Explore coveted job of a travel writer

By Tiana Templeman

Tiana Templeman has had the chance to visit many exotic locales - here in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia. Pic supplied.
Tiana Templeman has had the chance to visit many exotic locales - here in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia. Pic supplied.

Travel writer is second only to rock star when it comes to dream jobs but, contrary to popular belief, being a professional travel writer doesn't involve much relaxing by the pool.

My travel writing career began with a twist of fate, when I won a trip to stay at 13 of the world's most exclusive five-star hotels.

For a keen backpacker it was the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to see how the other half lives.

However, with a travel budget stretched tighter than the straps on our bulging backpacks, my husband and I quickly discovered that when you're on a beer budget but staying in establishments catering for those with champagne tastes, life can be harder than it looks.

As we travelled through 14 countries over five months, people told me I should write a book about our adventures (and misadventures). Much to my delight, the story was picked up as an unsolicited manuscript and published by Random House a few years later. However, there was a problem.

Absolutely Faking It was a one-off story that didn't have a follow-up and I had discovered that I loved writing for a living and wanted to keep doing it. In the days before blogs were a thing, the only way I could think to do this was to become a travel writer for newspapers and magazines.

After a slow start, my career began to take off and I eventually quit my corporate training job at KPMG and became a full-time travel writer.

At the beginning of a travel writing career, most stories usually come from self-funded trips, but when writers become established, they sometimes get invited on press trips or media familiarisations.

These are hosted by tourism authorities or hotel groups and are designed to show journalists the best a region has to offer.

The easiest way to describe a press trip to someone who has never been on one is to get them to imagine a school camp fuelled by jetlag and alcohol, with an itinerary so packed there's hardly enough time to shower. The good news is all your expenses are covered; the bad news is, as the old saying goes, you don't get something for nothing.

Sure, there's the tantalising allure of an exotic location but this is not a holiday. The itinerary will usually be jam-packed with activities from early morning until late at night and it is considered unprofessional to decline them unless you have a valid reason such as a health issue. Sometimes this is a good thing as it encourages you to step outside your comfort zone.

Think learning to hang 10 at a surf school run by off-duty fire fighters in Waikiki, climbing a snow-covered Great Wall of China or eating frog's legs at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

However, at other times it can be horrible, especially if you are required to do things you are scared of or that you hate.

Every time I see kayaking on an itinerary, my heart sinks (as does my kayak, on most occasions).

Some travel writers don't like these trips and prefer to travel independently. In my experience, press trips can be fun and are excellent for gathering information for future stories, provided you choose carefully. Many combine unique hotels, fascinating people and interesting tours, which are a delight to experience and write about. Others turn out to be your worst nightmare.

On one trip I endured a two-hour resort site inspection in 40-degree heat, which would have gone longer except an English journalist passed out from the humidity, bless him. On another, I combined a mild dose of food poisoning with a jet-lagged three-hour tour of the newly refurbished international airport we had flown into less than 12 hours before. I've also stayed at hotels so "brand new" they're still a construction site but nothing beats the time I discovered a snake in my room on arrival. I'm not scared of snakes but, to be honest, I would have preferred a fruit basket.

You don't need any formal qualifications to be a travel writer. Although I've since gone on to study at university and completed a journalism PhD, a love of exploring the world, talking to people, and natural writing ability are perhaps the most important requirements for a successful career. You don't even need to travel that much. Writing about your home town and the surrounding area is an ideal way for aspiring travel writers to kick-start their careers.

Creativity and a thick skin are also handy, as much of your time is spent coming up with story ideas which you then have to sell to editors. More often than not, they say no, or don't even respond to your emails which can be hard to take, especially when you are first starting out. Perseverance is essential if you want to be successful. Editors receive hundreds of queries a week and yours will frequently get caught in the backlog. Even for experienced writers this part of the process is often harder than writing the article but it is important not to give up. Eventually, an editor will say yes and one story will lead to another.

Perhaps surprisingly, travel writers don't actually travel as much as most people think.

Along with spending a lot of time in front of a computer writing stories and editing photographs, there is a lot of administration and other boring-but-necessary tasks associated with the job. It's hard to make a successful living if you forget to send out invoices and don't get paid.

Despite the fact it's a highly sought-after job, even travel writers can have "bad day at the office".

However, I certainly don't deserve any sympathy. Being able to do what I love for a living is a rare privilege.

I still can't believe my luck sometimes when I wake up in the morning, even if the day ahead holds the promise of little more than chasing invoices and filing receipts.

After all, there is always the chance that an exciting new destination is waiting to be discovered just around the corner.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 11 Dec 2016 09:21:30 Processing Time: 1943ms