The basic skills that budding travel writers need are: 1) a powerful visual awareness to record colorful details about their surroundings; 2) the ability to research and understand the culture and lifestyle of the area; and 3) a strong vocabulary to reconstruct the flavorful first-person experiences into a coherent, stimulating article. If you have these basic skills—or you can motivate yourself to develop them—then you can join other budding travel writers who frequently sell their travel and lifestyle articles to editors and publishers.
KNOW THE INTENTIONS OF YOUR READERS
Travel writing involves placing yourself into the psyche of the prospective traveler who is planning to vacation somewhere. When a vacationer reaches a new getaway, what are his intentions? What does he feel like doing right away? Does he want to grab something to eat at a local eatery? Find a hotel or campground for lodging? Experience the local culture and history? Tour a local botanical garden
One technique to engage readers is to add either a feeling a familiarity or a feeling of the unknown into what you are describing. Do your readers want to feel like they’re “at home” even when in a foreign country, with all the basic needs and conveniences they depend on (and with very little communication difficulty)? Or do vacationers desire to immerse themselves into doing day-to-day things, to take on the labors of living like all the locals do?
AROUSE YOUR READERS’ SENSES
Since you won’t know if travelers will use your articles as references, you’ll need to satisfy many of their needs when you research and compile your information. Based on where you plan to sell your article, you might emphasize particular travelers’ desires and needs more than others. Many travel agents prefer to minimize the strangeness of a destination so that vacation planners perceive the destination as being “vacation-friendly.” Some travel magazines might ask you to overlook all mentions to American-based retail stores (like Walmart) and fast food eateries (like McDonald’s) within a seven-mile span of the vacation spot. The basic guideline in writing travel articles is to add as much sensory details about the location as possible without being redundant and boring. The more excitement and allure that your descriptive writing creates about the vacation spot, the more likely tourists, vacationers and sightseers will carefully peruse and review your article to get themselves ready for their vacations.
WRITE FROM FIRST PERSON EXPERIENCE
An obvious rule in travel writing is that you should have visited the place that you want to cover, otherwise you will miss many slight (yet vital) specifics about a place: the smells, colors, sounds, temperatures, landscapes, and the daily lifestyle of citizens. Only personal experience can provide your article with such rich details—and readers demand these small details.
If you’ve visited and experienced a place, your first-person observations will make your article unique and jump out at an editor. Many writers and poets have described Las Vegas as a “fantasy in the desert” or described Paris as a
“city of first kisses.” Without direct experience, how will you know—and write—that Le Cinq, a quaint restaurant in Paris, serves the world’s best crepes (according to locals) and has a breath-taking view of a sunrise over a wharf on the Seine? Specific visual details not only persuade editors to review your articles more favorably, but first-person experiences stir the interests of travelers.
Many travelers aren’t interested (or don’t admit that they are interested) in experiencing the “typical destinations” that most tourists visit. Every traveler likes to think their next hot spot is—in some way—special and adventurous. If you offer travelers with first-hand, remote observations, you can tap into their emotional needs, and make your article even more appealing to them.
TRAVEL WRITING RESEARCH
We can’t all travel to the best adventurous or exotic locations to earn a monthly income from travel writing. If you decide to write an article about a place that you haven’t visited (or a client hires you to write such an article), you must thoroughly research the vacation spot. Published travel books, iPad apps, interactive maps, and other globe-trotting materials can furnish you with facts about restaurants, motels and hotels, and excursions in a region. Also research online encyclopedias, websites, or other online materials to familiarize yourself with the history and lifestyle of the place. If you lack first-person experience of the place, then strive to emphasize the place’s special charm and personality.
Lastly, if you can, watch at least one film or YouTube video about the city you’re covering. You can always find plenty of YouTube videos that focus on a specific city, state and country. You also might find sufficient video footage online at the city’s official travel website. Watching a video can supply you with strong sensory details that you can use in your article.
FINDING TRAVEL WRITING OPPORTUNITIES
Once you have completed your travel article, you will need to locate a market that will pay you for it. Travel writers have many options to find paying markets for their articles. One option is to sell your articles to existing and upcoming tour guides or travel book publishers.
A second option is to craft a persuasive query letter and pitch your article to a tourism bureau (city, state or private), to small and large travel agencies, or to travel-specific or general lifestyle magazines and websites. Your query letter should briefly summarize your background, the subject and appeal of your article, and your unique perspective. A query letter e-mailed to the editor is the best way to grab his or her attention about your article.
A third option is to focus exclusively on selling your articles to travel-related blogs and websites. Popular, highly-trafficked travel websites constantly need fresh, original material, especially seasonal material. Although the pay rates tend to be lower than what print media pay freelance writers, selling articles to websites and blogs is quicker and easier. If you still can’t find a suitable market for your travel articles, then go to our Writer’s Guidelines Database where you can find print magazines that pay for travel and lifestyle articles.
It is challenging to sell your first travel article. You will experience many rejections from editors. A rejection doesn’t mean your article is subpar; it may mean the editor has no need for it at the moment. Just ignore the rejections and continue to write and submit your best work. The first article to sell is always the hardest. One editor out of a dozen will see the value of your article and offer to publish it. As you build your credentials as a travel writer, you will find that selling future articles becomes easier.