Travel journalism
Representational image for travel journalism. Image Courtesy: The Journo Jaunt

Travel Journalism: Understanding The Nuances

September 25, 2019

Do you love travelling and you also have some basic writing skills? If yes then travel journalism is the career for you.

Wikipedia says the genre of travel literature or journalism includes outdoor literature, exploration literature, adventure literature, mountain literature, nature writing, and the guide book, as well as accounts of visits to foreign countries.

Although travel journalism is a tricky business to penetrate - there is a surplus of willing writers and a dearth of employers willing to pay for the work.

Even then becoming a travel journalist can be a fun, exciting, and rewarding career. As with any other career, one must have the dedication and passion.

A good education, complemented with hard work is key to succeed in travel journalism.

Travel journalism is simply about keeping the eyes and senses open and welcome anything new and intriguing.

Succeeding as a travel journalist is not only about having the perfect flair in writing.

There are a number of key factors associated with it and a budding travel journalist must be aware of it.

Blogs Are Helpful

Any budding travel journalist must be a voracious blogger and use the blog to showcase his materials to the editors and let them know about his talent.

A well-crafted article in a blog helps a lot to attract the attention of the editors.

Once one starts getting commissions, chances are that one's blog will slide.

If you are getting paid travel writing gigs, then your time for unpaid work will rapidly diminish.

But until you get those paid commissions, a blog is a good, easy starting point.

Focussing on good, quality, and well-crafted articles will bring in followers and your name would spread far and wide.

Angles Beyond Travel Guides

Cover and write on angles that travel guides generally, tend to skip.

This will give one an edge as a travel journalist and will help not only to get famous but also lead the group.

One needs to understand how to dig out facts - and to determine that they are facts - and how to find hidden gems and insider info.

If some information is already in a guidebook, one must dwell on ‘extra’ that one is adding to it.

Understanding Payment Structure

Forget fantasies of being sent around the world on an assignment with a huge commission, all expenses paid and having endless days lolling on the beach or people-watching in cafes.

Very few publications pay freelancers' travel expenses.

Getting a full-time writing or editing job on a major travel publication is just not going to happen until one has years of experience.

And even if one has all the experiences of the world, the chances of getting a full-time job are still slim.

Take a sample 1000 word feature. If one is lucky and has years of experience, one might be commissioned to write a 1000-word travel feature for a major publication.

All you have to do is spend around a day crafting the pitch that wins the commission in the first place, three to five days working out your itinerary and arranging accommodation and so on.

Another three to five days on the trip. Then at least two to four days writing the article to a standard high enough for this type of publication.

The Feature’s Angle

If one is pitching unusual destinations, one should make sure that the angle is a good one.

Breaking in by going to less popular locations - this is a tricky one.

On the one hand, going somewhere unusual definitely gives you an edge.

On the other hand, it's hard to commission those features.

The fact is, most people want to read about destinations they actually want to go to or are interested in.

Hence articles on places that in general is not listed in the ‘top tourists’ destinations’ chart, might just click with the editor.

But, if the angle is marvellous, not only the editor but even the reader would buy the story just like that.

There are people who are fascinated by unusual stories and destinations.

Understand The Publication Better

Demonstrating one's knowledge and understanding of the publication for which the article is sent to will endear one to the editor.

The simple best way to get one’s writing published (and get paid for it) is to actually read the publication one is writing to beforehand.

This, I can say from my personal experience.

When I was working for an English magazine, I was looking after the Northeast India section and the number of times I was surprised to see as how many people send me ideas that were clearly not relevant to the section.

Most of the articles ended in the trash bin!

Pitching Guide

While pitching for a travel story, remember the following-

  • Keep it short - no travel editor has half an hour to wade through 10 pages of the pitch.
  • Check what the publication has covered recently; if it has covered your story or a specific place, don't pitch.
  • If one refers to the travel editor to one’s personal website, make sure it works and is up-to-date.
  • Have an original hook, it works magic with any editor
Tweet Your Stories

Twitter has become a valued resource for travel journalists as it helps establish contacts and raises one’s profile and allows one to see what other travel writers are covering.

Be Critical

People want to read whimsical descriptions of far-off places, but they also want honesty.

So while one writes a travel piece, one must also include the negatives so that the readers who are planning trips can prepare accordingly.

Don't Just Be A Traveller, Be A Journalist

This is the first point one should remember before starting off as a travel journalist and so the point is at the bottom of the lift so that is remembered well.

Those without journalism education or experience should learn and understand how to uncover facts, develop trustworthy sources and dig out obscure information.

And when one master these, he is ready to take the world of travel journalism by storm.

"Being a travel journalist is fun and adventurous," quotes Arpan Kalita, a northeast travel photographer who also pen down few words at times.

"Though payment is an issue and it is a lot of time-consuming, but for any travel journalist, life is always on the move," he adds.

"You may go for one story, and return with an additional three. Life on the fast track, this is what travel journalism is all about," he concludes.

So next time you go to Delhi or London, be sure to dig out something new and obscure and the sessions of good times must spread far and wide through your pen.

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