Advice for the aspiring travel journalist

Although I’ve assembled plenty of advice for aspiring travel writers on my websites over the years, I still get a steady stream of queries – often from college students – asking about how to land a travel writing gig. A recent inquiry comes from Maggie in Minnesota:

I am an aspiring travel journalist and freshman in college. I have decided to pursue travel journalism as my career. I am only 19 years old, but I have already been on numerous international travels. I have found that one of the great loves of my life is traveling and writing about those experiences. One of the greatest thrills of my life is interacting with people of other cultures, hearing their stories, living their way of life, etc.

Mr. Potts, what I am trying to get at is that I am very passionate about travel and writing. I know many people my age dream of being a travel journalist, and I know many of them may be better writers than I. What can I do to make my writing stand apart from all others? How can I be a successful travel journalist? What do magazines look for when they hire a travel journalist? What can I be doing now to prepare me for my future as a travel journalist?

This is what I told Maggie:

My best advice for you is to find an area of expertise. An area of expertise might be a physical area, such as Southeast Asia or Scandinavia, or the Rocky Mountains; or it may be a travel specialty, such as extreme sports, or golf, or low-budget travel, or spa travel. Keep in mind it will take you a long time to accumulate expertise — but you’ll have fun doing it. With enough expertise, you may be able to write for (or create your own) guidebooks, and you can do lots of freelancing on the side.

Interestingly, getting “hired” by a magazine or newspaper as a travel journalist is a mixed bag. It makes for a stable job, but ironically you won’t be able to travel much in a free-spirited manner — since publications rely on freelancers for their actual travel features, and they themselves often stick to travel news that can be reported from an office. And, even more ironically, those staffers who do get to travel usually earn this privilege not by accumulating experience as travelers, but by accumulating experience as normal, office-bound writers and editors. So if you really want a staff job, aim for magazine/newspaper internships while you’re still in school.

I didn’t do this: I took the freelance route, which is more fun, but a lot less stable and remunerative. I traveled, taught English, traveled some more, worked odd jobs, and traveled some more. I didn’t sell a travel article for money until I was 28 — and, while I am a full-time travel writer now with books under my belt, I still don’t make much money as a freelancer. Few people do.

So only get into travel journalism if you really love to travel and write. If you think it’s a good pretext for getting to travel, think again: you can travel just as much by saving up money from another, better-paying job, and just taking off to go vagabonding. So only pursue travel writing because you love to write as well. If that admonition hasn’t scared you off, I’ll advise you to write as much as possible, work on your narrative voice (because a vivid or funny voice can make all the difference), do some publication internships, get out there and work on your travel expertise, and — most of all — have fun! Even if your travels don’t lead to a full-time career, they are a reward in and of themselves.

Posted by | Comments (39)  | March 19, 2007
Category: Vagabonding Advice

39 Responses to “Advice for the aspiring travel journalist”

  1. Karen Bryan Says:

    I have to agree with Ralf about finding a specialism or niche for yourself. I am not exactly a travel writer, I write about travel as a way of promoting my online travel business. I started my business almost five years ago, in 2002. I still have another part time job.

    My niche is less well known destinations in Europe. I write articles and destination guides for my website as a way to promote my business. I started a blog in October 2006 and I find this has been a great way to increase visitors to my site and increase my Google page ranking without spending any money, just a lot of hard work! Perhaps if Maggie started a blog this would give her experience in travel writing and some exposure.

  2. Luke Says:

    Hi Ralf,

    Good advice, and well done on the blog.

    I’ve been a travel journalist ten years – seven full-time, and three as a freelancer. Now I’m part of a collective of travel writers, based in Asia.

    I recall recently seeing Francis Coppola speaking of his advice on making art, and his advice was essnetially that if you can make money along the way, it is much easier to have creative freedom.

    This applies to travel writing too, which works extremely well as an addition to a life of frequent travel. Many people schlep around the world doing less ‘glamourous’ jobs like sales, simply because they have a passion for (free) travel. Then in their spare time where possible, they take off on their own side trips. That’s what I did many years too.

    One of my pieces of advice on getting published or employed is, consdier volunteering first. If you can’t get in as a “paid” writer, build up a folio by writing for those who may only give you nominal pay, but can help you spread the good word.

