Travel writing is still a tough business

Photo credit: maxymedia/Flickr

I think it is never too late or too biased to try spending a few words on the travel writing subject, as this still constitutes an activity that many vagabonds fancy to help substantiate their living on the run.

Since I started writing for Vagabonding one year ago, I have more and more delved into the world of the written word; luckily, with very hard work I have made some progresses in terms of getting a series of published paid features under my belt, and currently I am even ironing out a book deal.  As long as I am still far from being able to say that I write profitably, my growing portfolio has helped expand my opportunities, tune my ability to deal with busy editors, and generate some extra income – peanuts, mind you – from my personal website.

I fondly remember reading the rules of a travel writing competition somewhere on the internet upon entering Nepal. It read something like this: “If you can confidently say that you make about 40% of your total income by writing about travel, then it means that you ARE a travel writer. But you may still apply to our contest!”

“Great”, I said to myself rocking proudly in my seat, “I am a travel writer now! Wooo-ooo!”

In reality at the time – during my Asia to Europe overland trip, for the best part of year 2012 – my monthly income roughly totaled 250$, a 40% of which coming from article pay and my “travel website” meager revenues. Yeah, I was definitely a travel writer by their standard, but what if I had to be one in Las Cruces New Mexico, instead of Mahendranagar Nepal? The difference would have been weighed in the amount of days I would have been able to stay on the road and feed myself – and my partner, bear in mind! – with that little pocket money. Thank God, the Indian Subcontinent is a very cheap place to live and travel.

Some people told me I was nuts; some other patted me on my back and said I rocked. Me myself, I really thought and still think that I had better found something else to do on the side –and luckily, I have been awarded a PhD scholarship and am now comfortably living in Malaysia with such an allowance, finally making the travel writing “income” a substantial bonus to actually earn some bucks as I fancy the “nomadic lifestyle”.

Based on the above, do we still think that trying travel writing has sense? For how long will we be able to be happy by eating banana pancakes and sleep in roach infested motels just to make ends meet?
Wouldn’t it just be better to have a normal job back home, and take a few months off to travel every year?

I constantly change the answers to all of the above questions depending on my luck and my mood on the day.

In a very explanatory article I recommend, travel writer Tim Leffel put it in a way I like: “Before you fall for it, remember that it is also glamorous to be a rock star, a best-selling novelist, or a starter for the Lakers. It’s not so glamorous, however, to be an aspiring actor (waiter) in Los Angeles, an aspiring songwriter (waiter) in Nashville, or an aspiring novelist (waiter) in New York.”

For the moment, by saying that I do not have to clean up tables and shuttle drinks in New York, but browse books in Kuala Lumpur as I write on the side, it’s already been quite an accomplishment. For the rest, I guess that what is really moving me forward along this way is the fun of it. And not last, the really depressing, over generalizing quality of most of the “travel writing” content I see around the newsstands’ racks these days.

If any of you have any other worthwhile suggestions or considerations to add, please comment below.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | January 24, 2013
Category: Travel Writing, Vagabonding Life

3 Responses to “Travel writing is still a tough business”

  1. rubin pham Says:

    no doubt travel writing is tough business. i don’t know anyone who can make a decent living doing this.

  2. Brian Swanick Says:

    I really like the quote you included from Tim and I think that it we can all apply it, whether in Malaysia or Tampa 🙂

    I think what we’ve already seen is the evolution of the writer into something much more encompassing, an entrepreneur. Sure, you can work for a large blog network or freelance but there are plenty of travelers who have chosen to own it all themselves. You can write, program, design, and market your blog with little experience and have a very acceptable product. This isn’t big news, it’s been happening for years. The next evolution for traveler will be interesting and I am excited to see it play out. I see it turn into a lot more community building and collaborative efforts to deliver stories. You will see more creative titles, more creative use of video, and a lot more alignment with other writers and bigger brands.

    You will still be able to continue down the old path but I think there are positive moves writers can make to earn more. Nothing worth doing is ever easy! Cheers Marco.

  3. Steve Cohen Says:

    The Two Fundamental Laws of Travel Writing

    1. Being a travel writer is dream come true and probably one of the best gigs to be found anywhere.

    2. Making a living as travel writer is a fool’s game.

    I’ve been a travel writer for over 30 years, 23 years SATW, with thousands of published articles and photos, a dozen books or so under my belt, and a shelf full of awards. My take on the viability of being a travel writer may be found in this fictional memoir about a travel writer

    It’s called Travel To The G-Spot. Some people have said it’s very funny.

    Notice that after 30+ years on the job I’m still out here hustling a $3.99 book to strangers.