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So you’re going on vacation? You’ve got the sunblock, insect repellent, toiletries–everything that gurus with organizational skills urge you to take?

Well, good for you. Now stop wasting time reading what-to-pack stories.

My life doesn’t fall apart whenever I forget aspirins or a corkscrew–and yours won’t either. This may be news to at least one magazine’s travel consultant, but there are few places in the world without pharmacies and convenience stores.

A vacation is a great opportunity to put your travel writing skills into practice. The stories you bring home can be a great way to fund a wanderlust lifestyle. But if you want them to pay for this trip (and the next ones), concentrate on more than whether you’ve packed enough socks.

For example…

** 1# Pre-Trip Research

As I’m currently on assignment, I’m writing this from Kerry in southwest Ireland. I’ve timed the trip so I can visit Killorglin’s Puck Fair–an ancient festival where a goat gets crowned king. The crazy goings-on also include a horse fair. But without research, I wouldn’t have known that the horse-trading is only on Gathering Day, the first day of the festival. If you ever intend pitching a story on the Fair to a horse magazine, there’s little point in arriving on the second or third day.

Thanks to the Internet, you can research lots about places beforehand. History… culture… even local restaurant reviews. Unless a destination is only a speck on the map–or you have a gargantuan appetite–you can’t eat everywhere. It’s always worthwhile finding places that residents rave about, but aren’t mentioned in travel guides. New restaurant discoveries are more likely to catch an editor’s attention than ones reviewed umpteen times.

** 2# Check Your Equipment

Is your camera in working order? (If you don’t own a camera, shame on you.) A travel writer who supplies photos is an editor’s dream.

Good photos, that is. So drop the idea of sending those stunt shots of you pretending to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Keep them for your long-suffering family and friends.

Many travel websites are also desperate for video content (and pay extra for short destination clips). I’m still in the learning process, but you can purchase a camcorder for relatively little expense. Again, check that it’s working. Many cameras let you shoot video, too.

** 3# Vacation Reading

Whether on vacation or not, there’s only one reason to read Fifty Shades of Grey. And that’s if you also intend writing for bondage magazines and need some “know-your-audience” inspiration.

Instead, pick up a few local newspapers and magazines. Many overseas destinations have English-language publications that aren’t on the Internet. They’ve often provided me with fascinating tidbits.

For example, if I hadn’t read Malaysia’s New Sunday Times in Kuala Lumpur, I wouldn’t have sought out a certain Chow Kit market trader. Although the newspaper failed to explain how his concoction worked, I learned that mandi periuk was a $5.30 herbal bath tonic. Its ingredients included “the best plant for the re-virginification process.”  (I had tremendous fun writing that story.)

** 4# Write!

Yes, you’re on vacation but travel writing isn’t my idea of hard labor. Even if it’s only half-an-hour over a coffee, set aside time each day to take notes. I rarely write up stories when on the road, but I keep a journal.

Without notes, it’s easy to get things jumbled up–costs, what you ate where, etc. Memories and impressions fade, too. They’ll never be as fresh as on the day you were chased by an orang-utan, got spiritually cleansed by a shaman, or fell into bad company in some bar.

Speaking of which, I have “work” to do. There’s a traditional music session in Caitin’s bar tonight…

[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.]

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