How to become an outdoor journalist and to achieve work-life balance. Interview

Today more and more people travel without taking a break from work and for longer periods than regular 28 days vacation (depending on a country). From the outside it seems that they live in traveling, successfully balancing it with work and life. How do they do that? Last year I asked about it to four familar Russian-speaking travelers — TV host, photo tours guide, ecologist, and a professional traveler — for the blog of the largest Moscow outdoor store. I also answered the questions and gave some advice to those who want to travel more, balance it with work and life or to become outdoor/travel journalists too.

— People often come to journalism from other professions without having a profile education. How was yours?

— The same. Six years ago I changed my lifestyle and profession dramatically — I took part in an annual volunteer project in the Dolomites in Italy. It was the first time I found myself in the mountains, where I was fascinated by hiking and revised my views on travel and life in general.

I wanted to write about travel and make a living with it. I started to meet with publications and travel companies — so I entered the profession. No there are almost 100 publications in my English language portfolio and 500+ in Russian.

— What exactly do you do for a living? How much money does writing bring today?

— I help companies and publications to create and distribute content on outdoor activities, ecotourism, travel, and other related topics. It’s not just about writing. Today content is anything: a photo, video, audio, stories in Instagram… — or all of it together.

In general in Russia writing brings not very much: from 20-50 to 130-150 euros and more for one article, interview, and texts in other formats. It depends on the publication or company. For full-time work as a journalist or editor in an office in Moscow, they pay from 500-600 to 1000-1300 euros or more. In St. Petersburg and the rest of the regions is less. Remotely — in general, also less, but again, it depends on the company or publication.

— In 2018 you changed “29 houses and apartments”. How did this happen? How do you combine travel and work?

— It was an accident. I didn’t prepare well for the trip and didn’t decide exactly where I wanted to live: I moved from place to place all summer. In the last two winters I lived on the coast of the Black Sea, in the city of Sochi on the south of Russia, where was the 2014 Winter Olympics. In summer, from May to October, for the last three years, I live between Dolomites and Finland.

My volunteering project didn’t end there in 2013 — now I independently help the local tourism association and other people and companies, to develop ecotourism and outdoor activities in the region, and I love Finland since childhood because I was born and spend much time close in St. Petersburg.

I also have a hard rule “to visit one new country per year”.

In the summer of 2018, it was Georgia, at the junction of 2018-2019 — Montenegro, in April of 2019 — Munich, Germany. I had another hard rule that I refused to follow is to spend at least one month in the country. So you don’t just travel there, you live there. After a year in Italy, I realized that it is more interesting and “more powerful” changes your life.

All in all, I lived in 10 countries out of 21, where I’ve been. But there were too many. It’s harder and harder to get used to every new country. So now I travel in a circle: between Dolomites, Finland and some cities in Russia.

For those who work remotely, combining travel with work is easy: you need a comfortable place to live and the Internet. I usually rent an apartment for a month on Airbnb or other ways — it’s not only more interesting but also cheaper. I work from home, libraries, and cafes when I want a change of scenery.

I also realized that it’s not good to work only remotely. When all your work on the computer and smartphone screen, you may lose the feeling of real life. So I try to communicate more with my colleagues live, participate in events and arrange my own — for example, in “Sport Marathon” I talked to people in public three times: about the Dolomites, Finland and how to become a travel/outdoor editor. And also to release something material, in print — for example, I put my interviews in books.

When you live and work in travels, sometimes time and boundaries are erased. Perhaps that’s what you need to know about how to combine them.

— What do your relatives and friends think about your travels, changing places, and working from a distance?

— When I left to travel and changed my field of activity, my relatives did not understand me — it became more difficult to communicate with them. But here I had to choose: either you live your own life, or the life that someone likes — but not you.

Except for the Dolomites and Finland, where I know most people, in reality, all my friends are mostly online. We don’t see each other very often. They also work in the travel industry or close topics and lead similar lives. They’re comfortable to communicate with. Just like the characters in my interviews, they motivate me to stay on track.

— I want to be a travel journalist and editor, too. What are the three first steps I need to take? Which are the three most important?

— The first is maybe not to choose to become a travel journalist. Because it’s hard to live only from writing, without a full-time job. And to find one in travel journalism may be more difficult, than in other fields. Today almost everybody writes. The competition for positions in companies and publications is high.

My advice may be: find some job with longer holidays or frequent trips if you just want to travel more.

For example, teachers, seasonal or shift work. Take part in youth, cultural, volunteer, and other similar programs in Russia and abroad. And so on…

If you’ve decided for sure that you want to have travel is your job, here are a few related professions except journalism: photographer, tour guide, travel blogger (if you promote a blog, you can sell advertising in it), TV presenter. Or get a job in sports equipment stores — sooner or later you will be sent on a hike, then another one.

The second is to surround yourself with people who share your passion for travel and adventure, rather than looking at you obliquely, because you are “not like everyone else”. They will help you not to turn away from your chosen path. And vice versa, less communicate with those who will throw you off the path.

Unfortunately, sometimes these are the people closest to you.

The third is to find a teacher/mentor/tutor who will teach the basics of the profession. In my opinion, learning from someone personally is more effective than in the conditional “School of Travel Journalism”. Especially if you don’t have time for regular education. And work, write and edit at once, even if you are not an editor yet. That is to start with practice and the theory to learn as you go along.

The three most important steps:

  1. To work for money from the beginning. Nothing motivates you more than a good fee (paycheck) for the publications.
  2. Feel free to communicate with popular publications and companies, even if you have little experience. Gain this experience and get to know your colleagues in the professional community.
  3. To write on social networks. Today, if you’re not online, you’re nowhere to be. But do it not like for your family and friend, but more professionally.

Finally (and firstly), share your passion for travel and writing/photographing, with your family and relatives. Take them on trips and involve them in your travels and creative projects (they are bound to appear). Children are not a hindrance either! Spend more time with them, both at home and on trips.

The original article was published on 28 August, 2019 in blog of Sport-Marathon («Спорт-Марафон») — one of the largest outdoor store in Moscow, Russia.

Cover photo: creative hiking to mount Coppolo, 2069 m, in Vette Feltrino, Dolomites © Irina Serdukovskaya.

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