How You Become a Nomadic Writer

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 5th, 2010

a travel writerMany times questions appear in my inbox in bulk as though everyone thinks of them at the same time, whether it is what is my secret or how to stay motivated. Lately, everyone wants to know one thing: “how do they become a travel writer like me?”

In a way it is sort of flattering realizing that people use your life as an example for theirs. I may not have the reach of big names like Bill Gates, Jeffery Sachs, or Oprah, but knowing that even one other person looks up to you is greatly rewarding. I’m just me and when I get emails from people telling me they love my site and that I’m an inspiration makes all this work worthwhile.

But then in another way, I’m confused by it. My life is nothing special. I simply decided that traveling was more fun than working and I didn’t want to give up the backpacker, vagabonding lifestyle I love so much. There was only one thing to do: find a job I could do from anywhere. Since I’m not an artist, can’t take good photos, and I’m not an expert programmer, the easiest thing was to become a travel writer.

And that leads me back to the question everyone seems to be asking lately about becoming a writer like me. Well, the answer is simple: you just take the leap. That’s it. That’s all I did.

People email asking how they can become a travel writer. Where do they begin? Is there a school? What should they do? How can they be like Nomadic Matt? Well, the secret is there is no secret. I just woke up and did it. I built the website. I refined my writing, got some help, and kept at it. I quickly realized I actually had no desire to write guidebooks and instead wanted to run this website. I learned web design, I marketed the site, I kept at it. The only trick to what I do is persistence. This is no field for the lazy.

It also helps I am not the world’s worst writer. But to be a travel writer, you don’t really need to go to school. There’s no travel writing degree out there. If you want to work for a newspaper or write books, it helps to have some formal training. Unless you are as gifted as Bill Bryson, you’ll want to take classes to improve your writing. But the real secret to becoming a travel writer is you just decide to do it.

Will you succeed? I don’t know. You may. You may not. Maybe you’ll be bigger than Bill Bryson or maybe everyone will reject your work. Everyone in the world wants to become a travel writer. I won’t lie to you and say that it’s not a crowded field. Moreover, to become a big travel website, it’s a lot harder these days than it was when I started. But I can tell you that there is also no formal process for this. I didn’t go to school for it, I didn’t get a degree at it, I didn’t join any special club. You will never know unless you try and that’s the real takeaway here. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

If you’re in bed at night going “wow I wish I lived a nomadic life like Matt” here is my parting advice for you: Turn on your computer, start a travel blog, and write, and network with others. Take a writing class. Send out articles. Keep at it. Then one day you can be on the Gili Islands in Indonesia telling people that ask “What do you do back home?” that you’re a travel writer and everywhere is home.

comments 41 Comments

I think it’d be fair to emphasize the hard work part. Are you the type of person to continue cranking out content:
* when you know you don’t have to (i.e. no one is holding you on a deadline except yourself)?
* when you know few people are tuning in, as will be the case initially.

National Geographic doesn’t own 100% of the travel photography market. The day I realized travel photography isn’t a zero-sum game, I knew I can earn money from what I loved to do most (travel and take photos) so I dove in by creating a website (www.dailytravelphotos.com). Certainly this can apply to travel writing, but first and foremost, this will require a lot of sweat and tears before any iota of success results. But ideally it won’t seem like such hard work if it’s something you actually love and want to do.

The end consequence for me: I’ve been traveling non-stop since 2003 and of almost equal importance, the world, not a cubicle, has now become my workplace.

Good luck to all those that take the risk… nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Funny. Matt, on’t get me wrong but I thought of you never as a travel writer, just a travel blogger. Nothing wrong with that, good honest (hard) work it is.

I disagree with Conrad. Matt, you are a travel writer. More people read your stuff than most travel sections in Newspapers. Blogging is legitimate and you are leading the travel pack.

I agree with Dave and Deb. The lines between blogger, travel writer and travel journalist continue to blur as everyone tries out (and becomes successful in) new mediums.

A Travel Writer = One who writes about traveling. Includes bloggers, journalists, and freelancers.

A Travel Blogger = A Travel Writer who has a blog, often a freelancer, rarely a journalist.

A Freelance Travel Writer = One who travels, whenever and where ever they chose, writes about said travels, than searches for ways to publish said writing. They have more freedom, but at a lower pay. Any one can do it, not college degrees required.

