Why I’m Not a Full Time Travel Writer

I write for a living; I am a writer by occupation. Not a travel writer, specifically, I’m “just” a writer. I sit at a keyboard, put words in a certain order to describe things, and then, I get paid. On technical projects, where I make most of my money, I’m paid by the hour. Rather well, I must say, and no, I’m not going to publish my rate here, please don’t ask. I do a little bit of copy editing, I’m paid hourly for that, too. Someone sends me a bunch of sentences, I move the words around and try to make them better. I’m pretty good at it, though I’m a lousy proof-reader, meaning it’s best you find someone else to scrub your documents for typos and grammar nits. When I have regular clients, I make a decent living, enough to pay for a mortgage and groceries and overpriced health insurance and the day to day stuff that a life lived mostly in one place is made of.

I also do some travel writing. Just over there sits a check for a short piece I wrote last month; and oh, I’m overdue on invoicing that site I write for regularly, and I have a magazine assignment related to a trip I’m doing this summer. That work pays poorly; my best gig right now pays 70c/word with no additional compensation for photos. I would be unable to pay my bills were I to pursue that line of work full time. I do it on the side because I enjoy it.

Sometimes, like over this last month, I need to focus on the bill-paying work, and the work that I enjoy suffers. I can’t do both things well at the same time, so I choose, in a tactical move, to focus on doing the work that pays well. I negotiate for understanding with my other markets. The best editors understand they’re not paying me well enough to demand my full attention. Those who can’t offer me that kind of flexibility find someone else — in my cynical moments I figure they’ve found someone who doesn’t need to be paid well for their time.

I spend a few hours every week reading blogs written by travelers. I enjoy it, I enjoy finding new writers, I love seeing where people are going and what they’re saying about it. My favorite bloggers are typically expats who really dig into writing about their location, but sometimes, I’ll find travelers who can keep my interest during their travels. Those travelers are most often people who are striving to become better writers, who are not just documenting their adventures. They head out into the world, carving out their identities as writers, the travel is sometimes secondary to the writing. Forgive the hairsplitting, but they seem to be traveling writers, rather than claiming they’re travel writers. There is a difference and if you spend any time reading, you’ll see it.

Recently, I read a piece by a blogger who had done the thing so many hope will launch them — quit the day job, gone traveling, started a blog, jumped on the well worn path of pursing the career of Travel Writer. This blogger was feeling a bit frustrated, like it was not coming to fruition, like there were no good answers, like Things Were Not Coming Together. The blogger in question is a decent writer, I’ve been following along for a while and been consistently engaged. And I really felt for this person, too. “Oh, honey,” I thought. “Don’t quit your day job.”

There’s a lot of flowery rhetoric out there about how to make money as a travel writer/travel blogger. I call bullshit on most of it. It sits on top of a layer of crappy writing or affiliate sales programs or specious get rich quick e-Books. You can pay for membership in echo-chamber forums where you’ll receive the same information you can get for free by doing a few targeted Google searches. You can engage in skeevy ad schemes (“Just publish it under a guest poster’s name, no one will know it’s you!” — Actual Ad Pitch) or you can sign away your rights to networks that promise you traffic bonuses and visibility. You can devote your energy to writing copy that Google loves or you can bait controversy for the traffic gains. If you’re really willing to slog, you can apply to write a guidebook and sign away several months of your life to “seeing everything, experiencing nothing” — as a friend at Lonely Planet put it. You can follow that up with months of tedious documentation, and then, oh, don’t calculate your hourly rate, that way lies madness.

Next month is the Travelblog Exchange (TBEX), a conference for travel bloggers. I had dearly wanted there to be some kind of reality check discussion, not because I want to depress hopeful writers, but because I wanted to blow away some of that fiction around what it really means to be a travel writer by profession. X1, who writes for a prestigious publication and travels a lot has told me, “Yeah, it’s great. I love the work. But I’m poor. I live in a tiny apartment.” X2 admitted to winning big in the technology lottery and living off those funds. X3 has a full time day job and a spouse with a full time day job. X4 admits to churning out fluffy, uninteresting stories for custom publication markets.

The folks I know who are full time freelance travel writers are in a continuous cycle of pitch, write, edit, research, travel, repeat. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not clear to me that money is that good. I know a few staffers, too, and you know what? They’re just like your friends with day jobs. They have meetings and process and office politics and frustrations. Sure, they get to go some places, but so does the outside sales guy, and he doesn’t have to see his story eviscerated before it goes to press.

What I wanted at TBEX was a session that presented the reality of writing as a profession, not as a quixotic pursuit or a weekend hobby or gap year boondoggle. Admittedly, I wanted this for myself as much as anything. Because I struggle with what I do (what is that, anyways?) all the time. I wanted to hear people who I think of as grown up, professional travel writers speak honestly about how they juggle all this stuff, how they manage to make it work. I’m always grateful for time with writers who will share, honestly, how they get by — a recent conversation revealed a writer’s need to sell multiple stories about one destination with every trip in order to make the travel pay off. “I can’t go just because I want to. I need to sell that story five times over to have it be worth my while.”

[Note added Sun, 5:21pm: Kim Mance, the mistress of TBEX, states in the comments below that these topics are, indeed part of the TBEX agenda. Just in case you don’t see her response in all the conversation that follows.]

There are those who have made the jump to an itinerant lifestyle, bugging out to places where the low pay is enough, effectively outsourcing this work to places where 30 dollars goes much further than it does in my chosen home. That’s not something I’m willing to do. And keep in mind some basic math — even were I to make 1000/month blogging, I could not live on my annual income. There are also some who manage to generate a decent income, but they have a highly targeted market, they have a sophisticated understanding of what the web likes, they are backing up all their words with the sale of a product or service that people want to buy. Having none of those things, I don’t expect to live off the first person scribblings of this blog.

I have only my skill as a writer, such as it is, and it would be naive of me to believe that is enough. No, I also need a deep understanding of the market for the kind of writing I want to sell, the ability to package myself and my work as desirable, and the time to do exactly that. Ironically, it’s my understanding of what it takes to be a full time travel writer that keeps me from pursuing it full time.

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134 thoughts on “Why I’m Not a Full Time Travel Writer

  1. Wise words, as always. As someone who fits one of those X-examples above, I agree that it takes the pressure off. It doesn’t change the dynamics of what has to be done to make money from travel blogging, but it certainly provides a financial cushion.

    Blogging is more than a different writing medium, it’s a different business model It requires skills in addition to being a good writer — and sometimes those two skill sets bump into one another.

  2. Thank you so much for this piece. A few years ago, my husband and I kept a blog while we travelled and, amongst the travellers we met, at least, we were quite a novelty. We posted about twice a month and had a surprising number of page views. We didn’t make a dime, we never expected to make a dime. We wrote because we loved to write.

    Fast forward three years and everyone and her brother is a travel blogger. And lots of these people are writing a lot of drivel. And seemingly expecting (or at least hoping) to make a living from this blogging because someone else has. It makes me sad.

    As an aside, I posted a comment on one of your Antarctica posts awhile back talking about how badly I want to go to Antarctica – well, it looks like Feb/Mar 2012 is the time for us!! I’m so excited!

  3. I can see how successful travel writers have a sustainable, solid career and have possessions and a home life as well, and don’t have to relocate to do it.

    I just can’t see how they got there.

    Analogy: archaeology. It’s much the same thing in a lot of ways. I studied it in 2000-2004, I left it in 2005. returning to dabble a wee bit every now and again in an amateurish way. But the people I studied with have spent the last decade fighting to make ends meet, working stupid hours under appalling conditions, with little job security and in many cases a growing sense of disillusionment that would eventually turn into hatred. Some of them have made it. My housemate/landlord is one of them – he works in Qatar 6 months of the year, does a little work in Britain, and the result is a yearly income that covers all expenses, including the house I currently live in. It could change for him, certainly, but it’s a good gig and it will probably keep him going for years yet. However – he’s run ragged. It’s constantly full-on for him. And he’s one of the ones that have “made it”.

