Monday, 23 September 2013

Do You Want to Be A Travel Writer?

This is Kingston Lacy, a National Trust house in Dorset. I was exploring it a couple of weeks ago (and yes, the sky really was that blue), when I saw a familiar face. A colleague was spending the morning there in preparation for a lecture he was due to give to an upscale tour group learning about English country houses. A nice job.  Two weeks of staying in fancy hotels, eating lovely dinners and giving lectures to very, very clever and knowledgable people.  He loved it, but said,  "it's not travel writing. That's the way of the world these days."

I don't usually write much here about the business of being a travel writer, although I see so many adverts for courses that promise to train people to be one.   Well, I am a travel writer, and I will explain part of the reason why I have been travelling less this summer, and will be travelling rather less in future, too.  I will be  It is not all bad news, but the business is changing.

I am lucky that editors want to use me and I am getting press trip invites  (lately to Sardinia, Northern Ireland, Turkey and Eastern Germany, though none of them hit the spot with me so I haven't accepted any.). And I have a couple of trips pencilled in for next year (notably Japan, with the book's new publication date)

Can't wait!  These pictures were taken in the depths of winter - bright, cold and beautiful.

But the hard fact is that even though we can still travel cheap or free and write about it, it has become difficult to make the same sort of money out of it as we once could. And making money - for everyone in business - is crucial.   As a kid, I used to wonder why Mum and Dad complained of being hard up when all they had to do was ask people in the bank for money.. And so it is with the freebies; they are not really free. Someone has to make money.

In the past, PRs could assess which publications got their clients the best ooverage and hence the most money. But blogging has confused the issue. These days, I sometimes feel that PRs and travel companies find blogs hard to evaluate.Some, of course are totally fabulous, but also utterly uncommercial, with hardly any readers.  Others, though full of sponsored trips, restaurant meals and overnight stays, are boring, and even if they have lots of page views, they lack reader reaction and involvement.    Neither type is an obvious winner from the travel company's point of view.

The most successful blogs either provide loads of useful information with a personal touch (like The Man In Seat 61) or very varied and personal, with polls, photos, trip descriptions and travel related issues all presented in a carefully structured magazine-like way. (see Andy Jarosz's fab "501 Places".)  But, even with an ideal blog, making money is not necessarily a piece of cake.

As Andy Jarosz says "No ads, no sponsored posts, no guest posts, no paid links."     . Hm.  So now you know, PRs....

Even if you own a great blog, making money from it can be hard work. Delightful though it may be to spend a week in Jordan or Portugal handed to you by a hopeful PR, it is not an automatic way to make money.   In fact, it's likely to cost you money - getting to the airport, buying yourself a coffee or a meal or two.   Really successful blog owners don't spend their whole lives travelling on freebies. They pop up all over the place too,  tweeting, pinteresting, facebooking.  They go on the radio and TV, they talk at conferences, libraries, women's institutes, community centres. They teach other people how to write about travel, and promote any other skills they might have - copywriting, teaching, lecturing..

On the other hand, though, they needn't work their way into that little closed world of editors and freelances in the way that used to be essential.   They can be their own people, do their own thing - and this is a big bonus.

So, you up and coming travel writers, the world is open to you. If I was starting out, I'd now be exploring all avenues for trips and sponsorship.  There are not many rules, nobody is entirely sure where they're headed, there are risks aplenty - but if you play it right, you could get to see places, meet people, build up your own networks, and maybe one day give up the day job - for a night and day job. :)

To get back to Kington Lacy.  My friend and I agreed that it is one of the nicest houses we know. Its main rooms all have very different atmospheres, and the attendants have many interesting stories to tell.  For instance, why are the enormous keys hung over the fireplace in the library (below)?    (Answer here)

The pink room below was charming.  Yes, it is cluttered, but the fashion a hundred years ago was for as many  tables, ornaments and plants as you could fit in.  I wonder how the ladies with their huge skirts managed to avoid demolishing the place. I am notoriously clumsy and tend to cannon into anything fragile within twenty feet.

I hope I would have managed not to destroy this beautiful table setting! . 

One huge and magnificent room was designed entirely to display Spanish paintings, with walls covered with tooled leather of the highest quality.

The kids were kept in the attics, as they so often were, along with the servants and mad relatives, I suppose. But these are very nice attic rooms, with sloping ceilings designed like a tent, with windows cunningly concealed behind the drapery.   

Outside, there are grounds and gardens, and some unusual oddities, like shepherd's huts and some adorable kune-kune piglets. 

The National Trust hasn't asked me to write this - in fact, they probably don't even know I visited, although  I have a NT press card which offers free entry to all their properties. It comes in so useful when you are looking for a nice tearoom, quite apart from the actual properties themselves.  


