Island Hopping: The Travel Writer’s Work Commute
“Aruba … Jamaica … Ooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda … Bahamas …”
That Beach Boys song is pretty much the story of my life. I’ve been a travel journalist for the last two decades and spent the last six as executive editor at Caribbean Travel + Life magazine, island-hopping all over the region to plush resorts, sugar-sand shores, and raucous beach bars – and getting paid to do it! This year I launched my freelance career, and so far I’ve swum with wild pigs in the Bahamas and stingrays in Grand Cayman; basked on the beaches of Tobago; taken a dance class with the Rockettes while on a cruise; and spent a week in a multi-million dollar villa in Anguilla – all on paid travel writing assignments.
In fact, two days ago I got back from a trip to St. Barts, where I quaffed lobster and champagne; had a massage on the beach, and cruised along the coast at sunset. And tomorrow I’m off to Jamaica!
It takes tenacity, talent, and the right formula to get paid to travel the world – even if you’re just beginning your freelance career.
Hopefully, you’ll be taking your first complimentary trip soon. But before you dash off to the airport, make sure you’re properly prepared. Here are three things I never leave home without doing:
It sounds elementary, but make sure you’re clear on the subject/s you’ve been assigned to write about (or intend to pitch), including the required format (charticle, first-person narrative, etc), and word count. Will you need subject quotes? What’s your deadline? Also, when it comes to out-of-pocket trip expenses, what’s covered by the trip hosts and/or your freelance outlet? To avoid any nasty surprises, you’ll want to know before you go!
As soon as a trip is confirmed, I look up the Facebook pages and twitter handles of the places I’ll be seeing, people I intend to interview, and activities I’ll be doing and “like” and “follow” them. Then, in the days before my departure, I tweet about how excited I am to visit “X” place, which hopefully gets my own followers excited as well and raises visibility for the destination I’m covering. (And, of course, I tweet and Facebook to their accounts throughout my stay.) I also e-mail the respective PR companies letting them know when I’ll be traveling and the details of my assignment. That way my hosts can prepare properly for my arrival, and I can access press materials in advance (which often helps me think of other additional story angles I can pitch to other outlets).
There’s nothing more embarrassing than going to take notes and finding that you don’t have a pen! Somehow I always seem to lose pens, so I leave home with at least a half-dozen, adding more to my stash from hotel rooms along the way. And don’t forget your business cards (I always take more than I think I’ll need). I also find it useful to keep PDFs of my published work on my smartphone in case I need to show examples to a prospective subject.
[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.]