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The Reality of Being a Travel Writer Means Having Multiple Income Streams

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Travel writingA guy recently started a conversation with me about being a travel writer. He told me that his sister is an English major in college and that she was thinking about being a travel writer upon graduation.

I could hardly hold back a laugh. You can’t just become a travel writer like you can become a carpenter, a lawyer, or a dentist. You don’t look on Monster.com, find a travel writing vacancy, send in an application, get interviewed, and walk out a travel writer. It just doesn’t happen this way.

To become a travel writer you have to do it yourself. What I mean by this is that you can’t depend on an employer to grant you this much coveted title: you need to bust ass on your own volition, get experience, gain knowledge, perfect your art, and type until your fingers are sore, your back is arched into a question mark, and you become so beaten down and calloused that the trials of making it in this profession no longer faze you.

My advice to any travel writer is to do it for fun first, second, and always. Because if this work is not fun for you there is little chance that you’ll have the resolve to make it in this profession. Travel writing, for most everybody, should be a hobby that pays rather than a job that supports.

If you’re out to be a travel writer in order to make money, to have a full time job, my advice is to not even bother. The odds of becoming a full on, bonafide travel writer are probably less than becoming a professional athlete — and the obsessive effort and discipline needed to do so is about the same. This is a world full of very highly qualified and highly skilled amateur and quasi-amateur travel writers that going pro is virtually a pipe dream.

Tim Leffel once estimated that there are probably only a dozen travel writers in the USA who are completely solvent off their work. Most “travel writers” have various other income streams — incredibly few are living off travel writing alone.

Sure, you can become a travel writer in title — this is rather easy to do, as there are tons of publications out there always on the look out for content — but the chances that you will make enough money from this for it to be your sole source of income is to slim to warrant mention. The market is far too saturated with aspiring professionals to make it worth it for publishers to pay pro rates, while the profit margins themselves on travel writing are so slim that most publishers can’t afford to pay respectable wages even if they wanted to.

If you can make $100 an article jump for joy. Unfortunately, researching, writing, and revising such an article will more often than not take more time and effort than what it’s worth on a dollar per hour basis.

Do you really want to be a travel writer? Why?

Are you willing to bust your ass for years and years to break into a profession where you work for $10 an hour at best? Are you willing to put a year of hard work into a book that if you’re very talented and very lucky will net you $5,000? Are you willing to jump into a profession that requires all the discipline and effort of a “real job” without the benefits, the security, or even the guarantee of getting paid? Are you up for endless hours of sitting in hotel rooms with your faced buried in your laptop, writing, pitching, and revising articles when you could otherwise be out partying with new friends, checking new places, and experiencing new things?

On top of that, the true reality of professional travel writing is a world devoid of the romances that are often associated with the profession. Many “travel writers” who are actually on payrolls are sitting in offices in NYC, ticking out service pieces, industry reviews, and putting together the nuts and bolts of their employer’s publications. While many others rarely ever see the outside of hotels, resorts, or industry tours: they are shipped in, led around, and shipped out.

The irony of travel writing is that it often requires the sacrifice of a good part of the travel experience, and most travel writers are journalists who write about travel, not travelers who write.

Likewise, travel writing — as in the art of writing about your travels — should be a passion first and a profession a distant second. If you have this passion the world is wide open for you, as there are now more travel publications than at any other point in history, and finding someone who will pay you for articles is perhaps easier than ever. Just expect Paypal deposits in the amounts of 15, 20, and 40 dollars — hardly enough to float the travels of even the most frugal nomad.

If you’re doing what you love, making money from it often becomes irrelevant. Travel writing is a labor of love, but to have the time and space to engage in it fully having other streams of income is often necessary. Unless you have an over-bloated bank account, development as a travel writer means development in the other arts of making money on the road.

Keep reading Digital Nomad Travel to discover more ways of developing multiple streams of location independent income.

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Filed under: Travel Writing

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap