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Taking a Look at Your Own Backyard

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!