It’s not easy making a comfortable living as a full-time travel writer or blogger, so the Travel Writing 2.0 book and blog are all about helping you increase your income. If you subscribe to the Travel Writing Success newslettter, you’re getting more good nuggets direct from me each month.
Income is only half the equation when it comes to your finances though. The other side of the accounting ledger is what goes out each month—your expenses. Naturally if you can keep your income roughly the same but cut your expenses in half, you’ve substantially increased your monthly disposable income. Instead of it all going into rent, utilities, car expenses, and health care, you can actually save some money and get ahead.
My newest book, A Better Life for Half the Price, is for anyone who wants to cut loose instead of cutting back, who wants to live life to the fullest each week instead of stressing about money. It’s the creative types who work online that can really benefit the most though from a change of address. Our life of working for ourselves and having personal freedom can mean great benefits but also great uncertainty in terms of the monthly income flow. By cutting your expenses in half or more (without having to cut back on the things you enjoy), you can eliminate much of the danger, the risk, the fragility of being self-employed.
I only moved across one national border, to Mexico, and immediately my family’s expenses dropped by more than half. Businesses talk a lot about “run rate” and though my business expenses didn’t change much, my personal ones—which are larger anyway—plummeted. On top of that, we can enjoy life more here. We go out to eat more, we don’t have to think twice about going to the symphony ($6), grabbing lunch at a typical restaurant ($3-$4), going to a concert ($4), or buying a fresh-squeezed juice ($1).
If you make $52,000 in the USA, you’re at the median income level. If you make that amount and you’re living in Mexico, you’re upper middle class. If you earn that and you’re living in India, Nepal, Cambodia, or Nicaragua, you are stinking filthy rich. You’d be a 2-percenter, one of the elites.
I did a blog post on what it costs me living in Guanajuato where you can see more, like utility bills. The thing is, there are plenty of other cheap countries around the world where you can do the same job you’re doing now. By living abroad though, you can keep a lot more of what you’re earning instead of watching it go right back out of your checking account. Some of them are a good bit cheaper than Mexico. You could probably live for 1/4 of what you do now in some spots I highlight in the book. If you’re currently in New York City, London, or Sydney, make it 1/5.
How would your life change if your monthly bills dropped in half? Would you feel less stress? Enjoy the job more? Be able to be more picky about which projects you take on? Finally finish that unfinished book or big project? Could you afford a virtual assistant and free up some of your time?
Invest an hour’s wages in the e-book or paperback and start exploring here: A Better Life for Half the Price.
Or, if you’re just a little intrigued and want to learn more, get on the Cheap Living Abroad monthly e-mail list and download the free report “14 countries where you can stay 4 months or more on a tourist visa.”
Following the old fiction writing adage of “show, don’t tell,” here’s an actual query I received recently as editor of Perceptive Travel.
” Dear editor, attached is a story of my visit to New Orleans Mardi Gras with my wife Barbara that you might be interested in using in your magazine.”
Firstname Lastname (withheld)
I’m starting with this one because there are an amazing number of problems in this one-sentence e-mail that’s short enough to put on Twitter. First, it breaks several general rules:
1) Didn’t bother to look up the editor’s name, which is all over the site.
2) Didn’t bother to read the guidelines, which are linked from the contact page.
3) Attached an unsolicited finished story, which is generally only common practice for newspapers.
For specifics, I don’t know any editor that appreciates queries sent in bulk at the same time, which this certainly was. I also don’t know any editor who thinks a generic travel story with no new angle to it is a good match for them. There’s no reference to past stories in our online publication, why this would work for us, or any sense that the person has actually ever read Perceptive Travel at all. He didn’t include any information about his track record in publishing articles and there’s no link to a portfolio site.
And why in the world would I care what his wife’s name is unless she’s a celebrity?
So I did what I’m sure 100% of the other people who received this did: hit delete.
If you’re a blogger or freelance writer, you’re likely deluged with press releases and poorly targeted news pitches on a daily basis. How does that make you feel? Do you have less respect for that PR person or company next time you see an e-mail from them? Do you maybe even cringe a little?
Well if you send out a query or finished story in bulk to editors—who already get 4X more e-mails than you do—you can expect them to feel the same way about you. Angry, annoyed, grumpy, incredulous even. If you want them to get back to you, or at least think you’re a professional, you’ve just killed your chances. Maybe permanently: a lot of editors have a “block” or “filter” command on their e-mail program that they use with abandon. Your three follow-ups may not even get to their inbox and you’ll have to guess why.
