So you want to be a travel writer?

by Tasneem Bhavnagarwala

Journal with world map on cover and camera to the side

This world is big, and it offers us more destinations than one can explore in a lifetime. This is where travel writers step in. Whether it’s gazing into the sunset at a beach in Indonesia, enjoying a conversation with the rickshaw driver on the streets of India, or admiring a graffiti artist’s work in Barcelona, there is something in each experience that is inspiring. Travel writers bring these moments and stories to readers who want to experience travel adventures vicariously or need assistance in developing their travel itineraries.

The key challenge for travel writers is how to bring these moments to life through words. Magazines and newspapers are always covering stories about exotic and offbeat destinations. To stand out from the crowd is not an easy task, but if you, like me, love travel writing, then the guidelines below will definitely help you break in to the business.

While travelling is something I have always loved, travel writing as a career was not something I had considered. In 2015, after I made a trip to Ladakh, India, and seeing my offbeat itinerary, a friend encouraged me to document my experience, and that’s when my journey began with travel writing. After much reading, researching, and exploring, I managed to get an opportunity to work with a small travel start-up in Mumbai as a writer. Though I consider myself still in the learning phase of my career, I would like to share some points that have helped me break in to the world of travel writing.

  • Read and read more
    I cannot stress enough how important reading is for any writer. Read everything you can about travel. I started with reading travel articles in newspapers and then gradually shifted to reading magazines like Lonely Planet, Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, and many more. If you prefer reading online, then research and follow travel bloggers, immerse yourself in blogs such as Suitcase, Culture Trip, Fodor’s—the list goes on. Spend time researching what you would like to read and follow people or publications you like. I have picked up travel magazines and books and immersed myself in online reading. Make it a habit and you will thank yourself. Reading not only will expose you to what is new and interesting in travel writing, but also will illustrate different styles of writing and unique ways to present your stories.
  • Study or intern
    If you have the opportunity to learn travel writing by taking a short course or through interning with a publication or writer, take it. Knowledge and experience are two things that will never be a waste; instead, they will give you the needed push to hone your skills.
  • Pinpoint your intention
    What is that one thing you wish to share with the reader? This is where the core of each story resides. I have struggled the most on this front. Several times, after writing down all I could about a place, I realized that the piece had lost its focus and I had to figure out why I had wanted to write it in the first place. Also, your idea must have something that is timely; e.g., if you wish to write something about La Tomatina festival in Spain it should be published close to the time of the festival.
  • Connect with the reader
    Your travel story will be worth reading also if it has a human angle. Did you meet an interesting villager during your hike in the mountains or a baker in a café during your city exploration? If so, include it in your piece. These are stories worth sharing as they not only give insight into the life of that individual, but also allow you to paint a picture of the destination as well.
  • Rely on narratives instead of feelings
    I have sometimes gotten carried away and poured all of my feelings into my travel piece before realizing that I am writing an article and not a diary entry. The reader does not want to be told how they should feel. The travel writer’s job is to use narratives, character sketches, and interesting incidents and leave the interpretation to the reader.
    Travel bag with contents spilled out: sunglasses, notebook and pen, camera, a watch, and perfume.
  • Learn other skills
    While working toward becoming a travel writer, take some time to learn other skills that can give you an advantage.

    • Photography plays a very important role in travel writing. Photos are the glamour quotient of the story. Develop this skill; it will be an added advantage.
    • Work on your communication, interview, and listening skills. Talking to strangers can be difficult sometimes, but when you do, the people you meet become characters in your travel story. Carry a notebook and camera to document all your experiences.
    • Good research skills are mandatory for every travel writer. Researching online, reading, and collecting notes, maps, guidebooks, or business cards—these all help toward writing your story. This skill will allow you to pitch articles before you leave home or, if you are travelling, “on assignment.”
    • Learn a new language that may be useful in more than one country.
    • Take online grammar tutorials to improve your writing.
    • Learn to read physical maps, as online tools are not always readily available.
  • Establish an online presence
    A blog is the best way to put your stories out there and it’s a good way to document your journey. Social media sites like Instagram and Facebook are also great tools to gain exposure for your story.I personally love using Instagram for my travel photography. Two posts that worked for me are this one taken in Palampur, India, and this one taken at Ranthambore National Park (in Rajasthan, India). These posts did well for the following reasons:

    • Using hashtags helped me get visibility. You can use a combination of hashtags: general, travel-related hashtags; regional hashtags; or branded hashtags by companies like Condé Nast and Culture Trip.
    • Geotagging (adding location metadata to the photo), so people scrolling through images of that location will see your post as well.
    • Tagging other accounts, which helps you get new followers and more visibility. In the first post, I tagged the lodge in the photo, which then shared the post on its Instagram page.
    • Using videos, which bring your travel experience to life.
    • Adding captions, which can be just a few words or a short description about the moment captured. Avoid lengthy captions; let your photograph speak for itself.

      The author, on a swing, gazing at a large body of water, her back to the viewer, in Indonesia.
      The author in Indonesia.
  • Make a pitch
    If you are confident you have a story that is worth sharing, then it’s time to strategize a pitch. Pick where you want to publish your story and ask yourself these 4 questions:
    1. Is my story idea worth reading? (You can always ask your friends and colleagues to give you feedback and suggestions.)
    2. Am I in sync with the publication’s writing style and presentation?
    3. If the publication has covered this destination before, what makes my story different?
    4. Is the story angle of my article convincing?Be sure to have more than one idea to present to an editor, so if they reject the first, there are more they can choose from. Pick one publication at a time and avoid simultaneous submissions. Your story should be tailored to the writing style and audience of each publication.
  • Remember: rejection is part of the process
    Although some of your ideas may be turned down, don’t let that deter you. Take each rejection as a learning experience and continue to hone your travel-writing skills.
  • Final advice
    Don’t stop writing, reading, and asking questions. Even if your story idea gets accepted, follow the advice of the editor. They know their craft. And, always be true to the publication’s vision.Keep these points in mind when you begin your journey of travel writing. If you put your heart into it, you will always learn new things and have interesting experiences. Remember to keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, and enjoy the journey!

Tasneem Bhavnagarwala is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. Before she ventured into the world of writing she worked in advertising and brand management for nine years. She is currently taking a travel writing course at George Brown College in Toronto. In her free time, she loves writing poems.

This article was edited by Tamara Zayachkowski.

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