A profile of travel writing school Matador U

matadoru traveling writing courseAs someone who has been traveling around the globe since before I can remember, I have always dreamed of being a travel writer. While I would often blog about my trips to my friends and family, write about my trips for school papers, and create websites and content for (unpaid) internships, I never realized that travel writing was something that normal people could actually make a living out of.

Matador has always been one of my favorite travel websites, so when I saw that they were offering a MatadorU travel writing course, I became interested. I did a bit of research, read reviews and feedback from other students, contacted the instructors, and, after deciding it sounded worthwhile, signed up. Plus, I liked the fact that they allow you to try the course for a week for $10 to see if you like it, risk free.traveling writing course with matadoruThe total for the course is $350 which gives students access to various lessons, resources, and support forums. With all the course offers, I can honestly say it is the cheapest yet most worthwhile course I have ever taken. Before even get started, there is a pre-course that helps you setup your blog and learn what steps to take to get the most out of the course. After that, there are 12 weekly chapters (although, you are allowed to take as much time as you need to complete them), each with key terms, lessons, examples to make the lessons clear, and assignments that are critiqued. Unlike many of the assignments that I completed in school, what is great about MatadorU’s assignments is that each one becomes content to help build your blog. There are also assignments that help you create photo essays, podcasts, portfolios, and advertising pages to help monetize your site. Some other important lessons learned from MatadorU include:

  • creating successful pitches
  • finding and approaching editors
  • crafting compelling beginnings, middles, and ends to your story
  • creating characters and dialogue
  • writing in different tenses and using all of the five senses
  • writing different types of articles, for example, destination pieces vs. reviews
  • crafting a successful bio
  • how to apply for press trips and etiquette to abide by if you are chosen
  • tips for successful freelancing
  • tips for travel writing full time (for example, how to get insurance)
  • how to successfully use social media as a travel writer
  • how to work on the road

And much more (seriously, that isn’t even half of what they cover). Really, though, if there isn’t something covered, you are free to seek help by contacting the instructors or posting in the community forums where your peers, as well as staff, comment. The forums are not only a great place to learn and get advice about travel writing, but are also helpful in creating contacts, finding potential project leads, finding out about writing contests and jobs, and allowing you to talk to like-minded people in your niche.

By the time I had reached Chapter 3, I had not only begun contacting editors and sending pitches, I had started making money. My first article that I successfully pitched and sold was for an online adventure travel magazine about hiking in New York. While they normally didn’t pay for articles, they liked my idea so much they gave me $50 to create a mini-hiking guide for them. While this isn’t a ton of money, just starting out, I was pretty excited, especially since for years I had been writing for websites that didn’t pay me a dime. It also gave me the drive to really put all of my efforts into the MatadorU course and get the most out of it, giving me the confidence to pursue higher paying avenues (many times, successfully!).

Aside for the immense amount of information they give you and the feeling of a strong support system, there were two things about this course that really made me feel like it was worthwhile. The instructor in charge of the course, Julie, is the most helpful teacher I have ever had. I was always amazed at how much thought she put into giving me feedback on my assignments and my endless questions and e-mails. She has taken the time to Skype with me about future steps in my travel writing career and has even set me up with some networking projects. I am not sure how she finds the time to give each student so much attention, especially since she is a travel writer herself, but she does.

The other factor that has really made me a fan of MatadorU is all of the resources that I have, and always will have, access to. Just the Magazine List alone, with publication information, submission guidelines, and editor contacts for over 100 travel-related magazines, was worth the cost of the class. There are also pro-modules that are helpful to alumni, as well as a Market Blog that posts press trips, job leads (I have actually gotten paying assignments and jobs from this), and a weekly Writing Lab where you can have any piece of writing you wish to submit critiqued.

So what did I get out of the course? A lot. By taking this course I have not only helped enhance my writing, researching, note-taking, social media, and blogging skills, but have also seen that it’s actually possible to be paid to do what I love most, travel.

Watching bullfights with my five-year-old

bullfight, bullfights
One of the facts an immigrant has to accept is that your children aren’t going to grow up in the same culture you did.

When I want to give my five-year-old son a treat, I take him to dinner at El Brillante here in Madrid. You can’t get more traditional than El Brillante–an old-school cafeteria/bar that hasn’t had a remodel since forever, with hefty waiters who scream your order back to the kitchen. All the traditional dishes are on offer, and people throw their napkins on the floor. This may sound gross, but it’s more hygienic than putting your chorizo-grease-stained napkins on the same surface as the plates. Adapting to a new culture involves lots of little shifts in perception.

We walked in the other night and a bullfight was on the television. My son was immediately transfixed, not because of the program but because he got to see a TV. We don’t own one. Spanish TV is as dumb as American TV, and with fewer channels.

I hesitated, wondering whether we should stay. I don’t like bullfights but I also don’t like breaking promises to my kid, and this is one of his favorite places to eat.Then I began to think. Bullfights are controversial here in Spain. Last year the region of Catalonia banned bullfights and many Spaniards see them as a national embarrassment, my wife included. They’re still popular, though, and get lots of coverage. If he hasn’t seen a bullfight already, he’s bound to see one on TV sooner or later–at his grandmother’s house, another restaurant, or a friend’s place. I’d rather he saw it with me than someone whose judgment I may or may not trust. So we sat down and ordered.

