Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bright Idea #61: The Well-Traveled Writer

Writing about travel experiences provides multiple avenues.  Newspapers use straight pieces about destinations, which include transportation, dining, and excursion information.  Be specific and as up to date as possible.  The more facts and figures you include the better.

Another option is a photographic journey chronicling an exotic locale or video happenings in your neighborhood.  Interview participants and include names and interesting tidbits in the celebrations, ballgames, or festivities.  People love to read their names in print.  If your camera techniques are iffy, enlist a camera buff to accompany you.

Another option would be to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to a trip, vacation, or happenstance.  This is my personal favorite.  I’ve written about getting lost in the U.S. Capitol, being bitten by a bear in the Smokies, and having plugs sucked into my ear canal as we landed in Honolulu.   I admit my experiences are extreme but people still identify.

No matter how you choose to write your travelogue, travel writing can be a sweet freelance opportunity if you keep a few things in mind.
  • Learn the lingo.  Quaint, a wash of color, and upper floor convenience leave a lot to interpretation. What is quaint to one is dilapidated to another.  Awash with color may mean the ceiling leaks.  And upper floor convenience may indicate no elevator.  People who write promotional pieces have a special vocabulary when it comes to describing accommodations.  Just saying.
  • Do your research before and after the trip.  Does your destination require visas/passports, medications/vaccinations, or special currency?  Use the library, the internet, and word of mouth.  Nothing is more reliable than a contact that has been where you intend to venture.  Culture shock rules when communication fails.  Make sure your plans and those of your editor, if you have one, shore up.  If possible get him/her to commit to the story before you leave so that you may slant the article to the age/gender/interest of your audience.  An article describing a Caribbean cruise will read differently for Bride’s Magazine than it will for Modern Maturity. 
  • Find your travel voice.  People who read travel articles are generally savvy about air travel, cruises, and auto excursions.  Write your article from an exciting, fresh, and very optimistic viewpoint.  Remember you may be the only link to another person’s experience.  Be honest – always – but try to find a silver lining in any assignment.
  • Recycle your research. Gather resource materials from hotels, airports, restaurants, and newsstands.  Plan on writing several articles from the same informational database.  Consider a first person account, a humor article, an informational travel column, and a piece on exotic entrees. Note times, admission fees, distance, and any other information that will aid your readers.
  • Park your prejudices.  Any account of a destination, restaurant review, or personal essay should be without bias and project a balanced perspective.  Travel writers are not permitted to take “freebies” or any gratuity that would influence their report.  
  • Make sure you and your traveling companion are on the same page.  “People like to possess a piece of the country they are visiting,” according to Mary Lou Weisman, author of Traveling While Married.  “Men like to eat it.  Women like to wear it.”  Be sure that you choose wisely the one to assist you with reading maps, programming the GPS, gathering brochures and research materials, taking photographs to accompany the article, and navigating airport terminals.
  • Check, check and re-check.  Amounts change.  Timetables vary.  Keep up on special deals. Make sure telephone numbers are correct.  Be sure that web sites and email addresses are valid. If possible list the name of a contact.  

And last but not least, enjoy the adventure of travel writing.  It’s a service you can provide to readers who are anxious to go where you have.  Be a well-traveled writer for those who follow in your footsteps.

~~Sheila S. Hudson

Sheila's work appears in Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Patchwork Path, From the Heart, Vols. 1 & 2, plus numerous periodicals including Costumer Magazine. She established Bright Ideas to bring hope and inspiration through the written word.  Sheila has also served as president of Southeastern Writers Association.


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