How to be a travel writer
Do you aspire to transform your love of writing into a lucrative career? Take some inspiration from our 10 handy tips, and put pen to paper
It’s midnight in a jazz club in Paris. Women in polka-dot dresses and men in two-tone shoes swirl across the dance-floor, jitterbugging to a swing band. I’m scribbling down notes for a newspaper article and chatting to a singer from the band. Earlier today, in a studio across town, I interviewed a famous wildlife photographer for a glossy magazine. And tonight, for a weekend paper, I’ll be staying in the Left Bank hotel — a former brothel — where Oscar Wilde died. It’s been an amazing weekend. I’ve got three travel articles from it and somewhere down the line there will be some writing fees, too.
That’s the dream that many travellers have — of being a writer, turning their journeys into stories and getting paid to travel. Can it be done? Absolutely. Is it fun? Judge for yourself. So how do you go about it?
One way of getting your foot in the door, is to enter a competition. Finding yourself short-listed for, or indeed winning our Travel Writing Competition 2015, and seeing your work published in one of the UK’s most successful travel magazines, could transform your love of writing into a career.
All you’ve got to do, is submit 400 words on an inspirational travel experience. And these words, of course, should be words that will get you noticed, something any aspiring writer knows is not as easy as it sounds. But follow my top 10 tips on how to be a travel writer and you could be on the road to success.
1. Travel before you travel
The key difference between going on holiday and going on a writing trip is that the latter has a purpose — you’re there to find the right material for your story. You need to plan before you go: what’s your theme (or ‘angle’); what places and people do you need to visit to deliver that theme. If your theme is jazz in Paris, then research the best nightclubs, contact a musician for an interview, find the concert hall where Juliette Gréco fell in love with Miles Davis while watching him from the wings. These are the building blocks of your story.
2. Get lost
Once you’re out there, new avenues will open up. The cafe waiter knows a secret nightclub, you spot a signpost to a vintage record shop… These are gems you can’t find unless you’re on the ground. Follow rumours and hunches, lose yourself in the territory and go beyond the guidebook.
3. Make friends
Very few travel stories are empty of people. Characters bring a location to life. Make sure you meet people who suit your theme, spend time with them and ask questions about their world. A chat with a chanteuse in her dressing room after the show is a wonderful scene to write and adds a certain electricity too.
4. Never stop taking notes
Your objective while on the road is to catch material, those things you notice or experience — events, sounds, quotes, colours, smells. If you catch them at once in a handy pocket book, then you’ve got them preserved. The more detailed your notes, the more you have to write about.
5. Write like a camera
Ah yes, finally the writing. This is the hardest —and finest — part. At a certain point it’s just you and a blank computer screen. And a deadline. And writer’s block. Just browse through those copious notes and start to describe what you saw. Take us to that place. Walk us through those streets. Pretend you’re a movie camera picturing a scene, and then the next scene, and the next. Step inside the scene yourself. Don’t be clever, be there. It can be as simple as that.
6. Make a shape
Travel articles are tiny miracles of structure. They often start with a bang — a vivid moment, a fascinating conversation, a tantalising glimpse. The ‘intro’ paragraphs are the way in, so read lots of good examples and analyse how they work, then assess how the middle plays out the theme, how the ending wraps things up. A good story shape is essential if you want to get published.
7. Ignore the quality
Chances are that a lot of what you write will disappoint. It’s true for beginners, but even for old hands this feeling never leaves you. Don’t listen to it. Keep on writing, keep dropping those words onto the page. At least you’ll have something that you can rewrite. And you might just find that the flow takes you with it, right to the quality that you want.
8. Cut like crazy
Never be afraid to lose words that aren’t working. You might have spent 20 minutes crafting that perfect sentence, but if it isn’t doing a useful job then bin it. The more you hone, the sharper the writing that’s left.
9. Pitch to the market
Every magazine and newspaper has its own preference for topics, style and length. Do yourself a favour and check this out before you start pitching to editors — or even writing. A quick browse can save you a lot of grief.
10. Believe you can do this
Most articles you read in travel publications are written by freelance travel writers — people who started as beginners, learnt the ropes and built a track record. The difference between the professionals and you may only come down to practice, perseverance and time.
Enter our Travel Writing Competition 2017 for your chance to appear in National Geographic Traveller and win a 10-day polar expedition to Greenland with Quark Expeditions!
Published in the March 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
how to become a national geographic traveler
Get a journalism or science-focused college degree. While you do not need to major in photojournalism, or journalism at all, to get in with Nat Geo, you do need a college degree. Though your degree can be in something completely unrelated to photojournalism, it is encouraged that you take photography classes and practice constantly.
How can you become an explorer for National Geographic?
Unauthorized use is prohibited. If you’ve ever wondered how you might become an explorer for National Geographic, believe it or not, it can start with attending a seminar.
How do you become a National Geographic photographer?
Gaining the Necessary Photography Skills Get a journalism or science-focused college degree. Spend five or more years working in photojournalism. Specialize in a unique skill to catch National Geographic’s attention. Take pictures every single day.
How do I get published in National Geographic?
