How to Write Travel Stories That Sell

Writing © by tonyhall

“How do I get paid for my travel writing?”

It’s a common question here at TBA.

And fortunately, we’ve got an expert lined up to answer all your questions.

In this MASSIVE guest post, Leyla Giray from Women-on-the-Road.com reveals how she became a successful travel writer… and how you can, too!

She originally released this as an eBook but was kind enough to share this info with Academy members (so be sure to thank her in the comments!)

Become a Travel Writer In 6 Easy Steps:

  1. Angling Your Story
  2. Getting the Facts, Getting the Story
  3. Letting the Story Speak for Itself
  4. Turning Your Reader into a Viewer
  5. The Irresistible Story
  6. The Most Important Lesson of All

Enter Leyla…

I’ve worked my way across Africa by writing.

And Asia.

And the Caribbean.

I’ve worked from palm-fronded beaches, desert oases, icy mountaintops and tropical rainforests.

I rode camels in Morocco and elephants in Thailand, swam with stingrays off the coast of Eritrea, got lost in the Amazon, fetched my own water and built my own cooking fire in the heart of Zimbabwe.

I have been privileged to see the world at my pace, combining my love of travel with my love of writing.

And you will too if you’re serious about writing stories that sell.

Now don’t get me wrong – it was a bit like roses: beautiful, but with a few thorns along the way. It’s not easy to make a living as a travel writer: it takes hard work, a reasonable command of the English language, and a helping hand from those who have done this before you.

So if you’ve always dreamed of travel writing and thought you couldn’t – think again. During these six lessons I’m going to share my hard-earned arsenal of tricks with you.

If you apply them and work at learning your craft from the ground up, you’ll be getting closer to writing – and selling – your travel stories.

And what comes next is the freedom to travel and see the world, in a way you never dreamed.

Are you ready for the first lesson on how to be a professional travel writer?

Lets get started on the magic ingredients essential for a saleable story, one that an editor will be happy to pay you for.

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Lesson 1: Angling Your Story

Question mark made of puzzle pieces © by Horia Varlan

Getting the angle or the peg is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make when you write a story.

Without an angle, you have no story. You know what you’re seeing and what you want to write about. Now you have to figure out how to slant it.

Let me explain.

“Paris is a big city.”

That’s a description.

“Even though Paris isn’t the world’s biggest city, it looms large in the heart of romantics everywhere.”

Not a great sentence, but it tells the beginning of a story – it has an angle, an idea, a perspective, an approach.

Writing a travel story isn’t about delirious descriptions or lists of must-see sights.

Editors can find these on any website or guidebook. Your job is to provide a little extra, a twist that will make something old seem new, or something common seem exceptional.

Do you know how few travel writers actually realize this?

Many writers think a good description, well-written, with plenty of colorful adjectives, makes a great travel story. Most editors, on the other hand, are looking for something more.

One technique I use to find new story angles when I’m writing about a place is to insert a word right after my destination.

Let me show you how.

We’re writing about Paris, right? So why not try:

  • Paris… romance
  • Paris food
  • Paris fashion
  • Paris language
  • Paris history
  • Paris museums
  • Paris flea markets
  • Paris streets
  • Paris fountains
  • Paris chocolate
  • Paris pastries
  • Paris theater…

Each one of these could easily yield a dozen story ideas.

Another technique I use is to ask these questions:

  • What’s new about this?
  • What’s first about this?
  • What’s biggest, smallest, oldest, youngest, best or worst about this?
  • What’s special about this?

These are the things that will sell your writing.

Editors want to learn something from your piece: if they learn something, so will the reader. They want to feel excited and inspired by looking at a place through a different lens. You can provide that difference.

I hope this makes sense! In case it doesn’t yet, let me give you another example from my own experience.

On a trip to Thailand I didn’t write about my itinerary, nor did I provide a long list of tourist attractions. Here’s what I explored instead:

#1. Scrumptious Thai food – what it is, how to prepare it, how to shop for it, best restaurants, eating utensils, etiquette, unusual food specialties, the difference between Royal cuisine and common cuisine

#2. Relaxing beaches – where to bliss out, visiting The Beach film set, massages on the beach, best beaches, living cheaply on the beach, and the safety of beaches after the tsunami

#3. Shopping in Thailand – amazing Chattuchak Market, antique shops, tailored clothes at Thai prices, the history of Thai silk, Jim Thompson’s story

#4. Spiritual Thailand – best meditation retreats, reflexology on every street corner, Thai temples and what they mean

#5. Poverty – child beggars, refugees from Burma, deforestation in the North, prostitution in broad daylight, trafficking of women and children (these aren’t technically travel stories, but I care about these issues so I wrote them – and sold them)

When you set out to write a travel story, remember – it’s not one story, it’s many. Imagine writing your own stories from each of these angles, and selling each to a different paper, magazine or site…

I pretty much did and I’ll show you how you can too a bit later.

So when you’re thinking of writing your travel story, ask yourself: can I find multiple angles?

If not, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’ll have fewers stories to write and to sell, so you’ll make less money. Imagine all that research about Paris just to sell one or two stories on the city as a destination. Not really worth it, is it?

I’ve given you plenty of ideas: now it’s time to come up with some of your own!

ASSIGNMENT #1: Practice finding angles…

Choose a destination you can get to easily or that you know well. Make a list of possible story angles. Don’t stop until you come up with at least 20 interesting story angles for your destination. Then choose another destination and start again. Once you’re confident, challenge yourself: choose difficult destinations. The more ‘boring’ your choice, the harder you’ll have to work to find a great story angle. Remember you’re laying important groundwork by doing this.

