The life of a travel writer may look glamorous, but there's a lot more to the job than lounging in exotic locales. Organized press trips and customized "familiarization" junkets feature rigorous schedules that last from sunrise until well into the evening, attempting to squeeze as much as possible in to give writers the best sense of a destination.
While the pace can be gruelling, the rewards are priceless: visiting places around the world that you previously only dreamed about, meeting incredibly interesting people, and getting to know yourself a bit better along the way, too. Here's how to get started:
Any writer—no matter the genre—should read constantly. Get your hands on as many travel magazines, blogs, and guidebooks as you can. When a story touches you, dissect it to find out why. Did the author bring the destination to life through the people he met, through descriptions of the landscape, using captivating photos? Create a scrapbook of your favourite stories and refer to them for inspiration.
Most new travel writers think they should begin by pitching stories about far-away places—the exotic destinations they are most interested in visiting themselves—but that's not the best way to begin. The most effective thing you can do to launch your travel-writing career is to bring your hometown or region to life for others. Write what you know. It might be your hometown, but lots of visitors need to have a game plan to explore it during their visit. Newspaper, magazine, website, and guidebook editors all appreciate that sort of boots-on-the-ground expertise. By covering what you know best, you'll position yourself as an expert, capture editors' attention, and catapult your career.
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TELL A STORY
Every article should have a narrative thread. Use anecdotes and quotes to recreate the scene your readers—the classic "show, don't tell" writing mantra. Those details help transform the destination you're writing about from words on a page to a vivid place in the reader's mind.
As a travel writer, it's your job to get to know the people in the industry in your target market. For example, if you want to become an expert in theme park vacations, start networking with public relations executives at every theme park on the planet. Reach out to attraction engineer, area hotels, and other experts covering that beat. Become an integral member of that community yourself and you'll be right there as trends unfold.
KNOW THAT A "FREE" TRIP ISN'T FREE
Most people dream about becoming a travel writer because they think their life will consist of one free trip after another. Publicists do often invite credentialed authors—and those with official assignments—on press trips, and destination visitor bureaus and chambers of commerce often host these trips, as do some hotels and resorts. Accommodations and most meals are usually included in the trip, but airfare is often only comped if you have an assignment from a compelling enough publication. (Many press trip organizers still only want to host writers representing glossy travel magazines with high circulation numbers.) You generally have to get to and from the airport yourself, tip the bellmen and waitresses, and pay for any excursions that aren't part of the sponsored trip. If you don't generate enough assignments, that free trip will end up costing you money.
Press trips are often hyper-scheduled because the organizing publicist wants you to see what her client wants you to see. There is very little time for self-guided exploration. You're also traveling with a group of journalists, so you're all seeing the same things. You'll need to be creative to spin your ideas from the trip into interesting concepts for stories that editors will be interested in.
LEARNING THE SKILLS
If travel writing still sounds like a career you'd like to explore, learn what it takes to build your own career from experts. Some experienced travel writers offer customized one-on-one coaching. Some host online courses in travel writing, travel photography, and travel filmmaking.