Personal Branding for Travel Writers

by Nathan James Thomas

How to build a personal travel-writing brand that will help you get your work published, your stories read, and your career on track

You’ve probably been told that if you want to make it as a travel writer, you need a “personal brand.” Having this “brand” will make it more likely that editors will recognize your name in their crowded inboxes and give your story more attention. It will mean that, instead of constantly chasing after commissions and sending out cold emails, travel writing commissions will come to you. Soon, you’ll be turning down opportunities, carefully selecting the adventures and stories that are most exciting (and financially rewarding).

That all sounds amazing, but how do you “create” this coveted brand? After all, jobs at legacy media organizations are few and closely guarded. Even independent publications like Intrepid Times are drenched in submissions, meaning that getting published and building an audience can seem like a daunting process. 

What came first, the chicken or the brand?

Travel writers are told that without this co-called brand they are unlikely to get serious publishers returning their emails. They are also told that in order to build this brand, you need to start getting published. This is like first being told that in order to climb a mountain, you need hiking boots, only to then be told that the only hiking boots in your size are waiting for you at the top of the mountain! So, what do you do?

At Intrepid Times, we’re a little unusual in that we don’t take the brand of a travel writer into account when considering submissions. We assess stories entirely on their merits, and as such, when you scroll through our publications, you will find NYTimes bestselling authors brushing up against writers getting their first ever story published. This method works for us, and many of those we “discovered” end up going on to achieve major careers as travel writers. But the rest of the world, of course, doesn’t always work like this. And even if it did, you can’t build a career as a writer on hope alone. You need certainty that you’re going to get the commissions you need to survive. And the best way to do that is by building a personal brand.

What is a travel writer’s personal brand?

Your personal brand as a travel writer is a promise to an editor. When they see your name, the editor should know, thanks to your brand, that you:

  • Have a track record of delivering stories on-time (i.e. you won’t mess with their editorial calendar)
  • Have proven expertise in the field of travel that you are planning to write about (i.e. you won’t bullshit them)
  • Have an audience in place of people who like and follow your work (i.e. the story they pay you for will have a ready-made audience in place)

But how do you build this personal brand, really?

For many new writers, this seems like an unsolvable chicken and egg riddle: You build a brand by writing consistently for reputable publications, and using the attention these pieces get to build a social media presence. You get these gigs for reputable publications on the strength of your personal brand. So… if you are currently sitting there at the start of your writing career without an industry reputation, where do you start?

Places like Intrepid Times can help. But we publish only one story a week. You’re going to need to take other actions that can help accelerate the process while significantly enhancing your publishability even if you’re early in your career. Here are some things that can help:

Write a lot, and write often

While great writers, musicians, and artists may be remembered for one or two iconic works, nearly every creative successful person (with some exceptions) was incredibly prolific. They produce, produce, and produce. And the good thing about writing is that, unlike designing buildings or hewing marble into sculpture, you don’t need a patron or budget to begin. Just start writing. Publish on Medium or LinkedIn or WordPress or your personal website.

Share strategically to build relationships with writers and editors

No one likes a spammer, but if you’re sharing genuinely helpful content, you’re not doing anyone any harm. Get on Twitter (perhaps bad for your mental health, but good for making connections with editors and writers) and consider starting a Facebook fan page. Both are free. And then, share consistently and often. 

Share your own writing, and also the writing of others in your space who you admire. Don’t bother with the Huge Names with 10 million followers. Instead, interact with the content and share writers just a few steps further along in the game as you. Folks with a few thousand followers will generally notice if their content is shared and may reciprocate. Interact this way with the publications you admire, and they may start to recognize your name. And so, when you start pitching to them, you won’t be just another stranger in the inbox.

Define a (more specific) travel niche

While many travel writers are generalists, a lot of writers who make names for themselves quickly are specialists. You may specialize either in a region or a style of travel. Many good niches are a combination of both. You could be the next dog friendly travel expert in Britain or Georgia food travel expert. Notice how both combine a regional specialization with a particular travel focus or style. Georgia is a reasonably underknown country for Western travelers, while the theme of food is, of course, very popular. Britain is a fairly popular travel destination, while dog-friendly trips (one imagines aimed mostly at the domestic traveler) is a little more niche. Both examples mentioned embody their niches, with genuine expertise and passion for those places and travel styles. Ask yourself how you could define your own niche as a travel writer:

  • Do you travel in a particular way that is notable or exceptional, for example with children, with a specific pet (cat friendly travel? Who knows, it may just be the next big thing…)?
  • Do you have a particular passion or field of expertise that could be applied to travel? Anthony Bourdain is the classic example of a chef bringing his culinary knowledge to bear on his travels and using food as a way to get to know a place better. Maybe you’re a literary fanatic and can write about the literary history of a place. Or the architecture. This doesn’t need to be something grand or high level. You could be the Parcheesi travel expert if that suits your fancy!
  • What places have drawn you in that you feel may be overlooked in most travel writing, but have potential? Thailand is probably over done… That said, the way the tourist industry is emerging from the pandemic may reveal something that others aren’t yet covering. You probably already know if there’s a particular place or region that pulls you back in time and time again. Survey the landscape and connect using the social media strategies above, with the established writers in those places. And ask yourself, is there something you could bring to the table?

The more specific the better, provided there are actually people out there who are interested in this. The United States travel expert? Too broad. The Southwest Brooklyn vegan burrito travel expert? Too specific. Find something in between that is consistent with your interests. Soon, you may find yourself the go-to person in that space.

The secret: Consistent action over time

You may get your “niche” wrong at first and refine over the years based on the kinds of articles and pitches that get results for you. Your stories may be read only by friends and family for the first few months (or even years) after you start writing them. The only guaranteed solution is consistent effort over time. Observe closely what works and what doesn’t. Adapt your approach. Be willing to follow unusual avenues if they seem to deliver results. And keep going!

Cover photo credit

For more guidance on how to build your personal brand and make your name as a travel writer, join our Personal Branding for Travel Writers Masterclass 

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