Every artist whose work has appeared in National Geographic is a freelancer who has been in the industry for years. If you are willing to put the time in, getting published by National Geographic is an achievable goal. Get a journalism or science-focused college degree.
How do I join the Nat Geo community?
Join Your Shot to become part of the Nat Geo community. Create an account on National Geographic’s website for a chance to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the industry. Send in your best photos for a themed assignment to have a chance at being part of a published story.
How much is the Young Explorers Grant?
“Working with National Geographic really opens doors. The Young Explorers Grant is a small grant. It’s only between $2,000 and $5,000 ,” Maser said.
How to become an Explorer for National Geographic?
If you’ve ever wondered how you might become an explorer for National Geographic, believe it or not, it can start with attending a seminar. During the Banff Mountain Film Festival in a conference room at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, aspiring young explorers learned the ropes …
How long has there been exploration?
After more than 120 years of exploration, there is still much left to be discovered. And though a lot of ground has already been covered, editors at National Geographic encourage grant applicants to keep looking for that next great find. What matters most is that young explorers bring a new and exciting angle to the story. You can learn more about the Young Explorers Grant program on line.
What is National Geographic’s yellow magazine?
Young explorers share their stories online, a few make it to television and some are published in the coveted yellow magazine. With a little base funding and a lot of professional guidance, National Geographic is helping to take adventure and scientific discovery in a new direction.
How many expeditions has National Geographic supported?
Since 1888 National Geographic has supported more than 10,000 expeditions to the most remote corners of the globe.
What was Maser’s project for National Geographic?
Maser’s project for National Geographic proposed to demonstrate through a paddling adventure how a warming planet might impact the availability of water in a major city like La Paz.
Where was the Banff Mountain Film Festival?
During the Banff Mountain Film Festival in a conference room at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, aspiring young explorers learned the ropes of turning their dreams of adventure into an assignment for National Geographic. Their works may land on television, on the web, or in the famous magazine with the bright yellow border.
What is National Geographic Society?
The National Geographic Society is a global, world-class brand driven by purpose, passion, and excellence.
What is DEI in business?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is at the heart of all we do. We’re a tapestry of bold people, each thread stitched with a diversity of perspectives, cultures, and experiences. It’s what makes our teams strong, our work impactful, and our stories worth telling.
Why is collaboration important?
Our success depends on embracing our interdependence on each other. Collaboration is the key that unlocks innovation and pushes us forward.
Is National Geographic a science based organization?
As a science-based organization, National Geographic Society follow s the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials. To promote the health, safety, and well-being of all staff, as of October 18, 2021, all NGS employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or request an exception for a qualifying medical reason or a sincerely held religious belief.
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Photo Credits from top of page: Brian Skerry, Michael Nichols (2), Mauro Sergio. Below: Michael Nichols, Andy Mann, Paul Nicklen, Ami Vitale, Christian Tryon, Kenneth Garrett, Mark Thiessen.
What is the Explorer community?
The Explorer community is comprised of conservationists, scientists, storytellers, educations, and technologists—a group Moen collectively calls change-makers. Being a National Geographic Explorer is about more than just engaging in exploration for the sake of exploration or for conquering the unknown: It’s about embarking on exploration …
What is an explorer?
Being an Explorer isn’t a staff position within the Society; rather, being an Explorer is an opportunity to pursue projects and fieldwork with Society funding, training, and resources, and to join a community of like-minded people. The Explorer community is comprised of conservationists, scientists, storytellers, educations, …
How many grants has the National Geographic Society awarded?
Since its inception 130 years ago, the National Geographic Society has awarded more than 13,000 grants and supported the work of more than 3,000 explorers in the field.
Who are the most famous Explorers?
While Goodall and Cousteau are among the most famous Explorers, thousands of others have received grants, too.
Who is Gladys Kalema Zikusoka?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka ’s mission to protect wildlife, particularly the critically endangered mountain gorilla, is what led this Uganda-based veterinarian to become one of the newest members of the National Geographic Explorer team.
Who is Erin Spencer?
Erin Spencer was an undergraduate studying marine ecology when she got the news. Dizzy with excitement and ready to shout from the rooftops, Spencer ran to her mentor’s office. “I burst in and told her I had gotten the Explorer grant,” Spencer says. “I mean, I assumed it would take multiple tries.”.
How long does it take for plastic bags to break down?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of human trash stretching across thousands of miles of the ocean, includes gazillions of throw-away plastic bottles and bags that will take hundreds of years, if ever, to break down—all the while wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems.
How to reduce plastic waste in the tropics?
Be a part of the solution by opting for locally purified water in recyclable glass bottles (in the tropics, I rely mainly on green coconuts to stay hydrated) and carrying tote bags in your luggage that you can use while perusing street markets and shops. Not only will this cut back on plastic waste, it will also reduce your carbon footprint–petroleum-based ingredients are a staple in manufacturing plastic bottles and bags.
What do travelers bring to children?
Many well-intentioned travelers bring sweets, used clothing, books, and pencils to hand out to children and villagers in developing nations. Sadly, this kind giving often has unintended consequences—it can sow community conflict and encourage a culture of dependency and begging.
Why do gift shops sell sombreros?
