Travel Writing Master Class

Travel Writing Master Class
January 27, 2016
10 Weeks | $445


Amanda Castleman with Candace Dempsey, Chelsea Lin, Stephanie Oswald, Edward Readicker-Henderson and Thomas Swick

Take your prose to the next level, honing your voice and perspective. Bring a conference panel’s worth of teaching talent to your computer – any time, anywhere. Each week, travel writing students receive direct feedback from one of six instructors, ranging from a CNN producer to a contributing editor at Islands and National Geographic Traveler.

The roster includes multiple winners of the Lowell Thomas (the genre’s ersatz Pulitzer) and Best American Travel Writing honorees.

  • Adventure specialist Amanda Castleman has published in Outside, Salon, the BBC, Yahoo, Hemispheres and The International Herald Tribune, among others. Her 30-odd book contributions include Frommer’s and National Geographic.
  • Award-winning travel writer Candace Dempsey is the author of Murder In Italy (Penguin/Berkley Press), the true story of Amanda Knox. Her adventure tales light up Travelers Tales and Seal Press anthologies. A former MSN producer and editor of Alaska Airlines Magazine, she’s written for Slate, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and many other publications. She’s also appeared on CNN, the BBC and MSNBC.
  • J-school alumna Chelsea Lin has spent the last decade giving recommendations on where to eat, drink, shop, and play around San Francisco and Seattle: professionally via channels like MSN, Seattle WeeklySeattle magazine, and Seattle Metropolitan, and independently to her network of friends (and really, anyone who will listen). She has a forthcoming book for National Geographic Kids.
  • Editor-in-chief of Travelgirl magazine, Stephanie Oswald also hosts shows like Getaway Atlanta for LionStar Films and All-Girl Getaways at Fine Living TV Network. This Emmy-winning, multi-platform journalist has worn many hats at CNN – including anchor, reporter and writer – and also has produced and blogged for The Weather Channel. As a Hearst Fellow, she taught TV journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and she continues to offer courses in Travel Writing Skills and Successful TV Presence at the Emory University Center for Lifelong Learning in Atlanta.
  • Recipient of three Lowell-Thomas awards, Edward Readicker-Henderson is contributing editor at Islands and National Geographic Traveler. His musings on cultural travel have also appeared in Afar, AARP Magazine and Forbes Traveler, among other outlets.
  • Author and columnist Thomas Swick‘s observations on the trade have been honored by Travelers Tales, Best Travel Writing and Best American Travel Writing. His freelance clients include Afar, Smithsonian and The Oxford American.

Explore imagery and epiphanies apt to an area. Sharpen your eye for timely angles and compelling quests. Push your plot arcs further and master the interweaving of action, analysis and reflection.

From broadcast basics to longer-form narrative, this online workshop helps intermediate to expert authors refine their games. We’ll delve into the sound of words on the page, as well as how to capture the best quotes from locals and experts. The class will even touch upon investigative tactics: when to tuck that press pass in your hatband… and when to meditate and read poetry for inspiration. Finally, you’ll refine your cutting, redrafting and re-purposing skills, exploring the same material through different subgenres and editors.

Past travel-writing students have taken this momentum into bylines at BBC Travel, The Independent, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Toronto Sun and The Christian Science Monitor, among others. One landed three clips in national outlets – off her first pitches ever – before week six of the course. Another has won travel-writing’s most prestigious prize, the Lowell Thomas.

But awards and publications are just icing on the cake: wherever you start from, this online workshop will help you kick things up a few notches via detailed, weekly critiques.

Not sure if the master class is for you? Take our quiz on the tab above to find out.

Optional Reading For The Travel Writing Master Class

The course has no requirements – too difficult with such far-flung students – but the following books make great additions to any dedicated travel writer’s bookshelves.

Published Work By Alumni Of Our Travel Writing Courses

Course Outline

The master class extends priority registration (immediate enrollment) to alumni of’s travel writing courses. Other applicants may be wait-listed until a week before class kicks off.

Please note, the order of this units may change, depending on guest-instructor availability.

Week 1: Work Every Angle
Advanced narrative techniques and how to develop strong, “sticky” news pegs that excite editors to commission and audiences to read avidly. Write an essay or feature with a timely angle (750-word max).

