travel writing tips

I had the great pleasure of being the keynote speaker at last weekend’s Connect, Celebrate & Collaborate PWAC on the Prairies Regional Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I’ve been a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada since 1997 and have found my PWAC membership to be the most significant factor in the development of my career as a professional freelance writer. I eased into travel writing in 1997 and joined the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) in 1998. Each association has its own attributes and is recommended for anyone who is serious about their career as a professional travel writer.

Tourism Saskatchewan was kind enough to cover my costs to get me to the conference and asked that I focus on encouraging those in attendance (who were primarily from Saskatchewan) to find excitement in local stories and share them with the world. I also promised to share the highlights of my two-hour presentation on my blog and am pleased to include them here. If you are a travel writer, please feel free to include your own tips in the comments section. We all learn by sharing.

I like to take paper notes when I travel.

I like to take paper notes when I travel.

Travel Writing Tips and Insights

  • What is a travel story?  A travel story can be any story that focuses on a place or series of places strung together by a common thread. There’s no need to travel halfway around the world to find an interesting or exotic travel story. Things that are happening in your city, town, or region may be of interest to specific target markets. Your story might be about an upcoming event, a fascinating entrepreneur whose business might be of interest to visitors, a new hotel property or restaurant that is doing something special, an out-of-the-way natural highlight or phenomenon, etc.
  • Keep your focus tight. It’s harder to sell a general “round-up story” about a specific location than it is to sell a story that zeroes in on a specific and unique angle. More generalized information might be useful or requested for sidebars in a story but it is the specific nuggets of new or unknown information that will attract the editor’s eye and snag you an assignment.
  • Quirky is hot! Look for story angles that are odd, unusual, or unexpected. I tried to sell a story about matchbook collecting a  few years ago and was told it was too quirky. I bet today it would sell.
  • Niche is nice. Become known for being an expert in a certain field. Whether your niche is sports, culinary or arts related, having a specialty and becoming an expert will make you the go-to person for a story on that topic. My niche is chocolate travel, and by no coincidence, most of the assignments I’ve had lately have specifically been on chocolate travel.
  • Look to trade magazines as being a source of regular assignments. Many trade magazines have a travel component to them and are looking for reliable freelancers to provide them with a steady stream of story ideas. They may not pay the best, but they have ongoing needs and may become a steady client, plus they usually just license first or one-time rights so that you are free to use the research for another piece or sell a similar story elsewhere.
  •  Try to develop alternate sources of income in addition to your writing. Photography is hugely important in travel writing and videography is becoming increasingly important as “value-added” services. Speaking engagements can be quite lucrative, and if you establish a niche, you may be asked to speak about it. As well, speaking engagements can often get you free trips on cruise ships or train travel as Irene Gordon wrote about in this post.
  •  Blogging is not a waste of time. If you establish your own travel blog and it develops a good audience, this will influence travel destinations that you may be approaching for complimentary travel. Plus, in time, your blog will attract paying advertisers or you can approach target businesses who may wish to advertise on your site for a fee.
  • Remember that there is a code of ethics by which professional travel writers work by. Visit TMAC’s website and find them here.

I hope these tips inspire you and help you to think of travel stories and markets you otherwise may have missed. And if you live in Canada, please consider joining TMAC. I’ll be looking for you in Saskatoon in June when we’ll converge from across the country for our 2013 national conference.


Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

34 Responses

  1. Amelia Warner says:

    This was wonderful! It really got my creativity flowing despite being in the midst of revising a YA novel, planning the next one, and tweaking a picture book. It makes me want to brainstorm a brand new travel book!

  2. Tajmul12345 says:

    At first thanks for sharing this useful ideas.I am photographer so i have to always travel here and there and collected amazing ,creative and gorgeous pictures.Reading your post i inspire to create travel story it helps me and my business to develop.
    amazing wedding photography

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tajmul.

