Ask the Expat Freelancer: What Makes You a Travel Writer?

May 30, 2011

in blogging, writing

So I just started blogging and doing some posts on other sites for pay…but I am confused by what actually qualifies as travel writing. I see a lot of bloggers who have the “travel” title but I always thought of a travel writer as someone who gets published in a place like National Geographic. Am I a “travel writer” if I write about travel, period?

— Angie

I agree with you to a certain extent that what makes you a travel writer is getting published in high-profile pubs or on major web sites. But it’s more about just getting published. I know there are travel writers who profit from guide writing and articles for lesser-known sites and magazines and books. In addition, I would think this title would be claimed by those who write the majority of the time about travel and who make most of their money from this niche.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the fact that calling yourself a “travel writer” gives the impression you’re qualified to write about the topic or have some expertise. Does simply writing about your travels make you an expert, especially if it’s on your own web site? If it’s all your own opinion and lacks research or interviews with others, is it really travel writing? If it’s a press trip for your own blog, is it travel writing? I’m sure those experienced Nat’l Geo writers you reference would have much to say about all these questions.

I just read a thought-provoking post that delves into what makes you a travel writer over at Nerd’s Eye View. The author debates whether or not people who call themselves “travel writers” are actually making money solely off writing about travel. She ventures a guess that many so-called travel writers or bloggers actually profit more from advertisements and links or other less-discussed writing. This trend has led to a false sense that everyone can make their bread and butter off travel writing when that’s not necessarily the case.

So what do the travel bloggers and travel writers think? What makes you a travel writer, travel blogger or some combination of the two?

21 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Scott

    Interesting post and great questions. As a professional writer for the past decade I feel comfortable putting myself in the travel writer category. I’ve written 10guidebooks for Lonely Planet and literally hundreds of articles for magazines around the world. I consider myself an expert and make a living from that reputation. Having said that I consider myself a professional writer first, not just a travel writer.

    I write on a whole host of subjects – from politics to sports to tech to general interest to modern culture, music, film and so on. I write about things that I have a passion for, travel being one of them. It’s easy to get caught up in labels and hyper concerned about what we should all call each other. While interesting it matters little in the grand scheme of life.

    Writers should write about what they know. If they are writing articles that give expert advice, recommendations or comparative reviews they should be experts. What qualifies someone to be an expert isanother interesting question.

    If you are trying to sell yourself to major publication as a travel writer and in reality you don’t cut the mustard, it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, they’ll see through the bs a mile away.

    Cheers,
    Scott

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hi Scott. Thanks for such a great response. You have quite a resume. You are right — labels shouldn’t matter. And who am I, or anyone else, to judge anyway? Your last point is very interesting, though. Are some writers or bloggers not amassing the right credentials and clips for a major pub or site, if that’s what they want?

      Reply
  2. Lisa at Wanderlust Women

    Oh Lauren, you have struck such a thorny chord here in the blogosphere. I am a professional journalist turned attorney who now focuses her free time travel writing. I feel confident in my creds, having been a reporter/editor/anchor at all 3 major networks in the US. Like Scott, someone other than ourselves has deemed our writing of a high caliber. I think what differentiates the bloggers who call themselves “travel writers” from the professionals is more about the research, the craft and the professionalism of the writing. How someone celebrated their birthday or honeymoon, or what they had for breakfast at any given locale, may be interesting to the 1500 “friends” they have on FB but it’s not professional. If a “post,” as they like to call them, drones on (as I fear here in this comment) for more than 500 words, you’ve lost me and it’s unlikely I’ll be back. That being said, thanks for letting me vent! LoL

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for a great comment Lisa! And your response didn’t go past 500 words, so you’re OK 🙂 I am happy to hear from professionals like you and Scott. It must be frustrating to see anyone who writes about travel sort of lumped together in some circles. Maybe “travel journalist” needs to become the next buzz word to separate the experts from the novices.

      Reply
  3. Brooke vs. the World

    I totally agree with that last comment on “travel journalist” vs writer, blogger, etc. I remember one day my aunt emailing me and saying, “Oh Brooke, you are such a good journalist!” I immediately emailed back and told her that I was just a blogger, doing my thang. There is no criteria for people to be able to call themselves a freelance writer or travel writer or any such title, and that HAS to be frustrating for the people that have honed their craft over years. I like to now refer to myself as a travel blogger, but since the WhyGo gig, I will throw out travel writer, too, and since I generally only focus on writing that does involve that niche.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Interesting you wrote this comment now, as I was just speaking with someone who is a journalist (has written for very high-profile places) about the perceived differences between journalism and blogging and freelance writing. It’s all blurred at this point, and there are people who don’t have writing or journalism backgrounds getting great gigs. I think a major part of it is the way technology has changed and the fact that sites and pubs are drawing on content beyond what a journalist writes. And if I’m to speak as someone with a newspaper and magazine editing background, it can be frustrating to see others without the experience surging past me. But in the end, success at your craft or occupation is a mix of talent, experience, drive, innovation and who you know.

