I’ve been traveling—and writing about it—for 30 years. While I’ve rarely made a living wage as a travel journalist, I have been able to recoup much, and often all, of my travel expenses. It takes work, but it’s work I love: on my terms, on my schedule, and on the road.
But what if you can’t get on the road? What if COVID-19 travel restrictions, travel bans, and quarantines have you “beached” for the foreseeable future?
The irony is, profit-wise, this could be one of the best times to be a travel writer. Travel writing while in lockdown has a really low overhead. No trains, planes, taxis, buses or boats. No hotel stays or restaurant fares. The money you save from not being able to travel, can help build a useful “war chest” to pry open when travel begins to shine again.
But what do travel writers write about, if they can’t travel? Plenty.
Write about what you know, where you’ve been, where you are, where you’d rather be, and where you hope to be soon.
Wax nostalgic about your favorite travel experience(s), speculate on how things may change, erode, or improve when travel resumes post-COVID-19. Re-create some of those classic dishes, drinks, snacks, cocktails, and desserts from your favorite destinations and share your successes/failures with fellow home-bound epicures.
Get creative. Consider reaching out to chums from across the globe to create a kaleidoscope of shared experiences from travel writers faced with isolation. The chances are “home arrest” varies widely from Baltimore to Victoria, or Glasgow to Vienna, or Moscow to Singapore. Look out the windows of your garret, cloister, or hermit’s roost and allow your similarly shackled readers to travel vicariously through your vista of rainforest, cobblestoned streets, empty malls, desert sand, saltwater bays, or riverfront trails.
I’ve always looked locally for story ideas in between travels. Neighborhood pubs, restaurants, distilleries, breweries, parks, beaches, and even cemeteries. Most are still valid targets, but they’ll all need a unique COVID-19 angle. Craft distilleries halting whisky and vodka production to produce alcohol-based hand sanitizers; restaurant employees packing boxed meals for parking lot pickup; or the environmental recovery of popular beaches, parks, and trails; all of these story ideas might bridge the gap.
From my own self-imposed “house arrest,” I front concepts to hospitality gatekeepers by email, and conduct interviews by text, virtual meetings, and good old-fashioned phone calls. I do drive-by photo shoots, and accept more promotional photos than would have been considered kosher pre-COVID-19. I ask overseas colleagues and tour guides to scrub potentially out-of-date drafts for accuracy, and provide original quotes and photos. I’ve even managed a few podcasts—my second was better than my first (deer in headlights), and my third better still (I’ve learned to treat them as live media interviews instead of friendly chats).
Getting creative for local inspiration is just the beginning. No one knows exactly what the future will bring, and no matter how optimistic you may be, pitching stories to travel magazines with extensive lead-times is a real tough sell. Pitching online weeklies and monthlies, especially with COVID-19-relevant storylines, may be more productive.
Travel will resume. Initially, hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs will likely offer competitive and bargain basement prices to “prime the pump” as the tourists return. Cruise ships will boast previously unthought-of state-of-the-art contagion-suppression procedures, along with more robust medical staff and facilities.
Until then? I for one, am getting ready to reach out to travel agents, booking sites, and hoteliers for discounted prices two or three months down the line. Think about reserving newly affordable rooms in a palazzo just off of Saint Mark’s Square, exploring half-deserted streets, bridges, and canals in Venice. Or spending a week in Malta smack dab in the middle of Valetta un-jostled by madding crowds. Or Vienna…Victoria…Singapore…Fiji, or the Cook Islands. I’m banking on the world becoming a smaller and more affordable place in the reasonably near future.