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Does Travel Writing Pay?  

The answer used to be "Yes!"
Now, it's more often "No."

Ah, money! Travel writing is looked upon as a dream profession,...but then the car bills or the grocery bills or the mortgage bills come in, and the dream becomes reality.

You may be able to make a decent living as a travel writer but, like any business, you've got to work hard and work smart. It's not particularly easy.

Big-city newspapers tend to pay only $75 to $200 for travel stories, plus $25 to $75 apiece for photos they use; but you can sell your work to more than one newspaper so long as they're not in the same city or region. And so long as they exist at all—newspapers are fast disappearing in the USA.

Regional and local magazines may pay $250 to $800 for a feature story (2000 to 4000 words); national magazines may pay $750 to $3000 for the same feature, plus $50 to $250 and up for good photos; cover photos can bring as much as $2500, but these are done by professionals.

The crème de la crèmeTravel & Leisure, National Geographic, Playboy, etc.— may pay $3000 to $10,000 or even more for the story they want. But the top mags can pick and choose among the world's best writers, and they tend to accept stuff from the writers they know.

Keep in mind that what you get paid is not what you earn. There are always expenses, and if an editor makes you rewrite a story over and over, the pay won't be great for the time spent. I've had $250 magazine fees which were more lucrative than $1000 fees because the $250 magazine accepted the story as submitted, while the $1000 required heavy expenses, and the editor had me rework it for two weeks.


As for guidebooks, it's rare to be offered a royalty contract anymore. In recent years most large publishers have gone to work-for-hire (WFH) contracts.

Detaching compensation from sales in the marketplace often means that authors will be allowed an ever smaller piece of the financial pie. Fees of US$400 to US$800 per week for research and writing, plus some money for expenses, is about average these days. That works out to US$20,000 to US$40,000 per year (assuming a two-week unpaid vacation), and includes no benefits such as health insurance, pension savings, or even an office to work in and a computer to work on. Deducting the cost of these necessities can bring the compensation down to near minimum wage, at least for the large publishers.

Some books

It's good to keep in mind that publishers are not in business to provide comfortable livings for writers. As business people, they may think it best to pay only the lowest that the market will bear for writers' services.

Because many people want to be travel writers, compensation rates can be quite low. If the writer is good at business however, s/he may be able to negotiate effectively with publishers and convince them that quality is worth paying for.

The writer can also supplement her/his income by writing for more lucrative clients, such as corporations, by consulting on writing and publicity projects, by lecturing, and by self-publishing.

(My own solution to the poor pay of guidebook authorship was to move on to the Internet. More...)

All About Contracts

All About Guidebooks



Tom Brosnahan