WARNING: This is a very long entry about how I managed to make a profit out of Travel Writing. If you hate long narratives, you may find shorter stories on this blog. But if you have time to spare and interested to set-up your own travel blog, then you might get something out of this.
Unlike many of the “millenial” travelers today, I did not start as a solo traveler. I have always wanted to be a digital nomad, but that’s not exactly how I started. I did not quit any corporate jobs to backpack around the world like how most of them did it. My first experiences of traveling were mostly shared with my mom as I tagged along her business trips out of town. I was in high school when I first got to see the outside world. My views and opinions did not matter. I was a kid. I did not care about budgets, or where we’ll be staying, or what the itinerary would be like, or what food are we eating. All I wanted was to to collect fridge magnets, t-shirts, and key chains (which I still do until now). There was no social media back then and traveling was not yet a hype. If not with my family, I go with my friends, so most of my early travel memories were shared with them.
TO TRAVEL – it’s everybody’s dream. To get to travel to somewhere is a privilege. Not everyone can travel as they please, so if you can fly with ease, then better get the most out of it. But making money out of traveling is a different story. As you search through the web for your next destination, you will probably see real-life travelers living the dream. But on top of it all, you see “successful” travel writers advertising a destination or an accommodation, with alluring photos of them in a tropical island, sipping on cold champagne while working with their laptops. Some of them with the same slogan, “I left my 9 to 5 job to travel the world and here I am now. Remotely working as a travel writer.”
While being a travel writer can be a lucrative sideline, some people might see it as a stable source of income to sustain a life of travel. I’ve started talking about this on my recent Instagram post and I promised to write about it for anyone interested to join the bandwagon. Before you jump off the cliff with blindfolds on, let me take you back to how I started as a travel writer, how I made money out of it, and some myths about travel writing.
HOW I PAVED MY WAY TO THE MAGAZINE WORLD
Like I said, I was in high school when I started traveling. None of my sentiments mattered to anyone reading them. Except this one time when my high school reprimanded me for a “frivolous” blog post. That would be another interesting story to tell. Anyway, I just started writing on my personal blog and posted live journals online. There was no Facebook, I didn’t know anything about WordPress, Instagram was not yet a thing. All I knew about were these websites called “Xanga” and “Multiply”, where I uploaded most of my photos and where I wrote my “whatevers”. I never thought about quality content, and I didn’t care if anyone would read it. My journals were mostly trivial, but it didn’t bother me. I was born to write, and each time I had something in mind, I had to write it down.
My writing style has evolved throughout the years. From writing whatever under the sun, I finally started writing with actual content. I wrote about my day-to-day experiences. I wrote a lot about my food recipes. I wrote about restaurants and what I liked and disliked. It never occurred to me that I was already finding my niche, and that is to write about travel and food. I never thought I would gain readers out of it. My friends and colleagues started to ask me how I got into a certain place or how I found this certain restaurant or hotel. I started writing more while having fun.
Years passed, my platforms have changed. I graduated from college, passed culinary school, worked and met different people, been to places, IN SHORT, I grew up. From “Multiply”, I was on “BlogSpot”, writing more meaningful articles that readers actually read. Eventually, one publishing company was interested to hire me as a chef contributor for their Food and Health Magazine. I never thought twice. I instantly said YES! This was my first ever writing stint, and I was getting paid for it. In that particular magazine, I had my own food column. I was proud to see my name on that local magazine and having my articles published were worthy achievements for me.
TRAVELING AND WRITING: THEN AND NOW
While I wrote about food and while I developed recipes for the magazine, I was working for my self-owned cafe. I was not a full-time writer. I worked hard every single day because I wanted to achieve something. I set a goal. The magazine was just a sideline. Although they paid me well, I was sure that my monthly column was not enough to make a living out of it. I needed an upgrade and I knew since then that I had to make the most out of my writing if I wanted to be successful in this field. My goal was to travel at my own expense, but I never thought about sharing my do-it-yourself itineraries to anyone. I never thought it would matter. So fast forward to 2016, it had been a year of travel for me. I traveled from one island to another. There were days when I would only rest at home for a week, and travel again the following week. It is liberating to travel by yourself, deciding on things on your own, and having to search for the cheapest deals to be able to stretch the budget. I was finally doing it. It was a whole new level of self-discovery.
