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How to Become a Travel Writer: 2 Writing Courses I Recommend

Women on the Road

Have you ever wanted to travel and write? As you leaf through your latest Lonely Planet, do you ever ask yourself "How can I get paid to travel?"

You could become a travel writer...

how to become a travel writer

Everyone has their own path.

Mine started half a century ago (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 as a freelance travel writer.

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. A travel writing workshop here and there. Mentorships. University classes. Anything to become a travel writer or find travel writer jobs. I eventually became a political journalist and communications specialist at the United Nations but kept writing for travel magazines 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 as a travel journalist, this was my 'computer'. And yes, I still have it ©WOTR

But I kept studying. 

Each time I take a good course, I learn something new. (Of course there are plenty of abysmal online writing courses – often taught by people who know the theory but may never have actually sold a story themselves.) 

Today I'm going to introduce you to two seasoned professionals who will teach you how to be a travel writer - each in their own way. There are very few writing classes I recommend. Until recently, we had the brilliant David Farley, who taught a travel class through Nomadic Matt's travel writing courses. Sadly, that course is no longer available but - we still have these two outstanding ones!

One will teach you to tell stories that are irresistible and unputdownable, and the other one will teach you the nuts and bolts of all types of  travel writing by making your words jump off the page.

In looking for the best travel writing course, they each fit the bill, in different ways.

mike sowden's 'engage' storytelling course

It's called Engage because this travel writing course teaches you how to "engage" your reader - whether that person is a soon-to-be traveler or an editor scrutinizing your piece for possible purchase.

If you can't tell a good story, there's every chance your readers will move on after your first paragraph or two. And while the course I'm introducing you to is designed for travel bloggers, I contend it's for any travel writer who wants to write a brilliant article.

Please meet Mike Sowden, a quirky Brit who writes - and speaks - tongue in cheek with the kind of humor only the British can pull off without sounding ridiculous. (He can be a bit caustic and forthright but we'll forgive him that.) When Mike writes, it's difficult to STOP reading. And isn't that what we all want when WE write?

He launched his first online writing courses some years ago and I was an early student. Since then, he has refined his offering, expanded his teaching and added tons of extra stuff, like private consultations and a Facebook group for interaction among students.

If you're already curious, just click here to see what he has to say about his own course.

STRUCTURE OF MIKE'S ENGAGE COURSE

I like the structure of this course - it's easy to follow and appears in your email Inbox three times a week. If you don't have time to deal with everything during the eight weeks of the course, just stuff it into a folder and come back to it later because you get lifetime access to the course and to the support.

Here's what the course looks like:

  • Week 1 - what your blog is like now and what it should be like
  • Week 2 - all about stories and storytelling and what that really means
  • Week 3 - injecting feeling into your stories (and being willing to fail)
  • Week 4 - critiquing your own stories and positioning yourself within them
  • Week 5 - how to become a story detective, and the importance of the quest
  • Week 6 - how to make friends, get noticed and pitch like crazy
  • Week 7 - the nuts and bolts of your blog
  • Week 8 - yes, you CAN make a living from telling stories!

Each week also includes a challenge (Mike doesn't want you to coast!) so as you can see, this is not a 'traditional' writing course but one that pushes you to use ALL of your brain so that your entire being goes into writing those words. It's punchy, succinct and gets right to the heart of what you need to know. (The rest, like hosting or how often to post on Facebook, are things you can easily find on Google. What Mike teaches you? You won't find that.)

Whatever your poison - whether you're a blogger, seasoned or new, or a travel writer or simply someone who wants to BE a writer - this course will make you a better one.

my take on mike's course

Speaking to Mike about my stories is one of the most helpful things I've done for my writing, because he can step away and look at the big picture and tell me if it 'hangs' together, if it makes sense, if it takes you by the hand and walks you through people and places, pushing you forward at each turn.

Here's what I think stands out from this:

  • How to build a story – the kind of story that resonates with readers. (I should follow his advice more often - when an article of mine bombs, it's probably because I wasn't following Mike's advice.)
  • It applies to ALL writing. Today I'm a travel writer. Tomorrow I might try my hand at writing a novel or becoming a lifestyle blogger or writing about empowerment and confidence. Who knows. But these lessons apply evenly to all and with my storytelling techniques down pat, there's a good chance I won't bore you, whatever I write.
  • Mike is funny. While normally this wouldn't matter, when it comes to learning it does - his travel writing tips are enjoyable rather than pompously didactic. And I smile as I skip to yet another impossible assignment...  
  • Practical stuff. It's all here and this course is evidence that you can be a heavyweight but still be entertaining. It just happens to go straight to the heart of the matter, instant actionable advice served up in nice, bite-sized portions that fill you up with satisfaction without overstuffing you. 
Visiting a market in Istanbul - part of being a travel writerLife as a travel writer. It's rough, but someone has to do it...

Of course it's not perfect. (What is?)

I actually wish it was longer. I enjoyed it so much I didn't really want it to end. So yes, longer lessons, more weeks, whatever you want, Mike. I'll have more.

Another imperfection is that it forced me to think about things differently. Our internet-based world has made things so easy, so digestible that actually having to stop and ask myself questions about how to do or observe a particular thing was quite challenging.

And so was having to do the actual work. When I took the course, way back, there was no Facebook group so now, the pressure is probably even stronger, what with all those other students watching! The flip side is, of course, encouragement and community.

Absolutely worth every penny, for the course itself, and for access to Mike's innovative thought patterns. Trust me - your stories won't sound like every other story, and THAT'S what editors are looking for.

Click here to find out more about this storytelling course. 

write like a honey badger

Write Like a Honey Badger is the other course I recommend (and yes, this is its actual name). Actually, it's not a course but a series of online workshops and master classes that are designed to take your food, travel and lifestyle writing to the next level.

It was founded by Amanda Castleman, a long-time freelance travel writer who is an amazing editor. I know this personally because I've taken three of the courses she led before launching Write Like a Honey Badger. At times, her simple line-by-line improvements have helped shoot my own prose right off the page.

What I also like is that this female-owned school is dedicated to increasing diversity in the media and offers a needs-based scholarship each term to POC, LGBTQIA and non-binary authors. Remember, over 70% of national bylines are still male. Write Like a Honey Badger wants to change that by empowering more voices to report with the verve of the world’s most ferocious animal!

WLHB (can't really spell its full name each time, right?) runs online workshops that vary, so I can't give you all the detail (just go browse through their site). I haven't taken Amanda's Travel Writing Master Class but based on my own experience with her, it must be terrific.

This is not a course for beginners, but for writers who really want to hone their prose in a way that makes editors salivate - in other words, for writers who want to see their bylines in top outlets.

WLHB also offers courses in pitching for those of you who are serious about becoming freelancers and making a living from your words (and a food writing course I plan to take when I have a moment). WLHB has a strong emphasis on thriving as a freelancer in a fast-evolving media landscape. All its instructors work full-time in the genre they teach and offer direct, detailed weekly feedback to each student, so they're walking the walk.

Click here to find out more about WLHB. 

In a nutshell...

Mike's course teaches you the art of storytelling, which will keep your readers glued to the page.

Amanda's workshops will fine-tune your writing until it jumps off the page.

Different approaches, both important.

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