. That could entail taking low-paying assignments with Matador Travel, Trazzler, Jaunted, AOL Travel,, etc., which are all notable sites indeed but pay very poorly, not enough to earn an actual living. That said, if you get enough clips under your belt, then you can try for better-paying assignments, and besides, if you’re just wasting hours in an office reading blogs (as I once did), you might as well be honing your writing skills while navel-gazing, am I right? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And be prepared to, often, work for free. While I was working at Newsweek, simultaneously I penned a weekly Sunday travel column for a newspaper—1,200 words or more for nearly 104 weeks—and never earned a penny. But I did gain a readership, valuable experience and a creative outlet for others to see my words. It’s the nature of the beast: To do what you love often means to do it for free (at least at first).

This PSA is not meant to chastise you, but merely meant to both guide and motivate. I get so annoyed with people saying I’m so “lucky;” look here, people, no one made my “luck” but me. When I moved to New York, I didn’t know a soul, I had no connections that landed me in the HR department of Conde Nast the second I rolled into town. I was a recent college graduate with a degree from a Southern public university (meaning I was often laughed right out of an interview because my resume didn’t say Medill anywhere on it), armed with a suitcase, determination and an air mattress while sharing a studio in the West Village with a Complete Crazy. But sometimes you just need a little jolt of inspiration to motivate you to action. Hearing from a recent friend’s own experiences, successful literary agent Nathan Bransford, who dealt with his share of rejection and finally landed a sweet book deal to get his second novel published (the first never got its shot) has further motivated me, along with my posse Moose and SVV, to pursue our own shared novel-writing dreams. Moose has joined a writing group, SVV has started setting up his new writer’s office in our garage and me, well, I’ve begun to bring the half-finished manuscripts that have accumulated on my hard drive over the years out of hiding and dust them off in preparation to return to projects I once was passionate about. It may not happen tomorrow, next year, even five years from now, but still, I have no doubt one day, we’ll all make it happen.

As far as travel writing goes, let me be candid: You might never make it. But hey! Then again, you might. One thing’s for certain: You’re definitely never going to make it if you don’t try. So, what are you waiting for? Start now! Consider me your accountability partner in all your endeavors. (Just don’t tell me I’m “lucky” or have a “dream job” or I will have license to kill.)(I’m not a murderer, so please don’t make me do that. I prefer a clean criminal record, thank you.)

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Comments ( 73 )

  1. I think the reason you’re the only* travel writer who’s work I read is because I can just tell that you hustle like nobody’s business to build your own career.

    * I’m not kidding when I say only. Most travel stuff I’ve come across is at best, bland or worst, pompous – but that’s all “beauty in the eye of the beholder.” I like your take and the way to chronicle stuff here.

    The thing I liked best about this? How your Mom “plastered” her post-MBA rejection letters on the wall. I have one of those snazzy degrees (plus one in engineering), yet no job after a solid year of looking and interviewing. (I feel somehow better knowing that I’m not the only rejectee out there, despite the fact that your mom’s rejections were probably many years earlier.)

    Anyway – all the best to you and good luck with the writing.

    – Sarah

  2. Wow. Freelance travel writing sounds a lot like starting a photography business. I am lucky, though, to have found something I can enjoy working on into the wee hours of the morning. Just don’t tell me I’m lucky when I’m feeling crabby about still living with my parents… :)

  3. I agree a million percent with your philosophy here. So often, people waste an inordinate amount of time in the planning/learning phases of something, thinking it’s going to give them the magic, easy answer. But really? the only way to do something is to DO it.

    Thank you for this, seriously.

  4. I love this post. I know how hard you work, and how hard you hustle, and it inspires me! Yes, you do get to do what you love but as in all things, there are trade-offs. You write fantastic stories that I am always excited to read about. When I grow up I want to be like Kristin!

  5. I love this, K! You have the best attitude, optimism and way of giving it to us straight. Reading about the nitty gritty details of a “dream job” is making me think about what would really make me happy in my day job. What you do is not for everyone (I definitely couldn’t deal with the sacrifices of being a freelance writer) but it’s amazingly enlightening to be able to read about it. Thank you so much!