Traveling with my family and my friends versus traveling by myself led me to a new understanding of what it was to be traveling. It wasn’t just a sense of bonding with your favorite people, but it was also about discovering new things. Eventually, my friends wanted me to share my travel stories. They sent me messages and inquired about my DIY itineraries. THAT WAS IT! I was upgrading my blog. I couldn’t keep up with answering everyone’s questions every time so I decided to write everything on one complete page so I can just send them links. I decided to create WanderBites by Bobbie on a free WordPress account. I too aspired to be a successful travel blogger. I did what I thought it would take to be a successful travel blogger. I went to different places in and out of the country, immersed myself in cultures, learned new languages and cuisines, met new people, and then I wrote about everything. At this point, I wanted to maximize what I had. I have to create a website and monetize my blog. I wasn’t just writing anymore, I was trying to make a living out of it like how I saw the others were doing. The hunger for SUCCESS was there!
But it came to me rather early, the realization that the word “SUCCESS” is subjective. I cannot emphasize this enough. For my fellow full-time travel writers, success is gaining more followers on social media. Who wouldn’t want that, right? For some, you have to pay a certain price to reach a certain level of following. That is how they advertise and sell themselves. That is how they get their contents and freebies. As a blogger, you have more earning opportunities when you have good traffic. But to me, that is not how I perceive my success. I never wanted to be a “social media influencer”, in fact I couldn’t be one. My closest friends know about this, and it’s something I never shared with anyone on my blogs. Though I have unknowingly “influenced” people to do something, I suck at this whole social media influencing thing. I just want to write. So for me, SUCCESS IS SIMPLE. To be able to send my thoughts across is already success for me. That is why I write. The income is secondary.
WRITING FOR MAGAZINES AND WEBSITES
My travel blog gained readers. Though none of my articles ever went viral, some of my travel photos did in the traveling world. The Philippine Department of Tourism noticed this, and I was sent an e-mail for a possible collaboration. That was the start of my traveling career. I wasn’t just writing about food, I have been promoted as food and travel writer and photographer. On top of that, I was helping my country’s tourism campaign. My photos became a part of the official website. More e-mails came requesting for my travel photos, some offering free dining and accommodations, some were willing to pay in cash. And the more they came, the more excited I got. It was then that I told myself, good experiences can be converted to cash so I have to give myself extraordinary experiences.
At some point, I was at my peak. I was able to offer my services to some hotels and restaurants. I invested so much on writing and on traveling, and every time I would be offered anything for free in exchange of write-ups, I felt like I was gaining the returns of my investments. I have now become a writer with a niche on food and travel. My friend, Joan, an editor for a huge travel magazine then asked me if I wanted to be a contributor for their magazine. It was Trip Magazine owned by 2Go Travel and Shipping Line. That was my biggest break in the travel writing business. Trip Magazine offered to pay my travel stories and my photos that came along with it. Each photos were worth a certain price, depending on how big it would appear on the magazine. Since then, hotels and restaurants started to come to me. I was able to pitch some of my personal articles for bigger travel websites, and my travel sideline grew exponentially.
IT’S NOT ALL THAT
From a plain old blogger, I was able to make it to the magazines and international websites. I had to make myself acquainted with the travel writing norms. To be a travel writer, you have to exceed the expectations of your clientele. You don’t just deliver. To be able to write a good (if not great) content, you have to go out and see the world. That is the only way. You cannot just Google that destination and re-write a whole new article. No one would pay for that crap. Travel Writing means you are not traveling for vacation anymore. To us, TRAVEL MEANS WORK. To be able to send proper contents to the editors, you have to take everything into consideration, not just your personal experience. Wherever you are going, you have to think as a journalist and view things in the perspective of your reader. It’s not just about simply writing about where you’ve been or what you had for dinner anymore. A very remarkable quote would always ring a bell every time I write an article for my clients. According to Tim Leffel , “Don’t forget that the easiest stories to sell are the ones that truly do a service for the reader.” No travel magazine or website would pay for a story about your close encounter with Nemo. Especially if your client is paying in cash, then it better be read-worthy.
