Colby Lee Burke is a popular travel writer based in Charleston, South Carolina and Portland, Oregon. He found his voice as a travel writer at the University of Oregon when he traveled abroad to study art history and literature in Florence. When he returned from his journey, he wrote several pieces for his college newspaper. A mentor encouraged him to submit these articles for publication.
After college, Burke worked as a copy editor for a major newspaper in the Northwest. His freelance travel writing slowly took off, and he was able to quit his day job within a matter of years. His success as a professional travel writer means that he is able to travel the world and enjoy the best that different cities have to offer.
Burke’s particular talents lie in exploring the cultural landscape of the places he visits. He is deeply interested in writing about local festivals and special activities. He also enjoys writing about food and accommodations. His favorite destinations are Scotland, Bar Harbor, Maine, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. When he is at home, he enjoys swimming, hiking, and reading. In addition to his work as a travel writer, Colby Lee Burke is working on a novel to be published in the coming year.
What are some of the main costs to run your business?
Being a travel writer, the major cost of running my freelance business lies in airline tickets. Sometimes my travel is covered by the publication I am writing for, but often, I pay my own way. When this happens, I tend to stack several different cities in one trip to save on airfare. Another cost involved in running my business is a good laptop computer and Internet access.
How do you fight off the competition and new companies in your market?
Since I am a freelance writer, there is always competition to be dealt with. Sometimes multiple writers will pitch an article, and my proposal has to compete with theirs. My work speaks for itself, and I frequently come out on top when compared to other authors.
Would you ever consider expanding to the West Coast?
I love the West Coast. I am a Portland native and still spend half of my time in the city. I have traveled extensively throughout the area. My favorite place to write about is Yosemite National Park.
Can you talk about one challenge that you faced in the last 12 months?
I experienced some health problems early in the year. This made it very challenging for me to travel and complete articles. I am always determined to succeed, so I spent my downtime working on a novel. I sold the novel, and I am awaiting publication in a few months.
What does the future hold for your company?
I hope that I will be able to continue freelancing as a travel writer. Freelancing is a job where you always have to hustle, so I have to be high-energy at all times to succeed.
Do you think you will remain in your current position for the foreseeable future?
Yes, I hope so. I can see myself traveling well into what people would consider retirement age. I love being out in the world, and I would feel cramped if I were restricted to one city. This is why I maintain homes on both coasts.
Can you give us a brief overview of your education?
I was an English major at the University of Oregon. While I was there, I focused on literature and culture. I didn’t plan on becoming a travel journalist, but I wrote some pieces about my Italian study abroad program for our college newspaper. I loved attending the University of Oregon. The school has a unique culture.
What are some of your day-to-day duties nowadays?
Each day, I spend at least four hours of writing. I also coordinate efforts with the photographers who will bring my pieces to life. I have phone meetings with my editors at various publications. When I am on the road, I spend much of my time exploring, then I write down my first impressions on my laptop.
What is your advice for an aspiring travel writer?
Don’t give up your day job too quickly. I was fortunate that I could borrow money from my parents to give me a firm financial footing when I started out. If you don’t have that luxury, make sure that you stay in your day job until you are well-established as a travel writer. I’ve seen too many friends make that mistake and have to give up on their dreams.
Would you change anything about your career if given a chance?
I might have kept my day job longer and avoided borrowing money from my parents. They were happy to do it, but I would have preferred to remain independent.