An entrepreneurial model for travel writers working in an evolving media

NB: This is a guest article by Lara Dunston, a travel writer and one half of the Grantourismo project alongside partner Terence Carter.

I was asked by a Tnooz reader and editor to respond to the post Why do travel advertisers continue to avoid bloggers? by travel blogger Gary Arndt.

That discursive piece looked at the disconnect the author sees between the amount of time people spend using new media versus the amount of money companies spend on print advertising, the opportunities for advertisers to work with travel bloggers, and some recent examples of projects and relationships being forged between travel companies and bloggers.

I was asked to comment because in mid 2009 my writer-photographer husband Terence Carter and I began working directly with UK travel company HomeAway Holiday-Rentals on an innovative project called Grantourismo that exemplifies the new models of collaboration in the travel industry that are possible between travel companies and writers/bloggers.

Arndt’s exhaustive piece is littered with many interesting ideas, so you’ll need to imagine I’m holding a highlighter pen.

Why a travel writer?

It’s helpful to begin with a definition and explanation as to why I’m using the term “travel writer” and not “travel journalist” or “travel blogger”, which Gary uses, when Grantourismo is clearly a travel blog, and when Terence and I have been getting paid by HomeAway Holiday-Rentals to blog for the last 12 months.

A bit about me by way of an explanation: I’ve been writing since I worked for my university newspaper in 1986, I’ve been getting paid to write since 1988, and I’ve worked full-time as a travel writer since 2006, part-time from 2002, and casually/on and off since the 1990s.

I’ve written in many genres and forms, journalism and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, corporate and creative, long and short-form narratives. I wrote film reviews and film scripts, published a teen fiction novel with HarperCollins, and for the government day job that financed for my university education I wrote everything from press releases to research papers. I’ve written and edited content for as many formats as genres: print, film, video, live television, radio, and multimedia.

As a travel writer, I’ve written guidebooks and feature stories for print, created walking tours for the Sony PSP, and presented videos for the web for Lonely Planet TV. Writing and producing content for blogs is simply writing in yet another genre for yet another format.

I could call myself a travel blogger just as easily as I could at various times have called myself a feature writer, scriptwriter, PR writer, novelist, and travel journalist. I prefer to simply call myself a writer.


“Old” and “new” media versus an evolving media

I don’t buy into the old versus new media debate. The media didn’t change from ‘old’ to ‘new’ overnight, in the last five years, or even in the last decade. The media has constantly been evolving since its birth, and my husband and I have witnessed and been part of that ongoing transformation since we both began studying and working in various media, arts and entertainment industries from the late 1980s onwards, including publishing, film, music, PR, the arts, media education, web design, multimedia, and publishing again.

Over the years I’ve ignored arguments between those reluctant to make the shift from film to video, from video to computer, and from tape to data, just as I now try to ignore the writer versus blogger and “old” versus “new” media arguments.

They’re pointless, tiresome, and counter-productive. There will always be some in the media (like any industry) who are slow to change, and there will be others who are continually adapting. As a writer I put myself, and many of the people I’ve worked with over the years, in the latter category.

Earning a living as a writer

“…old media is dying. Ad revenues are drying up, journalists are getting laid off, ad pages are shrinking…,” writes Arndt in the opening to his post. “Most bloggers have to fight tooth and nail to earn a living for themselves…,” he later writes.

It’s taken me two months to get around to responding to Gary’s post because I’ve been so busy working: travelling and blogging for Grantourismo; reconnecting with publishers with whom we were collaborating on books before Grantourismo (projects Terence and I initiated and developed); writing city guides for mobile applications and a website; following up on a place branding project we consulted on; and pitching and writing stories for magazines, newspapers and websites.

We’ve just arrived in Bangkok where we’re working on city guides for two companies, for a mobile application and book, and a website. We’re continuing to develop our own projects, some related to Grantourismo, including projects for print, the iPad, and mobile applications, and we’re discussing future Grantourismo trips with potential travel company partners.

We’re paid industry or above-industry rates for the work we do. We don’t work for free. The glossy magazines still pay the most handsomely, usually $1-2 a word. Ad revenues may well be drying up, but we’re not “fighting tooth and nail to earn a living”, nor do I think other writers should be.

Writer as small business owner versus writer as entrepreneur

Freelance writers are small business owners. They don’t only sit at a computer all day dreaming about far away places and tapping out travel tales, although that’s a big part of their work. They’re multi-taskers and project managers, administering an office, taking care of accounts, scrutinizing contracts, pitching stories, writing and responding to briefs, answering emails, forging new contacts, nurturing old relationships, doing research, planning trips, maintaining websites/blogs, editing photos/video, reading, and of course, writing, on everything from the history and politics to the cuisine and culture of a place.

Travel writers must be, at times, historians and social scientists, food critics and wine experts, self-promoters and trip planners. On a daily basis, writers are dealing with editors, PRs, hotel managers, chefs, sommeliers, curators, business owners, guides, travellers, and more.

When they’re not running businesses from a home office (sitting in their pyjamas all day, it’s true), they’re doing it from a hotel room or holiday rental. My husband and I currently fall into that category, having lived out of our suitcases since January 2006 as we’ve bounced continuously around the planet from one commission to another.

The most successful writers are also entrepreneurs. These are the writers who spend as much time writing pitches as responding to them, developing story ideas as writing them, and initiating almost as many project concepts as they’re working on.

Who are these writer-entrepreneurs? Some of them are probably reading this post. They’re the writers who have stayed abreast of technological change and have evolved with the media. The writers who probably started blogs in the last five years (I started my personal blog four years ago). The writers who’ve been doing as much work for the web as they have for print. The writers who are working directly with travel companies such as Round the World Flights and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals.


New models of working: Grantourismo, a case study

Terence and I started developing Grantourismo a few years ago, as a personal travel experiment aimed at exploring more enriching ways to travel. The project grew out of frustrations with our work as travel writers, as much as with how we observed people travel, speeding through places ticking off sights.

A year-long contemporary grand tour, we aimed to travel more slowly and sustainably, to live like locals, do and learn things, and give something back whenever possible. We intended to chronicle our experiences along the way on a blog and at the end of the trip to write a book.

It may have been a personal project – a dream project, in fact – but it was always going to be a paid project. We’re professionals, which simply means that writing and photography are how we make our living.

Since 2002 we’d been earning terrific money as a writer-photographer team and we didn’t intend that should change.

The question was which companies to approach to present our project. I was fine-tuning our proposal in July 2009 when I spotted HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ advertisement on TravMedia calling for a writer-photographer team to work on a similar but more ambitious marketing project. We responded and over the course of a few months persuaded HomeAway Holiday-Rentals to go with our project instead.

First we agreed on the form of the project: a round-the-world trip in keeping with our original aims and themes, chronicled in a minimum of five blog posts a week on the Grantourismo blog that we would create and maintain, and supported by social media activity. We were required to run a monthly competition, and there would be bonus payments for content published in traditional media, such as a series of stories I wrote for Marie Claire’s website.

Next, we negotiated the contract and fee. Having worked on some 50 guidebooks, I knew how to plan trips and schedule and budget projects. We based our asking fee on industry rates and word counts, a standard method of calculating fees in publishing. HomeAway Holiday-Rentals would provide our accommodation and flights, and pay communications and transport expenses. We’d pay day-to-day living expenses and organize complimentary ground transport, tours and activities.

We invited two companies we’d done tours with, Context and Viator, to partner up. They provided us with tours as well as prizes for the monthly competition. We placed their logos, blurbs and links on Grantourismo, and wrote up stories on their tours with links. We also formed partnerships with other travel businesses, including Our Explorer and Rail Europe, and at various times persuaded other companies to donate competition prizes.

What makes Grantourismo innovative and unique?

Aside from the fact that this was probably the first time a couple did a contemporary grand tour of the world, living like locals, learning and doing things along the way – from learning to play in a gamelan orchestra in Ubud to making handmade pasta in the kitchen of our trullo in Puglia – the structure of the arrangement with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals was unique.

Freelance travel writers work on short-term commissions with contracts, the longest generally lasting 3-6 months if it’s a major guidebook commission. The security of a one-year contract for a freelance writer is rare. While freelancers typically secure complimentary accommodation and transport, such as free flights or car hire, it’s unusual for a freelancer to have a whole year’s worth of accommodation and flights provided. Communication expenses are rarely paid to freelancers but were necessary in this case as fast Internet access and phone calls were vital.

The nature of the partnership was unique. There was no middleman, no editor, through whom HomeAway Holiday-Rentals had to submit press releases, story ideas, and press trip offers, and keep their fingers crossed that a review of their property would make it into the story. In the early days of the project, we asked questions about their marketing strategy, audience and messages they wanted to communicate.

They wanted us to raise awareness of the advantages of holiday rentals over hotels, the range of holiday rentals, from beach houses to penthouses, and their reach around the world, everywhere from Kenya to Bali.

It was an easy task. We had been using holiday rentals for years (many booked through HomeAway Holiday-Rentals and VRBO) and had decided long ago that staying in a place for a while, living like locals, shopping the markets, and cooking ‘at home’ was the way we preferred to travel. An active couple in our early-mid 40s, foodies and wine buffs, we were typical holiday rental travellers. Brand-wise, it was a perfect fit.

Advertising, advertorial and editorial control

Although we placed a HomeAway Holiday-Rentals widget on our site so if readers were sufficiently inspired by our experiences at living like locals they could click through to browse and book accommodation, there was no other advertising on the site.

Indeed, from the outset we made it clear to HomeAway Holiday-Rentals that we had to have complete editorial control so that the content would not be construed as advertorial. If it was, then their credibility, as much as ours, would be on the line. As travel writers who had established reputations as guidebook authors writing opinionated content for Lonely Planet, we were not about to destroy our careers by becoming copywriters.

We agreed to write a detailed review of every property we stayed in, one review every two weeks. Other than that, we were free to choose what we wanted to write about. There was no pre-posting approval process – HomeAway Holiday-Rentals would see the stories once they were live on the site – and we would write honestly and critically.

This meant that if we loved a place, as we did our Bali villa set among rice paddies, we could gush about it, but if we found faults with the property, as we did with our cottage in Kenya, with broken fan/toilet, power cuts, and no promised internet access, we could be as critical as warranted in our review. This, we believed, was essential to establishing our readers’ trust and maintaining the integrity of the project.