  6. LOVE this post. There is no better advice then to just DO what you dream of doing. Thanks for laying out the nitty-gritty of such a “dream” job.

  7. You can keep it. I’d rather work 80 hours a week and vacation as a hobby. So keep your couch warm in case there’s another beer tour in the making. Maybe we’ll fly out and then beer tour from there.

  8. For me, I realized I actually didn’t want to be a writer. I had idealized the profession. That being said I think matador is a good way for people to learn to write…travel writing or not. Those editors really improved my writing and all I can offer is my experience with them but I found their tips great in improving my writing.

    I do agree you will need to do some freelance work, i think taking a class to improve your writing is not all that bad

  9. Let me echo the other commenters: great post. I loved all the specific examples of how you’ve made your own path. That you and Scott and Moose are all taking steps to pursue your dreams is a good kick in the butt for me to get moving! You are an inspiration to work harder and reach farther.

  10. Also, State Tourism Agencies often are looking for freelance writers. I always am looking for bloggers (which doesn’t pay), but we do pay freelancers who write for our print channels.

  11. Would you please permit me to have a mid-1990s flashback and say, “You go, girl!”? This is the EXACT reason that I did not (and still do not) want to be a full-time writer. I love to write, always have, always will — but I need to have a stable income. So, I became a lawyer. I worked my butt off to become a lawyer, but I also weighed all of my options and realized that having a full-time career provides a great deal of security that freelance work would not give me. My three-year goal is to do a bit of both: write freelance so that I can express myself and do what I enjoy AND work part-time as an attorney so that I can get paid on a regular basis.

    At the end of the day, I am never happy unless I am writing. And, I want to write that novel, too, some day. But, I am taking my own sweet time getting to that point because I know my own limitations. Hopefully, in this next year, I am going to start writing some articles and get them published. If it works, then, maybe I will be one step closer to my goals when I get back.

  12. Oh, god. YOU SAID IT ON THE INTERNET. NOW I HAVE TO DO IT. First step, think of something to write about….

    Also, you have my sincere admiration for kicking career butt the way you have. You’ve got moxie, kid. (Um, I’m wearing a bowler hat and sipping a highball right now.)

  13. Hey thanks for the Trazzler mention! Another glorious aspect of today’s media business I’ve come to loathe is the constant self promotion (don’t just write quality product but bring your readers with you!) that reminds me of my other perpetual industry I use to pay the bills, bars & restaurants. Many places in Manhattan offered guest bartending shifts to young, inexperienced starters if they promised to bring in a regular crowd. It’s not about being the best, it’s about getting a start somewhere. But hey, you know what? I’ll take learning to Twitter over TPS reports any day which is why I’m with you in this crazy freelance lifestyle. And every time I start to glamorize the idea of stability, my married, lawyer, house-owning, two-kid and two-dog having best friend reminds me that we live vicariously through each other :)

  14. Really great post – some people just think that success comes “naturally” or “easily” and those are the people who have no clue how hard it takes – energy and dedication – to make it happen. I love to travel and used to travel a ton for work and it is not all glamour and pretty pictures, but if you work at is, just like any profession it can be very rewarding. You deserve all the success that you have worked hard for and people should not belittle that! I am one of those people who think you have a dream job, but I am also wearing my reality glasses when I say it! You rock!

  15. Amen. Spoken like a true, honest-to-goodness writer. Way to tell it like it is.

  16. I’m very envious of you, but I know I’m not cut out for travel writing. Perhaps that’s a refreshing perspective? :)

  17. Excellent post Kristin. I believe you have to be passionate about what you do for income as it takes up so much time in life. The folks that think being a writer is a “dream” job haven’t a clue. I’ve thought about persuing this career most of my adult life, but always hold back thinking how much work it really is. I will always write, and maybe someday will get paid for it. But in the meantime will stick to my current “dream” job as a Park Ranger, travel for fun and blog about it. To do anything well enough to be paid for it requires more than just book learning, ya’ gotta’ get off your arse and DO IT. Did you hear that Moose?

