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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 articles.

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 components:

  1. Goal or Motive - Where are we headed and why?
  2. Motion - How are we getting there? Is there an emotional shift?
  3. Encounter with a person, animal, object - Whom do we meet?
  4. Facts/Data - What are the times, dates, prices?
  5. Dialogue/Quotation - Who said what?
  6. History/Geography - What's significant and unique about the place?
  7. 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 fee.

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 writing.

© Copyright 2000, Beth Fowler

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