One of the best ways to break into the travel-writing business (and to get repeat clips, too) is to write short articles — 250-600 words in length, typically.
Lots of publications are in the market for such things — short pieces about a great restaurant, a notable little hotel, an excellent travel deal, a new resource, and so on.
Often these sorts of articles appear in specific “departments” at publications or fall under what’s called “front-of the-book” pieces (you’ve seen them — the “blurbs” magazines often run in the first few pages of each issue).
*** Narrow Your Focus
Because space is limited, so must be the size of the topic you choose. You can’t easily write a quick note about well-discovered Rome. Instead, you’d want to narrow your topic considerably to something like a new museum exhibit or maybe a shop that sells unusual gifts.
As the editors at Marco Polo Magazine put it in that publication’s guidelines: “Don’t send us an article on Amsterdam; send us a front-of-the-book feature about a new, particularly unique restaurant in the Dutch metropolis.”
*** Draw Your Reader in With a “Picture”
You’re working with a limited number of words, so you cannot afford to dally while you get to your point.
That is not to say you shouldn’t make an “emotional” appeal to your reader, do your best to draw him in — you most certainly should. Go ahead, paint a picture of this place you’re writing about. Take the reader there right at the start. Simply understand — you’ve got just three or four sentences to do it.
For example, travel writer Jean Flitcroft (who attended our workshop in Paris a couple of years ago) begins a short article about a Scottish castle, published in International Living, this way:
“Blazing log fires, oversized four-poster beds, 2,000 acres to call your own, fine food and wine all wrapped up in a hunk of Scottish granite and steeped in history for centuries — a perfect recipe for a magical weekend with a group of friends or family.
“There are many castles available to rent for a house party throughout Scotland. In general, the farther north and more rural you go, the more authentic they are. But to find one within easy reach of Edinburgh that doesn’t have tartan drapes, reproduction suits of armor, and pine floorboards is more of a challenge. They may be genuinely 16th-century outside, but some of the travesties of conservation and restoration have to be seen to be believed.”
*** Get Right to the “Big Idea” You Want Your Readers to Come Away Understanding
Very close to the front of your article — within the first four to six sentences — you must come straight to the point of your article.
You’ve got a reader in mind… you’ve drawn that reader in… now write one, concise sentence that tells him the benefit to his being there.
In her Scottish castle piece, Jean does an excellent job of it. The sentence that follows her descriptive lead is:
“Built in 1780, Birkhill Castle is the real thing — the antithesis of tourist tackiness and just 50 minutes north of Edinburgh and west of St. Andrews.”
*** Provide Specific Support for Your “Big Idea”
What next? Follow up with support for your “Big Idea.” Use a quote or two, some facts, statistics, examples.
In the Scottish castle piece, which has promised readers “the antithesis of tourist tackiness,” we aren’t disappointed. The article goes on to say:
“Lord Dundee is an elected peer in the House of Lords and is the Hereditary Royal Banner Bearer for Scotland. The coronation banners hang proudly in the hall. Lady Dundee runs the 2,000-acre arable farm and oversees the succession of house guests. The house is stuffed full of paintings and antiques, and the family history is worth indulging. Lady Dundee will willingly bring the pictures of their ancestors to life with details of tragic deaths, misunderstandings in love, and stories from the battlefield. We were welcomed with a substantial afternoon tea and lazed about until the views of the garden could be resisted no longer.”
(There’s more to the article, but you get the idea…) She uses lots of specifics that directly illustrate and support her “Big Idea” — that this place is authentic, not touristy.
*** Make Sure You Give Your Readers the Info They Need to Take Action
You want your reader to put your article down, pick up the phone, and arrange to do what you just did. You want him to take action. To that end, be sure to include the practical details a reader will need to follow up on the information you’ve presented.
In Jean’s article, for example, the reader finds at the end:
“Taking over the whole castle is expensive. Through Loyd and Townsend-Rose, it costs $370 per night per person–all food and drink included. A much better option is to book B&B direct with Lady Dundee. At $110/night per person and dinner at $50 it’s a reasonable way to get the authenticity and charm of a genuine Scottish castle.”
[Jen Stevens has spent the balance of the last seven years gallivanting through Latin America and the Caribbean — to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and beyond reporting on and writing about the best locales for overseas travel, retirement, and investment. She is the former editor of International Living and Island Properties Report, and she was a writer and editor for several years at Trade & Culture magazine. Jen is the author of The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course, published by the American Writers & Artists Institute.]
[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.]