  18. I wish you could see me clapping loudly and springing from my couch to say, Hear, hear! I have all the same advice for being a novelist. Only go to grad school if it’s free or in the top five. Get used to rejection. You’ll be tasting a lot of it. And type, type, type until your little fingers bleed.

    And if you don’t go to bed most nights thinking, Wow, this is the life, then you might rethink this career goal.

    But I must admit, I’ve GOT to get better at networking. You are the master at it and I envy you that. Immensely.

  19. Well, I’ll there on the waiting list for that book, whenever it chooses to hit the shelves. :-)

  20. bookmark this under inspired / inspiring.

  21. Formal education is no substitute for learning by doing, but the two are not mutually exclusive. A good course can help direct a beginning writer or help an established writer take the next step or stay inspired. I’m quite experienced but I did find the recently Book Passage Travel Writing & Photography Conference valuable and not just because of the networking (though that was a big part of it). The important thing to remember is that taking a course is not the same as doing something – it’s only a first step and you are still going to have to do all the hard work and hustling afterwards.

    Writing does pay me a living wage but I don’t rely on travel writing alone – I do other forms of journalism as well.

    >>And no, you can’t charge late or courtesy fees either.

    You can in in Britain. Payment terms are 30 days and under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act, you can charge a penalty fee and interest. It’s not necessarily easy enforcing this, but the threat can sometimes help you get paid. The only thing is whether it’s 30 days from acceptance or publication, which varies by outlet.

  22. This is a great entry, I love the honesty. It’s so inspirational as well.

  23. The networking events you go to are enough to make me tired. I realized after the first month we met that I would never be able to take that much jet lag, that much suitcase time, that many airports. I don’t know a single writer who works as hard as you do, so to say it’s all “luck” really is pretty insulting. A pox on luck. That’s blood, midnight sweat and tears of deadline fury.

  24. I agree you have to jump in there and just do it. trial and error, learn from your experiences and mistakes. Although I’m all for a comibination if you have time; take a course or two but don’t depend on them to do anything for you but perhaps mildly improve your writing. It’s hard and it’s nice to know i’m not the only one that feels like crying sometimes, wondering what the hell i’m doing wrong, someone please tell me! At the end of the day, it’s the passion and perhaps that i’m not-so-sane that keeps me going :)

  25. I loved this post, Kristin. Truly, it’s one of my favorites that you’ve ever written. I always dreamed of being a journalist, but I didn’t have the balls, gumption, determination and a million other adjectives to make it happen. That’s why I admire you so much because you did, you went for it and you succeeded.

  26. Excellent post! I must give a plug, however, for Amanda Castleman’s travel-writing class on When I decided to make the switch from general/parenting freelance writing to travel writing about 3 years ago, I took her class and thought it a very worthwhile investment ($250?) because assignments include line-edited critiques from Amanda — and she is GOOD.

  27. I have to tell you that this is one of the most inspiring pieces I have read in quite some time and I’m bookmarking it because this is the sort of wisdom I need to hear right now. Although I am not looking to become a travel writer, your description of your pursuit and determination that has brought you to where you are today is great advice for anyone who has a passion.

    Thank you for making me think about what I want, how I can keep moving towards my goals, and giving me inspiration to get there!

  28. Great advice! I love this post. I love the part about *doing*, rather than spending your time *learning* about doing… I think that’s something that people need to hear. Lots of great stuff in there, thanks!

  29. I’ll join the chorus of “Amen!” Thank you for such a candid and honest post. I think you are fortunate to have discovered what you love to do and have become successful at it, but I certainly don’t think you’re lucky. You worked darn hard to get where you are.

    When I was miserable in my desk job a few years ago I signed up for one of these “travel writing” newsletters. They marketed travel writing as if high paid, exotic gigs just come flying onto your desk. I think many people think that you just wake up one morning and you’re a successful writer. Yeah, right.

    I hope to have writing as part of my life (hence, our website and I’m still pitching articles), but for many reasons I don’t foresee it being my entire profession. I really admire people like you who have not only made it work financially/professionally, but still love what you do. That’s a hard combination to find these days.

