by Jordan Clary
Travel writing might conjure up images of exotic resorts, luxury cruises or riding across sand dunes on a camel, and while, travel writing can, indeed, open up some of amazing experiences, it’s not necessary to travel far or even travel at all to write and sell articles. You can start with your own city, neighborhood or even backyard to find ideas for travel stories.
Every place is a destination for someone and you are the best expert on your area. Learn to look at your own town with new eyes. What might a visitor like to do? What are the local products? Are there any specialized niches you can fit into?
Most of the ‘rules’ for travel writing are the same as for anything else. A well-written, compelling story will always have a chance of finding a home. Readers want to smell, taste and feel a place through your eyes.
But there are a few things specific to travel writing, and one of the main ones, is learn how to use a camera. Unless you’re lucky enough to only get gigs with big glossies like Condė Nast Traveler, and most of us aren’t, you’ll want to learn how to take decent photos to sell with your articles. It’s too bad, in a way, because the two are different skills, and some photographers feel slighted by all the amateur photographers selling pics with their pieces, but that’s the reality of the market. Most places will want photos and article as a package deal.
And, who knows, maybe you’ll find you have a knack for photography. Since words have always been my medium, I was actually opposed to learning to use a camera. I felt it separated me from the experience and if I concentrated on writing a description, it would be so much richer. But to my surprise, photography doesn’t separate me. It helps me see things from a different perspective. I’m much more aware of light and shadows than I ever was before learning to take photos.
Seeking to place your articles in well-known travel magazines is probably not the best approach. Those markets are saturated with submissions and highly competitive. However, many magazines, including trade magazines, would be open to a travel article if it was within their scope.
As an example, take your own backyard. Look around. What types of plants grow? Do you know what the native plants in your area are? Many botanical societies have their own publications, and while most of them concentrate on the plants in their own locale, a carefully crafted travel piece introducing a new area from a botanical point of view might be welcome.
For several years, until it went out of print, I freelanced for Colored Stone, a trade magazine dedicated to colored gemstones. I was living in China at the time and broke into it first with a query letter, and then with an article about China’s South Sea pearls. I developed a niche writing travel articles about gemstones, including ruby mines in Vietnam, blue zircon in Cambodia, and smokey quartz in Mongolia. The pay wasn’t bad, although it pretty much just covered my traveling expenses, but they were among the most fun and interesting pieces I’ve ever done.
A thorough look at your community will surely lead you to ideas for trade magazines. Is there a railroad museum in your town? There are many magazines dedicated to model trains. Even magazines that don’t lend themselves immediately to travel ideas based on their trade might welcome an article. In this case, you’ll want to point out the advantages of travel to relax and de-stress. Doctors, businesspeople, lawyers, teachers all like to take trips.
So if you are interested in breaking into travel writing, start with what’s familiar, and you’ll soon find yourself with enough ideas to keep you busy for a lifetime.
Jordan Clary is a freelance writer living in northern California. You can find out more about her at her website and by checking out her blog, Cloud and Mountain.