Nam Hai Resort, Hoi An, Vietnam

How to Get Paid to Travel the World as a Travel Writer

How to Get Paid to Travel the World as a Travel Writer was the title of a recent promotional email that landed in our in boxes. It was impossible to ignore for two travel writers who have been paid to travel the world for close to two decades. After the first couple of paragraphs we knew we were going to have a laugh.

That How to Get Paid to Travel the World as a Travel Writer email we received was from the Budget Travel website and it was to promote a video webinar. And what nonsense it contained.

It was all the more disheartening to receive because it had come from what had once been a quality magazine launched in 1998 by American travel writing veteran Arthur Frommer, who started Frommers guidebooks way back in 1957. Mired in bankruptcy throughout 2013, the publication was reportedly sold in 2014 to Lonely Planet, according to Skift. Now, sadly, almost all of its stories are marked as ‘sponsored content’.

It was tempting to sign up just to hear about this fantastic and mostly fictional representation of how travel writers earn a living. Perhaps ‘influencers’ and glossy travel magazine editors can afford the luxury of time they claimed that travel writers had to relax on white sand beaches and swing in hammocks. But freelancers? No. Not a chance.

We resisted the temptation to sign up and decided just to deconstruct the absurd email instead. This is the reality of how to get paid to travel the world as a travel writer by one of two people who have actually been doing it for almost 20 years.

Get Paid to Travel the World as a Travel Writer – A Reality Check

“Imagine eight days relaxing on white sand beaches that stretch as far as the eyes can see… and nights of fine dining and dancing under the stars…”

Firstly, it’s incredibly rare that a travel writer will be get to spend eight days at a luxury resort while on assignment. In our nearly two decades of travel writing we’ve never known of any writer who has stayed at a resort for ten days for a story. At most, a travel writer is hosted by a resort for two nights, never in high season, and not when occupancy is above around 80%.

And having to eat at a hotel or resort restaurant for eight days is something that brings travel writers who write about food to tears. I still get shivers when I’m invited to check out a hotel’s ‘all day dining’ outlet.

“…luxurious hotels and spa treatments… days spent snorkelling, swimming, or just swinging in a hammock…”

We have stayed in literally thousands of luxury hotels for our work and we have had an obscenely large number of spa treatments — I once spent a month enjoying daily massages and treatments at 5-star hotel spas when Lara had to write a new spa section for a Thailand guidebook we were updating.

But the spa treatments are not as amazing as you might think for a busy travel writer. You will probably fall asleep as soon as you hit the massage table due to the long hours of work and having to move locations every two days, especially if you’ve still not recovered from jet lag.

Or, like Lara, you spend the whole time wishing it would end because you have to get back to the room to write up your notes, email editors about the next gigs you’re trying to line up, finish a story due the previous day, or make those sub-editor’s corrections for the last story you completed prior to your current trip.

As far as snorkelling, swimming, or just swinging in a hammock go… snorkelling would have to be an activity that the area is renowned for in order to make the effort to actually do it for the story. Swimming would be a quick dip to get in a few laps — just to say you did or because you desperately need the exercise after sitting on your butt for hours every day. And I’ve never had the luxury of time to swing in a hammock on assignment. Not ever.

We choose not to do press trips, also known as ‘famils’ and media junkets, however, most travel writers do. If you’re on a junket in a beautiful region of the world, you’re often up at dawn, shuttled around to see the sights and staged photo ops that have been organised for you, and probably won’t get back to the hotel until after dark – when you have to sit down to write up your notes to tell the exact same story that everyone else on the junket will write.

“…and when you go to pay the bill, you’re told it’s taken care of. It’s on the house.”

No professional travel writer would set foot inside a luxury hotel or book a spa treatment without knowing how much of the stay was covered by the hotel or tourism board. Most travel writers are too scared to touch anything in the mini-bar for fear that a $10 chocolate bar will automatically be added to their bill.

“You see, there is a way you can have VIP access to the world’s best destinations…”

Sometimes travel writers do get the VIP experience on assignment for a major travel magazine or high circulation newspapers. But while the genuine VIPs are enjoying a swim behind the high walls of their private pool villa as a chef prepares their lunch or a masseur sets up their massage in the garden, the travel writer is being shown half a dozen rooms and the conference facilities by the PR person who is insisting they dine with them when all the writer wants to do is catch up on work they didn’t finish before their trip.

Often the travel writers who get the VIP treatment, travelling as a guest of a tourism board or an airline, turn in reviews so uncritical that the writing is not worth reading, such as an airline ‘review’ I read the other day where the writer said “…I didn’t want the flight to end.” I’m pretty sure that’s never been said by anyone after a nine-hour flight. Ever.

“…AND get paid for traveling the globe while enjoying the best experiences the world has to offer!”

As a travel writer, you’re not actually getting paid to travel the world and enjoy experiences, you’re getting paid to research, write and submit a story and, increasingly, provide original photos for which the magazines want for free – not to mention shooting video for their website or sharing your experiences on social media for the publication and/or hotel.

The reality is that very few magazines pay the expenses needed to travel the world – you need to pay those out of your fee – and many media outlets won’t even let you accept a hosted stay. Increasingly, the most luxurious resorts won’t provide travel writers with a complimentary stay unless you have a few story commissions. If you’re good at negotiating, you might get the hotel at a media rate and be able to pull some strings with an airline for free or discounted flights or an upgrade on a ticket you’ve had to buy.

“If you love to travel and you can write a simple postcard, or share a note on Facebook, you already have some of the basic skills it takes to travel and get paid as a full- or part-time travel writer.”

And if you can drive a car, you already have some of the basic skills it takes to be a Formula One driver. That’s probably the most disingenuous sentence ever written about the skills required to be a travel writer. And we were appalled to read that in an email coming from Budget Travel.

