Freelance Journalism: How I became a travel writer – Part 1

If you ask a professional travel writer, ‘how did you become a travel writer’, I can guarantee, the answer will be different every time.

Last year, I think I received more emails than I ever have, asking me how to break into travel writing. They came from university students studying the travel industry for their dissertations, bloggers who wanted to make the move to a ‘professional’ travel writing career and university graduates looking to land their first job in the travel writing industry – often, following an English or Media degree.

Lucy McGuire at a Maasai village in Tanzania

For anyone who is in this position, I can give you lots of tips and ideas on how to increase your chances of breaking into the travel writing industry. But can I give you a fool proof set of steps to take to become a successful travel writer in 2018? In short, no.

Unlike more traditional jobs, there is no set route into travel writing. I will share a blog post with you very soon, on how I think you can become a travel writer today, based on my own personal experience and colleagues in the industry.

But for now, I thought I’d share my own personal story on how I went from university graduate to travel writer. Hopefully it will tell you a little bit more about me. And perhaps it will inspire you if you are thinking of pursuing a travel writing career.

How I became a travel writer

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It all started in local reporting

If you’ve read my About page, you’ll know that I started my career as a newspaper reporter for the Manchester Evening News.

I landed this job while studying for my NCTJ post graduate diploma in Newspaper Journalism. I took the fast-track course at Liverpool Community College (following a psychology degree in Edinburgh and year of office temping in Manchester). As part of the course, we had to undertake work experience once a week and I was accepted onto the Salford Advertiser. Once a week, I worked a full day in the office, learning the ropes, making tea (of course) and writing simple news stories to build up a portfolio for my NCTJ qualification.

When my course was up, the editor of the newspaper offered me a job as a junior reporter (after some rigorous interviewing) and I was over the moon. I’d dreamed of being a journalist ever since I was young and my dream had finally come true. I spent the next three years reporting across various weekly newspapers within the MEN group, learning what it meant to deliver accurate and concise copy and breaking news stories to a tight deadline, often working in a very pressurised environment.

Did I always want to be a news reporter?

In all honesty, it wasn’t my dream to be a hard-nosed journalist. My true dream (as you’re asking) was to become a travel and features writer on a glossy magazine. I’d have my own beautifully laid-out desk, with potted plants and piles of glossy magazines around me. And I’d be sent out on assignment – perhaps one week I’d be writing on gender equality in the workplace and the next I’d have my travel writer hat on and I’d be jetted off to write a 1,500 word feature on the best spas in Bali. but I always wanted interesting people and places to feature in my writing – I loved the idea of interviewing people about their lives – and still do.

Did I care about online travel writing back then? Blogging and writing for websites hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point to be honest. I was only focused on one thing – getting my name in print.

I’d have my byline in the magazine every week (or month) and perhaps even a column on top of that.

We can all dream right?

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Local reporting was the best thing I ever did

The reason I took a not-so-glamorous job in local news reporting is I knew the reality. I had to work hard to climb the ladder. No one in the travel writing or magazine industry really took you seriously back then unless you had a journalism qualification and could prove that you’d put in the ground work. Either that, or you had to be a rich kid who could afford to live in London and work for a pittance making tea for the editor until you finally edged your way up the hierarchy, with a glimmer of hope that you’d earn enough to cover your rent one day. (That wasn’t me).

I took the advice from a family member to do the ground work and prove myself as a reporter before I tried to tackle magazines. And I’m glad I did.

Over the space of three years, I developed all sorts of skills, from interviewing and maintaining my shorthand, to practising my journalism law through court reporting. As they say, local newspapers were the best place then to ‘cut your teeth’ in journalism. They were back then. I also had some of the best years of my life in Manchester, making some brilliant friends along the way.

From news reporter to features writer

My responsibilities at the newspaper changed a couple of times but it was when I started to show a flair for feature writing that my editor decided to make this my main role. I still had to produce news stories every week. But I got far more of a kick out of producing an insightful 1,200 word feature on an interesting person, band, attraction or cause in the community than being the reporter of the week who managed to get the front page story, or ‘splash’.

At this point, I still didn’t know if or how I was ever going to become that ‘famous’ travel writer I’d always dreamed about. But I was beginning to develop my skills in writing long-form articles and knowing when I’d heard a headline-grabbing sound bite.

I also learnt how to write colourful intros, which would later become vital in writing entertaining travel features. I even featured in a lot of first-person features, trying out the indoor ski slopes at Chill Factore Manchester, cycling the velodrome in a piece about Olympic athlete Chris Hoy and even playing the violin with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. In my naive, 20-something’s eyes, I was becoming the Bridget Jones of the northwest and above all, I loved interviewing inspiring people, developing interesting story angles, and working with photographers to create the story.

I was taking steps, albeit baby steps, towards getting that dream job as a travel writer….

Read: How I Became a Travel Writer – Part 2

Have you always wanted to become a travel writer? Did you take the local reporting route into journalism? Feel free to share your memories and stories with me in the comments below…

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    • 12th February 2018 / 2:10 pm

      Thanks for reading Christine! Glad you’ve found it inspiring!