Why write travel guides?
You might have written a travel blog and taken some cool holiday snaps last time you went away, but you probably did that for your own personal enjoyment and to help you reminisce about the ‘good times’. Wait a second though; have you ever considered that you could do those things as a career? Why not be a travel photographer, or travel writer? If Bill Bryson can do it, then why can’t you?
Most people have probably used a travel guide book before; either whilst they were actually travelling or when they were planning an amazing trip which never happened. These books aren’t created out of thin air; they are produced by a range of dedicated people. Careers that involve writing and producing travel books, with companies such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, have got to be some of the most competitive and sought after jobs in the world; but somebody’s got to do them, so why not you?
What does it take to write good travel guides?
Travelling the world can be an inspiring, exciting and scary thing. Most people don’t want to go to a country they know absolutely nothing about. Consequently, travel books and resources, such as travel guides, travel literature, maps and photographs, provide people with information and images that inspire them to go places, help them prepare for their trip, and give them ideas on what to see, where to stay and what to eat.
Travel books and resources offer information that not only helps people to see cool stuff, but helps them to stay safe and prepared for challenging situations. They might help you find your way around, they might give you important information about vaccinations and staying healthy, they might give you some useful phrases in a foreign language, and they might give you an insight into cultural differences that mean you might have to adapt your behaviour accordingly.
People who work in the travel books and resources industry tend to have creative flair. They need to be fanatical about their chosen trade, be that writing, taking photographs, editing text, or drawing maps. However, more importantly they need to be passionate about travel. The people who work in these careers are experienced travellers, who have an insatiable hunger for exploring the world and discovering new things.
How does travel writing work?
The life of a travel writer is one that many people fantasise about having for themselves. Basically, you travel the world, you write about it and then you get paid for it. Sounds amazing! However, it’s really not that simple. The life of a travel writer can be rewarding, varied and exciting, but it can also be lonely, stressful and quite low paid.
Some travel writers might be employed on a permanent basis by a specific travel guide company. However, most travel writers are freelancers. They may write their own travel literature, based on their own individual experiences, and get published like a novelist would (e.g. Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux); they may write articles for magazines and newspaper supplements (e.g. Wanderlust, National Geographic, Guardian Travel); they might write pieces for travel websites (e.g. Black Tomato); and they may write for traditional travel guide books (e.g. Lonely Planet, Insight Guides and Rough Guides).
Travel writing is not about going on holiday, writing about it and then hoping people want to read about it. Most travel writers will be given a brief, or a have a specific purpose for their trip. It really depends on who they are writing for. You might be endlessly going to romantic restaurants on your own and writing about their ambience. Alternatively, you could be staying in every grubby youth hostel in a town and reviewing them.
It’s also hard to be successful. Not everybody can make it. You need to be a very talented writer, with the ability to talk about the intricacies of travelling experiences in an engaging and fascinating way. It’s a highly competitive industry and you may not get commissioned to write anything for large periods of time. You’re going to have to put some effort in, build up a winning portfolio and hone your writing style. It’s going to be challenging, but if you’ve got the talent and the desire you can make it work!
If you don’t want to actually write for travel books, but if you still want to get involved with producing them, you can get involved with travel guide publishing. All travel guides and websites employ people in the standard publishing roles, i.e. editorial, marketing, rights, sales, and production. For more information on these kinds of careers, check out the publishing subsectors of our Media section now!
Another highly desirable and tough career to break into is that of a travel photographer. Travel books and websites are not going to publish your friend’s pictures of you ‘pulling a moony’ next to the Statue of Liberty. They are much more likely to use images taken by professional photographers who have an eye-for-detail, a passion of travel, and can take photos of the same old destinations in new, artistic and fascinating ways.
Travel photographers tend to work on a freelance basis, and like other artists they earn their money from doing commissioned projects or by selling images they have already taken. They may be given a brief by a client (e.g. National Geographic), which requires them to take photos of a certain place, in a specifically defined style. They will then be sent to destinations around the world (some tranquil, some hectic, and some downright dangerous) to take the photos. On return, these might be published on the web, in national newspapers, or in illustrated non-fiction books. Travel photographers might even have to self-fund their trips, take photos and then actively sell them into clients (i.e. magazines, picture libraries etc.). It can be risky, but incredibly rewarding. These guys need great camera skills, a knack for using picture editing software, and the confidence and charm to build up a network of contacts.
Cartography (i.e. map making) is a very rare career industry for people to get into; however, it is entirely possible. Although much of the world has already been mapped out, many parts are not depicted at useable scales. Moreover, the world‘s landscape and travel routes change frequently and thus many maps become obsolete. Cartographers are therefore still needed. Cartography is essentially the art, science and technology of making maps. These guys might simply reproduce and update old maps, or they might use hi-tech surveying techniques to analyse and record topography and geographical information, and then use this data to help them produce maps for the internet, computer systems and traditional paper formats too.
Many people who work in this industry work for private cartographical companies; however, some people work for national mapping agencies or government departments, such as Ordnance Survey, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO). To work in modern cartography, you need good design skills, I.T. skills and knowledge of specialist technologies, such as GIS, photogrammetry and 3D visualisation. These kind of skills can be developed on specific cartography related degrees and training courses.