For those of us with an unquenchable thirst for adventure, culture and history, few careers seem as lucrative and exotic as being a professional travel writer.
Exploring the world and getting paid to document the amazing (and sometimes not so amazing) experiences along the way almost seems too good to be true. It’s a dream job for thousands, and for good reason. But is the dream really possible?
From an outsider’s perspective it is may appear unattainable. It’s the kind of job only reserved for hardcore adventurers and credible journalists, and without an abundance of luck it will always remain out of reach for the everyday, curious author.
I am proof that this dream lifestyle is achievable.
In 2014 I sat down in Northern Thailand and wrote a story for the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship. A friend had sent me the link to the competition, and I had the page bookmarked on my laptop for weeks, but never got around to submitting anything. “I’m not good enough to enter that,” I kept saying to myself.
Finally after much encouragement from Alesha, I tapped out 2500 characters a few hours before the deadline and sent it in.
My story was about Latoya, our 1984 Chevy van in Canada, and I was nervous as hell to be putting my creative expression out into the world to be judged. But I figured I had nothing to lose.
With the piece completed I promptly forgot about it, and Alesha and I continued on with our travels.
Weeks later I got an email saying I had been chosen as one of the 3 winners. In an instant my life had changed forever.
Later in the year I flew off to Germany, where I met Amanda and Rachel, the other two winners of the scholarship. Our mentor was the fantastic Alex Leviton, the Lonely Planet guidebook author and series editor for The Guardian.
Over the next three days Alex imparted her wisdom and knowledge from over 20 years being a successful travel writer. She taught us the importance of finding (and nurturing) our unique voices, how to pitch, the realities of the job and what’s required to turn this dream into a career.
Afterwards we went out separate ways, and I spent 10 days wandering Europe on the hunt for unique story angles to showcase to the world. That trip was my introduction to becoming a professional travel writer.
I refused to take the opportunity for granted. Flying back to Southeast Asia I took everything I had learnt and set about on life’s new, exciting path.
It’s been almost 3 years since that email landed in my inbox, and to see where the path has led still leaves me in disbelief.
Only months after returning from Europe I started to sell my travel stories. First on a small scale, earning as little as $40 for an article on publications like Hostelworld, Matador Network and Vietnam Traveller Magazine. It wasn’t much, but it gave me hope that perhaps I could make it as a writer.
Today I am lucky enough to write for some of the world’s largest media outlets, and earn a decent income that pays a lot higher than the first $40 I made.
This isn’t because I am a phenomenal writer (I’m not). It’s because learning from Alex and being awarded the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship gave me the skills, recognition and confidence to break into the industry.
The 2017 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship
I honestly couldn’t be happier to see that World Nomads are still running their amazing scholarship program. To have an opportunity of this magnitude available to anyone around the world is remarkable.
In 2017 the scholarship is on again, and 3 talented winners will be sent on a trip of a lifetime that promises to launch a new career!
If you are chosen you will be sent off to The Balkans and given three days of highly valuable leadership and education from the New York Times travel writer, Tim Neville. He will become your mentor, your teacher and your inspiration as you go on the next part of the journey.
Armed with new skills you’ll then be sent out on a 10-day road trip around The Balkans! You’ll have the freedom to craft your own itinerary to give you the best content imaginable, while having a wonderful travel experience at the same time.
The scholarship doesn’t end when you return home. You’ll then be required to submit your stories to some major publications (organised by World Nomads), which will not only give you a real foot in the door, but also some impressive experience to put on your new resume!
I personally went from having no experience besides our blog and a few articles in a local backpacking magazine to having stories published in 5 major outlets, just 6 weeks after returning.
Where you go from there is up to you. Will you become the next Don George? Are you going to develop a reputation that sees magazines and newspapers reaching out to you for your travel stories? At this point anything is possible.
How To Enter
Here is everything you need to know to enter the 2017 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
1. Write Your Story
This is obviously the most challenging part, but here is where you get your chance to shine!
These are the three themes that your story must draw inspiration from this year.
- ‘Making a local connection’
- ‘Out of my comfort zone’
- ‘A place I’ll never forget’
Pick one that jumps out to you and create your story from there. For example the theme I went with in 2014 was ‘The first time I saw…‘ and I wrote about the first time I saw our camper van in Canada and the adventures that would lead us on.
Write the travel essay in 2500 characters (not words). This will force you to keep the piece concise and detailed, which in itself is a wonderful skill to have.
2. Plan Your Itinerary
Now that the tough part is out of the way, start working out where exactly you would like to go if you are chosen as a winner!
Pick two places you would like to visit in the Balkans (these countries: Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo) and write them down! Maybe you want to find the best things to do in Kotor, or go trekking in the Albanian Alps. Perhaps studying the intense history of Europe’s newest country, Kosovo, fascinates you. Go with whatever your heart desires.
3. Fill Out The Application Form
This is the part where you need to sell yourself, and is actually something you will be judged on in addition to your story.
In 1500 characters or less you need to convince the judges why you should win the 2017 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship. Don’t be shy, because one thing you’ll eventually learn is that marketing is an important asset to have in this industry.
Applications are open now, and they close on March 21st! The winners will be announced on April 12th.
The workshop begins in Montenegro on June 10th, and your 10-day road trip around the Balkans will commence on June 13th. Make sure you are available for these dates if you are selected.
With your application filled out and submitted it’s time to play the waiting game. It can be nerve-racking to sit around to see if you are the winner, but don’t worry about it. Keep writing, find some travel writers you love reading and analyse their style. Be productive and don’t stress.
And most of all, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t win. If there’s one thing this experience has taught me it’s that anyone can break into being a professional travel writer. Obviously winning the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship will fast track your career change, but the dream isn’t over for those that aren’t selected.
No matter what happens keep writing, keep travelling and keep following your dreams. Start a travel blog to create a portfolio, or reach out to some publications you admire and respect and ask to contribute (we accept guest posts for example).
Best of luck with the competition, and be inspired to chase that new path!
Disclaimer: This post was produced in collaboration with World Nomads. However all experiences of personally winning the scholarship myself are accurate, and this is an opportunity that we strongly believe in.