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How Travel Writing Works

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The Nitty Gritty
Your success as a travel writer depends on your drive to just go and do it, but that drive doesn't always equate to lots of cash.
Your success as a travel writer depends on your drive to just go and do it, but that drive doesn't always equate to lots of cash.

So, how do you become a travel writer? There's the self-starter mode: You could do what Flora Tristan did and go on a trip, keep notes, turn them into a book when you get home and then try to get it published. This is probably the method that guarantees the most autonomy and the most frustration.

But there are many other routes to becoming a published travel writer. You could start with some professional training. Many universities now offer courses related to travel writing. Montreal's McGill University, for instance, offers a course that includes a brief history of travel literature followed by practical instruction in pitching ideas, developing interviewing skills, and working with text and images [source: McGill].

Some newspapers also offer workshops specifically designed for aspiring travel writers. You can take a course through "The Guardian," for instance, which is taught by an established travel journalist over two six-hour days. Then there are entities like The Travel Writer's Life, which has products designed specifically for beginners. Their services include something called "The Lazy Man's Guide" and "The Ultimate Travel Writer's Program." Alternatively, you can go the DIY route and take notes while reading the innumerable Web pages featuring tips for up-and-coming travel writers. The Lonely Planet website, for example, sports a page with "Five expert tips for getting started in travel writing."

Now for the big question: Is there a living to be made here? It depends on whom you ask. On its FAQ page, The Travel Writer's Life addresses the question with a few caveats about how hard you have to work to make it in this field and then dangles the number $50,000 as the yearly income earned by an "established, successful full-time freelancer we know" [source: The Travel Writer's Life].

But on the useful travel resource site Transitions Abroad, writer Tim Leffel is a bit more pessimistic in an article titled, "The Seven Myths of Being a Travel Writer." Even after more than a decade of working at it, he says that most of the articles he writes pay between $25 and $300. As for a plum assignment like a guidebook, Leffel says a new writer often gets as little as $10,000, and can expect to work for close to a year on the thing.

At the top end, an established guidebook writer might make as much as $30,000, but that includes expenses. When all is said and done, the pay could amount to little more than a few dollars an hour. Leffel doesn't want to discourage would-be travel writers, but his main message is, don't do it for the money [source: Leffel].