If you are a freelance travel writer, you’ll hear plenty of your old-timer peers groaning about what a tough time this is. But then if you talk to the younger (or more adaptive) freelancers who are crushing it, they are much more optimistic. They’re passing on work because they’ve got too many assignments on their plate already.
One freelancer friend of mine told me 2020 was her best year ever. There’s a lot of work out there for people who are going after it.
For the first time that I can remember in my 25 years of being a travel writer, the market has actually tipped in our favor. I’ve never seen anything close to as many jobs and contract gigs posted in the past as you can see right now on the job boards. There’s more work than workers.
Content creators are in huge demand right now and organizations are having a tough time filling their slots, both in the office and with freelancers. If you’ve ever dreamed of going from writer to editor, this is the time to get your resumé out there, especially if you’ve got any management experience.
It was announced in the financial news in 2020 that there were a million more job openings than there are people looking for work every month. About the only people left in the USA who don’t have a job at this point are the ones who physically can’t work, don’t want to work, or can’t really function in a collaborative environment.
Now granted, many of these open jobs are low-skilled, low-paying ones that an ample supply of immigrants used to take care of when we were more welcoming. Still, there’s more job-hopping going on than there has been since before the Bush recession, which means skilled laborers and freelancers are getting more leverage and can be more choosy about which jobs or gigs they take on.
So where does the “tough time for freelance writers” negativity come from? Well, National Geographic Traveler went under, for a start. So did several airline and cruise magazines. The San Francisco Chronicle was one of the few newspapers that still had a full-time travel editor…until it killed its travel section last year. USA Today’s travel section is a ghostly shell of what it was in the past after it laid off all its experienced staffers and now it’s going behind a paywall. Travel & Leisure, Afar, Conde Nast Traveler—you can see by the lack of thickness in their regular issues that they’re not publishing nearly as much content as they used to.
Highly-paid editors who have been at the top of the masthead for years are getting chopped left and right. Or leaving for greener digital pastures, leaving writers who used to write for said editor back at square one.
But the decline of print is no surprise. It has been sliding downward, year by year, for nearly two decades now. The real surprise is that there are still as many publications on the newsstand as there are. Not many of them are travel mags though.
Where the Real Writing Jobs Are
These days, I’d be surprised if print publications are responsible for more than 10% of all the paid travel writing gigs that are out there. If you subtract custom publications that aren’t sold, but rather given away for free to customers, it’s probably more like 5%.
So look elsewhere and follow the money. The reason print pubs are in trouble is that people aren’t reading them so much anymore. There are single-person travel blogs out there with more monthly readers than almost any travel print magazine. There are also some company blogs that get more readers–and pay more too. People are reading a lot, they’re just doing it online instead of on dead trees. (Except for books. 2020 was a great year for those.)
Many websites and blogs don’t pay anything close to what the big print mags do, of course, but I’d argue that they’re also far less of a pain in the butt to work for. So it’s a fair trade-off. The one article I did for Travel & Leisure was such an awful example of word-by-word micro-management that I never even pitched them again. Sure, it was $2 a word, but in the end I probably made less than minimum wage after the 83 e-mails that went back and forth about a fluffy little front-of-the-book trend piece. Most of the company blog articles I do pay more in the end and only require a few tweaks. Those companies tend to pay much faster too, without so much hounding.
In the past few years, I’ve written articles for organizations such as Marriott, Silvercar, American Express, Gore-tex, SlickDeals, Trivago, Tampa Bay Tourism, Viator, BedandBreakfast.com, and more. Those bylines may not carry the prestige of being in a famous magazine, but the money was good and the hassles were low.
Here are a few examples of gigs I found posted this week:
Metro/CNET: Freelance writers and editors (remote)
E! News: E-commerce writer (remote)
Vivial Media: Freelance writer (remote)
[Agency]: Social Media Strategist (Vancouver, WA)
Health.com: Food & Fitness writer (NYC)
Family Destinations Guide: Freelance post writer
Digital Trends: Photography guides writer
My daughter graduated college after majoring in creative writing for the media and promptly got gigs with four different publications soon after. If a recent grad with no experience can do that just from applying for gigs she found online, someone with years of experience should be able to get them even easier.
Want a Staff Writing Job?
If you need a real job with a steady paycheck, there are more of those out there than ever. With some of them you have to be on site in a certain location, but a good many are remote too and will probably stay that way. Here are a few examples I saw the week I put up this post to give you an idea:
Vinepair.com: Managing Editor
Meredith Corp: Travel Writer
Lending Tree: Travel Credit Cards Writer
Texas Monthly: Assistant Digital Editor
Wine Enthusiast: Assistant Digital Editor
BBC Global News: Content Producer Asia
Galvanized Media/Best Life: Senior Travel Editor
Group Tour Media: Associate Editor
Development Counsellors International: Senior Writer
Cowboys & Indians Magazine: Digital Editor
Kensington Tours: Travel Content Specialist
Skyscanner: Senior Manager/Editorial Content
Now Media: Travel Content Researcher Writer
Narcity: Freelance Las Vegas Travel & News Writer
Lifestyles After 50: Freelance Writer
WineSpectator.com: Assistant Editor
In the “good ole days” that some freelance writers pine for, these jobs weren’t even advertised. They were so easy to fill from the existing staff and intern pool that it wasn’t necessary to make them public. Now there are more jobs than people and a lot of talented travel writers have found it’s more interesting and a better lifestyle choice to be their own publisher instead of work for someone else. They have little desire to freelance because they make more writing for themselves.
If you don’t mind working for someone else, there are a lot of jobs open out there for writers and editors, especially if you’re willing to commute and show up at an office each day.
Where do you find out about these writing jobs? Well lucky for you, here at the Travel Writing 2.0 blog we have lots of job board resources on one page. And if you’re out there pitching articles on a regular basis, you really ought to save yourself some grief by subscribing to the Travel Magazine Database. That lists a lot of custom publications that are still alive and well in the print world. Think hotel mags, cruise line mags, and airline magazines. When you sign up, you’ll also get a regular newsletter listing…writing jobs!
Personally, I prefer running my own show and don’t do a whole lot of freelancing anymore. Yet I still do some because it lands in my lap. In quite a turn from a decade ago, people with article needs are often contacting writers instead of the other way around. Make yourself known as an expert in some area and you may find this happening to you too. Meanwhile, get out there and start pitching!