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Lesson 2: Getting the Facts, Getting the Story

Euros and Magnifying Glass © by Images_of_Money

Do you ever ask yourself how to get all the facts you need?

It happens to travel writers all the time. We travel to a destination, take copious notes, then come home to write, only to find huge gaps in our knowledge.

There’s only one way to avoid that: do your research before you go.

That’s right. Find out everything you can about your destination before you ever step on the plane.

And don’t worry, your ‘spontaneity’ won’t be ruined, on the contrary. By knowing as much as you can beforehand, you’re leaving yourself free to observe and absorb rather than trying to write every little detail down.

So how would I get started on my research?

Say my destination is Montreal. In winter. (Yes, people do visit then.) Here’s what my research path looks like.

Head to the library

The first thing I do is go to my local library and check out a few history books to get the feel of the place – history of Canada, of Quebec, Indian and colonial times.

Tales of everyday life in times past, especially in winter, are great tidbits you’ll want to sprinkle through your story. What did people use for fuel? What did they wear? Eat? How did they spend the winter?

Read like a local

I then read some literature written by Montrealers or about Montrealers – authors like Mordecai Richler, for example – modern fiction but also historical novels, something that will tell me why things are the way they are.

What’s the story behind the Jacques Cartier bridge? What was the historical role of Old Montreal? Why is ice hockey so popular?

Lay the foundation

I then move to more general information. I’ll first buy or borrow a recent guidebook or two and read through to get the big picture.

Then, I’ll follow with a lengthy search online: official tourist office sites, Wikipedia, the CIA Factbook, blogs by Montrealers… any useful source of general information.

A word of warning though: by relying too much on the Internet, you’ll come up with the same information everyone else has – including mistakes.

This is lazy writing and can be dangerously inaccurate.

Read the news

I read the news, papers like the Montreal Gazette, magazines with websites, and national publications with Montreal content.

I need to get a sense of what a community thinks is important – not to mention the practical value of news. Will there be a strike during my stay? An election? Is there a crime wave? And of special importance in winter – what’s the weather like?

Map it out

I always want lots of maps – not the Google printout kind, either.

I want the hard, foldable ones that crunch in my hand, so I write to the Tourist Office – they often have free maps of the area, especially if you tell them you’re a travel writer.

Local brochures – a goldmine for travel writers

While I’m at it I also ask for any brochures to make sure I haven’t overlooked any obvious points of interest. You’d be surprised at how many tourist brochures actually contain offbeat information you won’t find anywhere else.

I may even set up an appointment to interview the head of the tourist office if I think it’s useful to my story.

Too much work? Not if you want to sell.

And now, the best for last…

Talk to people

Shy?

You’ll have to get over it because some of your most memorable words will come from other people’s mouths. You’ll never know where a story will lead you if you’re not open to sharing yourself with others and vice versa.

And anyway, it makes travel so much more fun when the tourist becomes the storyteller!

But who should you talk to?

First I look around my own networks, online and in person. Then I approach helpful travel forums like BootsNAll or Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree. I usually find hundreds of helpful posts and if I don’t, I just post my own questions there.

ASSIGNMENT #2: Learn to research…

Choose a destination near you, one you don’t know intimately. Choose a story angle. Map out what your research would look like: What questions would you need to answer? What would you read? Who would you contact? What else would you do? Be as specific as you can because when you get your first assignment, this is exactly what you’ll have to do. And then do it for another story. And another, until this becomes second nature.

The research is essential.

Once you’re on the road, you’ll be able to concentrate on what’s around you. You’ll be free to let your creativity take over, safe in the knowledge that all the facts you need are already neatly tucked away.

A final word on research: get it organized. It won’t be of much use if it’s scattered all over the house. Choose a system, manual or electronic, and be disciplined with your filing.

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Lesson 3: Letting the Story Speak for Itself

Journalist – Day 4 © by ♪ Sleeping Sun ♪

The best travel destination in the world won’t help you write and sell a story if you don’t have an angle (remember Lesson 1?).

And like it or not, one of the best ways to get an angle – not to mention authenticity and credibility – is by interviewing people. People like talking, sharing information and being taken seriously.

If you want to become a travel writer, you’ve got to learn to interview people.

It isn’t enough to do all the research and describe it beautifully – you need someone who ‘knows’ the destination.

This can be an expert – or just someone who has experienced what you are about to describe.

I’m about to share with you some of the ways you can…

  1. Decide whom to interview.
  2. Actually arrange the interview.
  3. Conduct the interview.
  4. Write it up once you have it.

We have but one goal here: to get your story written and preferably sold, turning you into a successful travel writer with a lucrative travel writing career.

And here’s how you can use interviews to reach that goal…

Find the “right people” for your interview.

Remember the Montreal in winter piece? You’ve found several potential angles (Lesson 1), done your research (Lesson 2), and now you need to bring it all to life and ‘make it real’ by getting the real story from the ‘experts’ (Lesson 3).

In other words, you’ll talk to people in the know – people who will tell you what they know about your chosen destination. And both of you will have fun doing it.

Here are some potential interviewees for your story:

  • Tourist board officials – to get the ‘official’ story: they’ll tell you what there is to do in Montreal in winter, the underground shopping arcade, hockey games and ice castles – anything officially “touristy”.
  • Normal people on the street – called a ‘streeter’ or ‘vox pop’: you could ask, What is the best thing about winter in Montreal? What is the worst? How can you have fun here in winter? Why don’t you move to a warmer climate? Answers to these questions could lead your story into an entirely new direction.
  • Local tour guides – take the tour and interview the guide: What do people like most on the tour? What’s the least popular sight? Chances are their tastes will match those of your readers.
  • Winter lovers: ice sculptors, figure skaters, ski instructors, hockey players, everyone who makes a living out of turning winter into something fun
  • A local historian at the university: Why did people settle here despite the climate? How did cold and winter influence the history of the city? Are there any interesting anecdotes linking the city’s history to winter?
  • A celebrity or personality who still lives in Montreal and who hasn’t migrated to a warmer climate – why on earth is s/he still there?

