I never thought I would make it as a travel writer.
Sure, it was a dream—the same dream that many writers, travelers, and anyone who’s a fan of Anthony Bourdain has dared to dream.
But, was I certain it would happen? Far from it.
In fact, I nearly quit writing altogether a mere month before my first travel article was published. Today, I’m still fortunate to share my travels professionally thanks to five lessons I learned throughout my first year.
#1. Be a writer first and foremost.
I used to consider myself a “writer,” despite the fact that I wrote little and published nil. Writing was a passion, and I had both skill and talent, but I failed to realize that I was merely “someone who writes.” I discovered what being a writer truly meant as a professional copywriter.
It meant thousands upon thousands of polished words each day under a deadline. It meant finding my voice and modifying my tone to engage diverse audiences. It meant learning how to instinctively tell a new story about an old concept…even if I knew nothing of the subject just moments before. These lessons built my travel writing foundation.
#2 Travel like a travel writer.
I visited 30 countries before acknowledging that, to maintain a successful travel writing career, I had to learn how to travel like a travel writer. Travel writing involves heavy research and interviewing before, during, and after the trip. I needed to have a plan to source multiple articles long before I boarded the plane. I had to be prepared to ask the right questions to uncover the best stories from those with whom I may not be able to communicate in their native tongue.
Finally, after my planned articles were published, I had to learn how to pluck out the seeds for new stories from the same trip. Anyone can write about their vacation, but to achieve consistent success without luck, I had to stop being a tourist and embark on each journey with the mindset of a travel writer.
#3. Swing for the fences and be prepared to run.
On the brink of abandoning my professional writing aspirations, I sent one final email. After six months of rejections, I resubmitted an article to an international magazine who initially gave me the cold shoulder. They responded immediately, purchased the piece, and asked that I begin interviewing subjects for three more features. This was the first of many cold calls that quickly snowballed into publication opportunities.
In a separate query, another magazine accepted one proposal before asking me to send them four additional pieces for publication. With no trips scheduled, I suddenly had to reread years of travel notes and create unique content worthy of publication.
No travel writer will hit it out of the park in every pitch, but I learned that any time I decided to step up to the plate, I had to be prepared to run with whatever opportunity I was offered.
#4. Call it failure, call it rejection, just don’t call it quits.
My first published piece was rejected or ignored nearly a dozen times over six months before it was purchased. This, compiled with a fluid stream of denials and radio silence that my other projects received, made me feel like a failure and a fraud. I was no writer; I was merely someone who writes.
And apparently, I didn’t write that well to begin with.
What I didn’t learn until after a full year of professional travel writing was that I wasn’t a failure or a fraud. I wasa travel writer. I was learning to endure the same dismissals and imposter syndrome that even well-known travel writers still battle. It’s natural to internalize negative experiences, especially when a passion for writing and traveling embodies identity. I had to learn to endure and overcome these moments of insecurity because that’s what all successful travel writers must do.
I learned to just keep going, keep writing, and keep submitting. And, in the end, it worked.
#5. Travel writing is about the journey, not the publication.
With a growing portfolio, I prepared to hit 2020 running. The Baltics then South America. The U.K. then the Yukon. I was even invited on a press trip to review a resort in the Caribbean.
Then the pandemic hit and my travel plans were canceled indefinitely.
If you’re a travel writer like me who’s left with a dusty passport, empty suitcase, and maddening wanderlust, know that our adventurous spirit will see us through this uncertain time. Fear not: travel writing will continue to exist and evolve alongside our ever-changing world.
Just as the landscapes and cultures are changed by time, travel writing will adapt to new mediums and take on new forms. For every travel writer who feels like they’re wandering through the unknown, know that there are countless readers craving your stories. From armchair travelers and intrepid backpackers to business travelers and families, millions around the world are ready and waiting to live vicariously through your experiences.
Continue on this journey knowing that this path will lead to destinations of both personal fulfilment and professional publication, even if that means we must walk the road less traveled for the time being.