    To “make it” in travel-writing (and what a crock that fantasy can be), you have to sacrifice much, if not all, of what most people would call a “normal life”. And part of that sacrifice is, I feel (and you feel, evidently), shedding the dream of being a fulltime travel-writer as a single profession. That *may* happen, but it probably won’t. ‘Probably won’t’ is a risk you’d be stupid to take. So don’t put your hopes on it. Strategic pessimism, the kind that doesn’t stop you trying but *does* stop you selling all your possessions because The Rapture is coming, guys.

    There’s the challenge: to remodel your lifestyle when you’re ready, not when the travel-blogging evangelists say you should be. When they do that, they’re missing the whole point of other people being other people.

    • Who are these travelblogging evangelists of which you speak? I don’t think there are any that I’m listening to, but I don’t pay any attention to the lifestyle design people.

      I don’t think writing is a “lifestyle.” It’s an occupation. When we rephrase being a writer as a lifestyle, we’re making something precious and unattainable out of a skill. Why would we want to do that?

      • Hah. “Lifestyle makeover”. I believe I am guilty there of using the words of others. Truly they have done their work on me. Wrong words.

        Although…maybe not. When successful full-time travel writing demands so much of you because of the nature of the work, maybe to do it fulltime does require a full “lifestyle makeover”. Maybe that’s the way in 95% of successful cases. And in some cases, a lifestyle you might not want, because the hours are absurd and the pressure and the hustling is endless and it’s difficult (or inadvisable?) to draw a line and say “I’ve just stopped working here, I’ve clocked out, sorry, I can’t hear you, lalalalala”. To some people that’s fun. To people like Gary Vaynerchuk it’s the key to success – to live your job 24/7.


        I’d say Hmmm.

  4. Nice Pam. Would we ever see that kind of a panel discussion? Not so sure. But if it were me, the first bit of advice I’d give would be manage your expectations. One needs to accept a certain lifestyle…usually a very simple one, but that can be very flexible and offer a lot of freedom. And you really have to love it.

    • It’s unfortunate when an occupation requires a “certain lifestyle.” That makes it available either to the rich or the young, don’t you think?

      Also, I would like to think that one first needs to write well, that lifestyle issues should be secondary.

      • I don’t think it necessarily makes writing available only to the ‘rich or young’, but it does, as Carlo says, require certain levels of expectation. I am full-time freelance writer and I’m neither rich nor (that) young (anymore). I’m extremely happy with my life. But that’s because I don’t have kids (by choice), don’t drive a car (also by choice), don’t do expensive things like smoke, and (by a combination of choice and necessity) live in what is perceived by a lot of people as a deeply undesirable neighbourhood. I’m not fussed about having the latest TV or stereo. I certainly don’t live like a pauper; I love eating out, good wine, travel and buying more secondhand books than my house can hold. But certainly if I wanted to have more material goods, or if I did want to have children, or had a less understanding husband (and no he doesn’t support my career financially, although obviously splitting the mortgage helps), or indeed if I still wanted to live in the city (London) I was raised in which is vastly more expensive than the one I now live in – then I would have to compromise on the kind of work I do. Like Pam I balance copywriting/more technical writing with travel and, in my case, equally if not even more poorly paid political/cultural writing on a region I’m deeply engaged with. I agree with Pam and some of the other commentors that writing is a skill and that the many ads for courses and services out there which sell people some kind of dream of travel (or creative) writing as an easy career and exciting lifestyle are almost criminally exploitative and irresponsible. But I also agree with Carlo that it is partly about the expectations one has of life, what is ‘necessary’ to one’s daily happiness and stability, and what that costs. There are trade-offs. Other people make career trade-offs too – moving to cities they have no liking for because of well-paid jobs, doing jobs they hate because their priority is their family and supplying it with a nice material environment. Whatever. My choice is a job I enjoy enormously, but with a pay packet that is far below that of most of my university peers. It works for me, but it most certainly wouldn’t for everyone.

        • We have a pretty low rent life style, as things go. Certainly for your standard Yankees, we’re not not profligates at all, though we’re not living in deprivation, either. Had we decided to stay on the continent, I could have been a woman of leisure, writing while my husband earned our living. But I was a bitterly unhappy expat, so we returned to the US where I am, on the whole, MUCH happier. And also, considerably more on the hook for our financial well-being. It’s a trade off, like so many things.

          I like the idea of just doing find and replace on the word travel and replacing it with creative in front of writing. That works.

      • Hmmm but don’t many jobs require a certain lifestyle — regardless of one’s age and economic status? My mom was a nurse, and that meant she wasn’t with us on most holidays; she was also never going to be wealthy. I can’t be a Wall Street stock trader or well-respected brain surgeon while living on a hill raising goats and chickens in southern Italy. To some extent, our choices of careers *should* overlap with the kind of lifestyles we want. Yes, internal conflict arises when we want a certain career but don’t want the accompanying lifestyle; I left the legal profession precisely for that reason. Thems the breaks though. Just because I got a law degree, the legal profession doesn’t “owe” it to me to make it possible to be a highly successful lawyer while leading the kind of lifestyle I choose. For me, lifestyle was more important, and so I’ve made a living mostly out of legal writing — doing all the parts of the law I love (research, analysis, and writing) without the stuff I don’t (working 100 hours a week, learning to golf, etc.). Win/win for me, but not for everyone, and no, not easy to get to this point, but to me it was worth the risks to give this a go. One life to live and all that jazz.

        I see your post as aiming to do two things: (1) Show aspiring travel writers the realities of the biz; and (2) justify/rationalize for yourself (more so than for others) why you’re not a full-time travel writer. Regarding the former, your post is absolutely wonderful and YES there should be more candid discussion on this — but in many ways, your points apply to freelance writing in general. And this is where there’s an interesting intersection with your second goal IMHO because you have “made it” as a freelance writer. You’ve accepted the terms of what that means (sometimes unsteady income, trying to “break in” where it seems impossible at the beginning) and have become successful, because you’ve found it “worth it” to go for it. You’re not there (yet) with travel writing, and in this post, you say that’s mainly (or at least partially) because of the way the system is set up. This very well may be true, but whether it is or not, it’s clear you’ve decided not to play by “their” rules on a full-time basis. So now what? You either continue going as you’re going, travel writing part-time and you make peace with that (you say you have, but I’m not sure from reading this post that you have) or you have to buck the system in some way to make your goal of travel writing work for YOU, on YOUR terms — but again, only if that’s what you really want and if you think it’s worth it. What does that mean? Oh I don’t know — starting your own innovative online travel guide with a schtick no one else has thought of, tie it to apps and whatnot, and then have Lonely Planet begging to buy it from you. Who knows what could happen? We only find out if we do it. Good luck πŸ™‚

        • I don’t think I said I made peace with it, nor do I think I said I was blaming the system, but there are a lot of words between there and here, so I understand how you might have got to that point. It’s my own damn fault I don’t want to churn out the kind of stuff that sells. From a purely economic perspective, churning out the stuff that sells would mean that I could work full time as a travel writer and earn quite a bit less than I do as a technical writer, and that equation doesn’t make the most possible sense. As for my peace, yeah, that’s going to take a lot more than me writing a few rambling blog posts about how hard it is to be a creative writer. I think it’s normal to be frustrated from time to time by how hard it is to get by as a creative type. As long as I’m not plummeting in to depths of depression that end in my whacking off my ear, I’m willing to wrassle with the blues from time to time. I’ve made peace with that part, at least.

          I take your point about lifestyle/job choice being two sides of the same coin. And as I responded to a previous comment, somewhere up there, I had the opportunity to be a full time creative/travel writer while we were living abroad. But I was an unhappy expat, I was homesick and crippled by loneliness. We moved back to the US and while I can’t find a way to do creative work full time because the balance of financial responsibility is shifted to me in the US, I am, on the whole, much much happier. I got yer lifestyle choices right here. πŸ™‚ What I don’t like is the idea that there’s some one size fits all set of adjustments that are the travel writer’s lifestyle. “You’ll just need to make some sacrifices…” from those who have no idea what my life is really like, or what I’ve done thus far. That’s NOT an accusation towards you, Michelle, it’s just an observation.

          Thanks for helping me think through this some more.

