Freelance travel journalism—5 ways to maximize your writing income

By David Hammond

For many, freelance travel journalism (writing articles for websites, newspapers, and magazines) is an ideal second career.

The amount of money you can make as a freelance travel journalist varies. Like many freelance careers, the starting pay is often low (or non-existent), but, can go up significantly once you become established.

However, earning more isn’t something that happens automatically with the passage of time. A little strategy helps.

For that reason, I’d like to share the following tried-and-true ways to maximize your freelance article-writing income.

1. Earn more for each word you write 

If you’re new to freelance travel journalism and your goal is to earn top dollar for your articles, a good strategy is to start small and work up.

You might begin by submitting proposals to smaller travel blogs and websites, where it’s often less competitive to break in.

Take some time to develop your writing skills, get experience working with editors, and build up some clips (samples of published articles). Then, incrementally work your way up to higher paying opportunities.

Blogs and websites that accept the work of freelance travel journalists offer the most publishing opportunities but are often less profitable. Many blogs and websites don’t pay at all. Some pay nominal rates. And a few pay reasonable fees from 10 cents to 30 cents per word.

Regional and international magazines, as well as high-circulation newspapers, often pay between 10 cents and 30 cents a word. At 30 cents per word, a 1000-word piece (about two typed pages) pays $300. A 3,000-word feature article (roughly six typed pages) pays $900.

You’ll find the highest pay among high-circulation US magazines that accept travel stories. In this market, it’s not uncommon for a freelance journalist with a proven reputation to earn from $1 to $1.50 per word. That could be $1,000 or more for a 1,000-word article; and $3,000 or more for a 3,000-word feature article.

2. Leverage your research

You can leverage your research by positioning yourself as a travel topic specialist.

Developing a deep level of familiarity on a topic takes some time. But, once you’ve done the research, you can leverage it for years to come.

Possessing a thorough understanding of a topic enables you to write accurate, insightful, and authoritative articles in less time.

To become a travel niche specialist, choose a topic you find interesting and can effectively cover.

Once you’ve decided on a topic, research it thoroughly:

  • Study the background. 
  • Get involved. 
  • Make insider connections. 
  • And follow it.

If you do, your expertise will give you an edge with editors interested in pieces related to your topic. It will also enable you to write multiple articles on the foundation of your initial research.

3. Develop a steady stream of work 

It’s unlikely a single blog, magazine, or website will be able to buy and use all the travel articles you’re capable of producing. So, to develop a stream of steady work, it’s usually necessary to build relationships with the editors of multiple publications.

One efficient way to move toward a stream of steady work is to build a professional relationship with a publishing company with several outlets.

Some publishers put out a magazine, a blog, and a newsletter, and buy content for all three. You’ll also find publishing companies that put out several magazines and online publications.

It’s likely separate editors lead each publication or even departments within each publication.

However, if you build a positive working relationship with one editor, it's very likely the word will get around to others within the organization.

4. Take pictures to accompany your articles

Another way to increase your earnings is to make original photos available with your writing.

Some online publications require a certain number of images to accompany your article. So, to get those assignments you need to be able to take decent pictures.

Other times a publisher may buy your pictures separately—either individually or as a set. I’ve received $50 per image. And I know of other writers who’ve received similar pay for supplying photos with their writing.

However, this tip comes with a caveat: You won't add to your bottom line if you spend too much on cameras, lenses, and accessories.

Fortunately, you don’t need to buy a lot of expensive equipment and become a professional photographer to take decent pictures to go with your writing.

I use a good-quality single-lens camera with automatic settings. Because I favor one versatile tool, I use a camera with a wide-angle lens (to get a lot in a frame up close) with a powerful optical zoom (for good shots of things further away).

Equipped only with my easy-to-use camera and the know how I picked up at a one-day training, I’ve taken images good enough to accompany my writing in a variety of travel publications, including print magazine features and a top-ranked blog.

5. Receive preferential treatment 

What’s the pinnacle of success for a freelance travel journalist?

Many believe it's reaching the status of contributing editor with a popular magazine.

A contributing editor is a  proven freelance writer (not an editor as the name suggests) who regularly contributes to the same publisher.

When you reach the rank of contributing editor, choice assignments, sponsored research, and the publication’s top pay rate often come with the package.

On top of that, you may receive a writing-income guarantee, a retainer, as well as other considerations and perks.

Your responsibilities as a contributing editor may include helping to promote the publication, which could include attending and mixing at magazine events and parties.

Although self-employed, as a contributing editor you’re considered part of a magazine’s team. So, your name may be listed on the magazine's masthead (a list of the publication’s owners, publishers, editors, key staff, and contributing editors).