Travel is more a state of mind and less about where you go. Maybe that sounds New Age-y, but you don’t have to be a swingin’ single backpacker hiking hostel to hostel or a wealthy globetrotter to carve out a growing travel writing career.
I’m a suburban mom living a middle-class life. While I’m somewhat anchored to the school calendar, our family makes the most of vacation days. We prefer setting aside money for trips over buying stuff, so we tend to drive the same car for too long, or I keep wearing jeans I bought in 2007, despite holes.
Every destination has a story. And it doesn’t necessarily require a big budget, just an open mind to experience all you can, anywhere you can.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about making travel work for your freelance career:
It helps to find the negative spaces in travel writing. I might find a particular locale interesting because it’s new to me, but am I the umpteenth person there? What’s already been said about a place? Following what’s being said about travel on Twitter proved very helpful to me.
Read your local news sources, and for national and international coverage, read the New York Times and Los Angeles Times travel sections to see how travel is packaged. For example the Los Angeles Times has a column called “Weekend Escape” that talks about the bed, the meal, the lesson learned. Do you want to write travel articles that are service-oriented, such as ways to maximize frequent flier miles; news, such as the Transportation Security Administration reconsidering its pocketknife policy; or destination-focused pieces where you can wax poetic about a beach somewhere? I prefer the third option.
We’ll go almost anywhere. We travel as a family. Destinations don’t need to be Disney World, but we’re not backpacking the Amazon right now, either. Our daughter has traveled to 10 countries in seven years.
In December 2010, I was driving to my former office job and heard on NPR about David Hockney’s iPad art exhibit in Paris. I convinced my husband we should go to Paris for a long weekend that January to see this exhibit before it closed, and we did.
Sounds nuts, right? We’re not jet-set types, and we don’t have a heap of money (our beat-up 2002 Honda can speak to that). But we found inexpensive flights and an inexpensive B&B bordering the Latin Quarter, and we had one of the best long weekends of our lives. Our jaunt was likely cheaper than usual because we traveled in January.
Staycation and beyond.New York City is my backyard, and there’s always something to discover, such as exploring the neighborhoods that don’t get all the tourist traction. But you don’t need to live in a big city to have interesting travel articles worth pitching and selling. Off-the-beaten-path destinations and trends appeal to editors. Going out on foot, by bike or by car allows you to find the smaller places, as we found walking historic Pearl Street in downtown Manhattan.
Road trips always inspire me. I write frequently on my blog about upstate New York, including the Catskills, Adirondacks and Finger Lakes regions, as well as the Berkshires, the Lake Champlain Valley and Vermont. These places are about two- to five-hour drives from where we live, and we try to visit often.
Use print guidebooks rather than relying on smartphones. I’ve been buying and reading DK Publishing Eyewitness Travel Guides for the past 14 years and still find them very useful when researching a region. I have a full bookshelf lined with the guides, and regardless of what’s online, I still believe there’s a place for printed guidebooks. Batteries in smartphones die (which almost happened while hunting for a snake cafe in Tokyo); Wi-Fi signals are spotty; smartphones get stolen. When’s the last time you heard of someone stealing a travel guidebook? I like Lonely Planet’s thematic approaches to exploring destinations.
Make a modest budget work for you. Very few people earn a full-time living travel writing. To keep costs down, travel off-season. We’re going to Vermont in April, which is “mud season” there and when hotel rates drop. When staying at posh hotels, we tend to book weekdays and avoid weekends. Consider renting a house, which can sometimes be cheaper and more fun than booking a hotel.
I still carry packets of oatmeal and other snacks with me so I don’t have to waste money on expensive airport food. I’ve blogged about “packing a picnic” for flights. I’m not the best comparison shopper because I find extensive consumer research tedious; but there are numerous websites out there with consumers providing budget-friendly recommendations on everything related to travel, from suitcases to flights to lodging.
Katrina Woznicki lives in the New York City metro area and writes about travel and health. You can follow her musings on her blog,