It's easy to be a travel writer. Surely all you need is your laptop and a palm tree to sit under? 

Er - not quite.  Travel writers today face huge competition and to sell your articles you need luck, persistence and ability to think laterally.

You are competing against:

• The celebrity guest writer - who in return for a free holiday for their family scribbles a few words to be turned into an article by the hard-working sub back in the editorial office.

• The editor's secretary - who wants a pay rise but instead has been placated with taking the boss's place on a trip.

• The hobby writer - who takes press trips instead of holidays and produces unpaid articles for their local paper.

Still want to be a travel writer? 

Be prepared for hard work, deadlines, poor e-mail connections and press officers determined you're going to write about golf courses (because they are sponsoring your trip) and insist on showing you round three when your editor's brief says: "800 words on museums, hotels and restaurants that will take kids."

It will be up to you to be super-charming and persuade the press officer that although you would love to walk round the third course in as many days, perhaps it would be a good idea if you stopped off in that interesting-sounding clockwork museum then visited the robots in the theme park instead.

You know you can write (have confidence in yourself) so how do you get started?  Don't even think about the nationals unless you have been offered a place on the first tourist trip by rocket to the moon.

Nationals are inundated with eager wanabees on media courses.  If an editor says: "show me what you have written when you return" this generally means joining the copy graveyard; some editors like the power given by a pile of unread articles.

Even if you have come up with an incredible idea, which is commissioned, almost certainly it will be a one-off. National editors tend to have their own stable of travel journalists who receive regular work.

So look for lesser-known magazines aimed at specialised markets.  Often they have a small staff and rely heavily on freelances.

Capitalise on what you know.  Do you have a hobby; chess, horse riding?  Do you have a degree in Engineering or Waste Management?  What in-house magazines do you read?  Study them carefully, go on the web and search out if there is going to be a trade or relevant event coming up in the next six months.  Then offer the editor a pre-exhibition piece about the Sprogget Event in Utopia – where it is, the best hotels and restaurants, who will be exhibiting, etc.

Or maybe the only museum in the world dedicated to your hobby is opening - always good for an article.  Or you know someone who has invented a product that is going to be on show to the world's press.
Read your magazines carefully

Put yourself in the editor's shoes: they have to come up with relevant articles each month that are going to interest readers. What would interest you as a reader? Offering articles of interest to readers that are based in another country lends a touch of the exotic.

It is seldom an editor says: "have you read the magazine", but once commissioned you buy a copy to find house style and pick up ideas for further articles.

Once you have a firm commissioning letter (or e-mail) fire off copies to the local tourist office, the exhibition's press office, and the relevant Ministry's press office asking them politely if they will host you on a pre-inspection visit. 

When you arrive in their country find out as much as possible about what else goes on in the area.  When you return you can use your basic research to offer articles to different magazines.

Whilst writing travel articles about Romania I found my hotel was holding an International Bridge tournament.  I hate Bridge but begged an interview with the organiser and expanded this when I returned home.

After filing the main copy about holidays in the country the second piece was bought by a leading magazine on Bridge.     

The magazines you come across racked in WH Smith are inundated with trainee journalists.  You will do better to look up Willings Press Guide (in your library or buy this as an investment) for magazine titles and contacts.

This contains lesser-known titles that are more likely to commission.  With around 8,000 publications listed there is greater likelihood that you will find one who you can sell your stuff to.

Phone the editor and get a feel for what they want.  If they like your ideas they will ask you to e-mail a synopsis - but DON'T give too much away.  You don't want them pinching your idea and giving it to someone in-house.

Think of your working environment

Low cost airlines are favourites with tourist offices, reaching tucked-away places that never saw a stranger but the downside is no comfort.

You soon learn to check the Rail Europe map. It is surprising how many destinations are within 10 hours travelling time of London - you can get to Turin in that time and work on the journey instead of bobbing up and down in queues. In Britain, Virgin and GNER even have plugs for your laptop to help you work.

The airline ticket will usually be supplied free but if you are persuasive tourist offices will often supply a first class train ticket instead.

If something unusual is happening somewhere generally there is an editor whose readers would love to know more.  It is a question of thinking laterally, and hanging the story idea on this interesting peg rather than just writing the usual 'sun, sand and sea' travel article.

Think outside the limited parameters of simply 'travel writing', find that unusual something to write about and then the travel content more easily adds itself to the main story idea.

Good luck!

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