Saturday, 11 July 2009

#98 - How to make money writing travel guides for the internet

- Or why guide book authors should be using their knowledge online.

Boost income by writing for the web
In tip #70, I attempted to blow the myth that travel writers can't earn money writing for the web out of the water. The portal sites are excellent potential sources of income for individual articles.
But the way to make real money writing for the internet is to create your own travel guide site, and turn it into your primary business.

Guide book author to online travel guide creator
The skill sets for being a guide book author and creating a comprehensive online travel guide are very similar. And with tools such as Google Maps available, there is no reason why travel writers with a wealth of knowledge on a certain destination or subject cannot create themselves a profitable niche on the internet.

Examples and further detail
I have explained this further in a large post at my other site - It's my honest belief that any travel writer can do this, and I know many are in the process of doing so. Mike Gerrard and Donna Dailey at are an excellent example of how it's possible to slowly grow a site.
I shall also be discussing this issue on Twitter -

Saturday, 4 July 2009

#97 - Trying selling travel stories to news editors

Or why foreign news can be a better fit than the travel section.

Which section for the story?
I've always worked on a general theory that a reliable sign of a good travel story is that it will easily slot into another section of a newspaper. For example, one that has a musical angle could be equally valid in the music section; a story about a painter could just as easily be filed under 'arts'.

Cracking the Daily Telegraph
I'm quite a happy bunny today, as I've had my first story printed in The Daily Telegraph. I've pitched plenty of ideas there before, but come up against a brick wall. Along with The Sunday Times, it's probably the most prestigious place I've ever been published. But my story wasn't in the travel section.

Travel story, news angle
I can't think why I didn't think of this before, but I decided to pitch the story to the Telegraph's World News editor. It was a story I'd come across on my travels and it was arguably a travel story with a news angle, but I decided to write it as a news story.

Published quickly
The approach worked - the editor liked the idea, bought the story and it was published within three days of my initial approach. Oh if only all travel pieces went that smoothly...

Out of the way places
It did get me thinking about how many other travel stories I could have taken this approach with. It's particularly useful in out of the way places. In my example, news from Samoa doesn't tend to travel very far. The fact that the country is switching to driving on the left from driving on the right makes for a great story, but because hardly anyone pays attention to what's going on there, it's a story that has barely been written about. OK, it's had a tiny bit of coverage in Australia and New Zealand - but not the rest of the world.

Read the papers, listen to the locals
The experience confirms my beliefs that, for the travel writer, it's worth reading local newspapers, listening to local radio stations and talking to local people about what the current big issues are. There's always almost a story to be uncovered - and one that can possibly be sold to a news section.

PS - Yes, I know Samoa isn't an island; it's a collection of them. That's the joy of sub-editors for you.

PPS - If you want more of my nonsense, you can find me at and on Twitter.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Apologies for absence

OK, OK, I know it's been months since I posted. My excuses are as follows:

1. I have been on the road almost constantly.
2. I've had a big pile of paying work to get through, and that comes first. Writing this blog is fun, but in the absence of an absurdly generous benefactor or advertising, it has to come second.
3. I've been working on my new blog, Grumpy Traveller. I'm sounding off on a greater range of topics there - all travel-related - but am running a regular series on travel writer cliches. Any would-be travel writer should avoid them like the plague (see what I did there?). Please come on by and leave a comment on the issues I'm trying to raise.
4. I'm also working on my own top secret web project which probably won't see the light of day for a good while yet.

This said, I will still be dropping in the odd tip here. I won't be posting as regularly as I was in the past, but I'd sooner leave better tips less frequently than to dash out a load of rubbish just to keep up with a self-imposed schedule.

In the mean time, please come along to Grumpy Traveller or follow me on Twitter.

Friday, 13 March 2009

#96 – If there is no travel section, try and create one

Or the entrepreneurial freelance travel writer.

Entrepreneurial attitude
One difference between a mildly successful freelance travel writer and a very successful one is an entrepreneurial attitude. The former category looks to sell work to existing outlets – the latter does this too, but also looks to create outlets.

The difference
It’s that difference between submitting pitches to a travel section of a newspaper and pitching the idea of having a travel section to a newspaper.

