How I Became A Travel Journalist

Become a Content Manager

How I Became A Travel Journalist? – I was standing in the kitchen at my friend’s house party just a few weeks after returning home from a six-month sabbatical overseas in 2013. Surrounded by friends I had studied with at university (now all lawyers and accountants), one asked me what I would do next. A little sheepishly, I replied: “I’m going to become a travel journalist.” You could almost hear the vinyl screech to a halt. My friend commented that it would be a very tough thing to do. Journalism was a dying field and jobs were competitive. I shrugged and replied all I could do was try.

How I Became A Travel Journalist?

Fast forward some seven years, and I’m writing to you from my seat on the flight back to Melbourne, my home city. I’ve just spent a week touring the Sapphire Coast, reporting on the region’s recovery from 2020’s Black Summer for National Geographic Traveller Magazine in the UK. It was a long and windy road to get here. I did, in fact, work as a solicitor immediately after returning home in 2013. I knew nobody would hand me a job as a writer without a portfolio of work, so, after days spent appearing in court and negotiating settlements, I would go home and write at night.

I started my own media company and began publishing a digital magazine, at one time engaging 15 freelance writers to scour the city for the latest restaurants and café openings, events, and cultural news. I also began to hone my pitching, writing to editors at major newspapers with story ideas, often not hearing back but occasionally securing a commission. Hearing an editor say ‘yes’ is a heady high I still get today. After four years of juggling working as a lawyer and publisher, I realized I was stretching myself thin, and I was close to burnout. So, ignoring all my parent’s and friends’ advice, I quit my job at a great firm to focus on my business, hoping things would work out. And they did.

Almost immediately after leaving, I secured a role at a global tour operator Intrepid Travel. They’d seen my work as a publisher and freelance writer and liked it enough to trust me with writing their brochures. I turned up every day eager to learn, always offering to do more, providing solutions rather than raising problems, and I was quickly rewarded with a permanent role and multiple rounds of promotion.

Eventually, I landed a dream role as Global Content Manager. I was writing or talking about travel every day, working alongside an amazingly talented bunch of people I’m fortunate enough to call my friends. Each day presented unique problems – like trying to nail down a photo shoot in Florida with 24 hours’ notice – and unique opportunities. I traveled to the high Arctic, searching for polar bears, and camped beneath the stars in the Jordanian desert. I was awed by the people who welcomed me into their homes and their lives. But all things come to an end.

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With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost everyone I knew (myself included) lost their jobs. The travel industry was freefalling as cancellations skyrocketed and companies began to go under. Newly saddled with a mortgage and a bleak industry outlook, I wondered: How could I possibly continue to hold on to the dream of still being a travel journalist? It was a tough decision I was forced to make when I was offered a full-time job in another industry – a golden ticket out of the dumpster fire with the promise of a secure income. But I couldn’t take it, knowing what I’d given up to get to this point.

I turned down the job and was determined to make it work, and this is why relationships are so important. I’m a member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers, a network of travel professionals who have provided invaluable support during this time. One member reached out and offered me a job in her PR agency, for which I’ll be forever in her debt. Through word of mouth, I gradually began to build up a portfolio of clients that provided me with stable work again.

But I knew I needed to diversify too – after all, vaccination was still months, if not years, away. I thought hard about what mattered to me. If I wanted money, I would have stayed in law. I wondered how I could best use my skills to do work that aligned with my values. I realized I wanted to tell stories about our planet and the creatures within it that would hopefully stir readers into action. I began intensively researching the wildlife conservation industry, signing up for science journals and webinars, greedily consuming podcasts and newsletters – anything I could find.

I repeatedly pitched to publications I admired – like BBC and National Geographic – and began to improve my pitches. Even if my ideas were good enough, many editors had their budgets slashed or lost them entirely, so there was a lot of rejection. But eventually, the commissions started to trickle through, and that is where I find myself now.

For you, the reader, my career path might seem like a bit of a rollercoaster, but I think there are some key lessons to take away.

  • I never lost sight of my “north star” – to write great stories about the world and the things in it.
  • I upskilled and practiced in my own time, knowing that while I wasn’t being paid straight away eventually, the time investment would pay off.
  • I became a voracious reader.
  • I invited people out to coffee, not to pitch for a job but to listen to their stories and how they got where they are. Most people will say yes when invited to talk about their careers (make sure to pay for their coffee). 

We are taught from an early age that you need a piece of paper from a university that says what you’re allowed to do, but I’ve learned you don’t need that if you have the right attitude. After all, there is no degree in “Travel Journalism.”

Justin Meneguzzi

Also read How I Got a remote writer job while traveling the world

How I Became A Travel Journalist

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