Inside info: Breaking into travel journalism

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Use your blog to showcase your work

Editors want to see that you can write well-crafted, engaging copy. They want to know that you can sniff out good angles and that you are dedicated enough to have stuck with your travel 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 for breaking into travel journalism.

Dig out the angles the travel guides don’t cover

So many people think that a 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 verify them. In addition, you need to know how to find hidden gems and insider info. If it’s already in a guidebook, what are you adding to it?

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

Forget fantasies of being sent round the world on an assignment with a huge commission, all expenses paid, and having endless days of lolling on the beach. Very few publications pay freelancers’ travel expenses. Also, getting a full-time writing or editing job on a major travel publication is not going to happen until you have years of experience, and even then, chances are slim.

For example, take a 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 a whole 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 into travel journalism by going to less popular locations 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 others are interested in. Hence the huge number of articles on France, Italy and so on. These types of articles sell papers and magazines.

However, 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, they’ll remember you. Then when they do come to commission a quirky one, your pitch might just be in the back of their mind.

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Know the magazine

The best way to get your writing published (and to get paid for it) is to actually read the publication you’re pitching to. Each magazine has 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 in his/her 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, rather 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. For instance, backpacking around Thailand has been covered before.

Twitter can help your industry knowledge and give you ideas

Follow journalists, editors, newspapers and magazines but also follow travel blogs, tourist boards, airlines, tour operators, attractions, museums and hotel groups. The more you know about travel, the better. Which destinations will be talked about in 2020? Where are the new air routes? What are the new attractions? These are the pitches for the future. By establishing a Twitter presence, you can make a name for yourself and drive traffic to your blog.

As stated before, travel journalism is a very competitive field. Many individuals are trying their luck at, let’s face it, building a career by going on holiday. However, the first step towards breaking into travel journalism is to realise that it’s exactly the opposite. It definitely won’t be a holiday that gets you to the top, but a combination of hard work, passion, and overcoming many obstacles.

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Rouxne van der Westhuizen profile

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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