Creating a regular outlet
This isn’t quite as outrageous as it sounds. Granted, it takes a lot of chutzpah, and it’s more than likely not going to succeed. But if it does succeed, then you’ve created yourself a regular outlet on the spot.

Why is there no travel section?
If a publication doesn’t have a travel section, there must be a reason for it. Perhaps a travel section wouldn’t be relevant to the readership. Perhaps they’ve tried it before and it didn’t work out. Or perhaps they’ve never thought of it? Maybe they would like to do it, but haven’t got the right person to organise it?

A good proposal
This is where putting a good proposal together, showing a sound understanding of the audience and explaining the potential benefits in increased advertising, could just work. If you can convince someone that they need a regular travel column, and that you’re the best person to do it, you have potentially made yourself a little goldmine.

Blogs and more
The same philosophy applies to blogs, magazine columns, ask the expert regular features or radio slots. Chances are that no-one will bite, but if someone does, you’ve created yourself an opportunity rather than just taking one offered to you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

#95 – Listen to the local radio

Or getting a sense of the people.

Local radio stations
In a similar vein to Tip #94 (Pick up local newspapers), listening to local radio stations whilst abroad can give an excellent insight into a destination. Many of the reasons are similar – you get to find out about news angles and get a sense of attitudes and priorities.

Sense of the people
But radio is even better for getting a sense of the people – you can gauge what sort of music gets played (ie. Is it reggae, calypso or generic 80s dirge?). You can also get a sense of what sort of people are allowed on the radio – ie. Personality DJs or formal, starched collar, Government-approved announcers?

Phone-in programmes
And sometimes you can strike absolute gold by stumbling across a phone-in programme, where members of the public call in to rant and rave about the issues of the day. They may not be coherent, and they may be speaking utter nonsense, but there are few better ways of getting a sense of local character and opinion. Especially when the DJ starts arguing...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

#94 – Pick up local newspapers

Or looking at things from a local perspective.

Global view
As a travel writer, you tend to develop a global view of things. International news becomes important to you, and you tend to like knowing what is happening worldwide.

Switching perspective
Nothing wrong with this, but sometimes it can be useful to switch perspective. Getting a view of the world from the place you’re visiting’s angle can give a really useful insight into that destination.

That’s why I like picking up a local newspaper while I’m away. There are few better things for giving a snapshot of what a place is like. First of all, there will be stories in there that simply aren’t covered by the global media, such as controversies over tourism developments, national financial problems and disease outbreaks amongst local wildlife.
These often make a good angle for a travel story – you’re essentially covering a news story that hasn’t really broken outside the country you’re in and explaining it to the rest of the world.

Attitudes and priorities
But picking up the newspaper is also good for getting a sense of that country’s attitudes and priorities. How many pages in are the big international stories? Do all the stories start with “a government spokesman has announced”? How professional or amateurish does the paper look? These are all excellent little clues about the destination.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

#93 – Stay at hotels with free WiFi

Or getting more work done for no extra cost.

Meals for one?
When a travel writer is on the road, the evening can often be the most depressing time. It’s when you have to resort to meals for one, and sitting in a bar trying to strike up conversation with someone.
This is somewhat soul-destroying and – depending on how many drinks you have – can be rather costly.

Writing in the evenings
In recent times, I’ve gone for a change of tack. In destinations where I know I’m not really going to be writing about the nightlife and bars, I’ve taken to using that evening dead space for writing things up.

Fresh in the mind
Inevitably, I’ll be able to write stories up twice as quickly during these evenings as I normally would at home. This is often because the story is fresh in the mind.

In-room internet access
But in doing this, I’ll usually need in-room internet access, just for checking the odd detail. And thus I always try and stay somewhere that provides this.

Looking up maps
It is also useful for planning purposes – with in-room net access, you can check out little details, look up places you’re wanting to get to on Google Maps etc.

Free WiFi
The price of the in-room internet access counts too. Some hotels charge outrageously for this, and it can often make financial sense to pay a couple of dollars/ pounds/ euro/ groats more for a place that offers free WiFi. The cost of the internet otherwise can put 10 - 20% extra on the bill. Besides, offering free WiFi should be encouraged, and I like to give my custom to places that do this.