Week 2: Place as Character
Delve into the revelatory details and techniques that illuminate a story, raising place from “backdrop” to center stage. Assignment: Write a feature or essay, emphasizing the sensations, history and culture of a destination (1,000-word max).

Week 3: The Plot Thickens
Using motion, suspense and blocking action to build literary steam … and ideally reveal a deeper message specific to the location. Assignment: Reverse-engineer an outline from a completed article (your choice). Track the arc of ideas and emotions, indicating the lede, nutgraf, exposition, points of revelation, rising action, climax, point of insight, denouement and kicker (500-word max).

Week 4: Look Who’s Talking
Explore how to populate stories with characters, including a defined and intriguing narrator, where applicable. Go beyond interviews and authoritative sources to vignettes that evoke universal themes and rich, specific experiences. Learn how to gather revelatory quotes and telling dialogue, then smoothly integrate these other voices with your own. Assignment: Write — or revise — a story, employing three original, authoritative sources (1,000-word max).

Week 5: Writer, Sell Thyself
Finesse your authorial persona. Explore tactics for marketing your brand, pitching major projects and stage-managing your new- and social-media self. Assignment: Submit your online portfolio URL (or materials for one) for review, along with two bio blurbs (one 150 words, another 75). Supply five social-media posts, which adhere to the 80/20 rule while still building your brand and expertise.

Week 6: Superpowering Social Media
Editors increasingly ask writers to blog and tweet while on assignment. Discover how to finesse your new- and social-media footprints. Tips on networking, writer’s groups and finding a mentor. Assignment: Write a 250-to-500-word brief suitable for a blog, as well as five related posts for Twitter.

Week 7: Cuts & Redrafts
Truman Capote once said, “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Fine-tune your self-editing skills from microtrims to mechanical overhauls during revisions. Assignment: Redraft a feature as a 500-word news brief.

Week 8: Recycling For A Better World
Journalists are hired guns, who assume house styles, voices and even moral viewpoints to suit various clients. Learn to chameleon your prose better… and also how to recycle your research and original reporting for multiple markets, increasing your profits. Assignment: Suggest news angles for the five story ideas supplied, as well as five of your own concepts (750-word max).

Week 9: Broadcast Cross-training
From videos to book trailers, writers increasingly wind up on air. Walk through the basics of multimedia storytelling and confident presentation. Assignment: Create a piece of multimedia of your choice.

Week 10: Action, Analysis & Reflection
Craft smooth segues and structures that pan from the specific to the universal and on to insights. Assignment: Revise one of your pieces or submit a new one (1,000-word max)

Week 11: The Point of Insight
Evolution of an idea: how a theme, narrator and sense of place transform throughout a tale. How to choose revelatory details and a point of insight aligned with a piece’s theme or quest. Produce 750-word and 250-word versions of the same story. Maintain thematic unity, plot arc and strong ledes, nut grafs and kickers, despite cuts.

Week 12: Voice and Rhythm
The sound of the word on the page has power, as does its placement within a piece, a paragraph and even a phrase. Explore how to write with force and flow, emphasizing the important elements of a story through thoughtful, conscious choices. .Assignment: Revise one of your 1,000-word pieces for line-editing or submit a new 3,000-word one for more general comments.


Can I travel during class?
Students – and the instructors – frequently travel during the course. The lessons and discussions remain online, and late submissions are welcome by special arrangement throughout the ten-week period. The decision should hinge upon your work habits: can you work and focus well on the road? Will you have the discipline to make up assignments back home?

Is the introductory course suitable for experienced writers?
Absolutely. Amanda’s taught full-time travel journalists and professionals jumping genres or reviving skill-sets (including former staffers for Shape, The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal). Most find the pitching advice and line-critiques (detailed feedback on assignments) the most valuable aspects, as well as the class camaraderie.

Is the master class suitable for unpublished or inexperienced writers?
In most cases, no. This workshop focuses on advanced techniques and career-building steps, not the basics of freelancing and travel writing. For an overview, we suggest’s From Press Trips to Punctured Tires, which caters to beginners, as well as professionals jumping genres or reviving skill-sets.