      • I think Sarah understood what I was saying. My point was that if you’re going to try to make a go of this, that you’d better be ready to accept a non-consumerist/minimialist lifestyle (especially if you’re not supplementing income from writing/blogging with other job(s)). When I had a “day job” I definitely lived a consumerist lifestyle…a car, having the latest in gadgetry, new clothes…now, I didn’t change my values because I wanted to pursue writing…they kind of went hand in hand. I learned how happy I can be with so little. I sacrifice a lot of money in order to do what I do right now, but the freedom it affords me is so worth it.

        I see your beef with the idea of a “writer’s lifestyle” and sure, everyone is going to have their own specific circumstances, but the fact is it’s a damn hard way to make money. All I wanted to point out is to check your expectations and love what you do.

  5. A great article, very realistic and fresh to read for a change. I have recently changed my approach saying “I am a writer”. And with my specific niche which may be applied to several different topics – and of course including travel. Thank you for providing great reading, also with helping through your site. It is great to connect.

  6. Excellent points you make. I’ve noticed many travel bloggers these days seem to be going to foreign destinations for free as guests of tourist boards. This brings up the questions of ethics and objectivity. I also see some travel bloggers – who have little writing talent – rehashing information that’s widely available in the public domain, resulting in the print version of sound bites. So unless these bloggers have a standard gig, with a magazine paying their expenses, I wouldn’t expect them to be able to do much more than break even. Consequently, their time as travel bloggers likely will be brief.

    • I don’t think bloggers are so worried about being objective, after all, they’re not going to have their work before an editorial board. And their ethics are self-determined. I’ve gone on trips as the guest of a tourist boards, and written about it, and disclosed the terms. That’s pretty much the end of the conversation for my own blog — if someone is buying a story from me, I confirm what their editorial policy is. (I have an older post here called Ethics, Schmethics — you might be interested in that.) I pretty much hate the rehashed public domain posts, what a waste of everyone’s time. But there are some folks doing good, interesting work, as indy bloggers, and yeah, they’re probably NOT breaking even.

    • Reading Tara’s reply, I agree with Tara. It’s one thing to get travel trips like these press trips, however,I really do admire the writers that travel on their own, paying their way, and offering advice from this. They may be taking fewer trips, quality is better.

      The question is how to balance this and earn enough to live where we want to. Many writers have the second occupation to help.

    • I wasn’t referring to you, specifically. There are a bunch of folks who did what you did — they worked like maniacs, then dropped out to Do Something Else. There are a number of other scenarios, yours included, that aren’t listed here. Patron spouse. Trustafarian. Inheritance, to name a few.

      • I work my ass off for a non-profit. My friend works her ass off as a waitress. My Mom worked her ass off cleaning other people’s houses.

        Working your ass off does not equate wealth. There is some luck, some “lottery” in there somewhere, whether it’s the family born in or education or line of work one “works their ass off” in.

        Nothing personal. Just sayin.

        • You don’t make money by working hard. You make money by taking risks and working smart AND working hard.

          Confusing luck for success is what people tend to say when they aren’t successful. I can’t think of any area of life where success if just a function of luck, making money or not.

          When you think of success as luck you are going to wait around for luck to strike and it never will because that isn’t how it works.

          • I was having this conversation with a friend who would like to do some of the webby stuff that I’m doing. He used the phrase “an overnight success in ten years” to describe an actor friends who was doing quite well, lately. To me, that indicated his understanding of the complexity of things.

            Yeah, luck is nice, but it’s no substitute for work. We agree on this. I’m of the “make your own luck” school of thought, and also, sometimes, I hope for pixie dust. We may not agree on that part.

          • As another X2-type that’s wandering round the world based on previous income, there’s little I like less than being told I’m lucky. It’s down to hard work, living within my means and taking opportunities that arise.

            There may be an element of luck in finding those opportunities, but it’s mostly down to putting yourself in a position to find them and more importantly to act on them.

  7. A “must read” before quitting your day job! BTW, travel publishing outside sales is under great pressure at this time also…
    Can’t wait to catch Pam’s segment at TBEX11 next month in Vancouver.

  8. A friend whose stories frequently run in the travel sections of two major U.S. newspapers is getting offers of both free and discounted travel, but also paying her own way on many trips. Although she has been fairly successful in getting published, so recently told me that she was concerned about making her rent payment.

    Few travel writers (or photographers) that I’ve met are making anything resembling “a living”; sadly most could earn more at a “McJob.”

    I belong to TBEX, but will be in Santa Barbara during the Vancouver meeting. However, I agree with Pam’s suggestion that TBEX should do a “reality show” at future meeting.

    If you find that the financial reality of travel writing is too depressing to contemplate, this post to my own blog may at least make you chuckle: http://bit.ly/iGJ83d.

    (Glad to learn that I’m not the only one who is lousy at proofreading, but not bad at editing the copy of other writers).

  9. I enjoyed reading this and found that so much of what you wrote here rang true to me. I have trouble understanding the business models of some folks plying their trade as a travel writer; far more still of those brave folks who themselves travel bloggers. I admire the optimism and determination of those who follow this path, but have long concluded that it’s not for me. Maybe I’m too old or too married to make the sacrifices required; I don’t know.

    While I spend most of my time online rattling on about travel topics, I made more money from writing about healthcare than travel in the last 12 months. And I made more from writing in print than blogging. And I made zilch directly from my own site, even though that took up around 50% of my time.

    Writing (travel or otherwise) is a strange mixed up world, and I’m pleased to see that others come to similar conclusions in their navel gazing session to my own. A great read Pam.

    • Too old or too married? Maybe. I’m too old and too married also, but I don’t really want to go back to living in a one room studio apartment just so I can sit at my desk churning out 400 word front of the book blurbs on places I went four years ago. It’s just not a good use of my time. I make a much better rate churning out technical copy that hardly ever sees the light of day. I’m okay with that, because it allows me the time to write here, and to travel. The sacrifices some have suggested would take away the finances for travel, and that seems like a stupid deal to make.

  10. This is so right on I can’t amen it enough. I’ve slowly come to many of these conclusions and while it’s disheartening in one respect, it’s also heartening to know I am not deluding myself either. So my focus has shifted for 2011: find a “real” job. Of course one that allows me some vacation time per year. I’d like to get back to traveling for the enjoyment of it, not for the measly amount it sometimes pays me if I drive myself mad chasing editors and seeking monetization of my blog.

    Thanks, as always, for being the voice of reason Pam. It’s a nice voice.

  11. You bring up such valid points that go far beyond travel blogging. Really very applicable to all types but especially to food & travel where reality of day-to-day living is often an after thought. Kinda like NBA players: there are so many good basketball players out there, but few are gonna make it to the NBA. Doesn’t mean they should stop playing ball, but they better have a fall back.

  12. I used to get invited on press trips all the time. Often, when I had reliable markets for travel stories, I’d go on them. Then the newspaper biz died, then I moved abroad, then I stopped pitching anything, and now I’m blogging. It’s funny. I’m one of those ex-pats who could churn out interesting local stuff, but I just haven’t summoned the enthusiasm, although I do have hope that my fledgling blog will start my motors up again.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

  13. I appreciate the honest viewpoint on travel writing. I quit my job 7 months ago to travel through Latin America. I never had any intention of becoming a full-time travel writer, but lately I have been wondering if it’s possible. I have serious doubts and your experience confirms my suspicions. But I do know that my writing (something I loved to do as a child yet never had time for as an adult) has improved immensely over the past 7 months, and I am proud of my blog and the ability to inspire maybe a few people to go out and explore.

    • I think that’s a great reason to have a blog — to inspire people to go out and explore. And I also know, from experience, that blogging is what made me a writer, a writer about place and travel, at any rate. So I hope you know I’m not for a moment dissing blogging, I love it. What I’m saying is that wow, making a living writing travel? I wish you all the best with that. You have got to have a Plan B until Plan A comes to fruition.

  14. I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here, though maybe I’m not as skeptical. Still, it’s a tough life no matter how you write it. I find business writing equally as grueling sometimes. And sometimes I find writing about travel the easiest thing to do on earth. It depends on the project. I like the idea of being able to mix it up. Travel one week, copy editing the next, a business article here, website copy there. Back to travel. There’s really no other way I’d want to work, except incorporating more speaking gigs into my work days. But I’d say half my income right now, usually it’s less, comes from writing about travel.

