Careers Beyond the Ordinary

How to turn the skills you have, into the career and lifestyle you want


Travel and Journalism Careers: write your way around the world and launch your own travel startup

Want to make travel and travelling central to your career, but not sure where to start? Want to become a published writer, but worried about those first steps? Well, why not kill two birds with one stone?

The world of writing, be it as a journalist, novelist, columnist, editor, or poet, can seem elusive and complex. Getting started and standing out from the crowd can be daunting, but is it really as hard as we might think?

There are now more options and routes into professional writing than ever before, with new media giving us all wonderful outlets to showcase our work and by-pass traditional routes.

Even with COVID-19, travelling, domestically or internationally, remains a highly effective way to get started as a writer, and you never know where it might lead you—to your first published work, or perhaps even your own business.

Inspired by George Monbiot’s advice in this insightful piece, this week we are welcoming two innovative guest speakers to discuss how they have written their way around the globe and launched careers in the travel industry. With backgrounds in investigative journalism at The Sunday Times and writing freelance for a range of newspapers, magazines and companies, our two speakers offer different approaches to getting started as a writer and in the travel industry, and different inspiration for where it might lead you. This will be a chance to take an inside look at the world of journalism and how travel can open doors to unexpected opportunities.

With Isla Lamparelli, Exeter Uni student and Edu-venture Exeter founder, our speakers, Sarah Keenlyside and Thomas Bird, will discuss:

  • How they launched their writing careers
  • How they made travel central to their careers and made their work more than just a job
  • How they built up the necessary skills and network to achieve their goals
  • How Thomas Bird developed his freelance writing network and Sarah grew her travel business
  • Stories of friends and acquaintances who followed similar routes to differing end goals
  • Their tips for how you can get started in writing and the travel industry


12-1pm (BST) Wednesday 29 July 2020 (please note this is an earlier time than usual as our speakers are dialling in from Asia)


This event has now finished.


This event has now finished.

Our Guests

Thomas Bird
Thomas BirdTravel Writer
Thomas Bird is currently a long-form feature writer at South China Morning Post. Having grown up in small town South Wales he fled routine and suburbia and ended up in China. After two and a half years serving a rite-of-passage apprenticeship as an English Teacher he returned to the UK to obtain a Master’s degree in Chinese Studies from SOAS, University of London. He speaks Mandarin fluently.

After working as an editor at popular expat publication That’s Magazine in Shenzhen where he cut his teeth in journalism, Thomas went it alone as a freelance scribe in 2013. Based between Beijing and various Airbnbs scattered across East Asia ever since, he has contributed to several guidebooks including the Rough Guide to China and the Rough Guide to Taiwan.

Bird’s travel stories and other musings can be read in the likes of The Guardian, New Statesmen, CNN Travel, Destinasian and Geographical Magazine, Lonely Planet Online, SupChina and several other sympathetic publications. He enjoys craft beer and the teachings of Zhuangzi. You can follow the journey here:

Sarah Keenlyside
Sarah KeenlysideFounder, Bespoke
Sarah began her professional career as an investigative journalist for The Sunday Times in London before moving to Beijing in 2005 to help set up Time Out magazine. Her role as editor gave her plenty of opportunity to explore the Chinese capital, discovering new shops and reviewing new restaurants and bars, while honing her writing skills, growing her network, and developing plans for her own guidebook and business.

Sarah founded Bespoke, a travel company where the guidebook and tour converge, in 2010 and has gone on to arrange tours for everyone from Katy Perry and The Killers to corporates such as Apple, HP, LVMH and Warner Bros. Sarah’s goal as founder of the company was to offer travellers the breadth of knowledge and transparency of a guidebook as well as the first-hand expertise of a tour operator.

In 2019, Sarah was justly nominated as Pioneer of the Year in the 2019 Revolut Everywoman in Travel Awards, and Bespoke Travel Company was nominated for the Empowerment of Women Award at the 2019 China Social Impact Awards.