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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dream of Writing about Travel? Here's How to Get Started


Plenty of freelancers want to write about travel. But this competitive field takes more than frequent flyer miles. Today's post, I interview Kristine Hansenan accomplished freelancer who specializes in travel writing: 

Q: Tell me a little bit about your writing background.
A: I've been freelance-writing in some capacity since 1999 although I turned to travel writing much later (in 2005). Since combining my love for the open road with a passion for prose I've been hooked: my stories have published in TIME, many inflight magazines, Backpacker, Wine Enthusiast, National Geographic Traveler and two bridal magazines. Last year I started
blogging several times each week for Fodors.com. My focus tends to be wine and culinary travel. I've been to 19 countries so far, places I never, ever thought I'd go, including Easter Island and Bordeaux, and put my body to the test with activities such as a surfing lesson in Southern California and dog sledding in the dead of winter in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I've even been to "wine boot camp" in Napa. (I'm still aging the Cabernet Sauvignon I made...)

It all traces back to a crazy little road trip I took from Milwaukee to Memphis with a girlfriend in 1997. Bored with my job editing at a railroading magazine, once we were out on the open highway, I mused about how awesome it would be if I became a travel writer and wrote stories about all the places I went. Little did I know that I was planting a seed for my eventual career, only it took me a few years to build up the confidence to pitch editors these tales.

Q: How did you get started writing about travel?
A: While editing a regional home/garden magazine I learned a few of my freelance writers were also travel writers. One was writing for Budget Travel. She took me under her wing and showed me the ropes -- proof that even editors can use a little help -- and when I left that job I launched back into freelance writing full-time (this was my second go at it). Now that I had a focus, it was very successful and I haven't looked back since. As professional writers it's easy to go after what you think will be profitable but if you don't enjoy it, what is the point?

Q: What kids of opportunities are there for travel writers today?
A: Many -- in fact, much more than there used to be with the traditional print-magazine model. I always encourage my students to start today with a blog -- or team up with other writers on a group blog -- in order to build a platform, as a vehicle to entice editors and prove you know what makes a destination worth traveling to, a hotel worth splurging on, or the best places to eat in a certain city. Even if you start by writing only about your region, that's okay. Ask the same questions you might if you were planning a trip to Paris or Savannah: if you only have 36 hours, where must you go? Beyond this, there are opportunities to blog for profit at
either travel websites or magazines' web sites. Think about what you have to offer as a travel writer. What is your passion -- is it museums? restaurants? family travel? romantic vacations?

Q: How can writers new to travel get started? 
A: Think trends and what's news-y. That's what people want to read about. Pretend that the most savviest, well-traveled person is reading your article. Basically, if it's not new or trendy, it's less likely to be a story. That said, it can be a new twist on a classic, such as the best
cafes in Paris (again, been there, done that) that have a farm-to-table menu (tapping into the locavore trend); or best wineries in Napa Valley that are kid-friendly (wait: people bring kids to the wine country?).

Q: How can writers break into this competitive field?
A: Just as you would with any other article, you want to pitch an editor with a proposal, being sure to answer the following questions: why is this a story now (and not last year)? how are you uniquely qualified to tell the story? how is this a refreshing angle? Send a brief email, don't be afraid to follow up (editors get a TON of email) and don't be discouraged if your
pitch doesn't set sail. If you get a response from an editor, even if it's a rejection, be ready to repitch within a week while your name is still on his or her radar. I often start thinking of a second idea even while the first one is under consideration.

Q: What will writers learn through your online class? 
A: I'm a believer in learning from our peers. So while I'm the "teacher" in this class, I'm also facilitating a discussion group. I encourage my students to ask questions of each other and offer moral support. Weekly writing assignments, group discussions based upon a published travel article and Q-and-As I've done with successful travel writers all help students think about what kind of travel writer they'd like to be. Do you want to write articles? essays? a guidebook?  I also share a database of 68 (and counting!) paying markets so that nobody has an excuse for not taking the next step: pitching!

To sign up for the next class, Flight Plan to Your Travel-Writing Career, visit this link: http://www.kristineahansen.com/classes. Registration deadline is May 1 and the class is limited to just 10 people.

**Thanks so much to Kristine for today's blog post! And as I keep telling you, please check out my latest two books, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, and Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second EditionYou'll save money by buying them direct through www.improvisepress.com, my newly-launched publishing company. Use the discount code, IMPROVISEPRESS (all caps, no breaks) for 20 percent off of your order.