Travel Writing: Be Prepared

By Roy A. Barnes

An old saying goes “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Not being prepared is one of the biggest detriments to fulfilling one’s dreams.

For me, the dream of being a published travel writer took many years of preparation. When I was a youngster of about four years old, I found myself fascinated with the road atlases in my house. I would draw the outlines of states over and over until I got them just right. When school wasn’t in session, I would often accompany my father on the road in his semi-truck. Still, many years passed before my dream of being a paid travel writer would be realized. That, and a lot of travel-related jobs, trekking overseas, plus the willingness to finally take the leap of faith that my writing could make money.

We all have taken different roads in life, but here are some preparedness tips that are applicable to all aspiring travel writers:

  • be prepared to sift a number of your personal experiences and hobbies as fodder for travel-related articles. Draw on work pursuits. If you travel for business, or do volunteer work away from home, your experiences and lessons learned are ingredients for a number of travel articles. My first sale as a writer came about because of my volunteer work in Spain. If you are just visiting the in-laws in a town you’ve been to a million times, a future travel article awaits because every venue has a story. Explore the town’s facets, thinking of the activity as a sort of temporary “respite” from the relatives, especially if they are driving you bonkers! When reading a book, realize that settings for them and the hangouts of the authors’ past are places people like to visit. For night-lifers, think of the hot after-hours nightspots in your area or another city that could be made into a sellable article. For those of you who are passionate about food, relate that with a travel experience because the culinary and travel connection is a constant theme in publications.
  • be prepared to follow up on subject matter that tugs at your curiosity or your heartstrings, especially if it’s not gotten a lot of coverage. Such subjects can capture the interest of at least one editor. I had become fascinated about odd airport codes like ORD for Chicago, MCO for Orlando, and MSY for New Orleans. I followed up with research and found many great stories for the strange ones. After a lot of rejections, I found an editor who really liked the article and published it. Since then, that article has been re-sold multiple times all because I acted upon my curiosity.
  • When you get a rejection notice, be prepared to honestly re-visit your work and see how you can improve it. Seek out other writers in writing groups for their input if you aren’t getting anywhere or want feedback before you submit the work initially. Others can see things in your writing that you may be blind to. Find another market to submit to so you are taking positive action instead of feeling sorry for yourself after getting a rejection notice.
  • If you really believe in your writing, be prepared to stay the course. I understand that The Chicken Soup For the Soul creators were rejected by scores of publishers, but kept on submitting. Now, as many Chicken Soup titles exist as chickens themselves due to the authors’ persistence!
  • If you’ve only got published clips from non-travel themed publications, but are submitting a query or a finished work to a travel editor, be prepared to show your non-travel-related work (even unpublished works if you don’t have any published clips) via an online link, PDF format, or photocopy because editors will see what scope you write from. They may even want to use your article(s) as a reprint or it could spark editorial ideas about a future travel article tie-in with the subject matter you’ve already written about. This happened to me, but it was the opposite scenario.

    To illustrate my point: I had written an article about how I came to own my cat, and sent it to an editor of a regional publication in Canada. He didn’t like it, but one of my published clips about a South African experience of mine caught his fancy, so he offered to reprint it. I never imagined the editor would’ve even considered that travel essay for his publication after reading his medium. By showing this editor the spectrum of my published works, I fatefully snatched an acceptance out of the jaws of rejection!

  • be prepared to set up your first and best clippings in PDF format. Many online sites don’t archive content forever. And if a site happens to fold up, then you are out of luck, too, if you haven’t PDF-formatted your works. PDF articles have a professional look to them, and are easy to format. Go to www.pdfonline.com for more information on getting your articles formatted for free.

  • be prepared to sell your articles again after they’ve been published if and when you have the rights to resale your work. You may have to rework them, but given that many publications buy reprints, this means the potential for more money. Any extra tweaking/updating will help you to improve your writing skills. The value of a good piece of writing is that it can keep on touching the lives of readers. Crafted words are the literal gift that keeps on giving.

I’m still paying my dues and learning the travel writing trade. The most important thing in pursuing any dream is to decide to “just do it” and to be persistent, because anything of value in life will test you. How prepared are you to deal with those tests???

Roy A. Barnes is a life-long Wyoming resident and a past contributor to Absolute Write. Besides travel articles, he’s crafted writing-themed and literary works for The InkSpotter News, Writing for DOLLARS, The Fabulist Flash, e-clips, Poesia, and Breath & Shadow. You can read his travel-themed works at such sites like Transitions Abroad, GoNOMAD.com, Literary Traveler, and Live Life Travel.