    Ultimately though, if you have a passion for travel, go do it. If you can write as you go, all strength to you. But especially when you’re young, just accumulate experiences and friendships. Your career will gain wings later on, trust me.

  3. Cristina Says:

    My name is Cristina and i am in 7 grade. I have to do a project in school about what we want to be when we grow up. One of the jobs that i picked was travel journalist but i have a few questions. Do you have to be a really really good writer? Do you get to travel alot around the world? What are the salaries for being a traveling journalist? What high school courses and college courses do you have to take? What college should you go to to become a travel jouranlist?

    I would appreciated if you could sent me the answers or any suggestions to

    thank you so much

  4. Jessica Pereira Says:

    Hi my name is Jessica. I’m from India. I’m 19 yrs old and really inspired by Ian Wright. I want to be a traveler. I’m studying journalism at college level and I’ve freelancing with the leading newspaper in India. Is there some sort of course or study that trains people to be travelers? How do i go about my aspiration?

  5. rajul dube Says:

    i want to be a travel jounalist . i m in final year of bba(tourism)….whr do i go frm here

  6. rajul dube Says:

    i want to be a travel jounalist . i m in final year of bba(tourism)….whr do i go frm here

  7. leann Says:

    this is great. i mean tha im a high school senior, and i love to write and im looking for a career. but i found this one and i think this is it.

  8. Chasity Gibson Says:

    I am a sophmore at PSHS Parkersburg South High School. I have only began to think about my career. I have choosen travel journalism, as a deffinate career! So as I go on to college what do you think I should major in..Journalism maybe or will that major lead me in the wrong career pathway?

  9. Rahul Kashyap Says:

    I have a degree in Journalism and was considered a good writer in college. I love travel and writing, but did not pursue it because of the instability and low pay. I thought at the time that I’d be happier making money, but after 10 years of the rat race I am reconsidering.

    Do you think there is a time limit for pursuing travel journalism as a career? I am 33 and have a supportive wife who would certainly relocate from the United States to Europe as a base. I think I would enjoy writing about out of way places in both Eastern and Western Europe.

    What do you think is the best way to enter the field?

  10. Katherine Ward Says:

    I’m also interested in travel journalism as my career.I can see my self having a career that allows me to experience new things and then share feeling and journeys. But, I also could use some more stable info. Mostly about what paths I should be taking and how I can make an actual “comfortable” living.

    If anyone has any more advice or info please contact me at

  11. maria Says:


    im in a crisis! im about to graduate from college and still dont know what to get my master’s degree in. now, i’ve been travelling allllll my life and there is nothing else that i’d rather be doing in my career. i considered doing international marketing, sales, or journalism, but i want to make sure that i can TRAVEL! alot!!! travel journalism sounds like THE job for me, but the low pay and instability scares me off a little. who will pay for my travels? and for how long? there is no “travel journalism as a career” website on the internet, so please help!

  12. Zach Says:

    My name is Zach and i am in 7 grade. I was curious about travel journalism as a career.I have a few questions. Do you have to be a really really good writer? Do you get to travel alot around the world? What are the salaries for being a traveling journalist? What high school courses and college courses do you have to take? What college should you go to to become a travel jouranlist?

  13. j Says:

    hello. i live in England,UK and i am unsure of my my ideal ‘job’ in the future. I am 16, and have always enjoyed the idea of being able to travel & write similarly. However, i am aware of the tough market of journalism itself, and although i love writing, i am more intrested in a job that involves travel. Reading your article confirms this, and i too have often thought about teaching english as a foreign language. I was wondering if you had any advice on other jobs which allow travel, or any tips on how to get into teaching english abroad, as i know this allows travel & new experiences.

  14. Jessica Thomas Says:

    You people in high school are stressing me out. I mean yes, travel writing sounds like a sweet job, but believe me your ideas will change by the time you are out of college. I am about to graduate college with a journalism degree and have considered travel writing, but I have thought of other things too that could maybe just support a lifestyle of long-term travel. My plan right now is to save up money, travel to Southeast Asia for 6 or 9 months, and hopefully writing will come and/or follow from that but my main objective is to travel.

  15. Josh Spoehr Says:

    Just a thought to the novice and professional journalist alike, I am willing to build travel journalists or the aspiring writer a web-page at my website

    It is free and you can use it to showcase some of your work, as long as the reviews are on the up and up.