A future model

For travel writers such as us, Arndt’s advertising sales-based model hasn’t been necessary nor has it been desirable. We’ve been able to cut out the middlemen, i.e. the publisher and editor, and work directly with a travel company to achieve mutually desirable goals, while still continuing to earn industry standard fees.

After our recent presentation at the International Wine Tourism Conference in Oporto, Portugal, where we presented Grantourismo as a case study, we were approached by four tourism and wine bodies, which indicated they’d like to work with us in the future. They want us to keep doing what we’ve been doing with Grantourismo in their destinations.

Rather than worry about advertising dollars, I’d encourage travel writers to do two things:

  • Continue to focus on fine-tuning your writing craft and develop your skills at creating high quality content – evocative writing, inspiring images, compelling videos, engaging podcasts etc
  • Develop your entrepreneurial skills and the ability to conceive and plan innovative projects, understand marketing and PR, produce persuasive proposals, and present slick presentations. A unique idea, executed at a high creative level, matched to the right travel business and brand, with get you the kind of fees and packages the very best travel writers dream about.

NB: This is a guest article by Lara Dunston, a travel writer and one half of the Gran Tourismo project alongside partner Terence Carter.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. Stephanie White

    What a useful guide for people who are looking for a way to afford traveling the world.

  2. siri

    can you tell me how travel writers or blogger or even travel agents for that matter get notified of a new hotel or resort opening before it actually opens? How can i learn about introductory pricing as the resort is getting off the ground? that kind of thing…

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  4. Happy Hotelier

    Hah I landed here again cause of a tweet by Sir @Kev

    “I was asked by a Tnooz reader”

    I believe that was me;-)

  5. April D. Thompson

    A bit late, but I appreciate this article and the following dialog. I started blogging about travel about a year ago. This year has been full of many experiments: speaking at my first travel and tourism conference, getting published as a travel writer, selling advertising, etc and I’m excited to learn of more people doing things outside of selling ads and pitching for a press trip. Looking forward to making new moves in 2012; thanks for the inspiration!

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  7. Lee Sheridan

    Coming from a travel company perspective, I think it has great potential and something I wish we had a budget to explore further.

    As a traveller I get bored of reading bland travel copy and wish to hear about real stories from respected sources – I want to feel the experience, not just read the blurb. I think more and more people are looking to connect with the destinations they visit and a good travel blogger / writer can help in that process and increase brand recognition in the process.

    Good luck with your project.

  8. Hotel Haiku

    I think some people need to be reminded of this post’s title:

    “An entrepreneurial model for travel writers working in an evolving media.”

    The clues are in there; not even hidden!

    Apart from producing some engaging and high-quality content, I think Lara & Terence’s ethics are rock solid. Anyone who disagrees with that can f++k off now!

    The Gran Tourismo project, for me, is probably one of the best travel ‘blogs’ around and it seriously raises the bar on all fronts: writing, photography and content.

    A personal fave is Terence Carter’s Weekend Eggs series, and in particular his take on the classic Huevos Rancheros:

    And I would not be surprised if he wrote the accompanying piece of music as he’s evidently quite a talented sod 😉

    • lara dunston

      I just saw this – sorry!

      Thank you so much for the kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

      I really just wanted to add that, yes, Terence did write the music for his little Huevos Rancheros video, which he also shot and edited himself. Although my background is film (we both have backgrounds in film), I was in the other room at the time racing to meet a deadline and didn’t even know he was doing it!

      And, yes, agree he’s a talented sod. I can’t write music, nor even hold a note for that matter 🙂

  9. Andrea Wren

    Kevin/Marcy – ‘Jourbalist’ I ask you! Everyone knows the term for a journalist/blogger is JOGGER! 😉

  10. Marcy Gordon

    Kevin– Ha! I doubt the person who created the word ‘jourbalist’ has ever encountered an editor, sub or otherwise. I urge Alice to write her manifesto before the gerbils take charge and evolve her right out of a job. I think Lara’s model is sound and anchored in integrity.

  11. Durant Imboden

    Alice, here’s something else to keep in mind:

    When newspapers or magazines forbid press trips and comps, it’s because they “live in a glass house” (to borrow a phrase from a recent SATW Editors Council discussion of this topic). The editors at the Widgetville World-Telegram aren’t worried about what readers will think about a freelance writer’s honesty and objectivity; they’re worried about what the readers will think of the Widgetville World-Telegram’s honesty and objectivity.

    In the case of Grantourismo, the writer IS the publisher. The buck stops with Lara and her husband. In other words, there are no editors back at the Widgetville World-Telegram who risk getting egg on their faces if the writer isn’t being straight with her readers.

  12. alice

    Sure, I will respond.

    A journalist may feel that, in their own judgment, they are not corruptible by freebies and it doesn’t affect what they write. However, that is not really the issue. The issue is putting oneself in a position of a *perceived*–if not actual–conflict of interest.

    Regardless of how honest you feel your writing is, you are operating from a position of a conflict of interest, as far as the reader’s interests are concerned.

    This is not journalism. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a journalist? Then I have no quibble with your business partnership with the travel industry. But you are presenting your work as independent journalism and it is not. It is marketing.

    I’m well aware that plenty of magazines expect writers to get comps for their stories. I can’t take anything they publish seriously. I have always had my expenses reimbursed, and often the money for those expenses is advanced. I’m not aware of any top travel magazines paying professional rates that don’t reimburse expenses.

    If a magazine asked me to do a story, yet did not pay for my expenses, they would have to either pay me a very high fee, in advance, or I would simply not write for them.

    This is journalism ethics 101. I find it alarming that breaching those ethics has become so ordinary that so many writers seem to think this is now okay.

    I have also written advertorials. I don’t have a problem with commercial writing, public relations, marketing, advertising, or any other sort of writing one does to get by, or even may be also passionate about. But I don’t pretend that I am writing as a journalist in those situations. The articles are clearly advertisements.

    So it is not about how corruptible travel writers, food writers, fashion writers, etc. are. It is about maintaining a reputation for journalistic independence, for veracity. And you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have both the freebies and the veracity.

    You can be as honest as you care to be, regardless of who is paying. But that won’t help you when you want to be taken seriously by the top-paying and most prestigious publications.

    • Marcy Gordon

      Alice–Does the journalistic independence of which of you speak include keeping your identity a secret? Everyone is entitled to comment anonymously of course, but given your strong opinions on trasperencey and integrity it seems a bit odd and baiting to me.

      • alice

        That’s a very good point, Marcy. However I always post anonymously in online discussions, regardless of the subject. There are good personal and professional reasons for doing so.

        Perhaps when it comes to this particular topic, I should either post with my full name or decline to comment.

        I think I’ll leave it that those who read what I have written in these comments can take it or leave it for what it is worth, in the context of my writing it anonymously–which in this case and place I won’t give up for the sake of veracity.

        Maybe I should write an essay on this topic under my full name, and either publish it online or find an appropriate publisher for it. I will think about that.

        I do hope that in the meantime I’ve provoked some thought about these issues. I would hate to see “evolving media” as an excuse for degrading journalistic standards any worse than they already are.

        • Marcy Gordon

          Alice– Maybe you should write that article. There is a new generation of travel bloggers coming down the path that consider themselves journalists and they don’t know ethics from their elbow. Of course all bloggers are not journalists, but at a recent travel blogger gathering the term ‘Jourbalists’ – for journalist/blogger was conferred upon a young group eager for validation.

          There is no gatekeeper to publishing anymore. Anyone can publish what they want for whatever audience they choose and bask in the praise from their equally ignorant readership.

          And there is the conundrum. The publications that hold journalists to high standards of integrity are not being read the vast majority of people who might benefit from reading your article. But I still think you should write it.

          Whether or not Gran Tourismo adheres to the very highest level of journalistic standards I can’t say. But I think they are an example of standards and practices that more writers/bloggers and god forbid, “jourblists” should adopt.

          • Kevin May

            Kevin May

            @marcy – seriously, anyone who comes up with a term like “jourbalists” is in desperate need of a sub-editor to throw it back and say what a stupid word it is.

            Oopsie, reverting to my distant, old school journalist values there and espousing the benefits of subs in large media companies.


            Moving on….

          • Caitlin

            Jourbalists or gerbilists?

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May

          @alice – not a huge fan of people posting on Tnooz anonymously, but it happens and most of the time the comments do add to the general flow of the debate, so I let them run.

          I just wonder how you would feel if it was the other way round – with someone heavily criticising your work and strategy, and enjoying the freedom of doing so in a public forum, but still refusing to disclose who they are, so that counterpoints cannot be made effectively?

    • Stuart

      Great response.

    • lara dunston

      Alice, I assume from your response that your writing must be better than your reading comprehension.

      There’s no conflict of interest – perceived or otherwise – if:

      a) you establish editorial independence from the sponsor/partner and maintain rigorous ethical standards;

      b) you write on topics that have no relation to the sponsor – only 36 of our 499 stories written during our HomeAwayUK Grantourismo trip were HomeAwayUK property reviews;

      c) when you do write on topics relevant to the sponsor/partner you rigorously apply ethical standards. If the writing is grounded in firsthand experience, strikes a balance between subjectivity and objectivity, and is critical and opinionated, then it’s not marketing/advertising copy. See our review of a HomeAwayUK Kenya property we stayed in as an example:

      Following on from your argument:
      a) the travel stories in Conde Nast Traveller, Travel and Leisure, the New York Times and the Guardian’s Travel sections etc, must be influenced by every travel company advertisement in those publications; and
      b) the music, film, book, and food writing that we read in newspapers and magazines every day, must not be journalism or criticism at all, but must be marketing or advertising material.

      And before you accuse my own stories of being marketing copy rather than journalism, how about you go and read one? This for instance:

      Perhaps also peruse your ETHICS 101 notes again (I taught the subject for 7.5 years when I was faculty and later dean of a tertiary communications program, so it’s still fresh in my mind). BTW I have never written advertorial; I do call myself a travel journalist (I also call myself a travel blogger, depending on the form/format/genre I’m writing for); and I do work for “top-paying” and “prestigious publications” – they just don’t pay as much as you claim they do, which is why I’m exploring other ways of working, and trying to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

    • Nikki Bayley

      Oh, ‘Alice’… where to begin?
      “However I always post anonymously in online discussions, regardless of the subject. There are good personal and professional reasons for doing so.” Presumably this is because you have zero professional rep, and just enjoy the rather tawdry delights of being a keyboard hero, anonymously flinging barbs rather than having the guts to put yourself on the line.
      I can’t think of any of the travel writers that I know who think Lara is anything but a smart, savvy, well-respected and talented writer. The Grantourismo project is admirable — and very clearly editorially separate from those who are paying for it. Possibly all the experience you have in magazine or publishing is through watching The Apprentice? Here in the real world, it’s quite possible to not be ‘corrupted’ by freebies, it’s a little telling that you don’t seem able to understand that.
      Either admit to who you are, or button it. There’s really no place for cowardly anonymous attacks here.

