The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Be a Successful Travel Writer
If you’ve spent any time looking up advice on how to be a successful travel writer, you’ll have found several themes that keep repeating themselves:
- Hone in on a niche (or don’t–not everyone believes in the power of the niche)
- Pitch regularly and don’t be afraid of rejection
- Love writing as much as you love travel–you can’t just be in this for the travel
- Blog or set up a great website
All of these are important words of wisdom. But the most important of all? The thing that sets mediocre travel writing apart from great travel writing? The thing that allows travel writers to make decent money rather than just scrape by? The thing that will lead people to your website and offer you work? The thing that will have people remembering your name?
Write about the place(s) you call home.
That doesn’t need to be the place you were born. It doesn’t even need to be the place you currently live. But, if you’re connected to a place on the level of ‘home’–meaning that you’ve rented a house there, know where to get the best coffee/cocktails/bagels, live an ordinary 9-to-5 life there–then you are much better qualified to write about travel to or within that place than anyone who just passes through.
If you consider a place home, you cringe when you read bad writing about it, writing riddled with errors by someone who has just passed through for a couple of days and stuck to the tourist hot spots. Your own writing about this place is likely to be more accurate and come with an extra level of authority than anyone else’s.
What’s the thing that sets mediocre travel writing apart from great travel writing? The thing that allows travel writers to make decent money rather than just scrape by? The thing that will have people remembering your name?
This isn’t to say that you can’t write well, as a travel writer, about places that are not your home. But, it is certainly more of a challenge, and you’ll have to take extra precautions not to write something silly, because you won’t necessarily immediately recognise when you have written something silly.
As well as meaning that you’re likely to produce better work, it is also much more cost effective (and lucrative!) to write about places you call home. For a start, if you’re currently living there you don’t have to spend a lot of money flying, driving, or bussing anywhere to gather story ideas. But also, if you make a name for yourself as a writer from a certain place, people will reach out to you if/when they need a writer in that area. From hotel reviews to sporting events, nitty gritty research on bus timetables to good travel writing about your town/country–if you are known as a specialist in your place, clients will reach out to you for these stories.
A reservation that some people have is thinking that travel only means going somewhere else. Home isn’t travel, and home isn’t interesting. Being a good writer is being able to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Perhaps Gary, Indiana isn’t interesting to you, but it’s where Michael Jackson was born! Rural New Zealand doesn’t usually seem very exciting to me, but I know millions of people disagree. And anyway, there’s always the option of upping and moving somewhere that excites you more. (Hello, Kathmandu).
There’s no single path to becoming a travel writer, and there’s certainly no formula for becoming a successful travel writer. But I believe the most important thing I’ve done to differentiate myself as a travel writer–and advise others to do, too–is to write about the places I call home.