    The reviews will be available to visitors and they can rank the reviews.

    If someone writes bogus reviews that shed a positive light on a place where it shouldn’t, that is an obvious no-no.

    Use it if you feel it will benefit you and my readers.

    Thank you

  16. Tia Myers Says:

    im only 12, but when i grow up, i want to travel, and i want to write about the things i find or things that happen, my cousin travels across the world and that inspired me, and i love to write, so i want to put those together, and it is just so interesting how people do that, and i made a promise to myself, and that is to never buy a house

  17. kiran mir Says:

    hey Mr. potts could u please read the following and tell me wether i am a good writer and do i stand a chance of becoming a travelling journo, i am more interested in becomng a television journo pls help!!

    “Unique is the word that best describes Singapore, a dynamic city rich in contrast and colour where you will find a harmonious blend of culture, cuisine, arts and architecture.

    A bridge between east and west for centuries.”

    so says the Welcome to Singapore brochure i got from my recent trip there.

    nothing much the trip was for 2 days but fortunately it got extended by another day, thanks to the delay in the airline by which we were to travell back home!!!

    anyways like any other tourist, I too was excited about my trip to this city which my mother simply adores!! (adults, they like places with rules and all, will talk abt this later)

    the tour started with me and my family entering singapore by a train ride from kuala lumpur, now this was a far east tour people and it included thailand ,malaysia, singapore , in that order.

    well we entered singapore , at around 6:00 am, no it wasn’t dark at all outside, rather a bright morning though humidity there is just like that in Mumbai (bombay). anyways this was the first time i had been subjected to custom check on a railway station so this too i shall account as an experience!

    now here we all were standing on the station looking around to find not a soul but only us, ie., the people from our train, tourists mostly, the yucky part people was to talk to someone without having even brushed my teeth, they dont give u time to brush even , you see you need to be up and out the moment your train halts on this station. So there we all were luggage in hand, standing in queue’s so as to pass customs,

    1 very important detail the trains unlike the indian sleeper classes dont have place below the seats to place your luggage, so u can imagine our plight when after all that arranging we did in the night of our luggage we had to again remove it all, just to get it all back again!!! pathetic, pain in the behind!! :-p

    So after the customary customs check we again boarded the train and left for our final destination, Singapore city!

    well the moment you reach singapore and you start seeing outside from your train window just to catch glimpses of the place you instantly understand that there is something about this place, which you didnt find any where else in your journey so far, i just couldnt get my mind to really pin point as to what was it, ws it the super clean roads, Maybe. or was it the descipline i could see in the traffic, or the lack of it, at 8:00 am in the morning, Maybe. Or was it the pretty residential houses that i saw all neat and all looking freshly painted, (weird!!) where was I, OMG!! this is an alien world, do things always remain pretty in singapore, are the paints on the walls of such high quality that they dont peel nor become dirty!! are the roads everyday this clean with not even birds poo on them!! ok this was a bit too exagerrated!! heheheh

    anyways what ever it was this city was C L E A N!!

    and uber,duber,super CLEAN. didnt see so much cleanliness even in my mothers wardrobe, I mean comeon I always thought she was the cleanest, but this place beats even the cleanest of them all.

    well we reached our final destination and our tour operator had arranged for a taxi for us, nice taxi looked more like a Maruti Versa, only a lot bigger and broader and offcourse Cleaner!! the door had this automatic thingee u know the driver need not close it he could command it from his seat itself, (so much for Chauffeurs) so well i hope u must have roughly got the picture of the car, now from there on we were headed to our hotel there, Its bang opposite Mohommed mustafa Shopping mall (locally called just Mustaafaa) this is their little India area, called so for you know obvious reasons, too many Indians and Pakistanis there.

    So we reached the hotel, and went again down for nashta (breakfast). its a punjabi restraunt, below Mustafa, Nice food and the only place where the radio plays the whole day!!!. so there we were tired, thanks to the train journey, but thank God, not hungry, thanks to the timely breakfast arrangements!!

    our tour guide there, for the moment also our taxi driver, told us about the day plan. Which included RnR (rest and relaxation) till 1:00 pm and 1:30 lunch and other site seeing.

