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Travel Writing without the Travel
by Beth Fowler
Would you like to write travel
articles, but haven't taken a Mediterranean Cruise or an African safari? No
problem. Thanks to two truths about travel writing, you can write and sell
travel articles without packing an overnight bag. The first truth is
everyplace is some place worth writing about. The second truth is
not all travel articles are about a place anyhow.
With an outsider's eyes,
scrutinize the area where you live. Many potential topics will present
themselves that could be crafted into spotlight, destination or advice travel
Spotlight articles focus
tightly on a specific object, event or activity. Articles about cats living in
Williamsburg's historical homes or about folk art displayed in trailer courts
focus on objects. Travel articles about the county fair or the toy train show
feature an event. And travel articles about the campsites in your neck of the
woods focus on an activity. All of those examples of articles spotlight
interesting topics with locations providing distinctive backdrops.
Destination articles encompass
more general information than spotlight articles and are not necessarily tied
into a timely event. Destination pieces, the most popular type of travel
article, are written to make readers want to visit a place, or at least
vicariously feel they've been there.
Most spotlight and destination
travel articles contain at least five if not all of these seven
Goal or Motive - Where are
we headed and why?
Motion - How are we getting
there? Is there an emotional shift?
Encounter with a person,
animal, object - Whom do we meet?
Facts/Data - What are the
times, dates, prices?
Dialogue/Quotation - Who
History/Geography - What's
significant and unique about the place?
Descriptions - What does
the place smell, sound, feel, taste, and look like?
Advice articles, the third type
of travel article, are ideal for stay-at-home travel writers. Advice articles
aren't about a place, but about a practical aspect of travel regardless of
destination. Editors have bought my advice articles about how to handle money on
trips, how to pack, how to stay healthy, how to take good photographs, and how
to keep kids entertained in the backseat. Other authors have sold travel
articles about hotel laundry service called "All Washed Up" and about how to
secure the home while traveling abroad called "Safe & Sound."
Plenty of editors are eager to
buy well-written travel articles. Writer's Market lists fifty-some magazines
under "travel" and you can look under "regional" magazines for publications
featuring articles about places within a defined geo-political area.
Pennsylvania Magazine has published two of my travel articles about
historically significant places within an hours' drive of my house. Log onto the
'net and peruse www.travelwriters.com for
rates, guidelines and contact information for hundreds of travel publications.
Visit http://writers-guidelines.com and http://mav.net/guidelines to access travel magazines' guidelines. Type "travel
magazine guidelines" into several search engines to scoop up enough markets to
write a lifetime's worth of travel articles. To learn more about marketing
travel articles, read L. Peat O'Neil's Travel Writing and Louise Purwin
Zobel's The Travel Writer's Handbook.
Magazines and newspapers not
mentioned in travel indices also publish travel articles. Women's,
photographers' and pet owners' magazines publish travel pieces. Food and drink,
art, automotive, motorcycle, hobby, and history magazines buy travel articles.
An article about Seattle's Chinatown district written for an in-flight magazine
can be revised for Seattle Weekly.
Guidebooks are another avenue
to pursue. Travel writers can submit entries and updates about their area to
existing travel books such as Fodor's and Lonely Planet's
series. Depending on the publisher's policy and the length of the writer's
contribution, payment can range from zilch to a free newsletter to a
Writer's wanting to take on
larger projects can write new guidebooks on a narrow topic that allows them to
return home for dinner every evening. How about a local guidebook on tourist
places with facilities for people with disabilities, or romantic honeymoon
destinations in Your State, or kid-friendly hotels in Your City, or the best
gardens in Your County, or historic tombstones in Your Town.
Avoid these pitfalls when
crafting travel-without-the-travel manuscripts.
1. Relying on
Cliché s. If I read one more article describing such-and-such as
a place of "contrasts," I'll scream. (Ditto for the words beckon and quaint.)
Rather than telling readers a city is full of contrasts, authors can punch up
their writing by showing readers dissimilar aspects of a place and letting
readers draw their own conclusions.
2. Meandering. "My three
sons and I woke up in our cabin at seven a.m. to a cool, misty morning. We heard
the hostess cooking our country breakfast in the kitchen. Soon we were ready to
hit the trail now that our stomachs were full... " Blah, blah, blah. This dear
diary style might work for Bill Bryson or Dave Barry who insert humor or drama
into everyday activities and weed out boring bits. Readers want to know what to
expect if they visit the cabin, not intimate details about the writer's
experience. Travel writing is not an account of everything that happened; it is
not a memoir. Travel writing entertains, has structure and tells readers what
they need to know and not a bit more.
3. Relying on Hearsay.
Twice I've almost committed this travel writer's sin. In one instance, I was
going to recommend an art gallery housed in a man's private residence.
Fortunately, I tried to visit the gallery to decide if I wanted to include it in
my piece. I'm glad I didn't take the guidebook's word for it. The gallery was
kaput. The second instance was similar, except this time the museum described in
the guidebook still existed . . . in a city 70 miles away. Galleries close.
Admission prices rise. Castles crumble. Verify, verify, verify.
4. Golly! Gee! Wowing! "The
variety of antique stores in Baltimore is mind-boggling." How many stores are
there? What do they sell? Adjectives like tall, fantastic, fabulous, wonderful
are fuzzy. Instead, use concrete words. Be specific.
5. Being rude. Poking fun,
peering down our noses, airing our prejudices is bad manners and bad ethics.
Writers risk exposing themselves to legal retaliation if, for instance, they
publish inaccurate, damaging statements. Furthermore, grousing and arrogance put
readers and editors off. One travel writer recommends writing as if we're
telling a friend about our experiences. I recommend writing as if the people
mentioned are your friends and neighbors, which in fact they are for writers of
travel articles without the travel.
Editors are perpetually on
the lookout for well-written travel articles that spotlight events and
interesting destinations and that give practical tips for travelers of every
stripe, whether the travelers come from as far away as the other side of the
globe or from as near as the other side of your backyard fence. Who is more
qualified than you to write about your area? Right, no one. Get
© Copyright 2000, Beth Fowler
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