The best travel stories are not about places. They’re about the people who live in those places. So go easy on the purple prose about shimmering-blue oceans and blood-red sunsets. Instead, go and get some interviews. Talk to local people and ask them about their lives. Weave this into your narrative – nothing adds life to a story like direct speech.
A lot of travel stories are very information led. That’s fine, but the stories that really stand out are more memorable for one simple fact – they tell proper stories. So, think old school. Find a real story, get a proper angle, and think about your readership. Then frame these elements in the context of a destination. Tell us something interesting. Don’t tell us about your breakfast (unless it’s really interesting). For example, my story for the Daily Telegraph about a Barbie cruise around the Med was essentially a cruise story. But, much more than that, it was a human story about travelling for the first time as a single father with my 2 little girls. It won an award. ‘Nuff said.
Think travel writing, think flight upgrades, luxury suites and cocktails at 6? Now get real. Is that assignment really worthwhile both in terms of your time and the financial reward? Long-haul assignments rarely are – unless you have multiple commissions. So look closer to home. Think about places where you can bring real, local knowledge. If you know the Maldives inside out, lucky you. Me? I live in Northwest Britain and often take the kids to North Wales, so lots of my writing is inspired by my home patch.
Commissioning editors are busy. They simply don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to correct your basic spelling errors, cut down your copy if you bust your word count, and punctuate your sentences if you don’t know a comma from a colon. Want to get more work? Simple. Check it, proofread it and get it right.
And not against it. Writing for print? Okay, you have the luxury of longer sentences and more descriptive language. But if you’re writing for a blog or website, take a leaf out of George Orwell’s book and keep the language more direct. People are increasingly reading your articles and posts on mobile phones and tablets, so write for the screen. If you want to know more, take a look at my regular writing workshops.
Publications thrive on regular sections, such as ’48 Hours In…’, ‘A Postcard From…’ etc. This is your way in, especially as a first-time contributor. Editors need to fill these sections every day/week/month and often look to freelancers to plug the gaps in the schedule while the more established writers get the opening spread. So, read, read and read some more. Identify these sections, think about how your ideas will fit them and pitch accordingly. My first ever commission was a one-page anecdote column in a monthly magazine. That was 1998. I’m still freelancing now…
Travel writing is a job, so treat it as such. You’re working as a specialist reporter, covering a niche area, just like a sports writer, a music journalist or a personal finance correspondent. If you want to be regarded as a professional, act professionally. Work hard, say thank you and don’t push your luck. Build your brand online via social media, blog or video content to stay visible and, most of all, develop networks of editors, PRs and travel industry contacts. No network, no work.
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Author: Katie Gregory
Published: November 9, 2015
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