Thursday, 19 April 2012

Making Money at Travel Writing, And Other Things

My dentist is such a kind, gentle person so I really wish I could stop unconsciously humming this song every time I visit. (I don't notice myself doing it, honest.) The receptionist gave me such a funny look as I was paying her today.

Anyhow, thought you might like to hear about a meeting I went to earlier this week, about how travel writers can earn money on the web.

We met at a restaurant called La Porte des Indes, just behind Selfridge's. The panel were travel writers who are managing to make a decent income with the help of the web, plus a nice lady called Debbie Marshall, who had many years in the travel trade before deciding to set up her own travel website dedicated to over-50s.

Here she is, and you'll see we were sitting under one of those beautiful canopies that maharajas used to use.

I found her talk very interesting, as it showed some of what you need to do to pull people to your site, if that is what you aim to do.

Above all, it seems, you need a "niche." Subscribers to her business, Silver Travel Advisor. are keen on travel, over 50 and have taken the trouble to register. That's a niche.

She spoke interestingly about forging links with organisations relevant to the site. Hers include the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) which has a significant over-60s membership, and another is Age UK. Clever, this, because it generates reciprocal links from well used sites and pushes up her own site visibility.

Talking of the RHS, here's a picture I took recently at RHS Wisley just south of London (highly recommended, by the way). A robin had got into the houseplant shop. Little did it know that there were dozens of packets of bird food just a few feet away from where it sat,

Back at the meeting, other panel members discussed how to use Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and numerous other social media to best advantage. They all agreed that Google ads are a bit of a waste of time, the pay-per-clicks don't even keep you in cups of coffee, and can clutter up your site. And sometimes they offer inappropriate ads for your garden-loving grannies too


At the end of the evening, I am afraid that the message I had was, that writers who are not actually celebrities, and who love writing interestingly about different places and also making money, are continuing to chase ever-decreasing traditional media, at ever-dwindling rates of pay. Some are writing advertorials sponsored by travel companies, tweeting themselves into the grave, or doing variations of the same thing over and over again, wall-to-wall French gourmet breaks, endless skiing holidays, non-stop mountain biking.  

There is nice work around, though - it's a matter of finding it. I find the excellent TravelwritersUK consistently comes up with decent story leads that pay proper money. And certain long established, fact-packed sites with lots of links, like Pacific Coast Highway make money as part of a portfolio of its owner's travel activities.

But if you are an aspiring travel writer, and fitting yourself into a "niche," getting married to your computer and having Twitter as your best friend don't appeal, then the answer at the moment might well be "Don't give up the day job." Although I hope not.

Oh, by the way, Porte des Indes provided us with some good canapes after our meeting. Everyone loved the Dahi Puri, made with gram flour shells -finicky to make, and I think they were particularly classy ones. But I've found a home-made recipe here.which I might try

I also heard an interesting piece of gossip at the meeting about Stephen Fry, who famously has millions and millions of Twitter followers. One delegate recalls him visiting a very pricey shirt shop buying himself a shirt, and then going away and accidentally leaving a large package behind. When opened, the package was revealed to contain vast quantities of caviar, "about 1,000 pounds worth" said our informant, (although who knows where he got that figure. )

Not knowing how to contact Fry, they tweeted him to tell him where his caviar was. But he didn't reply, and never came back for the caviar. He can't read all his messages, of course, but I'd have thought he'd employ someone to read and respond. Unless he's spending all his money on caviar that is. :)



  1. Oh, I love Little Shop of Horrors! One of my favorite plays to see at high schools and I also love the movie!
    You always have so much to comment on, but I must say I lost my heart to that dear little robin. There's a reason that bird is so beloved, just look at it!

  2. Hello Jenny:
    We have read this with much interest, and laughed at your 'asides', and have finished with a sense of something approaching relief that we are not part of this very specialised group of travel writers [or any group of writers of anything] at a time when, from what you say, things are becoming more and more competitive and more and more lengths must be gone to in order to have a share of the cake [probably a mixed metaphor here!].

