Here to talk about travel and tourism writing is freelance travel writer Vera Marie Badertscher. Vera has been writing about travel for many years, with her work appearing in AAA Living, Arizona Highways, American Style, Islands and National Geographic Traveler, in addition to others. A seasoned veteran, Vera is here to answer a few questions about the finer points of travel and tourism writing. She also keeps a blog at A Traveler's Library, where she talks about books and how they relate to travel in general.
Travel Writing Options
LoveToKnow (LTK): What different kinds of travel writing are there? What opportunities are available to travel writers?
Vera Marie Badertscher (VMB): Travel writing can be sliced and diced as many different ways as food writing. The main types of travel writing are adventure, family travel, luxury travel, budget travel. A story might focus on the cultural aspects of a place, the history, or even the politics.
There are people who specialize in one kind of transportation--airplane, railroad, automobile trips, cruise ships. Then there are the different ways of presenting the material. Focus on destination; service pieces (which means specific information that will help the traveler); experiential--focusing on the experience of the writer; and much more.
Life of a Travel Writer
LTK: What is it really like to be a travel and tourism writer? Is it all glitz and glam?
VMB: Well, personally, I got into travel writing because my husband and I were already traveling a lot, and I wanted to share our experiences. We continue to travel quite a bit, but now it means that I find somebody to interview, look for story angles, take notes of everything because you never know what you'll need to know, and make detours to see things we might not have on our itinerary.
I love travel, so anything that helps to pay for that travel is good. But I work hard while I'm traveling. I have not taken a real vacation in a very long time. While my husband is lying on the beach in the Caribbean, I'm off interviewing somebody or scouting out some photos. Plus, what most beginners don't understand is that you spend twice as much time marketing your work (sending queries, researching potential markets, etc.) than you do actually writing. That two-thirds of your life is definitely not glamorous.
LTK: What sorts of markets buy travel writing, and what are the general terms? Do they pay for travel expenses?
VMB: There is no such thing as general terms. Magazines are selling fewer ads, have fewer pages and are having staff write more of their stories, so editors are accepting fewer queries. Guidebooks are notoriously poor-paying and don't give big enough advances to cover all expenses. So, many writers are looking for salvation on the Internet either selling their work to e-zines or trying to make money by blogging. The truth is that most travel writers who make a full time living have done a combination of books, articles, web, speaking and teaching, and perhaps some business writing as well. Very few write only travel articles. Most branch off into other subjects.
Maintaining Journalistic Integrity
LTK: How can press trips, comped vacations, etc, affect a writer's journalistic integrity?
VMB: I don't think comped trips (which are not vacations--see question number two) influence the writer any more than tickets to a Broadway play influence the New York critic. I believe that the British have the best system, where newspapers put a disclaimer at the end of an article spelling out what comps a writer received. Let the reader decide. In real life, travel writers tend to write about things they love and their readers will love. Travel writing in general is not journalistic in the sense that it is trying to uncover some scandal under the covers of the hotel bed linen. When there are negatives, those are mentioned and people find ways to "damn with faint praise."
LTK: Are these trips really, truly free?
VMB: Now we are talking about press trips. A very few of them pay for everything--airfare, hotel, meals, etc. When that is the case, generally a tourism agency sponsors the trip and gets contributions from their members (restaurants, hotels, merchants) to provide samples of local products and admissions to attractions and adventures in an area.
More frequently, the writer is offered a trip which is land only, so he/she is expected to come up with airfare. Additionally, the sponsor wants an assignment in advance, and of course they want it to be some publication they've heard of. Until recently, web writing was sneered at. So the writer has to spend time (and time is money) on trying to sell a story with two weeks notice--which is generally impossible except for those who work on staff of a publication-- then they have to pay for their airfare and calculate how many stories they will have to squeeze out of this trip to justify the expense.
I have taken only four press trips--three organized by a Public Relations Firm to U.S. destinations and one organized by a U.S. city. The other advantage of arranging my own trips is that my husband can go along. Most hotels don't mind having a partner share the room. However, it is just not done to take a partner along on a press trip.
I might mention here that the biggest and most influential travel writer's organization, Society of American Travel Writers, guarantees invitations to foreign press trips as well as domestic. It is very difficult to get in. Unless you have written a couple of guide books, you must have sold some articles to very large circulation magazines or many to smaller magazines.
LTK: Would you recommend that travel writers keep a blog?
VMB: It is wise to have a blog and a social media presence. Editors are going to the Internet and expect to see their writers there. Many writers are using their blog as a web page where they keep samples of their work in a separate page, so they can refer editors to it. Now that P.R. people are giving credibility to blogs, I have even had offers of press trips based on my promise to write about something on my blog. I have definitely made Internet publishing contacts that I would not have made otherwise.
Advice for Travel Writers
LTK: If you could share some advice with other travel writers, what would they be?
VMB: It doesn't matter particularly what you want to write about. It only matters what some editor wants to put in their publication, which is one of the reasons freelancers feel so much more, well, free, when they blog. Remember that no matter how many times a subject has been written about, you are different than everybody else, so you can write something new.