When people fantasise about life as a travel writer, they tend to focus on the trips to exotic locales (OK: true); the free flights (sometimes true); and fantasies of hanging out by the beach, pool, spa, waterfall etc. (kinda true but not in the way you think).
They forget that there’s also the small matter of building a robust travel writing itinerary to actually make it all pay. Where will you go? How will you tackle the destination?
On every trip I do, I want to come back with plenty of material for any commissioned stories, plus material for any future stories I might want to pitch in. The key starts with a great itinerary.
When I started out, I always built my own travel writing itineraries. Then, as I got more experienced, I started being hosted on famils (aka: press trips). For newbies: a famil this is a trip with other journalists, where someone else looks after your whole trip from woe to go.
Today, because I don’t always like to travel on a famil, I still often build my own travel writing itinerary. Now this is usually done in cooperation with a bunch of people – tourism bodies, accommodation providers, tour companies – but it’s me overseeing the whole show. The ins and outs of this can be complex (to learn how in plenty of detail, study with me here), but if you are starting out in the world of travel writing, you can pretty much guarantee it will be the chief bottle washer (you) building your own travel writing itinerary with little (or no) external support.
Sounds tricky? Don’t panic – this should help!
Here are a few tips to help you plan your first travel writing trip:
1. Clear a few weeks in your schedule.
Yes, you can drill this down to a weekend, or a week. But if you really want to get serious about travel writing, clear some time. I did this a number of years ago when I went to California. I spent a month there and managed to sell over a dozen stories to non-competing publications, in different markets. Impossible if I hadn’t had that whole month on the ground and been smart about planning my itinerary.
2. Pick a multi-faceted destination.
You want somewhere known for more than one thing: ie: beaches, shopping, dining, culture, outdoors activities, and so on. Remember, you’re going to be working various angles, so you don’t want a one horse town in this instance, because there’ll be a limit to what you can sell on that. (Of course, one horse towns make gorgeous stories, but we’re talking about building a bigger itinerary than that, right?)
I like to think of a destination in terms of a region – perhaps I will base myself in a capital city where there’s lots of scope for interesting daytrips in addition to all the city-based stories. Or I might split my time between a number of areas and cover a bunch of regions for a week each.
3. Make sure the destination is one where you can afford to stay a while.
Let’s face it, at the start, you’ll be footing the bill, so keep it affordable. If you’re an Aussie, you might head to South East Asia. If you’re in the USA, you may zip down to Central America. Both regions are full of virtually unlimited travel writing potential, and cheap to fund on your own.
Or, maybe you have friends or relatives in a destination that’s full of story ideas? Look out Aunties and Uncles of Scandinavia, Japan or New York; your long lost relatives may be headed over soon to visit!
4. Think angles, angles, angles.
If there’s one thing editors hate, it’s a writer who pitches the same idea to his/her competitor. Never, EVER do this. Instead, look at a destination from a number of different angles. Food stories will go to food mags. Interiors stories will go to interiors mags. For me, I’m into yoga, so I write yoga travel stories on many of the destinations I travel to. I’m also interested in sustainable travel, so often I’ll write an eco-oriented story for an environment/green mag. These stores are unlikely to overlap with more general travel stories on the same destination, so it leaves me with plenty of options (and also, editors who aren’t worried I’ll be selling the same story to a competitor. I don’t want worried editors. I want happy ones.)
5. Choose activities you’re actually interested in.
For a few reasons. First – you’re in charge! Second – you’re going to have to spend your days doing all these things, so if you’re bored by museums, don’t plan to pitch a bunch of cultural stories. If you hate hiking, don’t pitch a national park story. Third – if you’re actually interested in the topic, you’ll do a way better job. You’ll ask better questions, find more interesting angles. In short, you’ll naturally go the extra mile. Going the extra mile is key to success as a travel writer: so this just makes it easier.
6. Allow plenty of time to plan.
Especially when you are new to it; this stuff takes time. Every single travel writing trip I plan reminds me just how much time must go into building a good itinerary. I’m pretty fast at this now, but I still spend days emailing, making phone calls, shifting stuff around, following up on emails, making decisions about where I think my time will be best spent, and on it goes.
Of course, you could keep all this pretty simple and wing it, but the more research you do in advance, the better you can use your time on the ground. In my experience as a travel writer, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting to a town and realising the real story lies in the fabulous markets that happen every Sunday. But you didn’t do your research, and so you’ve booked a bus out of there on Saturday night. Ouch.
7. Remember, it’s not a holiday!
I know, travel writing can sound suspiciously like a paid holiday. But frankly, if it feels like too much of a holiday, you’re probably not doing a good job. Are you interviewing people? Taking photos? Making notes? Collecting menus/flyers/experiences? Even if you design your own travel writing itinerary, it should be a fairly busy time out there on the road if you’re doing your job well.
What do you do to ensure your travel writing itinerary is robust? Why not share it below to help others do it better?
Want me to help you brainstorm your first travel writing itinerary or make better use of your time on the road? I can help you via a mentoring session.
Or, just want to learn more about travel writing? This travel writing course will tell you everything you need to know. (Disclaimer: I designed it!)