  30. Excellent post, and thanks for the shout out! When I tell people I’m starting a career as a travel writer the standard response is “oh how fun/so you get paid to take vacations?”. Fun? Yes. But only because it’s what I love, what I’m passionate about, what gets me up in the morning and gets me through 40 hours of my day job plus 50-60 hours per week of writing for various blogs, pitching new articles, looking for more outlets to approach, twittering, networking and promoting myself, reading other blogs and staying informed of travel news and trends, and of course trying to have a life and actually spend some time with my husband. It’s not easy, but it’s what I love so I make the sacrifices. And once I quit my day job and tackle freelancing full time, I expect to be working even harder and putting in longer hours.
    I think all the travel writing classes in the world wouldn’t have helped me get to where I am now (knowing I still have a long way to go though) as much as just reading good travel writing, practicing and improving my own, and then just getting out there and trying, and often facing rejection. But, I did sign up for the MatadorU course. I’m not expecting it to teach me too much I don’t know, but I know that the assignments will push me to do writing that I wouldn’t normally do (more narrative stories) which will help me improve my skills in certain areas. I also think that the face time I’ll get with the editors will be invaluable.
    Your comment about the hourly wage is too true though. I can’t think about it in terms of hours spent working vs. money made – it’s too depressing! Instead I just concentrate on what make over the course of the month from the 8-10 outlets I work with on a regular basis.

  31. Great post and a really refreshing to read – I also read Nomadic Matt’s post and I love to hear the other side of it from someone who is also making it in the travel writing industry. Thanks for your thoughts and perspective! :-)

  32. This is such a great post! I think you’ve given great advice here. And, as I seek out my next professional gig, I really admire your passion for what you do. That’s what makes you lucky, in my opinion! Cheers.

  33. And while we’re on the subject of things that ARE helpful, I found Mediabistro’s “How To Pitch” section totally worth the membership and invaluable in discovering publications that I didn’t know existed and specifying which sections are open to freelancers- info that is not always easily available via the web.

  34. It’s obvious that you are dedicated and a really hard worker. I have so much respect for what you do!

  35. I think you just spoke for all of us freelancers (designers, writers, photographers, musicians, whatever) out here! Not only am I a designer, but also a sales person, accountant, marketing department and customer/public relations! I would never trade it, but I too get frustrated when people tell me I’ve got it easy! Well said, and very inspirational!

    Can’t wait for your book :)

  36. Word, Kristin. Word. I can relate to so much of what you said from my own experience as someone with a so-called “dream job” in TV.

    Comedy Central IS great. Writing and producing CAN be fun. But first and foremost, it is a JOB. I have been at CC for 7 years, but 3 and a half of those were as an assistant. In between scheduling meetings, ordering flowers and food, and stuffing pinatas (yes, stuffing pinatas), I had to look and beg for every opportunity to write a promo. I didn’t work any harder than anyone else in the TV industry ever has. I just did the actual work and had the patience to stick it out! And it’s also worth noting, that this was my third assistant job after college. Before CC, I was at a record label. Before that, I was an assistant at a dental school! Those jobs, although not directly related to TV, were just as important. Please, maybe even more important! I had to learn how to be a responsible adult with the skills to pursue the dream. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think they can just jump into what I do and skip all of those steps along the way.

    This was such a great post to read as I give this whole freelance writing thing a go. Your story reminded me of my own story. Stuff that’s worth doing takes time and hard work, period. No ifs, ands or buts (butTs?) about it.

    Awesome, awesome post.

  37. Word, Kristin. Word. I can relate to so much of what you said from my own experience as someone with a so-called “dream job” in TV.

    Comedy Central IS great. Writing and producing CAN be fun. But first and foremost, it is a JOB. I have been at CC for 7 years, but 3 and a half of those were as an assistant. In between scheduling meetings, ordering flowers and food, and stuffing pinatas (yes, stuffing pinatas), I had to look and beg for every opportunity to write a promo. I didn’t work any harder than anyone else in the TV industry ever has. I just did the actual work and had the patience to stick it out! And it’s also worth noting, that this was my third assistant job after college. Before CC, I was at a record label. Before that, I was an assistant at a dental school! Those jobs, although not directly related to TV, were just as important. Please, maybe even more important! I had to learn how to be a responsible adult with the skills to pursue the dream. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think they can just jump into what I do and skip all of those steps along the way.