How much time does it take?
The time commitment varies, of course, but students seem to average 30-60 minutes for the lectures and at least 60-90 for the assignments (some may be quicker, like the outline). Ambitious readers can delve deep via links and articles: some study is self-guided and entirely optional.

Why only one article?
Resources and rewriting separate beginners from the pros. This course addresses the typical weaknesses of fledgling authors.

What sort of success can I expect?
Students have published in outlets from Sunset to National Geographic Traveler and The New York Times. One had to pause, then restart the class later, because she landed so much work off the first pitches she ever sent. Another won travel-writing’s most prestigious prize, the Lowell Thomas.

But placement depends on timing, connections and marketing savvy, as much as talent. I work to boost each student up a few ladder rungs from where he or she began. For some, that’s publishing a first clip, for others breaking into A-list publications.

I live outside the U.S. Is this a problem?
The class is entirely online with no fixed hours. All you need is a word-processing program, Internet access, a browser and a credit card. A recent session included students from Ireland, Scotland, Prague, India and New Zealand, as well as across North America; such a mix really invigorates the class. Amanda has staffed in the US and UK – and continues to work for publications around the globe. Thus she’s sensitive to Anglophone dialects and how they might effect publication-ready prose.

I’m not sure I want to publish…
No problem. The introductory course emphasizes the skills of professional writers, not just to rocket-boost freelancers, but also because those storytelling and style elements work. But above all, helps students develop their distinctive voices — and cheerleads any level of ambition.

Will this course help a travel blogger?
Absolutely. In fact, our alumna who won the Lowell Thomas – travel writing’s Pulitzer – coauthors The Vacation Gals blog (Kara Williams).

The workshop has a robust new media component, exploring both DIY options and online outlets. It explores techniques common to strong writing everywhere: interviews, authoritative sources, news angles, narrative arc, etc… Most importantly, it offers detailed feedback, line by line, from a professional — something independent authors often lack.

What if I have another question?
Mark Dahlby can answer any queries (


Are you ready for the workshop?
Thanks for your interest in’s travel writing master class. The 12-week workshop has no prerequisites, but students should be comfortable with some key concepts and industry terminology. The following dozen questions help determine if you and the workshop are a good fit…

Don’t despair if you’re not. The 12-week workshop will repeat with an evolving roster of guest stars. In the meantime, also offers a 10-week more introductory travel-writing course.

Some of you may be tempted to cheat and look up answers on the internet. And that’s just dandy. It shows the sort of hustle and intrepid reporter spirit we can work with…

A. A “land of many contrasts”

  1. Nutshells a destination’s rich dichotomies
  2. Signals that a piece pushes beyond fluff into a balanced perspective
  3. Is a post-colonial construct
  4. Expresses tension and irony
  5. Is a cliche, as well as a generalization that expresses little sense of place

B. What is a lede?

  1. A horrible, horrible typo
  2. An exciting point low in a piece
  3. The hook that kicks off a story
  4. The flotation element in a fishing lure
  5. The who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph

C. What’s a nut graf?

  1. Another typo. And you people call yourselves instructors? Sheesh.
  2. A passage that cues an article’s basic where, when, why, how, etc.
  3. A crazy defrauding scheme
  4. A sidebar element, usually a diagram
  5. An eye-grabbing pull quote

D. A news angle rocks because…

  1. It substantially increases the chance of a commission
  2. It gives readers a reason to pay attention now
  3. It can connect your story to wider and more topical issues
  4. It inspires hits, link love and social-media sharing online
  5. All of the above

E. What’s inverted pyramid?

  1. A graphic representation of how much publishing money reaches writers
  2. The ratio of lean protein to carbs now advised
  3. A get-rich-quick Ponzi scheme
  4. A story structure that places vital elements first
  5. A story structure that buries the lede

F. Quotes are important because…

  1. Many old-school editors demand at least three per piece
  2. They broaden a story beyond the writer’s experience
  3. They add authenticity, authority, texture and perspective
  4. As Master-class Instructor Thomas Swick said in the Columbia Journalism Review: “What can you know and feel about a place when you don’t meet the people who live in it?”
  5. All of the above

G. Generally speaking, verbs should …

  1. Be passive to convey elegance and academic detachment
  2. Be active and evocative, telegraphing action
  3. Express the state of being as much as possible
  4. Spice up the end of a sentence
  5. Be supported and qualified by helping verbs