And when you return home… are there any famous Montrealers living in your city? What do they miss most? (If there are no famous expatriates, any Montrealer will do!)

Interviews will make your story that much more ‘real’. You don’t need many – for some short pieces, a single interview with a two-sentence quote will be enough. For longer stories, you may need two or three interviews.

How to ‘snag’ the interview.

You should get your potential interviewees to WANT the interview, to desire it.

What? WANT to do the interview?

Absolutely. You’d be surprised how many people love being quoted.

Lets go back to our list of potential interviewees:

  • Tourist board officials: don’t worry, it’s their job to be interviewed. Just call their public relations or media office, tell them you’re a travel writer (sounds nice, doesn’t it?) and what you’re writing about. They’ll organize it. If this is your first stab at interviewing, your friendly tourism official is a great way to start. They actually want to share their information with you.
  • Everyday people on the street: just walk up to them and ask. Tell them who you are and why you’re asking. You’ll probably get one person out of five to talk to you… you only need a few. And, people often like to see their name in print so it may be easier than you think! If you’re too shy to stop people on the street, walk into a café and find someone who looks like they have a bit of time on their hands – reading a free newspaper, for instance, or gazing at everyone else.
  • Local tour guides: ask before you take the tour – a tour guide might need permission from his or her manager. You’ll rarely get a No, especially if you mention you’ll be quoting “so and so, a tour guide for X company” in your story. They get a plug, and you get the interview.
  • A local historian at the university: the public relations or press office of the university will be delighted to arrange it for you. Why would they have a press officer if they’re not looking for publicity?
  • A celebrity: you’ll usually have to track down their agent. Search the web for such things as ‘contact celebrities’ or ‘find celebrities’ and you’ll end up with more sites than you’ll be able to use.

Will they talk to you?

Not always, but more often than you think.

The good thing about interviewees is that if one person says No, you simply move on to the next on your list until you get a “yes”.

Persistence is part of the job.

Conducting the interview.

Interviewing is part art, part skill. The good news is that the skill part can easily be learned.

An interview is… a conversation, led by someone curious (that would be you!)

Imagine you’ve just met someone and you want to get to know all about them. What do you do? You ask questions.

Prepare a few beforehand – just enough to get the ball rolling.

  • What do you think about…?
  • How do you feel about…?
  • What is the best…?
  • What is your least favorite…?
  • When is the best time to visit…?
  • What brought you to the…?
  • What is the most interesting thing about…?
  • How many…?
  • Who…?
  • When…?
  • Why…?

Just be curious, and the rest should naturally flow.

As for recording the words of wisdom you’ll pluck during an interview, there are three ways I can think of:

  1. By taking written notes – the most common way and the least intimidating for the interviewee
  2. By recording sound – with a professional device or a simple MP3 (make sure your subject doesn’t object)
  3. By recording pictures – with a digital video camera (again, check that it’s all right)

Each has its advantage but the more elaborate you get, the more intimidated your subject will feel.

Unless I’m actually producing a piece for radio or television, I simply take notes.

Write down your quotes accurately. Get the person’s exact title. Spell his or her name properly. And always, always get a contact email or number so you can check things later. You’ll need to… there’s no such thing as getting everything right, all of the time, especially the first time.

How to use your interview.

The biggest problem in writing up your interviews will be what to leave out, not what to use.

You may interview someone for half an hour and only use two sentences. In fact, this is more the rule than the exception.

Let me give you an example.

You’re interviewing the head of the Montreal Tourist Board. You’ll be asking all sorts of questions… how many people visit the city in winter, why, what are the selling points, what clothes to bring, what to avoid.

You might extract a few facts and figures from the interview and sprinkle them throughout your story, not as quotes but as background information. For example, you may tell your readers what clothes to bring, what temperature to expect, and how to get around despite the cold and snow, all of it based on information from your interview.

You’ll follow those facts with the interview segment itself, which might run something like this:

Few people think of visiting Montreal in winter, and that’s a shame,” said Jane Doe, President of the Tourist Board of Greater Montreal. “If anything, our city is more fun in winter than summer – where else could you learn to make an ice sculpture, skate a Figure 8 with an Olympic medallist as teacher, build an igloo, or shop indoors all day without having to step outside?

Can you see how short that is? And can you see how well the quote captures what you need to say? Quotes provide color and texture to your story. You can park the more boring facts elsewhere.

ASSIGNMENT #3: Choose one of the many story angles you developed in Lesson 1  and map out your interviews. Make a list of potential interviewees. Then make a list of 10 questions you would ask each of them. Try to imagine which bits you’ll use and where they’ll go. You’ll see an article beginning to take shape in your mind.

Interviewing someone is all about putting your common sense to work. Know what you want, then ask for it.

But be open-minded. You never know how someone might answer a question – and what path that answer might lead you down if you only listen.

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Lesson 4: Turning Your Reader into a Viewer

7dcp1020714-mitchies-camera © by Wolfgang Lonien

This guide is dedicated to setting you apart from the crowd – to showing you how to write saleable travel articles.

If you can think up the angles, do the research, approach people for interviews and write up your story…

… you may have what it takes to make a real living out of this.

But there’s one other step…

How often have you heard this?

“A picture is worth 1000 words.”