A Travel Journalist = A Travel Writer who is employed by a newspaper, magazine, or TV station and gets paid per assignment to travel when and where their employer tells them to. They go where they are told to go, when they are told to go, and write ONLY the assignments assigned to them by their emperor, as they are under contract and will lose their job with the company should they try to sell travel writing to the company’s competitors. They have higher pay, but forfeit freedom to get it. College degrees are generally required, often Masters degrees in English/Journalism are preferred.

emperor? How’d that typo get in there? Should have said “employer” – LOL!

I totally agree with Dave n Deb. Good writing is good writing, regardless of the medium. Travel blogging is different in that it requires a lot more promotion and managing (SEO, traffic, etc), but it still comes down to whether or not you can provide a enjoyable read and keep people coming back. Matt has mastered both sides of that coin.

Good work matt – I can honestly say that when I began reading your website, it was your lifestyle that forced the travel bug to flare up inside me. I’m finally getting closer to making it my own, but like you said, hard work and long hours. Keep up the good work hombre!

What’s the difference between a travel blog with 200 RSS subscribers and one with 20,000? Is it the niche, or could it be the writer? I believe that as we chase our online dreams by digging out niches in the travel genre and concentrating on growing our blogs, we often forget that the fundamental part of the whole endeavour is the writing. Often I feel that in our mad dash to promote ourselves, increase pageviews and network, we forget that blogging as a platform was created primarily to put the writing front and centre. Ad revenue, link sharing, network, etc are merely there to support the writing! Hence, if people were to ask me how they can become a travel writer, I would implore them to concentrate on the most important part before striking out — the writing!

V

It only takes a leap, dedication, and a lot of practice…

Great post Matt. People like the excitement of traveling and seeing the world. It’s sexy. But there is always a lot of worked involved that many fail to understand or plan for. They want the fairy tale without strings.

Great work!
Cheers.

Josh

Matt, as someone who went to journalism school and works as a “professional” journalist, I completely agree with your notion that there is no “formal process,” as you put it, even when considering newspapers and magazines. Many of the best writers I know began with no training— they started at the bottom and simply kept writing. For all the hype differentiating blogging as some kind of New Media, I think one thing will remain constant, as Daniel said above: solid writing is a blogger’s most valuable asset.

@daniel Making a living off of a single travel blog would be pretty difficult and it takes a lot more than just being a great writer.

I’m not sure % of Matt’s income comes from this site, but he has said in the past (and I think also in his ebook) that having more than one site is important. I feel like there’s plenty of space for people to build their own income from the net but I think building a travel blog and focusing on producing great writing is the wrong way to go about it, for most people.

Prime

Great post. this is something that wannabe writers should read.

A lot of people want to become a writer – travel writer, lifestyle writer, fiction writer, whatever! In fact, a lot of people are asking me how I became a journalists. I will give some pointers, but in the end nothing happens, mainly because they never have the discipline to hone their craft. If you want to be a writer, you must have the discipline and persistence to do it day by day. You can start by spending less time chatting with your friends in Facebook or bumming around in Starbucks and actually devote that time writing!

This is true. It is hard work. I have my blog since 2 years now. I did it on my own, nobody knew or could to help me with the tehnical details. This is why, my blog is not exactly what I wish or dream about. Another disadvantage, of course, was that I didn’t right in an international language, but I will start to translate into English. I always afraid to do this, because my English is quite poor. I am studying Journalismus now, first year, so I still don’t know anything big. But I started to study even because I felt, native talent is not enough. Now, I’ve got a homework, to make a personal blog and I have to respect a lot of criteria. But this is good, I eventually know better what I can do on my blog and what I can search for improvement of my blog. The only problem at the moment is, I have no enough time, because I work full time as translator, I still have 2 fully month of school this first year. And the time is flying out. So, it is meaning a lot of work in front of a glass monitor. Or you have the financial power to pay somebody to manage your blog. Even so it would be much work. After you have enough money, you can start to travel …. something is missing here … how to write about traveling if you don’t travel, right? So, you need a lot of power, a lot of patience and for sure the financial background, so that you have a relaxed mind and time for writing at least. I was in Norway, Malta, Tenerife, Bulgary, Austria, Germany, Swiss, Ecuador, Nepal, Tansania, I have a lot of material …. but not enough time and money …. but I keep trying and hopping! Have fun to everybody and I envy those one could do in life what they liked most. Not everybody has the same luck!

