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Tips on getting your first travel writing assignment“I can give you ink, space for 300 words, a byline, and no money,” they told me.

“OK,” I murmured, certain the editor of my small-town, entertainment tabloid could hear the disbelief in my voice.

It was my first travel writing assignment.

Before this, two friends had suggested that I submit a story to Travel & Leisure. I was pretty sure I didn’t have the chops or the dues paid, and that the editor at T&L would probably just laugh at me. So, even though I wanted to try my hand at being a travel writer, I ignored their advice.

Then, I saw a monthly tabloid, focused on hometown entertainment, food, and shopping. I picked up a free copy and read it cover to cover. 

Wondering if this publication was a good place to start, I dialed the paper. Voice quaking, I asked for the editor. “You got him,” was the response. 

With no plan whatsoever, I pitched two stories. He accepted them both, told me his terms, and hung up.

Each month after that, the local paper accepted stories and photos I discovered around town. After 12 months, they finally started paying a modest fee for each article and picture.

After 18 months, the publisher called. He asked me to replace a retiring features writer for his “hard-news” paper. They offered a fair rate for stories and photos, plus mileage for driving my pickup truck up and down my 70-mile coastal beat.

Now, 30 months later, the two papers publish five of my stories and photos per month. That’s 60 per year. All local, all paid. Additionally, I’m offered advertorial copywriting a few times a year at an excellent pay rate.

You can get there, too. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Find newsprint about your region
    Look for racks of publications covering news, entertainment, food, real estate, classified ads, cars, family life, visitor guides, festivals, sports, and so forth. They all need content of some kind.
  2. Get acquainted with their style
    Read each publication cover to cover. Note what kind of articles they print, including subjects and style.
  3. Query the editor
    Find the editor’s name and email address. (Don’t call as I did—it’s bad form… now I know better. Most editors prefer email.)
    Write and send your query. Here’s what to include:
    –Reason for writing. Example: Please accept my story, Guest House Museum Opens Pomo Exhibit.
    –Brief introduction. Example: I’m a local freelance travel writer and photographer.
    –Story summary—this is where you show off your writing skills. Sum up the main point of your story in as few words as possible.
    –Don’t forget to add your contact information.
  4. Rinse and repeat
    Continue looking for and querying local papers. You may not get a response right away. Be persistent. I’ve had stories accepted from editors after querying them for over two years with no answer.

The benefits

Writing for local papers has been a big part of my writer’s journey and one I cherish.

Each acceptance built up my confidence and my portfolio. It gave me the courage to query local stories to non-local magazines and websites. My work now appears in 20+ non-local publications.

I’ve created a niche for myself. I’m a boots-on-the-ground writer for an emerging tourist destination—my hometown.

Local stories are more accessible for me to cover and are super-budget-friendly. And, while out scouting a story, I fall in love all over again with my home and neighbors. I’m proud to tell their stories. The articles I write have a purpose beyond my byline. I’m a vital part of our tourist economy.

4 bonus tips for finding local stories

  1. Enjoy a museum, park, garden, theater or hiking trail.
  2. Take a downtown walk with your camera.
  3. Visit a part of town you don’t know well.
  4. Take a day trip to a place you’ve never been.

Writing for local papers is the ideal way you can kickstart your writer’s life. Good luck… and I’ll see you downtown.

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