Category Archives: Jobs/Internships

News on job and internship opportunities with V!VA Travel Guides.

Dream job: travel writer. Busting the myth (part 2)

By Andrea Davoust

Aspiring travel writers, you already know from my first myth-busting post that no-one will offer you as much as a glass of water (let alone free cocktails or, dream on, cruises), as you stagger around sweating like a horse in 35-degrees heat, asking at least five people for the same information because all the answers are going to be different and you need to triangulate. And that is the easy bit. Still not put off? Then let’s bust the biggest myth of all: that it is a real job.

Mother of all myths: you get paid to travel and write.

Unless you are Bill Bryson – and he raised his children on his salary as a sub editor – then you do not actually get paid. At least, not real money, not the kind that turns into a down payment for a car or even just keeps your electricity and phone line from being cut. If you do land yourself an official writing assignment, and once you have completed it, having wrung your credit card bone-dry in the process, then yes, you will probably receive some petty cash at some point. Probably enough, say, to recoup the cost of that last empanada and Sprite in Guatemala City airport. But forget about making a living out of it. And while you are at it, write off any hope of going “all expenses paid” – or if you find an employer who does that, please tell me their name right away. Until then, you are on a budget tighter than Speedo trunks and must fit the travel expenses’ equivalent of an obese bottom into it.

Where travel writers go for coffee

Where travel writers go for coffee

Corollary of the mama-myth: you rough it to the limit.

So you are on a shoestring. Well, so are lots of other travelers, and they don’t whine about it, right? Except they can choose to skip the top (expensive) tours and far-flung (expensive) attractions. You can’t, because you have to cover them for your guidebook. Well then renounce the comfort of a private room for a shared dorm at the Doorslam Hostel! Except that regular (loud) backpackers are not usually on the same schedule as you, who have to crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn to start working. Stretching your meal allowance by grabbing greasy street food would not be so bad either, if you did not have to check out the fancy restaurants in town, drooling over the tempting menu, writing down prices, and walking out. I could go on forever ringing off examples.

Yet in spite of the frustrating wild goose chases, dodgy boat rides, late-night ass-to-chair writing moments, and the many “what the hell?” moments, travel writing is a very rewarding experience. You just need to accept that it will never make you rich. On this zen note, I am off to apply for a position as a sub editor, which may fund my future trips and, who knows, my future bryson-esque fame and success.

V!VA’s Travel Writing Boot Camps

Still interested in the life of a travel writer? Why not join one of V!VA’s Boot Camps: five-day-long travel guidebook writing crash courses.

2010 Boot Camps:

Ecuador: January 4-8
Perú: January 18-22

Students hit the ground running with assignments, learn how to write guidebooks and have their work critiqued by seasoned professionals. This is a great opportunity for aspiring writers to gain hands-on travel writing skills and experience and get paid!boota

Upon successful completion of the course, Boot Camp graduates have the opportunity to stay on assignment as field writers and be compensated. Works will be published in the upcoming guidebooks for each country.

V!VA is looking for a select army of talented and adventurous writers to train out in the field and jump start their travel writing careers.

Learn from the pros what it takes to be a travel writer, start writing, get published and get paid!

V!VA Interviews an SAE Volunteer

By Emma Mueller

For those who don’t know, the South American Explorers Club—affectionately known as the SAE—is an organization that provides travelers in South America with extensive insider’s information and valuable trip planning advice. Ex-pats and travelers passing through South America should definitely stop by one of the clubhouses to meet fellow travelers and participate in organized events like weekend hikes, pub quizzes, parties and lectures given by local experts. Clubhouses can be found in Quito, Ecuador; Cuzco, Peru; Lima, Peru; and Buenos Aires Argentina. Sign up as a member and you’ll receive local discounts and access to helpful information online!

This week V!VA interviewed Marion Baier, who spent around two months volunteering at the SAE clubhouse in Quito, Ecuador. Prospective travelers looking to volunteer in South America should definitely read on to learn more about this unique and fun volunteer opportunity. For more information, visit the Volunteer and Work Page of the SAE website.

