Writing AdviceWriting, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

So You Want to Be a Travel Writer? Here's How

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was an American writer, humorist, and lecturer who changed the landscape of American literature. He did so as a travel writer before it was its own genre, with his seminal witty style and commentary on Americana, particularly the American South along the Mississippi River.

When looking over the scope of his writing, it becomes clear that his talent for writing developed over years of traveling up and down the Mississippi River, learning as much as he could about the river's history and present. With these experiences in mind, he wrote, Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

Twain understood that whether you're involved with travel blogging, book writing or freelance journalism, traveling and then writing about it is often its own reward. Getting paid for your effort is the cherry on top. However, breaking into travel writing markets is often difficult, especially since it's a highly competitive niche. There are great opportunities to earn money while you travel (and then write about it) but knowing the market and the competition you're up against is key to accessing these opportunities and using them to your advantage.

The first truth you'll need to come to terms with if you want to make a living as a travel writer is that most major print publications have downsized to meet the demands of a new economy focused on online content.

The truth is this: the travel sections in major publications (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal) are slimmer now, so competition will be fierce. But there are other outlets. Local newspapers are sometimes open to travel pitches from freelancers. Certain websites pay for travel articles, while magazines can be great for targeting niche audiences.

Let's take a look at the different types of travel writing and the requirements of the industry related to it, along with some examples of each.

Destination articles

As one of the most common types of travel stories print magazines look for, a destination article is an article that tells readers about a spot they might want to travel to in the future. It might include details such as the history of the location, points of interest, any trendy spots for eating or shopping, where to stay overnight, and unique facts about the place.

The best kind of writing in destination articles is writing that convinces readers they need to visit the destination as soon as possible. Good writing will give readers a sense of the place through engaging narrative and an overview of what makes it a great destination, while poor writing will just sound like a sales brochure.

What to Do in Montreal (New York Times)

Special-interest articles

Special-interest articles are a type of destination article that focus on one aspect of a destination (for example, eating in a certain city). Rather than offering an overview of a destination, these articles focus on one niche, and appeal to travelers who seek out that niche in their travels. Some special-interest articles might be: Motorcycling in Arkansas (see example below) or Ghost Towns in Colorado.

The South's Best Food Towns: Nashville, Tennessee: Weekend Dining Guide (Garden and Gun)
Let's Ride: See the Natural State on a Motorcycle (Arkansas Living Magazine)

Holiday and special events

Articles about special events such as the Olympics or celebrating Halloween at Disney World would fall under the holiday and special events category of travel writing. For these articles, the timing of publication is important, so be sure to meet all deadlines in advance if you want to land an assignment in this niche. Also, since these articles tend to be written before the event occurs, a lot of research will go into the location, itineraries, photos and interviews you'll need to conduct with locals or even organizers.

How to Plan a Trip to the 2016 Rio Olympics


The list format is a staple in content marketing and round-up travel articles take advantage of this trend. A round-up travel article is an article that offers readers a list of the top spots for vacationing or travel, such as "Our List of 10 of the Most Amazing Waterparks in the U.S." or "30 Family-Friendly Beaches on the West Coast"

29 Art Exhibitions to View in N.Y.C. This Weekend (New York Times)

Personal essays

Magazine and newspapers rarely seek out personal travel essay submissions, unless that publication is focused on travel. For the ones that do, competition is intense, and your personal essay will need to stand out from a large crowd to be considered for publication.

In this article written by Patti M. Marxsen, an American travel writer based in Switzerland, the author suggests, Because a good travel essay should be readable in one sitting, it takes an artful approach to focus your lens, calibrate your timing, build your structure, and discover colorful threads to weave through the fabric of your essay. As the writer, your task is to use your imagination to 'omit and compress,' as Alain de Botton describes it, in order to steer your reader to 'critical moments' and, I would add, unforgettable images.


How-to articles or blog pieces include useful information for navigating certain travel destinations, such as "How to Eat at Disney on $20 a day" or "How to See St. Louis Via Public Transportation." These types of articles should include "insider" information that isn't well known to the general public, which will require you to learn the information firsthand (or through research). These articles also do great as online content, and are highly sharable on social media—particularly among groups focused on the article's niche.

How to Travel Around the World for $20 a Day (travel blog)

Travelogues and travel memoirs

From Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga to Che Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries, travelogues are part personal essay/part diary told from the point of view of a traveler. We quoted Mark Twain in the introduction of this article, and in his own travelogue, The Innocents Abroad, he details his Great Pleasure Excursion through Europe and the Holy Land as part of a group of American travelers.

Travelogues can begin as books and be made into movies, like Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (two vastly different travelogues, I might add).


Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet's are being published regularly in both print and online formats, particularly for travel destinations that need consistently updated information on trendy spots and new restaurants. These types of books are often published as a series of travel guides from various places, and writers should pay close attention to submission guidelines of publishing companies before submitting their manuscript.

Some general travel writing guidelines

Here are some guidelines to consider with any type of travel writing you pursue:

  • Always know and follow the submission guidelines if you are submitting your travel writing to a publication or publisher. With the large number of submissions most receive, they are unable to look at the work of writers who can't follow directions. Some might want "on spec" (or pre-written) articles while others might want a pitch for an article yet to be written.
  • Keep in mind that many forms of travel writing require that the travel be recent, so write during or immediately following your travel experience.
  • Due to competition for travel article writing in many publications, make sure your writing is error free and stands out from the rest.
  • Keep detailed records of any travel, including keepsakes or local maps that might be useful for photographs or mementos to include in your work.
  • Read others' travel writing often to get a feel for what's out there and what publishers are looking for
  • If you're maintaining a travel blog, be sure to post consistently and maintain a social media presence to increase your audience.
Get in-depth guidance delivered right to your inbox.