A heron sits motionless at the edge of the canal, seemingly unperturbed by the hundreds of bicycles zooming past just a few feet away. The sun is bright, but the air is comfortably cool, and the smell of a sweet batter cooking – perhaps for stroopwafel or appeltaart – wafts past in the light breeze.
I’m sitting in a café on Amsterdam’s Oudezijds Achterburgwal as I write this, enjoying another espresso while considering the list of stories I could write from this trip. Should I focus on the art museums, which include the impressive Van Gogh and the Rembrandt-dominated Rijksmuseum? Or should I talk about the bike culture and how it permeates everything that happens in this North Holland town. Then again, the remarkable coffee shops – both real ones that actually serve coffee and the so-called “coffee shops” that actually serve marijuana – could be a whole story unto themselves.
Welcome to the life of the freelance travel writer. Last year, I visited Paris (again), explored the outer reaches of Iceland, checked out the scene in Turkey, drove an ATV around the islands of Greece, and hit the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I also skied and snowshoed at five Colorado-based ski resorts, and was invited to participate in a James Beard dinner at a luxury ranch.
This year has started out just as adventurous. After Amsterdam, I head to Tanzania, and then Saskatchewan, Canada, in the late spring. I’m considering which fall trek sounds most entertaining: biking through Sun Valley in Idaho… or hitting Florida for some beach time?
Every trip I take holds promise for not one or two but many, many stories (remember, more stories mean more pay-checks). I’ve sold some of them already, and I have a list of ideas for the others, along with a list of publications that might be interested. I’ve fleshed-out queries for many of my pieces, as well, and soon I’ll begin paring down the photography options so that I can package them properly with the stories. (Editors are more likely to bite when you include photos—and they’ll usually pay more.)
How do I know how to do all of this? Well, as the former travel editor for The Denver Post, I’ve now been on both sides of the freelance travel equation: hiring freelancers to share their tales in the newspaper, and sending out my own hopeful pitches that will connect enough with an editor to get the story into a publication.
They say it’s “who you know,” but that’s only part of the freelance travel writing equation. Even though I’ve met a lot of travel editors and been in the business for decades, I still have to do the work, just like you. I make the trips happen – sometimes getting a freebie press trip, sometimes paying my own way (but making it back later) – and I have to suss out what will make a good story.
It takes commitment and work, yes, but the freelance lifestyle is all it’s cracked up to be. I spend some days working only an hour or two, and I can take my vacation – which usually winds up being a travel story (but that’s half the fun) – anytime I feel like it.