To start, tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Marion, I’m 23 and I’m from Cologne, Germany. I study translation in Hildsheim, a small town in the northern part of Germany with the languages English and Spanish. I really enjoy traveling throughout the world and whenever I’m on vacation from my clases, I try to do a trip somewhere. Besides that, I like to do sports, to read, I love music and to hang out with my friends.

What brought you to Ecuador? Who did you come with (if anyone), and was it your first time here?

The first time I came to Ecuador was in January 2009, because I wanted to visit my friend Gabriela who lives in Quito and who I met in the United Stated a few years ago. I fell in love with the city and the country right away, so I HAD to come back to explore more of Ecuador. I decided to do an internship here to improve my Spanish and I stayed seven weeks, which was definitely too short.

How did you hear about the SAE?

Because of my studies I need to do internships that have to do with languages. I looked on the internet and found a Spanish school in Quito that offered to help with internships. I wrote them and they offered me to work at the SAE. After I found out who they are and what they do, I accepted right away because it sounded really interesting and fun.

Why did you choose to volunteer at the SAE?

I chose to volunteer at the SAE because I really enjoy meeting new people and speaking different languages. It just sounded more fun then any other internship I have done before.

Describe a day in the life of an SAE volunteer. What exactly do you do?

I usually arrived at 9:30 in the morning and then started to write on the Quito package, which was started by another German volunteer who worked at the SAE before me. I had to collect information on Quito, on the museums, hotels, places of interests etc. and write small summaries about the different places in and around Quito. Whenever somebody entered the SAE clubhouse, I tried to help them with their questions, talked to them or showed them the house and where they can find what kind of information. There was always somebody around in the house to talk to.

What was your favorite part of being a volunteer? Were there any special perks?

I really enjoyed talking to people and finding out about their trips, where they had been before, where they were going next, etc.

And what would you say was the hardest part about being a volunteer?

The hardest part was probably the beginning. I came to Quito and didn’t really know the city. Because of that it was hard for me to answer peoples’ questions, because I didn’t really know a lot of things either, but they were expecting it from me. But at the end of my volunteering time, I knew more and also had been to some places, which made everything a lot easier.

While volunteering can certainly be a fun and rewarding experience, it can sometimes be difficult to make ends meet financially. How do you manage to get by living here in Quito without receiving a salary? Any tips/advice for the rest of us?

Before I came to Quito, I worked a lot Germany so I could finance my stay. I also received a scholarship, which was a great help. Because I only had a tourist visa, I wasn’t officially allowed to work, but if I had had a different visa, I would have worked in some place to get some extra money.

Would you recommend the SAE volunteer program to a friend?

Yes, definitely. Compared to other internships we have to do during our studies, it is a refreshing alternative.

What’s next for you?

Finish my studies and then come back to South America to explore all the other countries I haven’t been before.

Volunteering Abroad: How to Pay for it

By: Emma Mueller

Volunteering abroad is a great way to see the world, broaden your horizons and, most importantly, to lend a helping hand to people or places that really need it. And as you begin searching for the right program for you, you’ll find that there is no shortage of organizations out there ready and willing to set you up on your next adventure. Perhaps you’re passionate about protecting turtle nesting grounds in Costa Rica. Or maybe you want to help bring potable water to a rural community in Nigeria. No matter what you want to do, there is certainly a program out there for you. But finding the right program isn’t the issue. The real problem is that once you’ve stumbled upon your ideal volunteer opportunity, you’re likely to find that your dream job comes with a hefty price tag…

YOU MEAN I HAVE TO PAY TO CONTRIBUTE MY TIME?

Yes, it’s true.  Some of the best, most reputable volunteer organizations ask that you pay a fee to participate in their programs, and unfortunately, this is no small fee; typical costs can amount to thousands of dollars! This is not to say, however, that there aren’t a wide variety of low cost volunteer organizations out there. You may have to dig a little deeper, but there are many cheaper options available. Volunteer South America, for example, provides a list of not only low cost, but FREE, volunteer opportunities throughout South America.

But you know better.  Is anything ever really free anymore? Not really. The difference between these low cost options and those that charge a seemingly excessive amount of dough lies in what they are willing (or unwilling) to provide. While the more expensive programs will usually include accommodation, meals and travel expenses, the smaller, less expensive volunteer organizations leave it to you to find and pay for such things. So really, if you want to volunteer abroad, you’re going to have to shell out some cash.

