Testifying before important legislative committees, meeting with politicians, organizing grassroots activists groups… when I first became a lobbyist, it was exciting. But as the years wore on and I got a peek behind the curtain, I didn’t like what I saw; politics is not pretty. I wanted a way out. I wanted to follow my dream. And that dream was to travel the world.
One morning I woke up and thought to myself, “If you don’t do something now, you never will.” I did some online research and it seemed like writing about travel would be the way for me to fund my adventures.
One of the links led me to the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Chicago. I was so excited at that conference! I could barely sit still in my seat the entire weekend. All the information I needed to succeed was placed in my eager hands. I wrote an article during the conference, using all the tips and tools they’d taught. BAM! It was accepted by International Living Magazine. Woo hoo!
I was on my way to my dream job. But I couldn’t just quit my job as a lobbyist and turn into a full-time travel writer overnight. So, for a few years, I wrote travel articles part-time so that I could build an arsenal of bylines—a very important step. Bylines are really the springboard into a career as a travel writer.
When you first start out, don’t worry about making a lot of money from your bylines. The goal is to accumulate a good number of published stories first. I was fortunate enough to get several of my first articles in International Living. But at the same time, I was also submitting stories to a lot of online publications that did not pay, just to have the bylines (limit this to 5-10 and then move on to paying publications).
One such story was a piece submitted to Ladies Home Journal. It was a humorous narrative tale entitled, “Sedona’s Pink Jeep Tour: Not for Prissies.” They accepted it and ran it in their “Over the Kitchen Table” section. I didn’t get paid, but I was ecstatic about having a byline with such a prestigious publication.
From there, the momentum continued to build, and my multiple-byline strategy paid off in no time. Just a few months after I started writing, I applied for an all-expenses-paid FAM trip to La Paz, Mexico. I wasn’t confident about my chances as a newbie. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I filled out the form and sent some clips of my work.
Much to my surprise, I was one of five journalists chosen from over 400 applicants! “We loved your stuff!” said Steve, the PR rep who chose the writers for the trip.
Now I have so many press trip invitations that I find myself in the unanticipated position of turning some of them down.
The days of writing for free are over, too. After more than 150 bylines in 35 different publications, I have narrowed it down to a handful that I’m a regular contributor for… and they all pay me.
Oh, and did I mention that I was able to quit that lobbying job?
Here’s what I recommend to start today:
1. Get help. I found The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program and signed up for a live event because I learn best in person and I wanted to get a jumpstart in a single weekend. I’m living proof that this approach works. So either go to a live workshop or find a DIY at-home program. No matter which you chose, get started and start now.
2. Use your current situation as a guide. I gave lobbying almost 10 years of my life and I used those years to fuel my quest for a change. What are you trying to get away from or into? Don’t use it as a hurdle; use it as a springboard to fuel your ambition to start something else.
3. Plan a trip. Think of something you’d love to do (stroll along a Caribbean beach, ski in the Alps, spend a weekend visiting countryside wineries, attend a holiday festival) and then use that as your deadline. I don’t recommend pitching yourself as a travel writer on your first trip. It’s an easy trap for overcommitting and under-delivering—and that can get you into trouble. BUT your first trip CAN be a learning experience and pressure to stick to a deadline, and that’s incredibly valuable. Schedule time to learn the steps of travel writing. Then, more about that destination; take time to research story ideas; and, lastly, take action. You’re here to travel, right?
4. Have some target publications in mind. I usually try to come up with some of my story ideas before I go, that way I can make sure I get all the information and take the appropriate photos. You can even query the publications before the trip and get a confirmed assignment, as well as contact others when you return.
5. Submit your articles, collect your bylines, and build on your momentum!
I wanted more exploration, more travel, more adventure, in my life. In the end, I got not only that, but an exciting new career, too. What’s not to love about that?