I hear it from editors all the time: give me visuals! Sometimes photos (and video, if you’re submitting to a website) make the difference between a sale and a rejection.

If you can’t recreate your story through pictures, your editor may look for someone who can.

Your success or failure as a travel writer depends on just a few factors – and a visually appealing story is definitely one of them.

Imagine a beautifully written travel piece that tries to describe an African sunset – splashing orange rays shimmering over the horizon… Very nice, but wouldn’t it be even better just to show one?

For example:

picture example for travel writers

Better than 1,000 words, right?

With the range of affordable digital point-and-shoot cameras now on the market, it’s almost impossible to take a bad picture.

Here are a few simple rules that almost guarantee you’ll take great travel photographs.

10 Simple Tips to Take Professional Photos

#1. Do your homework before you go. There might be a festival or special event taking place during your trip – a great photo opportunity you won’t want to miss.

#2. Spend a bit of time on composition. Get in close – remove the non-essentials from your picture. Keep your backgrounds uncluttered and simple – don’t distract your viewer.

#3. Never ‘bisect’ your photographs. In other words, don’t cut them in two, for example with the horizon across the middle. Use the ‘rule of thirds’ instead. Put your horizon in the top or bottom third of your picture. Faces too: position someone in the left or right side of your photograph, not in the middle. Leave that silly frontal look for a passport picture.

#4. Take colorful shots, but beware – not too much color. Force the eye to focus: a bright flower against a plain background will show up far better than a bright flower against a multi-colored background.

#5. The edge of your photograph may be straight, but the world around you isn’t. Find landscapes that curve or follow a line to soften the eye. If you do shoot a horizon, don’t shoot it at an angle. Unless you have a steady hand you’ll need a tripod or something to support your camera.

#6. Nothing is as compelling as a photograph with people. Just make sure you ask permission first (you don’t legally need a release if you’re using a photograph editorially as part of a newspaper or magazine story under what is known as ‘fair use’; you only need a release for advertisements or if you’re using the photograph to make money directly – on a mug or poster, for example.

But many editors actually don’t know this and demand releases anyway so be prepared to provide them if it means the difference between making a sale or not.

#7. Photograph people going about their daily routines. Avoid the group or head shot. There’s nothing as boring as a group of people standing around staring at the camera.

#8. Be aware that some places apply strict rules to photography. I was once chased around a Nigerian market with a machete because I tried to photograph a vegetable seller without her permission. In some countries many things are out of bounds, from military buildings to airports and sometimes even schools. Check first.

#9. Choose your camera wisely. Nothing too complicated – you need something simple and easy to carry. Just make sure it’s sturdy. With digital photography you can check your photographs on the spot and if you don’t like what you see, shoot again. Don’t forget to carry a spare battery and memory cards – they do corrupt. Or get lost. And back up at the end of each day.

#10. Finally – read the manual! Don’t wait until a glorious sunset to decipher instructions. You’ll need to know how to override auto controls, correct for motion blur or achieve a specific effect like light or dark before you take your photographs.

A quick word on photo guidelines

Magazines and websites usually have guidelines for photographers.

Some magazines (fewer every day) still insist on 35mm slides, while the rest want high-resolution digital shots. Guidelines are different for each publication, so check before you submit.

Where you must stop first on any trip

I can’t let you go without giving you one last tip: when you get to your destination, your first stop should be the postcard shop.

Have a look at what the pros are shooting – especially the angles and composition – and do the same, not to copy what you see, but to use the image to inspire up your own.

If you’re interviewing someone, place them in that picture. If these postcards sell by the thousands, your similarly-framed shots should sell too. Once you’ve got the basic shot wrapped up, then you can experiment. But get your main shot first.

ASSIGNMENT #4: Time to think ‘visually’…

Choose a destination you’d like to visit and make a list of 10 photographs you might take there. Explain how each shot would contribute to your story. Include not only landscapes and sights of interest but people as well. Who or what would you shoot? Why? Why one shot and not another? Write captions for each story. Will they add information to what’s already in the photograph?

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Lesson 5: The Irresistible Story

Money © by 401K 2012

We’ve talked about the importance of finding a story angle, researching the story, snagging great interviews, and taking fantastic photographs…

Now, learn how to make your story so compelling an editor won’t be able to resist it – and will pay to publish it!

In case you haven’t noticed, this entire guide is focused on getting an editor to: 1) read your story, and 2) to buy it.

And if the editor doesn’t first read your story, she can’t buy it.

If she does read it, she’ll have to like it so much she’ll be desperate to buy it (and isn’t this exactly the response you want?)

I can’t say it any more clearly: your career as a travel writer depends on whether an editor reads your story, and then buys it.

And it all starts with a gripping headline. Here’s what I mean.

1. Keep it short. The shorter the headline the better. Keep it to five words, seven at most. Make every word count. Draw pictures with your words.

  • Poor: Many Different Styles of Cooking Coexist in Dubai
  • Better: Dubai’s Delicious Diversity

2. Keep it active rather than passive.

  • Poor: Man is Bitten by Dog
  • Good: Dog Bites Man

3. Keep it honest.  A flashy headline is great – but only if it’s true. I write the headline after I’ve written the story. Others do the opposite. No matter, as long as the two match. Don’t make promises or raise expectations in the headline that you fail to deliver in the story.

4. Go for the familiar. 

Sounds of Silence on Cape Cod
Plays on your knowledge of music, and notice the cadence of sounds?

Le Tour du Chocolat
Even if you don’t speak French there’s a good chance you’ll know this is about travel, France and chocolate.

Out of Africa, the Wisdom of a Warrior
Plays on a movie and on rhythm and alliteration (note the constant consonants – W and W).

