Book Review: “Travel Writing 2.0” by Tim Leffel

Timleffelbookcover_03By Erin Dalpini 

What’s the ultimate freelance assignment? You know, the one all writers dream of?

Probably getting paid to vacation—and then write about it.

But travel-writing veteran Tim Leffel says that getting there is anything but a holiday. In his aptly titled Travel Writing 2.0, Leffel takes readers on a journey through the hard realities of what it takes to be a successful travel writer in today’s competitive new media landscape. With some exceptions, it’s not much different than what it takes to be a successful, non-traveling freelance writer.

Importantly, Leffel wants readers to know that travel writing is not for the faint of heart. (Then again, neither is freelance writing.)

The difference, quite naturally, is the challenge of destination: in his opening anecdote, Leffel describes how he once worked his tail off in Mexico—collecting facts on local eateries and hotels, interviewing locals, writing, checking out attractions, stopping for tacos, sight-seeing, writing again, then collapsing in his hotel room—for eight days straight, all for assignments that yielded approximately $1,200 after expenses. No wonder the guy went through an entire bottle of tequila.

Still think travel writing is a “permanent vacation”? “It’s more like ‘permanently working my butt off while everyone around me is on vacation,’” explains Leffel in his book. Sure, the job is often a lot of fun. . . . But its unfair to tout the positives without detailing the corresponding trade-offsespecially the financial ones.”

What are the financial trade offs? Travel is costly and, especially for those starting out, travel writing gigs aren’t exactly paying top dollar. Leffel’s earnest advice is to ease into the trade with another steady source of income. According to the author and the travel writers whom he interviewed, most writers can’t live on travel writing paychecks alone. Consulting, speaking engagements, other writing and editing assignments, tour guide work—the list goes on—are just a few lines of supplemental income suggested in the book. But that doesn’t mean travel writing can’t turn a profit. Tim Leffel, after all, is pretty much a travel writing rockstar, though he too wears a variety of hats (writer, editor, publisher, blogger).

Throughout this guide, Leffel and his colleagues return time and again to the same mantra: hard work is the key to success. Most freelancers who make good money put together a lot of assignments on a regular basis and have regular columns or blog appearances on top,” he says. But you already knew that, right?

Travel Writing 2.0 is most useful for the seasoned freelancer in its breakdown of potential travel writing markets and advice from other writers onto how to break into the world of travel writing.

“Yes, the money question! How do I break in to travel writing?” you might be thinking.

Find your niche. Leffel suggests becoming an expert on an area or field (e.g. budget travel, gear, region). Report on what interests you, but look for the fresh angle. The clearer your focus, the better your results. “Writers with a clear focus don’t have to try very hard to get assignments or to get quoted as an expert,” he says. There’s a lot of good advice in these pages on how to find holes in the market, pitch stories that are unique, and ways to market your work. Leffel especially thinks budding travel writers should . . .

Start a blog. What, you already have one? Okay, but Leffel has several. As he explains in his book, a specialized travel-writing blog can be the perfect gateway to receiving more travel writing projects. He’s included a pretty comprehensive section on what it takes to make it as a travel blogger in this book. Certainly, there’s already a lot of travel blogs and websites out there, but Leffel says there’s still many holes in the travel-writing field that need to be filled. (With your voice!) The best part of starting a blog is that you run the show, it’s free to start, and it can be a decent source of earnings if you become successful.

Even if you aren’t crazy about the idea of starting your own blog, you’re going to have to start somewhere, and certainly it pays off to be original. Leffel interviewed Lonely Planet publisher Brice Gosnell, who listed key attributes in the travel writers with whom they worked:

“Everyone wants to write about Paris. We need someone who wants to write about Kazakhstan or Suriname. . . . Knowing another language is a great advantage. Having a special expertise in something gives you a definite advantage too—say a degree in art history.”

There’s a lot of great advice in Leffel’s latest book, both from him and the seasoned travel writers he interviewed. But there are also lots of things in it that you probably already know if freelance writing is your bread and butter. The best takeaway I gathered from this book was Leffel’s emphasis on how the Internet is shaping the travel writing marketplace, and his advice on how best to best navigate it.

To sum up, Leffel wants folks to know that “Travel writing is not something to go into because of the potential earnings.” The payoff, from what I can gather, is in the journey.  

To learn more about Tim Leffel, editor, author and freelance travel writer, visit his personal website:

Purchase “Travel Writing 2.0” here–you’ve got choices–paperback or e-book.

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