    At this time Sharp………
    well I being super tired took my warm bath and slept off, only to be woken in a rush by my shouting mother “yahan late hogaye toh burra maan te hain, time k bade paaband log hain”(here being late is considered offensive, these people are very punctual) but do you think I would give a damn, I mean come on yaar its a vacation how can you possibly think of being PUNCTUAL on a vacation, I am here to chillax not to have military rule put on me!!

    But as you may very well know my mom was as usual Right!!!. the taxi took off without us, all thanks to me!!! hey how was I to know they are sooo Punctual , we were just 2 mins late people!! now in our country or in most around the world where have we come across such decorum, I mean its their place, they are not on a vacation, I am, and its my vacational right to be Late and chilled out, but whose gonna teach this to them!!!

    So there we were waiting for the next taxi to arrive, and me with my mom, trying not to react on her I-Told-You-So, Its-All-Because-Of-You stance!!!

    the taxi arrived and we were taken to this other hotel for lunch, I hate this system of the tour operators, why can’t they just keep everything in one place!!

    Off to the city tour.
    after our lunch we left for the city tour in a bus. na na not public transport it was a bus arranged by our tour operator, we saw Orchard road, China town, Singapore monument, their Parliament building, (looks like a U.F.O as seen in this pic)river ride, and ya some gem factory.(much better gem factory in pattaya, Thailand) So we were told by the guide about Singapores history, that Tamilians were the first to come there, then later the Chinese, hence it has 5 official languages,

    so you can survive here if you know just know english, no hard and fast rule

    the river ride was cool, it aint a river actually its the sea, singapore doesnt have a river, so I have been told. And Singapore, is just as big or maybe even smaller than Aamchi Mumbai!! All that there is, singapore, is all reclaimed land!! amazing na!!

    Architectural wonders.
    Singapore boasts of real Architectural wonders yaar, I mean You see 1 building and then you see the next and wonder, k which one was more better!! these people definately know how to create Marvels. and hey if You people have happened to see Krissh, then remember the scene where Hrithik comes out from a ring shaped fountain in the middle of the road, yaa that is in Singapore, and its called Sim Lim Square, the buildings surrounding the Fountain are shaped like hands and the fountain is supposed to be the money flowing in their hands and staying there, Feng Shui principles people!! This is their business district. And yup it definately makes you wanna work in one of these shiney buildings!!

    Singaporeans are avid shoppers, I make this point only through close observation, Just imagine having a shopping mall the size of 1 wankhede stadium, and that to being full anytime of the day!!! They have discounts, offers, etc etc all year round yaar!!!

    and go there ladies, especially to buy shoes and purses OMG, I got crazy, what designs and what colours, wow wow wow!!!

    fashion conscious public.
    General observation of the people there have also led me to have another conclusion, fashion means everything to them, And no not our Kuch-Bhi-Chalta-Hai type fashion!!! the proper stuff with the proper accessory. Matching shoes, Matching Purses. Lovely dresses and figures to go with 😉

    these people wont be caught dead in the wrong kind of shoes, with the wrong kind of purse.!! that particular!! So, if you want to look just as prim and proper-ah!! please be carefull of what you wear, and how!!!

    Fines and rules.
    if i were to not mention these, It will not be fair to Singapore

    Rules and fines, I read it many a times at many places even T-Shirts that what a Fine City is Singapore!! by Fine I mean the Offence Fines.

    nudity fine
    spitting fine
    loiterring fine
    whistelling fine
    chewing gum fine!!
    Amazed,Dont be, and i aint exaggerating at all this time, these are real fines!!and they are imposed on you!!

    Singaporeans have to take compulsory Military training (proves the Punctuality point) they have to take it aprrox 6-8 times in their whole life time, and its compulsory!!

    they cant keep cars for more than 10 years (after which they are sold in Vietnam’s markets as second hands) why is this done?? well, to control Air pollution. they dont want their citizens to own cars there yaar, hence they have imposed all sorts of weird rules on them. Like for eg., if a car costs 10,000 $ in the market, a person who wishes to buy a car in Singapore will have to shell out 60-70000 $ for the same, Why and how?!?! well they have to buy a certificate which will cost you the extra sum of money so that you can buy the car

    and for all you signal breakers and rash drivers, liecense once confiscated fine 30,000$ and no driving for a year, 2nd time, no driving for life!!!

