There’s a lot more to travel writing than creating a laundry list of what happened on your holiday and why it was fun. You’re unlikely to get an editor’s attention with an article that simply recounts what you and your travel companions did each day, especially if you visited a popular, regularly-written-about tourist destination. There are, however, ways that you can create a compelling travel article, no matter where you travelled to.
Narrow it down
Trying to place an article about a popular destination like London or Paris takes a creative approach. A weekend in London is too broad to catch an editor’s (or reader’s) attention, but narrow it down to a piece on London’s inner city farms, and how they are bringing communities together, providing fun activities for families, and teaching urban children where their food comes from, and you have the makings of a saleable travel article.
Broaden it out
An article on San Francisco’s Chinatown and the great Chinese food you can eat there has been done before. How about “Eat Your Way Around the World in San Francisco”, incorporating mini-reviews of five, seven, or ten great ethnic restaurants around the city, including quirky details, the history of the restaurant (or the owners), prices, how to get there, and recommendations of what to eat. If you’re a travel writer who’s also a foodie, you’ll probably enjoy this assignment, and other foodie travelers will love reading about it.
Go on a quest
Travel with a purpose, and write about it. What are you looking for or hoping to achieve on your travels? Maybe you want to follow in the footsteps of a famous character from history or literature, or test out a famous myth. Does kissing Ireland’s Blarney stone really give you the gift of the gab? Does swimming in the Baths of Aphrodite in Cyprus really make you fall in love? Obviously the answer, for the purposes of your article, is not yes or no. The objective is to weave a story around these myths, using experiences, anecdotes, quotes and snippets of local wisdom. What exactly gave rise to the myth? Do the locals believe in it?
Solve a problem
Every trip has a problem, or several, attached. Paris is too expensive, the ex-pat life is full of pitfalls, travelling with children is sometimes more stressful than staying at home. Think of a problem attached to a certain destination, or a certain type of travel, and offer solutions.
This idea lends itself to list articles: ‘5 places to eat cheap in Paris’, ‘8 ways to make travelling with young children bearable,’ or (one I actually wrote) 6 mistakes to avoid when moving abroad. These titles are great for quickly attracting a defined target audience, but make sure you deliver. Identify a real problem and give a real solution (or list of solutions).
Have an angle
One way to do this is to build a destination based article around a current travel trend, such as eco tourism, or volunteering for a cause. Expand on the article by providing the background and history of the issue in the context of the place you’re visiting. Consider an interview with the people involved in setting up the ecotourism business or volunteer organization, or with local people who have been affected by the issues or helped by the solution. Look for ways to build a story that has global implications around your trip to a specific destination.
Learn a skill, sport or language, Go to a Buddhist retreat in India, or learn Thai cooking in Thailand. This makes your story more personal but also easier to target to non-travel publications. A publication that focuses on ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ issues may be interested in the retreat, a food magazine may be interested in the cookery course. You can create a side-bar, or resource box, featuring other places in the world where you can do these activities.
Photographers often try to get people in their travel shots. It adds interest and, often, a more emotional aspect to their work. Writers should do the same. Try to bring people into your travel article.
Get a quote from a local or fellow traveler; tell a story about local characters (present or historical, living or dead, true or mythical). Describe a scene that has human beings in it, perhaps a child interacting with local wildlife, or a couple getting ready to hike up a mountain. Repeat an overheard conversation, or relate an anecdote about a misunderstanding over the local language or customs. Just be respectful. If anyone in your stories is going to come across as bumbling or incompetent, it should probably be you.
Editors see hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of travel articles each year. Make sure yours stands out. Remember, if it’s been written about before, it doesn’t mean you can’t write about it again, as long as you cover it in a new way.