Guest post by Nick Hilden
When I initially made the leap into full-time freelance writing three years ago, I was living under the wet-blanket sky of Portland, Oregon, providing web descriptions of washing machines, updating resumes, and occasionally producing smutty short stories at a rate of half-a-cent per word. Today I am sitting in the sun on my balcony overlooking Granada, Spain’s Gran Via, and after I finish this article I will be writing a piece about Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, followed by a guide to driving along the southern coast, then a story about a man I met in Paris whose lips and ears had been cut off while he was working as a prison guard in Turkey. Later—beer and tapas.
The life of a freelance travel writer is exciting, uncertain, but always satisfying. The primary benefit of focusing one’s writing career on the realm of travel is that the work you produce ends up covering the expense of your meanderings, and the more places you wander the more you can earn. That is not to say that you’ll be raking in cash hand over fist, but if you play it smart, it is possible to sustain yourself without too much fear of ending up on the street in some foreign country.
I broke into travel writing sort of by chance. After spending a year or so producing boring, fairly mindless content for a variety of clients, I landed my first travel piece through an online freelancing service called Odesk. There are a number of similar websites, such as Elance and Guru, and these are invaluable to making it as a freelancer on the road.
Generally whenever you acquire a travel writing gig, it involves producing a batch of 500-1,000 word pieces about various locations. My first travel job was fairly straightforward. A website was looking for five articles about Paris and Barcelona, both places I had visited as a student.
Once those articles were posted, I used them as writing examples in order to gain gigs writing more travel stories. As my portfolio grew and I developed contacts with various websites, I realized that I could depend on selling just about any travel piece that I produced.
Suddenly about a year ago, a thought struck me—what if I moved to Europe, where I could simply travel around and write about the things I’d see? On average, I was making around $50 per 500 words, so if upon visiting a particular city I made sure that I saw at least ten attractions, I could make an easy $500. That combined with the other various projects I would land via the freelancing websites seemed like a pretty decent living wage, as long as I produced articles steadily and wrote about literally everything I saw.
Suffice to say, it worked. And as my portfolio has grown and I’ve proven my passion and dedication to travel, increasingly prestigious publications and opportunities have looked my way.
It’s not a difficult path to go down—you just have to get out into the world and follow where it takes you.