    • Caitlin

      How absurd to argue that it is okay to write advertorial as well as journalism but that it is not okay to write branded content as well as journalism. Alice is either an idiot or a hypocrite.

      The GranTourismo project is not masquerading as independent journalism. It is quite up front about being a marketing exercise for HomeAway. However it is arguably more ethical than advertorial because Lara and Terry have editorial control.

      The argument about freebies in traditional travel writing is a separate argument and that has been discussed many times before. In my opinion it is a matter for the publication rather than the writer. The publications can decide if they think it affects the content (or if their readers’ perception might be that it affects content) and also if they can afford a different model and then set their policy accordingly.

  13. alice

    I’ve been freelancing for nearly 30 years and I am paid top rates ($2-$3/word). You can call me an old fogey and behind the times, if you wish, but I completely disagree that there is “nothing wrong” with this business model. To portray yourselves as providing a service to readers when in fact you are being paid to provide a service to your business partners is disingenuous at best.

    The fam-trip and comp model have been around for decades, true, but that does not make it ethical. Ethical publications make their writers sign contracts that guarantee they have accepted no such freebies in the past year, and will not for their upcoming assignments. Just because lots of travel writers do this does not make it okay.

    No doubt about it, freelance writing is a very tough business, and it’s hard to make a living, but that is no excuse for accepting these types of freebies. It’s a conflict of interest, plain and simple. You’ve just breached your readers’ trust.

    I’m astonished that any reputable editorial publication would consider a writer in partnership with a travel business as someone they would give a travel writing assignment to. You have crossed over. You aren’t in the writing business–you are in the advertising and marketing business. Your professional credentials as journalists have been compromised by this arrangement.

    To promote the idea that writers of independent editorial content should pursue this sort of model is truly a disservice to readers. You are assisting in the destruction of independent editorial content as something readers can trust when you misrepresent your work in this way. Influencing newcomers to the business to believe that this is okay is even worse.

    Write for good magazines and your travel expenses are definitely paid for by the magazine. They do not want you accepting freebies and creating a conflict of interest.

    If you are unable to get assignments with those magazines, then build your career until you are able to. It’s possible to be very resourceful and ingenious in this profession (in fact, it is absolutely necessary to be so), without compromising your credentials in this way.

    Create compelling content. Writers who have a voice and a point of view (Bryson is an excellent example of course) will always get great assignments and would not risk their careers by partnering with the people they write about.

    I have turned down “commissions” subjects in my stories have tried to pay me for getting them publicity by writing about them. If I had accepted it would have been a great way to destroy my reputation and end my career with reputable publishers.

    I hope the aspiring journalists reading here won’t make the same mistakes that are being praised in this column.

    • lara dunston

      Alice, if a travel writer’s opinion is so easily influenced by a free hotel stay, tour or flight, then they shouldn’t be a writer. Travel writers – and bloggers – need to have a strong sense of ethics, of what’s right and wrong, and need to have well-developed skills of discernment.

      Frankly, I couldn’t imagine how it would be possible to turn my sense of ethics and critical faculties on/off in the way you suggest some writers do when they’ve offered something free.

      I apply the same evaluative criteria developed over many years to a hotel stay, flight, tour, restaurant, bar etc, whether I’ve paid or not. One of my best experiences was a stay at the Four Seasons Golden Triangle Tented Camp – which I paid for – while two of my most disappointing hotel stays (recently) were comp’ed. I gave feedback to the hotel managers, appreciated in both instances, and was invited back to review the properties again later in the year. I’ll soon be writing about those experiences on Grantourismo.

      I always make it clear that a comp is not in exchange for positive coverage and that the property/tour/flight is *being considered* for review – there is no automatic guarantee of its inclusion in a story/book – and I always maintain the freedom to be as critical as I need to be. That’s evident in my work. Maintaining editorial freedom is crucial, as I say above.

      What I can’t understand with people like you, Alice, is why you believe travel writers to be more easily corruptible than, say, music writers, book reviewers, or food writers, most of whom are given hundreds of thousands of dollars/pounds worth of free products to review every year, often by the same handful of companies. Do you really think that food editors pay for all those delicious goodies and cool appliances that feature in their magazines? And let’s not even start on wine critics, fashion editors, car writers, and film critics.

      Alice, I too have been a freelance writer for a long time – 25 years – though I’m far from being an “old fogey” and am definitely not “behind the times”. Like you, I imagine, I’ve had 100s of stories published in publications around the world, from major national newspapers in the UK/US/Australia to travel magazines such as National Geographic Traveler and Wanderlust. I mostly review properties/tours/restaurants etc anonymously.

      Only a handful of publishers still pay $3 a word, though I certainly earn $1-2 a word from many, less from others. Very few pay expenses. If a publication is paying a fair fee and expenses, I’ll pay. If they’re not, then I’m not going to spend $1000 of a $1,500 fee on hotels. The only winners in that scenario are the hotels and the publication. If a writer is to make any money from an assignment they need to accept comps or at the very least, media rates – or, as I suggest above, they need to explore other ways of working.

      If you can make a success of it by paying your own way, then congratulations! I’m sure many of the writers above would love to know who you’re working for.

      P.S. Next time, before accusing someone of being disingenuous and acting unethically, like a good writer, do your research first and read my writing.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @alice – care to respond to Lara’s response?

  14. Durant Imboden

    Laura, your Grantourismo project sound interesting, and you’ve obviously got a great client in (at least to judge from the editorial freedom you’re enjoying with your blog).

    Still, there’s more than one way for a writer to be entrepreneurial, and I’m partial to a different approach: the self-published editorial travel-planning site that’s supported by advertising and affiliate links.

    The key phrase here is “travel planning.” Advertising doesn’t work well on most blogs (even most high-traffic blogs) because the typical travel blog is geared to armchair travelers, not active travelers. Travel advertisers want to reach people who are researching where to go, what to do, and how to spend their money.

    A blog about John and Jane Doe’s round-the-world trip may be great reading, but it’s a tough sell to advertisers, and it won’t generate a lot of travel affiliate revenue, either. A site for people who are actively PLANNING a round-the-world trip is a different story: Potentially, at least, it can attract advertising from airlines, hostel-booking sites, companies that make backpacks or travel clothing, vendors of international cell phones and calling cards, you name it.

    If you’re a writer who genuinely enjoys helping other people plan successful trips, you’ll at least have a fighting chance to earn a full- or part-time living from writing for the Web. (You don’t even have to give up writing travel narrative, posting photos, or whatever: my wife and I earn a living from our travel-planing site, but we also have several related blogs, including a “Maggie in Venice” dog blog that doesn’t earn us a dime but gives us personal satisfaction.)

    Other benefits of a travel-planning site are:

    1) You “earn money while you sleep.” I used to be a freelancer, and I sacrificed income every time I went on vacation or caught the flu. No longer. Having a solid base of “evergreen” content is like owning a book publisher’s backlist: Your pages earn income day after day, week after week, month after month, and even year after year. (We have pages from 10 or 15 years ago that continue to serve readers and earn revenue with occasional updating.)

    2) Each new article or page generates incremental income: It’s like adding another hive to your honey farm. You aren’t constantly starting from scratch or making sales pitches as you would with traditional freelancing. Instead, you’re expanding what you already own.

    Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, and it’s harder to find an empty niche and build an online presence than it was in the 1990s. But building a freelance career has never been easy, either. And I’ve got to say that I feel a lot more secure as a Web publisher than I ever did as a freelance writer.

  15. Best of Tnooz This Week - Searching Facebook, Rethinking content, Distributing responsibly | Tnooz

    […] An entrepreneurial model for travel writers working in an evolving media […]

  16. Camels & Chocolate


    I agree with you on every last point. What really gets me is all the people who argue that the “media is dying” until the cows come home. That’s quite funny as I’ve made the same annual salary for the past three years as a freelancer as I did working as an in-house editor at Conde Nast five years ago. Yesterday, I got assigned a four-page travel package for a national glossy with a very high circulation at $2 a word. $2 a word is what every magazine I ever worked for as a staffer paid 10 years ago; it’s what they’re still paying today. So I wonder where all these people who say “rates are falling, media is dying, yada yada yada” are getting their information…oh right, they’re not actually travel writers, so they wouldn’t actually know anything about the business.

    Going back to blogs and your comment thread about sponsored posts above, I’ve yet to do any “sponsored posts”on my blog (not for lack of advertisers who have requested such) because all the advertisers who have approached me to do so have wanted content so far out of the scope of what my blog is about that it didn’t seem right. For me, it’s not worth it to compromise my content or turn off long-time readers by publishing what seems to be irrelevant content out of left field. For what? A few hundred extra bucks here and there? No thanks. I hardly make any money off my blog (again, I’m first and foremost a professional travel writer, but a hobbyist blogger), but if I ever do find that right fit, you better believe it will be made clear that it’s a sponsored post, not a “guest post.” It’s so obvious when some bloggers try to pull the wool over the readers’ eyes, and I’m surprised by doing so they haven’t lost the vast majority of their audience.

    In closing, I highly respect you two as travel writer/photographers-turned-entrepreneurs and think your entire project is very cool and an inspiration to all writers (and bloggers) everywhere.

  17. Keith

    As I mentioned to Lara, this article is like a rosetta stone for travel writers. If you found this insightful and provocative, you might be interested in Lara’s responses to questions about the GranTourismo project from a travel writer’s point of view. Check it out here:

  18. Rebecca

    Sorry, just saw your earlier response. Yes, I was under the impression that travel magazines paid the expenses of their writers and not the resorts, or whatever, that the writers reviewed.

    But my main point is that I prefer good blogs to magazine articles because they are more personal. And sponsored writing loses most of that. I’ve yet to see even a good blogger achieve it.

    • lara dunston

      Just to clarify, resorts currently don’t pay writers, rather they offer them complimentary rooms and meals, although they do take out advertising in publications and invite the editor to send a writer to review the property. Tour companies, airlines, etc, do this too of course.

    • Caitlin

      Some magazines do pay for their writers to travel. I have freelancers for some. It was essential for the mag to pick up the tab because we were not writing about tourist destinations so there was no one else to do so.