    • That’s awesome. And I’m willing to bet you really bust your backside chasing those travel writing gigs. I happen to agree that writing about travel can be the easiest thing ever, I love that about it. But SELLING writing about travel, that’s a whole different equation.

  15. It’s possible to make a living as a travel writer, just like it’s possible to make a living as a fiction novel writer. But how many can really do it and “make a living” is the question. These jobs are to many: “living the dream”. Thus, the competition is pretty tough. I have a good friend that’s a travel writer, is married, and makes a living from it. They had an extraordinary career path, worked their ass off, and it has included primarily book and magazine writing.
    My business cards say that I’m a traveling writer, which probably sums it up best. Probably should have that reflect me everywhere else too. I have my hands in multiple revenue streams and I think this is where a lot of writing is going. I don’t think it’s going to be just all freelancers or all self-publishing. Tim Leffel had some good things to say in a book he published last year about travel writing today.

    • I’ve read Tim’s book, I think it’s a good read. (Also, I write for one of Tim’s sites). I have a few pals working full time as travel writers — see above under pitch, write, edit, research, travel, repeat.

      “Multiple revenue streams” should be familiar to all freelancers, after all, it’s just the fancy way of saying “Eggs? Not all in one basket.” That’s why I take on new clients whenever I can. I’m curious about what, exactly, multiple revenue streams means for you, and what kind of rates you’re seeing for writing about travel.

      We’re in agreement that it’s possible to make a living as a travel writer. What I don’t see is it being probable. If I really felt it was probable, I’d spend a lot more energy pursuing it and let my non-travel “revenue streams” languish.

      It is entirely possible that I suck as a travel writer, and that’s why I find it difficult to make a living at it. It’s also possible that the kind of (travel) writing I love just doesn’t have the markets to support more than a few lucky, hard working souls.

  16. Someone like Kristin Luna makes a good living from full-time travel writing. She is the main breadwinner in her relationship and they have bought a house in San Francisco. However, she works her butt off and seems to be ALWAYS travelling.

    I make a living from full-time journalism. It’s not travel exclusively but it’s all writing for the general public. In the last few years it tailed off quite a bit but now that I’m back in Australia where there is no recession and I have loads of good contacts, I expect it to pick up again. It will have to. In the past I had a “patron spouse” but he has gone back to school to do his PhD and is not working at the moment so if I want to live on more than government benefits, family charity and savings, I will need to earn it myself. I think I can.

    Two things strike me about Pam’s post. Firstly, how right she is for most people. Secondly, how wrong she is for herself! Let me explain… Most people cannot make a decent living from travel writing. Her observations about the reality of trying to do so are very valid. On the other hand, Pam is a good writer and starting to make a name for herself (hence why she’s on this panel). I really feel that Pam is ready to step up into a different league of travel writing with better paying markets if she wanted to do so. I’m not suggesting that she give up her technical writing but I actually think she could do more travel writing and less technical writing without losing income. Not everyone could but she’s in a good position to make that transition. I think she would get a lot out of going to some professional travel writing conferences like Book Passage.

    But I could be wrong. Market conditions in the US are pretty tough.

    • Caitlin, you’re both too kind and, uh, not kind enough. I really appreciate the nice things you’ve said about my writing. What you don’t see and can’t know about is my growing pile of rejections. In a twist that is both awesome and hugely frustrating, they say, “Oh! Nerd’s Eye View! We love your writing, we love your blog. And thanks but no thanks.” The implication that I’ve not, somehow, “stepped up” is false. I’m just not successful at it.

      Writing well does not immediately grant you access to writing what sells. Marketing skills do that.

      • I didn’t mean to suggest that you weren’t trying hard enough… it came out wrong if that was the inference you drew.

        You are correct that it takes more than just writing skill. You can learn the other required skills though!

        However, I know that things are very tight, especially in the US market. That works against you.

        I never made it into US magazines but I did write for US newspapers like the LA Times and Dallas Morning News by writing the article first and then submitting it. I wrote one story about San Francisco (where I was living so zero expenses) and effectively sold it three times. So that was $1700 of pure profit. Technical writing probably pays more but that’s not bad.

      • PS Being published in newspapers helps give you credibility and that helps you get other work. I have had UK magazine editors find my blog and see that I’ve written for The Guardian and then offer me work.

  17. Great post Pam – honest and right on all accounts.

    Some years ago, I went to a conference on science writing. I was in the midst of deciding whether working my ass off at all hours of the day to barely earn a living wage in academia was really what I wanted to be doing with my life. Science writing seemed, at least from the outside, like a much more pleasant way to barely earn a living wage.

    I was surprised at the time to find that the majority of the people at the conference with prominent science writing jobs for distinguished publications didn’t have any background in science – some even claimed this provided them special objectivity and the ability to spot stories and angles of interest to the general public. What they had was writing experience. Each had a different version of the same story: one started in sports, another in copy editing; a need for someone to cover an unsexy science story arose; they were given the chance; and voilΓ  – a science writer was born. The recipe for success: 1 part nose-to-the-page working at being a writer (of any variety), to 1 part hard work, to 1 part blind luck. Shake well, wait, pray.

    I have a full-time paying job writing about travel. How’d I end up there? I aimed to be a science writer and missed.

  18. Insightful but yet kind of depressing too.. I write .. just because I guess & don’t get paid a cent. I pitched one travel related story to a paper & was told I could post stories to their blog and if I could garner a good following they would consider publishing a story of mine! Never pitched another. Reading your post, I am not sure the payoff is worth the pursuit.

  19. I’m a full time writer now, but I’ve been a travel writer since 1980 and didn’t start making extra money enough to quit my full time job until I started getting my pensions and teaching creative writing p.t. (including travel writing)Nowdays you get far less for your travel stories than you used to in print pubs which are few and far between. I always tell people in my travel writing classes ‘don’t quit your day job’. And now I’m writing ‘full time’ I spend hours at the computer – sometimes longer than at an office – but I am not necessarily making a coin doing it. However, I love to write and I love to travel so I keep on doing it.
    (and no, I have rarely ever had a fam trip either. I pay my own way when I go!)

  20. After reading it again I’m still not sure I understand the point of this post Pam. It all seems rather circular. Do you think these boondoggle (ponzi, pyramid scheme, et al) TBEX-style conferences further encourage the false hope of living a dead & dying lifestyle? That seems to be what you’re saying yet you’re participating and marketing (to the hilt it appears) to travel blogging hopefuls. Surely these young writers think that there’s money in travel or they wouldn’t waste theirs traveling to such a conference. What then is the point of a travel blogging exchange? Is there some niche market in telling the truth to people these days? Graces me it can’t be so!

    I’m concerned that these false marketplaces being created by networks like this are encouraging advertiser and consumer behavior counteractive to a healthy relationship. If this all shakes out along the lines it’s going everyone involved is going to feel burned in the end.

    • I think that they’re the start of a forum for conversation about these topics, actually. I participate because I want it to be a place for genuine learning and for raising the bar for good work.

      Your point is well taken, though, and also, just a little bit, ouch.

    • @SVV I don’t think TBEX is selling the myth that we can all quit our jobs and live off the proceeds of our travel blogs. I went last year and found it primarily a way to connect with other travel bloggers and learn about how to create the best blogs we can. Unlike some others, I don’t blog to earn money; I blog as a creative pursuit and way to market myself, yet I found TBEX worthwhile.

  21. I’ll put a hand up and say, yes, I do make a full time living out of travel writing. I’d like to write about music, cricket, beer and lots of other things as well – but I’m scared that I probably don’t have the right level of expertise, contacts and tone.

    Which is a way of saying that I do make a full time living out of travel writing, but somewhat by accident – it’s just what I know how to sell and what people want to buy off me. This will seem arrogant, but I’m good at it. I’m good at spotting a story, I’m good at writing in an engaging manner. More importantly, I write fast and to specification.

    On the other hand, I’m rubbish at DIY, managing a team, catching balls and all manner of things that other people are good at. I just fell into the right gap.

    But I do end up working very hard. Trips away are meticulously planned (by me, not by people offering free trips with lavish itineraries) – which takes a lot of time and effort. The recent 17 day trip to Canada and the States had four guide articles, five other articles and twelve blog posts sold in advance. The vast majority of those were written on the road.

