If you’re interested in starting out as a travel writer but don’t know where to start…think of it like a puzzle. And I mean a literal puzzle—the kind you get in a box and fit together on a dining room table.
The first thing you do when you open a jigsaw puzzle is build the four sides. And once the borders are all in place, you start fitting the remaining pieces together. You find pieces that connect to the border pieces. Then before you know it, you’re snapping the last piece into place.
So, let’s unpack this and see how each step of putting together a jigsaw puzzle translates to the process of getting an article published.
First, the four sides:
- Story Topics
- Publications List
- Organizational Tools
- Query Letters
One of the first, if not the first, step in embarking on a travel writing career or hobby is to figure out what you want to write about. Which topics, angles, and areas of interests will you pursue?
This is a list of magazines or other publications to which you will send your story ideas. Researching your list will consume a large portion of your time in the beginning. That said, having a list available will save you time later—and you can continue to expand on this list as you expand on your efforts.
Getting organized right from the start is going to save tons of time down the road. Make sure you do this in a way that makes sense to you. Always put your resources, like documents and industry links, in a place where you can easily access them.
In terms of time, this side is one of the most demanding, especially in the beginning. But an effective query letter (which pitches your story to an editor) is key to moving forward and getting published.
Completing the Puzzle
Using one story topic, see how many outlets you can find that are relevant. Spend some time on this and come up with at least 10 outlets.
Then, keep this information organized either on paper, or (preferably) in an Excel spreadsheet. List the magazine, the contact (editor & email), the website, the date, and a final column for comments.
Next, it’s time to use your story topic and organized list of publications to create a good query letter—one that will grab the attention of an editor on your list.
Start sending your query letter out to all the editors on your list, one at a time. Personalize each query letter with the editor’s name. Pay close attention to your spelling. Use spelling and grammar check for punctuation.
If you have a story accepted…fantastic! It’s now time to visit the destination and write the article (and once you have a few bylines, this is the stage when you can ask for free travel perks).
The Last Piece…
Once you’ve written and submitted the story, your puzzle is nearly complete, and after the story has been published, you’ve snapped the last piece of the puzzle into place. Congrats on the byline!
The best way to become a successful travel writer is to constantly have a few puzzles going, and they can all be at various stages of completion. Keep in mind, you rarely finish a puzzle at first sitting, so don’t be afraid to take a break and come back to it.
Some puzzles are easier than others. Start with easy ones if you’re a beginner. These are short front of the book articles for online publications. Look for outlets that are open to new travel writers and smaller publications, typically local magazines, etc. And note, the bigger puzzles will get easier as you gain experience.
Follow this strategy when starting out or if you’re in a rut. You’ll soon have a batch of published articles.