“You don’t need a degree in English. And you don’t need years of experience.”

The vast majority of professional travel writers have at least one degree in the arts, communications or journalism. We’ve known many who have second degrees. (Lara and I have a handful of degrees between us). People who want to be travel writers generally exhibited good writing skills in high school and then went on to university.

If you’re applying for an increasingly rare full-time gig as a journalist, a degree will be expected. When I was running a publishing department and hiring writers, I discarded resumes from applicants who didn’t have a university education.

Firstly, I know that someone who has a degree in the arts or communications has written plenty of 3,000 word essays, knows how to research well, has critical thinking abilities, can hand in work on time, and knows what is required in terms of fact-checking.

Secondly, if I hired someone who was not qualified and my editor, sub-editor or proofreader said to me, “where did you find this person…”, I’d be in trouble. If they turned out to be brilliant, I’d be a genius. But if that applicant was up against a university graduate from a highly regarded university who had already been published in a national newspaper, the choice was pretty simple.

Back in my publishing days, I once placed an advert in the Sydney Morning Herald for a desk-based travel writer. I received over 150 resumes within a week. If you think that being able to write a simple postcard or share a note on Facebook counts as experience, you can pretty much guess which pile your application would go in.

As for not needing “years of experience”, read Lara’s epic post on our 18 years abroad and how we created a life filled with travel.

“You’ll learn what the travel writer’s life looks like, the kinds of simple stories you can sell, how to land complimentary travel, and more!”

Given the nonsense above about “what the travel writer’s life looks like”, I can easily imagine how simple those stories would be. Most travel writers haven’t chosen this profession to “land complimentary travel”.

Sure, we chose to be travel writers because we wanted to travel even more than we already were in our previous better-paying jobs with their very generous paid annual holidays. But we also wanted to craft inspiring stories and produce helpful guides to assist people who had worked hard and saved for years for a holiday, to make the most of their very precious time.

If you want to learn how to get paid to travel the world as a travel writer so you can travel the world for free, lie on the beach at a fancy resort, luxuriate in spas, and swim in hammocks, then you don’t really want to be a travel writer at all. You want to be a marketing shill.

We’d love to hear from anyone who logged onto this How to Get Paid to Travel the World as a Travel Writer webinar to learn what other nonsense they shared. We’d also love to hear the thoughts of pro travel writers and travellers.

Pictured above? From the amount of time that young couple by the pool at the Nam Hai spent posing for and taking photos, we’re guessing they were ‘influencers’. And, who knows, maybe they had checked in for eight days and had time to swing in hammocks.

Our Travel Writing and Photography Retreats

If you want to learn the realities of how to get paid to travel the world as a travel writer with a focus on the nuts and bolts, craft of travel writing, and how we pitch, research, develop, shoot, and write travel stories on the road, consider our Travel Writing and Photography Retreats.

The next takes place from 7-16 October 2017 in Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Battambang, costs US$2,855 per person incl. all accommodation, most meals, transfers, transport, guides, excursions, tours, activities, workshops, and consultations. Details here.

Note that these are not for people who simply want to travel the world for free and swing in hammocks. They’re for people who want to learn how to make a living from creating stories that inspire others to travel and help them to have better holidays.



There are 13 comments

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  1. Nicholas

    If these influencers think they only need to be able to write a post and share on social media to be a travel writer, it shows. Their output is, frankly speaking, painful to read.

  2. Juliana

    ‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen’ when it comes to Frommer’s. Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous to see what passes for travel writing nowadays, and I still can’t believe this influencer rubbish that has spread through social media.

  3. Lara Dunston

    Agree. I don’t understand why Frommers haven’t made things work financially when other guidebook companies have. Almost did some updating work for them only the fees were appalling for work involved – far lower than other guidebook companies. I quite liked the Budget Travel magazine in print form. A shame they’re shilling crappy webinars. And, yes, I’m also over the influencer takeover of social media, especially Instagram – fed up with seeing people’s backs, legs swinging over cliffs and bare bums. We almost didn’t use the pic above because of that. I didn’t even notice her bum at the time we did the shoot but that’s all I’m seeing on Instagram these days. It has to end soon, surely???

  4. Peggy

    Hi Lara and Terence, love this post! There’s so much hard work and slog that goes on behind the background of running a travel blog like yours – I just feel bad for the people who think it’s really that easy and sign up for the webinar!

    I agree about the IG influencer trend that’s happening and like you, just don’t understand it. There’s just so much un-original content out there and unfortunately that’s what gets the likes so that’s what’s seen as desirable content. Keep doing what you guys do – I’m saving up for one of your courses in Cambodia, but it’s just hard with multiple priorities, chief amongst them Antarctica next year! 🙂

  5. Lara Dunston

    Hi Peggy – thanks so much for the kind words. Appreciated. Can’t wait to see you in Cambodia! Enjoy your time in Antarctica – look forward to hearing all about it. Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Colleen

    I agree with you on all these points, Terence. There are so many people out in the digital media world who feel they are writers, without having the basic skills. And how irresponsible to paint the world of travel writing as a luxurious experience: These phrases’ …the simple stories you can sell’ and, ‘If you can write a postcard or share a note on Facebook’ are what encourages people to think that they too can be writers. I have worked for more than 25 years as a writer — mostly freelance — and it’s nothing like the picture painted by Budget Travel; more of a hard slog. Thanks for exposing this rubbish.

  7. Anni

    Nice post. And what helps (I think) if you have a “sub category” that you write about, then you can write to specialized magazines and not have to compete with everyone else who wants to write about travelling in general.

    Thanks for the post 🙂


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