    In short. It is possible. But it’s not for everyone, and it certainly won’t be the enjoyable lifestyle that most people wanting to be travel writers envision when they start off down that rose-tinted road.

  22. <>

    Yup. How do I do it? I live in Asia. I’m lucky bec I had chosen to live here before I started freelancing; I’m not here bec it’s cheap (or relatively — Malaysia is expensive by Asian standards.)

    I would so like to hear those honest words spoken too. You’re one of the few who is doing it. Thanks.

  23. Ive written several guidebooks for Moon Publications and Nat Geo and I can confirm you can’t make a decent wage writing guidebooks, plus it gets boring going to Phuket each year. Yeah, even Thailand can get boring.

    • Heard recently of a major travel publisher (top 5, not LP or RG) offering $5k for a Camdodia book. New title so new research – not an update. 5k. The friend who told me turned it down, but someone else accepted the gig.

      • Does that include royalties? Travel expenses?

        I got 1200 for an update, no royalties, and, uh, I can’t remember what I earned for that Hawaii guide. It was a new title, I didn’t clear bunk on it after all my hours and out of pocket expenses.

        • No royalties, no expenses. Researcher required to display receipts to prove they had been to all covered destinations. In my experience to from scratch at even a base level of detail would be two to three months on the ground, plus write up time plus queries, so perhaps six months all up.

          • My husband and I wrote over 40 guidebooks for all the major publishers, LP, RG, DK, Footprints, Thomas Cook, AA, etc, and now Hedonist’s Guides; first editions, updates, and chapters in books. Our fees averaged from a minimum of $10,000 for those teensy LP Encounter type books to up to Euro 17,000 for country guides that we coordinated and for which we wrote half of the book. That was the average, but we also did updates for slightly less, and occasionally wrote first editions for more. Add a photography fee for Terry that has sometimes amounted to the same figure as the writing, and I’d consider that a nice income for a few months work on average. We’ve only ever worked for longer than that on a few books (first editions that we wrote and shot involving long distances during research) and the fee reflected the work.

            We stopped doing guidebooks a few years ago because we wanted a change mainly, but also because fees were dropping and we found ourselves having to renegotiate every fee offered. We now only do guidebooks if we are really passionate about the project/destination and like the publisher, which is why we’re doing a Hedonist’s Guide.

            One of the major problems that we saw with the guidebook industry was the increasing number of writers who were willing to accept low fees and not take the risk to negotiate. We always renegotiated if we felt a fee wasn’t fair and we would make a case as to why the job should cost more (i.e. distance to be travelled, cost of hire car or fuel, etc). Very few writers do this because they so desperately want the job, so editors are then under the misapprehension that books can be done for less than they actually can be produced for. They’re the writers who only break even or don’t make money and they only have themselves to blame.

          • Your approach to this indicates the shift to actually taking on travel writing as a professional who deserves to be paid well. A lot of new travel writers are, I think, so surprised to be paid at ALL, that they’re willing to take anything. Writers who will take that pay are only half the equation, editors/hiring managers who are willing to accept “good enough” because it’s cheap are on the other side. For any format, not just guidebooks. See also, content farms.

            FWIW, I negotiated more pay for my guidebook work, and it still ended up being crap.

  24. Well you certainly hit the nail on the head on more than account here. And, I will agree with your points.

    However, the day someone can write a post that will actually sink this message into people heads is the day you’ll have made it.

    Lot’s of dreamers out there. And just as they are about to actually start enjoying their travels, as opposed to sitting in wifi zones, they’ll earn a $50 seo link. Dreams of earning from the road will come flooding back, and it’ll continue on until there’s no choice left.

    Nothing wrong with dreams though. It’s how we made it too the moon, and discovered the earth was round.

    In today’s literary market, diversity is the key to survival.

    The breaking points are that many “writers” like to be purists. Many of the good ones are solely writers. And, it’s nice to see. Mainly because I don’t get google eyes by text links, internal links, ads, affiliates boxes in their work.

    Much like the big commercial malls once took over, the cottage industry has remained in a niche that many people support.

    Same true people that write great travel stories… hopefully so.

  25. An enjoyable read.

    To boil it down:
    a) You’re talented with words
    b) What you enjoy doing doesn’t pay you enough to do it full time, so you do other stuff to make the budget.
    c) Someone you read went travelling, started a blog and is disappointed because it isn’t working out.
    d) Travel writing is one of many industries beset with “make a quick buck” scams.
    e) TBEX isn’t talking about the things it should be (namely b,c & d)

    I don’t really see where the problem is (aside from TBEX dropping the ball).

    Travel writing, hell writing in general has close to zero barriers to entry — anyone can have a go at it — as they increasingly are. And that’s great I guess, but just because someone is giving it a go doesn’t mean the industry owes the person a living. To assume that just devalues the years or decades of hard work put in by those, like David above, who do make a successful living out of it.

      • Yeah sorry that was my opinion. One panel that could have been useful would be a bunch of buyers who explain what they pay and how much material they reject. They could also discuss what value they see (if any) in many of the make money blogging courses/ebooks/training etc that get pushed hard. There’s lots more that would have been great to see,but time is limited.

        I guess it’s easy to say what a conference should be, it is what it is. I would have thought this would have been of considerably more practical assistance (albeit in a negative way) than some of the sessions that are on offer.

        • Have you guys even had a look at the TBEX ’11 schedule? (Linked to on the homepage.)

          There are things like “reality check” on monetization, a real-time collaboration “jam session” between a panel of huge travel brands & the blogger audience on ways to see more eye-to-eye on what is mutually beneficial and possible. To get immediate answers on what will fly, and a list of actionable items from that one session.

          And yes, e-books & other things marketed to bloggers, by bloggers, will be actively mocked. Among other things.

          One thing we’ll also focus on is quality control, and avoiding being sucked into a travel blogger echo chamber, and increasing consumer audience.

          I have to say, I’m always surprised and disappointed at the number of people who criticize without first taking a look. And it’s definitely a recurring theme.

  26. Ah, the pleasing thunk of a hammer firmly boshing the proverbial nail on the head. Thank you for a thoughtful and honest piece, Pam.

    I used to make a full time living writing about Cairo for tourists. (I’m not gonna call it “travel writing”.) It helped, of course, that I was living in a relatively cheap city, refuse to admit that I’m getting-too-old, and am most definitely not married. But for various reasons – some under my control, some not – the bottom fell out of that and I chose to stop.

    It’s taken me a long time to realize that I enjoy travelling (more accurately, perhaps, I enjoy living in foreign places), and I enjoy writing, but I don’t necessarily enjoy writing about travelling.

    But, like everything, it comes down to your personal priorities, doesn’t it? More money / less money ; steady income / unpredictable income ; having a boss / being ‘your own’ boss ; writing what you want / writing what others want (ie what will sell) ; working hard at what you love / having a job that allows you to pursue what you love on the side ; any other arbitrary binaries you care to add.

    I have a ‘proper’ job now in an office with a water cooler and everything, with all the pros and cons which that may or may not conjure. It’s still in media, and I have a regular income now, and yet, and yet… for me, at least, the grass is always greener….

    • My compromise is to do freelance work that pays well. That way I don’t have a boss (win). My income isn’t steady (lose) but it’s good (win). I do some writing what will sell because it keeps me in the game, but for what it pays, I don’t do a lot of it because it makes no sense to do so.

  27. There I was, selling myself as a professional photographer, handing 45% of all I earned to the Belgian government, loving the hell out of working at something I loved but never making anything like a livable income. There’s too much free stuff out there, I presume this is part of the death knell for writing as well. It’s odd, the artists create beauty, the inspiration and etc but they have always been the ones struggling throughout history. So much wiser to be an office worker or shop assistant it seems. I think even the beggars here make more than me in the lean months. I’m stepping out of the game as we speak. I’ll miss it but well … now to get a haircut and get a real job, eh wot.
    Excellent article. Immediately shared it on facebook. xx

  28. Really appreciate this post, Pam. There are only a handful of folks who understand just how (mostly) impossible it is to do this for a living. Nice little reality check – would love to see this discussed at TBEX!

  29. I, too, do not make enough to live on solely from travel writing. I make up the difference with subcontract web design and freelance copywriting. Thanks to my MS, it’s become difficult to work in a 9-5 non-home office environment, so I do what I can online to pay to the bills.

