Ten Tips for Hunting Down Stories on the Road
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.
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.
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.
Have a tried-and-true tip for finding inspiration? Share your advice!