H. The rule of three

  1. suggests that things in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other quantities
  2. requires that you repeat key points three times so readers internalize the information
  3. conveys the minimum number of quotes old-school editors require of even a short article
  4. dictates the number of rewrites in most publishing contracts
  5. Explains that mènage á trois to your Great Aunt Tilda (“Seriously, they won’t allow you onto online dating sites now without one…”)

I. A strong kicker …

  1. Employs apt imagery
  2. Ties together story strands with a flourish
  3. Offers insights specific to this place and no other
  4. May intertwine both the interior and exterior journeys
  5. All of the above

J. “In media res” is…

  1. a nickname for Rupert Murdoch, the king of all media
  2. the point when a story’s protagonist successfully trouble-shoots the blocking action
  3. the critical number of typing monkeys to produce at least two lines of a Shakespeare sonnet
  4. Latin for “in the middle of things,” which describes a lede that drops readers right into the action
  5. Latin for “in the middle of the story” the action just before the climax

K. In travel writing, a good essay’s conclusion

  1. Underlines universal appeal with phrases like “something for everyone”
  2. Reveals something deeper about the destination, as well as the narrator’s interior journey there
  3. employs imagery, insights and revelatory details apt to that place and no other
  4. Answers 2 and 3
  5. Expresses the author’s desire to repeat the experience

L. Press trips and “comps” spark controversy because…

  1. Subsidies might compromise objectivity
  2. Of inconsistent policies about staff versus freelance participation
  3. Not all outlets are transparent about them
  4. The FTC requires more strict disclosure for bloggers than mainstream media writers
  5. They’re a necessary evil, in a landscape where the average national-magazine-article fee has flatlined at $500 for the last two decades
  6. Junkets project a shiny, stage-managed view of a destination and don’t encourage original reporting
  7. Of hypocritical “don’t ask, don’t tell” practices at outlets with strict ethics policies
  8. The New York Times won’t hire a freelancer who has accepted a comp for any story. Ever.
  9. Bans on them tend to encourage coverage by wealthy authors, many of them hobbyists rather than professionals
  10. All of the above

Scoring your quiz
Give yourself one point for each correct answer. Yes, we kept it simple in classic reporter-math style!

Answer key

A. 5     E. 4     I. 5

B. 3     F. 5     J. 4

C. 2     G. 2    K. 4

D. 5     H. 1    L. 10

A score of 0-4 and an “OMG” panic
Our nerdiness might annoy you at this point. Perhaps consider’s workshop “Travel Writing: From Press Trips to Punctured Tires,” before the master class. Or check out Jack Hart’s seminal book A Writer’s Coach.

A score of 5-7 and a “too many trick questions” irritation
You’ll probably do just fine in the class, especially if you have a solid portfolio of travel clips. But you may want to review a little with Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

A score of 8-11 and a perverse feeling of joy
You’re an ideal candidate for the master class. Treat yourself to a new keyboard guard and a copy of Telling True Stories: A NonFiction Writer’s Guide to broaden your perspective even further.

A score of 12 and a “you call that a quiz?” smugness
Congrats. You’re either a whiz kid or one motivated search-engine maven. Either way, go read Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story so you can help us teach down the road.


“Amanda is a phenomenal editor and a patient teacher; precise but not nitpicky, critical but not harsh. My writing is clearer and more focused than ever before. I spent eight semesters in creative writing classes at UC Berkeley, and Amanda offered more guidance and carefully directed help than any professor I took there.” – Jenny Williams

“The best teacher I’ve ever worked with. Her feedback was exceptional in terms of quality, detail, extent, and sheer usefulness. Her generosity with her time and expertise is astonishing. I learned a huge amount, have had four pieces published and paid for (including my very first assignment, in The Guardian) and have completed the course with a sense of expanded possibilities. Thank you so much — this is the most rewarding educational experience I’ve had.” – Rachael Davey

“What an amazing gift you’ve given us: personalized attention plus huge generosity in sharing practical knowledge from the trenches. Far better than courses at traditional institutions.” –  Anne Anderson