    Twenty years ago, when I first started writing, I could live just off my writing. With the current state of pay-for-writers, it’s just not possible anymore. Not unless you go that extra and sell e-books, t-shirts and the like.

    I’m bookmarking this to send to all the people who ask me how to become a travel writer. I think it’s great that people want to do it, but realistically, you’ll need to do it because you love it, not because you think you’ll earn a decent living while traveling the world.

    Rock on with your bad self, Pam. This was a great post. =)

  30. Pam, you rock.

    I sometimes allow myself to daydream about working for myself, writing about local travel on my own little website full-time, and making a living off it. It’s a fun little daydream! But I’ve been hanging out with your blog posts on this topic long enough to know I shouldn’t quit my day job anytime soon.

    I started blogging on the travel side of things as an enhancement to my professional development as a writer, editor, and director of a non-profit communications program. My blog is like a creative laboratory for me where I can try out design, technology, engagement tools and writing ideas–all without major stakes or resources involved. Occasionally, some nice person tells me that they find my blog to be interesting and useful, and that kind of feedback is pretty much the only payment I get. And yet it’s really great to hear and makes me unnaturally happy πŸ™‚

    Anyway, as usual, thanks for sharing.

  31. I loved the idea of hosting my own travel blog and making money during my journey.

    Shortly after starting out, I began to get offers to pay me for links in my posts. Once I learned a bit more, I realized they didn’t care what I wrote as long as there were links on my pages that they could use to game Google. It completely sapped my desire to pursue making money on my site and I started writing solely for my own enjoyment.

    It was one of the best decisions I made while traveling.

  32. Thought-provoking stuff Pam. You’ve clearly initiated the conversation you hoped TBEX would tackle. And, know what? Since you’ve already kicked it off, I bet it WILL be there–at least in the hallways, which is where most good conference stuff happens anyway.
    Something that a few commenters have hinted at, but not addressed full-on, is that there are a lot of “dream jobs” out there that are such not because they are so wonderful, but because they require a dream. And they require beating the odds: how many aspiring musicians, actors, poets, photographers, and writers of all kinds have day jobs? Go broader. What’s it take to make a living as a speed car racer, riding the rodeo circuit, pro golfing… lots of hard work, dedication, and PASSION.
    Many of us do what we do in our “spare time” because we want to, because we love it, because there would be something missing if we didn’t… and we keep our dependable and better-paying day job gigs because, well, we have to while we dream that someday we might be able to leave them behind to make a living off what we love most.
    The most important thing of all is to be able to enjoy the ride…

  33. Thanks for writing such an informative an honest post, I think it’s a reality check most travel bloggers/ aspiring writers need. I think most people have this romanticized view of travel writing sitting with your notebook with the sunset over Santorini in the background. I think really one of the downsides of being a full time writer that a lot of people don’t think about is you also have to be a salesperson, you have to sell yourself and that’s one product that you can’t afford to loose a sale on! I’d imagine it could be quite stressful, especially worrying if you’re going to have enough money to pay the bills!

  34. Wow, Pam. There just aren’t that many blogs where I’ll read the WHOLE post and then ALL the comments.

    But the more I read, the more I became engrossed in the drama of everyone’s situation. FASCINATING.

    Just a little background–I’m a journalist, but I’ve always made my money in sales. And so, while my card says “publisher” the honest-to-goodness-truth is that I’m in sales.

    Maybe that’s the difference for me. I love writing. But I REALLY love selling my writing. Admittedly, sometimes it hurts ’cause I’m breaking my arm patting myself on the back…but it’s an occupational hazard.

    Do I make a good living? I think so. Do I have multiple income streams? Sure. Did I marry well? OMG!! Yesterday was our 28th anniversary–and we’re celebrating in Pamplona, Spain.

    The minutia, the gory details, the mix of business/pleasure…some folks are really interested in that. Mostly it’s been a messy process of lots of trials, many errors and a few home runs.

    So, while wifey naps, I’m uploading a few more photos, sifting through some video footage and …well…figuring out what’s for dinner.

    Thanks for the post, Pam. It’s good to do a both-eyes-open analysis of what you’re doing. Just makes sense. And remember: nothing happens until somebody sells something.

  35. I think writing is comparable to any other art form; it doesn’t pay much, except to a few who have both talent and luck, so anyone who wants to be a writer should do it because they love writing, not just because they see it as an “easy life” scheme.

    • Fun fact. I have a fine arts degree. When I was devoted to painting, I really did not suck at it, but it was very hard to move the work out of the studio, people just didn’t want to pay for it.

      I’m painfully aware of the analogies here.

      And I DO love to write. SO much.

  36. Great post Pam. As a Journalism student who has taken the step into travel blogging I’ve been thinking about this conundrum a lot lately, especially with all the class choices.
    I do like the concept of being a ‘travelling writer’ – it much better suits what I want to do in my life, even more so because I hate being limited to writing about one topic despite how well rounded my knowledge is.

    I think you really should push that topic to be included at TBEX Europe, TBEX 2012 or even TBU. Would be a really interesting subject to talk about and hear what such respected people, such as yourself, have to say about it.

    • Yes, Karen gave an excellent talk with real-life, realistic expectations, as well as practical tips — without being pie in the sky.

      We try hard to give people a chance to network with each other, and with large brands looking to interact with bloggers. And we aim to provide a forum that is beneficial to both, without bloggers giving everything away to marketers.

      But I guess a look at the schedule might clear that up.

  37. Hi Pam, thanks for your personal input. Allow me to share my few cents worth, from a fellow writer to another on the other side of the globe.

    Passion is the key to every profession. When we love our job so much, we work our asses off to be able to hold on to it.

    In an ironic twist of my life, I am a newspaper writer for 15 years, and one day I took up photography. It paid way more than my writing profession, which is supposed to be my forte. I had to put up blogs to showcase my works, and the writing skills ended up as mere captions for my images. Then travel invitations started pouring in, as much as photography gigs. A hobby turns into a profession. An old profession turns into therapy.

    I used to believe you have to be a professional writer in order to maintain a blog. I scoffed at those who are overwhelmed by their posts and erratic rants, and inwardly proofread their grammatical errors.

    Then young bloggers started inviting me to speak in a series of workshops on how to blog well and post better images in order to have their works published in print. How can you refuse to be a mentor to those who may one day take your darn place away? Life, after all, is uncertain, even when you are Oprah Winfrey (God bless her).

    In blog writing, it’s like a volunteer career, limited pay, no expectations, yet fulfillment hits us to the core. If we are really good at it, we excel in whatever field (technical, blog, gadgets, film) and reap our rewards soon enough, depending on our perseverance, professionalism, integrity and skills (okay, let’s include charisma as well). A case in point: look where your blog is heading.:-)

    But travel writers may say it differently as enticement: “we ditch the corporate world for a freelance quest of the unknown, in pursuit of our dreams”. It will sound farfetched and illogical to the sensible mind (but not in today’s cyberworld of e-magazines, and travel portals who look for good materials).

    Behind those words, however, a severe backdrop of reality looms for us who took a leap, and are living in this industry for so long. We indeed have inspiring hand-to-mouth survival tales to tell. We hold on to our passion and dreams, because they keep the fire burning, the stories churning, and the spirits alive.

    Travel blogs abound because there are dreamers who have made their fantasies come true, mortgages and loans withstanding. These fascinating stories we read seldom come from a mind of a burnout worker typing from his office cubicle, complaining of a deadend job and no time for extras. They come from those who are typing away with crazed, gleeful look in their eyes, because there is another place to seek, explore and share while working their asses off to pay for the rent. And for them, they already have it made. πŸ™‚

  38. Your feelings are completely spot on. Even though it’s not a “panel” at TBEX, it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it outside of the conference. Plus, we’re discussing it now.

    The question I have is why do we want to write travel? Is it to see the world a little more (and as an explorer)? Is it because travel is the one thing we enjoy writing about? Is it because it would be a fun way to make a “living?” An escape from “real life?” I can only answer for myself and I think the reason I want to write about travel (and not solely travel) is to inspire others to go out and see their world. But responsibility and being able to make ends meet are at a cross-roads with that passion.