Is five too young to see a bullfight? Yes and no. I’m his father. My job isn’t to shelter him from the ugliness of the world, my job is to prepare him for the ugliness of the world. Bullfighting is part of Spanish culture and we’re both going to have to deal with it. He sees bad stuff every day, like the homeless guys drinking themselves to death in the park. There are limits to what I’ll let him see, though. When the news showed the carnage of a suicide bombing in Pakistan, I covered his eyes. I should have covered mine too.

While a bullfight is a needless display of cruelty, there are at least two sides to every issue. After it’s killed the bull is eaten. Bulls live a free-range and well-fed existence, unlike the factory cows penned into stalls so tiny they can’t even turn around. I’ve always been amused by people who get righteously indignant about bullfights and then go eat a hamburger.

A bull has a pleasant life until the last fifteen minutes, when it suffers pain and terror before being killed and eaten. In other words, it has much the same life it would have in the natural world. If I was to be reborn as a bovine, I’d choose a bull’s life hands down.

We ordered our food and my son perched on his stool and watched TV. The last time we were here he was equally entranced by a reality show about a 73 year-old man learning how to cook. But this was no cooking show. As usual, the bull had to be goaded into a killing frenzy. Horsemen called picadores speared the bull, and three banderilleros run out with pairs of spikes and jabbed them into its back. Bloodied, weakened, and enraged, the bull was ready to meet torero or matador. A young man in an elaborate suit walks towards the animals wielding a cape and sword.

“Do you know why he carries a sword?” I asked my son.

“No.”

“Because he’s going to kill the bull.”

He turned to me with surprise. “Really?”

“Yes.”

“But sometimes the bull kills the torero,” he said.

“Sometimes.”

He turned back to watch. I wondered again whether this was a good idea. Farm kids see animals killed, as do children in the developing world, so really it’s our urban, First World culture that’s in the minority with this.

The torero had a tough time. After making a few impressive passes, the bull got wise and stopped just in front of the cape and sideswiped the torero. The guy retreated behind a barrier while two assistants distracted the bull. After a minute he summoned enough courage to go back out. He’d lost his confidence, though, and only made the bull do a few passes before using his sword to finish it off. It was a pointless spectacle, not nearly as entertaining as most bloodless sports. I get the impression that in another generation bullfighting will die. The average age of the spectators almost guarantees it.

By this time my son wasn’t so entranced. He was paying more attention to his salchicas del pais con pimientos and was treating the slaughter on the screen with very Spanish indifference. Being Canadian, I could never be that indifferent to a bullfight.

“So what do you think of bullfighting?” I asked.

“It’s OK,” he shrugged. “Not as good as football, though.”

And by football, of course, he means soccer. Chalk up another difference between him and his old man.

[Image courtesy Marcus Obal]

Matador launches print magzine Beta

When I met Matador Network’s CEO Ross Borden for the first time we were in the Air New Zealand lounge at LAX. He was nestled at the end of the lounge, import beer at his side and furiously typing away at his Macbook — where he remained, working hard, through two weeks of adventure travel through New Zealand and Thailand — furiously committed to his empire and to all things Matador.

At the time, they were expanding, launching the successful travel writing school Matadoru whilst pushing forth strongly on the other dozen fronts already live on the site.

And now, Matador has expanded into a hard travel product. This March, Borden, colleague David Miller and their editor in chief David T. Page will be releasing the first issue of Beta, a new travel magazine painted in the classic, edgy Matador style. Says Miller in his 8 Reasons Matador is Launching a Print Magazine article:

Travel writing in its highest form is like a cairn. It’s tangible. It’s formed out of the local landscape. It registers and measures one’s relationship with place. It’s meant to remain for a long time. It can guide you at ground level. And it can guide on other levels too. This is our vision behind creating our new print magazine, BETA.

In an era of transitioning travel media it’s a big risk for Matador and the guys behind the network — but if they’re all as tenacious as Ross is, we have no doubt that Beta will take off. You can check out their full masthead here.

Matador U launches photography course

Matador U, the teaching arm of the massive Matador Network, continues to grow. This week they’re launching a Travel Photography Program, a twelve week online course designed to teach the full spectrum of photography skills, including broad feedback and insight from the Matador editors and contributors.

It’s a good supplemental step to take for any experienced travel writer — knowing how to take the right photos, with the right apertures, lenses and shutter speeds is an amazingly useful skill to have for storytelling.

Tuition runs $350 (or three payments of $125) for the full 12 weeks. You can get more info on the course and other Matador U products here.

On your way through the course, make sure to stop by Gadling’s Flickr pool to drop off your best pics. We might use them for a future photo of the day!

Gadlinks for Thursday, 1.28.2010

The weekend is almost here! Are you headed anywhere fun? I’m off to sunny Puerto Rico to escape Chicago’s latest cold snap. Here are a few bonus travel stories to keep you dreaming of warmer days.

  • Winter in the northern hemisphere means summer in Buenos Aires. If you’re headed down south, here are a few places to gorge yourself silly, courtesy of Matador writer Tom Gates. [via Matador Nights]
  • Nothing says summer like the sight of tan surfers catching some waves. How does a pro surfer globe-trot? Find out with BootsnAll’s How I Travel profile of surfer Holly Beck. [via BootsnAll]

More Gadlinks HERE.