  19. Rebecca

    As I said, any revenue stream that works is a success. Further, creating a new one benefits the entire market. So I have enormous respect for anyone who is creative enough to invent one.

    But the corollary of that is that no type of successful business model should be disparaged. Personally, I believe that the ad driven model has huge potential, particularly for private bloggers.

    Perhaps cutting out editors and publishers allows a writer more creative control. But replacing them with companies who pay you to write about them is, in my opinion, a contract to write regular sponsored posts. Again, I am NOT saying this is wrong. And I DO believe it is possible for a writer to be honest, giving good and bad opinions, when writing sponsored posts. I also still believe this is an excellent business model. I just find sponsored posts to be more artificial, honest or not, and that’s why I don’t like them.

    Further, just because it is an excellent business model, does not mean that it is better than other business models. Particularly since it is so new, it certainly has not achieved the measure of success that many more websites have by placing ads on their site. And, here, I’m speaking of mainstream ads that have no relation to the content on the site.

    So, while I have the utmost respect for the creativity and success involved in such a unique project as Grantourismo, I do have to take issue with some of the points raised in this article.

    Having been a reader of Gary Arndt’s blogs for several months, and having read the article referred to here as well as others related to it, I do have to back up his claim that you got his article – and his site – kind of backward. He just recently advocated against SEO in one of his posts. And the point of this particular post is certainly valid. Only the bloggers with mainstream appeal – that is, appeal to readers other than those who wish to become successful travel bloggers – will find success with advertisers.

    I would add that the best will find success with mainstream products as well as travel industry ads.

    At the same time, I have to say that I did not quite enjoy his posts about the locations where he was hosted by the departments of tourism as much as the those about the locations he chose to visit himself. He’s one of my favorite bloggers, and manages to pull off writing about a freebie more gracefully than any other I’ve seen. But I can still see a difference, and it’s one I don’t like.

    This is why I don’t understand why you seem to imply that there is somehow more integrity in being paid by the companies you write about than either paid by a magazine or advertising revenue. Although I believe all of the models have the capability of being either completely honest or of being abused – and probably everything in between – sponsored writing almost certainly has to be the one most vulnerable.

    Still, I do want to emphasize that I sincerely believe that coming up with this project was a stroke of genius. I can certainly see it catching fire and manifesting itself in other ways no one has even thought about yet. There is definitely no question that the website is high quality and professional.

    So while I do have some difference in opinion regarding this article, and may not have articulated them as well as I could have, I do want to stress that it was never my intention to offend. And I really do admire and respect the achievements of you and your partner, Lara.

    • lara dunston

      Rebecca, just a few quick points in response, as I don’t want to hog this space:

      1) you haven’t offended me at all; thanks for your kind words.

      2) re sponsored posts being artificial, agree with you that some can be, but do head over to Grantourismo and take a read of a few random posts and let me know if you think they’re artificial.

      2) on having got Gary’s article backward – not sure what you mean; this post came about because I was asked by a reader who wrote about Grantourismo in the comments on Gary’s post to chime in, and then Kevin Luke May asked me to write a post on Grantourismo and share my thoughts on new models of working. Simple as that.

      3) re me having got Gary’s site backward – I looked at Gary’s blog once about 2-3 years ago perhaps and have never read it since. It just doesn’t appeal to me. Simple as that. I don’t write about Gary’s site at all above. I only mention his post by way of an introduction to explain how this post came about.

      4) I don’t write about SEO at all above. It’s mentioned in the comments.

      5) I disagree that only bloggers with mainstream appeal will be successful – niche bloggers with small, devoted, faithful, returning readers who trust their opinions can also appeal to advertisers (and sponsors/partners – which is what I’m writing about, I’m not writing about advertisers), especially if they use their products, have expert knowledge in their products, and a good fit with their product and/or brand. Wine bloggers are an excellent example.

      6) Agree that bloggers need to appeal to readers other than those who wish to become travel bloggers – and a few people have said that very well above.

      7) I have never said – and I do not believe – that there is “more integrity in being paid by the companies you write about than either paid by a magazine or advertising revenue.” I am writing for magazines every week. All I am doing here is suggesting that this is yet another working model and income stream for writers. I write about the importance of being honest, critical and opinionated when writing about products in order to establish credibility and maintain integrity.

  20. Rebecca

    @Stuart: Okay, I think you’re saying pretty much the same thing that I have been, which is that we don’t want bloggers writing about their freebies.

    And I also agree with you about books vs blogs. But that is exactly why I chose Bryson as example. Because he is so personally entertaining, and that is the kind of writer who will be a successful blogger. Personality is a huge factor in whether a blog will attract a large audience. Bigger, more unique and more entertaining personalities can flourish in that medium, and Bryson is a perfect fit.

    Plus, it would be a really great fit for him to dump all the little tidbits of his thoughts that have no place in his books. You know there must be millions of them. And I, for one, would love to read about them.

    And, by the way, I am referring here only to private blogs and not informational websites.

    • lara dunston

      Rebecca, can I clarify? You don’t want writers writing ‘about’ their freebies? Does that mean you don’t want to read a review of a hotel where an author has stayed for free? Then unfortunately you’re not going to be reading many hotel reviews because the majority of writers stay for free or a discounted ‘media rate’. Over the years hotel PRs have told me they’ve hosted writers even from publications which claim they pay their way.

      We wrote for Lonely Planet for years and we *always* paid our way, as LP had a ‘no comps’ policy and in those days paid well, so we could afford to pay for hotels. But then we started to discover there were plenty of LP writers staying everywhere for free. We even came across writers getting freebies in places that they weren’t even writing on! We stopped writing for them soon after, for that and other reasons. I don’t object to comps at all in principle (as long as the writer is still writing honestly and critically) just the hypocrisy of the policy.

  21. Suzanne

    Gosh, an awful lot of comments on many issues that face freelance writers here. I would just like to throw in one more.

    There have been a few references to ‘industry rates’. Could someone please tell me what these are? Do they still exist? Hasn’t the rise of digital media eroded them out of existence?

    Please enlighten me!

    • lara dunston

      Hi Suzanne – yes, there are! I’m sorry that Rebecca and I were hijacking the space though, so I’m going to shut up for a while after leaving this one.

      It would be good if writers like Shaney, David, Paul and others above could chip in here to answer your question too as rates vary dramatically for different territories/publications. I write for publications in the UK, US, Middle East, Asia, and Australia and in my experience they range from $1-2 a word for magazines (less for some in-flights); 30c-$1.50 for newspapers, 10-70c for digital. Then there are photo payments on top of that if you can sell a package of words and pics, and they also vary dramatically.

      A good source of info is Media Bistro that publishes ‘how to pitch’ stories every week which cite fees.

      • David Whitley

        I don’t write for the same publications Lara does, but *very* roughly, I find US$300 per 1,000 words to US$650 per 1,000 words to be the usual range.

  22. Rebecca

    Oh, I may have misunderstood Stuart’s point. And I think he kind of made mine.

    Did you mean you would object to Bryson having ads on his blog site, or that you wouldn’t want to read him writing about any places that have paid his expenses?

    Because I wouldn’t care how many ads he had on his feeds or on his pages, but I’d certainly expect him to write his blog the way he’d write a column…which means no mentioning anyone who has paid him to write about them.

    None of his writing so far has even a whiff of that, so I doubt anyone is paying his way. His travels are paid for by his writing. But you’ll notice that not all his writing is about travel. And it wouldn’t have to be in his blog either.

    Some of his most hysterical writing has been about just him going on about his daily life. And that’s all he’d have to write about on his blog. Huge audience = big ad dollars. TV, movies, blogs, it’s the same formula.

    • Stuart

      What I meant was I don’t think Bryson would make more through a blog (though to be fair, I have no idea what he makes off the books). Very different mediums and consumed in a very different way, with different expectations – just because you’re a successful writer, doesn’t make you a successful blogger. My point that I don’t care if an author wrote the whole thing on a junket, while it would bother me if a blog did is one illustration of the difference (in my eyes).

  23. Rebecca

    Stuart, I sincerely believe Bill Bryson could make much more from blog advertising than what his royalty checks are bringing in. I would not be surprised if his blog would attract one of the largest audiences of any private blog on the internet. Added to that, all of his older pages would have ads on them, as well.

    If people like Perez Hilton and some unknown ranch wife can command close to – or more than – a million a year in advertising, Bill Bryson could certainly do much better. It would also help his book sales. But, mainly, it would be content without the middleman – his publisher. And advertisers paying him, instead of his publishers paying to advertise his books.

  24. Stuart

    Think Rebecca’s point about Bill Bryson is an interesting one, but thing is I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t earn more as a blogger. That aside, perhaps more interesting, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if he accepted financial support from hotels, dmos,airlines etc to write his books ( no idea if he does) but it would guarantee I’d read his blog less.

  25. Andrea Wren

    A truly thought-provoking and informative article, Lara, what a joy to read.

    I’m a writer that makes a living by writing in many forms – whether business or health journalism, copywriting, or travel writing. However, now I’m free of the responsibilities that have kept me in one place (i.e. a child at home!), it is my goal to focus more on travel writing – your story is definitely one to bear in mind for inspiration.

    As you say, it takes the entrepreneurial streak to find imaginative ways of earning a proper living being a writer. What you have achieved with Grantourismo is most certainly unique and very creative, and you have made it clear from this article there are many alternative ways of doing things in the writing world.


  26. Rebecca

    I do understand that the phrase hired help can be taken negatively, but it really isn’t always meant that way. However, when you are hired by anyone, you de facto become their hired help. They are paying you to write. And once you sign a long term agreement, you are no longer freelance in that particular niche.

    My point about neutral parties is that, if it is a magazine paying your expenses to go write about a particular place, then the magazine has no financial interest in that place and is therefore neutral. If a resort pays your expenses to go visit the resort and write about it, that is not – in my opinion – neutral.

    As I stated repeatedly, it’s not that I doubt a writer is being honest, but there is still a taint to writing about a place or product when you have been paid by the owners of that place or product to write about it. That taint will never go away, no matter how honest a writer is being.

    Regarding the writing profession, it is a well-known fact that only about 10% of people who list Writer as their profession are actually able to support themselves solely by writing. Just because some people are able to do it, and know of opportunities for others to do it, does not change that fact. Instead, anyone who is able to do it – particularly in a way that allows you to enjoy perks that appeal to you – such as travel – should be commended.

