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Guest Post: How to Travel When Your Newsroom No Longer Sends Reporters Overseas

airplane in sky

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present this guest post from Alexis Grant, journalist, newbie entrepreneur, author of new guide How to Take a Career Break to Travel, and MJD friend. In this guest post, she outlines some of the secrets from the guide, which could apply to not just journalists but anyone who works in media, so read carefully and enjoy! –RK

When I chose a career as a journalist, I envisioned myself reporting from all corners of the globe, getting paid to tell meaningful stories. Didn’t we all?

Yet as the industry changed, foreign bureaus were cut and travel budgets slashed, working as a roaming, worldly correspondent became, well, unrealistic. Those jobs still exist, but they’re few and far between.

That means we have to be creative. If you want to work travel into your life, here’s another way to make it happen: Go to the places you dream of visiting and freelance along the way.

It sounds like an obvious solution, but too many of us let life obligations get in our way of seeing the world. The biggie? We don’t want to disrupt our career trajectory.

But traveling has the potential to boost your career rather than stymie it, particularly for reporters. This is especially true if you approach your trip strategically, with a reporting goal in mind.

I know because I’ve done it. In 2008, after three years as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, I
gave up my seat at the city desk to backpack through French-speaking Africa. During that six-month trip, I reported on a pediatric AIDS clinic in Burkina Faso,
wrote a profile on a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal and told the story of a struggling polygamous family in Cameroon.

When I got back, after taking a year to write a book about traveling solo in Africa, I landed another job in media, at U.S. News & World Report. I’ve since left that position to grow my own company, but the point is that it can behoove you to take time away from the traditional workforce. In addition to adding “freelanced from Africa” to my
resume, I also improved my French skills and learned to grow a blog, experience and skills that made me more marketable.

If the idea of taking a career break to travel sounds appealing, here are a few tips for doing it successfully:

1. Work through your BUTs. Don’t let the challenges of taking a long-term trip prevent you from doing it. We all have our own BUTs that make it seem impossible: BUT I can’t afford it, BUT what about my mortgage, BUT I can’t leave my job.

You can overcome each of these obstacles if you choose to make your reporting trip a priority. Break down your BUT into manageable chunks, a to-do list you can tackle piece by piece, week after week. Create a plan for how you’ll save enough money or deal with your mortgage or use this adventure to help – not hurt – your career. Once you commit to your travels, you’ll see just how possible it really is.

2. Work a side hustle to save money. It’s not easy to save thousands of dollars on a
journalist’s salary, so use your off hours to pad your bank account. What skills do you have that you can market in this freelance economy? Maybe you’re good at web design or social media or teaching or simply writing. Each of those skills is in demand, so long as you can market yourself well.

It can be challenging for journalists to navigate the world of side gigs because of conflicts of interest, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be
done. One great new resource for finding freelance writing work is Contently, a marketplace
that connects writers with publishers.

3. Make contacts with editors ahead of time. It’s frustrating to find yourself in a developing
country with a fabulous story and no publication to buy it. Rather than trying to identify the appropriate editor to pitch when your Internet connection is so unreliable you can barely use Google, do as much research and networking before you take off on your trip. Build relationships with editors who accept pitches before hitting the road.

If you’re really smart, you’ll even freelance a piece or two for your target publications before you go, to prove your worth as a reporter
and writer. Editors who are familiar with you and your work are more likely to give your pitch real consideration than someone who doesn’t recognize your name. And it’s particularly nice to get your pitch accepted on the first try when your access to email is infrequent.

4. Go local. Few news outlets want stories from abroad that don’t have a local connection. That means unless you’re stringing for a wire or writing for a travel publication, tying a local angle into your story will do wonders to help it grow legs.

Not sure where to start? Try your alumni publication. Depending on which school(s) you went to, you’ll probably be able to find interesting alumni no matter where you go, and university magazines are often looking for off-beat profiles. Writing about fellow alumni also gives you an excuse to meet people who live in the place you’re visiting, people who might be willing to show you around.

Keep in mind that you aren’t limited to your alumni publications. When you meet someone
interesting during your travels, do a little digging to find out where they went to school. Chances are their alumni magazine will jump at the chance to get an article from you, even if you didn’t attend that school.

Taking a career break to travel doesn’t have to be a career-killer. If you approach it right,
it might even help you land a solid media job when you get back.

Have questions? Email alexiskgrant[at]gmail.com or tweet @alexisgrant.

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