“I absolutely loved Amanda’s “Pitch Like a Honey Badger” class. Not only did she give the most specific and constructive writing feedback I’ve ever received (and I spent 6+ years in graduate school), she showed us how to transfer specific comments to future pitches. As a former academic, I found the class especially useful for recognizing and letting go of jargon and distilling complicated ideas into something interesting and palatable. As I work the tools I learned, I’m starting to get more takes on my queries and recently had an editor refer to my pitch as “one of the best” she’s seen. That was a pretty great day!” – Stacey McKenna

“I am an Amanda groupie. After three classes with her, my confidence as a writer has grown thanks to her encouragement and mentoring. I started to believe in my voice through her generosity, thoughtfulness and constructive feedback. Her  confidence in my abilities helped me persevere and the Pitch Like a Honey Badger class led me to create a framework for a query that is garnering responses like “great pitching here” from editors (and also a series of assigned stories!).” – Elena Sonnino

“Amanda is an amazing line editor and quick to provide excellent answers to questions. She’s very supportive and encouraging, and I consider her not only my teacher, but a mentor as well.” – Audrey Medina

“At the end of 10 weeks, I had arrived in the Blogosphere, made new friends and even bagged a job as a writer at a magazine – all thanks to the new-media course!” – Nidhi Nayer

“She corrects in such an affirming way. My confidence has risen and I now have tools to move forward and (hopefully) progress.” – Gwen Stevenson

“She had it all – warmth, attention to each student as an individual, tremendous savvy about the field, and very perceptive comments on our writing. ” – Marge Osborn

“Rather than discouraging, the critiques inspired me and got me thinking or seeing ways forward. Many times I found myself laughing at my mistakes and keen to improve. Again I want to say how terrific Amanda is, her knowledge, skills, and talent as an inspiring teacher.” – K N Kennard

“Amanda is extremely thorough, tactful, professional, sensible, generous, knowledgeable, insightful, and funny (did I miss anything? I could go on…). Her class and the other students were a real pleasure.” – Mare Monahan

“Amanda is amazing. She is more generous than any teacher with whom I’ve studied. She encouraged me to work beyond my limitations as a writer to points I’d never before reached, and beyond to new ones. During class, I placed a travel essay at the San Francisco Chronicle (I believe Amanda worked patiently through four drafts of that sucker with me) and an online article at GirlsguidetoParis. Anyway, studying with Amanda will improve your writing, no matter the genre, and you’ll have fun doing it!” – Debra Borchert

“Amanda gives impressive edits and fantastic feedback to help students improve and learn from each other. Amanda is the best editor I’ve seen and gives tremendous value in each week’s homework reviews.” – Leslie Holgate

“Almost five years ago, I completed Amanda Castleman’s beginners’ travel writing class. Published piece in hand, I landed my first job as a journalist at a local newspaper. Recently, I tackled the advanced travel writers’ class, and used the resulting articles and knowledge to launch my full-time freelance career. As with any new business, it hasn’t been a walk in the park, but what a ride! More importantly, it is one that I was well-prepared for with the help of Plus, I’ve made great co-writer friends. I would (and regularly do) recommend it to anyone who considers entering the slightly weird and always wonderful world of freelancing or travel writing.” – Petro Kotz

“I was very impressed by the level of individual attention, thought and response time.” –  Abigail King  Inside the Travel Lab

“With the confidence and skills Amanda gave me, I was able to approach highly regarded publications, like The Washington Post and the Toronto Star, and succeed in getting published. Amanda’s class is a good investment, for beginners, as well as for professionals who need to energize their work and look at it from a different perspective.” – Gaston Lacombe

“The travel writing workshop is invaluable. Since the course I have had a couple of articles published in nursing journals and today I found out that I have been accepted as an Editorial Board member of the Journal of Emergency Nursing (the only member outside of America). The workshop content has been transferable and I can imagine Amanda’s comments as I read through and edit my work (sentence too long, need a more catchy introduction, etc). Just wanted to share my achievement and say thank you for the writing guidance last year – it has made a huge difference to me and my path forward.” – Alison Day

“Her approach to teaching is clear and concise. I’ll not be surprised if one day she writes a book on Travel Writing. … She is an inspiration, an ideal to aspire to.” – James Polk

