10 Top Tips on Starting a Career in Travel Journalism

I recently attended a masterclass in ‘Starting a Career in Adventure Travel Journalism’ run by Ash Bhardwaj [@AshBhardwaj], who is rapidly becoming an established name in the field following his unique coverage of, among other things, Levison Wood’s Walking the Nile.

Held at the City of London University, the short course candidly outlined the journey of how to start out and, most importantly, succeed in this highly competitive and already saturated field.  Even Ash himself admits that the process, which has finally seen his work featured on the front pages of publications such as Telegraph Travel and BA Highlife, has been 8 years in the making from when he first started out.

Throughout the day, Ash provides the tools and inside track to help develop a unique style of writing and how to correctly pitch your work in order to get noticed quickly.  The value of his 8 years’ experience in the business, hearing about lessons learned and how to avoid common pitfalls, cannot be underestimated as he expands on some of the most fundamental principles………

10 Top Travel Writing Tips:

1 – Picking a field

Well, as you’re reading an article on Adventure Journalism, we can consider you have already done this.

 

2 – Writing a Blog

You shouldn’t get too hung up on viewing your blog or readership numbers as the be-all and end-all to your journalistic career.  Use your blog or website as a place to initially build a portfolio and gain credibility, as well as learn and practice the skills of writing to develop your own unique style.  Focus on producing good, engaging content and experiment by assimilating writing styles from other successful travel journalists until you find a model that works for you.  It’s also important to consider how to use other media outlets to better effect such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in order to expand your network and increase exposure of your work.

 

3 – Digital Media

Mastering photography [or at least having a good camera that does all the hard work for you] is clearly advantageous in drawing in readers through the use of an eye-catching or thought-provoking feature photo.  However, a large amount of today’s online and digital content now utilises short video clips as an engaging way to capture the audience’s attention.  This is also true of larger media corporations, such as the Daily Mail online, who will now often ask for and favour content with video footage.  Even the most rudimentary understanding on how to capture and embed such material will be of significant benefit.  Fortunately, you don’t have to be a guru in post-production editing, as most news outlets, such as the BBC News online, love to publish first-hand ‘shaky-cam’ footage.

 

Walking The Nile

Credit: Ash Bhardwaj covering the unique journey of Levison Wood’s Walking the Nile

4 – Proper Writing

Readability is key.  Readability is key.  Short, pithy sentences and paragraphs get straight to the point.  By reading your piece out loud, you will be able to better detach yourself from your writing and hear if something doesn’t sound quite right.  If you’re struggling to make sense of what you have written, you can guarantee your readers will too.  Although there is no hard and fast rule over the length of your articles, shorter pieces, that are more succinct and to the point, dramatically increasing readability.  Unless you’re offering information that the reader finds highly valuable [such as a ‘how-to’ piece on Building a Career in Adventure & Travel Journalism!], most people do not have time to read lengthy articles and will lose interest after a few minutes.

 

5 – Pitching

Written proposals to an editorial team should be tailor-made for the specific publication.  Before submitting your proposal, you’ll need to consider things like the style and length of your piece on a case-by-case basis.   You’ll need to do some background research into the most common article formats typically featured within each publication, and read some good examples of recently published work.  Importantly, ensure the topic you intend to write about hasn’t recently been covered.  Failing to do this will only demonstrate to editors that you do not routinely read their publication.

 

6 – Setting Yourself Apart

Writing on current newsworthy topics is always a good rule of thumb – editors are always looking for tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.  Although this is a common practice among many writers in order to churn out relevant work, it shouldn’t stop you from writing about what you are interested in.  If you have a particular niche or specialisation, use it to your advantage.  The important thing to remember is – remain flexible.  Now and again you may have to put a slightly different slant on a piece to better fit with a particular readership or editorial style of your sought publication.

 

7 – Networking

While building readership numbers through social networking is great, the big breaks are going to come through engagement with editorial teams or other influential figures within the field.  For this, it really is a case of who you know rather than what you know.  Look to attend events where you have an opportunity to meet with potential future advocates of your material.  It’s wise to conduct a little background research, and compliment an author, editor or publisher on a particular piece of work [the more obscure the piece the better].  People love to be told how good they are, so by you providing a little ego-massage will make them more inclined to speak with you.  Keep them engaged by asking well researched and topical questions that only they are likely to have the answers to.  Then, even if they don’t have the answer, they’re now more likely to introduce you to somebody else that does.

 

8 – Mentors

Use the connections you make through networking as a body of expertise to draw upon to help you develop and refine your own work.  Again, a little background research and a correctly framed question to the right individual is more likely to get a response if they feel you have invested time and effort to understand their work.  Subtlety, you will also be exposing your proposal to them, which might in turn lead to a referral or commission.  If you know the recipient is going to be busy, don’t forget to ask if they can recommend someone else that can help.  You’ll also want to avoid sounding too desperate, or by hastily posing a number of poorly crafted questions.  This may put some people off from talking with you if  they feel you’re beginning to pester them too much.  Instead, take time to form one or two well composed and succinct questions, and leave plenty of time between approaching the same individual again unless they really do seem keen on talking with you further.

 

9 – Do Your Research

Publishers won’t necessarily be forthcoming with what they are [or are not] looking for in an article – they will expect you to have already done your research and understand their audience.  Your proposal is more likely to be successful if it already adheres to a publications typical style and format, meaning you may need to rewrite your work to meet these specifications.  By understanding what a publisher is looking for [or missing] and selling yourself as being able to fill that gap, you’re more likely to be successful in gaining repeat commissions with them.

 

10 – Work For Free

It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to get paid for your work straight away.  Even established journalists will often work for free in order to increase exposure of their work.  However, working for free doesn’t mean making a loss.  Brands, organisations and Country PR Reps are always on the look out for advertising opportunities.  So, if you’ve managed to get a proposal accepted by a leading publication, use it as leverage with PR’s to get free stuff such as products, flights and accommodation.  This type of indirect exposure is likely to be far more cost effective to brands and PR’s than paying for a full-page advert for example.  What is important, however, is to capitalise on those freebie opportunities in order to generate and develop further ideas for paid work with another publisher.

 


Summary

This really is only a small amount of the valuable content Ash covers during his short masterclass.  My advice – keep an ear to the ground for his next course.  It really will save you a great deal of time and effort in the long run.

After all, who doesn’t want a free holiday?

Travel Writing


Other Top Tips:

  • Leave your laptop at home – Get back to writing notes and not being reliant on finding a plug socket in the field.
  • Speak with people – The most interesting stories come about through the everyday interactions with locals.
  • Explore on Foot – You will be surprised by just how much you miss when in the confines of a vehicle.
  • Discover by Accident – Simply by visiting interesting places you will discover exceptional stories by complete accident.

Ash Bhardwaj Info:

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