These three headlines from the New York Times travel section play on familiarity – things you may know or have heard of, but not necessarily in the same context. Still, they’re familiar.

5. Keep it gripping. A headline grips the reader’s attention – but it must also grab the editor. Use poetry and alliteration. Make your headline sing and dance. Use numbers. Use superlatives. Use active verbs.

6. Keep it clear. There’s little worse than an ambiguous headline, especially one trying to be funny or to deliver puns that fall flat and only confuse the reader. Have a look at these bad headlines and you’ll see what I mean. Stay away from being clever – you rarely will be. If you can’t think of anything brilliant or creative, just be clear and succinct – tell the reader what to expect in the story, and then deliver.

Here are a few examples of clear headlines that deliver on their promise:

  • Comfort Food at Comforting Prices in Paris (New York Times, 2004)
  • 9 Days in Switzerland, by Trail and by Rail (Marco Polo Magazine, 2004)
  • Wild Ways: Beyond Victoria’s manicured gardens (Islands, 2003)
  • For sail: A slower, smaller option (Chicago Tribune, 2003)
  • The High Cost of Low Fares (Conde Nast Traveler, 2003)

So lets just recap: what goes into a good headline?

  • It is short.
  • It is active.
  • It is honest.
  • It grabs you.
  • It is specific.
  • It is clear.
  • It feels familiar.
  • It leads into the story.

Here’s what your headline should not be:

  • It shouldn’t be vague or general.
  • It shouldn’t ask a question it doesn’t answer.
  • It shouldn’t be passive.
  • It shouldn’t be clever just for the sake of it.
  • It shouldn’t be too cute – rhymes, puns and humor only work if they are extraordinarily good.

By now it should come as no surprise that writing a good headline can be harder than writing a good story – and may take as much time to write. (Adam: If you’re stuck on headlines, check out these 101 headline templates.)

ASSIGNMENT #5: Get a copy of your weekend newspaper travel section and look at the headlines. Are they any good? Do they fit the criteria for good headlines? How so? If not, how could you improve them? Now choose a travel destination and a great story angle. Write three headlines for your story. Once you’re satisfied, do it again for another story. The headline is crucial: it can sell your story. Not that easy, is it?

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Lesson 6: The Most Important Lesson of All

Recycle jute bag © by lydia_shiningbrightly

It’s now time for me to share my number one technique to guarantee you actually make money travel writing rather than just feed your passion.

If you don’t apply this lesson, you may become a wonderful travel writer – but you won’t make a living at it.

The secret to making money as a travel writer is to sell the same story over and over again – in other words, to recycle it! It’s the only way to make a decent living.

Most travel writing doesn’t pay much so you have to stretch every trip as far as you can.

Remember how in our first lesson we discussed finding new angles to old stories?

This is a similar technique but it goes a step further. Not only do you find lots of angles for a single story, but you also market to several publications.

If you visit the Alps on a skiing trip, you could easily query a skiing magazine with an obvious skiing in the Alps story.

But that’s just one story.

Now imagine this:

  • You query food magazines – with stories about cheese fondue, tartiflette and raclette, and other popular Alpine after-skiing foods.
  • You query backpacking magazines – with stories about hiking Alpine trails, ultralight backpacks or how to survive at high altitude.
  • You query winter sports magazines about winter hiking in the Alps, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
  • You query an architecture or building magazine about Swiss chalet architecture.
  • You query a popular nature magazine about unusual Alpine flowers.
  • You query a real estate magazine about how to rent or buy or renovate an Alpine chalet.
  • You query a sports clothing and equipment magazine about what’s cool and unusual on the international slopes this year.
  • You query a transport magazine about picturesque private trains still operating in the Swiss Alps.
  • You query mainstream travel magazines, websites and newspaper travel sections with destination pieces covering the region as a whole (Alps), broken down by country (French Alps, Italian Alps, Swiss Alps, Austrian Alps, Northern Alps, Southern Alps…) or resort (Zermatt, Val d’Isere).

I can think of dozens more.

And since you’re in the region, why not write some great destination pieces on one of the nearby cities like Geneva or Lyon?

You get the picture.

Take one trip, and resell it dozens of times simply by changing the angle and the market. That’s recycling.

It’s quite straightforward. First, check the publication’s writers’ guidelines (I’ve prepared this fun little guide that demystifies guidelines for you).

Then, download a sample query letter, adapt the content to your chosen publication and send it to the appropriate editor. Repeat for each submission.

The trick is to think this through before you travel so you’ll know what to look for once you’re there. Unless you’re planning a food story, you might not ask a chef for the secret ingredient in his tartiflette or the tourist board about the history of fondue.

ASSIGNMENT #6: Pick one of your best story angles and sit with it for a bit. Make a list of 10 new stories – spinoffs – based on that original story. Each special feature of your destination can become its own story. You should easily be able to come up with 10 ways to recycle your original story with a new target audience in mind every time. If you can do this over and over again for a dozen stories, you’ll be ready to sell.

Back to Top

You now have everything you need to get started on your travel writing career. I hope you’ve enjoyed the book, but it’s so packed with information – I could have easily made it three times as long – that you should probably go back and reread it several times.

I’d like to wish you all the best in your quest to become a travel writer! If you want to see the world and get paid for it, you’ve taken the first few steps. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed immediately – I didn’t, and neither did most writers I know.

It takes practice to develop the craft of writing, and the best way to practice is to keep writing, keep submitting, keep rewriting – and eventually keep selling.

Any questions on how to become a travel writer? Let me know in the comments below!

