4 Ways to Land Travel Writing Assignments By Thinking Creatively
[Did you know I now pay $50 for guest posts? —Linda]
A few years ago, my husband and I rode the Discovery Riverboat on the Chena River near Fairbanks, Alaska. As a freelance travel writer, I’m always on the lookout for stories and interesting experiences. During the relaxing and informative three-hour trip, I took pages of notes and shot dozens of photos.
Upon our return, I queried my Features editor at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel newspaper. Prior to the trip, the editor had not run travel stories, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
The gamble paid off. He had just received permission from the publisher to begin a weekly travel section. My article on the Discovery Riverboat was the first article for the column, complete with three of my photos used to illustrate the article. Over the next couple of years the same editor used dozens of my travel articles.
The best thing about travel writing is you don’t have to live in a beautiful place like Alaska or Hawaii to write travel articles (though it doesn’t hurt!) Fascinating places and events are everywhere. The travel writer’s mission is to be observant and record unique qualities about an area or event so readers will want to go there or at least wish they could.
Here are four ways to land travel writing gigs by thinking beyond been-there-done-that destinations and events.
1. Start local.
Start with where you live. Is a famous landmark nearby? The Johnny Appleseed Festival held each September in Fort Wayne, Indiana, hosts a festival in a park where the famous fruit bearer is buried.
As morbid as it sounds, this event has become one of the highest-attending festivals in the Midwest. It also became the lede for my article that sold to Good Reading Magazine:
“In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a lone grave sits atop a hill in the middle of an empty field. It remains quietly undisturbed during the year until the third weekend in September. Then, more than 250,000 people converge on the area surrounding the grave, paying tribute to the man buried there who gave his life to helping others.”
Attending the festival provided me with loads of sensory details for description so readers could imagine being at the event: noisy cannons firing in the midst of a Civil War military encampment, scents of apple dumplings baking in food booths, children winding through a straw maze, women dressed in mob caps and calico dresses spinning wool under shady oaks.
Capper’s Magazine bought a reprint of the article. A few years later, a blurb about the Johnny Appleseed Festival appeared in my round-up story about area festivals for a Fort Wayne Magazine cover story.
2. Go beyond destinations.
A travel article can also center on a building. Upon returning from a visit to eastern Montana, I queried the editor of Cowboys and Country magazine with a round-up of possible article ideas. He voiced interest in a profile of a restaurant in Billings called The Rex. The building dated to the late 1800s when Buffalo Bill Cody’s chef established an eatery in the Wild West.
My focus was on the history of the place, but the restaurant’s specialty — Montana-raised Rosemary Roasted Buffalo — was a big mention. The editor liked the historic angle and menu details and published the article.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, a travel article can also be about a person. Gene Stratton-Porter was a popular nature novelist who lived in Indiana during the early 20th century. Her book, Girl of the Limberlost, sold millions of copies.
Since her Hoosier homes in Geneva and Rome City are state historic sites, I wrote about her life and what she accomplished in her Hoosier homes (she later lived in California). My News-Sentinel newspaper editor published the story with several of my photos of the homes, while including information about the cost of admittance and hours of operation at the end of the article.
Be alert to anniversaries for tourist-related events. When the 50th anniversary of James Dean’s death occurred in 2005, my newspaper editor was happy to publish my article about the star’s birthplace in Fairmount, Indiana, 50 miles away, and news of the town’s upcoming celebration.
3. Think small.
The savvy travel writer doesn’t limit the search for travel article markets to the obvious.
A few years ago, Grit magazine published my article on the Peru (Indiana) Children’s Circus. While the article’s focus was on the physical and mental strength and discipline the children learned from being involved with the circus, the circus’ dates of performances, ticket info, and website were included at the end.
Other off-the-beaten-path locations for travel-related articles I’ve used:
- An automotive industry publication published my article on the history of the Indy 500 Race.
- Scouting magazine’s editor printed my story “A Halloween Tradition” about a local Boy Scout troop that supported its activities by conducting a haunted castle event each October. While the article focused on the scouts’ hard work and creativity, the article included the Haunted Castle’s website for more information, making it a destination-related piece.
- While vacationing in Amelia Island, Florida, I toured a bed and breakfast inn that offered accommodations to people with disabilities. A trade publication for the hospitality industry in the South bought my article on the unusual and considerate establishment.
- Town Square magazine wanted stories about small American towns and what made them special. The editor liked my description of my favorite ice cream joint, Ivanhoe’s Restaurant, in Upland, Indiana.
The hardest part of writing this article was not sampling each of the 100 delicious shakes and sundaes with names like Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel, Grasshopper, and Peach Melba, in the name of research! An added benefit to writing this travel article — the owner of Ivanhoe’s framed it and hung it on the wall beside the check-out line where thousands of people could view it.
4. Remember, you’re not just a writer — you’re a photographer, too.
One point about travel writing that can’t be stressed too much is the importance of providing good — make that great! — photographs with each article. Photos add pizzazz, visual interest, and information to a travel article.
I always carry a digital camera with two charged batteries when traveling. My camera, though not terribly expensive, is set at the highest resolution and has paid for itself many times over with the photos I’ve taken and sold with travel articles.
For the Johnny Appleseed festival I snapped a Civil War doctor re-enactor standing outside his tent. Capper’s and Good Reading both used the photo with the article.
A trip to French Lick, Indiana, offered many opportunities for intriguing photos with gold-laden ceilings, painted murals of Greek gods, and a sky-high dome in the area’s restored hotels.
Publications usually pay separately for photos, so shoot as many as possible to add to your paycheck. Enrolling in a photography class will increase your chances of selling travel photos. Study photos in prestigious travel magazines to recognize shots that will capture an editor’s attention.
You should also shoot photos that never appear in print, as these shots can assist with your research. During a Christmas visit to Nashville, Indiana, I photographed the interior and exterior of attractive shops, carolers dressed in muffs and colorful scarves, and festive street decorations. These photos enabled me to describe the stores, events, and scenery in extra detail for the article that appeared in the News-Sentinel newspaper.
Sometimes it’s impossible to obtain adequate photos on your own. When The Rex Restaurant’s dark interior prevented me from shooting good shots, the restaurant owner provided professional photos for the article.
Opportunities to showcase your talents as a travel writer abound. Travel article ideas are everywhere. The challenge for the astute travel writer is to decide which one to tackle first.
Kayleen Reusser has written children’s books and had stories in Chicken Soup books. She writes travel articles for newspapers and magazines. Check out her stories on various subjects at www.KayleenR.com