A few days after stamping a 30th country into my passport, I became a published travel writer. The elation of seeing my journey to a coffee plantation published in a Costa Rican magazine was quickly met with utter panic: three years of travels throughout Europe and Central America were completed under the wide-eyed gaze of a tourist.
Though I took notes and kept a small travel diary, few times did I ever include the level of detail required of a travel writer.
With another vacation on the horizon, I purchased a Nikon D3500 and a pocket-sized Sony voice recorder, aiming to use this 10-day jaunt through Germany and Switzerland as a “trial run.” Here are five mistakes that I made which I believe prevented me from selling the stories I gathered.
1. No prospective publisher.
At the time, my only published travel articles were for Latin America-specific magazines. I wrongly assumed that there was no need to have an outlet in mind: a story is a story, right? Surely, some magazine would have a spot for my submission.
I was wrong.
Because I was without a magazine to pitch to, I had no framework for constructing my piece. It was challenging to collect information for these stories because I had no clue who I was developing them for. Without a voice, audience, or angle in mind, I was roaming around grasping at whatever information I could get my hands on.
2. Uninspired story ideas.
Not having a publisher in mind caused another problem: uninspired story ideas. As a newcomer to the area, I assumed that I’d be filled with inspiration as I gazed at the magical Christmas markets and unspoiled beauty of the Swiss countryside…essentially the identical feelings that nearly every first-time visitor embraces.
At the end of the trip, I had only three potential story ideas: winter surfing on the Eisbach River, bar hopping in Berlin, and a spotlight on an organic dairy farm outside of Interlaken. I returned home to discover that publishers were either uninterested in my uninteresting stories or that other writers had beaten me to the punch years before.
3. Unfocused photography.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then a camera truly is a writer’s best friend. Unfortunately, I was a stranger to my Nikon and an unskilled novice in photography. My photos were great keepsakes but nowhere near publishing quality. Just as I didn’t prepare for my stories, I also failed to prepare as a photographer. Unfocused photography, figurately and literally, left me empty handed.
4. A lack of logistical planning
Every time I’ve visited Europe, I’ve traveled to at least four or more countries in 10-day intervals. For this trip, my wife and I had the same duration but only planned on visiting Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. An easy trip, I assumed, so much so that I planned nil except for the flight to Munich and the flight home to Orlando from Zurich.
Traveling throughout Germany was effortless, but when we arrived in Zurich from Berlin, my plans blew up in my face. The cost of rail travel throughout Switzerland was much higher than I’d expected. The roundtrip price from Zurich to Grindelwald dramatically dented our budgets.
I also didn’t research the rail and bus system timetables correctly. Instead of visiting Meiringen and Triesenberg as planned, our limited time and budget forced us to abandon those plans—both of which I had intended to write features about.
5. Too much of a vacation mindset.
In the end, I had a wonderful vacation with my wife—but therein lies the problem. Despite my attempts at a “trail-run,” I was still very much a tourist on holiday. I made decisions based on convenience and comfort. I prioritized our trip over my work.
Could I have taken a “working” holiday? Perhaps, but I didn’t. I committed to a vacation and tried to incorporate my work when it was convenient. The truth is that I was completely unprepared for my “trail-run.” My lack of success was directly related to my lack of planning, time management, and discipline. If you want to mix business and pleasure on a trip, you must be willing to completely commit yourself to each when necessary.
Unless you’re on a commission, there’s no guarantee that your travel tales will be published. However, you can increase your odds by avoiding my mistakes. Thoroughly research your destination prior to your trip. This includes properly planning all elements that impact expenses, distances, and time. When traveling, amass as many unique stories and photographs as possible, particularly with three-to-five publishers in mind. Although it’s important to embrace the experience, you must approach these excursions with the same discipline and professionalism as you would on a commissioned assignment.