Travel Writing 101
Susan Miles | February 2005
Travel writing is often characterized as a glamorous profession, appealing to writers and nonwriters alike. Certainly, getting paid to travel, either solo or with friends and family, is a dream job regardless of your previous writing experience. Travel writing is an accessible line of work for part-time and freelance writers. For those who aren’t professional writers, travel writing is the kind of work you can explore in-between your other responsibilities. Like travel itself, I’ve found that the best way to approach travel writing is as a journey. What follows is a map to guide you through some of those first steps as you enter the field of travel writing and begin to build your professional writing career.
Breaking into the Travel Market
Before I began my travel writing career, I was a sports writer. I used my experiences as a sports writer to help me break into the travel writing arena by writing a "how to" piece on maintaining a training routine while on the road. While selling the article to a running publication, a market I had previously written for, I achieved my first travel clip. I applied this crossover technique again for a piece on my fellow women travelers and their shared travel tips. By combining the genre of personal essay and travel, and publishing without payment, I achieved my second travel clip. While I do not advocate that writers give their work away, it can sometimes (and sparely) be a useful approach.
For my third travel clip, I looked to the growing market of travel websites and e-zines. I submitted a package of five proposals for the editor to choose from, confirming the availability of photos and proposing a ballpark word count. The article commissioned was on a seaside town that has been a popular backdrop for movies and television programs. To give the article a broad appeal and accentuate its originality, I tied in the particular features of the town with the movies and television shows in which they appeared.
Even this seemingly small portfolio of three travel articles garnered me further opportunities. My three travel clips demonstrated my experiences and abilities in the area of travel writing to prospective editors. With these clips, I gained assignments for a sidebar in a national travel magazine, a three-part feature in a travel e-zine, and feature articles in newspapers and magazines.
Here are some key points I’ve learned on how to break into the travel writing market:
- Write crossover pieces, combining your established market with your sought after market. In my case, running and travel, then personal essays and travel.
- Use e-zines and websites to build your clip file in your new market. Publications in this market that welcome new writers inlcude, GoNomad.com, GoWorldTravel.com, and TripsandJourneys.com.
- Propose multiple article ideas when pitching to a new market. This will teach you the type of piece that most appeals in this field.
- Include a unique angle to your story, or provide specific and interesting facts in your proposal to grab the editor’s attention and demonstrate your knowledge on the subject.
- Build your reputation by selling sidebar details to accompany other articles.
- Remember, your backyard is someone else’s exotic travel location. You can either pitch an idea on your local area, or include details in your accompanying biography about the destinations you’ve researched and experienced.
Pitching to the Right Market at the Right Time
How do you know when to submit the right article to the right publication at the right time? There is a simple strategy that requires just a little research, an observant eye, and a portfolio of ready-to-print articles that will cumulatively increase your successes when pitching and submitting your articles.
First, be sure to include a scan of all airline news in your daily and weekly review of the press. Look for announcements of new or changed airline routes. These can be found in the business pages of your daily city newspapers, press releases posted on airline websites, and via the tourism authorities of the route’s destination.
Second, look for news items advising new or increased flights to the destination of one or more of your completed travel articles. Then pitch these travel articles to the newspapers, travel magazines, and regional publications in the city or country where this new flight route originates. Also, pitch them to the relevant airlines’ in-flight magazines and the destination’s tourism authority.
These same approaches may be applied to the cruise industry as well. This time you are looking for new ports of call and changes in routes. For example, consider the SARS epidemic and how cruises routed through Asia were subsequently redirected through Pacific island routes.
Here are some essentials to make your travel writing more marketable:
- Monitor the business press for airline news of new or changed routes and destinations.
- Monitor the press releases of airlines that fly to the destinations of your existing travel articles.
- Contact tourism authorities of the destinations for which you have completed travel articles, and request inclusion on their press release circulation list.
- Submit your articles to the travel publications and newspapers in the originating countries and cities of new flights.
- Submit your articles to the in-flight magazine of the airline introducing the new flight route.
- Apply the same strategy and approach for cruise ship routes and cruise magazines.
In my years of writing and publishing experience, the travel writing recommendations I have detailed in this article have proven very effective. Even so, I have found that the most important strategy for success in this field is to behave like a successful business person rather than a successful writer. Follow this real world advice I’ve detailed for you, market your writing with confidence, with attention to detail and in a professional manner, and soon you will be on your way to new experiences, new journeys, and possibly even a new career as a travel writer.
A Primer on Organizing Sponsored Travel
Travel writing can be fun, but of all writing endeavors, it is likely the most taxing on your wallet. However, if you are prepared to practice some business principles on the road to becoming a travel writer, you can obtain sponsorship to assist you in completing your travels. Make your application for "travel writing assistance" to the tourism authority destination you plan to visit. Think of your written application as a resume or c.v., and be sure to provide the following information:
- Your itinerary, including dates, locations, and activities you wish to include.
- Clips of or credit list of previous travel articles you have had published-at least three.
- Copy of assignment letter for the article(s) you have been commissioned to write.
- Details of the publication, i.e., demographic of its readership, location, and circulation figures.
- Outline of the article(s) you have been commissioned to write.
- A brief biography on yourself, including your writing background and travel clips.
Five key points to remember when organizing sponsored travel writing trips:
- Confirm the appropriate contact point for the tourism authority before submitting.
- Plan your assignment and trip well in advance-minimum three months.
- To increase the chance of being approved for assistance, seek multiple assignments.
- Seek assignments from publications you previously published with.
- Confirm that the publication accepts articles researched on sponsored trips.
Keep your expectations realistic; sponsorship may be provided by way of a percent discount. When pursuing sponsored or assisted travel for your writing, it is essential to be businesslike in your approach. Prepare a businesslike inquiry, and complete a professional submission for assistance, including the relevant information I just outlined. Most importantly, don’t forget to show your continued interest in sponsored travel by following up.
Susan Miles is a communication specialist based in Melbourne, Australia. Her travel articles on Japan, South Korea, Guam, Cambodia, Australia and the US have appeared in such publications as th. St. Petersburg Times (Florida -US), th.Toronto Star (Canada), th. Dominion Press (New Zealand). Go World Travel. New York Runner and th. Washington Running Report.