  1. There seem to be travel writing courses popping up all over the place at the moment - but even the most cursory look at the market should let people know that making money out of it is incredibly difficult. Mirrored, maybe, by many other writing courses - but what feels particularly disingenuous about dangling a carrot about travel writing is it might lead people to believe it's a money-making, glamourous lifestyle when in fact opportunities are few (and rarely even completely free!).

    (But Kingston Lacy is still lovely!!)

  2. Times are changing for all with technology. Photographers are finding greater competition from amateurs, although they won't admit it while saying at the same time it not the equipment that is important. Even cooking classes have to contend with online videos. Change is inevitable.

  3. The idea of being a travel writer sounds so intriguing, exciting, and rewarding. I admittedly knew nothing about it, so I appreciate the information that you provided. Unfortunately, in recent years I have been nothing more than an armchair traveler (which is why I like traveling vicariously through your blog).
    The photos of Kingston Lacy are wonderful.

  4. Kingston Lacy is well-known in the art world for its stunning art collection. This magnificent home is on my bucket list the next time i visit the UK.

  5. I take my hat off to you and other travel writers; I know it's not as glamorous as it sounds. In the meatime continue to enjoy these visits to NT properties. When I was over in UK a few months ago I visited two in a weekend, each charming in different ways.

  6. Jenny, all changes in this world! I hope your travel to Japan will bring you more experience, new themes and money. I love Kingston Lacy, is beautiful building, especially this library with keys near the fireplace.

  7. Back in the day I had an occasional travel piece to write among my news stories. I was a paid news journalist and trips were the perks. We shared them around the office. No such thing as a dedicated travel writer. Things change.

  8. I adore it too, and would enjoy seeing it in real life one day. I wish you luck in what ever you do, as far as my taste goes, your writing and photos and the stories you've shared and I hope you continue to here as best you can, are just what makes me take notice of places and plan to go, or realize if I've been there, gee I missed that! I checked both their links, I liked on FB the second one, but I'm not one for a lot of ads getting in the way and confusing things on web sites or anywhere really.

  9. I love reading posts from Travel Writers, they take me places I would love to visit. That is why I love reading your posts. But I have never wanted to become one.
    The closest I have to become one is for years my Wednesday blog post was my life in Japan. All the trips and everyday stuff that has happens to me, the places I love and customs. In fact I have a new Japanese post set for Wednesday.

    cheers, parsnip

  10. Thanks, but i'll stick to reading. It's more fun to me!

  11. Jenny, thank you for sharing this information. I always wondered how one would get started. Love the NT house and love little occasional tables :)

  12. The internet is effecting so many occupations and businesses. Biggest shift since the industrial age!
    Lovely pics!

  13. It would be very helpful to make money out of blogging; helpful to my coffers, and therefore to me; but knowing my inability at money-making I'd probably starve and have to live up in one of those attics in Kington Lacy; but on second thoughts after looking at the decorative table bearing tasty treats and that well-stocked library....I could handle it! I'd put up with it...and not even grudgingly! ;)

    Perhaps all those keys above the fireplaces are for the hidden passages and rooms behind all the bookcases!

    And those ladies of yore in their long trains and hoops were probably more graceful than me....and you, (by your own admission, so stop glaring at me!) once they glided slowly and ladylike into the cluttered pink room they sat, never to move again! I probably would have remained locked up in the attic along with the rest of the mad relatives! ;)

  14. It seems that any kind of writing, however, professional and good, is no guarantee of an income these days, Jenny. The amount of time, energy and money writers have to spend to promote their work makes it difficult to compete in a market that has exploded since the Internet developed. That said, I wouldn't want to be a travel writer now anyway. Like Messymimi, I prefer to read what gifted writers like you can tell me. As for Kingston Lacy, I know I've been there (I lived in Dorset for years), but cannot remember it, so thank you for reminding me. it looks beautiful in your photos here!

  15. This is a very good and honest post. You could say that writing in general is in freefall. Not just travel writing, The future of publishing has changed but not the way many publishers expected.

    Brilliant post. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  16. Japan next year Jenny - how wonderful. What a place to write about!
    I hadn't realised just how ignorant I was about the world of travel writing, an interesting insight for sure!
    (I'd love to be part of a group learning about English country houses - hmm, definitely not one of the clever and knowledgeable though!)
    Have a wonderful week Jenny.

  17. And, I meant to say....I really enjoyed this I'd go travelling with you any day. I'll supply the sandwiches. :)

    1. Oh! Boy! is me...again. I meant to type "post" - not "most"! I hate typos...those made by me! Sorry!

  18. Oh dear heavens, that library!

    I used to get paid to write (as a journalist). Now that I'm doing it for my own pleasure, I'm enjoying it more. No grumpy clients, no deadlines, no hidden agendas. :)

    We're waiting for you in Japan! When will you arrive?

