By Karen Pevenstein in Baltimore, MD
After reading about Lori’s trip to Belize, I was inspired to do something of the same. However, without the money or freedom to hop on a plane and travel around the world I had to come up with another plan.
I have family just a couple hours down the road in Williamsburg, VA so I thought I might try turning a visit there into a travel article. It ended up being a lot easier than I thought. Here’s what I did:
I started with the pre-trip research Lori suggested in issue #32 (see archived issue #32 here.) I found a slew of articles on Williamsburg so I knew I’d need to find a unique angle. I asked my local relatives, and they suggested Yorktown — Williamsburg’s less-traveled but equally charming colonial neighbor.
Once I had my destination, I was off and running. You can use these same steps for whichever town you choose to visit. And since it was so easy (and rewarding) I suggest you do…
1. CONTACT THE TOURISM OFFICE — Check out www.towd.com. This site links you to any tourism office around the world. I went to Yorktown’s site and found the name for the town’s head of tourism. I sent her an email, and she immediately responded with contact names for the historical centers plus suggestions of things to do during my visit.
2. RESEARCH WHAT ELSE HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT THE PLACE — I went to www.newspapers.com to see what papers in the Mid-Atlantic region had to say about Yorktown. While I did uncover a few articles from local papers in Virginia, I was surprised not to find anything in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun or Washington Post. It made me realize the town truly is a well-kept secret, so who better to expose it than me!
3. SET UP AND CONDUCT INTERVIEWS — They can give your article great credibility. I tried to arrange as many as possible beforehand so I didn’t miss anyone. I talked to a nationally renowned local artist and the owner of a guest cottage. They offered great insight and also gave me suggestions for other places to check out in town. In fact, one of my interviewees even offered to drive me around to some of Yorktown’s lesser known sites – places I probably wouldn’t have discovered on my own in a single day trip.
I should also mention that I reread Rose Burke’s guide to interviewing before I left. This guide was invaluable for getting insight from both locals and experts. As an attendee at the last Ultimate Travel Writing Workshop in Paris this past May, I was gifted a copy of Rose’s guide, but Jen Stevens has guidelines for interviewing in her course too: The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course.
4. ARRANGE FOR MEDIA PASSES — This is much easier than you think. Just tell people you’re a freelance travel writer in town researching an article. Ask if there’s a reduced press rate. I used the contacts the tourism office provided me and was instantly supplied with free passes and media kits for the town’s top attractions.
5. GET FREE LUNCH — I wasn’t trying to get free lunch but it just happened. I told the manager at the restaurant where I wanted to eat that I was a freelance travel writer working on an article. I started asking a few questions and taking notes. When she asked for credentials, I whipped out my ITWPA badge. Suddenly I was whisked to a corner table enjoying a fabulous free lunch with the most amazing dessert sampler imaginable.
Freelance travel writer Steenie Harvey would have been proud! In Paris, Steenie did an entire presentation on getting free stuff. Not only was she funny, but her advice really works. And to top it off, I’ll probably write an article about that dessert plate which is something I wouldn’t have thought to research had it not been presented to me as a freebie.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: You can find out more about the ITWPA by visiting: http://www.itwpa.com ]
6. THINK AND ACT LIKE A TRAVEL WRITER — You don’t need to be a published writer to think and act like one. I’m not. This trip to Yorktown might soon generate my first byline. I just followed all the advice I got from Jen’s course and made a decision that I was going to give travel writing a try.
You don’t have to be a professional journalist to pick people’s brains and ask thoughtful questions. Think like you’re “on assignment.” Plus you’ll find that when people start treating you like a travel writer, it will boost your confidence and enthusiasm. And it’s fun…
Instead of spending the day wandering around Colonial Williamsburg like a tourist, I headed to Yorktown with a purpose. I discovered that with a little prep work and the right attitude, anybody really can be a travel writer!
7. FOLLOW THROUGH — Now of course, I need to write my article and start sending queries out. My goal is to write something and get an article published before Lori does. I know that sounds kind of mean but I have a competitive nature and I’ve made this my goal. (She said it was important to set goals, right?)
You should make this your goal too. I spent one day in Yorktown and came away with at least 3 strong article ideas. You could easily do the same with the town nearest you. Just follow Jen’s advice in Passport to Romance: The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course and get out there.
I encourage (and challenge) you to go out and find your own “Yorktown” to uncover.
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TRAVEL PUBLICATION
Publish your travel story in the New York Times. The New York Times travel section considers manuscripts and proposals from freelancers. Stories should not exceed 1500 words, and they do not accept stories where the writer received discounts while traveling from an organization with an interest in the article. Send manuscripts and/or proposals by mail to The Travel Editor, New York Times, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.
[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.]