WAIT! DON’T GIVE UP!

You’re not going on vacation, you’re volunteering—remember? The goal here is to do some good in the world, and to make a difference that will positively impact a struggling community or environment. If you’re really passionate about your cause, no price tag should dissuade you from doing what you want to do. And guess what? Other people—your friends, family and coworkers—may also think that your cause is pretty cool, so stop sulking about the money and get out there are start fundraising!

PUBLICIZE

The first thing you need to do is get the word out. Contact local newspapers, post on Twitter or create a Facebook group to spread awareness about your cause, and petition for donations to make your dream happen. To begin, you need tell a compelling story.  Let others know why your cause is important, what you personally hope to do and how you are qualified and equipped to make a significant impact. The idea is to spread your own passions onto others, so that they too will feel inspired to make a contribution in any way they can.

WRITE LETTERS AND MAKE CALLS

Get in contact with local businesses and organizations to see if they’d be willing to help you out. As you solicit, be sure to provide ample information regarding your program and personal goals in order to assure them that what you are doing is legitimate and well founded. Be creative and try to see if you can set up an agreement from which both you and the company you’ve contacted can benefit. Perhaps an organization  will be willing to set up a partnership where some of their proceeds are contributed to your cause—they benefit because people are often willing to pay more if they know their money’s doing some good, and you, of course, get a donation.

Asking for money can be uncomfortable, but the worst thing that can happen is that they’ll say no. That’s it. You need to consistently remind yourself that you are not asking them to pay you; you’re asking them to make a donation to a cause.

HOST EVENTS

Lastly, fundraising doesn’t have to be all about writing letters and making phone calls.  It can also be a lot of fun! A great way to raise money is to set up an event with a small entry fee. The following are just a few events and money raising activities that are both productive and fun:

  • Set up an Auction selling crafts and goods from the community in which you hope to work
  • Have a Garage Sale and get rid of those CDs you never listen to
  • Organize a Trivia Night at a local bar or club
  • Utilize Grandma’s incredible baking skills and hold a Bake Sale
  • Put your daughter to work and set up a Lemonade Stand
  • Create and sell a Book of Recipes
  • Host an Open Mic Night or Poetry Reading
  • Get some friends together and hold a Car Wash

Just make sure that you give yourself enough time (fundraising can be time consuming and exhausting) and try to stay positive. Sometimes it may seem like you’ll never reach your goal, which is why it’s important to choose a cause that you really, genuinely care about. If you’re just looking to get a paid vacation, you won’t get past the $100 mark.

Have you volunteered abroad?  How were you able to cover the expenses? Share fundraising and money saving tips below!

V!VA Interviews Jo Sykes, Intern turned Freelance Travel Writer

V!VA interviewed Jo Sykes to find out why and how she kick-started her travel writing career. Beginning as an unpaid Intern in the V!VA office, Jo decided to take to the road, and attended V!VA’s Guatemala boot camp. She’s currently on assignment for V!VA in Guatemala.

Why did you decide to go to V!VA to do an internship?

I was living and working in London and on one of those oh so typical dark, cold, wet winter days I decided it was time for a life change, to follow my dream and work towards turning my passion into a career. I came across an ad for V!VA on idealist.org and liked what I saw: a modern, mainly web-based, up-to-date guide written for the people by the people. As a traveler I know that information needs to be as current as possible and readily accessible and that is what V!VA provides. Plus, being located in Ecuador might have had a little-something to do with it.

What’s a guidebook office really like?

Tell it like it is: V!VA is honest and up front. We have real people out on the road and real people in the office too, working hard to deliver good quality information. Some days can be quite, er, long, for example: when editing website entries all day. Then other days are hectic, especially when a new book is nearing completion and there are editorial and graphical design pressures, or map and cover-photo deadlines. And it’s a pretty international office so because most people are living away from home there’s a real sense of camaraderie, everyone helping each other, plenty of crazy nights out together like the SAE 80s party, plus the occasional inter-office soccer matches: Ecuador v The Rest of the world!.