  19. Your job sounds so romantic and exciting as you are seeing wonderful new places and people all the time. Yet I know that so much work goes into each and every article that you write. However, it does beat plucking chickens.

  20. I imagine being a travel writer can be quite stressful. It's - from what I can tell - not just about writing and traveling, but also about marketing yourself and selling you writing.

    Those attics look wonderful. I know I can't be a kid anymore, but I sure could attempt the "mad relative."

  21. I was just having this conversation with someone yesterday. With the internet, there is so much free information out there now. It really is a new frontier of how things are done.

  22. Thank you for giving an insight of the travel writing part. :)

    You're going to Japan next year! I am envious. :)

  23. Kingston Lacy certainly looks like a place well worth visiting. As for the ladies in their big skirts - well, they were used to moving about at a rather slow, dignified pace, diminuishing the danger of knocking over one of the ornamental tables. And all the dusting was done by housemaids :-) But how did they get to the windows in the attic behind all those draperies when they needed to let some fresh air into the room?

    I love my blog, and also love writing about places I have been travelling to, but I am glad I don't depend on that for making money - I guess I'd be very, very poor!

  24. Wow!! I like your post. This is a very good and dependable mail. You could state that writing in general is in free fall. Not just travel composing, The future of publishing has altered but not the way numerous publishers expected.

    Trip advisor

  25. Kingston lacy looks like a great place to visit, and I particularly like the pink table setting. Very illuminating about the life of a travel writer, and you make some good points about the business of running a business! I blog for fun, because I like writing, and that is the end of it! Thankfully I am retired from the world of work!

  26. I am an aspiring travel writer (I also want to include food as a big part of my travel writing) I really enjoyed reading this post, and thank you for writing it, it answered many of my questions.

    I would also like to draw your readers attention to another similar post I was sent recently from another travel blogger I have been communicating with on Twitter. Its a great wee interview that looks at someones choice to follow their dream of becoming a travel writer!

  27. I enjoyed reading the behind the scenes description of travel writing. I like to visit new places but never aspired to be a writer of any kind. I enjoy your posts and through them get a glimpse at places I will probably never see in person. Kington Lacy looks so interesting.


  28. A very interesting post and love the library!

  29. Hi Jenny

    Thanks for an illuminating post. I'm past the setting out to become ... time now, but am sometimes asked for advice from younger people, so it's all useful.

    Apart from Brownsea Island, which we don't go to any more becasue you can't take your dog, Kingston Lacey is, of course, our local NT site, and it wasn't that far when we lived in North Dorset. Kingston Lacey also has a beautiful garden, which I have writtten about on my blog. I have a lovely memory of pushing my mother around it in one of the NT's wheelchairs a year or so before she died.

  30. We all talk a lot nowadays about getting rid of clutter but heavens above, there was plenty of clutter in those days too! And goodness, all those show-off bookshelves - they couldn't possibly have read more than a fraction of the books! I love the elaborately finished sloping attic roofs - most unusual!

  31. It is always easy to evaluate a good travel writers' blog - they make you want to visit places. You see, now I am looking up Kingston lacy on the map and working out how I can incorporate it in my next domestic holiday, Now that is good travel writing.

  32. This is the first I’ve heard about making money out of ‘travel blogging’. I thought travel writers wrote books and brochures and pamphlets and reviews in magazines and for TV.

    You learn something new every day.

  33. Hi Jenny, I was wondering why I hadn't seen a post from you in a while. It looks like I did not click "follow" hard enough. I have now rectified this.

  34. Thank you to everyone who has posted. I always read each and every comment with care, even if I don't comment every time.

    Thanks for following, Wally. I just clicked on it and saw the link with Vashon. Your path and mine have crossed a few times, what with Hungerford too!
    What a nice thing to say, Alan, I am very touched. Thank you!
    Friko, most travel writers have had to embrace the internet, although their blogs are very varied.
    Nick, I loved the slopy tent like rooms too, they seemed rather too dark at first but then I realised that there are windows behind and you can lift up a flap to get the light. They don't do it at Kingston Lacy, since light is bad for the furnishings.
    Jean, I thought of you, and hoped you would read the post!
    Meike and Lee, I hadn't thought of the hooped skirts, etc. I agree they'd be used to the skirts, but it makes sense. Still, I am sure I would have been knocking everything over all the same :)
    Lina and Rurousha, I aim to go to Japan when the book is published there - it was supposed to be this year but there were a few problems and it is now scheduled for next. Fingers crossed!
    Parsnip, your Japanese posts are always interesting.
    Oh, "better than plucking chickens". what a wonderful phrase. Love it!
    Thank you for the good wishes, Karen. I'm doing other things so I am fine, and as I said I will be continuing with the travel, which is such fun - but just a bit less.
    Tabor your photos are so good I have often wondered if you are a professional photographer, your words suggest so, and you are quite right, many of my photographer friends are in a more difficult situation than writers, because their equipment can be so expensive.
    Yes, Jo, I think that teaching can be fun, but there is something a little sad in all these people paying good money for courses and believing that they will get well paid for travelling and having fun. Mind you, they should be able to travel and have fun, AND/OR get well paid (for something else) :D

    Oh, and haha Lee, I'll welcome your company, specially with sandwiches :)

  35. Very interesting observations....the insights about travel writing, the photo illustrations of your points, and the lovely details of Kingston Lacy.