    This was such a great post to read as I give this whole freelance writing thing a go. Your story reminded me of my own story. Stuff that’s worth doing takes time and hard work, period. No ifs, ands or buts (butTs?) about it.

    Awesome, awesome post.

  38. This is one of the most valuable things I’ve ever read on the internet. Having wasted many, many dollars on posh classes in screenwriting, creative non-fiction, op-ed writing, feature writing, etc I finally had the realization that liking to write and being good at writing do not necessarily mean one is cut out to be a professional writer. Because it is a HARD JOB, and the actual writing is only part of the job. I am not cut out for it (which doesn’t quell my own novel-writing dreams), which is why I have all the more appreciation for those of you who are able to build a writing career (because you have to build it! Yourself!). Well said. This post should be mandatory reading for, well, everyone.

  39. I think one point that was missed is that Nomidic Matt’s post was a sales page, pimping his affiliate link. A lot of people write reviews of products but you should at least be straight forward about it.

    This is turning into the dirty little secret of ‘info products”. I’ll pimp your product if you pimp mine.

  40. Truly inspired writing Kristin, and it should be required reading for EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. AGE 15-18. And then a periodic re-read every couple of years or so. Your post says so much about taking control of your destiny, gripping it firmly and wringing what you want from life out of it. Please don’t tell me about how life dealt you a bad hand, how you could achieve your dreams if only someone else would make it easier. If you want it, go out and get it; otherwise you aren’t serious, just a whining wannabe. There are just too many examples of people who started from nothing, worked hard, stayed focused and were rewarded with a life well lived. Sometimes all the hard work leads us in directions we would not have imagined in the beginning, but if willing to keep taking chances and follow opportunities when they present themselves, amazingly rewarding results can follow.
    I’m just one of your (and Scott and Moose’s) cheerleaders who know they will be applauding many of your outstanding accomplishments in the future.

  41. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer, editor and novelist for 5 years. Published starting, oh, I think it was 1993. Anyway, my particular specialty is medical writing, although I’ve done other things (and continue to, when it comes my way or I want to). Never tried travel, there I don’t think there’s anything you’re saying here that doesn’t apply to every other type of freelance writing.

    As for course work, you want to get better at travel writing? Travel. Learn a language. Medical writing? Learn something about medicine. Sports writing? Learn something about sports. We don’t just sell our writing ability, we sell our insider knowledge of the topics and the culture.

  42. Fantastic post! I love travel and photography, and have been writing for enough years to understand the struggle and relentless determination to succeed. I enjoyed reading about your experiences and insights as a travel writer.

  43. So very bookmarked in my ‘writing tips’ file. ‘Nuff said.

  44. Hey K,
    Thanks for dousing me with a bit of a reality check. It’s posts like these that seem harsh at first, but are truly helpful to the reader / dreamer. You just motivated my depressed, anxiety-laden ass to get off the couch and stop sulking. It’s time to roll up my sleeves!

  45. Guess I’d better stick to the day job and have some fun with the blog and the travelling – that way if it turns into a moneyspinner long term I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but if not I won’t be worrying about the mortgage.

  46. Thank you for the reality, the advice, and the inspiration. Yes, I do want to be a travel writer and I am prepared to work my butt off for it. Do you have any tips on how to write a pitch? I am still unsure how that entire process works.

  47. Oh yes, being ‘lucky’. My sister told me I was ‘so lucky’ I was writing for a living – doing what I love. Aaagh. What does ‘luck’ have to do with it? Being ‘in the right place at the right time’ means you’ve usually been putting yourself out there for so long, trying to hang in there when you want to (or feel like you should) give up – and creating ‘wallpaper opportunities’ with those rejection letters!

    I’ve read Seth Godin’s The Dip quite a few times, and it’s got me through those black moments…

    As for travel writing, I agree with Sarah (comment 1). I can’t even read most travel articles… so when you find a travel writer who does it well, it’s magic.