    Please understand that I am not criticizing this business model in the least. I think it was an excellent idea and, judging by the response of other companies, it seems to be catching on. I am, first and foremost a pragmatist. If a business model is successful, then that is truly all the validation that you need.

    However, just like there is no one “right” way to travel, there is also no one “right” way to write – about travel, or anything else. I was only stating my preferences as a reader, and that is to read about people’s experiences online, without filtering them through a paid product.

    I have no objection to advertising, a 10 second ad spot before a popular video does not offend me. Nor does advertising, or even merchandising, on a site. I firmly believe that creators of content should be paid for their efforts. I just do not want the content touched by the advertising.

    Think of it as the network television model. For decades, and even now, millions of people accept commercials during their favorite television shows because the content is free. And the shows they watch most are the usually the ones with their favorite performers/characters.

    A popular blogger, like Dooce or The Pioneer Woman, can make enough money in ads to live on because there are enough people who want to follow along in their lives. And The Pioneer Woman provides many perfect examples of how to discuss products, both sponsored and non-sponsored.

    Right now, it’s even harder to achieve that than it is to get a paid writing job. But that is one revenue stream that will become more available to bloggers in the future, and that’s all bloggers, not just travel blogs. People who write interesting things about their lives, who have engaging personalities, will organically accumulate followers. And advertisers are interested in large groups of people wherever they find them.

    So, again, there are so many ways to monetize one’s talents. And new ones cropping up all the time. Lara, you and your partner seemed to have invented this one, and frankly that seems like a stroke of genius. But different people, with their different tastes, is what makes the world go round. So one model does not have to please everyone. Again, if something is profitable, that is success. Indeed, I believe that anything trying to please everyone, will actually please no one.

    In any case, there is plenty of room for all business models to co-exist, more than enough room. So there is no need to make this topic a one vs another matter. As a reader, however, I am entitled to my own preferences. And they happen to be for content completely free from product placement of any kind. Not the site, mind you, just the content.

    • lara dunston

      Rebecca, totally agree with you that there is room for many business models, many types of writing, etc. I’d like to see more writers conceiving them and going to companies with them, so they’re in a position to bargain, or at the very least collaborating on an idea together so they’re equal partners.

      You make some great points about advertising and product placement. There’s a particular 5-star hotel in Cyprus that is lovely but by no means the best in the world – the restaurant is actually awful – but it advertises in every issue I’ve seen of a particular travel magazine and nearly always gets included on their ‘best of’ lists. It’s not new either, could be around 15 years old, and many better hotels have appeared since its opening. I could think of scores of finer hotels in the world that deserve to be on those lists, but this one is obviously an important advertiser.

      That same hotel gave us a complimentary stay when we were writing a guidebook on Cyprus, put us in a beautiful ocean view suite, etc. Everything was wonderful except the location of the hotel, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere, and the quality of the restaurant, where there were problems on many levels. We wrote a critical review and gave the hotel detailed feedback so they knew why. Some writers do this and some don’t. It’s a shame that some don’t because that’s how hotels like this get away with appearing in ‘best of’ lists when they don’t deserve to be.

      I think there are ways of working with companies, and getting paid by those companies – how is that different to comps, which is how most writers manage to do what they do? – and writing about their products honestly. It’s just some writers choose not to be honest because they fear they won’t get comp’ed again, or work for that publication again. Shame.

      For Grantourismo, we were mostly writing about the lifestyle that comes with staying in holiday rentals and living like locals, the people we met, the things we did, what we cooked, what we ate, etc, and we only reviewed a property (honestly) once every two weeks. I could envisage writers developing similar projects for airlines, cruise ships, hotels, railways, etc, that are not 100% glowing, and do not read like advertorial, but could be very fascinating travel experiments.

    • Caitlin

      Yes, what Lara and Terry were creating is called branded content. It was high quality and ethical but you do not like it simply because it is branded content. That is your prerogative. As you say, there is room for many business models for writers.

  27. Rebecca

    Personally, I don’t really care for sponsored posts of any kind. They almost always have at least partial content that sounds like a press release. I follow bloggers, travel and otherwise, because I find them – the people behind the posts – interesting. Whatever they are writing about, it becomes more personal, filtered through who they are.

    Yet I find that personal voice disappears almost completely when anyone tries to write about a sponsored topic. I stopped following one blogger because, after several posts in a row about a long sponsored trip, she then wrote one about a topic in which she clearly had a financial interest. And when another couple wrote a post about that same topic, I stopped following their blog as well.

    I don’t care if a writer has ads on their site or on their feed. In fact, if they are relevant, I may even find them interesting. But I do object to any promotion within a blog post. Links to affiliates and writing about places when you’ve been paid to travel there are both turnoffs to me. Even though I believe the writer will be honest in praise and criticisms, the writing is ALWAYS more artificial because it is paid work and not spontaneous.

    This is why I love Bill Bryson so much. Not only is he amusing, his personality is all over his writing. If he were blogging, he’s make a fortune in advertising on his site. More, I bet, than he is making with his “old media”.

    Also, I have a couple of quibbles about the facts presented here.

    Only a VERY tiny percentage of writers of any kind, the world over, are able to make a decent living by only writing. That is a fact that has been true forever, and still is. So I believe that saying there’s lots of work out there to be had, is misleading. Compared to the number of writers available, steady work is not that easy to come by.

    The fact that the two of you have been able to do so for so long is a testament to your talent, creativeness and perseverance. If you feel that it has been easy for you to get work, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone.

    Also, I would say that, once you cross over into the more “entrepreneurial” type of business, it is essentially like being a corporate writer. You are being paid by a company to write. You can’t say in one breath “We are not the hired help” and in the next breath say “We were hired…”

    There is nothing wrong with being hired. Magazines and guide books hire writers, and these are coveted jobs. And being paid to travel is a dream come true. If a sponsor would be satisfied to sponsor a trip or a blog just to have the added visibility to a new audience, and be satisfied with just a mention of the company name and display of a logo, I’m fine with that.

    However, every single time I read a post about a trip that was sponsored, it’s just not as interesting. Every single time. And even though I believe the author is being honest, there is still a taint from being paid for. It still smacks of an infomercial.

    What it comes down to is, I would rather read an article where the expenses were covered by an neutral party, such as a travel magazine, rather than one paid for by the place or property being written about. And I would trust it more.

    • Shaney Hudson

      Hi Rebecca,
      In my career as a travel writer (which is to say, limited at 3-4 years) I’ve never had or heard of anybody I know have a magazine or newspaper pick up the bill for their travel and hotel expenses as a ‘neutral’ party. I wish! Publications simply don’t have the money to throw away like that. I doubt they ever really did.

      Lara writes with authority about this topic, as have quite a few people who have commented on here. I believe a balance can be achieved between accepting sponsorship and writing critically. I agree that is a major turn off to read work that is clearly influenced by advertorial.

      I think you make a valid point however- readers have taste, and they know when they are being fed Bullsh-t. They can smell a lazy writer/blogger who has been on a press trip a few pages away. However,the better the writer, the less it will influence the piece.

      As for writer’s being hired help, I cringe at that assessment of freelance writing. Writers are vendors selling a product like anyone else. As Lara pointed out, the project was a partnership between two businesses with agreed terms. There are businesses I choose not to work with as the terms do not suit me, and businesses who choose not to work with me because my product isn’t the right fit. It’s a business relationship based on choice.

      As for your view that only a few tiny percentage of people making a living as a writer, well, I’ll put my hand up and disagree with you there. After lots of hard work and determination, I now make my income entirely from travel writing. It took time and a side gig, but now that I am in the game I can tell you that there is money to be made and there are many markets out there. It won’t have you driving the latest sports car, but it does keep you ahead of the bills and on the road when you want to be. You’ll never be rich, but if you do want it that bad, it can happen. It all comes down to the individual’s determination.

      What I really appreciate about Lara’s post is that it highlights the opportunities out there for people willing to work hard in the industry. It’s incredibly generous of her to share so much of it with us all, and I feel there are very few people who discuss openly the business end of things in the Travel Writing world (often because, like me, I don’t think they know where to start!) and lead by example. It’s great to see such a healthy debate being thrashed out amongst the stakeholders in the industry.

    • lara dunston

      Hi Rebecca – thank you for the kind comments. Totally agree with you re sponsored posts. It turns me right off too. And what I hate more than anything is seeing the same text from sponsors/advertisers that I have turned down appear on ten other travel blogs as original content or ‘guest posts’.

      I have to clarify though that it’s not been “easy” for us. In fact it’s been very difficult and we work very hard, 7 days a week, all day every day. I wrote film reviews and stories on the film industry and the arts for around 5 years, and that was an entirely different struggle to get accepted and then published. Getting published by HarperCollins was not easy either and in fact was an extraordinary achievement. And then getting accepted as a travel writer, well that was an entirely new struggle.

      We haven’t “crossed over”. “Crossed over” from where to where? I would suggest you read the story above again and the ‘About’ page at Grantourismo. The whole time we were partnering with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals we were still writing for magazines, newspapers and websites all around the world. As a writer, if you maintain your integrity, editorial control, ability to criticize and be honest and opinionated, etc (which is what we did) then there’s no “crossing over”.

      As for “being hired” and being the “hired help”, they’re two very different things. Again, I’d suggest you re-read the post above and our About page.

      We’ve worked for scores of magazines all over the world, including the very best, and I can guarantee you that there are no magazines where the expenses are covered by a “neutral party”. Even those publications that claim they pay their own way have writers who don’t pay their own way at all. I have heard scores of anecdotes over the years and have met writers who have freely declared they worked for CNT or NGT or whatever.That’s an entirely different discussion.

      But has it really affected their judgment? You have to look at the body of work of that particular writer – if they’ve had their ‘way’ paid, had a crappy experience, but have written about it honestly and said that it was crappy, what does it matter? It only matters when they had a bad experience and yet they wrote that it was wonderful. *Then* you have something to worry or get angry about.

  28. Jeanne @soultravelers3

    Hmm David, does this mean you disagree with Lara’s final points?

    ” develop your skills at creating high quality content – evocative writing, inspiring images, compelling videos, engaging podcasts etc
    …. Develop your entrepreneurial skills and the ability to conceive and plan innovative projects, understand marketing and PR, produce persuasive proposals, and present slick presentations.”

    I couldn’t agree more with her. I also agree with your second point about that there are “no failsafe models” and said so:

    “The good news today is one can cut out the middle man and gate keepers and find MANY ways and “models to make a living as a writer”.

    • David Whitley

      I agree that it’s handy to have other skills (such as photography, video). I fervently disagree that it’s essential to have them.