I have met a few writers over the years who swear by the multiple submissions strategy, of sending out the same idea to a bunch of editors and see who bites. In general I think this is a terrible idea. It’s the same principle behind pop-up subscription boxes, junk mail, and telemarketing: bug a lot of people in order to find a small percentage who will say yes. But if you’re going to do it, at least take the extra five minutes per e-mail to put in their name and say a little something about why this story would be right for them.
Much better is to take 10-15 minutes and write a really good query, which is really a custom sales pitch. You need to pitch the idea in a way that answers an editor’s essential questions. These are:
The unspoken question for magazines also is, “Where would this go?” In other words, tell her which section and why. (If you’ve never written for them, you are not going to be assigned a big major feature, so don’t even go there.)
In order to send a customized query, you need to know who you’re pitching to. You don’t want to pitch a British publication on a listicle for “best vacations 2015″ and put in resort areas on the west coast of Mexico and Costa Rica. It should be about “best holidays 2015″ and focus on places you can reach easily from Heathrow, Gatwick, and Manchester. With your spell check configured to accept centre, colour, and traveller.
I just got guidelines for a website I’m going to start writing for that is aimed at men 20-40 and wants articles to be full of pop culture references, jokes, and slang. I write for others that adhere strictly to AP style and want a serious, authoritative tone. The pitches I would send to these two publications should be different in almost every way.
You are only going to know how to pitch an editor by knowing what that publication is all about. If it’s a magazine, study at least two recent issues. If it’s online, poke through every section in their navigation bar. Pay close attention to the language in the “About Us” section. If they have writers’ guidelines, study them closely and follow them to the letter. If they don’t show them online, e-mail or call someone and request them. Usually the “Advertise with us” part is useful too as that shows who their ideal readers are and what they think sets them apart.
If you’re willing to part with a little money to save time, there are services out there that can tell you who gets queries and what they want to see. See our travel writing resources section for some of them.
If I’ve met you at a conference or on a press trip, great. You’ve already got an in. Amazingly though, most writers are too lazy to follow up on this. I’ve handed an opportunity to some on a silver platter and haven’t heard from them since. The ones that did follow up, if I liked their work, have frequently become part of my team at one of the Al Centro Media sites. If you’re fortunate enough to meet an editor who is a good match for what you can write, put that follow-up at the top of your priority list.
But if I don’t know you, we’re back to that sales job again. You need to convince me you’re a great writer with a real track record. That means having a good portfolio site at the very least. (If you keep putting that off, go right now and set up one at Contently.) The “Why you?” question is a huge one with most editors. Some get hundreds of queries a day and it’s easy to ignore the ones from people they’ve never met because they’ve met a lot of writers, especially if they’re in NYC or London. I think this is so important that it’s what I lead with in a query: I put my credentials in the first sentence so they’ll know I’m an experienced professional.
If you’re not very experienced, then stop trying to pitch stories about places you’ve never visited just because you want to go there. Pitch stories where you’re the obvious expert. That means places and subjects you know inside-out, like where you live or what you’ve already researched and written about extensively. Own and embrace your niche instead of trying to be a grand generalist.
Last, most editors don’t want retreads. They want what’s new, fresh, unique, unusual. Ask 10 editors what kind of query is their ideal one and one of those words will almost certainly be in their answer. Besides those hundreds of queries they receive regularly, at big publications they’re also having regular editorial staff meetings where they’re tossing around ideas. So if you’re pitching something obvious, they’ve seen it and heard it over and over already. Unless you’re trying to fill a spot for a regularly scheduled column (“A Weekend in ____”, “The 5 Best Restaurants in ____”), give them something they haven’t heard already and you will get a much warmer reception.
Nick is half of the voice behind the Goats on the Road travel blog (his partner, Dariece, is the other half!). Today, Nick talks to us about going from being travelers to traveling writers and how opportunities like house-sitting have helped them make traveling and blogging a lifestyle.
What took you from being travelers to traveling writers?
I think the transition from being a long-term traveller to a travel writer / blogger is a pretty natural one. During our first big trip back in 2008, we started sending emails back to friends and family that basically documented our trip and we found that after we returned home, we enjoyed reading back on our own stories and reminiscing over the photos. When we left on our second trip in 2010, we opened a travel blog that would basically serve the same purpose, on a more user friendly and easy-to-follow platform. At this point, we still hadn’t invested in our own domain and we were simply writing about our story and our ongoing travels on the TravelBlog.org website. It wasn’t until we read an article by Johnny Ward of OneStep4ward.com that we realized that travel blogging can actually be a lucrative business if done properly. A few weeks later we bought our own domain: “GoatsOnTheRoad.com” and started writing our story, along with help and information for adventurous, off-the-beaten path travellers.
What was the point when you started to realize you could support yourselves doing this?
