Covering the Miles It Takes to Be a Great Freelance Travel Writer

Travel writing and digital nomadism often come hand in hand. Writing about holidays sounds dreamy in itself, but one cannot forget the struggles of being your own manager and the strain of being a “content” mill. Read on for more on what it takes to be an effective travel writer.

Sep 15, 2023 | By Florence Sutton
Woman in Yellow Shirt Sitting on Brown Wooden Folding Chair on Beach
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

Being a travel writer sounds amazing in theory. You can write articles about beaches and destinations and be a free spirit, but it doesn’t come without its unique challenges. Traversing the world can sound incredibly romantic, but it also comes with covering thousands upon thousands of miles. Let’s show you what it takes to be a great travel writer and beyond that, an effective freelancer and/ or digital nomad.

Learning the Skills That Set You Apart

One of the most common misconceptions people have about freelancing is that there is a huge amount of flexibility. This may be true to some extent but the flexibility also comes with the burden of self-training in areas you might be unfamiliar with.

A important skill to set yourself apart as a writer is being able to effectively craft complete and compelling narratives. Further, just having good writing is not enough to any traction in the digital editorial space. If you want to get yourself up the top of the search engine ladder, you need to learn how to write an SEO article so that it is comprised of the right keywords. 

Reaching a broader audience is more than essential in our digital era. Travel writers often start out thinking they’re choosing a creative career path, but as we touch upon later, it is now critical for any creative to strike a balance between the artistic and commerce aspects of creative work. Understanding who you are and why you set yourself apart from the rest is not just valuable advice for being a freelance writer, but for any form of freelance work.

Diversifying Your Skill Set

Learning what makes a business effective is essential for any writer, especially since your “business” will have your name on it. Being a freelancer and digital nomad can conjure up that free-spiritedness and make you believe that you can hop from place to place without ever needing to give a moment of thought as to what your brand is. 

Diversifying your skill set can open up a lot of new opportunities. Being that complete package is tough work but when you start to think about how you can add depth to your travel, it’s not just about video editing or photography skills but also about doing so much more. Learning a foreign language can instantly add depth that keeps you engaged and excited about your work. 

street party Calle del Oso, Madrid, Spain
Photo: Alberto Frías

We have to remember that being a digital nomad is partly a lonely profession and while we’ve got the writing to keep us anchored, the difficulties in being a competitive travel writer in this day and age is not just about ensuring you get a commission from one of the big magazines but about guaranteeing you are getting the most out of it. You can become overcome by wanderlust, and this can certainly overtake any business acumen. It’s important to be aware of this, which is why if you go into this without your eyes open you can easily find yourself booking a return ticket home. A diverse skill set is not just for the sake of the product, but actually for your own.

Navigating your Business

Freelancing is a business. Traveling, as cliché as it sounds, is the perfect opportunity to escape your confines, but this is why we must learn how to run an effective business. Going from country to country means that you’ve got to understand taxes and good financial planning, not to mention managing all your different contracts and income pools.

Treating it like a business means you are looking after your well-being. For example, the amount of time a nomad spends in a country before they are considered a tax resident will differ from place to place. In many countries, you will begin to pay income taxes after spending approximately 183 days (or six months) there.

Lots of people believe that being a digital nomad can allow them to bypass taxes. And yes, there is the potential to save a lot on taxes by moving from place to place, but you still need to set up a solid business structure for stability.

The Balance Between Art and Commerce

For many creatives, writing for a living can be the dream. However, the freedom of choosing to base a career off your creative side also comes with the responsibility to yourself to tailor what you create to your client’s expectations. This is an ongoing challenge that every freelancer needs to fine-tune. But we have to recognise that there are significant benefits from balancing creating art and meeting client expectations. It promotes a sense of equilibrium and structure, which can benefit your mental health but also perhaps help to prevent creative burn out.

This is another peril that many creative professionals overlook. The industry thinks creativity is an ongoing well of resources and often push creatives over their limits. Creative burnout is a real problem and it is tough to pinpoint the symptoms. Commonly, creative burnout can consist of feeling exhausted constantly, irritability, self-doubt, procrastination and struggling to do the basics. We have to remember that if we are to embrace a nomad lifestyle, there is that sense that we have to keep going and the same applies when we are delivering work on the content mill. 

Lots of freelance writers take a content mill gig because it is easy money, but despite the structure, it’s not for every writer. You have to determine if you are able to do it in the first place. Most people go travelling and embrace the digital nomad lifestyle because they’re escaping something, either physical or personal. And while being creative can unlock a lot within your psyche, there can be the dreaded “churn” that many writers experience.

bagpacking in Varenna, Italy
Photo: Timo Stern

Staying Inspired

Staying inspired can be difficult amidst tight deadlines and long hours. Hopping from place to place, straining to pick up article worthy details, including possibly interviews and pictures, and then putting it all together. You could certainly opt for a Jack Kerouac approach. 

When he wrote “On the Road,” he spent years travelling before supposedly pushing the critically-studied novel all on a typewriter in one draft with a special “scroll” to ensure that he kept the flow. This is however just not realistic for any travel writer with short lead-up times and back-to-back deadlines.

Structure can be as beneficial as it is stifling for inspiration. Seeking inspiration is not just about travelling to difference places but also can be found in seeking out other travel writers and commiserating.

Overcoming the Challenges

We’ve talked about travel writing but there are also other challenges afoot that come with the role. Discipline, unpredictable income and potentially a lack of resilience can be major hurdles. It’s an unconventional career and therefore no one-size-fits-all approach. 

Ensuring that we traverse these challenges by looking after our physical and mental health can help us to navigate those ups and downs. Because it’s not as carefully monitored as typical careers, we have to discern more deeply if this is truly for you or not.

working at a a cafe with laptop and notepad
Photo: Nick Morrison

Will the Journey End?

Many people opt for a freelance life for a number of reasons, and as you embark on this journey you might wonder if there will be a natural endpoint. It’s a path that can evolve over time, but you need to determine how adaptable you are in conjunction with your passions. The journey can be a fulfilling lifelong adventure if you want it to be. While many people travel the globe feeling constantly inspired by something new, we could take some cues from industries like music.

Touring is something that is taken very seriously in the music business because of the impact on the artist’s mental health. As a digital nomad, you don’t have a professional support network in place. If you want to sustain a successful career in this unique path, you must prioritise your health, both physical and mental. 

Working as a travel writer can teach you so much about yourself, but to truly be an effective and sustainable digital nomad, you need go into it with eyes wide open.

For more reads on business, click here.

Back to top