When I first started pitching stories to travel magazines, hoping to get some by-lines under my belt, it wasn’t with a well-written query about exotic places I’d been. It wasn’t even about cultural destinations around the world that I wanted to visit some day down the road.
My queries had to do with places in my own back yard, easy attractions I could get to for little to no money. Preferably, no money. Because I had no money.
And, yes, when I say no money, I mean it.
Sometimes, I didn’t have gas for my car. Other than getting myself back and forth to work, it sat in the driveway. You could say that I walked a lot of miles to get to many places.
Piles of bills from my messy divorce and massive debt I’d been left with pretty much ate up my entire pay-check. And then some. I had a roof over my head and worked a steady job. I was extremely grateful for both.
Physically shaking, in equal parts excitement and self-doubt, I gathered the last bit of my savings and took that proverbial leap into the unknown. I attended both the Ultimate Money-Making Photography Workshop in Miami and the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in Boston during the Spring and Fall of 2013.
I learned so much in those jam-packed days. The information was overwhelming. I knew I’d sift through it as soon as I got home again.
The one word I clung to, my life-jacket, so to speak, was local. Thank goodness the instructors said it in both workshops, over and over again.
It became my mantra, a single word, full of hope and promise. If I could figure out how to write an interesting story about something local, then find an editor willing to publish it, I just might have a shot at becoming the successful travel writer I wanted to be.
World travel was going to have to wait.
Fast forward to Summer 2015. By now, I have 80 plus stories under my belt, many of them covering local attractions in and around Saratoga.
Amazingly, I’ve made it to Ireland, on assignment. I have an upcoming trip to Fiji and another to Paris, planned in the near future. Hmmm… world travel didn’t have to wait long, after all.
I still love writing local travel stories and approach the press room of Saratoga Race Track. I need a media pass for a Wednesday afternoon visit. I’ve wanted to write about this local attraction for a neighborhood magazine editor. We’ve built a great working relationship over the past two years and she’d jumped at my pitch.
Instead of landing a one-day visit, I score a six-month pass to the race track. I make a mental note to use it several times during the season, gathering stories for blogs and other magazine by-lines.
On this particular visit, though, the track was honoring WWII Vets at the rail and in the winner’s circle. I was honored to shake the hands of 12 brave men and women—soldiers willing to give whatever it took to keep America safe. Many others never made it home alive.
I met a group of people from The Leather Stockings Honor Flight that day. I learned about their mission, how they’re determined to fly remaining WWII Vets to the State’s Capitol, sponsoring a visit to historic monuments while celebrating their service for the day.
It moved me to get involved, and, this year, I became guardian to a local WWII Vet named Thomas. There were 99 of us on the flight to Washington in May. From 5 a.m., when we were escorted to the airport by several police cars and a long line of motorcycles, until 11:30 p.m., when we were escorted back to our cars by the same, the day was amazing.
With many tears, much laughter and love, we brought home a million stories from our adventure. We’ll have them to share with family and friends for a long time to come. It was an emotional day that, I’m sure, changed every single one of us.
Have I written stories about that day? Yes. More than once. I’ve been paid nicely for them, too. And because it happened locally, I’ve been able to stay in touch with Tom, his wife Anne, and their family.
They live three quick miles from me. If I wanted to, I could walk there. It’s nice I don’t have to. I have gas in my car now.
P.S. As of this writing, I have 136 by-lines, too.