    And yet you find so many cars on the road, and you wonder just how do these people afford this? But you know as a person who stays here in Mumbai and who knows the general traffic problems we face, wherein cars driving over 40 kmph is only possible on either sundays or highways or late at nights or early in mornings, Phew!! you feel jealous of these people, Empty roads (compared to ours) neat, clean, no pot holes, haaaaa!!!……… what joy will it be yaar, drive karne!!

    And the tour continues……
    the second day, after all that sightseeing the day before,I was fresher, why, because I had gotten my beauty sleep!! or rather long sleep and was all set to take on Singapore…. today it was trip to Sentosa Island, Under water world, and later in the day night safari (yup!! couldnt do that yesterday)

    so with so mcuh planned up we left, Cable car ride to Sentosa is really awesome, You can see the construction of the new Casino which is going to be built here (as per rules, not allowed to Singaporeans!!) Las Vegas Style, and also something else was being built, I Dont rem yaar!!!

    Sentosa has loads of attrasctions, Song of the sea(nice graphics) and dolphin show etc, the under water world is in Sentosa itself its cool u know, u can see the fishes all around you, Amazin!!

    the night safari isn’t in Sentosa but some where on the outskirts of the city, Its pretty interesting and has , many shows in there too, like night life trail, trailing the big cats, etc.. we couldnt go for these as our guide told us we would miss the animal show if we were to go, but guess what, luck had something else in store!!! the Animal Show got CANCELLED!!!

    and we had to just go out and sit in the sitting area and eat Ben And Jerry’s ice-cream, Now this my dears is recommended!! yummy yummy yummy!!! thats all i have got to say about this.

    and yaa we also got to see the tribal show, Nice more funny, but it basically just has these guys in tribal dresses doing fire-breathing!!

    from there we went back to our hotel, some still had the courage to go and shop!! imagine!!after alll that walking and trekking, uuufff!!! we were 1 of em!!! hehehehe

    karni padhi yaar (had to do it yaar) the shopping ie., next day we were to fly back home na, but then again destiny had something else planned. again…

    Poppat at the airport!!!
    the next day we were waiting in the afternoon at the airport, just to be announced that 1st our flight was delayed, then later it got more delayed by…hold on….18 hrs!!! U must be kidding!!!

    but but but…..every dark cloud has a silver lining,ours had one too, it was called Mandarin Oriental Hotel!!! it was a 7 star hotel in the heart of the city, (what Luck!!) so we got to stay there for FREE!! thanks to our late latiff airline (planning to again travel by the same :-P)

    so the view from this hotel was breath taking, we got to see the Mer-lion from our window itself, also their giant viewing wheel, did i also tell u i took the Mer-lion snaps on the so-called river ride… hmm nice 1’s those snaps

    but hey coming back to the Mandarin Oriental, nice rooms, yummy food, and great view!! what else could i ask for..

    perfect ending…..
    so all in all singapore is a nice place to visit, but for all those out there who are lazy bums like me, and for whom holiday means no rules what-so-ever, u might just visit singapore for a day or 2, and get home sick soon!!! after some time even the luxury of Mandarin Oriental wont tie you down, You wanna escape, go back home, Your wish will be granted beta, only if you havent planned a week long stay in singapore… but keeping all this aside, singapore is a nice, clean, FINE, place…. and all those in favour of real foreign land experience, with all the tall talks of mirror like roads and, best kept infrastructure, You wont be disappointed!!!

    “singapuraaa singapuraaa………

    Tiny Island In the Sea…………” (singapore song)

  18. star Says:

    i m’ a btech 3rd year student but now i ve’ realised that i am passionate about travelling, adventure and to mix with new people,know their culture and the history of a i thought may be a travelling journalist (in electronic media) a good career it correct?should i do my masters in mass communication ?what am i required to do ?i stay in india.plz do reply.

  19. Ambika Says:

    Dear Mr Potts,
    My name is Ambika and i am from New Delhi, India. Your blog has been most helpful and informative. I am an aspiring journalist, doing my masters in the course. An avid traveller, the world of travel journalism holds a certain fascination for me, although I have not heard particularly inspiring things about the scope of such a career. I would be grateful if you could offer me your point of view regarding this.
    thank you.

