As a professional travel writer, Colby Lee Burke has experienced the best the world has to offer. His deep interests in art, architecture, culture, and nature make his writing stand out in the travel world. Burke splits his time between the East Coast and the West Coast, keeping apartments in Portland, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina.
An alumnus of the University of Oregon, Burke grew up in Portland. The unique cultural scene in Portland influenced him as a young writer. In high school, he began writing for his school’s literary magazine. He wrote his first travel articles for his college newspaper, and he gradually began to build a professional portfolio. As his reputation grew, he received more prestigious assignments. He made his first trip abroad a year after his college graduation.
Colby Lee Burke Hilton Head is especially interested in art, architecture, and culture. He also writes about nature. His favorite international destinations are Florence and Edinburgh, Scotland. He is especially fascinated with the architecture of cathedrals and castles. He tries to return to Edinburgh at least once a year, and he has made many friends in the city.
Burke recommends that novice travelers leave enough room in their itinerary to explore the city or country. He also recommends that new travelers pack light and avoid checking bags when possible. He encourages everyone to travel as much as their budget allows, believing that travel broadens the mind.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I got started as a travel writer right out of college. I had to work a day job for a few years and write on my own time, but as I gained a reputation, I found that I could live on my freelance income. I was involved with my high school and college newspapers.
How do you make money?
I am a freelance writer who is paid one piece at a time. As I’ve gained experience, the magazines I work for have begun to pay for my travel. That made a huge difference in where I could go and what kinds of stories I could write.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
It took a few years before I saw a profit from travel writing. It was tiring to have a day job and travel as much as I could on the weekends. When I was able to quit my day job, the quality of my writing skyrocketed.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I definitely doubted whether it would work out. I encountered some pushback from my family, who believed I should have stayed in my day job. They are supportive now.
How did you get your first customer?
My first paid article was in a small regional paper in Oregon. I wrote about a music festival. I received a small paycheck, but I was excited to make a break in professional writing. From there, I began to receive assignments from bigger and bigger publications. Eventually I was writing for popular travel magazines and other national periodicals.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I continually send pitches to new publications. When you’re freelancing, you can’t depend on your name or your portfolio to keep you in business. You have to have a certain amount of hustle to succeed. I probably send 5 to 10 pitches per week.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I had to cancel a trip to London when the magazine I was writing for changed their plans. I was disappointed to miss out on the trip. Freelancing can sometimes be an uncertain business.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I push myself to succeed. I have a strong work ethic and I enjoy being busy. If you don’t have a lot of energy, travel writing is not for you. I’m also driven by my natural curiosity. I love to learn new things.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I was thrilled when I wrote my first article for a prominent national magazine. I could tell my family and friends that they could pick up the magazine anywhere.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I am planning to travel to Antarctica in the next year. I am also practicing my photography skills so that I can take better pictures for my articles.
What business books have inspired you?
I got a lot out of The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. It gave me a blueprint for making my writing career self-supporting.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I recently bought a new laptop. My old one was slow and unreliable, which is a bad thing if you’re a professional writer. I’ve become much more efficient with my new laptop.
What do you do when you’re not traveling?
Even though travel is my life, I can’t travel all the time. I spend time in my hometown of Portland and in my second home in Charleston. My girlfriend is in Charleston, and as that relationship becomes more serious, I may be living in Charleston full-time. I love to play the guitar, and I enjoy classic movies. I also enjoy running, though I don’t do it as much as I’d like to.