“Fab experience, again! One word describes Amanda: awesome. Her critiques were thorough, encouraging us to aim for excellence. Her lectures were chock-full of practical advice (and humor) about writing on the road. She is a dream teacher, just the right balance between a knuckle-rapping tutor and a mom full of hugs. Thanks again for The course fees are lots cheaper than a shrink!” – Linda Petrucelli

“It surprised me that I felt more of a sense of community in her classes than I experienced in live workshops … Best of all, Amanda is a wonderful editor, both sensible and sensitive. She helped me immensely to make my writing more concise and effective, and to use my quirks to best advantage.  Here’s the proof: I went through all the stages of writing and marketing an article on Magellanic penguins in southern Chile. To have my first article accepted by the first publication I approached –The Christian Science Monitor – was like rocket fuel for me, and I have Amanda Castleman’s expertise to thank. ” – Anne Clippinger, PhD    Adjunct Lecturer, Department of English, Montgomery College, MD

“Amanda Castleman leads her courses with thorough precision. She inspires careful attention to detail so that essential elements of the writers’ work shine.” – Kayla Allen, also published in the Christian Science Monitor during class

“I rate Amanda Castleman’s course A+. I finished it last month and promptly sold an article. Amanda is a first-rate instructor who reviews every word of each student’s assignment and offers detailed comments in a constructive, supportive way.” – Leon Oliver

“After taking her class, I went on to publish a number of travel writing stories and currently have 20 travel assignments due to my favourite editor before July 1. I started picking up assignments while taking Amanda’s class and have kept all my notes for easy reference. Cheers.” – Dee Van Dyk

“I thought that the class was EXCELLENT and well worth the time and money… The overall structure of the class, literary critique/criticism tied with the business end of travel writing, is a great approach.” – Timmy Williams

“A very generous, knowledgeable person! Amanda was definitely worth every penny. Without your program, my writing would have stagnated. As it is, it remains one of the most important things that I do.” – Nina Camic

“I haven’t taken Amanda Castleman’s class – I already make a living as a travel writer – but because she’s a friend, she just looked over a 6,000-word piece I was doing for National Geographic Traveler. Plain and simple, her comments and suggestions were the best I have ever seen from any editor, anywhere. Amanda’s a genius.” – Edward Readicker-Henderson, instructor and winner of multiple Lowell Thomas Awards

“With her words and comments, she not only teaches, but inspires… This is my second class already and definitely I will take more.” – Gabriela Romo

“The learning was PACKED and the class had a lot of energy. She seemed very devoted to her charges and was always extremely helpful. Amanda Castleman’s class is one of the best learning experiences I’ve had.” – Sandra Braden

“Topnotch … excellent balance of being supportive as well as having high expectations I love her genuine, witty humor as well as her creative way of approaching writing. She is extraordinary… I already have recommended Amanda’s class to many people. YES! I would take another.” – Sandra Kennedy

“The humour, generosity and laser-sharp direction provided in her feedback inspired me to persist when the going got tough. More than an instructor, Amanda is a coach, a cheerleader and a friend to her students. Thanks to her I discovered a passion for writing, fell in love with my thesaurus, developed consciousness in my reading and writing, and staked my claim to the title, aspiring author… is offering great value for the money.” – Joan Campbell

“Amanda’s instruction and feedback was encouraging, educational, and inspiring. I love that she line-edited everything we wrote and offered ample resources to support her edits. She also went above and beyond in supplying resources to me when I emailed her privately.” –  Shannon Entin

“I really enjoyed Amanda’s class. She is the best writing teacher I have ever had–encouraging, precise in praise, and helpful and kind with correction. She cultivates an individual’s voice while guiding the writer toward a saleable product. She is the astute editor that every writer needs to have who can cut through to or coax out the best part of the piece and challenge the writer to improve. She gives the right support to keep a writer working through the problems rather than giving up. ” – Susan Starbuck

“Very happy. Really excellent, very clear, and very informative! The assignments were appropriately challenging and it was always clear why we were being asked to do what we were at that particular point in the process. Amanda was amazing! Very generous, responsive, attentive to people’s individual needs and interests. She also knew when to be encouraging and when to be a bit tougher – always clearly showing how much she cared about each individual student.” – Charlotte Savidge