Being a successful travel writer or outdoor writer is a dream shared by many freelancers. However, only a small percentage of freelance writers will truly be successful at it, and by successful I mean able to support a middle-class lifestyle.
Below are excerpts I wrote in response to a frustrated beginning travel/outdoor writer who posted in the “writing rants” section of the forum at Freelance Writers Den. I’ve also added some extra info for greater clarification.
The frustrated beginning travel/outdoor writer said he was discouraged with his efforts in the travel field. It sparked a very good discussion. It’s a bit disjointed, but it’s useful for freelance writers, and it covers some aspects of my early years as an outdoor writer you may not know about.
(FYI: I’m a moderator in the Den with about 2800 comments to date.)
Travel Writing and Outdoor Writing Niches: Key Points
Below are some of the key points I made during the discussion. Specifically:
- Many of us choose freelance writing niches that pay our bills, even if at times it’s not that exciting.
- Freelance writing for travel and outdoor publications is hard work.
- “Do what you love and the money will follow” won’t work for everyone, including many people who want to write in the travel/outdoors field.
Forum Discussion About Travel Writing and Outdoor Writing: My First Response
It is quite difficult to make a good living as a travel writer, especially if you write only articles for magazines. There are hundreds of thousands of writers traveling the world, so there’s a lot of competition for the limited number of feature articles in the limited number of magazines that pay well.
If you are truly serious about it, consider starting on a lower level and then using your clips to market to progressively better markets. Newspapers can be good place to get initial clips, along with some of the better websites.
- Focus on other niches that can pay your bills while you get your travel writing going.
- Buy recent books about how to succeed as a travel writer. (Use Amazon for research.)
- Consider business writing related to travel. (See Erin Raub’s site.)
- Go through the Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success and the Freelance Business Bootcamp, if you haven’t already.
- Have your queries critiqued here in the Den.
Travel and Outdoors Writing Reality Check: My Second Response
Like everyone else above [earlier replies in the forum thread], I understand your frustration. I write primarily for higher education companies, and while I love what I write about, I often have to write in a very specific style that often isn’t how I’d truly like to write.
However, higher ed writing has paid all my bills and funded my retirement accounts, and leaves me a lot of time for vacations.
I started as an outdoor writer, which is a form of travel writing, and I specialized primarily in hiking. I wrote three books, two still in print, and 100-plus magazine and newspaper articles, but I finally got tired of the hassle of pitching stories to magazines and just focused on the higher ed companies. I do still write new editions of my books, and I market them on my Northern California Hiking Trails website, but the book royalties are a relatively small percentage of my income.
There’s an expression: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” That does work for a few people, but most of us have to make compromises.
I suggest you find a high-paying freelance writing specialty that will pay the bills, and then use your time beyond that to pursue the types of writing you really want to do.
But I Want to Travel and Get Paid for It!
My writing in my specialty earns me the money to go hiking and traveling without having to feel like I have to make a living solely from hiking and traveling.
For me, there’s a major difference between traveling when I’m writing about it and just traveling for the pure pleasure of it: I enjoy the latter far more than the former. I don’t have to take notes or do interviews or gather information; I just get to do what feels right in the moment.
There’s a good article about the travails of travel writers here.
My Advice for a Beginning Travel/Outdoor Freelance Writer
If you want to be a travel/outdoor freelance writer, start by writing about local destinations, and for local publications, and then build from there.
That’s actually what happened for me. I love to hike. I was very fortunate to land contracts in the 1990s with a mainstream publisher, The Mountaineers Books in Seattle, to write hiking guidebooks on Northern California. I parlayed that into writing about Northern California hiking in Sunset, VIA, and a national outdoors magazine, along with a hiking column in six newspapers.
I had wanted to become an outdoor writer who travels around the country and the world doing cool things, like Tim Cahill. However, for the reasons listed above, I decided to focus almost exclusively on writing for higher education companies. But if I had wanted, I could have continued to pitch magazine and newspaper pieces about Northern California outdoors destinations and activities. Would I have had substantial success eventually? Maybe, but I didn’t feel the odds were very good.
Travel Writing and Outdoor Writing: Your Take
Are you interested in travel or outdoor writing? Had much success at it? Share your thoughts below.