By Jennifer Stevens in Colorado Springs, CO
It’s easier than you probably imagine to successfully break into travel writing. You don’t need natural literary flair, an English degree, or years of writing experience.
Successful travel writers come from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds—the folks I’ve taught started out as accountants, teachers, retail employees, photographers, nurses, athletic coaches, and more.
With more outlets for publishing available today than ever before, this opportunity is real, and it’s accessible. If you like the idea of getting paid to travel—you can do it. But not everybody who dips a toe in the water finds instant success. The folks who sell the most stories and frequently find themselves invited to take advantage of perks like on-the-house tours or hotel stays do a few things particularly well.
The good news is: They are things you, too, can do to increase the chances of your own success…
1. Know your audience and design your story specifically for it.
A generic article that could run in almost any publication isn’t as attractive to an editor as one that seems custom-fit for theirs. When you’ve enjoyed an experience you’d like to write about, ask yourself, “Who else, specifically, would like this?” Parents with young kids? Single female travelers? Food lovers? Garden enthusiasts? And ask, “What advice would I give that specific group of readers about the best way to experience this?”
In other words: Think about your audience first. That’ll help you decide what to include (and not include) in your story. If you’re writing about what to see and do in Portland for families with teens, you’re going to make different recommendations than you would if you were writing about what to see and do in Portland with a dog in tow or if your story was geared toward knitters.
By considering your audience first, you can come up with lots of different ways to slice and dice a destination, getting more mileage out of each experience you have. And by creating multiple articles, each with a clear audience in mind, you increase your changes of selling your stories.
2. Write descriptions that include all your senses, not only what you see.
Strong descriptions instantly elevate a travel story and are the mark of a savvy writer, a way for editors to separate the promising stories from the ho-hum ones.
The good news is that a strong description isn’t all that hard to write—when you know the tricks. This one will serve you well immediately: Talk about more than what you see. We don’t experience the world in one dimension, walking into a room and blocking out everything but what our eyes capture. Yet less-accomplished writers do that all the time when they craft descriptions that rely exclusively on sight.
Instead, notice what you hear, what you smell, how things taste, how they feel. Pay attention to movement and action. Here’s a description from an International Living article that makes good use of sound, feel, and movement:
“You, my friend, are the very definition of a man living the overseas dream.” Steve Dowler laughed, but he didn’t disagree with me. Tanned and smiling, he skillfully steered his gleaming black motorbike at a snail’s pace down Sanur’s quiet backstreets, as I strolled alongside. The sun was beating down and cheery shopkeepers called out friendly hellos as we passed by. (“Bali’s Best Beach Town: Frangipani-Scented Sanur,” Victoria Harmer, International Living, September 2018)
3. Aim to connect with editors to gain “go-to status.”
The most successful travel writers work well with editors. They have a firm idea about what an editor is looking for, they deliver it (on time), and they keep that editor’s needs in mind when coming up with story ideas.
Some years back, I had a great gig with an airline magazine. I’d helped the editor out and produced a story she needed on a tight deadline. She liked it, I offered her another one, and she gladly took that as well. And that’s how we danced. I’d turn a story in and offer up another. She’d take it. And we were able to move past the formal pitching process. I knew if I offered her stories that fit her needs, she’d take them. I was doing her a service—she knew she’d get good copy in on time. In turn, she was making it easy for me to place stories. I had this ready-made outlet, which saved me the time and trouble of shopping articles around.
Editors love to have a cadre of go-to writers they can rely on to supply the just-right stories they need for various slots in their publications. When you’re one of those writers, you spend less time “selling” your stories and more time enjoying the travels that produce them.