  48. Great post, very honest and inspirational. Your “tell it like it is” approach is refreshing and should be required reading for anyone considering freelance writing – travel or otherwise. Thank you and well done!

  49. Thanks so much for this post. I’m attempting to launch a freelance career from Mexico City, and it’s oh-so-lonely (and frustrating!) at times. Alternately feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and wonder whether I’m not doing *enough*, and just who the hell are these people who are successful at this, anyway? Is there some kind of magic formula that I haven’t found yet? Well, now I’ve read your post and it turns out that my instincts are right: I’ve just got to keep working hard and persevere. And paper my walls with the rejection letters. I really needed this today. Thank you again!

  50. A thoughtful insightful post. But, as a travel writer and columnist, I have my own take on a couple of things. Taking a course really did help me start out, and it’s the workshop you mention at Book Passages that got me started. Also, I never saw any reason to start small. I think it’s more important to start where you think you’ll fit in. I jumped right in with the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Post. Starting so big so fast had it’s own problems, though, because I really didn’t know what I was doing, just with the nuts and bolts of it all, but as you say, you learn by doing.

  51. What a nice first post for me to “stumble upon.” I agree with many things you said, but I, too, like to take classes, even though I’ve been in a “dud” myself. I’m just glad we have so many options on the Internet and so many experienced travel writers sharing their stories.

  52. Thank you so much for posting this, Kristin! So inspiring and is really pushing me to work my ass off so that I can be like you one day!

  53. Thanks. I found this encouraging. As a writer whose lifestyle involves lots of travel as it is, I’ve been trying to break into the market myself and have been inordinately discouraged by the lack of response to my queries. Rejection, yes, but being ignored? So much more painful! You’ve inspired me to get off my butt and keep trying.

  54. THANK-YOU!!!!!!!!!!!
    I was just complaining yesterday about how much it SUCKS being a freelance writer but I had to quickly follow it up with “but I shouldn’t complain because I work from home” because the person I was complaining to (who has a 9-5 office job) looked like they wanted to kill me. I love writing so much and I could never work in an office again, but it’s like, “Hello? No benefits, no pension, no company-provided insurance. Plus, it’s pretty lonely.”

    It’s just such a relief to see in print what I think all the time. I’m 24 right now. I’m still learning how to write and I might not even make it as a writer. If I do make it, it might not be for another 20 years.

    I totally agree with the college part. I have a university degree in English (useless!) so I decided to go to college for journalism. I didn’t even last a semester. It was a total waste of time and money. I could have taught the classes.

    We do what we do because we love it, not because we’re lucky or because it’s easy… certainly not for the money.

  55. really helpful to read all about that as I want to become a travel journalist, thank you Kristin!

    • Happy to help! I’ll try to write more journalism-related articles in the future when I relaunch my site this spring. Best of luck in your career!

  56. I just have one question that was a little unclear for me. Are you suggesting that school isn’t the best route for people who want to become travel writers? I would like to become a travel writer and don’t know whether or not I should major in English or journalism.

  57. I have to say that even before reading this post, I never thought you were “lucky”. I free lanced as an exercise rider, riding horses all over. First I couldn’t prove myself, then it seemed like there were a million other people doing the same thing. It wasn’t until I got my first gig that others started wanting me to ride their horses. It took me almost a full year to get one person to sign me on! I put flyers everywhere, got business cards, started my website and my blog (originally about my horse adventures).

    I never claimed to be an expert, because frankly, I wasn’t. But it’s like what you said up top here. I love this, so why am I not getting paid? Well when I started getting paid it was well worth it for some of the gigs because I managed to work-my-ass-off, and made ALOT in a short period of time working 15 hour days sometimes longer. Then I paid what felt like a million dollars in independent contractor taxes…..

    I doubt that you have a lot of downtime, and I am sure the culture and job you have created for yourself is a result of some serious hard work. Props to you for that!!!

    I don’t want to become a blogger for any serious income, but hey, if you don’t ask you can find any answers, and if you don’t try you are never going to succeed. Being someone who is lost in her career and confused about what to do and willing to travel and experience the world and maybe write about it on the side is good enough for me. Maybe it won’t work out and it will turn back into my horse adventures… but if I don’t try I’ll never know. Plus, I need a vacation anyway.

