Robert Haru Fisher is a New York based travel writer and author of the guidebook pictured above, available at Amazon at London Off-Season And On : A Guide To Special Pleasures, Better Rater And Shorter Lines. He also wrote the Crown Insiders Guide to Japan, which is from his own publishing company. Fisher also contributes to the Frommer website and has, over the last few months, published a series of "so you wanna be a travel writer" articles with enough positive spin to keep the dreamers happy, and enough reality to discourage all but the most brave. It comes in five parts.
I haven't mentioned money yet, so will say only that you should have resources of your own, or a spouse/partner with a regular job, so someone can pay the bills. The travel writers who have good incomes are either on the staff of some publication and drawing a salary, or have honed the art of freelancing well, usually after many years of hard practice. Newspapers pay chicken feed (e.g. $75 for a column of print), magazines maybe $1 a word at best for writers without a famous following, websites little, and books smallish advances (if any, maybe $5,000) or flat fees not much more than that for a small book.
Part Two is a short history of travel writing, with a well deserved plug for Arthur Frommer, a man I have great admiration for and was once interviewed by on The Travel Channel.
"You have a dream job!" Half the people I meet for the first time tell me that, and I agree. It's heaven for me because I am intensely curious, always wanting to know what's around the next corner. When you travel, there's always a new next corner, a new surprise. It's no way to get rich, and it can be hell on family and other relationships because you seem never to be home, from their point of view, anyhow. You can't be a new parent, for instance, or taking care of an ailing family member. The most prolific travel writers are away at least a quarter of the time, I believe, sometimes half the time.
Part Three tries to define what is travel writing.
Anyone can be a travel writer. You can write your blog, your memoir, your diary of a trip, and the only difference between you and, say, Pico Iyer, is that he writes more beautifully than almost anyone, and he may publish in Harper's and The New York Times while you are just broadcasting your thoughts on your own website, perhaps.
Fisher in Part Four espouses the advantages of having a travel blog, and claims he is not trying to sell anything to anyone these days, including his travel writing seminars in Key West as advertised at the bottom of each of these posts.
(Full disclosure here: I don't have a site or a blog myself, as I am not trying to sell anything to anybody these days.)
If you are freelancing, you should also be working on a book, as having a book under your belt makes you an expert, ipso facto.
Fisher in Part Five finishes with his analysis of the history of travel writing to reveal a few facts about the income side of the average travel writer. Finally.
"Get paid to travel" reads one headline. "How to Make a Six-Figure Income Traveling the World" is another. In the last few years, several websites have popped up urging you to learn how to become rich while writing about travel. For fees of several hundred dollars, they promise to teach you how to lead the good life.
It's a life I don't recognize as being anywhere near the reality of those led by many friends of mine who are freelance travel writers. To me, the freelancer is a knight errant, the leaderless samurai, a solo gun-slinger, and my hero much of the time.
My first advice to aspiring freelance writers is to marry rich, or otherwise obtain a partner who has, at least, a steady income. Markets are hard to break into, payment is often laughably cheap. One young writer for a major series of guidebooks approached me on a press trip a few years ago and asked me if I had worked for the series and what they paid. I mentioned some figures, and he said, "Good, I'm working for nothing right now, but they told me if I did a good job, they would pay me next time." The figures I mentioned then were a range from $75 for updating a small chapter of a book through a few thousand to revise the entire book up to about $15,000 for the original writing of a new, fairly small title (under 300 pages of print).
Your writing in a newspaper can pay as little as $75, in a magazine $250, though there are higher and lower figures, depending on the publication. When you are successful, you can command a figure of $1 a word or even higher, however. Traditional print outlets (general purpose newspapers) are down, but niche print publications (birding, ballooning, kayaking, etc.) are up. The Internet is fraught with possibilities, very few of them paying much, if anything, though. You may have to self-publish, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Moreover, one site has its sample author writing "In fact, my own editor is crying out for correspondents to report on destinations throughout the world ... and she's not the only editor seeking fresh talent. To be honest, I have to turn work down -- there simply aren't' enough hours in the day to take up all the writing commissions I'm offered." Not bloody likely, as many of my freelancer friends would say.