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Imagine sliding out of bed and knowing that your "work" for the day is to scuba dive along the Great Barrier Reef or shop at an open-air market in Madagascar or attend the opera in Vienna. Travel writing is perfectly suited for anybody with terminal wanderlust.
But in my book, of all the kinds of writing you can do -- fiction, academic, marketing, technical, etc. -- travel writing is the most fun and the most rewarding in terms of the quality of life it helps provide.
Let me explain
An Excuse to Travel
Perhaps you already took a long vacation this year. You might find it hard to explain to that voice in your head -- the one that monitors your bank account -- that youre going to take another. But if you can make enough money selling a story about your trip to cover its cost or at least defray, say, the cost of the airfare well, then, that is not such a bad arrangement.
And, in fact, you can do much better than merely defraying your costs. I have one travel writer colleague who generated a whopping $12,000 from a single trip by selling and reselling the stories he wrote and the photos he took.
Another travel writer friend and her husband spent a week on a boat in the waters off Belize, diving twice a day, sunning on the deck, eating meals prepared by the boats gourmet chef, and enjoying the company of a handful of fellow scuba-diving enthusiasts. Before she booked the trip, she approached the company that runs the program and was able -- as a travel writer -- to arrange a discounted rate for the all-inclusive vacation. And then, when she returned home, she sold an article about it and made a few hundred dollars to help cover her costs.
Once you have some track record as a travel writer -- a couple of published stories to your name -- youll be able to do the same sort of thing. Plus you'll most likely be able to take deductions on your taxes for the business expenses associated with your travel and writing.
Travel writing is about more than just the good-value travel deals, though.
Experience the World in a Richer Way
Its also about seeing the world in a new way. It demands you pay greater attention to where you are than you might if you were just passing through as a tourist. You must train yourself to notice the smells, the sounds, the tastes, the cultural differences what people are wearing and what theyre talking about.
Part of what makes travel writing so fun, in my view, is that it gives you such freedom to talk to people wherever you go. You learn so much more about a place when you're able to get the "inside" scoop from the locals. It's something few tourists ever manage.
But as a travel writer well, it's part of your "job" to sally on up to the bar and strike up a conversation to chat with that shopkeeper and accept when she invites you to tea to offer an enthusiastic smile and say, "with pleasure" when the translator-guide you've spent the day with asks you to meet his family and share dinner in his home.
To me, its this meeting people and this uncovering of the universal truths and fundamental differences about destinations the world over that gives life its greatest texture and interest.
Gain Freedom and Flexibility
Whether you choose to launch a full-time career as a travel writer or youre planning to do it on the side, it will prove an accommodatingly flexible job.
You can live anywhere in the world and do it.
And, in fact, you don't even have to travel. Your home is a destination for somebody, after all.
Read More and Notice More
Practically speaking, how do you get started?
If you want to be a travel writer, you should read travel articles. Subscribe to at least three travel publications -- some might be free travel newsletters you get online, others print publications -- and set aside some time to read them.
You want to start to get a feel not only for what you like and admire in an article, but also for the many different kinds of articles that exist.
Also, train yourself to notice more. The best travel writers are observant travelers.
You can be one, too.
In fact, its critical. Because the more you notice -- the more specific, interesting details you pick up, that is -- the more rich material you have to include in your articles. And its those rich details that editors like.
How do you do it?
Seven Habits of Successful Travel Writers
1) Rely on more than just your eyes. Certainly, pay attention to what you see.
But also take note of what you hear, what you smell, how things taste, how they feel. If theres a low, stone wall surrounding a village cemetery, dont just scribble in your notebook low, stone wall. Go up to it and check if the top is dusty.
Exactly how low is it? What sounds do you hear as you lean on it? Is there cheerful chatter from the kids sent to leave flowers? Or is it utterly silent, save for the occasional bird call and the scratching of squirrels?
2) Count. How many steps must you climb to reach the top of that lighthouse?
How many steeples do you see jutting up above the rooftops? How many tables does the café hold? How many tourists are standing in line? Specific numbers help provide the precise details strong articles always include.
3) Pick up papers -- maps, brochures, local newspapers and magazines, brochures, postcards, menus, business cards. I keep a one-gallon Ziploc bag in my suitcase when I travel, and at the end of each day, I toss into it whatever papers Ive gathered. If I got a business card from somebody I spoke with, I make a note on the back, reminding myself who that person is. If I got a menu from a place where I enjoyed lunch, I scribble on it what I had and what I thought of it. Ill flip through a local paper, scanning for odd-ball items and ideas about what I might do the next day, making note of local politics, finding out what controversies are raging. You wont likely use all this material in your article, but its all useful as you piece together a context for this place youre visiting.
4) Talk with locals. No matter where you are -- in a bar, a café, a shop, a taxi -- strike up a conversation with a local. Ask directions. Ask for suggestions about what you might do or where you might eat. Inquire as to how things have changed in the past decade or more. Ask this person where he or she takes family and friends who visit.
5) Shop with locals. Poke your head into as many tourist shops as you like, but make sure you also spend some time where the locals shop. Go to a grocery store and pay attention to whats on offer. Investigate an outdoor market or a hardware store. By paying attention to how the locals shop, what they buy, and how much things cost, youll uncover all sorts of interesting quirks youd never find out if all you shopped for were t-shirts, snow-globes, and fridge magnets.
6) Get into a locals home. Im not suggesting you climb in a window! Get yourself invited for tea or lunch or dinner... or just a
quick tour. Its amazing what youll learn once you step over a threshold into the private world tourists never see. Youll instantly know more about peoples priorities, about how they order their lives... indeed, maybe a good bit about how that society is ordered. Here, again, notice how things look, feel, taste, and smell. (How do you get invited in, you ask? I promise: Strike up conversations, and youll be surprised at how hospitable people become.)
7) Travel more. The more you travel, the more places you see, the better able youll be to distinguish something thats really unusual. Youll develop a more well-rounded perspective. And youll gain something else theres no other way to come by: judgment.
Read about Jennifer Stevens' amazing course, The Ultimate Travel Writer's Course
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