    Still glad I found your blog, I’ll be checking back and reading your thoughts, maybe taking a lesson or two!
    Cat recently posted..Networking And Making New FriendsMy Profile

  58. Clearly a couple of years late in reading this, but Terry Ward shared it with me and it’s now bookmarked on my computer. Thank you for being honest about this career path – you’ve given me a lot to think about and a bit of direction for next steps in all of this. I’ve worked for myself as a photographer for several years and completely relate to the inability to separate work from life when every single time I walk to my kitchen I have to walk by my desk.

    In the little experience I’ve had with this, I completely agree with your advice of DO, DO, DO. Living in Chicago, I attended a lecture at Medill recently and left SO glad that I was spending my time doing rather than sitting in class and watching my student loans pile up.

    Thanks again for being frank and realistic about this career choice. Best wishes and happy travels!
    Jenn Winter recently posted..A cover letter for My DestinationMy Profile

  59. While I agree with what you are saying, “doing” and “taking travel writing classes” are not mutually exclusive. I think it is a tad presumptuous to imply that. The thing that I loved about Matador which really sealed the deal was how much else they offer. Many people have no idea where to begin, and with the amount of contact information alone, combined with the suggestions as to how to market your work, I think it is a worthy investment. On top of that, I have been finding the exercises a welcome focus, because sometimes it is hard for me to directly work on one particular aspect of a story, or of my writing.

    I think you have definitely pointed out a great thing here in this article, because they ONLY way to get better is to DO, and many aspiring writers forget that. However “doing” is NOT the only way to learn, and that is where, if it suits your temperment, classes like Matador or Gotham writers workshop come in. If nothing else, they give you access to seasoned instructors and job connections, and that can be worth it’s weight in gold. You talk about networking and it’s importance-well, I think Matador (and other sites) give you a great start for networking, with tons of information in one place.

    Writing is a tough industry no matter what your genre, and entering the upper echelons is even tougher. I think it is a disservice to go around proclaiming that your way-which took you walking uphill both ways-is necessarily better or more honorable than another. Everyone has an opinion, but it doesn’t make your way right for everyone. I am thankful though, for your take on travel writing, because even if this tactic is not exactly for me, I have still taken some great information and advice from it.


  1. […] September 20, 2009 by slidinginsideways Lou’s thinking of taking it up, so I thought I’d link to this most excellent post at Camels & Chocolate. […]

  2. […] writing. Kristin Luna dishes the dirt on becoming a travel writer on her blog Camels and Chocolate and John Hooper muses on the blurred lines between truth and […]

  3. […] you, Kristin, for this blog post, which so succinctly explains why, after five years as a freelancer, I just can’t take it […]

  4. […] Kristin Luna of Camels and Chocolate – she has this great post on her site titled, “So You Wanna Be a Travel Writer?” which basically turned into an “if you can hack it – try it, but don’t […]

  5. […] of the more service-y posts I’ve written about how I got into this career, “So You Wanna Be a Travel Writer?” continues to be my most popular with the masses; I think this is because everyone thinks of travel […]

  6. […] strangers, blog readers asking “how can I be a travel writer, too?”—and because this post remains my top hit from this site—I condensed my wealth of knowledge into a 20,000-word […]

  7. […] tell a story. The one post I’ve gotten the most love from consistently is when I wrote about breaking into travel writing (which I plan to turn into an ebook one of these […]

  8. […] host champagne showers for them. There are some amazing journalist/travel writers out there. I am KEEN on this one at the moment, as she seems to do it all and pack in fantastic writing and travel and get paid and have a dog and […]

  9. […] So You Wanna Be a Travel Writer? // by  Kristin Luna So You Want to Be a Travel Blogger // by Caz Makepeace […]

  10. […] host champagne showers for them. There are some amazing journalist/travel writers out there. I am KEEN on this one at the moment, as she seems to do it all and pack in fantastic writing and travel and get paid and have a dog and […]

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