A good travel writing workshop has the ability to transform your travel writing and take it to the next level. For many aspiring travel writers, it could make the difference between breaking into this competitive arena and reaping the travel rewards, or dropping out.
As instructor and host of The Complete Travel Writing & Marketing Master Class, I’m always looking at other travel writing workshops and how they compare to mine. It’s interesting to see their curricula, the instructors and their qualifications, and the workshop price.
There are at least two dozen travel writing courses sprinkled around the globe. Many of these travel writing workshops are excellent, full of useful, actionable content. But some are flimsy - high on hype and light on practical information.
Before you spend your hard-earned money on a travel writing course, here are some things to consider:
This seems obvious, but there are writing workshops and then there are travel writing workshops. Many writers’ workshops are aimed at aspiring authors who want to write a novel. That’s not the same as freelance travel writing.
The goal of a travel writing workshop should be to teach you how to write good travel articles and get your travel articles published in print magazines. Look for these criteria in the agenda for the course before you sign up.
Finding the right travel writing workshop for you requires knowing your skill level, and then doing research to see which course best meets these needs.
Here’s an example of sales copy about a workshop that clearly defines its participants, in this case, beginners. “This travel writing workshop is aimed at beginners without professional writing experience, as well as journalists and writers who wish to enter travel writing.”
That’s good honest advertising! And it tells an intermediate or advanced travel writer that it’s not for them.
Recently one of my coaching clients attended a destination travel writing course. She was disappointed because the course content was aimed at complete novices. Since she was not a complete novice, had already attended another travel writing workshop, had a couple articles published, and knew the basics, the course wasn’t a good fit.
Knowing what skill level the course is aimed at is important. Some people need help with basic writing and grammar skills. Others need to work on their creative writing, or want to take their writing up a notch. Many need help with selling and marketing.
Think about the skills you already possess and what you need to advance to the next level. Then look for a course that addresses your needs.
Does your instructor have bylines in a variety of reputable print publications? Look online at your instructor’s writer’s website. Where has the instructor been published. Does it show a variety of bylines? Having a solid list of bylines is a good indication the instructor has the right background to deliver good content.
The litmus test for travel writing professionals is having print media bylines. Print media requires two rigorous screening filters. First, you must convince an editor that your story idea is suitable for their magazine. Second, you must write well enough for the editor to publish it. These are stringent standards! It’s why print media editors are willing to pay for your stories.
Instructors primarily published on travel websites probably aren’t experienced travel writers. Be wary of this. Chances are the writer hasn’t tried print media or can’t hack it.
Why is this a red flag? Getting published on travel websites is easy. Anyone can submit their article to a travel website and it’s posted the next day, without editing or feedback. There is no quality control on most websites. This is one of the reasons why travel website editors do not pay for your articles. Writing standards for travel websites are considerably less stringent than for print.
Also, be wary of instructors with only a newspaper background. Newspapers tend to have a conservative and outdated approach to freelance travel writing that’s likely to hamper your efforts to get your travel stories published.
Look for seasoned professional journalists. They will have bylines in a wide variety of print outlets.
This is the most obvious measure of success of a travel writing workshop. Do past participants have print magazine bylines? Read the names of the magazine titles of their published works. Look up a few of the participant writer’s websites.
When reading testimonials, look for specific ways the participants have benefited from the class. Be very skeptical of a workshop if previous participants say vague things like they “learned a lot” or have only been published online. Instead look for tangible, credible feedback.
The smaller the workshop, the more likely you’ll receive personalized attention and specific feedback during the course. Smaller classes permit more individual interaction between instructor and student, and more time for questions and answers.
If you’re in a class with more than 50 participants, you’ll just be one of the herd. That’s fine if you want to be invisible. But don’t expect any individual attention – you won’t get it.
Look for workshops where the instructors care enough about their students to offer some sort of follow up support. Realize that if you attend the “one-and-done” workshops, you’re on your own after it’s over. If you have a question you’ll need to look elsewhere.
If a workshop is good, you should walk out with enough information to know what to do next and how to do it. You also should leave with enough resources to help you if you have a question. You shouldn’t need to take a whole bunch more classes or join special groups just to figure out how to get started.
Be wary of workshops that funnel you into other “add-on” programs like photography classes, blogging workshops, or special memberships. Pay attention when someone tries to divert you from your travel writing path into a different program. Do you want to change paths? Is it right for you?
You need to know how to sell your ideas if you want to write travel stories. Selling and marketing skills are just as important as good writing skills. Look for a course that teaches marketing in a thorough and practical way.
If you can’t sell your travel stories, you don’t get to write them. This is the most neglected part of the curriculum in most travel writing workshops, and my biggest criticism of most courses. You won’t become a travel writer if you can’t sell your stories. Find a course that will help you learn to sell your work.
Besides the things already mentioned, don’t be swayed by slick marketing hype on travel workshop course descriptions. Read it, of course, but look at the criteria mentioned above to make the best decision.
Here are some of the most common red flag statements to watch for when you’re reading sales copy and why you should be wary:
Any advertising that promises quick success in freelance travel writing is false. There’s no such thing as quick success in travel writing. It takes most professional travel writers years to get established, earn a consistent income, and score those exotic press trips.
Freelance travel writing is not easy. Every professional travel writer will tell you he or she worked long and hard to get where they are. There are no easy techniques for landing no-cost trips. You need verified assignments with reputable travel magazines and/or websites. If it was easy, everyone would be a successful travel writer!
You need to be a capable writer to sell your travel stories to an editor, and you need excellent writing skills for the editor to publish your travel stories. Editors don’t accept poorly written articles.
Few writers travel the world free these days unless they’re full-time employees of travel magazines. Yes, you can get press trips with the right assignments but not all assignments are equal. And it’s easy to get published on websites - but there’s little or no money in this. These claims are exaggerated – don’t fall for them.
Guess what? Travel writing is hard work like everything else. When you get those perks you know you’ve worked hard to deserve them.
Publications do not normally cover travel expenses unless your are their employee. As a freelance writer, you are not an employee. Expenses might have been covered 20 or 30 years ago, but they sure as heck don’t these days. I’ve written for 200+ magazines and none have offered to cover any of my travel expenses. Not one! And I haven’t met any other freelance writers who’ve had expenses covered by a magazine.
You’ll do yourself a big favor if you do your research and make comparisons between courses before plunking down your cash. Use our quality checklist above as a starting point. Add your specific needs to the list. And then decide which course best satisfies your needs and passes the quality test.
Even when you get an answer, use a healthy dash of common sense and intuition to make your final choice. It will likely result in the best travel writing workshop that’s right for you.
Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past ten years, he’s had more than 1000 articles published in 200 magazines, trade and specialty journals, in-flights, on-boards, blogs and websites and has traveled on assignment around the U.S. and to dozens of international destinations.