    So, like you (Pam), I try to focus on finding work that will pay – even if it’s a contract – that enables flexibility to travel if an opportunity arises. Or maybe it’s developing a skill outside of writing that will enable me to enjoy the freedom of traveling. Until I can work and live somewhere else, it’s the unfortunate reality.

    It’s a matter of continuing the passion on the side. It’s weird. The more I am forced to abide by society’s standards of getting a “real job,” the more I find myself writing. Le Sigh.

    • I love to write about travel, but beyond that, I love to write. I REALLY love it, it makes me crazy, that’s how much I love it. And travel, well, I love that too, but I write about home, too, and my neighborhood, and the beach near my house. So I write about places, more than I write about travel, I think. As for why, I swear, I can not help myself. I’m delighted if it inspires, or causes some kind or reaction, but I write because Oh My God, I really love to write.

  39. Perhaps the payoff is in the journey itself and not the destination. Seeing the young writers of today trying to make a living from what they love is what it’s really all about. We all have our comfort levels and if that’s their dream, I would say to let them walk in it and breathe deep of it’s heady perfumes before they accidentally leave their rose colored glasses on the next plane seat. There almost always comes a time when the fires of one’s passion are not enough to pay the bills, but for that magical moment when they do. That time of indescribable joy when things just work and life’s juices taste the sweetest. Those are the paychecks that can never be spent or tallied on a ledger sheet. That’s the paycheck we all really want, no matter if it’s from writing or some other pursuit.

    • This is some nice poetry. And I’m not a complete troll, I won’t go around stealing those rose colored glasses. I can’t find mine anywhere, though, so I’m looking for a new vision, you know? A little guidance out of the bleak landscape of reality…

      Too much metaphor. No wonder I can’t sell a story. πŸ™‚

      • I lost my rose colored glasses a long while ago. My beautiful wife still uses hers to show me the beautiful possibilities that are out there, all the while with her feet planted firmly on old terra firma too. Luckily, the bleak landscape of reality always has had the endless horizon of possibility and adventure to make it seem more attractive to live in. Your work is excellent and you tell very engaging stories too. I’m sure that the only guidance you need is to not let the day to day stuff get you down to much. I know that I could use that guidance myself. πŸ™‚

        • I actually really like the day job work I do, well, most of the time, anyway. That day to day stuff doesn’t grind me down, not too much. I do get frustrated by the lack of success with my other work. But if you won’t take it as hokey, I’ll say that kind words like yours really do go a long way towards making it worth my while. Thank you.

  40. Love this post, thanks for sharing some valuable information and your personal experience. I enrolled in a professional writing program at a local university last September. I love to travel, and to write, but I know travel writing is hard to make a living from. I didn’t want to put all my eggs into the travel writing basket. One thing I found being in school was I that enjoy technical writing, something I didn’t even know existed until about a year ago. It’s never a good idea to limit yourself in your work. It would be like an actor only auditioning for television sitcoms. I have a travel blog, and I love writing for it. But at this point it’s only a hobby. As much as I’d like to be a full-time travel writer, I may just get into technical writing after I graduate, and keep travel writing as a side project or hobby.

    I’m glad to know that there are other writers who don’t enjoy proofreading, that was the one class I didn’t care for. I also didn’t realize that you could do technical writing as a freelancer, I always thought of technical writing as a 9 to 5 office job.

    • Just to veer into totally solid information for a minute… I was a 9-5 tech writer for years before I went freelance. I was never a full time staffer, I’m constitutionally unsuited to having a job in the traditional sense. I was a contractor, which meant I typically worked six to nine month contracts,and then, went out into the world for a few months. It wasn’t until I’d established my reputation and my portfolio that I went full time freelance. I do know a LOT of full time freelance tech writers, it’s a good gig for the independent and technically minded.

  41. Hi Pam…

    followed you thru a twitter post, read this post & saw 84 comments…wasn’t sure if would read all of the comments…but i read thru, each intriguing in its own way…has forced me to look at some facts of my life which i have been trying to block out for some years now…thanks

    the pitfalls of any work apply to travel writing…or for that matter all writing i guess as @Stuart points out…for every JK Rowling who ‘sells’, there may have been many who lie undiscovered or ‘un-saleable’ to generic audiences;there is one Google to the umpteen search engines which came & went…

    anybody today can ‘blog’, become a ‘nature’ photographer, self-styled Gurus of all kinds…barriers of entry don’t exist in our virtual world…
    Its the ‘Saleability factor’ as @Scott says….and i say its Passion + Hard work + Lucky Selling which make THE only combination in every success story…Unfortunately, its the LUCK or X-Factor part that separates the few successes v/s the many failures…depressing as that thought may be…but let the world not stop the passion & hard-work you and your ilk of travel-writers are capable of πŸ™‚

    have a qsn to u though…when u started travel writing, didn’t you think u will become a full-time travel writer one day?

    • I had no specific plan — I veered in to travel writing because I was an expat. But I have, weirdly, always been a writer. I wasn’t focused on travel, so much, I was very much devoted to essay. Blogging is like an old pair of jeans, a perfect fit for my writing self, but not for my inner fiscal conservative. My guess is that if I were happy as a hobbyist writer, I would be happy, period.

  42. Sigh,

    When is someone just going to call a spade a spade? The vast majority of people who make anything from the “travel blog” arena are people who sell links. Their success has nothing to do with their writing capabilities, it has everything to do with their page rank.

    If they don’t sell links, they sell the shovels of the travel blogger gold rush. The shovel is basically a book or course explaining how to sell links.

    If this were a gold rush, we’d be at the point where people have heard that others have struck it rich and everyone is chasing the same dream. Curious to see what happens in a few years, we all know how the gold rush ended for most.

    Finally, nothing wrong with just writing a travel blog because you like it and traveling for the same reason. I’m sure most genuine travel bloggers had no idea there was money to be made when they started their trip or their blog.

    • I always enjoy a good gold rush analogy. Blogging as a gold rush is sort of, well, silly, because seriously, do I really think I’m going to get rich publishing my own vapid thoughts on the web? Seriously? That’s just insane. There’s got to be a better way. A friend recently used a music analogy to describe this whole, uh, syndrome too, and I like that a lot. I’m a really mediocre musician, I play okay. I don’t suck, but I’m not exactly bursting with talent. It would be insane to think I could get a recording contract or be invited on tour, yet some seem to think that actually, they should get to open for Bono.

      I agree that there’s nothing wrong with blogging for the pleasure of it. It is, ultimately, why I blog. But also, I have pretensions that I can do more than just blog, and I would like to find my way to that, whatever that is.

      • People are making significant amounts of money with less than average writing talent, I’d say that’s “hitting gold” and people are most certainly rushing to the sector. I’d say that’s a gold rush.

        Your example of mediocre skill opening for Bono is the equivalence of these people assuming they’ll write for the NYTimes, both assumptions are ludicrous.

        • Oh, I hope you didn’t think I was disagreeing with your analogy. It’s a little dot-commy (which is fun to say out loud) in that you’re selling a product that might not exist, that has questionable value, that could lose its value at the whims of the Google monster (see also: the great Google slap of 2011). Gold had actual street value, though. The currency of links is a bit more, uh, transitory.

          And yeah, the assumptions are absurd.

  43. Before I write anything else I should explain that I am possibly the world’d greatest procrastinator, that’s why it’s taken me 3 days to read your post, even as the very articulate replies mounted up, meaning I had to read those too. Not only that, but I had to re-read it to absorb it all. The procrastinator gene also explains why I spent more than a year umming and ahhing over whether I could/should try to “monetize” my blog….it’s something I’ve thought about – a lot! Perhaps if you’d written this a year ago I might have understood what it has taken me a year to learn.

    I lost my job at the beginning of 2010, two years from retirement, and it seemed like a good time to finally try my hand at my lifelong ambition, writing. Since I already had a blog for fun, it seemed like a good place to begin. I was told that I “qualified” as a travel blog because I am an ex-pat and write a lot about where I live. All fine. I began to dream. Then I became aware that it wasn’t so much the quality of my writing which would count so much as how much advertising I could attract and such stuff. It all began to feel rather like jobs I’d had, marketing things, but, say, wasn’t that what I was so relieved to have left behind?

