Ten Tips for Hunting Down Stories on the Road

travel writers need to be sleuths too
7 April 2010 Post Author:
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It can happen to us all, eventually.

Dare I admit it in public though?

That travel writers and traveling can jade the adventurous spirit, that you can be in a dream location and suddenly have nothing to write about.

That you don’t want to write about coconut trees swaying in the tropical and scented breeze because it has all been said before in so many ways that no one wants to buy a story on what basically is your holiday.

Recent articles tell me what NOT to write about.

Here are a few finely honed tips that have kept me interested, moving and most of all in print.

1. Understand your Genre

Decide what drives you to travel and explore the world and make that your passion.

I came to India because of all the stories I had heard about the place, totally convinced that there was madness afoot and stories aplenty. Sometimes these stories became my own and that way I have managed to carve out my own genre of travel writing. I write about culture and stories and local happenings because my passion is slow travel. It may be that your particular specialty is spending twenty-four hours in one place, which is another way to look at a place.

2. Do Your Research

Before I go to a new place, I research it thoroughly. I check tourist information, feedback sites and look for recent article published on the place. The recent articles tell me what NOT to write about. I also check the local festival calendar; in Asia the calendar is lunar and set around the seasons so there is usually always something going on. If you focus a piece around an event then it makes your story a little more unique than the location driven features.

3. Position and Location

Online newspapers and their forums are a good way to understand what is happening at a local level. Letters to the Editor will be on some current event. Before you arrive in a place you can be reasonably informed on what is affecting the lives of the people there and maybe come up with an angle for a story through that. Once you have arrived, the newspaper and places where it is read such as local coffee shops or chai shops are also a good way to get the local version of an event.

4. Be Prepared to Follow a Story to It’s Source

Once in a local chai shop I saw a picture attached to a story in the local newspaper. The picture showed someone rolling along a highway. When I asked the person with the paper what the story was about, he yawned and said “O some fellow rolling a distance of seven hundred kilometres for God.” I wanted to leap on a bus immediately and find the guy but other business kept me in town. This year, I finally got that story when another Holy Roller rolled into the town where I live.

5. Go Off The Beaten Trail

This leads me nicely to my next point which is, if it is in the Lonely Planet or any other guide book, if you hear tourists talking about their next destination and it’s the same place — then you better get lost!

Sure there are stories if you concentrate on what is currently hot at these locations such as where to eat and dance and sing, but otherwise trust that the universe has more than enough holiday pieces and angles on tourist places and events. Or go anyway and look for a feature story.

6. Features and People

Tell the people where you stay that you are a writer and suddenly everyone has a story to tell or wants you to put them in a book. Given that everyone knows at least two hundred and fifty people, if you tell one person in a small village that you are looking for stories to tell – theirs – they will usually gladly oblige. Look out for weird people or ask the locals to lead you to them.

7. Marketing

While I also file stories online, I like to eat occasionally and so how I do that is I sell my stories to print media. Building relationships with editors is essential. I keep in contact with editors who have previously bought my stories, and advise them when I am moving to a new location with a list of ideas for stories. Newspapers churn out daily so there are more frequent opportunities to sell a story. Magazines will have a publishing schedule for the year, which is usually available for freelance writers to peruse.

8. One Picture is worth a Thousand Words

Get a good camera and hone your photography skills. You needn’t be a professional photographer but if you are already looking at your subject from a different angle then photography is a good way to hone the art. A good photo will sell a well-written article but it won’t sell a bad one.

9. Seek out the Next Hot Spot

Use the Internet to understand trends in travel and look for a story opening there. Currently women’s travel and local travel are good sellers because of current economic trends. Or promote the new place you have found as the ‘Next Hot Spot’ for a particular mode of travel.

10. Links and Networking

Obviously you wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t followed links or are involved in some kind of network. It’s important also to retain links and relationships with the sources and topics of your stories.

I always send the story to the person I have written about if they have on online presence because they will also use my story as promotional material and include a link to my website.

~Dianne

Have a tried-and-true tip for finding inspiration? Share your advice!

12 Responses to “Ten Tips for Hunting Down Stories on the Road”

  1. I loved this post, Dianne! It’s a great reminder to travel writers that it’s rare that a story will just jump into your lap – you really have to make the effort to go in search of stories, and sometimes the best stories take a bit of digging to find. Thanks for contributing!

  2. Di
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for your comments Trish, perhaps I should have included the timeliness of articles. I keep a lot of them in my secret stash and use for entry to competitions as well, such as the one below.

    http://www.southeastasia.org/index.php/seaawards/articles/angkor-from-dream-to-memory/

  3. solid tips…this is the first time i have come to this site (crazy, i know!) and if this article is indicative of the content, well I can’t wait to dive in.

  4. Shannon OD
    Twitter:
    says:

    Fantastic post – and I ::gasp:: have found myself in this position lately – even though I’m on the road right now it’s often hard to find something that hasn’t been done a million times already. Great tips, look forward to using a couple of them :-)
    .-= Shannon OD´s last blog post: A Little Life & Death…The Carpets of Semana Santa (Holy Week) =-.

  5. Sabina
    Twitter:
    says:

    Oh, great and useful tips! I love this – “Look out for weird people or ask the locals to lead you to them.” Weird people can sometimes be the best people of all!
    .-= Sabina´s last blog post: The Joy Found in Travel Routines =-.

  6. Vi
    Twitter:
    says:

    it is hard to go off the beaten trail as if heard about any place it means somebody already have been there :)
    .-= Vi´s last blog post: How much does it cost trekking in Nepal =-.

  7. JackStraw says:

    This is a great article. I just sent it to my wife who is a travel writer.
    She is always looking for new ideas to write about on our travels and these are great tips. I like pt 5…I live by that. The guide books are fine but I like to go where are they don’t talk about.
    http://www.adventurepads.com/blog/2010/02/19/nosara-vacation-rentals-in-costa-rica/

  8. Dianne
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for the comments Jack! I am also following tip number five at the moment in Laos!
    .-= Dianne´s last blog post: Eating- Praying now wheres the Millionaire =-.

  9. Dianne
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for your comments, Phillip. I have just spent a few months following my own advice on home ground New Zealand! had a great time and have so many stories!!
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/37550
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/38731

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