travel writing


In this down-turned economy, I get a lot of prospective clients telling me, with almost an apology, “You know Brian, what I REALLY want to do with my life is become a Travel Writer.”  And then they follow with a chuckle, “But, come on, how does one do that?  It’s not feasible, is it?”

My reply:  You won’t know unless you try it out.  But, yes, it can be done!

Now, granted, it goes without saying that travel writing is a competitive business.  Who doesn’t want to travel to cool places and write about them and give one’s suggestions and recommendations to others, right?  Sign me up!   The reality is, however, that the world of magazine, newspaper and book publishing is in a paradigm shift.  Dollars are fewer.  Advances are nearly gone.  And the hours to make the dollars are longer.  And, yet, people DO succeed as writers — and, yes, you Rick Steves wannabes, even travel writers.

Why?  Because many of us still love to travel, fantasize and plan where we will visit some day or because some of us still place importance of travel and exploration high on our list of things to do in life and budget accordingly each year.  Also, corporations and organizations are still sending their employees out on business trips — and the employees want to combine some fun exploration along with their business meetings.  People are not staying at home, folks.  The “staycation” thing only goes so far to feed one’s soul.  Hence, it’s Economics 101:  Supply and demand.  There is still demand for travel writing.  There are still readers.  And as long as there are still readers, there are advertisers and sponsors….and, hence, travel writers will be employed.  Yes, the Great Recession has made the field even more competitive.  The cream rises to the top.  Yes, the ad dollars are down.  No, you might not become a fairly wealthy travel writer like Rick Steves but, YES, you CAN make a decent living at it.

How?

AOL just wrote about one of our former clients, Craig Zabaransky, this past week.  He went from working the corporate life as a consultant in the finance sector in Manhattan…to getting laid off…to having his office become his laptop and mobile phone.  Yep.  Craig has become a full-time travel writer this past year!  He offered up some great advice on how to become a travel writer on AOL…..

http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/03/11/management-consultant-to-travel-writer/

I need to put in a little plug for Craig’s amazing travel writer mentor, Ron Stern.  Craig’s transition was made easier due to Ron’s advice, expertise and hands-on mentorship while on Craig’s Travel Writer VocationVacation (which was a gift from Craig’s fiance, how cool is that?) in March, 2009.  He has helped Craig and many other aspiring travel writers create their tangible, common-sensible, realistic action plans for their part-time or full-time (as is the case with Craig) career transition.

So, if you want to become a travel writer — part-time or full-time — you CAN do it.  Even in this economy.  Craig is proof in the pudding.  Congratulations, Craig!

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Test-Drive Your Dream Job:  A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding And Creating The Work You Love: www.amazon.com

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Do you dream of working in the travel and hospitality industries? These are challenging times for both industries, but where there is a will and a plan, there is a way. Follow your passions and your dreams (and a decent living!) can come true. To encourage you and provide valuable advice and tips on how to break into jobs such as Tour Director, Travel Writer, Bed & Breakfast Owner, etc., we are thrilled to host a free teleclass on Thursday, May 28.

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What are you doing to stay sane these days?  You don’t know?  Instead, you ask what am I (!) doing to stay sane through these challenging times, Mr. Dream Job Guy?  Fair enough….touche.

As an entrepreneur, it’s really difficult to stay one step ahead of the times — but, so far, I’m doing it.  It ain’t easy.  And I suspect it’s not easy for you either.  You’ve been laid off.  You worry about a loved one being laid off.  Or you perhaps you have “layoff guilt” — your coworkers have been laid off, but you’ve survived with a good job and benefits.  And you feel guilty.

Now, I’m not a psychologist….and I’m sure not a psychiatrist, but I do feel there are, what I call, “Simple Things” that we all have to do to remain sane during these crazy times.  Yes, HAVE to do.  A mandate, folks.  Now, the Simple Things are completely up to the individual — different strokes for different folks.  You may think that this Cheesehead from Wisconsin has gone all West Coast Woo Woo.  And maybe I have.  But, I’ll tell you what, my Simple Things are helping me to deal with this recession and keeping me sane.

Here are my 7 (my lucky number) Simple Things:

1.  Smile, damn it!  Regardless of how crappy my day might be going and how depressing the news is, I make myself smile.  Even if it hurts.  Make yourself smile.  Fake it to make it, baby.  Just as a frown is contagious, so is a smile.  In fact, you might even force yourself to laugh at something.  I did this morning.  I was walking to the VocationVacations office and a truck was going by with its stereo playing loudly….the news was being read, “This is the worst recession since the Great Depression,” the news reporter said.  I felt like I was in a movie.  Did I just hear that correctly? Were those words really coming from a random truck just driving by?  Why, yes there were.  I smiled and chuckled to myself.  Yes, times are surreal.  Smile, Brian.  Laugh.  Fake it to make it.