What was appealing to you about the V!VA Boot Camp?

There’s a great buzz when a group of like-minded individuals get together and that week we really learned a lot from each other. Everybody, whether a novice or an experienced writer, had been to or was from somewhere different so there were so many varied experiences and valuable lessons to share. The fact that the Boot Camp was held in a country of interest to travelers particularly attracted me as it meant we were able to go out on mini-assignments and immediately put what we’d learned to the test.

Participating in the Boot Camp

Participating in the Boot Camp

What was the most useful thing that you learnt at the V!VA Boot Camp?

The importance of pre-trip planning. A lot of preparation is done before actually going out into the field and if you don’t do your homework you are not going to get the most of your assignment and nor will your reader. Fully researching your destination, seeking out key-contacts, planning routes and schedules as well as thinking about health and safety issues, are all important tasks. What do we say? One part preparation, one part organization, and one part perspiration.


So, you’re currently based in Guatemala. Where is the most interesting place that you’ve traveled for V!VA?

Traveling up to the chilly Western Highlands of Guatemala not only did I see some awesome views of the Cuchumatanes mountain range, but I also met some Mam locals who taught me about traditional weaving techniques and took me along to church where I heard the hypnotic chanting of prayers to a Catholic God in Mayan dialect. On the flip side, I recently hung out on the shores on Lake Izabal and took a boat to hot and sticky Livingston where I experienced the Black Carib Garifuna culture of Guatemala; two opposite, but equally fascinating, worlds within one country.

Lake Izabal

Lake Izabal

What is the most challenging part of guidebook writing? Why?

For me, the challenge is making sure all your readers’ interests are covered at the same time as really giving a town the attention it deserves (you see, it all comes down to planning again). Some people like to visit museums, others like water sports, some like fine dining, while others like to get down and dirty trying out the local ‘delicacies’. So regardless of your preference as a traveler you have to get to grips with every aspect of a place, in order to provide a comprehensive perspective and allow travelers to make informed choices, whether it be for a two-week holiday or a 12-month round the world trip.


What’s the most random thing you’ve seen while on assignment for V!VA?

I bumped into Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, while on Isla de la Plata. I’d only gone to see some blue footed boobies so I got more than I’d bargained for there! There have been quite a lot of animal experiences: a conversation with a bilingual parrot in Chichicastenango; sheep on the baggage rack on top of a bus near Todos Santos; hundreds of fish laid out to dry; and a pig on the dance floor at a club in Livingston.

Meeting Rafael Correa, Ecuador's President

Meeting Rafael Correa, Ecuador


Where would you most like to write a guidebook for, and why?

You know, I could say the Seychelles or the Maldives but instead it would be either Holmfirth, my home town in northern England, or Nomozaki in Japan, where I lived for two years. Both are equally as unknown or misunderstood as each other … I’ll let you decide which one is which! Nomozaki offers a great insight into the steady life of a traditional Japanese fishing village, far away from what most tourists see when they visit fast-paced techie Tokyo. And Holmfirth is the gateway to the Pennines, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales; far from the heady capital of London these are great places for long walks in the fresh country air and treating yourself to a well-deserved pint and a pub lunch.


What’s next?

In the short-term, I’m planning to do some traveling around Nicaragua and then sail from Panama to Colombia, and that’s just in between completing some write-ups for V!VA of course. Longer-term, I want to build up my freelance writing know-how now that I’ve got such great experience under my travel belt, working both in the V!VA office and on assignment. I’m expecting great things from myself over the next year. To infinity and beyond!

Fish laid out

Fish laid out

V!VA Travel Writing Boot Camp Costa Rica a Success

On August 25th to 29th, V!VA Travel Guides hosted a Travel Writing Boot Camp in San José, Costa Rica. Instructor Paula Newton reports that the writers who took part learned a great deal, enjoyed Costa Rica and all graduated. Monica Tobin, Dallas Boyd, Juliette Acker, Ruth Bell, Chantelle du Plessi and Maria Lundgren will all join V!VA as roving freelance contributors. Look for their work coming soon to the best travel website in Latin America! Congratulations!