    • lara dunston

      Just to clarify, Jeanne, my last point quoted above refers to writers who would like to approach travel companies to develop media-rich blog-based projects.

      I certainly don’t think every writer needs those skills. They’re completely unnecessary for most print work.

  29. Rachael @ Digital Visitor

    From the agency side, it’s heartening to see marketers realise the influential power of bloggers(or writers) and what’s more, the power of genuine opinion over advertorial.

    It takes a lot for a brand to have the courage to lay itself open to criticism and review, but either way, it can be a win. Positive reviews can be amplified, negative reviews can be fed into your CRM system and used to improve your brand’s service/products.

    • lara dunston

      Agree with you, Rachael. We really admire HomeAway Holiday-Rentals for their courage – many travel companies wouldn’t put their trust in a couple of writers to do what we did.

      But you’re right, the feedback can be used to improve the product and our hope is that some property owners have taken it on board to improve their offering.

  30. David Whitley

    Agh. I put bracketed interpretations in that last quote that haven’t shown up because I put them in brackets. Oops. Needless to say, I think said quote is nonsense of the highest order.

    An awful lot of commenters appear to be falling into the “this is what I do, thus this is what everyone needs to do in order to be successful” trap.

    There’s no one failsafe model, just zillions of different iterations on the “you don’t ask, you don’t get” theme. And there are plenty of people out there who make a good living from writing without having a clue about doing photography, video, SEO etc to a presentable degree.

  31. David Whitley

    “A successful writer must have MANY talents and by the looks of some of the most popular travel pieces, often writing is the weakest of all the content . Having great writing, but the rest poorly done…presentation, video, photographs, design, social media, story, PR etc, ….just doesn’t cut it today .

  32. Jeanne @soultravelers3

    Wonderful piece Lara, as always, thanks! I’ve so appreciated your work on Grantourismo and the high quality example that you have set. As I have told you in private, you guys are amazing!

    Like you, we have been traveling the world non-stop and writing about it since 2006, only we do it as a family. So I know full well how hard it is to be a writer today ( and how hard you have worked – despite your making it look easy) because one DOES need all the skills you mentioned and more.

    I would have hated to go that fast though, as two weeks seems too short to me, but then I have a child so that impacts us & I know you have experience going even faster. I always thought it would be better if you could have stayed longer like at least a month and 3 or 6 months might be ideal to really get to know a place deeper without feeling rushed ( even if you tried several homes in one area).

    Marcy said, “If an advertiser wants to get my attention they are going to have to wrap it around some darn compelling content. And that’s good news for writers.”

    I totally agree with that, but writers today on not JUST writers. A successful writer must have MANY talents and by the looks of some of the most popular travel pieces, often writing is the weakest of all the content. Having great writing, but the rest poorly done…presentation, video, photographs, design, social media, story, PR etc, ….just doesn’t cut it today. Most of the paid writing sadly is mediocre and repetitive.

    If one wants readers ( and buyers) and not just eyeballs (of mostly other travel bloggers looking for quick SEO and alexa quid pro quo) for 2 seconds, ALL the content must be interesting, creative and fresh to a wide audience. I love it that one of our top metrics is the time people stay on our site and most of our comments are from people without blogs, but they are avid travelers.

    I loved and agree with this quote by my friend Lucretia Pruit on this topic recently:

    “It’s somewhat amazing how much emphasis the writing aspect gets over the community building and publicizing aspects of of blogging. When it comes to the ‘advertising & editorial’ overlap of blogging as one-person publications? People point out the multiple hats that bloggers wear. But when it comes to describing it as a professional goal? The writing aspect seems to get highlighted. Meanwhile it’s really the *publishing* aspect that has changed. Blogging platforms & internet access have made publishing accessible to anyone.
    It’s really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the sites which have gone from personal blogs to ‘blogging megasites’ that are being acquired like HuffPo and TechCrunch – or making a profitable go of group blogging like Mashable or Gawker – are those which are created by people with a knack for publishing and now have a reasonable way to enter the profession without massive cash outlay.”

    Our first travel Youtube video went viral with almost 2 million views ( something very rare with travel videos or any really). Most travel videos get about 10 views. It certainly helps to have a renown Silicon Valley creative director on our team with years of experience in marketing for Apple, HP, Yahoo, etc. Understanding Youtube is a community also helps as does a past career in film. Our community loves our “little movies”.

    Social media has had a huge impact for us, including recently being asked to be featured by BBC world wide about how social media is changing travel. We joined Twitter and Facebook very early, much earlier than most, only to keep up with family and our readers while we travel, but we are now considered a top influencer in travel with usually around a 74 Klout score that tends to keep us in the top 5. Some of our biggest opportunities like being featured in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, The UK Guardian etc have come through Twitter…usually via dm and often out of the blue. ( I’ve long been a Matt Gross fan and remain one).

    I often say I am an accidental tourist to this as I never had the goal to be a travel writer or an author. ( The book agents and publishers have come to us via our website that they found a “crackling good read” with a strong platform). Since I don’t have to write or work for someone else, I can do it on my own timing and I can work with great partners in the same way.

    I think the Hawaiian Tourist Board, Fairmont Hotels and HomeAway are some of the most savvy companies and tourist board PR peeps today ( thus we are proud to be working with them as some of our Partners along with Youtube). Many other travel companies need to wake up to the opportunities passing them by and writers need to find a unique path onto today’s rapidly changing stage.

    The discussion above with Lucretia came from the controversy of writing for free that many writers complain about, yet I’ve known savvy writers ( old school & newbies alike) who have made a fortune by writing for free at the right time and place.

    I actually retired early when we started our open ended family world tour in 2006, but we are creative, type-A life long learners and your list made me see how our diverse experience led us to be leaders in our travel niche realm. We have a combined experience of over 50 years of film, graphic design, website design, building and selling entrepreneurial businesses,writing, public speaking, working closely with some of the best photographers and film masters in the world, working in both corporate and small businesses, branding, PR, advertising, building our own Pinto Noir vineyard from scratch and more in top cities for these things like NYC, SF, LA, Milan and Paris.

    We also are doing our travels with a school age child so family travel and how monolinguals can raise a fluent trilingual/triliterate and use innovative ways to educate our children via travel (in ways that will both support the planet and 21at century learners) gives us a unique edge. Our audience is very diverse which I think is needed today.

    The good news today is one can cut out the middle man and gate keepers and find many ways and “models to make a living as a writer”. The bad news is one has to be WAY more than a writer today and doing that WHILE traveling can be a challenge. The faster and longer one travels, the harder it can get. Freelance writing and Writing entrepreneurs are time consuming pursuits.

    Our primary motivations is freedom and I am still learning how to keep that freedom. I enjoyed Chris G’s latest post about a traveler and their work. We’re featured in his book and have been blogging a few years longer, but could relate.×5/the-traveler-and-his-work/

    One of the hardest things for a successful travel blogger or travel writer is keeping that freedom and play even as one builds that success. Outer world success is different than inner success. Time is the greatest wealth, so learning how to do this without killing oneself is perhaps the bigger challenge today.

    One doesn’t need to have the biggest travel blog or be the top writer of all time to have success in travel writing or be attractive to companies.

    • lara dunston

      Thanks for the nice words (again) – much appreciated.

      Agree with you that if people want to embark on blog-based projects then they should work at developing a range of media skills. Sounds like you guys have backgrounds in film, we made films for years too and I also taught film and TV. But there are many bloggers out there putting truly dreadful videos on their sites, and producing excruciatingly dull podcasts – they should really be signing up for short courses in video-making and radio.

      I don’t agree with you though that *every* writer needs to have a range of media skills, such as video editing, photography, audio, etc. They simply aren’t necessary for print, and regardless of what some bloggers think, there’s still plenty of print work out there. The vast majority of my commissions are purely to write.

      • lara dunston

        Hi again Jeanne – I wanted to respond to your comment about the pace of the trip.

        I agree that longer is better when it comes to travel. With guidebooks we’d sometimes spend 1/2/3 months in a place and that was wonderful.

        But for us, Grantourismo was a travel experiment where we planned to compare our ability to live like locals and learn things in a number of different places, so we needed a cross-section of places. Our original plan was 12 places, one month in each, over 12 months.

        For HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, however, it was a marketing activity and 12 places wasn’t really enough. Their original project involved a lot more places, so we compromised on 24, but I think it turned into 32 with some side trips.

        In hindsight, I think 3 weeks per place would have been best for a number of reasons.

  33. Donna Hull

    Great article, Lara. I appreciated your explanation of how your writing business operates and how you brokered an arrangement with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals. Project development and management, marketing, budgeting, scheduling – a successful writer needs a good business grasp before the first word is ever keyed into the computer. I’ll be referring to this post often for practical advice as well as inspiration.

  34. DonaldS

    I agree with lots of the comments above. This is one of the smartest things I’ve read, not just about travel writing, but about commercial writing in general in this “changing landscape”, whatever that means.

    1. I tend to think that there is more opportunity than ever before for travel writers. Not in the places there were in the 1980s, sure. But then the 1980s were probably quite unlike the 1960s, and so on back to Gutenberg. (What’s that about generals always fighting the last war, not the current one…?) In the end, for me, it’s all about the content. It takes skill and a penchant for hard graft to write well, and you’ve got both. The mountain of travel content already out there isn’t necessarily a big problem either. Pirstly, most of it is crap, pure drivel. Secondly, Google’s apparent determination to get “shallow content” off the first pages of their search results ought to sweep some of that away anyhow.

    2. It is also refreshing to have one of these “whither travel writing” posts written by someone who *actually understands the business* (and understands it a lot better than I do, clearly…). I began a “partnership” with a villa company in Spring 2009 ( Much less creative/comprehensive than yours – I wrote a weekly “inspirational column” about one of the areas they specialised in: interview with local expert, upcoming festivals, etc. It only lasted a couple of months (money reasons, I guess, because like you, I was only prepared to work for sensible, industry rates; and/or perhaps I wasn’t generating enough traffic). I saw that running something like that could work, with the right partner (and I had someone that I liked/rated) and with some room for proper journalistic independence (ditto… and this is important if a project is to have integrity).

    3. Freelancers have *always* been entrepreneurs; it comes with the territory, as DW implies above.

    • lara dunston

      Thanks, Donald – greatly appreciate your comments. Agree with all you’ve said. Would love to know more about your experience with Eden. Might be a helpful case study for all of us. Maybe Kevin could run a series?