Here’s another tip. If you want to be able to thrive in this business, of course, writing is a skill you have to hone for years. But if you want your “clients” to pay you the extra $$$, you have to give them outstanding photos that go along with your manuscript. In my case, I bring my DSLR if I’m traveling for work. I always have my GoPro with me, just in case I feel like pitching a new destination or a new dining place. That way, I can simply give my editors supporting photos of what I have written on my article. They wouldn’t have to look for stock photos from some old websites. Your photos have to be in the highest resolution possible, especially if it would be a feature article or a full-page photo on a travel magazine. Travel Writers and Photographers get paid more than being just Travel Writers, as the publishing company can save tons on labor. They wouldn’t have to hire another person to do the photography for you. So, investing in a good camera is another way to increase your value (but please make sure you know how to use it). Your mobile photos can be saved for your Instagram feeds, thank you.
If you are a travel writer heavily relying on the travel profits, rest would pretty much be a luxury you couldn’t afford. Especially if your trip is “all-expense-paid”. Your time and effort, and your entire experience is paid-for. So you have no right to slack. No matter how fatigued you are, you have to get your self going, not only physically but mentally. How would you be able to write your content if you are snoozing the entire time while you are on 4-hour land travel? You have to feel it, you have to describe it. You have to write what you see, what you smell, what your experience was. But don’t get me wrong. You also have to rest, but being in this industry means you have to manage your time well. Remember, you are traveling not for yourself.
SOME MYTHS DEBUNKED
- Being a Travel Blogger is your instant way to stardom. Unless you have a good following and traffic and google ranking, it’s not that easy to achieve this. There are a lot of travel bloggers like you who aspire the same things as you. Especially now that budget airlines and cheap resorts made traveling very accessible to anyone. Aside from your pretty face and cool photos, what sets you apart from the other travel bloggers?
- Your next destination is your next content. WRONG. If you have this kind of mindset, then you’re merely writing for a journal entry. Your next destination is not an assurance that your article will be published. Why? BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS BEEN IN THAT LOCATION, NOT JUST YOU. Always put that in mind. Unless you have a whole new attack on this destination, and you managed to give it another point of view, then you probably have a slight possibility that it would get approved and published.
- Travel Writers make instant tons of money out of traveling. WRONG. It’s not an overnight process. It takes years to be able to pull it off. There are very successful travel writers who were able to make steady income out of traveling, but there’s only a handful of them and most of them have written life-changing books and multiple travel guides on your local bookstore shelf. There is no such thing as stable income during your first years as a travel writer. You might be able to make let’s say $500 for one project, $900 dollars for the next, but you’ll never know when your next gig or offer will happen. Unless you already have your name listed on the big traveling networks, which you will get invited for free travel events, then no. You pay for your hotel or your own airfare to write a content.
I would love to write more about Food and Travel Writing and how people’s perception of it has changed the travel journalism culture. As I’ve said, it’s not all colorful rainbows and unicorns. This article 7 Myths About Travel Blogging by Tim Leffel may change your views about this industry.
STILL CHOOSE TO WRITE, NO MATTER WHAT!
If you have reached this part of this article, then I congratulate you. Not everyone loves to read long narratives. It’s a gift! Your diligence will take you to greater heights. I am not an expert, but no matter how daunting it is, I still urge you to continue to write! I never stopped writing from the very beginning. Write about your experiences, don’t be afraid to share them. Stick to your voice. You might feel like no one is listening, but you will be surprised with how the world pays attention. Ask if you must, and pitch your heart out, even if you feel like you would get a “no”, ask anyway. Nowadays, in our very modern world, the stage is all set for you. You just have to maximize technology and use whatever platform that is in front of you. Your curiosity about the world, your persistence, and your commitment will take you to unimaginable places. I wouldn’t go to some places I’ve been if it wasn’t for travel writing.
You are, after-all, a discerning traveler to start with, who happens to be a writer too. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested about travel writing anyway. You have the whole world ahead of you. And no one is stopping you on your head start!
Write! Write! Write! And most of all ENJOY! Love what you do, and do what you love! If you take this to heart, you will see the world more on a greater extent. 🙂