  20. Emily Says:

    Hi there.

    I have just graduated in BA (Hons)Tourism Management in Bristol and am unsure of what career path to take. Then it just came to me, why not become a travel journalist? I have travelled alot around Europe, Australia and New Zealand and plan to head to Canada for awhile next…I seem to have caught that infamous ‘travel bug’ that so many students get during their gap year! I also really enjoy writing, and English was always my best subject at school, so I thought why not combine my two passions. Anyone who read my essays at uni were always like “you’re more of a story teller, why don’t you become a journalist”, now I think about it I can’t see why I never thought of it before!

    In order to begin this type of career would I need to go on a journalism course of some kind? If there is any advice anyone could provide please contact me by email at

    This would be much appreciated!

    Many thanks, Emily

  21. The Issues bombarding travel journalism « Carlav1’s Blog Says:

    […] Travel Journalism is a career with many pros and cons. Not everything is glamorous and sometimes journalists are put in sticky situations to try and uncover a great story. However, the rewards of this field make for a fulfilling career and therefore they overshadow the multitude of negatives that come with it. [1] Potts, Rolf. 2009. Vagabonding. BootsnAll Travel Network, accessed 7th October, 2009 <http://www…. […]

  22. lawrence Says:

    I am looking for travel writers who want to get their work published on our website, we can offer a link back to your personal profile in exchange for great content. You can write about any sort of traveling you like in any destination! We just ask for 2 unique articles per months, anyone interested, please contact me!

  23. sam fox Says:

    Im 14 yrs old and already plan on being a traveling journalist. I have already traveled to multiple place around the world and kept a limited journal of my experiences. But Im extremely worried about pay and where to start once I graduate college? Also what are some classes that I MUST take in college? I English for sure already. And what college would give me the best opportunities and the best resumé?

  24. Kellye Peters Says:

    Hi Rolf,
    I’m a little bit confused. Travel writing is an idea I have been toying with for the last few months. I’m just not sure how it would work. I would like to do it just as a side gig so would I just send my writing to magazines and newspapers?

  25. Shruti Meshram Says:

    Hi Rolf and all friends here who share the same interest. Im a 19 year old and I love traveling and narrating the experience about any place is just amazing. I love to explore different places of the world but I have not been that lucky to explore. I come from a conservative Indian family and I have traveled India extensively.
    I collect information about untouched lands which are pure and mysterious.
    I don’t know if I can take it up as a profession but its a dear hobby to me. I need to expand my horizons. please suggest somethings like travel magazines and other things.
    Regards to all.

  26. Larry Says:

    Contributors wanted for a new online travel magazine devoted to adventure, insight and inspiration. Seeking articles, photos and videos. While we’re in startup mode, we can’t offer payment. What we can provide is the guidance, experience and expertise of national editors and an outlet where your work will be seen, read and promoted alongside a growing list of accomplished contributors. Your articles will be showcased on our homepage and you’ll be able to promote your own projects in your author bio. It’s like having a blog without the demands of actually having a blog. Email for full details:

  27. Sophia Rungabond Says:

    I really want to pursue travel journalism but my family is really coaxing me to get an academic degree first. I don’t know if I’ll be able to learn and attend journalism college after getting a masters degree. Is it possible?

  28. Kohinoor Says:

    i am 16 yrs old and wanna pursue a carrer in travel journalism as i just luv to travel places and write and share my thoughts about them as well,but i have a few questions. Do you have to be a really really good writer? Do you get to travel alot around the world? What are the salaries for being a traveling journalist? What high school courses and college courses do you have to take? What college should you go to to become a travel jouranlist?
    I would appreciated if you could send me the answers on my mail

  29. Anna Says:

    I am 16 years old, and i love to write, travel, & read. This is my passion. I want to take the right steps forward to insure a successful future in travel journalism. One thing that i am worried about is the low pay, and what if i am just not good enough. If you have any advice for me in regards to improving myself as a writer, and what steps i should take after highschool please email me.

  30. 5 Travel Journalist Sites | Holiday and Travel Says:

    […] Advice for the aspiring travel journalist | Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts .Mar 19, 2007 Although I've assembled plenty of advice for aspiring travel writers on my websites over the years, I still […]