  35. Dave from The Longest Way Home

    This is one of the very rare posts about a travel writer who’s not “complaining”, but actually doing well. And, for that alone; a refreshing read.

    Moreover, it’s good to see Lara and her husband proactively join forces professionally in their “travel” careers. This itself is an accomplishment and a half.

    Travel entrepreneurship is a mouthful, but it’s what I take from this article. And, like it or not, it takes hard work, vision, and talent.

    If one actually read Lara’s workload you will see it’s far more diversified than many others out there. And, it seems to be paying off. Something many people could learn from.

    Up until about 3 years ago I was an avid reader of “travel blogs”. These days I have a hard time counting the ones I read on one hand.

    Genre’s aside, through the flurry of in-your-face advertisements, rehashed content, “inspirational me” content, and buy “my guide to life” ebooks it’s hard to find something that was once there. At least, that which I once enjoyed to read.

    Why is this? Well I note since about 3 years ago, and most certainly in the last 2, a lot these days has been all about trying to make money from your travels – by blogging.

    All this is very fine, but self publishing (blogging) can be done by anyone. And there in lies the biggest problem advertisers will have. Just because you write online, does not make you a golden ticket.

    Ditto with having 80 comments, 200 retweets and a mass of followers. A saavy advertiser can easily see through the numbers and see most of them are also “travel bloggers” or involved in the industry.

    Ask any literary agent about the quality content that travel bloggers out there are producing. The results will be less than impressive.

    Yes, the same applies to print. And yes, both offline and online I do believe a good marketer will crush a good writer. And, it’s always been this way.

    However, the key in this case is quite simple, diversify your talent if you want to make a living from it. And, be honest about your talent outside of the “travel blogging” sphere.

    Have a mainstream copywriter or editor read your work. The results might really shock you into a new career path! But, it’s better than being delusional, which in the tiny spectrum of travel blogging, seems to be an issue.

    If you’ve got talent these days, travel blogging is not the only way to bring in revenue. I think the above points this out quite well.

    • Claire

      Very well put Dave (and nice post Lara of course!).

      Back in 2007 I also read a lot of travel blogs. As you succinctly put it, there are many ‘inspirational me’ stories nowadays, and it seems those who write these forget many of their readers are also travelers!

    • lara dunston

      Hi Dave – thanks for the lovely words. Much appreciated.

      I think that travel writing has become far more diversified and we’re not alone in terms of the variety of work we do – other writers out there are also writing guides for mobile apps and websites as well as print publications.

      I just think travel writers tend to spend so much time writing for a living that they don’t bother or don’t have the energy or inclination to promote what they’re doing, so there’s a misconception out there about what we all actually do. From some blog posts I read, I imagine people must think we’re all pounding away with two fingers on antique typewriters.

      You make such a good point about having an editor. We’ve worked with so many other the years, especially on guidebooks. We didn’t agree with all of them, and we didn’t think they were all good, but when you do work with a great editor you learn an enormous amount. There were many times on this trip we were wishing we’d had an editor, and we’ll be looking forward to working with an editor on the book. Out of the almost 500 stories on Grantourismo now, there are probably 400 that need an edit!

  36. Jean Liu

    “High quality content” is key. It is easy to find travel guides everywhere (online or offline), but “inspiring” ones are rare.

  37. lara dunston

    Akila – I didn’t know you got an overlanding company to back your trip – well done! We tried to do that a few years ago when we covered half of Australia in campervans/4WDs for guidebooks for DK & RG, but I think it was too early and there was too little understanding of what writers could do for companies. They gave us big discounts on hire and a few vehicles to try, but you’ve done well.

    Michael – “you’re only limited by your imagination” – wish I’d finished with that!

    1) I’ve never met a Matt Gross groupie and doubt they exist but I’ve met countless backpackers over the years who have guidebook authors they idolize and see themselves following in their footsteps. I’ve also met travellers who only buy for the brand and never read bios. I’d argue that many CNG & NGT readers would know who they’re reading and eagerly wait those writers’ stories.
    2) Writers don’t write for editors; they only pitch to editors, they write for their readers, for travellers. If there’s a writer out there who has their editor in mind as they’re re-telling their trip down their the Nile, I’d love them to leave a comment here.
    3) As for editors being gatekeepers, sure they select the pitches for stories that will most appeal to their readers, but I’ve had 100s of stories published and never had an editor cut a story for content.

    Marcy – wonderful analogy & well said, but that’s what we get when you cross a marketeer with a writer 😉

    Stephen – many thanks.

  38. Paul Smith

    Lara, lovely piece. And I’m so pleased you’ve forged a path for writers to not only earn a living from travelling, but to create value for clients. Everyone wins.

    On a personal note, it’s such a shame there are individuals who are judgmental about travel and travel writing, and insist there are prescribed and particular ways to go about travel and earning a living from it.

    For example, those individuals who suggested Twitchhiker was essentially an exercise in begging, but then themselves have no shame or see no hypocrisy in requesting flight upgrades via Twitter or accepting sponsorship to travel.

    Ultimately, the experience of travel is subjective and personal. We all go about it by different means – and that applies not only to our perception of travel, but how we might fund it. I’m delighted you found a unique way to fund your adventures.

    • lara dunston

      Hi Paul – thank you for the kind words. Greatly appreciated coming from the man who conceived one of the most innovative travel experiments yet.

      What I loved about your project was not just its refreshing form, but that you raised money for charity – we loved the Twitchhiker and it was such an inspiration. I’m truly astonished that you would be criticized for ‘begging’. How bizarre is that?

      You’re right about us finding a unique way to fund our travel. It was work, it was a job, we took it seriously, doing our best to create quality content, while trying to win people over and persuade them to make the switch from hotel to holiday rental, and we worked hard at it, 7 days a week from the time we work until we slept.

      But as I mention briefly above, it was also a personal travel experiment, something we cared deeply about (i.e. how people travel). It was our dream project, so we got to live (and work!) our dream for a year – and it *was* the most enriching year of travel for us yet.

  39. An entrepreneurial model for travel writers working in an evolving media | Tnooz | Travel Writers News

    […] a heartening post by Lara Dunston—a travel writer who has developed and negotiated a unique editorial relationship and is not […]

  40. Stephen Chapman

    Enjoyed reading this overview of the Grantourismo project, very informative and great insight. Thanks Lara.

  41. Marcy Gordon

    Excellent points Lara. I agree that the publishing model is constantly evolving and writers that have the skills and initiative to interpret the landscape will be successful. There are several ways to generate income as a travel blogger/writer. Gary Arndt is a publisher of his own content and through his astute use of SEO he is able attract advertisers. In his model he is not necessarily being paid or commissioned for the content directly, but for the eyeballs he delivers. And it works for him quite well.

    Writers not inclined to serve as ad salesmen will have to become, as you say, more entrepreneurial in their approach and dovetail their abilities with the needs of businesses seeking a personalized trans-media storytelling approach to marketing their products and services through engaging, well written content.

    I get a free weekly “shoppers newspaper” thrown on my doorstep each week that has some household tips and recipes, but it’s solely a means for the publisher to sell local ads. It amazes me that theses papers still exist but the model is obviously still valid to the advertisers. I throw it in the recycle bin. The internet is full of “shopper’s news” type of web sites too.

    I think your work for the HomeAway project was a prefect example of well integrated content that seamlessly presented the advertiser/sponsor. If an advertiser wants to get my attention they are going to have to wrap it around some darn compelling content. And’s that’s good news for writers.

    • Gary Arndt

      Marcy, just to clarify….

      I do not do any SEO and have published articles saying bloggers shouldn’t bother with SEO. Search engines only provide about 10-15% of my traffic, and most of that is people looking for me or my site. The fast majority of my traffic is social media driven and my business model is built on subscribers.

      I put the first ads on my site 2 weeks ago and had been ad free for four years.

      • Marcy Gordon

        Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the SEO Party? SEO– It’s the new McCarthyism!

        You use the term– “the fast majority”. Does that refer to people who with ADD who view the site for less than 2 seconds? Is there a metric for that?

        I completely disagree with your notion that people don’t follow specific writers. That’s absurd. I follow certain writers in The New Yorker and other magazines and newspapers. Writers are powerful brands too.

        If your understanding of the editor/writer relationship comes from observing other writers as they approach their subjects on press trips, you can’t seriously comment on what it is to work with an editor with any veracity. It’s your impression, not fact. Next time you go on a press trip check out the location, find a story, then pitch an editor and gain some first hand knowledge of the process. Otherwise your comments are just glib speculation.

        • Gary Arndt

          Its true. The only people who follow writers are other writers. Even then, only a small handfull have a following. Go ask someone in an airport who is reading a newspaper to put it down and give the names of anyone who wrote an article they just read. The best they can do is come up with a columnist.

          I’m not commenting on what it is like to work with an editor. I’m just saying that the gatekeepers exist. That’s all. I have no desire to find out what it is like.

          • lara dunston

            Gary, I could reel off a list of several dozen wonderful travel writers, journalists and authors who have strong followings with the public not just other writers. These are writers who are published on everything from World Hum to Conde Nast Traveler, writers who the reading public go to literary festivals to listen to them read from their books and stories, writers who the public as much as other writers follow on Twitter. Most of the commenters here would know their names, but I’m not sure you would because I get the impression you have little respect or interesting in travel writing and literature (correct me if I’m wrong), which makes me even more intrigued as to why you do what you do.

  42. lara dunston

    Hi Stuart – Thanks! I think you’ll find a further Q&A to appear on TNOOZ with the PR manager of HAHR & myself will answer your questions. I’ve also got a presentation that I did at the recent International Wine Tourism Conference in Portugal that answers some of those too, but would be good to let Sarah from HAHR comment first.

    Hi David – Thanks enormously. Much appreciated. It was exactly my intention to clear up some misconceptions about our roles as travel writers that those who have never worked as travel writers seem to have and seem to love to broadcast continually.

  43. Michael Hodson

    Excellent post with lots to think about. The exciting thing about the travel writing business going forward is that the options for making money in this field are far less limited than they were 5 or 10 or 15 years ago. You are only limited by your imagination (and your skills). Thanks for laying out how you worked this endeavor out for us.

    • Allison

      Couldn’t agree more. There are more opportunities. However, there is one minor setback…internet means infinite opportunities for anybody to become a travel writer or blogger, depending on your opinion. Thus, more competition for ads and money-making opportunities and niche space.

  44. David Whitley

    Thanks for blowing a couple of misconceptions out of the water here. The first one is that all travel writers are struggling to make a living and that blogging is the only salvation in the long run.