Hilarious! LOL @ “You can start by spending less time chatting with your friends in facebook…” That’s a very good point, Prime. There is always some kind of sacrifice and priority arrangement that needs to happen. I like the way Jesus put it in the Bible when people said they wanted to follow Him; He told them to count the cost!
Matt, your post is definitely an encouragement me for to keep trucking on my site. thanks man

Great post. Making the leap is often the hardest part. So many people have become so trained to be afraid to take the first step. Even if you can’t make a living from it like you do, it’s a pretty amazing hobby or side job to have. ;)

I think what might stop people is the discipline needed to be a freelancer/blogger. You can’t depend on a schedule or a regular paycheck and it takes a lot more effort to organize your life. It’s totally worth it, but I’m not quite so sure anyone could do it and be successful.

“Everywhere is home” – nice line. :-)

NomadicMatt

I try! :)

Everybody can travel. But not everyone can write well.
There are a few blogsites that I’ve seen around and followed just because their blogs are amazing.
Worst mistake people make in attempting to travel write is not focusing on the destination but focusing on themselves when they write.
“So, today I did this…and I did that. And then I went to meet my friends at the Louvre and oh, we had so much fun!” is not a good travel blog – that would be a teenage diary.
I purchased the book Lonely Planet Travel Writing by Don George, it helps a lot and when I bought it there were pointers in there that made me realize I was on the right track of Travel Writing. Though at the end of the day, it’s all about how well can you tell a good story? I can talk about the usual suspects: of a nice beach, of a great pub, but the best ones are the unexpected: of how on the beach I went snorkelling for starfish or a pub full of rowdy Englishmen that when they tell stories I might as well be in Africa deciphering the language.

wow, this blog is amazing….I’ve been wanting to become a travel writer, traveling via motorcycle and there are such great tips in here.. Thanks so much.

Busey

pam

I suspect the questions you’re getting aren’t quite asking what they really want to know. Anyone can take off traveling and blog their adventures and you’ve expressed that very well here.

But not anyone can attract advertisers or game the Google monster to earn decent AdSense income. That’s a different skill set from writing. I suspect that’s what people are really asking — how do I get your advertisers, your traffic, your opportunities. Writing well may or may not get you publishing opportunities, the chance to be a “travel writer” whereas focusing on the technical underpinnings, well, that’s the game isn’t it? That’s where the money lies.

I think you’re right, that a lot a desire for something and courage to make the leap is somethings all you need. Granted, not everyone is cut out to be a writer. I’m a formally trained journalist, so I can be a little bit of a snob when people claim to be a writer but don’t have a good grasp of punctuation, grammar, or the concept of using sources. But if you can be successful and make enough money to do what you love, that’s all you need. A lot of people aren’t brave enough to make that jump, and I think people admire you because you did have the balls to do something untraditional.

Mike

I am preparing to travel in the summer of 2011, and I will be location independent. I would use the camara to take pictures of my travels for my website and blog. My niche will be using military Space-A-Travel to get closee to the places i will visit. I will be explaining exactly what to expect at each military terminal and try to interview members of the staff at those facilities. I enjoy your site it has helped me decide my next adventure in my life.

Diana

Mike, that sounds like an interesting niche for your blog

thanks for the post Matt! It is inspiring and you are right. It is more about making the choice to travel rather than constantly dreaming about it..

Great advice Matt.

I couldn’t agree with you more about, “This is no field for the lazy.” It really isn’t. You are constantly writing to stay up to date and out there for the world to see. You have to stay relevant, learn about things like html for your website and how to gain the most out of various social media sites. It is a fun and rewarding field if you can make it, but definitely one that is tiring at times.

See you in June at TBEX.

Cheers,

Andrew

Alana

I’m confused Matt, I found the link to your website on Matadoru.com, where you claim to have taken their online travel writing program. Above though you claim to have had no education. Clarification?

PS. I’m hoping you’ll send a response to my email, and not just post it here.
Thanks.

Alana

I spoke too soon, I just clicked your “got some help” link.
Sorry.
I am considering Matadors writing or photography program.

@ Emily, too true! And hilarious! I’m a formerly trained journalist as well. Before I fell in love with the world I was actually a hard news reporter (eek!).

I’m super stoked for you Matt. You’ve done an amazing job in living the life that you want. I think so many of us out there love you simply because of that. It’s not always easy, or fun, to make the difficult decisions you sometimes have to make to get the life you TRULY want, but once you’ve done it… well… the rest is up to you.

