I received this question via email some time ago.
It’s a valid question and one that provokes all sorts of evasive answers from travel writers, depending on where they lie along the travel writing spectrum.
Here’s THE Question:
“I have a candid question for you. I’ve been told I could never sustain a living by writing solely for magazines. Can you actually earn enough from writing for magazines to have a financially independent life considering there is a move towards free magazine writing? What’s your opinion? Thanks.”
Here’s my take on travel writing as a single source of income:
First, I would ask, what income do you consider to be financially independent? $25,000? $50,000? $75,000? $100,000? I know plenty of travel writers with incomes spread along this spectrum, and they’re doing just fine, thank you.
But, you would have to be an exceptional travel writer indeed to support yourself solely by writing for print magazines. However, I do know plenty of professionals who support themselves through multiple travel writing sources and activities.
Travel writing is not a lucrative career—that’s common knowledge. It can be good supplemental income, depending upon how hard you’re willing to work. Many people dabble in travel writing part-time just for fun, and get a thrill out of seeing their name in print. Others do it for the complimentary travel perks. If you love to travel and you love to write, it’s a good way to see the world and tell people about it. Everyone is different in this respect.
We’ve just completed our latest book, Rock Star Travel Writers, consisting of in-depth interviews with ten elite travel writers with bylines that make the rest of us drool (National Geographic Traveler, AFAR, BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, Condé Nast Traveler, American Express, Robb Report, Business Jet Traveler, Australia & New Zealand Magazine, plus in-flights like American Way, Hemispheres, Delta Sky). Our book also has interviews with budding rock star travel writers that are just starting to enter the fray and meeting with good publishing success.
In addition to showing you how these travel writers have broken through into the best magazines, this book serves an important secondary goal — it gives insight into exactly how elite travel journalists earn their living.
If you’re a novice travel writer, you might think we only do one thing — write & sell travel stories. But, you’ll be surprised to learn that almost without exception, today’s leading travel writers do not subsist solely by writing travel articles for magazines. They have other streams of income.
And when I say other streams of income, I mean income from truly diverse sources! Almost all the elite travel writers profiled in our book derive their incomes from other activities like editing, copywriting, photography, consulting, mentoring, teaching, advertising, even as travel guides and travel agents.
They may be full time writers, but they’re not full time travel writers.