At first, supporting our life through blogging was just a dream. It seemed so far out of grasp that we weren’t sure that it would ever happen. Along the way, we had a lot of help from bloggers who had already made a living in the business and they really helped us to realize that this could be a sustainable model for continuing our travels. Bloggers like Dave & Deb at ThePlanetD, Nomadic Samuel and Mike Richard at Vagabondish, really mentored us along the way and helped us to understand that “if they can do it, so can we!”. We still haven’t reached the success that they have with their incredible blogs, but through their help and guidance we’ve been able to mould our blog into a profitable, life sustaining brand that has allowed us to travel indefinitely for the past few years.
You also do a lot of things on the expense side to keep costs down, like house sitting. How did you get onto the first page of Trusted House Sitters as a caretaker?
You want us to tell all our secrets here? Okay fine! TrustedHouseSitters.com is a great site for finding house sitting jobs and it’s search algorithm is based on a few things including:
The latter bullet point is the most important. When you open your account, you should contact anyone that you know that you’ve house sat, pet sat or even baby sat for and send them a reference request through the sites reference request interface. Once you’ve built up a few references, then you should hunt aggressively for your first sitting job. Contact every home that goes up and try to get a few sits under your belt because if you can land a good reference from a home owner that is a user on TrustedHouseSitters.com, you’ll move up drastically in the search results. There it is… our secrets revealed. We currently receive an invitation to house sit nearly every day and we’re very grateful that our profile is appealing to home owners and that we’ve had these opportunities offered to us.
You do some rather long, well-edited videos (including #25 in Guanajuato, where I make a cameo). You don’t monetize those though, so what else do you get out of all that time and effort?
Good question Tim. I often ask my self the same thing. When things are going well on my Macbook, editing videos is kind of a zen space for me. I truly enjoy it and even though it takes a considerable amount of work, it’s an easy way for me to dive into my job and really have fun with what I’m doing.
We’ve created some pretty epic videos on our YouTube Channel in the past and we get a great response from those who do watch them. That is one thing that I get back from creating movies, good feedback and happy viewers. But even though we don’t profit directly from the videos, we do often have companies offering us hotel stays, products or tours in exchange for a cool video on our YouTube Channel. The food tour with you in Guanajuato was a great example of our YouTube Channel opening doors for us and allowing us to experience cool activities around the world.
Where does most of your writing and blogging revenue come from and how do you see that changing in the coming years?
When we first started out, we were making about 99% of our income through sponsored posts (shhh! Don’t tell Google). As the blog progressed, we started to move away from sponsored articles because search engines penalize some bloggers for publishing them. Today we are more into banner advertising, affiliate marketing and freelance writing. Currently, freelance writing accounts for about 75% or our income and the rest is spread between direct advertising and affiliate sales.
On top of that (although we don’t count it as actual revenue), we also save a considerable amount of money on travel through partnering with great companies like HostelsClub.com, The Backpacker Magazine Group and AeroMexico. We’ve been able to receive accommodation, tours and airfare in exchange for our writing, which brings our costs down significantly as we travel around the world.
In the coming years, we hope to continue making money from freelance work, because we think it’s a great way to get our names out there, but we would also like to move towards a more passive income model. We will be selling an ebook in 2015 that will help people to realize that work doesn’t have to be a place. The book will show just how easy it is to make money on the road, live abroad and travel forever. We hope that the book (and any others we publish after it) will be good sellers and therefor drip feed our accounts with money, even while we’re sleeping. Some people like to work really hard for there money and that’s great, but I find it more rewarding to work hard at first, and then continue to make money from it without any further effort. I don’t want to work for money, I want money to work for me (excuse the cliche)
Travel + Leisure calls you out of the blue and says they’ll send you anywhere in the world to write a feature story. Where would you go and why?
That’s a hard one Tim! First of all we’d just be stoked to have been contacted by T&L and if they had a place in mind, we’d hop at the opportunity. But if they gave us the choice, I’d have to say that we’d head to Bhutan! We love to visit off-the-beaten path locations and given Bhutan’s current regulations on foreign visitors, the continued promotion of cultural heritage, and the King’s focus on “Gross National Happiness”, we think it would be one of the planet’s most fascinating countries to visit. It can be expensive to travel Bhutan though ($200 – $250 USD for visa and obligatory tour operator bookings), so we’d be happy to have T&L picking up the bill. I can just imagine the amazing photos, videos and experiences that we’d be able to share with our readers from such a captivating country.
Nick and Dariece are the couple behind Goats On The Road and the bi-weekly columns on Credit Walk & Travel Pulse. Their website is designed to show others how to turn their travels into a lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad, they’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube.