Travel Writing, Write your own travel guide!
By: Student Traveler (justin) 2012.09.23
Tips on Travel Writing
Week One - Spell the name right
Week Two - Travel writing queries don't usually work
Week Three - How to write for cash
Week Four -Print Magazines for travel writing
Week Five -Fam Trips / Press Trips
By Eric Tiettmeyer, Student Traveler's Editor/Publisher
Welcome to a new section of Student Traveler dedicated to travel writing! Mick Jagger and Drew Barrymore have both said they would prefer to be travel writers than what they do now. That tells you how popular travel writing is!
Others say that travel writing and being a successful travel writer is very difficult, and getting paid is impossible. I say that's rubbish.
We've published Student Traveler for the past 15 years. I started it out of my dorm room at UC Irvine as a simple, 16 page newsletter. We've had over 45 print issues, and worked with over 100 writers and about the same amount of interns.
For the next 10 weeks, I will write a weekly tip about how to be a successful travel writer, based on my experiences writing for Student Traveler, editing and working with writers for Student Traveler, and my own work with write ups in magazines such as SURFER, Entrepreneur, and a number of newspapers.
Week One in Travel Writing 101 - The number one rule in journalism. Do you know it? ALWAYS SPELL THE PERSON'S NAME RIGHT.
It seems so easy, but names are boofed up more than just about anything else an editor sees. And it's maddening to an editor when you spell names wrong, because if his/her copy editor or fact checker doesn't catch it a not-so-nice note arrives a few weeks after it's printed asking for a correction in the next issue. And for all the editors I've ever worked with (me included) we hate-hate-hate to admit mistakes in our next issue.
So always double and triple check a person's name. Places and events aren't as important -- but people's names are vital and is your job as the writer to get it right.
So when you write your first email to an editor to introduce yourself, just write "Dear Editor", "To the Editor", whatever style you choose. Just don't write a name. Names are botched on all kinds of web site directories (my last name must be misspelled wrong on at least a dozen sites for travel editors). So don't even try to research the right person or how to spell the name. Just write it to the editor. Don't worry, if they like you it will get to the right person who will get back to you and surely spell his/her name right!
Week Two in Travel Writing 101 - Travel Writing Queries and do they work
Query letters, or 200-400 write ups about what someone wants to write in an article or where they are going for a trip, are mostly useless to travel editors, I have found. The reason is that editors can't afford to invest time and energy in a "newbie" writer that may possibly flake big-time on them! So while there are many, great newcomers sending query letters to travel editors, those letters are quickly put to the side due to the flakes out there that cause editors to lose sleep days before printing due to a late article or even a draft for a book (that sometimes never even arrives).
There is an exception. Established writers like Jen Leo and Matt Gross can write query letters because they have written for many travel publications (including Student Traveler). So a simple email that says that he/she has this idea can quickly be approved for a future issue or book.
So what do you do if queries don't work? Write the entire article ... or even the book. Why not? If you are passionate, it will come out in your writing. Plus, you can write, then rewrite, and edit your work to get it right and work on your style. Finally, once you have the entire piece written (and edited for grammar and spelling) and send it to the editor -- it may sometimes quickly make it into the next issue due to a flaky writer or space that needs to be filled at the last minute. That happens all the time, and only a completed article will make it. So take that idea you can't wait to send editors, and start to write about it. It will be a great, first step to your writing career. And next week I will discuss how that completed piece can start to make you good money, even as a "newbie" freelance writer!
Want to travel and write, and don't know where to travel to? Search here for tours around the world!
Week Three in Travel Writing 101 - How to write for cash!
A great Chinese proverb says "Give a man a fish and he won't starve for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he won't starve for his entire life." The same can be said for making a living in travel writing. If you write one travel article for one small magazine, chances are the pay won't cover more than a day of living! Here is how you fish to make great money in travel writing!
The key is finding a unique angle that can be used in multiple publications -- both travel and non travel. Here is an example. When I was in college, I wrote for a fishing newspaper called Western Outdoor News. I love to fish now, but I didn't fish at all back then. So the stories I covered for the paper were all about people who love to fish (a salty dog and his tackle shop store near Newport Beach, a mom and pop selling stickers to put under your boat to attract more fish, etc). I was at a fishing convention in Long Beach looking for stories, and came across a guy named Chris Barela who did these amazing, bronze sculptures of fish.
So I asked him a few questions at the show and snapped a few photos, and wrote a 1000 word piece highlighting the process to sculpt one of these amazing fish, that the newspaper published. I made about $150 for the article and photo. This was 1998, so that was decent money for the 4-5 hours I spent on it. However, while reading the flyer on Chris Barela, I saw that he used to be a professional surfer. Back in the 80's Barela was called the "California Kid" and was known for taking on the biggest waves in Hawaii.