    That is, and always has been, nonsense. Sure, some people are struggling to make a living out of writing. But others are doing quite nicely thank you. Of course, they’ll usually complain about things and always have nagging doubts over where the next pay cheque comes from, but that’s just the nature of the freelance beast.

    People who write for a living have always adapted to changes in format and technology. That’s what you’re doing now, and it’s what people have done with every publishing model change throughout the centuries. There has always been an entrepreneurial edge to things, as well – creating opportunities where none currently exist has always been vital, whether it’s pitching an article idea, persuading a newspaper to give you a column, getting a book idea sold to a publisher or a collaboration like Gran Tourismo.

    You’re not reinventing the wheel here, and neither’s anyone else whose business is largely based on providing writing services. Have ideas; find some way of funding their creation has been the freelance model for centuries. It’s just that the ways of funding them undergo surface changes. There’s nothing revolutionary – just the common sense taking and creation of opportunity that is an integral part of being self-employed and writing. You’re elucidating what thousands of people around the world do quietly in their own various ways.

    As Andy says, there’s no one successful model that should be used as a blueprint.

    And you can bet your bottom dollar that most of the people who constantly stress about what to call themselves are the ones who aren’t making much of a living doing it.

  45. Stuart

    Great read on the Home & Away project. Given not all businesses would have the funds to embark on a project of this scale it would be interesting to have some kind if insight into how they looked to measure the success/ROI of the undertaking to see how this project could be “scaled down” to work for smaller businesses & less experienced writers/bloggers. Be it pieces in other mags (MC as you mention), traffic & SEO payoff, bookings & enquiries comments on the blog etc, would be useful for both those pitching — and those paying!

    • Sarah

      Hi Stuart,

      This was a first for us so it was kind of a learning process, but we looked at a combination of things including visits to the blog, click throughs from there to our site, property views and enquiries, engagement with Lara and Terry on Twitter (although measuring Twitter, particular re-tweets, is still an ongoing learning experience!), plus additional coverage in on and offline media, as Lara mentions. We were also hoping to create some general ‘buzz’ around the concept of renting, which is kind of hard to measure in concrete terms, but which we definitely feel we succeeded in doing, as the blog and project did really seem to capture the imagination of lots of people.

      As Lara mentions, we’ll both be commenting in another article on here shortly so I’ll leave it there for now. Feel free to give me a buzz if you want to chat further about it.



  46. lara dunston

    Hi Andy – great to see you’re working directly with companies too. Would love to hear more about those. I’m hearing about more and more writers doing so each day.

    1) it wasn’t a rebuttal. In your story you neglected to mention Grantourismo, although it was one of the first projects of its kind, so I was asked to write about Grantourismo as a new model of working directly with companies.
    2) We weren’t “hired help”. Read my story again or go to the About page of Grantourismo to see when and how the project developed. When we developed it 3 yrs ago (we partnered with HAHR 18 months ago) we developed it with a business plan.
    3) HAHR hired us partly because of the high quality of our creative work and partly because we had an audience – in fact HAHR’s PR manager had been following and commenting on our personal travel blogs well before she hired us. 4) Writing for any form is about writing for an audience – travel writers, guidebook authors, travel lit icons, they all have their fans and groupies. I’ve met backpackers who worship Robert Reid and will buy any guidebook the guy has written. Anthony Sattin is a magazine writer with an impressive following. Travellers go to these places because these guys and other writers inspire them to go there.

    • Gary Arndt

      1) You are correct. I should have and I addressed it in the comments of my original post.

      2) You might have had a plan, but to the extent that you wrote for their blog, yes, you were hired. My word choice might have been a bit harsh, but I didn’t mean it to be derogatory.

      3) I don’t doubt the quality of your work.

      4) There is a big difference in writing for an audience and building an audience. If you write for a publication, all the circulation and promotion is handled by someone else. If you blog, you have to do it yourself.

      I’ve traveled a lot too and I can’t say I’ve met a single person who follows writers. They follow publications. People read National Geographic and the New York Times because of the brand. If all the writers left tomorrow, the vast majority of their readers would stick around. When Matt Gross left the New York Times, millions of people didn’t suddenly flock to his new online efforts. They kept reading whoever the new Frugal Traveler was. Most people have no clue who writes for the magazines and newspapers they read.

      Having spent several press trips observing writers, their primary audience isn’t readers (at least from a business standpoint) it is editors. They pitch editors, not readers. It is the editors who are the gatekeepers. A piece that readers hate but a particular editor loves will have a greater chance of being published than the inverse.

      • Heather

        I’ll just add to the conversation here that I’m one of the people like Lara is talking about who actually does follow writers, not publications. I did stop reading the Frugal Traveler when Matt Gross left, and I sought out his other work online.

        Individual writers can have their own brand, like Lara and Terence do, that readers come to trust. I don’t think this type of relationship is limited to reader to publication only, but can be reader to writer just as it seems you are suggesting it is with reader to blogger.

      • Caitlin

        If a writer has an idea, develops it with a business plan, persuades a company to come on board as a partner, and has a payment structure that includes incentives, then they are entrepreneurs rather than hired help. The term may not be derogatory but it’s also not accurate for Lara and Terry.

  47. Akila

    First off, as huge fans of the Grantourismo project, I am so thrilled that you are going to keep working with other groups to keep it going. [In fact, my only criticism of Grantourismo is the lack of a full feed so that I can read it while I am traveling or in my Reader.]

    Inspired in part by what you did with Grantourismo, we approached an overlanding company last June about working with them to write about the overlanding experience in general and their trip, in particular. They sponsored our trip and were thrilled with the content we produced for them. Since then, we have received other sponsorships (completely unsolicited) because people like what we are writing.

    Being an entrepreneur is critical, whether you are a blogger, a writer, a photographer, or anyone else seeking to earn an income through non-traditional methods.

  48. Gary Arndt

    Lara, I’m not really sure what part my article you are rebutting. I’m not sure how close you really read what I said. This post seems to just be an overview of your project (which is a good one) but after the introductory doesn’t deal with anything I said.

    In the comments of my article in fact, I mentioned what you are doing as a great example of writers using non-traditional means of bringing in revenue. I still think that.

    You said “Arndt’s advertising sales-based model” which isn’t my model AT ALL. I don’t know what model you are referring to. I have never run ads on my site and only recently put the first ones up, and those are for companies which sponsor me and mysite….not to dissimilar to what you are doing.

    I discuss advertising in my post, but I clearly talk about moving beyond a pageview/advertising worldview. In fact I explicitly mention companies working with bloggers on a sponsorship level, NOT advertising, in my article.

    Furthermore, there is a big difference between a writer and a blogger.

    As a blogger, I am a publisher. I work for myself. I work to build an audience and engage that audience. A company looking to work with a blogging would want access to their audience and exposure on their site.

    As a writer, you work for other people. You might work for a magazine or a vacation rental company, but you are still just hired help. A company working with a writer would want them to work on their site and wouldn’t be interested in audience they can bring to the table.

    There nothing wrong with either approach, but there is a difference.

  49. Andy Jarosz

    Brilliant post Lara. There are many models to make a living as a writer, as you point out. The ad sales based approach works for a few and yet seems to be chased by many. The demand for content doesn’t come just from publishers – you’ve mentioned HomeAway Holiday-Rentals and RTW Flights, and there are many other travel companies who are beginning to pair up with a writer who can help raise awareness of their brand and products, and whose is a fit for their business.

    I work with three very different travel companies with this model and the arrangement works well for both parties (I guess I’ll know when it stops doing so). The work is out there…

    You also raised the point of what you call yourself. On one level it is not important, but on another there is a certain perception that those going under the label travel blogger can be persuaded to offer up their words for a jacuzzi and a prawn supper. Only today I got an email from someone who showered praised on my writing before offering me $10 per post to write on his site.

    Like you I now go by the simple label ‘writer’ – it covers the multitude of entrepreneurial dealings you allude to that help bring in the bacon. But as the owner of a travel blog, the ‘blogger’ label is always there.

    Thanks for a good read and for plenty of useful insights. I’m sure you’ll spark a good debate here.

  50. Kathy, Dream of Italy TravelNewsletter

    Totally agree. If you can’t capture their imaginations, you won’t capture anything else – like e-mail addresses, social media followers, etc. As I mentioned, plan to re-read your piece (and Gary’s) and do some more thinking. I find the “business” of travel content fascinating, though my first love is creating it!


  51. lara dunston

    Thanks for the kind words, Kathy. I’m on deadline too, so I’ll keep this brief as well for now.

    I just wanted to say that’s a great point you make re ‘capturing’ audiences. But rather than capture them by means of marketing, I like to focus on capturing their imaginations. If you can do that, then you can take them anywhere with you. Forget about Google, SEO and the Internet, go make a movie and they’ll be there in the darkened cinema or downloading it to their laptops.

  52. Kathy, Dream of Italy TravelNewsletter


    I’m on deadline and only had a chance to read this article fairly quickly. You make so many fascinating points that I plan to print this out and read with my own real or imaginary highlighter pen!

    I have some experience in this area as I started my own travel publishing company 8 years ago – when the term “travel blogger” was just being born – Dream of Italy focuses mostly on a paid subscription newsletter (yes, some people will pay for travel content – especially higher end) but we’re about to intro an iPhone app and branch out into other areas of publishing.

    And I, like you – like the whole industry – have had to evolve over the past years. I’ve also done some proprietary content for tour companies. I actually approached Perillo Tours with the idea of doing “a first time to Italy” guide for them as I thought it would be a great content offering for their demo. They took me up on it – I had full editorial control – and it is even featured in their TV commercials. I see myself as a small business person first and like any small business person, I need to make my own opportunities – I see you have a similar approach. I have much more to say and will be back to comment again.

    But when I saw Gary’s name on the top of the article – I thought about something I’ve seen him say in various articles and something I have believed since founding my business. If you can capture readers – get their e-mail, get them to follow you, get them to sign up for RSS – that is the real value of you and your product. Page views will only get you so far and I don’t really operate on an advertising model (though I do take some in our free e-mail updates – which has a sizable list – due to that capture technique) so every time I read or hear Gary say that (he just happens to be someone I follow closely – I think content marketers in many areas know this well) I want to shout “Amen.” What if Google totally changes the rules of SEO – you still have your audience through these other means.

    Thanks again for this informative article. I plan to dive in deeper and look forward to the new projects you take on.

    Kathy McCabe
    Editor and Publisher


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