Travel Writing 101: How to break into the biz

Julia Writing in Chile
That’s me, writing in Chile

Jet setting around the world through exotic locales (and getting paid for it), travel writers sure do have pretty desirable jobs.  True, it’s a coveted and fiercely competitive career but, with a little passion, perseverance and advice, you too can become a travel writer.

Over the past seven years, my experience as a travel writer has ranged from writing a weekly travel column for a national newspaper, to hosting a TV show called Word Travels, about the real lives of travel writers.  Living and breathing travel writing, I’d like to offer the following advice.

For those looking to break into the biz, here are 15 tried-and-true tips to becoming a travel writer.

1. Getting Started: Read books about the writing craft.  “Travel Writing” by Don George (published by Lonely Planet) is a great place to start.  www.transitionsabroad.com is one of many online resources that focus on travel writing.

2. Read Other Travel Writers: For inspiration, read other travel writers to get a feel for what’s already out there and what makes for good writing.  Dissect the elements of their writing and storytelling skills.  What kind of travel writing do you like?  What kind of travel writing or content do you feel is missing out there?

3. Write: Might seem like a simple statement but a travel writer WRITES.  Write as much and as often as you can.  If you’re not able to travel right now, write about new attractions or activities located in your local area.  Become a travel expert in your very own city.

4. Find a Good Hook: Take a fresh point of view on an old subject or look for unusual new stories.  Many of the places you will write about have been written about before, so you need to find something new and original to say that will grab a reader’s (and an editor’s attention.)  Up-and-coming neighborhoods, trends and unique destinations always make for good story angles.

5. Be a Reporter: Traveling as a travel writer is different from traveling as a tourist.  When you’re in the field, act like a journalist: take notes, ask questions, get quotes and notice the little details of your trip.  How much did it cost, how long has it been open, how many people have visited, what’s the name of the district it’s located in, etc.  Travel writing has been described as part reporting, part dear-diary and part providing traveler information.  Include the specifics to bring your story alive.

6. Write Vividly:  Your goal is to paint a picture with your words and take the reader on a journey… even though they’ve never left the couch.  Include sensory details. What did it taste like?  Look like?  Feel like?  Smell like? What did the experience remind you of?  What emotion did you feel?  The best travel writing captures a sense of place.  Tap into your five senses, adding depth and vividness to your descriptions.  Add quotes and historical/political context to situate the destination you’re visiting.

7. Know Your Audience: Get familiar with the publication you want to pitch.  What types of stories does this publication feature?  Ask yourself who their audience is.  Is it young males who like snowboarding, teenage girls, parents with young children?  What kind of story could you write that would fit in with their style?  If you have a particular story in mind, be sure to pitch it to an appropriate publication that features that genre of topic.

8. Pitch An Editor: Most newspaper travel editors don’t want to read proposals, they want to see the finished article or piece, already written and polished.  Craft a well written, succinct paragraph outlining what your story is about, why it’s relevant for their publication,  why it’s important to cover now, and why you’re the best person to write it.

9. Magazines Who Want Your Work: Reach out to online publications, blogs, magazines and newspapers to publish your work.  Brave New Traveler offers a list of 50 online travel magazines actively looking for travel writing content, among them:

www.gonomad.com

www.worldhum.com

www.bootsnall.com

www.matador.com

For a comprehensive list of blogs looking for your travel writing, check out: http://www.bravenewtraveler.com/2007/07/09/50-travel-magazines-that-want-to-publish-your-writing

10. Accumulate Clips: Try to get published anywhere and everywhere.  After you’ve got a few good “clips” (proof of published articles) then you’re a travel writer and can start sending pitches to the bigger publications.

11. Don’t Get Discouraged: After you’ve pitched the editors of online publications, be sure to follow up with them but don’t be obnoxious.  Editors are very busy and often get hundreds of emails a day.  Pieces often get rejected.  It’s nothing personal.  Grow a thick skin and keep on pitching.

12. Promote Yourself: Travel writing is 20 percent writing, 80 percent marketing. Embrace social media, using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker, Travelistic, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Linked In and Digg to promote your work.

13. More than Words: An increasing amount of online sites are looking for video content. New media skills are the future, so if you’re able to provide video content for sites AND write, it makes you a more valuable contributor.  Look into getting a video camera and filming short videos while you travel.  Using simple editing software like iMovie and uploading your content to YouTube will do the trick.

14. Don’t Quit Your Day Job: The reality of travel writing is that few people can make a good living at it.  While the perks of the biz may be good, the pay sucks.  Either stick to your day job and write on the side, or become a full-time writer that focuses on travel and other passions, food, art, health or pop culture.

15. Determination is Key: According to David Farley, a New-York based author who teaches travel writing at NYU, “some people are naturally good writers, but anyone can become a great writer with enough practice.  Drive is most important.  Get into the mindset that nothing is going to stop you from getting what you want.  The most successful students I’ve taught weren’t necessarily the most talented in the class…they were the most determined.”

Do you have travel writing tips you’d like to share? Comment away below!

2010-02-19T08:00:47+00:00