Taking a Look at Your Own Backyard

Travel Writing includes your own backyard
23 January 2012 Post Author:
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Victorian towns with a touch of the Old West swaggering out the saloon doors.

Stickball in a 19th century Native American village. Discovering over 500 varieties of soda. A wildlife refuge where Teddy Roosevelt once hunted with Comanche war chief Quanah Parker. Celebrating a centennial. Oil barons and their riches. Experiencing the sights and smells of a cattle drive. The heartbreak of the Trail of Tears.

All are things that I’ve shared with readers in travel articles both in print and online. I didn’t use press trips, negotiate flights, or receive hotel comps because all of these things and more were found within 200 miles of my home…in my own backyard.

A LinkedIn travel writer’s discussion group recently discussed how far you have to go to be considered a “travel writer.” Are you a travel writer if you only write about your own region of the world? I respond with a resounding YES.

While my publishing credits represent various locations the United States, much of my writing is based in my own backyard—a U.S. state that is a quirky amalgamation of Midwest and the South. Nobody who lives here thinks of it as particularly exotic, not like the Caribbean or Paris. But chances are that people who live on a Caribbean island or in Paris don’t feel like their home is particularly exotic either.

As travel writers, our job is to communicate about a destination or event in an interesting way that captures the attention of others. We want readers to read what we write and say or think, “I want to go there.”

The key to writing successfully about your own backyard is keeping it fresh.

How many times have you read articles that mention out-of-the way inns or restaurants where the locals eat?

Travelers are interested this information because they really want the experience of discovering something “new” that adds to a vacation experience. The “name” attractions are crowded. It’s difficult to get reservations at popular hotels and restaurants, and when you do, they’re often pricey.

Who better to write about what a location is really like than someone who lives there?

What events do you never miss in your region? An arts festival? Concert? Medieval Fair? Chances are someone might want to read about it. How about local establishments where you enjoy eating? Those local places are what have viewers tuning in to Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food or the Food Channel’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. My youngest son wants to plan vacations around his favorite episodes of Man vs. Food!

Perhaps you’re thinking–or even audibly whining–that nothing ever happens where you live. If that’s the case, then you need to open your eyes. Go to your local visitor bureau’s website. Sign up for RSS feeds or Tweets that keep you informed about what’s going on in your community. Study the website, and you’ll probably find an interesting attraction or location that you didn’t know about.

Branch out a little. What destinations or events are within an hour of your home? An old fort or state park may be just the ticket. Festivals produce a wealth of ideas. Cultural festivals are a way to share or learn more about a heritage, whether it’s Czech, Gaelic, or Native American. Enjoy watermelon, roses, or seafood? Each has several festivals devoted to it. Music, town anniversaries, and the Fourth of July are all reasons for a celebration. If you’re a hiker, you may write about watching out for snakes during the spring and summer months. But did you know that several rattlesnake festivals celebrate the snake?

Mine your local newspaper for travel feature possibilities. No, not as a market (although that’s always a possibility), but to get ideas. Check the business pages, in particular. Perhaps a new museum is opening in three to six months. Contact the marketing director for information and a tour and then send out your queries. You’ll be the first to write about it because you kept your eyes open.

Take a closer look at the potential audiences and markets for your region. For the topic of cowboys and the Wild West, I can write for family travel markets, retirement publications, or history buffs. It’s all in how you slant the idea.

As travel writers, we don’t have to stick to travel publications, guidebooks, and travel websites. Look in everything from local newspapers to bridal magazines and websites and you’re sure to find something about travel. Travel features are found in publications about lifestyles, retirement, parenting, food, art, wines, gardens, and regions.

The key to writing successfully about your own backyard is keeping it fresh. This really is easier than you think. Life is dynamic… always changing and filled with surprises. Look at your backyard with eyes wide open and filled with wonder, and you’ll never run out of things to write about.

~ Karen

Do you write about your local area? Share your thoughts!

9 Responses to “Taking a Look at Your Own Backyard”

  1. Amandah says:

    These are great tips! When I lived in Arizona I was amazed at how much there’s going on within the state. They do a great job with advertising and marketing. Now that I’m back in the Midwest, the state that I’m in could use some help promoting tourism. I’ve missed a lot of ‘cool’ events because I didn’t know about them. They need to step up the marketing efforts.

    • Karen Gibson says:

      Thanks, Amandah. That’s too bad that your state tourism department isn’t doing a better job. Maybe they need to hire your services! I’ve done a few articles on little known destinations, promoting them as a secret that few knew about, but that was worthy of a visit.

  2. JoAnna
    Twitter:
    says:

    All good suggestions on writing about your own backyard. When I teach travel writing courses, I tell people that there’s a story everywhere … they don’t have to be in Fiji to find “the story.”

  3. pelu awofeso
    Twitter:
    says:

    Writing about one’s backyard–that’s probably one of the most difficult things for a (travel) writer resident in a place to do. I struggle with it all the time and I keep trying to find ways to navigate around it, to see my backyard with a visitor’s fresh pair of eyes. And now with the prospect to being contracted to write a city guide, I am trying really hard to write creatively about Lagos for the benefit of the visitor

    • Karen Gibson says:

      I think “home” for most of us loses that magic sometimes. We begin to take things for granted. I am currently at the Denver, Colorado airport waiting to go home. Because the Rocky Mountains aren’t part of my backyard, I am mesmerized by their beauty and all the things to do. The area’s residents don’t seem as enthralled as I am.

      For me, Lagos, which I’ve never seen, seems like a city with lots of energy and history. What kinds of things would you want future visitors like me to know about your amazing city?

  4. pdreskosr says:

    I currently write and publish for “Scenes from The Seat”, I’ve put and interesting twist on my backyard stories, as I live in Central Florida, and you guessed it many of my articles and reviews encompass this twist, what I can see or do for entertainment while out riding my vintage “Harley”. My Latest Story was traveling from my location to Polk County where the wife and I took a beautiful ride about an hour and ended up at “BOK TOWER GARDENS”, this article is a “Feature” article and is over 1500 words with photos, this artilce is being published for the Bok Tower Gardens Monthly news letter, as well as with the “Florida Travel and Tourism Board”.
    I do so enjoy these types of events and articles because it gives Travelers other ideas for seeing “Florida” other then the usual, Disney world and Universal studios, there is so much more here if people only knew about it, so that is what I set out to do, by creating “Scenes From The Seat”, with this I can do one to three day trips that have the readers attention, from roadside stops to local hangouts that most people wouldn’t of thought of. I love it.
    Everything you mentioned in your article was very helpful, and I can appreciate good sound advice from an experianced writer such as yourself, thank you for your post.
    Mr. Philip Dresko Sr.

    • Karen Gibson says:

      That’s great, Philip. You’ve got the right idea. So much has been written about places like Disneyworld and Universal Studios that there probably isn’t much that hasn’t said. But you’re introducing readers to the new and different things to do in your “back yard.”

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