In the summer of 2000, I was a struggling-to-make-ends-meet newspaper reporter when I received my first magazine travel assignment. It wasn’t big or glamorous, but I felt like I’d won the lottery. I was asked to visit a Vermont ski resort to take a mountain-biking lesson. I was an avid cyclist at the time, and I couldn’t believe what was required. So let me get this straight, I kept telling myself, I spend the afternoon riding an expensive bike, traversing through gorgeous scenery, then get paid to write about it? Do I really have that right?
I wrote the story, the check arrived in my mailbox not long after, and the piece was published the following July.
Those pangs of excitement and disbelief still hit with every new assignment. I have a skill, I remind myself, and that skill is in demand.
You see, telling stories about a place, giving readers a true sense of that place, is a coveted commodity. In the digital age, information comes easy.
Review sites are overloaded with recommended tips on what’s good, when things open, and what should be avoided. But capturing an experience, bringing to life what a place looks and sounds like… well, that’s another matter completely and not so easy to find.
That’s where a good travel writer comes in. Writers are curious people. We like to learn. We are good at talking to strangers. We like to find the stories beneath the story that everyone already knows. And we have the ability to turn the familiar into something new and surprising. Those are valuable skills, and they all contribute to making a memorable travel story.
Here’s the reality: Editors aren’t short on writers, but they are often short on strong ideas from freelancers. Take advantage of that.
Find ideas that sing to you, pick travel stories that only you can write, then convince your editor that that truly is the case. Do that and your next travel adventure will be one you’re paid to experience.
Just remember: The work of being a successful travel writer is a constant exercise. It takes diligence and perseverance. Read all the good travel writing you can get your hands on. Start with The Best American Travel Writing series. Become a ruthless self-editor, then allow others to bring a sharp eye to your work. Your writing will improve, the story-telling will get better, and the kind of travel work that others pay you to do will come your way. And it will come often. And when it does, the excitement over that never will never go away. I can guarantee you.