2.  Turn off the news!   At least limit your intake.  Now I love watching Anderson Cooper on CNN with the best of them…..but I’ve completely cut back my intake of the constant bad news.  A bit of burying my head in the sand?  Yep.  And I’m damn proud of it.

3.  Make love.  Yep, you read that correctly.  If you’re in a relationship, show that person how much you love him or her by having some good old fashion sex.  Didn’t think you’d hear that coming from Mr Dream Job, did you?  Well, I’m not suggesting you go out on a sexual rampage or anything (um, I’m nearly 43….I’m not having sex every day, believe me), but studies have proven that sex is a great stress release.  So, be a good, loyal American and have some great love-making/sex with your partner.  If you’re not partnered, well, I’m not going to suggest what you do….but I’m sure you can figure something out.

4.  Get some physical exercise.  I’m not a gym rat — far from it.  I was always the last kid picked for a sports team in gym class. But, about 5 years ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to get some sort of exercise every day so I would stop doing my own imitation of Jabba the Hut.  If it’s not the gym, then take a walk.  Go for a run.  Take a hike.  Yoga.  Stretch and do sit-ups on your living room floor.  Anything.  As the folks at Nike say, just do it!

5.  Treat yourself to something nice each day.  Keep it under $5 or $10, or whatever.  For me?  This morning I had a killer work out (see #4) — I even bench-pressed 110 pounds.  That’s a big deal for this geek from Mt. Horeb (Wisconsin) middle school.  So, for $10, I treated myself to my favorite diner breakfast at Fuller’s in Portland.  I just love the folks there.  The owner, Suzy, is the best.  I’m set to be in a good mood for the rest of the day after seeing Suzy and her smile (see #1, once again).

6.  Don’t sit in the dark.  Yesterday the sun was pouring into the office to the point I couldn’t see my computer screen.  I shut the blinds.  And then I was reading CNN news online (see #2)….and I started getting bummed out by what I was seeing on video and reading online…while sitting in the dark.  So, I quit CNN.com and opened the blinds again.  I needed the sunshine — especially here in Portland.  So, yes, I sat at my desk wearing sunglasses so I could see my computer screen while letting the sun shine in.  No, I’m not crazy.  In fact, I’m staying sane.

7.  Help a friend or family member.  We all are feeling stressed these days.  We need each other.  We need community.  My partner (Wade)  my Dad, my siblings, friends such as Carolyn, Anne, Gwen and Glenn (and many more) have all been amazing to me during this last year when I’ve had some difficult decisions to make in order to keep my dreams alive.  I hope you’ve experienced the same from family and friends.  Repay the favor.  Just the other day a friend of mine who’s been laid off was having a difficult day.  I took the time to drive to her place to have a cup of coffee with her — and gave her a hug.  Did I solve her problems?  No way.  But she knows I’m there for her.  Help a friend or family member in need.  They know you don’t have all the answers or their mortgage payment or their kids’ college tuition, etc.  But it’s amazing what that smile (see #1 AGAIN) and a hug can do for someone.

So, there are my 7 Simple Things to keep me sane.  What are yours?  I’m really anxious to hear.

Cheers!
Brian

Brian Kurth is a sought-after career planning and mentorship expert and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few. Brian founded VocationVacations (www.vocationvacations.com) in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love  – Hachette, 2008.  

I was telling my freelance journalist and author pal, Michelle Goodman, about how we are getting more and more inquiries from people thinking they want to be freelance writers.  Some of the folks have been laid off from corporate jobs and dream of the autonomy and freedom that freelance writing work brings.  Others are stuck in a rut and are dying on the vine at their current job and are considering career change despite the fact they might have a secure position right now — they simply hate it that much.  

Michelle has offered up some great answers to the most frequently asked questions about becoming a free-lancer.   I want to share with you….a very realistic approach to considering freelance writing!  (PS, she really knows her stuff….check out her books, My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube.)

By Michelle Goodman:

1. Do you think that pink-slipped folks who can’t find jobs in their desired industry should freelance? What should they do to get started?

If you like working solo, can crack your own whip, and know how to be flexible when projects take a left turn, then, yes, I do think you should give freelancing a go. (If not, try temping.)

To get started as a freelancer, create a killer online portfolio or website (it can be all of two to four pages), whether you’re an aspiring writer, web designer, producer, or dog walker. WordPress make this simple. So do websites like VisualCV. A website not only shows you mean business as an independent professional, it saves you loads of time in that “So tell me about your experience” dance. If you don’t have relevant work samples, you may have to do a couple of freebies (don’t give away more than a few days of your time though) to flesh out your portfolio/resume.

