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How You Can Become a Travel Writer by Learning from the Best

I’ve been writing for half a century (ouch!).

Ever since I learned to hold a pencil, I knew I wanted to write; and as soon as I was allowed out of the house on my own, I knew I wanted to travel. These two threads have followed me through life and are responsible for the wonderful life I have today.

I took my first travel journalism course as part of my high-school correspondence education and over the years, I kept studying. Online writing classes. Travelogue writing. Workshops. Mentorships. University classes. Anything to become a travel writer. I eventually became a political journalist and communications specialist but kept writing about people and places in my spare time, in the evenings and on weekends. After a long and happy career, I veered back towards my first love: writing about travel, which I now do more or less full time.

Become a travel writer - old portable typewriterWhen I first started writing for travel magazines for pay, my 'computer' looked something like this

Still, I had to keep studying. Journalism and travel writing are different beasts and I had to learn, like everyone else.

Each time I take a good course, I learn something new. (Of course there are plenty of poor courses – often taught by people who know theory but aren’t published writers themselves.)

So I wasn’t altogether surprised when Nomadic Matt wrote to tell me he was launching a new travel writing course and asked me if I'd test-run it in exchange for an honest review. (You do know Matt, right? The most famous travel blogger in the world?)

Before I could say a word, he said, “David Farley is teaching.”

BOOM! Got my attention, Matt!

In case you haven’t heard of David Farley, he’s the one we all want to grow up to be: the New York Times, AFAR, The Guardian, The Washington Post and so on. He’s everywhere – it’s hard not to run into him when you’re looking for good travel writing.

Or, if you’ve studied writing in New York City, you might have caught him teaching a course at Columbia or New York University… You get the picture. He’s that good, and has been making a living from his words for two decades.

When Matt tells me that David is teaching a writing course and that he’ll give students personal feedback on their travel stories, that’s a course I want to take.

So I worked my way through it. The course is delivered over several months with several lessons each month - you need that extra time to actually do the writing assignments. The course is multi-media and uses text and video to teach you, along with interviews with well-known writing experts sharing their own tips and tricks of the trade. But mostly, you write and get feedback, which is the backbone of any good travel writing course.

In case you're curious, here's what the course syllabus looks like:

Month 1

  • Introduction to travel writing
  • Understanding the writing lifestyle
  • The different types of storytelling
  • How to create a story
  • How to find your angle and peg
  • How to come up with story ideas
  • BONUS: Writing resources

Month 2

  • The anatomy of a story
  • Various types of commercial writing (and their differences)
  • How to craft the perfect lede
  • How to be descriptive (and avoid clichés)
  • How to edit like an editor
  • Grammar dos and don’ts
  • BONUS: Revision checklist

Month 3

  • The difference between print and online writing
  • How to write for an online audience
  • How to create viral content

Month 4

  • How to write memoirs (this was the hardest for me!)
  • How to create perfect story arcs
  • How to research effectively
  • BONUS: Research checklist

Month 5

  • How to find freelance work
  • How to find and pitch editors
  • How to sell your work online
  • How to blog and succeed on social media

Here's my take on Nomadic Matt's travel writing course

After working my way through it, here’s what I found:

  • Solid journalistic advice – the way I was taught to write news back when facts and good writing were both essential.
  • It ‘feels real’. No hype, no tricks. Just robust guidance on writing for print and digital.
  • Making money: oh yes, there’s plenty of detailed advice (in this case by Matt, whose success is proof of his expertise in this area).
  • Expert interviews by top travel writers you’ll recognize – Don George, Spud Hilton, Rolf Potts – filled with actionable advice.
  • And personal feedback from David. But I've said that. 

So yes, it’s excellent. And I learned plenty I didn’t know, especially about working for magazines and pitching.

But – like everything – it’s not perfect.

First, you'll actually have to do the work. You can click 'Completed' as much as you like but without grafting, you're not going to get the feedback. This is a true learning experience, not a quick 'get it over with' event.

Second, the course has a Facebook group for interaction which remains small - but has grown significantly. Mind you, the course is new and frankly, fewer people means more individual attention from the mentors – and they’re on there all the time. It’s not every day you get Facebook interaction with someone like David Farley on what is travel writing with or Nomadic Matt on marketing and success for your blog. They both have the badge to prove they know what they're talking about.

Finally, at five payments of US$ 97 each, the price may seem a bit high if you’re just starting out and hungry writers are not known for their wealth BUT - you’ll get your investment back after your first assignment or two. I’ve earned back all my education fees through writing, and much more. Look at it this way: the combination of regular personal feedback from David and Matt's business savvy means they could probably charge a lot more for this course (and who knows, they might wake up one day and realize it!) 

"I'd give it lots of stars, especially if you want to write creative non-fiction with travel themes for publication in serious outlets." (A comment to me from a well-known published writer)

In fact, a published writer for whom I have huge respect said this: "It's a course that takes work, and requires a desire to write well, besides the usual 'make money at travel writing' things I see. I'd give it lots of stars, especially if you want to write creative non-fiction with travel themes for publication in serious outlets. Most courses that claim to teach you this are really lacking breadth and quality. This one meets the mark. The question is, will the student?"

Matt sees his courses as a complete package.

“All the courses feature in-depth units where we pull back the curtain on everything,” Matt told me, “On videos tutorials, resource guides, dozens of expert interviews, lifetime access and updates as well as homework and INSTRUCTOR feedback, which is something I think sets us apart from everyone else.”

He’s right. If you want to learn good writing that sells, go for it, both for David Farley’s writing expertise – and for Matt’s blogging business savvy. In my book your money will be well spent.

Click here to find out more about the course.