Last Monday, I received an unsolicited email from Katie, a freshman at a Minnesota college who is hoping to get into a travel-related career and was seeking advice. I tend to get dozens of these such emails a month, often in surges by the season it seems; if they are well-thought out and courteous, I merit them with a response as I’m always happy to engage in mentorship within my own time and work constraints. But often—and by often, I mean usually—they are not well-thought out and courteous in the slightest, in which case they go straight into my “Ignore” folder rather than my “To Respond” one. But Katie, at just 18 years old, has already nailed one important thing that will no doubt help with her career to come: how to write a professional email.
I’ve worked with some truly awesome college students over the past few years, who interned with me on Semester at Sea, KEEN or Nashville Lifestyles. Those were the cream of the crop; the ones I’m often receiving emails from, on the other hand, are usually of the “your job sounds fun, I’d love to do something similar, please send me a link where I can land such a plum gig” vein. In other words, the ones who want instant gratification with no investment on their end. It’s the plight of the Millennials; for so long, they have been told they could do anything, be anyone, yet they don’t realize—or perhaps, choose not to—that logging the requisite time and hard work to achieve those dreams is a vital part of the equation.
But I recognize that’s also a sweeping generalization and that every teen and twentysomething does not, in fact, fall into that category. Which is why receiving Katie’s email was a breath of fresh air. Because it was so masterfully crafted, I asked if Katie minded if I shared this here, and she told me to go for it.
My name is Katie [redacted]. I am a college freshman who happened upon your blog via the wonders of Pinterest. (I love travel and travel blogs.) As an English major, I have always been passionate about writing, but it was not surprising to find myself passionate about travel as well. I count myself lucky to have already traveled to fantastic places like Germany, Austria, and Ireland, as well as various places within the U.S. While photographing and journaling about these places, it was not a stretch of the imagination to see myself as a travel writer. It is, however, a bit of a stretch to devise how in fact to make that dream a reality. I want to be proactive about working toward a career doing what I love, so I decided to consult with people already excelling in my chosen field (namely you).
If you would not mind, could you answer a few of my questions about the insights and logistics of being a travel writer? The following are my biggest questions:
- When did you first decide to start travel writing?
- How did you go about putting that decision into motion?
- Did you have any specific schooling for travel writing, journalism, or photography?
- Do you prefer traveling solo or with a companion?
- What are some pros and cons of each?
- Does it pay the bills? Can a person make a feasible living on travel writing, or is it a good idea to have a job on the side?
- Do you focus mostly on your own blog, or do you freelance as well?
- What are the best and worst parts of the job?
Please do not feel obliged to answer any of the above questions. For courtesy’s sake, should you choose to respond, I want to inform you that while your answers, or the basic details of your answers, may be referenced academically (with credit) at some point while I plan my four years at college, I would never publish them without permission.
If you have a question for me, please let me know. If you just don’t do this sort of thing as a general policy, I completely understand. I am very grateful for your time and wish you the very best on whatever you next big adventure may be.
Pretty impressive for an 18 year old, right? I thought so.
Here’s what Katie did right:
- She told me a little about her without going into so much detail that she lost my attention.
- Upfront, she referenced how she found me and why she was reaching out so as to not waste my time.
- She illustrated that she already had travel experience, rather than just wants to get into so someone else will foot her bill—news flash: not the reality of this industry, at all—which is key.
- She included specific questions as a short list of bullet points, rather than to be too general—I get a lot of “how do you get into travel writing?” which is not specific enough to warrant a response when I’m on limited time as it is—or, on the flip side, muddle on for 2,500 words.
- She referenced the fact that she might be asking too much (she was not), thus implying that she recognizes my time is of value. I cannot tell you the amount of hours I’ve spent writing dozens of college students back and answering their specific questions, never to hear from them again, not even a “thank you for your time.” Or emails I’ve received from college students at the end of the day on Friday needing something from me by first thing Monday morning. A little respect and gratitude goes a long way.
- She was respectful enough to mention that she might use my response in an academic manner, with my permission, of course.
- Her spelling, grammar and punctuation were on point. Nothing makes me disregard an email quicker than multiple misspellings—in the age of spellcheck, there’s simply no excuse for it—or poor sentence structure. Not only are all those skills a necessity for a writer (duh), but if you’re hoping to be a journalist, you’re going to find yourself sending a whole lot of unsolicited pitches to people you don’t know; it’s better to start practicing now. I could tell from Katie’s brief email that she has promise and a solid grasp of language.
- She signed off with a friendly greeting, genuinely wishing me well even if I weren’t able to help her out. As Ellen DeGeneres always says, be kind to others (even if you don’t know them). This is a lot more impactful than you might realize.
Emails such as this make me realize that not all hope is lost for the Millennial generation—which might sound a bit dramatic, but if only you were on the receiving end of the majority of career inquiry emails I receive, you would totally agree. I look forward to emailing with Katie over the next few years as she navigates college and hopefully helping her out when I can. If anyone has any internship ideas for her, please comment below and I’ll make sure to put you in touch. Already from posting part of her email on my private Facebook account, several editors and other journalists said they’d hire her or asked to make contact with her. It just goes to show you how far a little bit of professionalism can go!