When you think about the dream job – being a travel writer is up there for many people. Being paid to travel the world sounds idyllic, and while there are undoubtedly downsides to the dream (let’s save those for another post), let’s be honest – it’s a pretty sweet gig. I’m not a full time travel writer by any means, but this week I’m heading off on a four day press trip to tropical North Queensland. A couple of people have asked me the best way to break into travel writing and I believe there’s one very easy way to get started …
The easiest way to become a travel writer
While you may want to be a travel feature writer for well-known publications like National Geographic and get sent on all kinds of exotic press trips or famils (assuming that the publication doesn’t have a ‘no press trip policy’ like the NY Times), there’s a much simpler way to start a career as a travel writer.
Here is my number one travel writing tip.
Start in your own backyard
I got my start in travel writing by pitching a couple of stories about the country town where I live.
Yep. I didn’t travel to a far flung place or have extraordinary adventures with wildlife or life-changing cultural encounters. Instead I walked a few hundred metres down the road.
I have an interest in food (writing about it as well as eating it) and for me, writing about food was a great way to break into travel writing.
Let me explain.
One of my favourite monthly glossy food magazines has a travel section that runs across four or five pages and details the best places to eat or drink in a particular city or town. I knew that my town had an emerging food scene (and a varied one) and so I pitched the editor.
My idea was commissioned and I’ve now become a regular contributor to the magazine and it’s website. I wrote for that particular section three more times (but sadly, the section has recently been cut from the magazine – hopefully nothing to do with my writing and more to do with shrinking budgets?!).
While food is the main focus of the articles I’ve written for the magazine, it sits within the travel section and the other three articles that were commissioned were all supported by local tourism bodies, so I received flights, meals, accommodation and transport.
As I’ve written about before, many editors love writers who live in the place that they are writing about – it gives articles a depth and perspective that is otherwise hard to get. So it makes sense, as a beginning travel writer to exploit that which you have.
You have local knowledge and experience. And best of all, your finger is on the pulse about what is happening and when.
The question you need to be able to answer
I think in some ways it’s easier to think of story ideas for a destination that’s ‘far away’ because when we live in a town or city, sometimes we become blind to what it has to offer.
So if you are going to pitch a story about where you live it’s important that you can answer this question.
In other words, why are you pitching this story right at this moment?
Why is your story important for the readers of the publication at this time?
Have new hotels or restaurants just opened? Are the numbers of travellers to this area increasing? Is this town becoming known for a particular thing (such as its commitment to fashion-forward exhibitions?)
Do you have a spin on a traditional story? I remember reading and loving this story about a travel journalist who walked Tasmania’s Overland Track in winter (where it’s been known to snow in summer), because it took a fresh look at a well-known and much loved walk in Australia.
Not all publications need a timely hook to a story, but in my experience, most editors will want something tangible that anchors your article and answers the ‘why now’ and ‘so what’ questions that are on the tips of their tongues.
What if I’m not inspired by where I live?
I had a coaching session the other day with a wonderful and lively established journalist who was living in a place that editors were excited about, but she wasn’t. Editors wanted her to write about where she lived, but she was so over living there that she just couldn’t feel motivated.
I understand a little bit of how she feels. After writing four or so articles about my town, I feel fatigued from finding new ways to describe this place. And for this writer, she is looking to emigrate, so her view is on another country, not where she is currently living.
But I think the key to this quandary is to take the long view – to take advantage of the current interest in a destination with the view of building relationships with editors so that you can pitch other places once you’re ‘in’.
Combine where you live with what you’re interested in
For me, I used my location and my interest in food to break into travel writing.
For you, it may be design, sport, parenting or history – whatever it is, take a closer look at where you live and there are bound to be multiple untold stories that editors would be interested in.
Many freelance writers get their break in travel writing by writing about where they live.
Emily McAuliffe is a travel writer and copywriter who lives in Portugal and says, “I think it helps to know the destination you want to write about well as editors often appreciate that you can provide better content when you have insider knowledge. I got my break by pitching about my home city and other places I was familiar with.”
And if you’re stumped about where to pitch your travel writing – look no further than Gabi Logan’s Travel Magazine Database (affiliate link) – this is an incredible resource for writers to get detailed breakdowns of hundreds of travel magazines.
How did you get started in travel writing? Would you look at pitching a story about where you live?