Travel broadens the mind, not your bank balance

Would you like to sample a luxurious hotel before sweating over 1,000 words and jetting off to your next destination?

Forget it. The biggest misconception about travel writing is that it’s an easy way to make a living, says author, journalist and trainer Dea Birkett. ‘You have to do other things to pay the mortgage,’she says.

‘Unlike other jobs, you have to be on duty 24/7. It’s exhausting. When you’re white-water rafting up a New Zealand river, you’re also watching yourself do it. In effect, taking notes about yourself. No-one else on the raft – unless it’s jam-packed with travel writers – is doing those two things at once. They’re just holding on.

‘You might trek around Kenya for a week but then come back to your electricity bill.

It’s a week away. A day or two to organise the trip, then another day to write the feature. That’s about 10 days for maybe £500.’

Wannabe travel writers need to be realistic about what lies ahead, adds Birkett, who says: ‘The newspaper and magazine market is shrinking, as more sections rely on ‘readers recommendations’, for which they pay nothing.

‘The trend is away from 1,200-word features towards listings, which are compiled in-house. Most people now go to the web for their travel writing. Newspaper websites all pay less than print pages, so again, income is decreasing.”

Freelance travel writer and commissioning editor Vicky Baker also urges caution: ‘You have to remember that the same rules of freelance pitching still apply. It sounds obvious, but, for some reason, people often overlook this in travel.

‘Some of the least convincing pitches I’ve seen come from experienced writers – ‘I’ve written for X, Y and Z, and I’m going away to Barcelona. Would you like a piece?’

‘You need to offer an angle – preferably involving something new, topical, little-known or a inside perspective.”

William Ham Bevan, deputy editor at Telegraph Create and a former deputy editor at The Sunday Times travel magazine, says: ‘it makes sense to keep travel writing as a sideline.

‘Perhaps try the odd travel piece for an occasional market – one with long lead times to accommodate inevitable rewrites,’he says.

‘Those wanting to get into travel get fixated on the supposed glamour and prestige – one to remember when you’re bored rigid in front of BBC World on hotel cable.

‘They forget that they’re likely to be paid on the same linage rate as any other writer. So you might get the same amount for the same number of words as the bloke doing a feature on, say, wall plugs; but your piece necessitated a five-day trip rather than an afternoon of phone interviews and 30 minutes on the cuts file.”

If after reading this you are still determined to give it a go, then Ham Bevan has some valuable advice: It’s the informal relationships among travel journalists that are really worth fostering. The clearer the idea freelances have of what each editor wants, and the editors have of what each freelance is capable of delivering, the more likely that a match will come up.

‘And remember, you should always pitch a story, not a place.”

Linda Jones is a freelance journalist and author of The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World, (Greatest in the World, 2007)

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