I broke into travel writing when an editor for whom I had written several articles e-mailed me about a new magazine she was launching. It was going to feature a travel section and she asked me whether I wanted to propose an article. Since the "struggling artist" hat fits my head, I couldn't let the opportunity to earn some extra cash pass me by, so I suggested an article on the area where I lived. Until then, I had never written anything remotely related to travel. Even though travel writing was a category I had always been interested in, I thought it was beyond my abilities because I wasn't well traveled. The right opportunity changed my thinking, and here's what I learned:
1. Write about what you know. I haven't always agreed with this adage so often repeated by veteran writers -- but in this case, I do. The only place I felt I could write about when asked was the town where I lived and its surrounding area. I didn't know any other location as well and didn't have the budget to travel. At first, I thought the idea might not sell because I live in a small, remote town deep in the Colorado Rockies and four hours away from a major airport. But as I put together a list of reasons why a vacation in that kind of setting would be appealing to some, my confidence grew. I used the list to write my proposal and offered to include a five-day sample itinerary and photos. By focusing on the positive details of my target destination, I sold my first travel article.
2. Cash in on historical facts. I've found an array of publications interested in historical articles, and one truism is that every place has a history. Find out the facts that make up your hometown or region, research appropriate markets and make your sale. Chambers of commerce and visitor's bureaus print brochures and promotional magazines to attract tourists. Although these markets may not pay much, they will be good starting places for your travel pieces. Offer to provide your clients with several short historical tidbits about the area they're trying to promote so they can refresh their brochures seasonally and appear more attractive to travelers in search of little-known facts.
For example, ghost towns and abandoned mining camps abound in the West, where I live. My town happens to have a magazine that's distributed to hotel guests to promote the area's businesses. While the magazine has mostly local ads, it also makes room for short items that give visitors suggestions on what to do during their stay. This winter, I sent the editor an idea for a piece on the most accessible ghost towns within fifty miles of downtown. I also proposed to write the article for the magazine's summer/fall issue, making the connection between Halloween and ghost towns. Within two weeks, I received a positive response and saw my second travel article in print a few months later.
3. Have fun and write about it. Make a list of activities available where you live, such as biking or skiing, and weave them into a story that will have tourists wanting to try the adventures you describe. If you live in a so-called sleepy town, no problem! Quiet places that seem to have nothing to offer are usually perfect resting spots for one to unwind from a busy or stressful lifestyle. The first travel article I wrote gave me the idea to break down the sample itinerary I created into separate activity articles for different markets. For instance, based on what's available in my hometown, visitors can bike, ski, go canoeing and kayaking, mountain and rock climb, and take a trip on an authentic narrow-gauge steam engine. With good research, I know I can transform each of these entertainments into individual articles.
4. Take advantage of your community calendar. Special events make for great travel articles, though, in most cases, they will also require perfect timing on your part to make the sale. If the area where you live is the site of a bluegrass festival or a garlic fiesta, don't let these story opportunities go to waste. If the happening is annual, you'll have plenty of time to plan your story ahead and send in your query letter well before the event. Markets for this type of travel piece include your own region's publications, as their readers will be more likely to attend the events than someone who lives more than a car ride away. But don't overlook the national markets. If you're writing a bigger story about the Four Corners Area, for instance, add a calendar of annual events for the whole region as a sidebar to spruce up the article.
5. Highlight the uniqueness of your home. What peculiarities make your town worth visiting? Many travel publications accept first-person essays and this could be just the right material for one. If a happening is quirky enough, the story may just appeal to a market wider than your regional readership. My town has a winter festival that, because of its odd list of scheduled events (during the three days of celebration, you can hire a hit man to stalk and throw a cream pie on anyone you choose), has become well known outside of our community. This year, a friend from Atlanta said that she saw a segment about it on national television. Not bad publicity for a cow town of 16,000 and a very smart move on the part of the news writer who decided the rest of the nation just might be interested in how a small portion of the West has fun in the winter.
Now, is that a twitch that I see in your fingers? Are they
itching to go write a travel article? Go to it!
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