In Cancun, for example, some gift shops sell “traditional” Mexican sombreros that are imported from China because they cost less, while village artisans who make the hats by hand charge more. The difference is not just in the price. Buying the real sombreros supports authentic cultural heritage and provides needed jobs for the locals who make them.
What is the purpose of a train glide through Switzerland?
A train glides past Switzerland’s snow capped mountains, one way travelers can see the world while reducing their carbon footprint.
What are the three pillars of sustainable tourism?
The three pillars of sustainable tourism are employing environmentally friendly practices (reduce, reuse, recycle); protecting cultural and natural heritage ( restoring historic buildings or saving endangered species); and providing tangible social and economic benefits for local communities (ranging from upholding the rights of indigenous peoples to supporting fair wages for employees). Here are six things globetrotters can do to ease their impact on the planet:
What is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism?
The United Nations designated 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development —an opportunity to raise global awareness about how responsible tourism can act as a vehicle for positive change.
What background do Nat Geo photographers have?
Many Nat Geo photographers use their educational backgrounds to help them with shooting. For example, numerous freelancers have solid science backgrounds, which makes them excellent photographers of natural history.
How to get your work published in National Geographic?
Try to get your work published in multiple places. The editors at National Geographic are constantly combing through books, magazines, newspapers, and online articles to find photographers who consistently capture their attention. Once they see someone’s name over and over again, they will look to get in contact with them.
What are the types of grants that Nat Geo offers?
Propose a project to get a grant from Nat Geo. The company offers three types of grants: early career, exploration, and requests for proposals. Early career grants are meant to give less-experienced photographers a chance to lead a project. An exploration grant is a funding request made by an experienced project leader in the areas of education, conservation, storytelling, research, and technology. A request for proposal is when an applicant pitches a project that focuses on a certain key issue. These include documenting human migration and species recovery.
How long does it take to become a National Geographic photographer?
Since National Geographic requires its freelancers to have at least half a decade of professional experience, it is important to find a job that allows you to take pictures every day.
How to get noticed when you email your work?
Email your work to as many different addresses as you can. This gives you a better chance of being noticed .
What is the most prestigious magazine for photographers?
One of the most prestigious magazines for photographers is National Geographic. Many freelance photojournalists consider it a career highlight to have their work published in National Geographic. It is not easy to accomplish this, however, and takes years of hard work, skill development, and practice in this highly competitive field.
Why is it important to speak multiple languages?
People who speak multiple languages are valuable to the publication, as are people who can dive under sea ice. If you can master vastly different skills, you’ve made yourself that much more attractive to the editors at National Geographic.
How to become a National Geographic Explorer
If you’ve ever wondered how you might become an explorer for National Geographic believe it or not it can be as simple as attending a seminar.
During the Banff Mountain Film Festival in a conference room at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada aspiring young explorers learn the ropes of turning their dreams of adventure into an assignment for National Geographic. Their works may land on television, on the web or the famous magazine with the bright yellow border. Carrie Regan, Vice president of specials development at National Geographic Television tells young photographers, writers and filmmakers what she wants to see and hear in a pitch.
“In brief it’s basically looking for great adventures, adventures with great payoffs, a great discovery,” Regan said. “Think about what the hook would be, what would make viewers when they tune in for the first 5 minutes say, ‘Oh, my God! I have to stick around and see if they’re going to solve this mystery if they’re going to accomplish this quest’.”
For many, like those at this seminar, the dream of exploration began between the pages of National Geographic Magazine. Who can forget the image of early human ancestors discovered at Olduvai Gorge or the hunting eyes of the “Afghan girl” Sharbat Gula? Those vivid pictures and compelling stories have inspired people for generations to travel the world in search of adventure and scientific discovery. Since 1888 National Geographic has supported more than 10,000 expeditions to the most remote corners of the globe. And those gathered here want to be among the next group of explorers. In this seminar Regan encourages them to keep a few things in mind.
‘So really think about how this is going to be visually different,” she said “what great characters we have and what’s that great payoff that will keep viewers tuned in.”
Developing content across a variety of different media National Geographic is looking for new and exciting stories. Gregory McGruder, vice president of public programs at National Geographic also sits on the Expeditions counsel as well as the Young Explorers Grant counsel. He helps to pick from among the many projects that apply for support and funding. But he warns new applicants not to make up the social and culture significance the magazine is known for in their stories. He says just keep it real.
“We’ve got really good radar for things that are shoehorned in kind of improperly,” McGruder said. “If it’s something about adventure make it adventure. Don’t add the cultural element as a tag-on. I mean the cultural element is fine, but it just has to be authentic.”
It is this authenticity that adventure filmmaker and past National Geographic Younger Explorer Grant recipient Andy Maser brings to the magazine.
Young Exploper Grantee Andy Maser Photo by Mark Christmas
“I got a young explorer grant in 2009 for a project in Bolivia that blended climate change with white-water kayaking,” he said.
Maser’s project for National Geographic proposed to demonstrate through a paddling adventure how a warming planet might impact the availability of water in a major city like La Paz.
“A lot of their water comes from melting glaciers that are rapidly receding because of climate change,” Maser said.