###

About the Author: Leyla Giray, a former broadcaster and foreign correspondent, is the publisher of blog.women-on-the-road.com and women-on-the-road.com. During her travels she paddled her way out of a flood in the Philippines, got lost in a Mozambican minefield, almost drowned off Zanzibar, was stampeded by an elephant cow in Nigeria, shot at in Beirut and once unwittingly sat on an anaconda in Brazil. Born in France and raised in Spain and Canada, she now works for an international development agency. You can find Leyla on FacebookPinterest and Twitter.

About adamcosta

Adam Costa is co-founder and Editor in Chief of both Trekity.com and TravelBloggerAcademy. He currently lives... um... somewhere.

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Comments

  1. Hello Adam and Leyla,
    I thank you both so much for sharing this E-book with us! This was a lot of information! We are having our travel blog on people, places and cultures for nine months now and I just ran into a little crisis a few days ago though neither page rank nor visitor numbers seem to rise.

    I decided to go on with it and focus a lot more on guest posts (especially in magazines and blogs that pay – thanks Adam for your list).

    I think because of all the visiting, writing and research we are the slowest bicycle travellers ever. We go in usual speed but always stay at all places for minimum a week. During the first days we write the Travel Diary (the not so informal part of the blog, but the more personal one) and then we go and “look for stories” – means we walk through the city, get lost, try some food, talk to some random people and see if we meet some interesting stuff. Usually the story finds us. But that is just luck.

    From now on I want to do a better research BEFORE I go somewhere and then I’ll write down exactly where to go and who to talk to. Sometimes I get the idea to “make a story out of it” when it is already too late and I didn’t bring my camera or forgot to write down the name of the person I chatted with.

    Yes, now I know. Bad bad mistakes. But those times are over now!

    I got the list of blog links (Thanks Adam) look at what they want (nature, tech, women, sports, adventure etc), think about a few angles for each of them (and my own blog), check if they already got something similar and then I go for it. Is this how it should work?

    Leyla I can’t thank you enough for sharing this here. I think you just gave me new motivation in the middle of my crisis. I’ll keep on trying.

    I am very happy about any kind of critic and tips about how to improve my own blog also.

    Keep on going, I am very curious on the next part of the course!

    Annika

  2. Annika, I’m so happy this has helped remotivate you. I can’t stress enough the importance of trip research. Many people don’t like to do it – they feel it takes away from the ‘authentic’ feel of their writing. Not true! As a magazine commissioning editor for years I could easily tell the difference between a writer who ‘owned’ her subject and one who was just passing through. Guess which one I commissioned each time? Research will leave you open to discovery and free you from having to remember the mundane. Happy cycling – and writing!

  3. Katja Iversen says:

    Very inspiring reading. Better get that backpack on, notepad out and get going again.

  4. Writing anything online needs you to be connected to the readers first and then share with them what they want to read – then comes the call to action.

    Lovely read and i enjoyed it a lot.

    Sheyi

  5. Thank you- I’ve gone on travel writing courses (paid) that provided less useful information than this post. I must admit I’ve always check the postcard standard when I travel, and I love to research before I travel, so I’m doing a lot of stuff right – I just need to start doing more pitching and not taking no for an answer!

    • Thanks Lissie, I’m glad you found the post useful, and you definitely are doing things right. The persistence thing – it usually does pay off. There are so many editors and they’re all looking for something different. One person’s write-off is another person’s treasure so keep sending your stories out, even if they’ve been rejected. The next editor on your list may be looking just for you!

    • I agree Lissie – Leyla dropped serious knowledge here. Excellent post!

  6. Great post! I’ve been a full-time professional writer for nearly 20 years, and even I learned a few things from it. Sharing now!

    • Thank you Bret, coming from you that’s a great compliment! I learn a lot from reading your blog so would this qualify as… hmm… barter? Joking aside you make an important point about being able to learn even after 20 years in the profession – the way we hone our craft is by reading great writing, by listening to criticism, and by putting up a stoic front when an editor tears us to shreds.

  7. lots of informative articles for a travel blogger like me..i wish i am really a travel writer.. this simply inspired me..thanks for sharing..noted this site..

  8. Great advice!!! This should become bible for anyone who wants to write and pitch travel articles.

  9. I mean THE bible. And I’m serious. You won’t get better guidance than this anywhere else.

  10. Minna Skau says:

    Thanks Leyla,
    Lots of great tips and info. Some pretty pedestrian for me as a journalist – but still good to be reminded. Other info I never thought about. Makes me want to do more travel writing.
    Funnily enough, though, I found one of your best pieces of advice to inexperienced writers in one your comments here at the bottom: “a writer who ‘owned’ her subject”. That to me is the most important lesson from 20+ years as a professional journalist. Own your story! Use your own fascination as your fuel for planning, researching, interviewing, writing, pitching. We are, after all, not that different. So what fascinates me is bound to fascinate quite a few others. once you’ve figures out why a certain subject, place or person piques your own interest, all the rest should be plain sailing …
    As in: If you own it, others will want it!
    Best,
    Minna (Katja’s friend)

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Minna! That passion element is so key, or fascination as you say. You can tell by reading if a writer is enamored of his/her story or if it’s being written because it has to be. I can see it in my own writing – if I’m in love with a destination or a topic, I’ll pour my soul into it and the words will slide and shimmer onto the page. These days they’re the only stories that seem worth writing…

  11. Your article was in-depth yet engaging…thanks. Much of the material was familiar to me as a reporter, but the part about the importance of a good picture really got my mind clicking, as I am planning some blogs for bescover.com I will use picture as the center of the articles to draw the viewer inside the story, along with a good hook and nut-graph of course :)

    • Glad you liked it, Thomas. In fact all I did was put a news lens over travel writing… as you so quickly noticed! A story is a story and in my opinion the same rules apply. Glad to have provided some food for thought though…

  12. Some great tips here, thanks. However, the help that I need most is how to pitch a magazine. Whom do I pitch, the Editor in Chief, the travel editor, the editorial director? Then, how much info should I give away in my pitch?
    Let’s say, I’m pitching a story about chocolates in Paris. I’ve got my info, my snappy title, my interviewees all lined up.
    Do I say I’d like to do a piece on chocolate shops in Paris and I’ll be covering the best shops around the city and I plan on writing up 6 shops.
    Do I give away my snappy title, or just give them the concept?
    Do I suggest a word count? Do they?
    Do I ask them what they pay?