Send out an email and Facebook blast telling everyone you know you’re now accepting freelance projects and link to your shiny new website. Be specific about the type of work you’re looking for. If you’re not on LinkedIn, Biznik, and Twitter, time to get there. Ditto for industry-related events and happy hours. The idea is to meet as many people in your field as you can, online and off. Learn from them. Trade ideas with them. Charm them. Spread the word about your knowledgable, talented self and your services.

Finally, learn to run a business. Half of working for yourself is wooing clients, negotiating contracts, managing projects, paying taxes, and making tricky judgment calls. So if you don’t know the first thing about running your own shop, now’s the time to learn. Read blogs and books on freelancing (ahem), take a workshop at SCORE (they’re usually under $100), and pick the brains of freelancers a few years ahead of you (you buy the coffee and come to our neighborhood, okay?).

 2. What can people do to hone in on a specialty and make their skills stand out?

Pick two or three topics that interest you most (for example, sustainability, social networking, and mobile technology), and run with them. Make sure these subjects intersect with skills you’ve already begun to cultivate and markets that are still hiring. Read everything you can about your pet topics online and off. Go to industry talks and volunteer at trade shows (to get in for free) — and don’t forget to network while you’re there. Essentially, become an expert. Clients want to hire someone who knows a lot about their MO/cause/business model. Don’t just be a writer — be a business, health, or women’s issues writer. Don’t just build software –build games, ecommerce sites, or social networking apps.

If you’re not blogging yourself, or not blogging about anything other than what your dog did on the carpet, time for a new plan. Use blogging as a tool to show clients how much you know about your pet topic. If you’re unemployed, you have the time, so no excuses.

Finally, if you don’t know how to record a podcast or make a video, time to get schooled. The better your digital skills, the more valuable you’ll be to potential clients.

3. How do you recommend that workers who flee the cube learn find colleagues and learn about industry gossip and job leads?

It’s imperative you connect with others in your chosen field and that you rinse and repeat on a weekly basis. Pick five freelancers in your neck of the woods whose footsteps you’d love to follow in. Check their social network pages and blogs to see what professional events they’re attending and online communities they belong to (as well as what books, blogs, and sites they’re reading). Then follow suit. Find out what free email lists pro freelancers in your field belong to, too, and sign up. These places are often where you’ll find the best job leads, insider gossip, and professional tips. And if you’re not finding the online or offline industry meetups that resonate with you, start one of your own. Banding together with four or five or fifteen aspiring freelancers can teach you a lot. Freelancers Union makes it easy to organize your own face-to-face meetup.

4. How long do you think it would take new freelancers to start making enough money to live on? 

That depends on how much money you need to live, which you should definitely figure out right now if you’re not sure. It also depends on where you live, what field you’re in, how much time you have to look for work, and how hard you hustle. Some new freelancers line up a full schedule in a matter of weeks. This is not the norm, however. For most it takes months, if not a year or more. To be safe, expect that you won’t have a full workload and you won’t have enough money to live on your first year, and expect to spend at least 30 to 50 percent of your time looking for work, unless you’re taking longer-range projects.

Ideally, you want at least six months’ living expenses (if not 12) before striking out on your own as a freelancer. (Admittedly, I only keep about four in my savings account, but I have a lot of employment options.) I realize saving even two months’ living expenses for someone who’s barely scraping by sounds next to impossible, which is why I suggest keeping your day job as long as you can and freelancing on the side at first. If you do find yourself freelancing without a net (due to a layoff or the fact that you never had a day job to begin with it), you may have to rely on temp work or odd jobs to supplement your income during those early lean months or years.  

5. Anything else you want to add?

To beat the recession as a freelancer, diversifying is key. Don’t let any one client dominate more than 30 percent of your workload, and don’t limit yourself to one type of project. Maybe you want to write personal finance stories for the mainstream media. But writing copy for creative agencies and newsletters for business associations too helps ensure you have more clients (and checks) to line your bank account with. Ditto for writing for both print and digital outlets, especially now, when the print media is suffering such heavy layoffs. The more toes you have in the client pond, the more work you’re have access to.

Likewise, the more skills you can offer, the more employable you’ll be. The freelance writer with translation, proofreading, editing, tutoring, or production skills has more job security than the freelance writer who only knows how to write. Likewise for the graphic artist who can also code and host her client’s websites, or the virtual assistant who knows a thing or two about web research, social media marketing, and SEO. 

 

Brian Kurth is a former “Dilbert” who worked for the phone company in Chicago.  After realizing there was more to life than telecom calling plans, he founded VocationVacations in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love – Hachette, 2008.  Brian is a sought-after career planning expert, strategist and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few.