      Indeed, having wonderful pictures is absolutely necessary to writing and marketing travel articles in today’s marketplace. And video helps as well. Best wishes …
      WizardOfWords recently posted…Priming Your PassionsMy Profile

  3. Great tips! For sure, as someone else commented, this could be refashioned to fit a number of topics. I am also starting to believe that niche is not only nice, but necessary. We heard this a lot at the PWAC/MAGNET event this summer – be a specialist and you will become the “go to” person person.

    Sorry I couldn’t be there to hear this in person. I’m sure it was a fabulous presentation.
    Suzanne Boles recently posted…BlogMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Suzanne.

      Yes, I really think that in today’s world, working hard to become an expert/the go-to-person on a given topic is necessary to bring you to the forefront. It’s certainly worked for me, as I am now the go-to-gal for chocolate stories (had my 6th chocolate story/profile published in the last short while.) And that’s right where I want and need to be in order to get my chocolate book found, recognized and in the hands of choco-hungry readers. 🙂

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Suzanne. Yes, I really think that having a niche is not just nice but necessary in today’s world. I’m thrilled that mine is chocolate travel. See if you can narrow down a niche for yourself. I know that you do quite a variety of writing. If there is a particular type (niche) that you particularly enjoy, zero in on it and claim it as yours. The opportunities will then more readily present themselves to you. Cheers and Season’s Greetings!
      WizardOfWords recently posted…Priming Your PassionsMy Profile

  4. Wonderful post (and comments!) Here’s one more tip:

    Think of getting multiple stories from your trip. Many places you visit will have amazing characters that can make for a profile, or perhaps there’s a business story (or health or gardening or lifestyle story) so collect business cards everywhere you go as these can be potential contacts for more information via email when you get home.

    Also, if you are interested in food, always ask to meet with the chef or owner of a bakery or deli or whatever. Even if you can meet just long enough to get a photo and swap business cards, you can always contact the person later for an interview. Same applies in any situation actually. I remember visiting a distillery in PEI. Didn’t have time to interview the owners, but got a couple of shots and followed up with them later. They were part of both a travel story and business story. Ditto with a culinary guru in Wales. She was swamped time-wise but I got some great shots then got more information from her via email.

    Happy travels!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for taking the time to pop in, Sandra, and for sharing your expertise.

      Yes, that’s an extremely important point in that there are many different angles that can result in vastly different stories from any trip or destination. We may have one particular story in mind, but being open on the fly to anything and everything that presents itself to us can lead to really neat – and quirky – stories that will be of interest to our readers.

      Indeed, collecting biz cards and brochures from places we visit provides fodder for future stories. I always bring a roll of scotch tape with me on trips so that I can tape biz cards, tickets and other memorabilia right into my travel diary fir future reference.

      Have a super trip! I believe you’re about to leave for Vietnam and Cambodia! That should offer some AMAZING stories. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.

  5. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Doreen! Just wanted to emphasize the need to keep a number of irons in the fire. Given the tremendous migration from print to online publication, I try to market my work for both!
    Best, Irene

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, Irene, and for visiting the blog.

      Yes, it’s definitely necessary to look to various types of media to market our work. Surprisingly, most of my recent travel writing assignments have been for online markets such as websites and blogs. I still do the occasional magazine piece where print is the primary focus, but they seem to be few and far between.

  6. Lanre says:

    Congrats on the speaking engagement Doreen.
    I must say, it’s a blessing to love travel writing and still have travel writing contracts. I guess freelance writing is really making you do what you love. That is very important!

    I like your idea about taking on additional sources of income to support freelance writing. If I were to choose, photography or speaking would be my pick. I actually like being behind the camera (not in front of it :-)). As for speaking, still working on my stage fright :-(.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Lanre, my friend. If you have stage fright … join TOASTMASTERS!

      I guarantee you that you will find a club not too far from you that will suit your personality and comfort level. Just type your zip code into the box at “Find a Club” and it will list clubs close to your location. Please visit I promise you won’t be sorry!

