How to Win the Ultimate American Summer Road Trip with a 500-Word Essay

Travel writing contest
Susana Fernandez under Creative Commons

Do you fantasize of quitting your boring 9-to-5 job to jetset around the world? What if you got paid to write about your adventures?

Travel writing sounds like a dream job. And for many, it’ll remain just that — a dream — because it’s notoriously difficult to break into travel writing and become successful enough to pay the bills.

But maybe that dream isn’t so far away. World Nomads, a travel insurance company, is partnering with Lonely Planet to offer three lucky winners the opportunity of a lifetime: a crash course in travel writing from a prolific Lonely Planet guidebook author, then a 10-day road trip across the United States to kickstart your new career!

All you have to do is register on World Nomads and include the following in your application:

  • Write a 500-word essay about a “travel discovery” — something you’ve stumbled across while traveling that become a favorite place or experience
  • Plan your 10-day itinerary for a road trip across the U.S.
  • Write a 300-word essay about why the judges should choose you

People who win these types of writing contests tend to already have tons of travel writing experience, thousands of Twitter followers and street cred in the industry, making it impossible for an up-and-comer to win. But not this one. This contest is strictly for newbie writers with little experience. Established writers can’t even apply.

The deadline for entries is May 27, 2015, so hurry over to World Nomads soon. But first, here’s a rundown of who can apply, what you’ll get if you win (and what you agree to do), and how to improve your chances of winning.

What Do You Win?

World Nomads will select three scholarship winners who will design their own 10-day road trip adventure across the U.S.. If you’re one of them, here’s what you’ll get:

  • Round-trip airfare from where you live to San Francisco, California
  • A three-day travel writing course in San Francisco with Lonely Planet author John Vlahides
  • A 10-day road trip across the U.S., which includes a $3,000 stipend for food, transportation, activities and accommodation
  • Travel insurance for the duration of your trip from World Nomads

Winners must put their freshly minted travel writing skills to use by doing the following:

  • Within two months of your return, write 20 travel discoveries with accompanying photos to be published World Nomads as a U.S. Road Trip Guide
  • Post daily photos to Instagram throughout the trip

Who Is Eligible?

A love of travel is obviously required. But you don’t need to have much writing experience. In fact, this contest is strictly for up-and-coming, non-professional writers who are willing to be mentored in travel writing. “Essentially this is a ‘learning opportunity’ for someone who is looking for an introduction into the travel writing industry and more importantly, is keen to be mentored,” the contest page says.

If you’re already a professional writer, you’re not eligible. World Nomads qualifies a professional as anyone who makes more than 25% of their income from writing. It’s OK if you’ve had a few stories published or keep a regular travel blog.

A few more nitty-gritty details about who can and should apply:

  • The contest is open to all nationalities, but you must be proficient in written English
  • You must be comfortable working and traveling solo
  • You must be 18 years old by May 27, 2015, when applications close
  • You need a valid passport with at least six months left before expiration
  • You must be available between August 10 and 24, 2015 (when winners will be road trippin’)
  • You are an exceptional writer with a lust for adventure travel, a desire to experience new cultures and above all, a burning desire to become a professional travel writer

How to Improve Your Chances of Winning

In your application, you will write a mini-guide to a favorite place or experience you’ve encountered while traveling. “We’re trying to unearth Travel Discoveries, or hidden gems that you know other nomads would enjoy,” World Nomads tells us. Here’s how they suggest you write about your Travel Discovery:

  • Pick a specific location — a temple, a museum, a beach, a park or a train carriage.
  • Describe why the place is meaningful to you. What happened to you there? Why was it special? How did it make you feel?
  • Include tips so someone else could replicate your experience. How might you do it differently next time to make it even better?
  • Give an insider’s view of the place or experience that you might not be able to find in other travel writing

Here’s what the judges will be looking for:

  • Great descriptive ability (without getting flowery)
  • Strong eye for detail
  • Ability to uncover a great Travel Discovery and tell a compelling and original story about a specific place
  • Excellent spelling and grammar and a knack for avoiding clichés

Also take a look at last year’s winners to help you learn how to nail World Nomads tone:

Ready to throw your hat into the mix to win a free road trip across the the United States? Head over to the entry page to check out the contest and apply!

Your Turn: Will you apply for this contest?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.