Freelance Travel Journalist and Copywriter

March 5, 2024 (Updated )

Whether it’s skiing, fashion, self-help, or education, there are heaps of journalists bossing it as the go-to writer for their niche. You could even go so far as Cáche McClay and Bryan West, named by US publisher Gannett in 2023 as the first as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift reporters respectively.

Conversely, you’ll also find a bunch of versatile writers who have established a successful career by covering a wide range of subjects: one week they’re selling health and fitness features to a glossy women’s mag, the next they’re penning entertaining reads on popular culture.

Especially for freelancers, whose jobs depend on the next story they can sell, it’s a vital question. Should we aspire to being generalists or instead, experts in a given field?

Should Journalists Have A Niche?

Having a freelancing writing niche, of course, carries many benefits. As Lottie Gross, co-founder of Talking Travel Writing, once wrote: if a restaurant menu was packed with an overwhelming number of dishes, you wouldn’t have much faith in them all meeting an excellent standard, would you?

Similarly, if we spread ourselves too thinly in our writing careers, we can miss the chance to build up an expert level of knowledge that we simply couldn’t do if we covered multiple areas. Pitching, in turn, becomes more efficient, too: build up a bank of ideas for a specific niche and you can respond in a flash to relevant pitch callouts, news hooks, or anniversaries as and when they emerge.

Daniel Fahey, freelance editor for Lonely Planet, agrees: “All editors are different, of course, but as I work primarily in travel, I will always look to work with writers who have a clear area of expertise. If the journalist knows their stuff about a certain topic, it’s going to be a better commission for both of us. The writer shouldn’t need to do as much background research and readers are going to get informed copy.”

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“Once a writer is pigeonholed in a particular area it can be difficult to make a change. Moving on took longer than expected but it was the right decision."
Lynn Houghton, freelance travel writer

How Do I Find My Journalism Niche?

After my first journalism job in local newspaper reporting, I was set on pursuing a travel writing career, but walking straight into a well-paid travel writing role looked unlikely. That’s why, sometimes, you have to ‘do your time’ across other genres while you carve out that desired path.

For me, that meant working on real-life features desks while building up a portfolio, and writing free pieces for travel and lifestyle websites. For others, it might mean working part-time in a non-journalism role while gaining work experience in a chosen area. It was only after doing this, and after working in-house for a travel company, that I felt fully armed to freelance within my niche — something that freelance travel writer Lynn Houghton can relate to.

“My step into travel was through working for a large UK tour operator’s press department,” Lynn says, “I started at the bottom of the ladder but was later allocated a press officer role for the cruise department, which involved a lot of contact with editors and PRs.

“When I decided to pursue a freelance travel writing career, I had this in-depth knowledge of the cruise industry and a bank of contacts ready to go. I didn’t plan to have such a focused niche, but it allowed me to stride into my first freelance writing assignments with ease.”

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Steph Dyson (L) and Kate Chapman (R) 

While Lynn was grateful for this smooth transition into travel writing, being so strongly associated with one niche subject had its downsides: “Once a writer is pigeonholed in a particular area it can be difficult to make a change,” she says.

“After about four years, I realised I was happier delving under the skin of destinations and teasing out more complex stories, so I stopped writing about cruises altogether. Moving on took longer than expected but it was the right decision in the end.”

Choosing your journalism niche is personal and like any career choice, depends on your motives: medical or personal finance journalism, for example, could potentially earn you a more lucrative salary than, say, lifestyle writing. So, too, could building your knowledge on trending subjects that few other freelancers are covering.

But it’s important to ask yourself: what subject gets you out of bed each morning? Developing a voice of authority often comes from writing about what you love and what’s personally relevant to you. As Lottie found, it can also emerge from spotting a gaping hole in the market.

To Niche Or Not To Niche — Let's Compare

To Niche

• Pursuing a niche means that editors and readers trust your writing — and your opinion. It also means that editors and readers are more likely to come to you.

• Choosing a niche you are passionate about is what will keep you motivated. You’ll also be more likely to spot new stories to pitch and write with authority.

• Becoming a go-to journalist in your field may result in being able to branch out into different mediums (such as audio, books, or video) resulting in more opportunities.

Not To Niche

• When starting out, you are more likely to acquire the experience you need more quickly if you don’t stick to one niche.

• It can be difficult to pivot once you’re pigeonholed as editors will associate you with your area of expertise. It can be done — but it will take time.

• Work on your core skills of researching, finding an angle, and being able to tell a good story. An editor will be more likely to take a chance on you if your existing work shows your ability.

“I pitched a book on dog-friendly travel advice, and it snowballed,” she says. “I’ve now found myself as the go-to dog person in the travel media, writing a handful more books on the topic.”

While establishing yourself as the go-to person for a given subject can reap rewards, as Lynn explained, writers can face various challenges if they’re too focused. This is especially true when things like freelance budgets, publication closures and global pandemics come into play.

Personal circumstances and changes in sentiment can also push us into widening our niche; for example, since having children, I’ve broadened my subject areas to include family travel. Steph Dyson, who co-founded Talking Travel Writing with Lottie, has also decided to pivot.

“My niche has always been South America,” she says, “but I’ve wanted to move beyond that region over the past year. Since I’ve written a lot about sustainability in South America, I decided to pitch a similar angle for new-to-me destinations.

“This sideways step helped me feel less at sea than I might have had I taken on a widely different travel niche. I can also persuade an editor that I’m the best person for the commission by linking to similarly themed articles I’ve already written.”

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“A good journalist can always dig into most topics, so I'd recommend having multiple things you love to write about and following those passionately.”
Daniel Fahey, freelance editor for Lonely Planet

It’s Good To Be Versatile

While I personally prefer to keep a few niche areas at the forefront of my work, it’s solid journalism skills — namely thorough information gathering, an eye for a good story and, of course, being able to tell a good story — that play a huge part in freelance writing success. So, too, does the ability to be versatile — a skill that local reporter-turned-freelance journalist Kate Chapman certainly has.

“I come from a local newspaper background, where we covered news and features on every topic going,” says Kate, who reports on everything from farming and rural issues to women’s real life and opinion pieces. “This, I feel, has given me a good grounding in the basics and helps me identify what makes a good story.”

Daniel agrees with this sentiment: “I would prefer to have someone who knows [a given] subject, but I’m always happy to try new writers, even when the story isn’t within their usual remit.

“A good journalist can always dig into most topics, so I’d recommend having multiple things you love to write about and following those passionately.”

Lucy McGuire
Lucy McGuire

Lucy McGuire is a freelance writer and journalist of 15 years. While she specialises in editorial and commercial travel content, she started her career as a reporter and features writer for a local newspaper and her published work has spanned everything from entrepreneur interviews and inspiring real-life stories to spas, restaurants and wellness.

Header image courtesy of Lital Levy via Unsplash