Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a Three-Part Series
Six Things You Need to Know About Travel Writing.
Although a travel writing workshop helped me jump into the field, experience and time were my best teachers.
I read other travel writers, researched outlets, sent out queries and wrote voraciously.
Some of my attempts failed; others worked. Eventually, the stack of magazines that carried my work grew taller in the corner of my office.
I’m still learning and still evolving. It’s a must when working in this field. But here are six things that I’ve learned over the years about travel writing:
1. Becoming a Travel Writer Will Change the Way You Travel
When you travel knowing that you must report on what you see, it opens your eyes to travel in a new way. You notice more detail — the way people speak, the architecture, and the local cuisine — and this brings an added dimension of travel enjoyment.
Now, even when I’m not traveling on assignment, I notice these precious details. In fact, I seek them out.
For example, one of my favorite ways to learn about a destination is to peruse a local grocery store. When I was in Kauai recently, I stopped by their only Walmart. I found half an aisle devoted to different kinds of Spam (Hawaiians love their Spam), another aisle full of surfboards, snorkel gear and boogie boards and a huge refrigerated display filled with leis. Who knew that Walmart could provide a window into the Hawaiian soul?
2. Learn from Others
One of the best ways to improve your travel writing is to read other travel writers. Go to the book store and spend time looking over the travel magazines. What are people writing about? Who is covering what? What types of articles are they running?
Personally, I love to read travel essays. Each year, I devour the “Best American Travel Writing” series, and books like “Sand in My Bra” are filled with hilarious travel essays.
Take time to dissect these travel writing pieces. How do the writers set up the story? What descriptive skills do they use? What can you learn from them that you can include in your own writing?
In addition to reading, take a travel writing workshop or class. Being a travel writing instructor, I know this sounds like a shameless plug for our travel writing workshops, but it could be a class at your local college or anywhere else. Having someone who can provide insight and detailed instruction will go a long way.
3. Be a Good Reporter
You may take an amazing trip, but if you can’t remember the details of that journey, then your piece will not reflect that experience. Keep good notes.
Some writers keep a daily journal, which is an enjoyable way to record your thoughts. Include the specifics — the sights, the smells, the sounds and even the people you meet — in your notes. These details will help your story come alive.
4. Take Photos!
As an editor at Go World Travel Magazine, I spend a lot of time wading through submissions in our slush pile. Since our site is very visual, photography is often as important as the story — and it’s one of the first things we consider when we look at a submission.
Yes, it’s true that many destinations provide free photography for press usage. Yet you shouldn’t rely on that.
At Go World Travel, we cover many unusual destinations, and stock or press photos aren’t available. If you can’t provide photos to accompany your winery tour in Bulgaria, then chances are, we can’t run your story.
You don’t have to be a professional to take nice photos. Today’s cameras and editing software can do most of the work. Take a quick class on framing and composition and you should be able to shoot basic photos that will compliment your work.
5. Don’t Quit Your Day Job — Yet
As one travel writer put it, “The pay in travel writing bites, but the perks rock and the views from your desk are always changing.”
Yes, for most travel writers, this profession will not be a sole source of income. Travel writing works better as a co-career along with a flexible but reliable profession.
Several of my travel writing friends do other writing work. One writes grants for a non-profit, another covers business pieces. Being a staff writer or editor at a travel publication is an excellent way to find stable income in the travel writing field, but this can also restrict your travel. As one of my editor friends for a AAA magazine once said, “Usually I have to assign a freelancer for our travel stories because I’m stuck in the office editing!”
One other option is to find an internationally marketable skill that can be done overseas, such as teaching skiing or scuba diving, bartending or even teaching English as a second language. Then you can live overseas, and report on that country from abroad.
6. Keep Up with the Times
Like most professions, travel writing continues to evolve with the times. While most travel writers were publishing in print five or 10 years ago, online publishing is more common today.
If you can’t keep up with the times, you’re going to be left behind. Every travel writer today should be comfortable in the online world. Editors want to see your website or at least emailed clips to your work, not mailed photocopies.
Many workshop participants are established travel writers who want to update their skills — and they are wise to do so. Having your own blog, being able to reach out to editors on Twitter or promoting your work through social media are excellent ways to stay ahead of the game.
A few years ago, I ran into my old travel writing workshop teacher. She had retired from the field of travel writing, but her face lit up when I mentioned the class that I took from her more than a decade ago.
I shared how that foundation had helped me build a career as a journalist – both as a freelance travel journalist and a staff magazine editor.
She really smiled, though, when I told her that I taught travel writing workshops too. I understand now how good it feels to share this love of travel — and how to capture it in the written word — with others who share that passion.
Visit Travel Writing On Location for more information on these workshops:
Native American & Spanish Heritage in New Mexico: Santa Fe. May 2-6, 2013
Spirit of the Old West: C Lazy U Dude Ranch in Colorado, April 26-29, 2013
Beyond Eat, Pray, Love: Sights and Culture of Bali, Indonesia, Sep 20-27, 2013
I *so* agree with you about the grocery stores – no finer way into the collective spirit of a place than to see what local people really want. From a whole aisle of marzipan in Madrid, to the most elegant canapes imaginable in Ghent, there’s a whole world of insight on those aisles.
In my eyes the pictures are the most important part. Taking good pictures for an article is half the battle ;)
Good article, keep it up!
Going to local supermarkets is one of my favorite things to do while traveling too. One of the aspects I’m enjoying most about travel blogging is the opportunity to interview people and ask Qs I want to know the answers to myself. Photos are my least favorite aspect of travel blogging but I can see how travel writing will cause me to take better photos and I probably won’t regret that in the long term.
Great tips. I’ve started reading more travel and outdoor blogs and magazines lately, so I’ve got that part down. Taking notes of sites, sounds and smells…not so good. I typically start out great and then quickly peter out to nothing.
I also like checking out grocery stores to see what’s popular, especially the sauce and candy isles :)