mistakes as a travel writer

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If you’re serious about making it as a travel writer, it’s important to know what you need to do. But, I would say it’s as important to know what not to do. Below are seven things I didn’t do, that helped me become a successful travel writer with 500-plus published stories under my belt.

1. I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

I was excited about becoming a travel writer. I loved to write and had been taking photos since I was a little kid. While I did jump in with both feet, I was smart enough to realize others had done the same thing before me. I didn’t have to start from scratch. The desire to make this work, to be a successful travel writer, meant I could—and should—learn from them.

Of course, over time, I changed and adapted, incorporating ideas that would help me grow while leaving other advice behind. The important thing was not to overthink travel writing.

2. I didn’t try to go it alone.

I discovered early on in my journey that it was best to be around folks who wanted the same things—I needed a buddy system. There were enough naysayers in the world; people who said I needed a journalism degree to be a writer, or I had to have a ton of international travel under my belt, or that I was aiming too high.

By hanging out with like-minded people (in-person and online), I learned none of those things were true. Of course, I’d have to work hard, do all of the grunt work, and make essential connections with editors, destination marketing organizations, and places I wanted to visit.

As things started to fall into place, I found I was more humble—grateful for every free stay, delicious meal, and media trip focused on my interests.   

3. I didn’t say no.

I’ll never forget when an editor asked if I’d write an architectural piece for her magazine. It was hard not to panic. I knew nothing about architecture. I said, “Of course, I’d love to!” Then I went to work researching, gathering quotes, taking pictures.

Theresa St. John

It ended up being my highest-paid story so far—to the tune of $1,000—and led me to write several more about the history of architecture and builders in my area. By saying yes, I learned I have the means to get any story done if I want to.

4. I didn’t just list facts in my stories.

Listicles and round-ups are hot right now. “10 Best Places to Visit in Orlando,” “7 Cool Things to Do in NYC,” “3 Must-See Museums in New Orleans.” I loved writing this type of article, and I was always reading them when I flipped through a publication. They’re fun, a quick read, and filled with helpful information.

I found that if I brought some emotion into my stories, pulled on the heart-strings of my readers, made them laugh or get teary-eyed through parts, my articles were more authentic and sought after by many editors.  

Today, when I write a listicle-type article, it’s more than a dry statement of fact. And for me, it works.

5. I didn’t pick a niche right away.

Many travel writers are laser-focused from the get-go, meaning they’ve narrowed down their interest to writing about one thing. It might be learning about wine or staying in luxury hotels. Their niche could be golfing on the best courses in the world or visiting every little village in Spain.

Because I was interested in so many things, finding a niche was hard for me. It worked in my favor, though, as I discovered I could write with passion about many things—some I’d never even thought of as a “story” before. 

I have niches now, things I love to write about over and over again from different angles, but this took time. So don’t sweat it.

6. I didn’t ignore what was under my nose.

When I first began my travel writing journey, I honestly had no means to travel far. When I tell you I didn’t have two pennies to rub together, I mean it. Of course, I dreamed of international travel to exotic places, like everyone else, but knew I’d have to explore local places first.

I quickly fell in love with where I lived and attractions nearby. I looked for gems I could share with readers and pitched to local and regional editors interested in what I had to say. I even sold a local gardening story to a publication in the U.K.   

7. I didn’t give up.

We’re often our own worst enemy in life. Self-doubt rears its ugly head in everyone’s world. If I’d listened to the voices that told me I could never make this travel writing gig work, that no one would ever want to read my stories, that my hometown wasn’t interesting enough, I’d have thrown in the towel two or three days in.

Instead, I kept plugging away. Every week, I’d concentrate on learning something new. I read a lot. I studied the “voice” of magazines I wanted to pitch. I kicked myself in the butt if I was stuck on something.  

I started my journey in 2013. I love my travel writing lifestyle. Put your mind to it—make the same thing happen yourself.