Travel writing is great fun, if you love to travel and you want to share your experiences and impressions on the places you have visited, it is a natural path to follow for many writers. But unlike other forms of writing, it requires considerable financial investment in the process to explore and research your topics. Paid assignments will help offset the costs, but if you are starting out, the regularity and amount of income earned from your travel writing may not be sufficient to fund your journeys. However, if you are prepared to swap your writing hat for your business hat, there are a number of opportunities and avenues you can follow to obtain sponsorship to assist you in completing your travels.
The first and most convenient method is to apply for "travel writing assistance" from the tourism authority or commission of the destination you plan to visit. I usually start the process by inquiring via their media or marketing department as to whether they have a travel writers assistance program and what is the criteria and method of application. Some authorities will simply reply with a list of requirements, while others will have a standardized application form for you to complete. Irrespective of the method, they will require the following key information in order to consider your application:
The two key components in your application will be your published travel writing credits and the commissioned article to be completed. The first sponsored trip I applied for was approved based on the only three travel related articles I had written at that stage of my writing career. One was a travel essay that was published without payment, another was a sports article with a travel component and the third was a destination travel and photo piece (with my first published photos!) that I had written for a travel e-zine. If you have yet to publish any travel articles, it's good to note that articles written for online magazines, small print publications or newsletters for little or no payment will be worthwhile when you are seeking sponsored trips.
The assignment letter is probably going to be your next major challenge. If you are a beginning travel writer and have a slim portfolio, it is often a big enough challenge to sell your completed articles, let alone be commissioned to produce an article on your chosen destination. Your best bet is to return to the publications you have sold to in the past. Again, they need not be large print or high-paying publications. My upcoming sponsored trip is based on an assigned article from a monthly online travel magazine that I have written for in the past and a hotel review for my agent's Web site.
The other component for securing the required assignment is a compelling and specific outline. A general proposal on the destination and its features is not going to give your editor a strong idea of what your finished article will look like. Do your research and ask those who have visited the destination for specific and preferably unusual and unknown features of the area. I have yet to meet a traveler who doesn't love to share travel tales with an enthusiastic audience; it's often in these conversations that I hear about a new and interesting feature that has yet to appear in a travel brochure or guidebook. My first travel article assignment was based on an adventure activity in Hawaii that a dear friend had been raving about for years.
This is also a time when "more is better." If you can't secure a commission from a large circulation print publication, aim for multiple articles or a series from smaller publications, or my personal favorite, e-zines and Web sites. This will increase your chances of obtaining assistance/sponsorship.
When seeking your assignment, it's important to note that the policy of some publications may prevent the editor from accepting any travel articles derived from sponsored or assisted travel. But don't be deterred. Most of the newspapers, magazines and e-zines I have approached are more than happy to assign articles under this arrangement. The best approach is to be very clear and upfront when proposing the planned article.
So you have sent the media department of a tourism authority your writing clips, an assignment or two on your chosen destination, and your proposed itinerary, biography and article outlines. What can you expect from them in the way of "assistance"?
This can vary greatly from simple assistance with planning your trip and providing media packs/information on the area, to contacting hotels, service providers (i.e., car hire) and tour companies, to obtaining "media rates" for your bookings. Media rates cover the whole spectrum, from a minimal (10%) to substantial (80%) discount -- or they can even be totally complimentary.
Should you find that as a beginning travel writer that sponsorship from tourism authorities is not forthcoming, don't despair. Direct contact to hotels and resorts via their public relations departments, tour providers via their central management, and even airlines can produce assistance.
The key points to remember when pursuing sponsored/assisted travel is to be businesslike in your approach. Send a businesslike inquiry to the appropriate contact point, complete a professional submission for assistance including all the required information sought, and don't forget follow-up. Providing copies of the completed and published article after your trip will cement your reputation as a professional and provide good preparation for return trips.
Key points to remember when organizing sponsored travel writing trips:
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