Freelance travel writer Mark Daffey

Mark Daffey. Photo supplied by Mark Daffey.
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"The best is the freedom of the lifestyle. The worst is the money." Freelance travel writer, editor and photographer Mark Daffey talks to Imogen Hartmann.

You studied a Bachelor of Business, how did that lead to becoming a travel writer?

I wanted to study tourism, but at the time there were two places to do that, Victoria uni and a uni in Townsville. I just missed out on getting into Victoria uni and I was only 17 so I wasn’t going to move up to Townsville. So, my next option was accounting. My Dad’s an accountant, so I sort of fell into it…So I did that for about 10 years. I had to option of going back mid-way through my accounting degree and doing tourism but by that point I was ready to just get going and travel… And that was always the intention – to go and travel.

How did you start getting your stories published?

I was into photography before I was into writing, and I got into photography from travelling. I’ve got an older brother who’s a journalist, he’s into the footy stuff. He was working at the Bendigo Advertiser at the time, it was his first proper journalism job. One day he said, “Hey we’ve got a little travel section… Why don’t you write up a travel story to go with your photos and if it’s half-decent we’ll publish it.” I thought it was a good idea, but I didn’t take him up on it.

But for me, I got into the writing by writing journals, letters and postcards. People enjoyed reading them, and I enjoyed writing them – more than I’d ever enjoyed writing anything at school.

A few years later, I’d just gotten back from Indonesia and my brother said, “I’ve enrolled in a photographer’s correspondence course, do you want to join me?”

And I said, “Yeah – I will.”

After that I wrote a story for the Herald Sun and it got published. Later on, my brother got a job at the Herald Sun and introduced me to the new travel editor and from then a lot more of my stuff got published. So, networking. Who I knew definitely helped.

So, you’re mostly freelancing now, what are some of the best and worst aspects of freelancing as a job style?

The best is the freedom of the lifestyle. The worst is the money. It doesn’t pay real well unless you have a weekly gig. Sometimes you have to do the jobs that pay well and still try and do the jobs you want to do that don’t pay as well. You’re building a brand, but it comes with heaps of uncertainty.

The thing is, you’re allowed to enjoy your work – you should enjoy your work.

Mark Daffey

Some freelances say they don’t enjoy what they do, because they were always working so hard to get paid for it. What do you think about that in terms of your work?

I get that. I grew up reading Lonely Planet while I was backpacking, and for that reason I never approached them to try and write for them – because I thought it might ruin the joy of it. It’s [travelling] more of a job for me now than anything else but I still love it. People say, “Where’s your next holiday?”, and I say, “It’s not a holiday, it’s work.” The thing is, you’re allowed to enjoy your work – you should enjoy your work.

How do you go about finding stories if you’re somewhere unfamiliar or if you’re experiencing a language barrier?

Research. I just do tonnes of research beforehand. Sometimes the people that you’re travelling with can suggest some angles. It’s also good to see what’s already been written about, and you’d be surprised at how you can find a way to build on that or give your own perspective.

What role do you think photography plays in storytelling?

I used to earn more from my photos than I did from my writing. That’s changed now, because everyone’s got a phone to take photos. But I think having your own, unique photos that you’ve taken to go along with the story, you can’t beat it.

I’m passionate about photography, that’s more first passion. I’m getting more serious about photography even though the rewards may be less. When I was doing accounting, you might work on someone’s tax return and save them thousands of dollars and in the end, they’d just complain about the bill. But with photography and travel writing it’s very satisfying seeing your work on a page or a screen and being able to say, “I did that.”