The spectrum of travel writing is vast. There are those, like me, who write about some areas they know well and travel to often. I write about road trips I’ve taken, hidden gems in seemingly unremarkable locations, and fun destinations in the Northwest. Sometimes I get paid for them.
In previous years that’s not been a big deal, but this year I made enough money to begin looking into what was expected of me in terms of taxes and it was overwhelming. For others, travel writing is a bigger part of life. It’s jet setting, getting paid to travel to great places, and writing photo stories. Many travel writers really live the lives of vacation Instagram stories. However, there are less glamorous aspects you don't see. Those things are sporadic paychecks, sleeping in airport terminals, and taxes.
For the majority of employees working a normal job with normal taxes, tax season is sort of exciting. You file your taxes and you maybe get a chunk of money back. For others, tax season doesn’t carry a ton of excitement with it – it’s just a thing that has to be done. For self-employed people like travel writers, things get a lot more complicated come tax time, and for newer nontraditional jobs, tax season can be a nightmare.
Knowing Your Income
Each writer’s situation is a little bit different based on where they live full time; if they have another job; if they work for themselves; how much money they make; or if they blog for a company and not for themselves. Some travel writers are paid by a company to use their products, travel, and write about them. Each situation has positives and negatives, but travel writing is generally extremely rewarding but fluid and unstable - a characteristic that many travel writers thrive on.
However, taxes are still different depending on if someone is a traditional salaried employee for that company, if they freelance for that company, or if they are contracted by that company. However, no matter which way you look at it, the government is interested in all of the income you make as a travel writer: advertising, affiliate posts, items in exchange for reviews unless unsolicited, any and all payments are considered your income.
Some people think that if their job as a travel writer isn’t their main source of income, they don’t have to report that income. That is true in some cases, but the amount of money you have to make in order to begin worrying about taxes is a measly $400. Anything under that might not be taxed, but the rule is that the IRS wants to know about all of the money you’re making. Period.
Deductions can be a pain regardless of your profession come tax time, but it can be especially difficult for travel writers. What you can, what you should, and what you shouldn’t deduct are all so dependent on each situation, but generally you can deduct quite a few expenses as a travel writer. Airfare, hotel rooms, and gear are all required to complete your job. Even if part of your trip is for personal reasons, and part for business reasons, you can deduct the percentage of your ticket meant for blogging. Same with your laptop, camera, mileage, etc. Remember: just because you bought something that you use for travel blogging as well as personal use doesn’t mean you can’t deduct a portion of the cost.
Tax season is most hectic for those that are not organized, and travel writers spend a lot of their time in hectic settings while jet setting to different locations more frequently than the average writer or taxpayer. It can be easy to lose track of records, receipts, invoices, emails, etc. when you’re travelling. However, even though it’s difficult, it's important to keep everything organized. Store all of your receipts in a digital file as well as a physical file and have a system of doing this every night so you never forget. Keep the receipts for every deduction, invoices from every employer, site, and publication. Keep track of every vendor you work with, and basically all payments and income linked to travel blogging. If you end up working another type of job while traveling to help pay for the expenses of travel blogging, be sure to keep track of those W2's and documents as well - even if it’s under the table.
Be sure you stay on top of the requirements that you should know as a contracted writer as well as your work on your own blog. If you’re doing any work for other people, you need to fill out a 1099 form. Otherwise you’re receiving untaxed money under the table and the IRS will not be happy with you. Know if you should be filling out a W-2 as an employee or a 1099 before doing work for other businesses to protect yourself.
Common Mistakes and Helpful Tips
It’s really easy to make a mistake with your taxes when the process is so difficult for this type of work. It’s not cut and dry, and blogging isn’t a profession that’s been around forever, so some resources for tax help can be limited. In order to be successful, make sure to avoid common mistakes and take any advice seriously.
- You should be looking into state tax requirements if you spend a significant time working and making money in another state.
- Report income made even if it seems insignificant – if you get caught you’ll be responsible for paying those taxes as well as interest and any fines.
- Be sure to pay quarterly income taxes. There’s a penalty if you don’t at least report your quarterly income, and it’ll reduce your burden come tax time.
- Create an invoice for every payment you receive, even if you don’t send those invoices to companies. It’ll help your filing and organization for all income.
- Hire an accountant! Even if you just have a financially savvy friend help with the books, you’ll feel so much better about your finances.
- Consult a tax professional about your specific needs. Researching answers is a great place to start, but no one will have the exact answers to your questions except for a professional that understands all of your finances. 90 percent of taxpayers need assistance filing returns, so don’t feel like you can’t seek help.
Even if tax time is more of a headache to you than anything else, there are ways to make sure you’re at least more prepared for the headache. By understanding what constitutes income, knowing your deductions, keeping track of all paperwork, avoiding costly mistakes, and listening to helpful tips, you’ll soon have this whole tax thing down. You may have a more difficult filing process than most, but your office probably looks a lot more welcoming than most as well. If the price for travelling to amazing locations is an annoying tax process, life is still pretty great.