  7. Jeri says:

    Quirky and unique definitely hit the mark as does a common thread. You’re lucky to have found a niche as the chocolate travel lady. If I did start writing travel posts again, I would defintely steer clear of round-up posts. Plus, I now have the added benefit of having read blogs like yours for awhile. Maybe someday, but for now I’m happy writing reviews.
    Jeri recently posted…Author Interview: Pay it ForwardMy Profile

  8. Patrick Huff says:

    Boy am I enjoying your blog. This has always crossed my mind. I have been eager write about brewery tours from a first hand perspective. Thanks for the tips.
    Patrick Huff recently posted…They put that in my…?!?My Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks, Patrick! So glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      You bet! Carving a niche as a craft beer writer and documenting your travels would be awesome. I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Thirsty Traveller.” I know he used to have a great show on TV. Not sure if it’s still running …

  9. Becc says:

    Thanks Doreen. I am not a travel blogger but did have intentions of writing about my travels next year when we head off on a couple of trips. These tips will help nicely.
    Becc recently posted…Liebster Award – Woo Hoo!!!My Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for joining the blog, Becc. Yes, we never know when a travel experience resonates enough with us to write or blog about it. And if you write, there are always opportunities to work travel into a piece. Enjoy your travels!

  10. These are great tips, Doreen. I’ve only had a couple of my travel pieces published so far, but am hoping to have more published in the future. I have some on my blog, and will post more there too. I particularly like the idea of focusing in on one part of a trip, and one thing about a place. I also like the niche and trade magazine tips. Thanks so much for sharing these.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks, Christine. I’m glad you found the tips useful. The world of travel writing has changed much since I first got into it.

  11. Geek Girl says:

    Although you are speaking specifically to travel writers, I think there a nuggets of information that can be applied to others as well. I have definitely come away with some useful information for myself. I love reading your blog! You are one of my inspirations! 🙂
    Geek Girl recently posted…Motivational Monday – 10/1My Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much, Cheryl! I’m so glad you find my blog useful and interesting. And yes, some of the tips can certainly be applied to different kinds of writing.

  12. Susan Cooper says:

    Even though your tips were focused on travel writing, I found they could be applied to other venues as well. I always get so much from reading what you have to say. It helps me with my own journey as a very fledging writer. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Cycles Gladiator Pinot Grigio 2011: WineMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks, Susan! I’m glad you found the tips useful and that you’re enjoying the blog. It’s always great hearing from you. 🙂

  13. Irene says:

    Hi Doreen and all,
    As Doreen mentioned, I travelled on Via Rail between Winnipeg and Toronto as a story-teller/historian. My payment was a free trip plus a chance to sell a few of my books.

    When I first began freelance writing (1998), I tried unsuccessfully to break into travel writing. While I still travel a lot, I have now established a niche in the field of history so have given up trying to have travel articles published.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Right on, Irene! It’s great that you have established a niche in the field of history. And you can spin that many ways, and perhaps eventually, may even wish to write books or articles based on historical travel. That is indeed a niche that is of interest to many.

  14. Linda says:

    As usual, a great post. Even on a subject that I’m not terribly interested in, I learned something.. Travel writing has never appealed to me. For some reason, I don’t like reading it and can’t bring myself to write it, although many people have suggested that I should. I didn’t know that there is a Travel Media code of conduct. After visiting the TMAC site, I went looking for a similar organization in the States. Sure enough we have one too. Always good to know.
    Linda recently posted…It’s a matter of tapeMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Linda. It’s always great to hear from you. Yes, there is indeed the SATW in the US as well as several other travel and food writer’s orgs.

      The Code of Ethics is important to stress as too many people think that travel writers are unethical, can be bought in exchange for free travel, etc.

  15. A.K.Andrew says:

    Congratulations on being the keynote speaker Doreen.
    I think your points are excellent and with a little tweaking could be used for a number of fields. Especially when you talk about looking at things at home and looking for the quirky. People like an individual touch, as well as seeing somewhere they can relate to. Thank you.
    A.K.Andrew recently posted…5 Reasons to Focus on the Visual Content of PinterestMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, A.K.

      Yes, when I started travel writing, I couldn’t get away from Manitoba. I always thought the grass was greener on the other side and that to be interesting or exotic, it had to be faaaar away from home. I’ve now found that’s definitely not the case and that each and every place/destination has something that is interesting or quirky about it.

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