  3. Rather than comment on all of your fascinating information, I prefer to quietly absorb it. The Little Shop of Horrors dentist video gave me my first laugh of the day (and, alas, possibly my only one!). And that photo of Elizabeth tends to make me think she is patroling the streets of Texas. I think we need her in my wild town......

  4. Really useful information - the above - Jenny. Thank you. And me too - love that robin. Probably my favourite bird. Our cats are rather partial to them too, most unfortunately.

  5. Excellent post Jenny. I haven’t seen that dentist song for ages, although it’s a family favourite. It does seem that you have to put in a lot of effort with Twitter et al to get a niche following. Good luck with that, but I’m guessing you want a life too?

  6. BTW I’ve updated my blog with a rolling thumbnail of blogs I follow, so you may get a visit that way - who knows?

  7. It is sobering to find out that money is, in fact, NOT just making itself by "being online", as so many people seem to think. I have always been skeptical of all those "earn LOTS of money FAST" schemes; so far, the most reliable source of income for most people still is good old-fashioned regular hard work (and there is nothing wrong with it).
    What do the Dahi Puri taste of? I've never heard of gram flour shells and have no idea what it actually is.
    What did they do in the end with all the caviar? Post it to Stephen Fry's address?

  8. That's a great little anecdote about Mr Fry. :) And wow, that's a lot of caviar!

  9. The photo of the robin is so charming!

    I wonder if Mr. Fry ever gave a second thought to his caviar! So funny!

  10. I guess since I'm not on your blogroll you didn't find my follow button. PLEASE let me know if it's disappeared in the Google revamp. I shall HATE them if it has!

    I think I'm glad that I don't have to hawk my writing services around. I know I have to write what my bosses want (mostly) but at least I have some degree of security.

  11. An interesting article Jenny. I never have managed to make anything from the Web - no that is not entirely true. A few years ago I decided - as an experiment - to try to maximise my web earnings by going all out with three schemes - running an Amazon shop, filling opinion forms in for YouGov and going to town with Google Ads. During one year I managed to make £1.97 from Amazon, $2.35c from Google Ads and a massive £7.75 from filling in forms. I never managed to actually get any of the money in my hands and lost interest after that.

  12. Thank goodness I blog purely for pleasure! RHS Wisley was always a favourite place of ours when we lived in Surrey.

  13. Dear Jenny,

    Thank you for a super informative post --as ever!
    How one would love to get paid for the travel writing
    or at least get some nice trip out of it!
    I may well contact the over 50's site since I think most of my readership is in that demographic!
    Greetings from New York

  14. I don't travel much these days, since I have 'gone off' flying.
    However, I have noticed travel companies targeting the over 50's, and even single women. If I ever get over my phobia I shall certainly look to them.
    Love Steven Fry, hate caviar!

  15. A wonderful informative and interesting post (as usual!). Interesting to learn of Mr Fry's caviar habit and that you have a good kind dentist - wish I could find one!

    Love the robin photo and clever little robin he is knowing where to shop!

    Anna :o]

  16. A fun and informative post, as usual. Lovely picture of that robin.

  17. That was a very interesting post, Jenny; particularly for someone who has been toying with the idea of trying to do just that! Thanks for the insights and ideas.

  18. A bit of everything for everyone. Just like this post. Is that the secret of your success.

  19. Well you certainly drew me in, and I hope many who follow me, see you too, and happily we'll all roll along! My grandma (on my mother's side) was named Erna! Sadly she is off to heaven, but you are right, she is the one and only Erna I've ever known personally! I so enjoy the videos you post, and Steve Martin looks his best (I think) in very dark hair combed the Elvis way! Great post again Jenny! Thanks, Karen

  20. In any business, the person who does it with passion, and better than anyone else, is the one who will be among the best paid in that business. Work hard and with dedication for 20 years and you are an overnight success.;)

  21. i dont know that i could be friends with my dentist...there is a stigma munchausen syndrome....haha....ahem...soon enough a new trend will develop to keep the game going you know...and that is a lot of caviar...i hope they did not let it go to waste...smiles.

