I always enjoy telling people that I'm a travel journalist. Their eyes usually light up and they'll always have something to say – typically one of three things…
“Oh lucky you! How did you manage to land that job?”
“How glamorous. You must have so many stories to tell…I've always wanted to be a travel journalist myself…”
“So you must just travel around, staying in posh hotels and doing reviews?”
And in fact – all three of these couldn’t be further from the truth. But that's a story for another time.
As I frequently get asked how I got into travel writing, I thought I'd give a run through of how I became a travel journalist.
To do that, we have to go right back to the beginning….
It's 1983 and I was eight years old. As you know, back then we didn't have mobile phones and iPads to play on – life was simple and my brother and I would make our own entertainment.
We'd play out a lot with other kids in the street or in the woods, and I remember enjoying making things or building things out of wood, which has translated into me enjoying upcycling.
But something that I enjoyed doing more than anything else when I was little was writing a weekly family newspaper. I'd write little stories about what had happened to me that week. And I'd often write about how my brother was mean to me.
I'd then staple it all together and present it to my family at the weekend. And that was the earliest memories I have of enjoying writing.
From tiny acorns…
The trouble was, I was a late starter at school. I struggled academically up until my early teens and I didn't seem to grasp concepts easily, but it wasn't through a want of trying.
I don't remember much from my childhood, but I'll never forget being kept down another year at Junior School because I didn't pass the school exam.
That first day back at school in September crushed me. I watched as all my friends were filed into the school hall in their new uniforms, while I had to do the walk of shame back towards the Junior school as they looked on.
Things like that stay with you; I felt like a complete failure – and it didn't do anything to boost my confidence. And even now, as I write this (and as the editor of a national travel magazine), I still suffer from imposter syndrome.
To mighty oaks…
But it might have been a blessing in disguise being kept down a year. I went from being one of the youngest in the class to one of the oldest and my confidence soared.
At secondary school I was the first person in the year to become a teenager and at college I was the envy of all my friends when I passed my driving test first time and got myself an old banger.
And still I wrote. I'd moved on from the family newspapers to pages and pages of diaries. The problem with this is that I'd have to keep them hidden from my brother, who would go on the hunt for them and then delight in reading out their contents, much to the amusement of my parents.
Fast forward to university and I decided to start my own Halls Of Residence magazine. I called it Inmate, which I thought was quite apt given that some of the windows in the building had bars on them.
I'd interview anyone and everyone who agreed – from fellow students on their ambitions and hopes, to the middle-aged lady from Bromley-By-Bow, Jean, who cleaned the building. She was such a character!
As my magazine grew in popularity, another student asked to be involved, offering to write about politics. I was pleased as I'd never been big into politics, but it meant the magazine had a bit of variety.
Just six months into the launch of my magazine, I was contacted by the Student Union (who had been helping me out with the printing), who told me that a publishing company had been in touch with them.
They'd seen my magazine, liked what they saw and had admired my initiative in getting it off the ground. They asked me if I wanted to do some work with them.
My first insight
Of course I jumped at the chance to work with them while I was studying for my degree – and they even paid me which was a bonus. The first article I ever wrote was about student debt and how to make a student budget stretch further. I absolutely loved it!
But it never really crossed my mind to try and get into journalism at that stage, especially as I wasn't doing my degree in journalism, but rather Human Geography.
And as I progressed through my course, it became more apparent that I really wanted to travel. I was learning about the world, its people and their cultures and I loved it. But what I really wanted was to see it with my own eyes.
Not long after graduating I landed my first ever proper job – a contracts administrator for Sunworld, which, back then was one of the tour operating arms of Thomas Cook.
I only worked for the company for 12 months but during that time I managed to save a grand total of £5,000 (not bad when I was on a £12K salary), but it helped living with my parents.
And it was this money that supported me as I disappeared for 15 months with my then boyfriend to discover the world and the-trendy thing of ‘finding myself'.
The wrong path
And it was while I was away that I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I was so passionate about it (I don't do things by halves), that I started studying while I was travelling, reading up on everything to do with the profession.
On my return to the UK I applied to become a classroom assistant to kick-start my career and give myself some much needed experience.
I only had to spend a few months at a junior school to realise that I had made a huge mistake and that I really wasn't cut out for teaching.
Naively, I thought that junior school kids would be all sweet natured and willing to learn. Turns out some of them were little shits, and I was both surprised and disgusted at the lack of respect some of these kids had for their teachers.
God help VIP in his role as a secondary school teacher. I really don't know how he does it; all I know is that he's a much better person than me for that.
Back on track
So it was back to the drawing board – and my love of writing seemed like the obvious choice to make. I spent about six months applying to consumer magazines that I enjoyed reading back then – and received six months of rejection letters.
With time not on my side (I was looking to create a new life with my fiancé at the time), I decided to settle for second best – just to make some quick money to help save towards a deposit for a house.
