Freelancer Secrets: Travel Writing Without the Travel

By Katrina Woznicki January 13th, 2014

Travel writers are supposed to live in exciting places like Miami or Paris or Tokyo and jet to places like Cairo or Brisbane or Prague, right? Maybe for some, but many successful travel writers simply embrace their own backyards.

For better or worse, the Big Apple is my backyard. Last year, I wrote a story about sightseeing New York City’s different neighborhoods by following food trucks; the piece was published by “Lonely Planet.” I also focus on smaller, quieter, more bucolic day-trip or weekend escapes like the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and Vermont, and have written about Vermont several times for Some of the most memorable trips I’ve taken required nothing more than a tank of gas, a notebook and my smartphone. Whether you live in Branson, Missouri, or Taos, New Mexico, or Hammondsport, New York (America’s Coolest Small Town!), the goal of any travel story remains the same: take readers on a magic carpet ride that lets them savor the sights, sounds, smells and overall vibe of a special place.

Inspire Your Readers

The more local, the better: little known landmark buildings, community events, area artists and artisans all make for fantastic travel-writing fodder. Travel stories serve both locals and visitors; local travel stories generate town pride as residents discover new things about their communities, and out-of-towners learn about an amazing new place. “A great travel story is really a call to action,” says Catharine M. Hamm, a travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. “We’re blessed with a wealth of writers who can take their experience and make it translate into something so tangible that I want to stop what I’m doing and consider when I can go there.”

Alastair Humphreys calls the outskirts of London home and often writes about global “adventure travel.” Yet adventure, Humphreys says, is less about distance and more about a state of mind. He refers to local trips as “microadventures” and says they can be just as powerful as crossing time zones. “Wilderness and beauty are everywhere,” says Humphreys. “Adventure is all around us, at all times.” For writers concerned about the costs of travel (and we all are), Humphreys recommends microadventures because they are “close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective.”

Get Into Character

Seattle-based blogger Pam Mandel, who has walked all seven continents and has written major media outlets, recently grabbed my attention with her blog post about the salmon river run in Issaquah, Washington. Mandel could wax poetic about Antarctica or Hawaii, but instead, she shined her spotlight on her home turf (and surf). “Good travel stories are everywhere [and] anywhere,” says Mandel. “I like to write about the salmon here in the Pacific Northwest because they’re so emblematic of our region. A good travel story digs into the character of a place through the ideas, actions, objects that signify that place.”

To learn a place you need to learn its people. For Kim Thompson, communications manager for Corning and Southern Finger Lakes in upstate New York, a compelling travel story is as much about the “who” as the “where.”

“Here in Corning & the Southern Finger Lakes, for example, we love to celebrate our master craftsmen, whether they be glass artists or winemakers,” Thompson says. “I love learning what drew a person to a certain area, and what inspired them to do whatever it is that they’re doing.”

So what are the folks up to in your town, your region, your state? What sort of historic landmark has an interesting secret? What kind of cool festivals or events are on the community calendar? What may seem like everyday stuff to you could be the beginning of a great travel story.

Tags: , ,