Professional travel writer Colby Lee Burke has a unique perspective on the world. His fascinating articles bring different cities and countries to life for his readers. He writes for a variety of prestigious national and international periodicals. He splits his time between the East Coast and the West Coast. A Portland, Oregon native, he attended the University of Oregon. While he was still in school, he began writing travel pieces for his college newspaper. A semester abroad in Florence, Italy fueled his desire to travel. When his art history professor read his pieces on Florence, she suggested that he might want to become a full-time travel writer.
Colby Lee Burke Hilton Head worked as a copy editor for several years after graduation and wrote travel pieces part-time. As his travel writing career took off, he was able to quit his day job. He sends pitches to new magazines constantly, searching for the best places to promote his work. His work ethic and ability to multitask make him successful. Burke’s favorite travel destinations within the United States are Bar Harbor, Maine and Hilton Head, South Carolina. Internationally, he enjoys traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland and London. Through his work, he examines the unique cultural and artistic sites in each city, bringing his readers along on a journey of discovery.
What was your best/favorite subject in school?
My best subject in school was English. I have always loved to read and write. When I was a kid, I was always at the library. My family didn’t have a lot of money, and I had to daydream about all the places around the world that I wanted to see.
What was your first job?
My first job was copy editing. I worked for a newspaper for several years before I started my freelance travel writing career. It was a good job for me, but I found it confining. When I read other people’s travel pieces, I knew that I could do better if I had the chance.
Where and how did you first get into the industry you currently work in?
I started writing travel pieces in college. I went to Florence for a semester in college, and I wrote a great deal about the city’s art, culture, and architecture. When I returned to Oregon, I showed my articles to my Art History professor. She told me that my articles were professional quality and that I should think about becoming a full-time travel writer.
How have those jobs prepared you for what you do now?
Copy editing taught me to write clearly and with a distinct voice. It also taught me the value of hard work. I made a lot of contacts in the publishing industry and kept them in mind as I began to build a travel writing portfolio.
Describe the best day of work you’ve ever had.
I have had so many amazing work days. When I wake up in a new city, I can’t believe that I’m getting paid to take these fantastic trips and to share my experiences in writing. When I went to Tokyo for the first time, I felt I had truly come into my own as a travel writer.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
Freelance writers have to hustle. It’s not a job where you can sit back and wait for assignments to be put on your desk. You have to pitch your ideas to every publication you can think of and then wait for the offers to come in. I have a strong drive to succeed, so I usually have quite a lot of work on my plate.
What kind of business ideas excite you most?
I am always looking for travel magazines and websites that have a new perspective on the world. It seems like whenever I read my competitor’s stories, I’m reading the same thing all over again. I would like to work for a magazine with a truly fresh viewpoint.
Have you ever tried any unorthodox techniques to attract attention to your business?
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve sent small gifts to editors along with my story pitches. I realize that sounds like bribery, but a fun little trinket or a food item is harmless enough. I don’t have to resort to such tactics anymore, but they were productive when I was first starting out.
What personal achievement are you most proud of?
I was once published in National Geographic. That was my proudest moment so far. I couldn’t believe that I had risen to the level of writing for such a prestigious publication.
What wisdom would you have liked to share with yourself when you first started out?
I would tell myself to believe that travel writing would work out. I hesitated before I left my job at the newspaper. My friends at the newspaper thought I was crazy to leave a well-paying job to chase a dream, but I was determined to make it work. If I could, I’d tell myself that I would succeed and not to let the naysayers get me down.