So I applied for journalist roles for every trade magazine going. I hadn't had any luck with the consumer mags, so I thought it might prove easier with trade magazines.
Turns out I was right. Within a month I had landed my first job as a real travel journalist. I was so excited at the time and I put absolutely everything into that job.
But I wasn't working for some big flashy magazine publishers in the city. This was a one-man band effort, working in a local town on three trade magazines that went out bi-annually. I had landed the job of editorial assistant on titles in the export, fire and security industries.
I had absolutely NO interest in any of the subjects I was writing about, but I've always had a very strong work ethic and despite my lack of passion for the subjects, I worked hard, got my head down and turned out some creative copy for the magazines.
One month I was interviewing HEMS (the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) for the Fire Guide magazine and the next I was researching the future of biometrics for the security issues.
A steely determination
My determination and commitment paid off. Within eight months of joining I was made assistant editor and within another year, I was editor of all three magazines.
And then I started to get itchy feet. If I could be this successful in two years for magazine subjects that I had no interest in, imagine what I could do if I knew my subject matter inside out – and yearned to learn more.
But it wasn't women's interest magazines that I pined for. I missed travelling; in fact I don't think I ever really got over the travel blues when I came back from my epic trip.
And then the penny dropped and it all made complete sense. The most logical step for me would be to work for a travel magazine. I loved writing and I adored travelling; it would offer me the perfect mix I was looking for.
And so I started applying for in-house travel writer positions. It took a while to secure that all important interview (with a travel trade publication), so I knew I had to pull out all the stops to secure the job.
Make 'em laugh
It wasn't my intention to make my interviewers laugh in my interview. It was nice that I did so – as I knew that I'd be memorable – but I was deadly serious when the publisher and the editor asked me where I saw myself in five years.
I turned to the editor and said these exact words: “No disrespect of course, but I want to be sitting in your chair”. I learned later that that one remark alone got me the job above everyone else.
I was ballsy, ambitious and passionate – and that's what they were looking for. I loved my job; without any responsibilities (or a family) it presented me with great opportunities to travel.
But eight years later (and with just two measly pay rises during that time), I had still not made the editor's role – the guy just wouldn't retire, so I decided to try something new.
I left my job to start a company – first as a franchisee of an online magazine (but I was crap at selling) and then later as an events facilitator, with VIP joining me as a joint adventure.
By this time we had two kids and life was crazy busy. They were both under five, not yet at school and we'd get about four hours a day to work on the business.
But we absolutely loved it. We met loads of people and helped them make their jobs as shop owners or sole traders much more profitable by introducing them to the right people. We felt like local stars and everyone in the community knew us.
And then one day I received a telephone call; it was from my old publisher. The editor was retiring and she wanted me to take over, She wasn't even interviewing – she wanted to offer me first refusal.
VIP and I talked – and talked, and talked. Eventually we decided that I would leave our business to earn a full time wage so that we could give the kids a better quality of life.
They were both sharing a room and our eldest, Luis, would often wake his sister in the night by banging his boots and bar on the side of his cot (Luis was born with clubfoot – which you can read about here).
We wanted to give them a bigger garden and their own bedroom – and to make that happen I'd have to take the job.
But I didn't resent taking it of course – I was going back to something that I loved in the first place. And it's here I've been – nine years and counting – ever since.
Jobs in travel
So as you see – my journey on how I became a travel journalist wasn't without its challenges or ups and downs. But whether or not you're looking to become a travel journalist, there are plenty of jobs in travel that you can look at doing.
It's funny because I always say that the travel industry is infectious – and once you're in it, you're in it for life. And even if you end up leaving, you'll always end up coming back. That's certainly very true for me anyway. From my very first job as a contracts administrator to a travel journalist.
But there are plenty of jobs out there in travel. If you're interested in the writing side of the business, then I'd urge you to get as much experience as possible.
Pretty much all tour operators have holiday brochures – why not look to apply for jobs in their brochure department? You can get experience writing and subbing copy, which will get you a foot in the door when it comes to journalism.
One job I've always admired in the industry are what we refer to as ‘homeworkers' – and it appears to be quite a lucrative career for a lot of people. Homeworkers are people who make a living out of selling holidays – but they get to do it in their own home.
I like the fact that you get to be your own boss, set your own hours and get help with things like marketing, training etc, plus there are loads of different companies out there which offer homeworking, such as Explorer Travel.
Plus travel agents have the added benefit of going on ‘fam trips' (familiarisation trips) courtesy of tour operators, tourist offices, airlines and hoteliers.
Finally, there's the glitz and glamour of jobs such as cabin crew and passenger service agents (who escort celebrities and famous people in airports). But remember to do your research; speaking as someone who knows all the ins and outs of working in a so-called ‘glamourous' job, there'll always be pitfalls.
You've just got to weigh up if the pros outstrip the cons.
If you have any questions or need more advice about working in the travel industry, leave your comments below and I'll do my best in answering them!
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