I stayed at lavish haciendas, ate the freshest foods in Ecuador, got to know the smiling, helpful locals. I went to a Shaman healing ceremony, rode horses in the Andes and learned to weave. And then I sat sipping fresh mango juice, relaxing by the pool. It’s hard to believe it costs me nothing to travel like this.
Okay, so I had to take notes and photos along the way and spend a few evenings writing up my impressions while they were fresh in my mind. Back home, I would put them into proper sentences and then three different editors would pay me for them.
I used to think it was too good to be true. But it’s the life I lead today. I’ve always loved travel and photography. And as a retired teacher, I figured I could put a sentence together—though I’d hardly say I have great literary flair. So a few years back, I attended the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Buenos Aires to see if I couldn’t gather the secrets to getting stories into print and cashing in on some of the perks I knew could come with this line of work.
One morning after breakfast, I asked IL’s roving European editor, Steenie Harvey (who was speaking at the event) about ideas for the workshop’s writing assignment. After I told her how I’d rented an apartment to stay in for a week before the event, she suggested an article about living like a local.
I wrote it. And Escape Artist published it within a few weeks of my return home. I was hooked. I had the first clip for my travel writing and photography portfolio.
Now, five-years later, my portfolio is filled with travel articles and photographs from Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina, Alaska, Maine, Oregon and Washington. And many of those articles came out of trips I enjoyed for next-to-nothing or even free.
My first “official” writing assignment included seven days in a remote Chilean eco-lodge. The trip itself was at no charge, compliments of the lodge, which invited me in hopes they’d get some “press” out of the deal.
On another occasion, I saw in my local paper, the Oregonian, an article about a “Meet Ecuador” seminar in Seattle. Although it catered to travel agents and PR people, I called immediately. The result was an invitation to the seminar. As it turned out, I was the only travel writer in attendance. I returned to Portland with a handful of invitations for a Galapagos cruise, Amazon lodge, hacienda and hotel stays, a tour and business cards.
In addition, Ecuador’s tourism director invited me to attend the annual “Travel Mart” held in various South American cities. That year it was being held in Quito, Ecuador. I was designated a member of the international press and spent four-days exploring historic Quito and joining in traditional festivities.
Earlier this year, I discovered an editor who was looking for writers to review luxury hotels in Central and South America. I sent him a note saying I’d be interested in helping out. The “letter of introduction” he wrote for me opened doors to hotels, inns and haciendas all over Latin America, where I was invited to stay at no charge.
And there’s more. In September 2009, my husband and I went on an extraordinary adventure, a seven-day, all-inclusive small-ship cruise to Alaska. We saw whales surface, went kayaking around glaciers and hiking in the wilderness. Not long after that, I was off again, spending two weeks in the historic inns of Maine and New Hampshire, visiting lighthouses and art museums, indulging in gourmet meals…and, yes, writing up several articles for publication.
It was while exploring the Schist villages of central Portugal earlier this year that I realized just how much my life has changed. I’d retired from teaching and wasn’t sure how I’d keep myself busy. But now here I am getting paid to travel, take pictures along the way, and write about what I recommend other people do and see. It’s hard to believe it’s even a real job! But I’m living proof: It is.
How You Can Get Started
The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop launched Sandra’s career. You can follow in her footsteps this month in Santa Monica, CA.
How I Land Complimentary Travel
How did this happen? The Ultimate Travel Writers Workshop was the foundation. After that I began writing for my local newspaper, International Living postcards and TouristTravel.com. Through the years, I’ve attended seminars and taken the occasional class.
But most of my trips grew out of networking and online press-trip announcements on sites such as MediaKitty.com, Travelwriters.com, TheTravelwriters.com and Writersmarketplace.com. I contact travel tour companies and CVBs (Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus) for assistance with articles and that can sometimes lead to travel invitations.
The trick is to have a “track record” of a few articles published—so you have proof that you really do write things and you do get them published. But once you have that, you’re on your way.