What would you do to get a story? If you’re serious about travel writing, the answer should be “almost anything.”
Just for a moment, picture yourself in a Malaysian beauty salon with an indoor pool. Let’s say it’s the Happy Feet Salon on the island of Penang.
To drown out the clients’ whimpers, watery mood music is playing. By now, you’re making little moaning noises, too. You’re also wishing that your complimentary papaya juice contained something alcoholic. (Anything alcoholic. Even cabbage-mush fermented by the spittle of village idiots would do.)
Your feet are dangling in the water, and you can’t take your eyes off them. You want to look away — in fact, you’re desperate to look away. But you can’t.
Now this isn’t through having some freakish fetish about your own bare feet. Rather it’s because you can’t really believe what’s happening. You see, shoals of flesh-eating fish are now frenziedly chowing down on your toes.
(Trust me, you can get through this. Think of the paychecks. You have health insurance. You’ll be fine…)
Fish pedicures are all the rage in Asia. The tiny — and thankfully toothless — Garra Rufa fish nibble and suck away at the dead skin. Regular treatments apparently result in heels as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
I’m not squeamish, but letting fish guzzle my feet is the most grotesque thing I’ve ever tried. Spa treatments, pleasurable? The sensation is beyond creepy. But the 40-minute pedicure only cost $8 — and, like I said, there’s little I won’t do to get a story.
In the world’s endless quest to look younger/thinner/more glamorous, stories about bizarre beauty rituals will always find a home.
And it’s up to us writers to act as the guinea pigs.
If I visit Japan, I’m already confident of acquiring a porcelain-like complexion. The Geisha facial involves having nightingale droppings massaged into your face. You might have problems with slathering your skin in scraped-up bird poop, but not me. (Well, not if I get paid for it.)
I know Chinese companies export snail slime extract for facials. This gunk must feature in spas and salons somewhere…
So many treatments, so little time! Want fuller, shinier hair? One London hair salon will rub semen from prime Aberdeen Angus bulls into your locks.
A spa in Israel offers snake massage. Snakes, you say? Bring it on! With the right inducements (i.e. checks and alcohol), I’m happy to let snakes slither over my unclothed body…
But back to business. You could write up an Asian fish pedicure as both a personal experience and a service piece. General travel, spa, and in-flight magazines are obvious targets.
Start by asking: Which airlines serve Malaysia? (Fish pedicures are also readily available in its capital, Kuala Lumpur, as well as Penang.) Don’t only consider U.S. airlines. The market includes European and Asian carriers, too. On numerous foreign airlines, at least part of their in-flight magazine is in English.
AWAI’s Foreign Markets Report will give you more foreign publications to consider, with writer’s guidelines. In the meantime, Travel3Sixty — AirAsia’s in-flight magazine — is one for your notebook. Editor Ng Li Fern says:
“You’re a terrific writer? Fabulous! We’re looking for talented, intrepid travel writers to contribute to Travel3Sixty. Drop us a line at email@example.com.” (At this moment, they’re particularly interested in tales from China, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.)
You could also pitch to backpacker or budget travel magazines — a cheap way to banish aching feet. Transitions Abroad might be interested in something like this, too (www.transitionsabroad.com).
Would a fishing magazine welcome an offbeat story? You won’t know unless you suggest it to an editor. Then there’s family travel and children’s magazines. Asian families do fish pedicures together — and most kids are fascinated by the grotesque. Cricket Magazine for kids may be interested (www.cricketmag.com).
This type of story might also sell to health magazines such as Natural Solutions (www.naturalsolutionsmag.com).
There’s controversy about the subject, so that can provide another angle. Even before the treatment got off the ground in the U.S., at least five states banned fish pedicures.
** A QUICK PHOTO TIP: A version of my fishy experience has gone to International Living for publication, but my husband’s feet are on the accompanying photo. Mine looked puffy and swollen, and my lurid green nail polish was badly chipped. So if you intend using yourself — or any of your body parts — to illustrate a story, ensure that you look presentable.
[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.]