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In June, I turned 69. I started my 70th year on this big blue ball. It’s the best year of my life. I wouldn’t have believed it five years ago. In 2014, I was convinced my life was confined to my recliner, Netflix binges, and a glass of wine. My aging body was changing; the retirement dollars I saved became pennies, then disappeared; Social Security, well, we all know how much that provides. I was bored, cynical, becoming isolated, and depressed. So, how did all that doom, gloom, trauma, and drama become the best years of my life? I became a travel writer and photographer. I’m traveling the world to locations of my choice. I stay in the best hotels at no cost. I eat sumptuous meals, paired with lovely libations. I explore cities, small towns, villages, farms, and ranches. I meet passionate craftspeople, chefs, farmers, winemakers, hoteliers, artists, and storytellers. All at no cost to me. I exchange my published stories and photos for a life filled with excitement, reward, and recognition. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? I think that myself some days. Here’s what I did to avoid the rocking chair and have the best years of my life.

I got out of the recliner

“Just give it a try,” she’d say. A friend told me over, and over, “You don’t need money to travel.” She believed I could satisfy my desire to see the world by becoming a travel writer. Although skeptical, I finally took her advice, and together, we attended an Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Denver.

I learned the rules of the road

Like any business, travel writing comes with guidelines. I learned how to find a story and how to find a suitable publication to query. The instructors at the workshop explained what an editor wants and how to pitch my stories. Others showed us how to work with visitor bureaus for press trips.

I set goals

My goals haven’t changed since I set them five years ago. I want to make a little extra money and get the “holy grail”—free travel. The best part of being a travel writer is writing your own job description. We come in all shapes, sizes, and economic circumstances. We have varying amounts of time to commit. Travel writers make their own schedules and determine their personal rate of pay. You customize it to suit your lifestyle, fulfill your dreams, and fit your budget. I made a road map to achieve those goals. It was simple and short term at first. I set weekly goals to pitch X-number of publications. As my portfolio grew, I set goals for networking with visitor bureaus and PR companies. By my second year, I was asking for and receiving free travel. My very first press trip to the northeast coast of Florida included transportation, via plane, auto, and train. I was hosted in three Florida beach towns; wined, dined, and toured for a week. My entire trip was paid for. Payment for the published stories and photos was 100% profit. The following year my goal of visiting England for a month materialized. I was hosted in style with all expenses covered for 28 of the 30 days. I’ve since earned back my out-of-pocket expenses through the sale of stories, photos, and videos. The trip cost me nothing and is now in the profit column.

I work at it

I have the best job in the world. As one of my friends says, “You have a vacation life.” It’s true but doesn’t happen by magic. I work at my writer’s life every day. Many days I’m working on a keyboard. At times I write from my home office. I’ve worked sitting on the deck of a 4-star hotel overlooking a tiny fishing village in Cornwall. Sidewalk cafés, the corner table at a pub, and a tray table on a transatlantic flight have all been my office. I’m working when photographing flamingos in a wildlife preserve, or a winemaker at work in a vineyard. I’m at work while wandering London searching for street art. Taking a food tour in San Francisco’s Japantown is part of my occupation. Perusing a map for my next destination is my job. Approving itineraries for press trips is a favorite task. Browsing newsstands and reading travel magazines are part of the profession. I’m working at my craft, and I’m working on 70. I traded my rocking chair for an airplane seat and a new lease on life as a travel writer. I’m living the dream in the best years of my life. [Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can fund your travels and make an extra income with photography, travel writing, blogging, and more in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Three Fun Ways To Get Paid To Travel: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]