  36. I was under the impression that travel writers had it easy, go somewhere, describe it nicely, write a book, take the cash. Was I wrong....?

  37. Hi Jenny,
    I see what you mean. It would be nice to be independently wealthy, have somebody pay for your travel so all you pay for is incidentals, and then write about the wonderful places you visit. Yes, I would like to be a travel writer. Now, if I was only 20 years younger, oh, and rich. I would be first in the queue elbowing all the other wannabes out of the way!
    Great post.

  38. The attic sounds like the best place to be!

  39. Hi Jenny,
    Really enjoyed readig your post today. Blogging is often good publicity for Nationall Trust houses as I and other Bloggers often write about these wonderful properties and gardens for nothing. I have not really thought about how we help promote these places as I personally just write about a nice day out. In my post this month I have written about interior design and an architect that I worked with in New Zealand. I feel a lot of bloggers are travel writers and don't even realise it when they talk about their holidays and the places they have visitied. Your job sounds great, but I can imagine it is now very competative. By the way, beautiful house with gorgeous rooms. thanks for sharing!
    All the best,
    Jo. xx

  40. Yes, indeed, writing about travel is much more about personal experiences now than a way to earn a living, unless one breaks out with something really unusual as a travel writer. Technology has certainly muddied the waters and what tourist bureaus often hold dear and even fear are the free reviews of ordinary visitors to their countries. Friends of mine recently visited England for a month and sent pictures along the way. I have to say I value these far more than any glossy site full of advertisements. I also value being drawn in by good and interesting writing. That is your strong point, Jenny. :)

  41. I could never do what you do, I'm not a great fan of travelling to new places anyway. I find National Trust houses a bit boring. I know I'm a bit of a pheasant, but I'm quite happy to leave all this to the experts, like you, and write about my caps on my blog. :D

  42. Thanks for the further comments. Yes, Penelope,and I always like to see the candid shots in Tripadvisor before booking any hotel! (I'm sceptical about the comments though, since so many are paid for and fake). Jo, I do agree that the personal recommendations of bloggers are really compelling (or can be, if they're interesting to read). Other voices that would not have been heard, are now heard and that has to be good.

    But objectivity is a funny thing. Good (professional) travel writers do I think have a perspective that ordinary travellers often lack. They think hard about why they are reacting the way they do.

    I could write a whole lot more about this and also about the travel trade (which is pulling the strings behind a large proportion of the travel experiences people have).But that would go on for thousands of words,so I will spare you..

    Meanwhile, I am grateful that I do still have the chance, to do as much travelling as I want to the places I want to go to, even if I make much less money at it now.

    And one of these days I'm going to list the blogs that give me the best "sense of place" and ask others to submit their choices.

    And PS, Adullamite, you have got it entirely correct, except for the last bit !

  43. Wise and excellent words. The business (!) of blogging is an odd one. As you say, there is a peculiar mismatch between those blogs that clearly operate on a lot of freebies and those which have something interesting to say but make nothing from it. I wonder how much is down to the decisions of the slavish PRs, as much as the bloggers themselves.

  44. I'm catching up with blogs today. For me when I read a travel blog or comment it's about two things: interest and trust. For me you have the advantage that your posts are always interesting even if they are often about places I am unlikely ever to visit and I always trust what you say. That's my instinct. Earning trust is hard.

  45. Never entered my head that only blogging about travelling could be a way to make a living (or even a free trip) for anyone. Unless, perhaps, that person is already super-famous for something else...

  46. What the travel writers are going through seem similar to what other professions are experiencing in the advent of the web and free information. There are no rules ... yet. Creatively-minded folks get to dictate what they produce and offer it online at very little start up cost. That's great for those who really want to focus on quality. The downside is, it is difficult to get anyone to pay for it. Particularly information -- everyone wants free access.

    I often get "collaboration" or PR messages on my blog. I still can't reconcile myself to earning from it if it means advertising something I'm not interested in or wouldn't buy myself!

    In any case, it's wonderful you keep up your travel writing for interested folks like us who take our trips through the words and images you post ...!


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