    Your article had good info on how to write, but I need help w/ the mechanics of how to communicate w/ the person who’s going to buy my story.

    • You’re right, Jane, I do talk mostly about writing – as that’s what this post is all about. Sounds like a follow-up post is needed at some point – How to Pitch!

      I wouldn’t send a snappy title – what if they turn down your story? The title could reappear elsewhere, even accidentally. Also most editors will rewrite your title. If you have a great one, hang onto it until they commission the piece. You can suggest it then. They don’t want it? Use it as a headline for your own blog post on chocolates in Paris (the one with a different angle).

      I would tell them how you plan on writing up the six shops. Interviews with the owners? Have you got them lined up already? Taste tests? Organized yet? Walk-in surprise? Just give them the mechanics: “I have arranged interviews with all six owners, including the world-renowned xxx,” or whatever you can find that will make your piece stand out.

      You can suggest a word count but make sure it falls within their parameters. You’ll find most of this information in Writers’ Market so make sure you read the entry before you pitch anything. If they only accept featurettes at under 500 words and you pitch 1000, you won’t even get a blink – it’ll be clear you didn’t do your homework. Conversely if the info isn’t published – a few markets don’t share things like payment – then by all means, ask. I would only ask once they’ve shown some interest though, because payment will probably be higher then.

  13. Hi Leyla,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply Leyla, it’s much appreciated.

    I’ve been fortunate to have had a steady stream of clients who have either found my writing on the web and then asked me to write for them, or have met editors on press trips who asked me to send them samples of my work. So while I’ve had some good clients, I’ve never done a formal pitch to an editor I didn’t know. Unfortunatel6y, there have been some lay-offs, job changes, etc which now makes it necessary for me to be more pro-active.
    I was not familiar with Writers Market, so thanks for that info. I’ll subscribe.

    A follow-up piece on How to Ptich would be fabulous, and I’m sure would be as insightful and as helpful as this one was. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

    • Writers’ Market has an online version at http://www.writersmarket.com/ or you can buy the big fat book – I love it but that’s just force of habit over the years. It’s good to get used to pitching because you’ll have more control over where and when you’re published, and may discover outlets you’ve never even thought of before! And I’ll give a pitching piece some thought… maybe later in the year. Just one more piece of advice – your pitch should be as well-written as your piece will be, or better. Make every word count. The editor doesn’t know you and your pitch will be your only calling card (editors are increasingly pressed for time as the ranks thin so reading through reams of clips isn’t as attractive as it used to be – you’ll still need to send them though).

      • Never even occurred to me that Writers’ Market would be a paper book. I did a google search and found the online version.
        So now that you mention it’s a paper book I looked it up on Amazon and see that the book is $18.00, and the Kindle version is $9.00. However the website version is $40.00 per year. Any idea why the price difference of $18 for the book and $40. for the online version?
        Is the website constantly updated, thus rendering the book/kindle versions less complete as the year goes on?

  14. I couldn’t believe my good fortune today when I discovered this article on “How to Become a Travel Writer”. Grazie mille! I’m heading to Italy for 2 months to do research for a novel that I plan to write and it would be a dream come true if I could write some travel articles while there….with the possibility of getting paid or at least getting recognition. But, up until now, I had no clue how one went about doing this…..so thank you, thank you! The hardest part for me will be pitching my articles. I have had a few things published in a local magazine, but it was an easy pitch as they were looking for specific travel articles and I had just returned from a local wedding in Umbria. And, then I just kept writing a few articles for them for about 3 years. So I’m like Jane, I need help with the pitch. I’m rather timid about doing this, but know that I need to do it now as the time before I leave is running out. Another question: I read the article on whether or not to take a laptop and I have chosen to take one………but which one and how do I get it operate when there? I’m technically challenged and feel overwhelmed about all the choices and decisions that need to be made regarding a laptop. I have written to several travel writers regarding this and none have responded………Please help even if it’s only to steer me to a site that will help me……..you have a magnificent website……..more helpful information than I’ve found anywhere else…….

    • I know how daunting it is to sell yourself to an editor who doesn’t know you… I look at it differently. I have something s/he wants and is willing to pay for, so that puts me in control. That attitude is far more empowering than thinking about rejection. When those occur, I carefully examine why. If my pitch was off, I’ll know for next time. If it’s too soon after a similar piece was published, that’s a lesson too. Sometimes it’s nothing I did – they might just be full up that month. That’s OK too.

      As for a laptop, if you’re a travel writer you need access to something on which to write. These days I’m traveling with an iPad and keyboard but it’s not as versatile as a laptop. Some writers swear by the small netbooks, so light and cute – but oh so challenging if you have large fingers. Ultimately there is no right answer. Take something light, and as sturdy as possible. Something on which you feel happy typing. Don’t want to take anything? Plan on spending a lot of time in Internet cafes. I’ve done that for months on end (in Asia when my laptop ‘fell’ of the top of a bus) and it’s manageable, though not fun to have to work in the middle of loud Skypers.

