I was a traveler for decades before I began to write about travel. Sure, I would keep a very basic journal, like so many of us do (“Pasta in Rome today very memorable”), but the leap from pasta aficionado to storyteller took about 50 years.
The First Step To Becoming A Travel Writer: Reading
I’ve had the travel bug ever since I was a little girl, inspired largely by reading. Brought up in a small community in New Jersey, my spirit soared when reading tales of travel — both fiction and non. For me, travel writers occupied a higher plane of adventure and experience.
In fact, reading the great travel writers changed the way I saw the world, from Jan Morris in Venice to Alexandra David-Neel in Tibet, Freya Stark in the Middle East to Bruce Chatwin in Australia.
Dervla Murphy in her book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle (1965) wrote, “It doesn’t take courage [to travel]. It takes curiosity.” But I respectfully disagreed: I knew then and know now that it takes both courage and curiosity. I knew that I had curiosity, at the very least. Courage, I found, would grow with experience.
The Second Step To Becoming a Travel Writer: Traveling
After college I worked to earn money in order to travel and then worked again and traveled again. I was a tour guide (briefly) in Europe for teenagers — a disaster that resulted in experiences humorous enough to, years later, share on my blog. I worked for a local public television station and quit when I had enough money to go to India on a solo trip. When I returned, I got a job at an international nonprofit and traveled extensively on my own and for work. After that, I worked on films in Morocco, India, and South Korea and traveled more. Through it all, though, I never wrote about my travels.
Why was I so blocked about writing about where I went? At the time, I think that I lacked the confidence to write about myself; it felt too revealing. Plus, as time passed, I had a family and needed the income from a full-time job. That took all my time and effort, or so I told myself. But I continued to travel, mostly with family and friends.
The Third Step To Becoming A Travel Writer: Embracing Life Changes
Jump 30 years ahead: In January of 2019, at the age of 70, I was laid off from my job with an educational publisher after 25 years. I needed a change, and so (and for the first time in my life) I decided to go on a group tour to Mount Rushmore, a place I probably wouldn’t have traveled on my own. When I returned, I wrote about my experience and called the travel company to see if they were interested. Luckily, I spoke to a kind gentleman who directed me to the right person. Suddenly I was a Guest Blogger.
So I started writing my own blog about my past travels and travel for women 60+, and the words came pouring out. I also began to research magazines and blogs that accepted articles — either for free or for pay. And I was off.
Here are some tips on what helped me begin and continue to write. Perhaps these suggestions will inspire you to take action.
Tips For Writers
Why do you want to write? Do you have stories to tell? Do you want to share your experiences with family and friends or with the public? Do you want to earn money or just reach an interested audience? Do you want to find people with similar interests through writing? Do you have diaries, memoirs, or journals waiting to be reworked? If you answered yes to any or all of these, you may be ready for the next step.
Jump In: The Process Of Travel Writing
- Start or continue to read great travel writing for inspiration.
- Practice your powers of observation and description. I find that taking a walk gets my thought processes going — that’s why I carry a notebook in my bag.
- Perhaps start a blog: I used Bluehost and WordPress to set mine up (with some help from those more tech-savvy than I).
- Send your articles or blogs to already-existing sites or relevant online groups. I sent my articles to one travel site in exchange for deductions on travel and to a friend’s site (for free), among others.
- Try writing about people and experiences and not just sights. Most readers love stories, and I’m sure that your memory bank is filled with them.
- Direct your writing to your chosen audience, whether old or young, male or female, domestic or international, or people with similar interests or hobbies. As I wrote more, my audience became women over 60 who mostly travel solo.
- Learn to accept rejection. Try to understand why your article was rejected and perhaps change it or find another site that fits better with your style and subject matter.
The Next Step: Figuring Out Where To Send Your Writing
- Research online and print publications, travel companies, and organizations. Send a query about whether or not articles are accepted, and if so, send them in.
- Alternatively, if your goal is to write for family, friends, and posterity, consider self-publishing your writing.
- Check out all forms of media: podcasts, print, online, video, and newspapers.
- Get it right: Do your research and find trustworthy information online. My work for an encyclopedia for 25 years helped me learn to identify good sources, but it isn’t difficult to do. Check several sources to make sure they agree. Write or phone businesses or online sites to make sure that your facts are current.
- Add photographs and make sure you have the rights to use them; provide correct credits.
- Use humor whenever you can. You are also writing to entertain, and travel stories are often awfully funny or just awful, which is sometimes funny.
Things I Would Do Differently
Looking back at the past two years, I would take more chances and not be so worried about rejection. Some people will simply dislike what you write and how you write it. It is beneficial to learn to steel yourself to those views and to understand that you just may see things differently. If you encounter someone who has taken the time to give you constructive criticism, listen and decide if you are willing to make changes in what and how you are writing.
How Travel Writing Changed My Life: The Best Things To Come From Travel Writing
- The friends I’ve made online
- The inspiration to travel more (and perhaps differently) as I age
- The expanded opportunities; I was a speaker at a woman’s travel conference last year and have traveled in exchange for writing, among other perks
- The ability to do work that I really care about and enjoy
- Earning money! (don’t expect riches, for sure)
- A positive feeling about the world of travel, even during these challenging times; I’ve found that more and more older women are dreaming about and planning adventures in places near and far, alone or in groups
- Best of all, I have unearthed fellow travelers from the past in a way that has made me feel as if I have come full circle, which has added another level of meaning to my life.
As a result of my writing, I heard from a woman I met on a ferry in Hong Kong 40 years ago (and who I recently visited for the first time in California); from someone I met in the 1970s in Europe who saw an article I wrote and who now lives just 20 minutes away from me. And best of all, I heard from a woman who I had half-seriously accused of stealing food from me in Tibet (I think it was the altitude that did me in). We laughed and laughed about our trip in 1987 and the hurdles we overcame. These memories bring me great joy and they are a direct result of my travel blogs and articles.
The Circle Of Life: Giving Out
Someone once said to me that they believed that one travels to take things in when one is young and to give things out when one is old. I have considered this for many years and agree that I did travel to take things in — to learn, to experience, to see, and to savor the different cultures and lives of others.
What can we give out when we are older? I now believe that we can give our experience, support, recognition, love, advice, warnings, inspiration — and maybe, if we have really learned something through our travels, even wisdom.
But of course, those close to us and those anonymous readers will have their own roads, challenges, and revelations. That is the adventure of travel and why many of us need and love it. And we can preserve our thoughts and experiences and pass them down through the generations by writing about them.