Wednesday, 10 September 2008

#10. Think long-term gain when assessing trip profitability

Or why travelling pays back over time.

Don’t expect immediate results
Following on from the previous tip – doing some travelling is the best way to find travel stories – it’s important not to expect immediate results. What can seem like an unprofitable trip at first can end up making you more than enough money to cover the costs in the long run.

Cologne to Amsterdam, July 2006
For an example, I’ll take the first trip I did after turning freelance. It was entirely self-funded at a cost of around £500/ EUR650/ US$950/ AU$1100. I flew into Cologne, and back from Amsterdam, utilising cheap flights, and I travelled between them by train, stopping at Bonn, Aachen and Brussels on the way.

Selling stories
It didn’t take long to sell a story each on Brussels and Amsterdam – about £400 worth of income – but for the rest I struggled. Then suddenly, six months later, someone bought pieces on Cologne and Bonn. Over time, I managed to sell a second Brussels story, a revamped Bonn story and a second Amsterdam story. In the end, it turned out to be massively profitable.
I also got an acceptance for a feature on Aachen, but I won’t hold my breath on ever seeing it printed – the editor has had it for two years and now the subject matter is out of date.

Round-up articles as well as destination-based stories
But it wasn’t just these destination-based stories that ended up making the trip worthwhile. The experiences came in handy a long way down the line – particularly in round-up articles. For example, I never managed to sell a story purely on the Carolus Thermen in Aachen, but it did spark the idea for a piece on Europe’s strangest spas two years later.

Chips and mayonnaise?
Similarly, eating chips and mayonnaise in Amsterdam turned into a piece on Europe’s worst food (and Amsterdam crept into Europe’s most overrated cities for that matter). Going to Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn turned into a piece on musical pilgrimage sites, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used Brussels’ Mini Europe park and the Delirium Café in round-up pieces.

Re-using material
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I got so much material out of that trip. I’ve taken out snippets here and there, and re-used bits that I included in the straight destination pieces for other angles elsewhere.

Trips pay over time
Yet if I’d looked at it within a couple of months of getting back, I’d have said I made a loss and it wasn’t worth doing. That’s an easy trap to fall into. The profitability of these trips isn’t always immediate – they pay over time, both in terms of selling the features you first thought of and sparking ideas for other features at a later date.

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