      I like the Mac range because it’s dead easy to connect anywhere you have wifi. You just click one button at the top of the screen, it shows you which networks are available, and you click on the one you want. If it’s locked (private) just enter whatever password your hostel/hotel/wifi-enabled restaurant tells you. But again, that’s a personal choice. Here are a few rundowns by laptop users:
      http://artofbackpacking.com/should-you-bring-a-laptop-while-backpacking/
      http://foxnomad.com/2011/10/04/what-is-the-best-travel-laptop/
      http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2010976

      I also have a few additional tips here: http://www.women-on-the-road.com/best-travel-laptop.html

      As for the notifications – I’m sorry, I can’t do anything about that – on this page near the bottom you should find something that says manage your subscriptions or similar… I’m not a technical person and just a guest on this site but I hope it works!

  15. I forgot to ask to be notified regarding followup comments and I would like that……..thx, Donna

  16. Hi Leyla & Adam, thx for the responses and thx for more great info Leyla. I’m busy looking up everything you sent. And you are so right about assuming the correct attitude to do these things. It’s just been a wee bit daunting with the amount of planning involved to pull everything together.

    Oh, I’m sorry about the confusion. I didn’t mean for my last comment about the notifications to be posted but I didn’t say that. I simply forgot to check the little box…….I did receive the notifications today……so it’s working. thx again…….so happy I found your site.

  17. I agree with recycling the story – I mean, most travel blogs wouldn’t admit it, but a lot of them actually recycle their stories, usually by focusing on specific parts of their adventure. If one really wants to make a living as a travel writer, they’ll have to use their resources (in this case, their stories) to it’s full potential.

    • Amy – you’re absolutely right. I’m a former magazine editor and I can vouch for that. Once you get into it, it’s easy to find new angles to everything. It does take a bit of practice, which is why I would recommend working on this well before pitch time. As you read above, it’s not hard to come up with new ways to dress up old ideas… not hard, but it does take time.

  18. beautiful

  19. Holy cow! that was wonderful. I found your site last week and have already gotten tons of actually useful info. Thanks again.

  20. Thank you for the 6 “easy” steps to becoming a successful travel blogger! Thank goodness for spell check or you guys would have thought I was an idiot with some of my words now! (I’m afrikaans) :)

  21. So much valuable information! Thank you x million! Will be reading over and over and digesting, applying, learning, layering and (hopefully!) improving my blog and growing into the travel blogger/writer I want to be! :D

  22. Thanks for sharing the information about the visual diary for adventure through which we can travel. It’s really a great photo gallery.

  23. Thank you Leyla for teaching us what we need to do to become successful travel writers. I’m a beginner in travel writing. I’m always looking for sites that give serious advice about travel. I’ve learned so much from you. Thanks also Adam for sharing this.

  24. Thanks for posting this! The article was short, honest, familiar, gripping, clear, specific and all your headlines led into the story that followed :) I read every word and even took notes. I’m sure this will help me immeasurably.

  25. I love this article! Thank you so much. This could help me in my blog. I just realized I could write several articles in just one travel.

  26. Best article I’ve read on this topic. Incredible information! I will make this my #1 guide as I am about to “take the plunge” into my next career. Thank you so much for sharing.

  27. I am so glad I found this article. the tips are so helpful, the examples are excellent and I especially like the assignment for each one.
    I want to write about traveling in a wheelchair. I took a trip to New York City a few years ago and learned a lot of do’s and don’ts. especially with the different types of transportation, accessibility differences at different landmarks, how to get around on the streets, etc.
    I learned pretty quickly being on a motorized scooter with a not so great turning radius makes a lot of things really tricky!
    Anyway, do you have any advice for me or if it’s even an idea I could sell?

  28. Excellent piece, succinct and fun and right on the button. The reselling item is the hidden moneymaker. I used to sell an article, as is or rechunked, about three times after selling the original. It just took some punch to go back to it. You are right about headlines that shine–and grabber leads too. Another key tool on longer articles is a well designed transitional paragraph after the lead that told the reader where they were headed. You have all of the tricks nicely explained. I liked to get two or three go-aheads to queries before I left, with letters that indicated the editor’s interest. That opened doors with others I wanted to interview on site. Showed I wasn’t an instant travel writer without markets who would just waste the person’s time. The go-aheads also made it far easier to write off the whole venture for taxes. Keep up the first-rate sharing.

    Gordon Burgett, author of The Travel Writer’s Guide

  29. Why is this website dedicated to women? My Godson was asking me about travel writing and I think there is info here that a guy can take advantage of, but when he sees it is for women it may turn him off. I am still going to suggest he read it as it seems packed with good instruction.

    Question? There are websites advertising learning to write for travel mags. They charge about $300 us dollars for online classes. What do you think of these and is it necessary to have formal training?

    • Hey Sarah, this site’s for both men and women. Our other site http://www.Trekity.com is for women (but men are more than welcome to join in on the discussion). I’ve never paid for an online writing class so I can’t speak for how well they work. My advice would be to start reading a lot of travel writing (the library is a great way to load up on books) and to start writing everyday. The best way to improve your writing is to actually write.

  30. As we speak I am writing my first travelogue and now even more inspired as I line up my style and angle of content following the advice how to write an article.

    Thank u

  31. Thanks Leyla for a terrific post. How long do you usually stay at a travel destination to perform all your interviews, on site research, etc… Do you write your articles at the destination in case you realize you need more info or clarification or do you wait until you get home? Do you send articles/photos to the editor electronically or hard copy?
    Thanks again!

  32. Thanks Leyla for these great tips. I am working on them to improve my writing. Interviewing people and local brochures are helping me a lot.

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