    I know we all have to make a living, but I’m at a time in my life where I no longer want to make compromises concerning my integrity, I’d rather the compromise was in my “standard” of living. So I go without a lot of things I used to have/enjoy, and I do some teaching, which I also enjoy, and the blog is my “labor of love”. It’s brought me work indirectly and I like that because it’s for the way I write rather than how much I can sell myself.

    Great post. I’m going to be following TBEX with much more interest to see where this leads.

  44. Very poignant piece Pam and certainly lots of food for thought.

    However, I did want to chime in because I see two distinct sides to this post.

    On the one hand, I agree with you that people should, in essence, do due diligence when finding out what it is they really want to do with their lives.

    And on the other hand, one of the things I’ve quickly realized in life is that everyone does have their own path to follow.

    One can draw inspiration from various sources, but ultimately what I’ve learned is to try not to compare my path to that of others. Something that isn’t naturally easy to do, I know.

    I can state reasons why I’m a writer or photographer or artist or programmer or whatever without indirectly saying someone else’s path in life – be it “travel blogging”, “travel writing”, selling ads, whatever rocks their boat, isn’t up to par.

    Personally, I didn’t quit my day job (which was pretty sweet and also included technical writing – strategic plans/scopes/tech manuals/user guides in addition to actual software development) until I felt I’d gathered a bit of traction. And even that bit of traction still requires diversifying skill sets, finding good clients, and putting in the hard work.

    Personally, I’m just trying to balance learning Swedish and local integration with constant travel and assignments.

    What works for others certainly may not work for you and me.

    I value hard work. And anyone who works hard and honestly to achieve their dreams (whatever it may be) certainly should be commended – whether they sell ads, “won in the technology lottery” based on years of hardwork they put in upfront, or are simply carving it out as they go.

    • I’m totally with you, Lola. Also, I HOPE you don’t think I’m saying anyone else’s path isn’t suitable — only that in some cases, there be monsters. Go prepared. Talk to the cranky old traveler by the gate post, first, and then, hey, it’s your call.

      Though I stand by my generic “Don’t quit your day job” advice, at least not until they’ve done exactly what you did: Got traction.

      The idea of due diligence, though, here’s a funny thing: My career, such as it is, is a testament to the lack of diligence.

      I won’t claim to be a self taught writer, I learned under the tutelage of editors in other topics. I took one writing class. I went to a writer’s conference that left me no more informed than the day I walked in the door. That’s about the extent of my due diligence. Had I done the research, it’s likely I’d not have bothered. You’re SO right about this, but also, I’d like to audition for the role of exception to that rule.

      I’m accidental in my day job too, I needed work, there was an opportunity, I said yes, and now, I’ve been a freelance tech writer for more than 10 years.

  45. I think that this not only goes for travel writers but a lot of other industries as well. Though there are actually people making money(few)most are TRYING to make money by selling the idea that you CAN make money even though they are not making money.

    • “most are TRYING to make money by selling the idea that you CAN make money ”

      BINGO. That’s the stuff I call bullshit on. Just for grins, I looked to see what Don George’s Travel Writing book costs. It’s 10.00 from Amazon. And Tim Leffel’s? 15.00. These guys are the real deal. Compare that with the eBook from the someone I met last month? The price? $100. Um.

  46. Pam —
    LOVED this post — so much so that I riffed on in today on our blog: http://undecidedthebook.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/slaying-the-green-eyed-monster-or-hoping-to/
    Your post is a great example of one of the themes of our book, grass-is-greener syndrome, which tends to hit so many of us, especially when it comes to the big questions of what to do with our lives. It’s not that we shouldn’t follow our dreams, but we need to realize that nothing is perfect — no matter how great it looks from the outside — and that there are always trade-offs involved.
    Our book, “Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — that’s Right for you” explores the impact of the illusion of unlimited options on today’s women — and suggests some strats for changing perspectives.
    thanks for your post. bk

  47. Amen, lady. In the end I’ve come to realize that I’m doing this because I love it – not because I expect to get paid for it. Of course, it’s still a pipe dream I hold on to … just not very tightly. πŸ™‚

  48. A very well written piece, thought-provoking and eye-opening. I struggled with the urge to quit it all and become a travel writer and thank goodness I never did! I’m slowly shifting my thoughts from “maybe something will come of it” to “I’m doing this because I love it and to hell with the rest”. My regular job pays well, well enough to allow me to travel often enough to keep me motivated and the writing/journaling of those travels will remain a hobby that gives intense satisfaction only.

  49. Pam I read your post when you first tweeted it. When I came back, it had over 100 comments so I saved it to read the rest! I think your point– “You have got to have a Plan B until Plan A comes to fruition”– is a really strong one. As a new writer, I know that carving out a certain niche, even if it’s one I like, should give me focus. But I’ve realized that “niche-ism” actually gives me tunnel vision. I would have missed out on other opportunities for diversifying income had I not taken advantage of gigs outside the travel and tourism markets. I guess what I’m adding is that as much as I’d like to have a Plan A and Plan B, in the end Plan C worked out even better.

  50. I loved this article and all the comments with it, it certainly explains why I am not a full time travel writer. (although perhaps my approach to writing is quite similar to my approach to travel … lazy!)

  51. Hopefully everyone wanting to be a travel writer—and especially a blogger—will read this and the comments beforehand so they’ll have reasonable expectation. And beyond selfish reasons, I hope people will read the Travel Writing 2.0 book. Then they can understand how money is made at this in the modern age, not how it was made 20 years ago. (Thanks for the plug Spencer!)

    “my skill as a writer” has almost never been the determining factor though for earning money. That has always come from being good at marketing and being great at generating ideas. Anyone with a reasonable level of education can be a writer—zero barriers to entry. Only a few have the skills, determination, and patience to turn that into a good living. That was true in the print-dominated world, it’s even more true now in the digital age.

    Yes, you can make good money at this and I have done so for years, but it’s real work, like most anything worth succeeding at in life.

  52. Aah…dreams mixed with a perception of reality in this post. Always makes for interesting reading. It seems that you already have the writing skills necessary to get paid handsomely. You’ve even identified the need for specific knowledge which is easier to acquire than the skills youve already developed. Would always be encouraging to see people “just go for it”. I guess we’ll see. Thank you for the insight nonetheless.

  53. Thank God to see someone talking sense for once! Years ago I too thought becoming a travel writer was the be all and end all… then I looked more into it (before selling up and hitting the road) and realised it paid next to nothing. I still gave it a go, just to see, then when I was offered a total of $3000 (about 1700 pounds at the time) to write a guidebook for London that included 200 restaurant reviews all to be paid by me (including 30 high-end joints) I decided to take a different tack… and asked them were they having a laugh.

    So, instead I’ve put the effort into finding sites that pay really well – even though I’ve sold my soul and sometimes write about topics that would make watching paint dry unbelievably appealing – but that’s the trade. It means I can get to write about what I want – travel – but am financed by the other writing. Means I probably won’t ever be a full time travel writer, but that’s ok… all these years later I don’t want to be a full time anything!

  54. Expats have a job and can write without marketing in mind.
    (just read your other post)
    To follow or not follow (you)?

  55. I love this piece–the let-me-tell-you-how-it-is frankness. I think the idea of travel writing is so glamorized. I know it seems very noble and brave to say “the hell with it!” and storm out of one’s corporate career to pursue a dream as a travel writer, but I’m actually sort of ashamed to admit that I love my career working for a Fortune 100 Company with long hours and a crazy travel schedule. I’m in communications and am a writer at heart, but now I’m a Director with 11 direct reports, lots of meetings and no end in site of really catching up with email, BUT I LOVE IT! Crazy, I know. I just started travel writing (of sorts–I actually think of myself as a writer of experiences or story telling, to use an over-used expression in travel writing these days) because I missed the writing about things I love. So now, it’s turned into a bit of an epic hobby, where I’m writing two separate blogs each weekend just so that I can “leave the office.” Maybe one day when my husband and I retire I can monetize it a little and supplement retirement. But for now I’m really loving the perks I’m getting from Corporate America (v. nice salary, all those frequent flyer miles, hotel points, car rental points, etc.) that funds my travel. For me, I might be a little ashamed about it, but I ain’t poor.

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