It took me about three years to go from amateur to pro and really learn the craft of travel writing. To be frank, I muddled through. The Internet didn’t exist. I had no contacts, nor any mentors to point out my mistakes. In short, I had to figure things out for myself.
I’m glad I persisted. Twenty years down the road, I wouldn’t swap my lifestyle for anything. But the start of the road might have been easier—and the spoils more lucrative—if I’d known these seven things beforehand.
1. Maybe your budget only runs to backpacker hostels. Or even the no-budget horror of park benches. When I was writing a story about Northern Ireland, there was one night where I parked beside a beach, slept in the car and made breakfast on a camping stove. Back then, I didn’t realize there were other options…
So, a few weeks before setting out on a trip, contact the local tourist office or visitor and convention bureau. You’ll need to have a couple of articles published beforehand, but this is the magic door to cutting down expenses. In return for a mention, many local establishments will comp a travel writer. Who doesn’t want free hotel accommodation, free meals and free entry to attractions?
2. Before you can reach any readers and get that paycheck, you need to cross an editor’s drawbridge. Find out their name. Addressing your email/letter to ‘Dear Editor’ is lazy. And they hate it. Which means they’ll hate you, too.
3. Travel stories should not start with your journey to the airport. Ever.
4. With most publications, you’re writing for audiences who want to know why they should visit a place. You’re not writing about yourself—or writing for your friends and family. An editor doesn’t want to know that your partner is called Reg or that after eating gorgonzola cheese he always has nightmares about garden gnomes. Personal observations are often welcome, but go easy on the “me” stuff. The world doesn’t revolve around you.
5. Not everything in guidebooks is fact. (I so wish I hadn’t written that the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were the tallest towers in the world.) Also bear in mind that restaurants can close, and hotels change hands. Check things out for yourself.
6. Learn to use a camera. Most editors want photos, too—and they often pay extra. Even with a point-and-shoot digital camera, you should at least learn some basics about composition. Many of the photos I sent in with my early stories were hideous. Which is probably why few got used.
7. This tip isn’t only for travel writers. Don’t pack so much! You don’t need all those clothes, shoes and toiletries. I used to take so much junk on trips, I was trudging around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Unless you’re heading somewhere like the Gobi Desert, there’s little you can’t purchase locally if you really need it.
Editor’s note: Steenie will be at the Live and Invest Overseas Conference 2011 in Las Vegas next month to discuss, among other things, how to fund your life overseas with travel writing. And that won’t be the only “fund your life” presentation at this Conference.
You see, this is our “ABC” event for readers who are serious about taking the next step to a dream life overseas. And that includes income opportunities. Join us in Las Vegas and you’ll get:
Every “live overseas” question Answered, a “dream haven” action plan for any Budget, and critical insights into every Country on our beat. Full details here.