So I went back to my original article I wrote, and spun the article to write more about Barela the surfer and how he carved (literally) this little niche in doing these sculptures. I sent this rewritten piece, along with a photo or two to SURFER, and they picked it up! SURFER paid me about $225 for the write up.
In total, I spent about six hours on the article for both articles and made about $375 for my time. That's more than $50 per hour, and as a college student, that's pretty good money!
So to really make money in travel writing, the key is to look for subject matter that you can ultimately spin for numerous publications. The trick is to avoid selling the same type of article to competing travel magazines. But let's say you go to Venice, and the little pizza place you love has been in the same family for five generations. That becomes a great article for a travel magazine, but also may spark a lot of interest from consumer magazines for cooking and trade magazines for the restaurant industry. And since none of the magazines compete for advertising or subscribers, it's fine that you rewrite the same article for each publication!
How do you find your articles? Of course, traveling is a great way to find them while on the road. But if you can't pony up for the trip, consider going to a travel trade show or even a consumer show to get ideas. Plan to go two days. The first day collect all the material that interests you. If you don't like cruises, then you don't need to force yourself to and write an article! There are over a hundred booths at each of these shows, so you will find something to write about! Adventure Expo Travel Shows has shows in Atlanta in October, Dallas in November, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York in January, San Francisco in February and Washington DC in March. The New York Times Travel Show takes place in early March.
Week Four in Travel Writing 101 - Magazines and Guidebooks to write for
The print magazine industry has gone through some crazy changes the past decade with the growth of the Internet. This is a list of some of the biggest travel magazines I know of, but also some smaller, niche magazines where you may have better chances to get your first travel write up!
AFAR Magazine was launched just two years ago, but has experienced tremendous success with many tourist offices advertising. They offer a free, trial issue and pay their writers so check out their site!
Outpost Magazine launched in 1996 in Canada. It is a fun, travel-adventure magazine that comes out about six times per year.
Verge Magazine is a quarterly magazine based out of Canada, and offers a lot of great advice on working and volunteering overseas. They also put on the The Global Expo in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal in late September and early October each year.
Budget Travel Magazine is published ten times per year, with great articles and advice on traveling cheaply!
National Geographic Traveler is a large, travel magazine that has amazing photographs, like it's flagship publication, National Geographic.
Travel and Leisure
and Conde Nast Traveler are two magazines for affluent, travel styles.
Week Five in Travel Writing 101 - Travel Writing: Love/Hate with Fam Trips and how to score one
Familiarity Trips, or Fam Trips (aka as Press Trips), are basically free trips from tourist offices. In most cases they have a certain theme for the Fam Trip and invite an editor or writer travel magazines and sometimes web sites. The Fam Trip can be put on by the country's tourist office, a province, and sometimes even a city. States in the U.S. are always putting on Fam Trips.
The reason so many writers want to go on Fam Trips is they are free. In most cases, the plane, food, hotel, entertainment, transportation and souvenirs are all free. And in most cases, the tourist office doesn't cut corners on these trips. Everything is first class. Hotels are usually four or five star. And the schedule is jam packed with all the places they think you should see.
Fam trips are fun because you are usually on a bus with other writers from around the world. Because the trip is thematic (in our case, student travel), you meet lots of people that write on the topic you do. But fam trips can be exhausting from the scramble to see as many places in a short time. And every day you are treated like a rock star, so after a few days you sometimes just want some free time to travel around by yourself -- which is usually hard to do.
I believe the best Fam Trips are the ones when I request to pay for my own flight and do an independent trip of the country. I only did this once to Japan, and it made all the difference. I ponied up $650 for the flight to Tokyo, and then the wonderful Japanese National Tourist Organization staff put together a 10 day itinerary of cities throughout Japan in which all my travel was paid for.
More importantly, I stayed in minshukus (think bed and breakfast on a pauper's budget) and hostels and had a different tour guide each day that showed me the must-see sights of cities like Tokyo, Kobe, and Hiroshima. I traveled on my own between cities on the free Japan Rail Pass I was given. And I ate on a budget and even took in some sporting events sitting in the nosebleed seats. It was the best way I could write the article for Student Traveler, and I am glad I did it.
Most tourist offices have Fam Trips, and they all vary in time of the year, and the type of writers/editors they want. The best thing to do is visit Tourism Worldwide for a list of all the offices and contact them about their upcoming trips and the requirements.
In most cases, they will want to know who you will write the article for, and may want clips on your previous articles. However, a better way in the door is to offer to pay your way to get to their city, state or country and then they can work with hotels, transportation and even guides gratis while you are there. I think it's better to travel at your own pace, and it's always nice if someone else helps you pay your tab along the way!