Matt – your writing is great but it’s your marketing, networking, SEO and website skills that really set you apart from the crowd. U do a great job mate, keep it up =)

It must be really nice to be living your dream, Matt. I haven’t read all of your articles, yet, and I’m wondering, what do you miss from home, in the traditional meaning of the word?

I love the part where you say, ‘Everywhere is home.’ I can really relate to that.

I’m sort of a travel writer, more of a hobbiest than a professional at the moment, which is kind of odd considering my career: I have written 30+ books, 200+ short stories, 2,000+ articles, a few plays, a couple of comic books, and I’m almost finished work on my first cookbook. See, I’m a writer by trade. And than there’s the fact I live in a motorhome. I’m more of a traveling writer rather than a travel writer! LOL! Travel writing is something I plan to expand upon. At the moment I’m working on setting up a “How To” blog for RV travel and plan to expand that into a web site.

I agree with the fact that you can’t make a good income writing online, with just one site. I’ve been building websites since 1997, but I didn’t figure out how to build money-making web sites until 2005! One day it occurred to me – they are making money for hosting my sites, why can’t I make the money instead? Today I have over 75 websites, all with a lot of written content, and finally in 2010 I was able to say for the first time that I am making money full time 100% online via my writing. It didn’t happen over night. It took a lot of years and a lot of hard work and a lot of writing.

Mostly I write fiction (sci-fi & horror) and how-tos for self publishers and pet owners. But I also write about lots of “niche” topics too, including travel writing aimed specifically for people who travel in New England in their motorhomes. I think if I had stuck with just one or two topics or only one or two web sites, it’d be hard to earn a good income. You have to be flexible and write about EVERYTHING that interests you, be it travel or cats or cooking or whatever.

Jae

As someone who will soon be taking the plunge, I will say that your blog, among others, has been inspirational. Right now, I am a freelance content writer. It’s not bad. You can make a living, but the money is the least important aspect of my current career. I can do it from anywhere and make a comfortable living. That has opened up a world of opportunities of which I am eager to take advantage. I want to travel and write about what I see, but I know I can always churn out content for others if things get tight.That is a nice insurance policy to have. I hope to be in Thailand in three months. I’m renting out a place in Bangkok to use as my home base. Maybe I will see you on the road.

Oh my entire reason for commenting on your post was to share this quote. It seems oddly appropriate.

“People often miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”

Thomas Alva Edison

Great advice to beginners. Keeping it real and speaking the truth.

So many times people complicate life and make everything into a 5 year endeavour, when most times it is best to just get to it!

I recently started my own website featuring writing, photography, design and travel. I have to say it takes a lot of time but is so worth it. One of my mantras to live by “Do what you are” and sometimes people just need permission to knock! Thanks again!

Kathleen

Hey Matt,

Loved your post and all of it’s truths. I’m starting at the other end: a senior travel writer. I’m presently wrestling with setting up my website, and with traveling. Currently in Lima, Peru for 3 months because my husband’s from Lima. We’re both retired. This is a beginning for me. I’m not afraid of hard work, but hope I have the energy and patience to keep it up.

Happy traveling!

In 2012, do you still recommend joining the matador U program. I am from India and I wanna be a travel writer. The good thing about me is that I am already a professional blogger so I can easily travel to any place with an internet connection. What o you suggest ?

NomadicMatt

It’s a good program as they have connections with many traditional magazines so it can help get freelance work.

Cole

Matt:

Unlike pretty much everyone else here, I don’t write or blog or take pictures for a living or any source of income. I have a blog, but I’ve never thought of using it as a travel blog because I don’t travel much. I usually get up around 4:00 a.m. to go to work – which totally and completely SUCKS – and don’t get home until around 5:00 or 6:00. However, I have ALWAYS wanted to travel. Always. And even though I only have a blog and not many people follow it, I enjoy writing. I’m fresh out of college, so loans are a serious obstacle, but I was wondering if you have any advice…? I would love to travel the world and write about the experiences, meet new people and experience new cultures, and so much more, but before “taking the leap,” I think I might need a little more information/support. You know what they say: “Luck favors the prepared.” Or at least, that’s what Edna tells us in The Incredibles. =) Feel free to contact me by e-mail or leave a comment on this post. Anyone else who wants to put in their two cents, I’d greatly appreciate it!!!

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