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My Advice To Aspiring Travel Writers

Put your head down and work.

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You read these self-help books and they almost universally say something to the effect of “set goals, be goal oriented, goal, goal, goals.

Goals are for those who would rather spend their time daydreaming about the future than making those dreams reality. Just put your head down and work, produce, publish.

Inherent to being focused on goals is being focused on the future. If you’re focused on the future you’re not focused on what’s in front of you right now: the work.

I am not goal oriented. I’m process oriented.

I cannot predict how the pieces are going to align, I have no idea what the roads are to get to my final destination, but what I do know is what I can do today to be better at what I do, to add a little bit of something onto my hoarder’s heap of my work.

It wasn’t my plan to publish hundreds of articles on my blog about China so I could get noticed by a NY Times best-selling author who would offer me a book deal. It wasn’t my intention to write the book so I could secure a place writing for big media. I didn’t start writing for big media so I could land high paying speaking engagements. No, each step of the process was about that step. Perfect it and advance.

The plan for each day should be to have fun, not to someday be successful. Success is a grasping; fun is a taking. Grasping for goals all too often results in hands left empty. Even if you get them you’ll probably just start reaching for something else.

Always be where you want to be. Build the projects that you want to be doing right now. If they don’t hit the target maybe you’re not good enough yet or maybe you’re picking the wrong projects or maybe you just have to keep plodding down the road. Adjust. Adapt. Try new things. Experiment. Improve. Have fun.

I don’t believe that success is a stairway. I don’t believe that there is a path that leads you to where you want to go. If you are not satisfied, fulfilled, enraptured by your work you’re probably going to feel just as empty on the other side. There is rarely ever a point where you are going to rise to a level where you can sit back and say, “There, I made it.” Life is either a constant grasping or a constant taking.

Take whatever you can for today.

So often I hear from people who say they want to be writers who never write, aspiring filmmakers who never shoot, prospective business people who never deal.

Ideal conditions don’t exist. Just start walking and find the way.

You don’t need permission from anyone to do the work you love.

Gain experience, get a few battle wounds, bleed a little, earn your story.


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Filed under: Travel Philosophy, Travel Writing

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Barbara February 23, 2020, 11:18 am

    YESSSS!!! Fascinating, great advice.

    My life hasn’t been on anywhere such a grand scale, but in my own way, I’ve followed the same underlying principles. People (okay, my parents) pounded on me my whole life that I Must. Have. Goals. To do WHAT!?!?! There are only two goals in life: develop transferable skills, and be in the right place at the right time. If I’d’ve had “goals” as defined by society I never ever could’ve worked across the variety of sectors that I have — no one could plan for or imagine what I’ve said yes to — nor travelled, nor met the sheer range of people that I have. I mean, who woulda thunk that taking Commercial Art (which as a sector doesn’t even exist anymore but which back then was a good career choice) in high school in a poky little town in the middle of nowhere could lead me 25 years later to covering “The Rules of War According to the Geneva Convention” (yep, it’s a real book) in English, in Rome, to prep a high-up Italian Navy commandante for a NATO exercise during the run-up to the formation of the EU?

    My two knee-jerk responses in life have always been, “Could I help you with this?” (sub-section: “Is there a different way I could this to make your job easier?”) and “Can I come, too?” Then I shut up and pay attention. Everyone I tell my stories to inevitably says I should write a book, that they’d “definitely buy it,” and I’m working on it.

    I agree totally with what you’ve written around life, work, meeting people and travel. My strategies around any major move has always been reading about a city or country first to get a general overview; absolutely necessary is learning a little of the language, enough to be polite and understand directions to the nearest bathroom (helpful travel hint: McDonald’s); and third, once I get where I’m going, to not be stupid. I will repeat this: Don’t. Be. Stupid. (Oh, yes, there are a couple of very scary Stupid Stories wherein naive little me was rescued.) Then ditch the books, all the great plans/goals/preconceptions (YouTube and Instagram, I’m looking at you), open my mind and go get lost.

    Barbara MacDougall

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    • Wade Shepard February 23, 2020, 5:23 pm

      “Could I help you with this?” (sub-section: “Is there a different way I could this to make your job easier?”) and “Can I come, too?”

      Wow. That’s perfect. Some people complain about being used, but being used means you’re useful, and that has value.

      I like the second piece of advice the most. Yes, just ask to come along … or ask for whatever else you want. What’s the other person going to say? No? Who cares.

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  • Rob February 23, 2020, 12:19 pm

    I think you are absolutely correct, one foot in front of the other, then repeat. You’ll get there.

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    • Wade Shepard February 23, 2020, 5:21 pm

      Exactly! Enjoy the process, don’t get caught up trying to jump ahead or, worse yet, waiting in line.

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  • Georgiy Romanov February 23, 2020, 11:38 pm

    Your blog and Andy Lee Graham’s blog taught me to appreciate and enjoy the road, not an end point of your travel. I thank you for that. All failures and problems fade when every day you try to make something and enjoy it. Thank you for the article! Just in time!

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    • Wade Shepard February 25, 2020, 8:28 am

      You’re very welcome. Keep plodding on, man! You’ll get there.

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