How to Publish Travel Stories about Unsafe, Less-Traveled and Sometimes Unruly Destinations
What’s the best way to travel — for pleasure or for purpose?
For most people, it’s obviously “travel for pleasure.” Cities with pulsating nightlife… tropical islands and platinum beaches… fine dining and swanky spas.
But in the real world, travel isn’t always glamorous. This is why there’s also the need for stories about business travel, working overseas, volunteering, etc.
The grittier travel-for-purpose market also generates juicy checks, but be aware that certain countries are a hard sell. Placing stories often means looking beyond travel publications.
We recently got a note from a reader on a work project in Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) in Africa. It’s currently in the news for the wrong reasons — political turmoil and the threat of civil war.
As she puts it: “This is not a vacation spot. I am in the middle of nowhere and stay at a mining camp. I have written some ‘human interest’ stories but have no idea where to pitch these types of articles.
“I am confident I can write the articles (travel or otherwise) but I’m at a loss for finding out where to send queries. I have a membership to Writer’s Market online but it’s still confusing and somewhat daunting.”
Mining camp… middle of nowhere… a country in crisis. The only thing missing is rampaging herds of rogue elephants. Why do I get the tricky queries to deal with?
But OK, let’s have a go…
First up, I’d say it’s impossible to position the Côte d’Ivoire as a travel destination. Leaving aside Soldier of Fortune, editors don’t steer readers to countries where volatile young men race around waving AK-47s. They prefer Africa stories about wildlife safaris, Cape wine routes, and the secrets of the souks.
If you’ve been traveling elsewhere in Africa and have such stories, perfect. If not, the best way to “sell” places like the Côte d’Ivoire is by doing some portraits of life’s realities.
At the moment, the country is newsworthy. Some may regard it as taking advantage of other people’s misfortunes, but the old adage is true here: The best time to strike is when the iron is hot.
So, a global news magazine such as Christian Science Monitor may be worth trying with a day-to-day life story. One recent piece was a first-person account on how most Africans depend on unreliable 16-person minibuses for long distance travel.
Tourist-free places are usually that way for good reason. But although the Côte d’Ivoire is experiencing troubled times, its people, culture, and customs needn’t be off-limits. Not if you think outside the glossy travel mag box.
Whether you’re writing about a schoolboy soccer prodigy, expat hangouts, or an entrepreneurial woman who runs a string of street kitchens, it’s all about finding the right outlet.
Way back when, I placed some offbeat European culture features with The World & I magazine . It carries stories on festivities/ceremonies and peoples of the world, but many other reports are fairly meaty. One article on its website is about Zambia’s challenge to retain its teachers.
Human interest stories slot into all kinds of publications. For instance, a fiber arts magazine may take a profile of a weaving co-operative or a mask-maker. A profile of a volunteer working in a local school might interest an education magazine.
Transitions Abroad webzine pays from $50 to $150. Canada-based Verge “explores ways to get out and see the world by volunteering, working and studying overseas.” Their “Stories From The Field” section profiles people making a difference in the developing world. First time contributors are paid $0.10 (CAD) per word.
Africa isn’t really International Living’s beat, but the editor always needs profiles on expat entrepreneurs living anywhere in the world. If you know of any, get in touch.
Does the business you’re working in have a specialist publication that would also take insights into expat life? Why not ask…
Now, a quick word about Writer’s Market. Using it to source potential markets is down to common sense. If you have a profile of a woodworker, don’t squander time trawling though listings for pet magazines. (Well, not unless he makes wooden legs for pets.)
Conversely, some unlikely–sounding sections could turn up gems. Magazines to do with politics and world affairs may also carry stories about global cultures.
Before pitching queries, analyze the publications for which you plan to write. Almost all magazines have sample issues on the Internet, so ignorance is no excuse.
When searching for a publication to target, ask yourself: What is the tone of articles — chatty or serious? Are they written in first or third person voice? Also study the Writer’s Guidelines. It’s pointless sending a 1,500-word story if the maximum length is 800 words.
Writer’s Market concentrates on the North American marketplace. Depending on the story, you may often find more success by pitching to foreign publications and webzines. Including magazines, there are links to many overseas publications, here.
I looked at its Africa listings. Based in Paris, but published in English, Africa Review has a Society and Culture section. A couple of recent pieces included South Africa’s music scene and a day in the life of a Moroccan call-center worker.
A BBC publication, Focus on Africa, carries human interest stories as well as arts, culture, and sport features. Stories included a 60-year-old passenger ship sailing Lake Malawi and Zanzibarian spiritual poets.
An “Africa for Beginners” story might suit a publication aimed at volunteer or student travelers. You could detail unexpected cultural differences or problems — and how to deal with them.
Finally, selling your work isn’t a daunting task — not if you tackle it in an organized fashion.
First, draw up a potential story list. If you don’t have any likely publications in mind, go through Writer’s Market and other sources to see what stories might fit where. Make up another list of two or three magazines to target for each story.
Next, read some back issues to ensure you’re on the right track. Study the Writer’s Guidelines, and follow them to the letter.
Then send off your pitch. Or, depending on the guidelines, your article. That’s it. And if you don’t have success with your first choice publication, move on to the next. It’s always worked for me — and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work for anyone else.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]