  22. I have dentist issues ever since a previous one was heard to describe me, after he thought I had left the building, as a 'tough old bird' followed by laughter, this after he had tried to extract a tooth without enough pain killer. I had to ask him to stop before he went any further, as best as I could mumble, but perhaps the look of horror in my eyes gave him a clue! Never went back!!! This was about five years back and not in the dark ages I might add.

  23. so intersting!! I like to hear about and learn from other peoples experiences..I had adsense my first 2 months of blogging and made $100...then they took the $ back because they said it was from illegal I never tried to make $ again...

  24. Sounds like making a living as a travel writer is a tough business. I get the impression the only people who do well are the travel celebs who are called in to comment on practically everything - like Simon Calder.

    That model in the undies advert looks very strange. Her head is far too small, her legs are far too long and she has a curiously deformed left hand with several fingers missing. Some over-enthusiastic photoshopping, I'd say.

  25. Jenny, a truly interesting, informative post with food for thought. Thank you!

  26. LOL at the Stephen Fry caviar story.

    "Writing" sounds like such a glamorous thing to do, but it's all hard work. Well, that and talent.

  27. An interesting post even for a non-traveller and someone who is too lazy to try making money on the web. Messymimi has it right when she says - Work hard and with dedication for 20 years and you are an overnight success.'

    If you are humming anyhting in the dentist's it must show how good and gentle he is! :-D

  28. Love the pic of Liz and the Robin also. Was that you posing in the other one perhaps....?

  29. Bit shocked at thousand pounds worth of caviar!

  30. Doesn't sound as if you had a bad time, sitting under canopies eating canapes.

  31. I like the idea of having a robin to look after my houseplants. I'm sure it would sort out any slugs or caterpillars.

  32. I'll hum that tune when i visit my dentist next week. Problems for writers are the same for photographers, so much on the web for free trying to sell your work is increasingly difficult.

  33. Earning a living by writing sounds daunting. It sounds like a good meeting with good food tho.


  34. Thanks for the comments. Meike, gram flour is ground up chickpeas, it has a crisp fine feeling. If you can't buy it, I guess you could make it by grinding uncooked chickpeas in a coffee grinder. It's hard to describe the taste, filled with curry and yogurt, sort of. they were really popular!

    As for Stephen Fry's caviar, no, they ate it in the end. It's not that easy to find a celeb's address and I think by the time it had gone to his agent it would have been pretty "high"!

    Yes, Nell, I do want a life, so I don't want to do all the Twitter stuff. It's not "me" to move in this direction, although I know some people do enjoy it. I'm lucky that I do at present have outlets and chances to write the kind of stories I like.

    Oh, Alan and Momto8, I laughed at what you said! I wonder why you didn't get the money in your hands Alan? They usually seem to have a reason for not paying, I have heard. I think if you click on any of the ads on your own page, out of curiosity, they assume you're trying to bump up the pay per click. But probably any old excuse will do!

    Thanks, Karen, I think Steve Martin looks good. I love the way they sing that he's the "Leader of the Plaque"!

    Wow, Denise, I would have absolutely fired my dentist on the spot. How RUDE! I see you say "previous" dentist so perhaps you had the same idea!

    Yes, Nick, although I don't mind Simon Calder because he actually knows what he is doing. It's the celebs who write about "my holidays" and get paid a fortune that make me feel slightly grumpy. You have certainly made a detailed analysis of the model. (well spotted, Adullamite, by the way!)

    Yes, I would count myself an overnight success, by those standards, Mimi :)

    And Mo, I think that photographers have it even worse than writers. When I think of the cost of the equipment some of them had before digital. It's eye watering, £10,000 for a camera, and stuff like that.

    I don't feel daunted, just a bit sad really, but times are just changing, and I don't believe in fighting it but finding other things to do if what I am doing isn't working.

    Once again, I really appreciate the interesting comments.


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