Posted by & filed under Travel Writing.

For me, travel writing is all about the pie. Of course, I’m speaking figuratively.

But, thinking about pie—as a whole and then cut into eight slices—is crucial to me when I travel.  

Let me explain.

Think about the town where you live—it’s filled with all sorts of beautiful places to visit, right?

theresa st john
Theresa St John

Picture the town itself as the pie.

It could be exciting to write a story about when so-and-so founded it. It might be fun to write a piece on things that made the town famous. For sure, local and regional publications would be interested in sharing those facts with their readers.

But, what if you sliced that pie into smaller servings? You’d have the chance to write more stories, perhaps enjoy more freebies, and at the end of the day, breathe some life into the place you live and love enough to call home.

I live in Saratoga Springs, New York. Our slogan is “Health, History, and Horses.”

I have written articles about my favorite, well-known restaurants, as well as the hole-in-the-wall places no one seems to have heard about yet.

I approach the owners, explain I’m a local travel writer and photographer, then ask if they’d be interested in hosting myself and a friend in exchange for coverage in a local publication.

Note: I’ve already done the legwork, searching for the editor and magazine I feel might be interested in a restaurant story. I’ve crafted my pitch and landed an assignment. With my letter in hand, the proprietors are more than happy to oblige.

Food isn’t the primary type of story I write, but I probably have 30 or more bylines covering eateries under my travel writing belt to date. Someday, I’ll pull out my spreadsheet and count them.

And, while all of these restaurants cover my meals and drinks, most let me bring along a friend to enjoy the experience as well.

I’ve written articles about all of the museums in Saratoga, granted free access in exchange for covering an event, collection, or overnight ghost-hunt.

We have a dance museum, auto museum, history museum, bottle museum, children’s museum, horse-racing museum, teaching museum, military museum, to name a few. I’ve been lucky to write about all of them. Most people pay $10 to $20 a pop for entry to these museums. I don’t hand over a penny—the savings add up!   

Saratoga is also known for its beautiful hotels. Located on Broadway, The Adelphi is in the heart of our downtown area. I’ve been invited to stay there not once, or twice, but three times. In return, I wrote stories about famous people who traveled from the city to spend summers there, the hotel’s impressive architecture, its prominence in the community of yesteryear, and its two restaurants.

This hotel is less than three miles from where I live. It would have been easy to stop in for an hour, takes notes over a drink, and go home to craft my article. Because I had letters of assignment in hand, I was treated like royalty instead—so why not stay over?

I searched out stories about two friends from the west side of town and chronicled their memories of the “good old days” in Saratoga over pizza and a few beers.

Someone called to ask if I could write a piece about a local boy who’d helped capture Japan’s Prime Minister Hideki Tojo after WWII, bringing him to trial for his war crimes. I also wrote about the journalist who’d spent years trying to land an interview with the soldier once he heard about the local-hero story.

These are just a few examples. I could go on and on. The truth is, no matter where we live or where we travel, every writer should keep their eyes and ears open.

We need to look at the big picture (that yummy pie) and then search out all of the little-known stories (those smaller slices). 

Visitors bureaus love to work with travel writers who are interested in many aspects of the area. These folks spend so much money hosting journalists (that would be you and me, folks), they want to get the most value for the money.

When invited somewhere, I never write one story and leave it at that. I wouldn’t be a good investment if I did. I wouldn’t do the area justice, and I certainly wouldn’t be invited back again.

If we spend a few hours researching the place we want to visit and looking for publications that might be interested in a story or two beforehand, we have a much better chance of being treated like a king or queen when we arrive.

I like to leave my house with at least three firm assignments. I usually find more interesting stories along the way and typically end up with five to seven bylines when all’s said and done.

My motto has always been “give more than you get.” Living by this belief has landed me hundreds of clips as well as thousands of dollars in food, wine, attractions, and overnight stays. And that’s not even counting the paychecks from print, online, and in-flight magazines that have commissioned pieces.

Here are a few types of stories you can cover:

  • Round-up
  • New restaurant
  • Oldest building/business in town
  • Profile piece on an exciting shop owner
  • Historic hotel
  • History of the town itself
  • Museums
  • Haunted places
  • Community events

The list goes on and on. If you bake and cut your pie right, the invitations do, too.