      Reply
  4. Odysseus Drifts

    I think this is true regarding any job title in the arts. The difference between a doctor and a patient is clear. But who counts as an abstract painter? Who counts as a poet? I’ve been a dancer for nearly a dozen years. I don’t earn a significant amount of money from it, but nonetheless, I’m skilled and serious about my craft. However, someone else who takes four weeks of dance classes is equally entitled, at the end of the month, to call herself a dancer. Likewise, while I have only minimal experience with paid, professional travel writing, I can call myself a travel writer if I wish.

    Some people might find it depressing to know that all the hard work they’ve put into their craft is somewhat denigrated by a beginner assigning the same title to herself. But, personally, I don’t think it matters that much. A person’s experience and/or natural talent in whatever artistic field they’re in will show in the end.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Cheers for your comment and I agree with the overall takeaway — that your ultimate talent and effort will be evident in the long-run. Your comment on dance — I actually also used to dance as a child and teenager — reminded me of all the backlash with Natalie Portman in the Black Swan when the “real” dancers who were in the movie and doing some of her moves apparently said she didn’t do as much as she was credited for. Maybe it was true — or maybe they were just aggravated that a late 20s actress was able to learn ballet they’ve spent nearly their whole lives learning.

      Reply
  5. Torre DeRoche

    Yep, the word ‘writer’ has really lost its glamourous shine now that it has been hijacked by the self-professed masses. My dad is a writer who has worked in film and TV for his entire professional career, supporting his wife and 6 kids off his income. He’s my benchmark for ‘real writer.’ I’ve just written a book and, even if it succeeds, I’ll always be a teeny speck of a writer in Dad’s shadow. HA. I spent a year and a half writing my book full-time, and when people ask, “What’s your profession?” I just shrug and say, “I’m an artist formerly known as a graphic designer.” I’m thinking of turning it into a symbol.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Haha, if ONLY you knew how much I heart Prince as you were writing this comment. A writing career and six kids — I think my term for him is “awesome.” And congrats on your book — I’ve been following your posts on it and look forward to reading it.

      Reply
  6. Dominique

    In the world of the internet, all kinds of lines have been blurred. I’m a newbie to blogging and writing about travel. Even though I’m getting ready to go on a crazy travel adventure and write all about it on my blog, I would never call myself a “travel writer”. I wouldn’t even dare to call myself a writer. I make a special note to let people know that on the About page of my blog. Maybe it’s because I’m older but to me the term “writer” still has a bit of an awe-inspiring mystical haze around it. Just because someone can spell and put sentences together doesn’t make them a write. Just like someone who has a camera and takes pictures isn’t necessarily a photographer…but that’s a whole other post! 😉

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the great comment Dominique (I’ve always loved that name, by the way). I wonder if it’s the growing feeling that anyone can be what they want to be getting caught up in debates like this. That’s a great mindset to have, but you also have to work to gain experience and skill at that craft or occupation.

      Reply
  7. vira

    wow, this whole ‘discussion’ about what is a writer and what is not seems to never end..just like what is a traveler and what is a tourist.. But I agree that at the end it is all just a title, and quality will differentiate who truly is a writer and who’s “only” a blogger. Or maybe as simple as who’s a better writer and who’s an average or a bad writer. I myself have been writing professionally for some magazines and TV programs (mostly within my own country), and also for the website I co-own and co-write with my friend. Sometimes saying that I’m a writer when people ask me what I do just makes it simple, without meaning to overrate my own skill, especially compared to those of the NatGeo’s writers… (it would be much easier and more simple for an accountant or a lawyer to answer the ‘what do you do’ question than a freelancer like me who does various types of jobs).. Lol..

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      That’s a really good point that writing has come to incorporate so many things and so many different kinds of media that you can call yourself a “writer” and be blogging, copywriting, freelancing for major web sites and print and doing five other things. I’ve heard some people say content producer, but that might not be accurate for all. Maybe “writing entrepreneur”? Anyway, thanks for the great comment.

      Reply
  8. Ayngelina

    I personally consider myself a travel blogger not writer. I do scrape by and earn a living but my skill set is so much more than just writing.

    That said when I am outside the ‘industry’ I often say online travel writer as it sounds a bit more legit.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the comment Ayngelina — I like the online travel writer term. And it’s a great point you bring up about doing more than writing. I know you have an advertising background, but even just in terms of running a blog or business, you manage many other things and perform many other tasks outside writing.

      Reply
  9. Liv

    I think the simplest way to categorise is through recognition, ie – whether or not you make your living out of it. Otherwise writing and blogging is just a hobby, surely?

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Writing is such a weird thing. It’s not like being a surgeon where you definitely need schooling and training and certification. I think that’s the problem. It makes sense that people who received training in some form to write would be pissed that others decide to start a blog and call themselves writers. On the other hand, yes, I guess “anyone” can call themselves a writer if they write. Maybe using the word “professional” would help differentiate better.

      Reply
  10. Pingback: Travel writing + travel writing - how good is it? | Write Traveller

  11. Chris

    Lets be honest here, those of you educated writers with or without an impressive resume are slowly becoming jealous or intimidated by the blagosphere generation. Your writing credentials are worthless unless people are reading your stuff. The internet has sooo evened out the playing field.

    If your travel blog is making money, consider yourself a paid professional writer regardless of your
    education.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      As both a member of the blagosphere generation and an educated writer, this comment might cause an identity crisis.

      Reply

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