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Inside Info: Breaking into travel journalism

7 Best practice tips to set you up for success in the very competitive travel writing industry.

Use your blog to showcase to editors what you can do: 

They would want to see that you can write well-crafted, engaging copy, that you can sniff out good angles and that you are dedicated enough to have stuck with the blog for more than a few posts. Once you start getting commissions, chances are your blog will slide. If you are getting paid travel writing gigs, then your time for unpaid work will rapidly diminish. But until you get those paid commissions, a blog is a good, easy starting point.

Travel journalism

You need to be able to dig out the angles the travel guides don’t cover: 

So many people think that having passion for travel and the ability to string a sentence together, qualifies them automatically to be a travel journalist. It doesn’t. You need to understand how to dig out facts – and to determine that they are facts – and how to find hidden gems and insider info. If it’s already in a guidebook, what are you adding to it?

Travel journalism is hard work and the pay isn’t always great either: 

Forget fantasies of being sent round the world on an assignment with a huge commission, all expenses paid, and having endless days lolling on the beach or people-watching in cafes. Very few publications pay freelancers’ travel expenses (and getting a full-time writing or editing job on a major travel publication is just not going to happen until you have years of experience, and even then, chances are slim). Take a sample 1,000 word feature. If you are lucky and have years of experience, you might be commissioned to write a 1,000-word travel feature for a major publication. You will need to spend around a day crafting the pitch that wins the commission in the first place, three to five days working out your itinerary and arranging accommodation. Another three to five days on the trip. Then at least two to four days writing the article to a standard high enough for this type of publication. If you are lucky, for this, you will be paid £400.

If you are pitching unusual destinations, make sure you’ve got a good angle: 

Breaking in by going to less popular locations – this is a tricky one. On the one hand, going somewhere unusual definitely gives you an edge. On the other hand, it’s hard to commission those features. The fact is, most people want to read about destinations they actually want to go to or are interested in. Hence the huge number of articles on France, Italy and so on. This is because it is these types of articles that sell papers and magazines.

On the other hand, people do like reading about unusual destinations, so while editors might not have as much scope to commission those places, if you pitch a good angle for one of them, then when they do come to commission a quirky one, your pitch might just be in the back of their mind.

Travel Journalism

 

Demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of the magazine will endear you to an editor: 

The best way to get your writing published (and get paid for it) is to actually read the publication you’re pitching to. Each magazine have a different type of audience and writing style. You need to be familiar with this to ensure that the editor you are pitching your story to can visualize the article between the covers of his magazine.

A potted guide to pitching:

  • Keep it short – No travel editor has half an hour to wade through 10 pages of pitch.
  • Check to see what the publication has covered recently; if it has covered your story or specific place, don’t pitch.
  • If you refer the travel editor to your personal website, make sure it works and is up-to-date.
  • Have an original hook; amazingly, backpacking around Thailand has been covered before.

Twitter can help your industry knowledge and give you ideas for pitches: 

Follow journalists, editors, newspapers and magazines but also follow travel blogs, tourist boards, airlines, tour operators, attractions, museums, hotel groups and so on. The more you know about travel and how it ‘works’, the better. Which destinations will be talked about in 2015, where are the new air routes, what are the new attractions… these are the pitches for the future. And by establishing a Twitter presence you can make a name for yourself as well as boost traffic to your blog.

As stated before, travel journalism is a very competitive field, with many individuals trying their luck at, let’s face it, building a career by going on holiday. However, the first step towards success in travel writing is to realise that travel journalism is exactly the opposite – it will definitely not be a holiday, but a combination of hard work, passion, and overcoming many obstacles, that will get you to the top. To jump start your career as a travel writer, join AFRICA MEDIA on our Environmental and Travel Journalism intern training program – Learn about it here!