Do what you love, and the money will follow. How many times have we heard this time-worn adage? It’s true that many have successfully followed their dreams of becoming a freelance travel writer, but did you know that you can make that happen even faster and more easily if you combine your personal passions with your love of travel?
It’s true: Because travel publications are in the business of entertaining their readers while helping them find appealing destinations, editors look to their writers to be the scouts for everything around these experiences. That means your story is even more attractive if it’s written from the perspective of an expert or a serious enthusiast—as in, someone with a more-than-basic understanding and depth of knowledge about the subject matter.
I’m often asked what my favorite things to write about are, and for about two decades, it was food (not surprising for a restaurant critic). I thoroughly enjoyed seeking out new places to dine and new exotic foods to try, and I loved directing readers toward the best of those. Over the years, though, I began pursuing more outdoors adventures, and I took up mountain biking and river rafting. These days, that’s what I really enjoy writing about, and I have found that I’m happiest when I’m including these favorite activities in my articles.
The best part is that, once you get a couple of these stories under your belt, you’ll become sought after for stories as a subject matter expert, such as my recent pieces in local publication Westword on my favorite mountain bike trails, and this piece that New York’s Thrillist asked for on outdoorsy day trips from Denver.
Here’s another great thing about travel writing: You can position yourself as an avid golfer one day, and then as someone who visits all of the baseball stadiums across the country or is intimately familiar with the gem show circuit another. The key is to explain your background or expertise in the stories you’re writing, and to expand on that in the pitch, so that editors know where you’re coming from when you offer insider information.
Here are three ways to position yourself as a niche travel expert and tap into the publications in need of your stories:
1. Offer practical tips
How-to stories are all the rage, because people want to know the steps they need to take to make an experience happen, and this kind of story also usually lends itself to compelling graphics that get readers’ attention. The way to structure this approach is to go back to the basics, the things you wish you had known when you were just starting out. So, for instance, if you’re writing about snorkeling, you could include a list of the best gear to have on hand, or places newbies can head for a gentler first time out.
Who’s likely to publish it: Magazines specifically geared toward the activities you’re addressing are always looking to help their beginner readers get started, and if you just Google the subject, you’ll find plenty for just about any activity under the sun. So, for instance, I recently started learning how to surf, and I’m pitching to publications like Surfing Life, Surfing World, Surfer, and Surfing to share my thoughts on what the over-50 crowd needs to know to jump into this young person’s water sport.
2. Offer lists of favorites
Lists are, of course, the top-selling type of story, because they’re easy to assemble and readers love them. Editors are eager to offer a variety of destinations related to an activity—such as Top European Cities for Art Museums or Ten Cheapest Music Festivals Around the World—because it pulls in the largest number of readers around a particular topic.
Who’s likely to publish it: Online outlets always need lists, because they want clicks, clicks, clicks. Pretty much every publication, though, offers some kind of regularly recurring lists for their readership, and so it’s a good idea to peruse the ones that focus on your subject and see if they feature the list format anywhere.
3. Offer expert insights
In addition to sharing your obsessions or hobbies, don’t forget to tap into your background or career to bolster your stories. I often use the example of a writer I worked with who had been a marine biologist all his life and went on to successfully sell stories about scuba diving for specific types of sea creatures. But I’ve also seen writers who have other areas of expertise find that their subjects are so niche that they become the go-to picks to cover those fields—such as dog therapists who write about where to travel with Fido, or interior decorators who write about the best-designed hotel rooms.
Who’s likely to publish it: The same publications that would be looking for the other types of stories above will also be interested in this kind of piece, but also consider newspaper Travel sections, which often need a more expert-based foundation to their offerings.