You know how some people in the blogging sphere are experts on things like social media, photography or website design? Well, there’s only really one area I can claim to be vaguely proficient in – and that’s travel writing internships. Yes, the art of working for little or no money, usually on admin projects that are of no interest to you, in the hope that at some point you’ll have the CEO of some huge travel magazine begging you to join their ranks. Does this sound familiar to you?
Love them or hate them, travel writing internships are a fantastic way to get a foot in the door. Not only do you make valuable contacts, but you also get the opportunity to test the waters of a particular career path.
While I was at university, I would save up as much money as I could from my part-time job so that, come summer, I could just spend time interning at various magazines and publishing houses in London. Over the course of a few years I worked at places including Time Out London, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and even at Heat Online.
Thinking back on it, I spent a heck of a lot of money on these travel writing internships. I shudder to think just how many trips I could have gone on with the cash, but I’m pretty certain having this experience on my CV helped me with employment, as well as securing a place on my NCTJ Multimedia Journalism course at News Associates, Wimbledon.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into travel writing, then an internship may be just up your street. There are a number of specialist places you can find vacancies, including Gorkana Jobs, but I often found the best way was to just search on the company’s website. Many places just don’t need to advertise because they’re so popular. It’s also worth having a gander at some of your favourite writers’ CVs on LinkedIn – that way you can see just what route they took to get to where they are today, and you can also get an idea of which companies may accept interns.
You may have written an awesome article on your gap year for your uni mag, but chances are things won’t be so full-on when you do an internship. You might strike it lucky and find yourself writing some epic article, but chances are you’ll find yourself doing one – if not all – of the following:
With a number of magazine and online journalists now relying on voice recorders rather than the traditional shorthand, chances are there’ll be a few interviews knocking around that need to be typed up – and who better than the intern? OK, so at times this can be really rather dull/soul destroying, but sometimes you do get to hear some juicy gossip that may not make it to print…
I had to do so much of this when I worked at The Sunday Times Travel Magazine. It involved checking the website, telephone number and address for a load of locations – which often meant phoning up a hotel, restaurant or tourist attraction. This is all fine and dandy until they ask you to phone up places in Turkey and speak to someone who doesn’t speak English. Oh, they were some fun conversations.
At some places I had to go through and check that information was correctly ordered on each page and in the right format. For instance, after each paragraph the contact details had to be italicised, or separate lines had to be in line with each other. I can’t begin to tell you just how many times the big monthly magazines print off each page – and then have everyone from the interns to the editors combing the text for errors.
Sometimes the team may have a space on a page that needs to be filled and you have to come up with a story to fit. Or, they may need to find someone suitable to interview. Or, they may need the perfect picture of two people drinking a half-filled glass of wine by a brick wall overlooking a field with exactly seven roses. You might be there as a writing intern, but sometimes it’s a good idea to get a good overview of different departments – use this to your advantage!
Occasionally you might be asked to interview people, either over the phone, in person or via email. When I worked at the Club 18-30 magazine, I had to call up reps and ask them a series of questions about the best places to eat, drink and party. All while pretending I was really enthusiastic about what they were saying…
I don’t care what you say -no matter how good a writer you are, if you’re given two sentences to write on an internship, it will take you at least two hours.
Not because you’re incapable – no no, far from that – but simply because you want to impress your employer for the week and give them faith in you as a writer, or even as a potential employee.
As a copywriter now, I find the best thing to do is to just write something – anything – and then come back to it after you’ve made a cup of tea or something. It could be the worst thing you’ve ever written, but it gives you something to work with. Plus, there’s nothing worse than staring at a blank screen, panicking that you’re not going to reach a deadline.
Work for smaller companies.
While you might think that a larger more well-known company looks better on your CV, it’s usually at the smaller companies that you get more of an opportunity to write, pitch ideas and network with staff members. Companies with a big online presence may also be more open to you producing some content for their site (exactly what happened to me at Heat magazine!)
Talk to everyone.
It’s amazing how far a smile and a friendly ‘hello’ can go at an office. I got talking to one of the Editors during my Time Out internship, helping him sort out some of his files. He told me he was the Editor for the magazine’s book section, so asked me to write a few reviews up. It then transpired he was also the Travel Editor, and he then asked me to write up a four-page feature on Normandy for a new magazine he was putting together. Not bad for a two-week placement!
I’m not going to lie, on most travel writing internships there will be long periods of time where you will have nothing to do. But don’t just sit there on your phone or on Facebook – use this time wisely! Flick through past copies of the magazine, search for new story ideas, and impress your bosses so much they’ll have no choice but to reward you with some sort of writing task.
A lot of people go for internships in the summer – if you have the flexibility in your studies, consider offering your services during term time, or even over Easter, Christmas or study leave weeks.
Consider interning at places that aren’t specifically about travel. Not only are their internship spots usually a little less competitive (than, say, a travel-centric title), it also means you don’t pigeonhole yourself in case you find yourself a few years down the line applying for film magazines or a sports website.
Think about starting a blog. After a while I realised that, while the contacts I obtained during my internships were invaluable, I often wasn’t able to be as hands-on as I wanted. That’s one of the reasons why I started this blog – to be my own editor, writer, photographer, and everything else that goes into running a website. It does mean a lot of what you do is learnt on the go, but it is a fantastic learning curve.
Travel bloggers way more experienced than me have attempted to cover exactly how and why you should start up a blog. I’d recommend VickyFlipFlop’s epic Travel Blogger High series which focuses on everything from setting up your site to networking your backside off.