Travel Writing for Fun and Profit

by Phil Philcox
The Internet Writing Journal, August 1998
Travel writing sounds like fun. You head off to some exotic location, take some notes, shoot some photos and when you return you write travel articles that sell for enough to pay for the entire trip...and make a profit! The reality is that only a few fortunate writers get to travel on expense-paid adventures and earn enough to wander around the globe and pay their bills while away from home. However, there are magazines out there that rarely use travel articles but might be interested in you as a "traveling writer". If you use your imagination and devote some time to marketing your ideas, you can spend a few weeks or a few months traveling around the U.S. or overseas and return with enough pre-sold articles to cover your expenses and even earn a profit.

Give or take a few hundred, there are about 2,500 business/trade journals being published regularly in the U.S. and Canada. These magazines reach selected audiences interested in everything from selling auto parts to running a pet shop to operating a florist shop (among many other things). Basically, the readers of these magazines are interested in the operation side of running a business: how to draw in customers, how to buy supplies cheap, how to purchase inventory at a low cost and sell it for maximum profits; how to maintain inventories; how to price merchandise, how to hold sales; how to hire reliable employees, etc. So the question arises - would a dry cleaner in New Orleans be interested in how much a dry cleaner in Rome or Paris spends on advertising? Would a print shop owner in Miami be interested in how a print shop owner in London prices the printing of letterhead and envelopes? Would a butcher in San Francisco be interested in what butchers in Norway, Switzerland, Austria and Scotland do to increase business? The answers are "YES!" and if you can supply this type of information to trade journals in the form of business profiles and articles, they will be willing to pay you. If you were lucky enough to sell a profile a month to a magazine for a mere $150, that's almost $2,000 a year. Line up a couple of magazines and that's certainly enough to pay for a budget week or two in Europe. One editor I talked to said, "If someone is going to Europe, I can supply them with the names and addresses of businesses that subscribe to our magazine and they can interview them for us. For a really interesting article, I'd pay as high as $250 if there's information that is unique and useful to readers."

Okay...that's one editor. Now consider how many magazines there are reaching every type of business in the country (check Writer's Digest or The E-Mail Publisher in the classified section). E-Mail Publisher (Magazines) from The Press Association lists over 4,000 names, addresses and e-mail addresses of consumer and trade magazines and you can e-mail them your plans and see what happens. E-mailing lots of magazines is like knocking on lots of doors trying to sell encyclopedias. Knock on enough doors and someone will show an interest. If you can get an assignment from several magazines, you can head for any large U.S. or European city and start interviewing business owners. In every large city, you'll find dozens of florist shops, restaurants, laundries, pet shops, music stores, resorts, hotels and motels, clothing stores, sporting goods stores, etc.

Once you're ready to start, it's time to contact the magazine editors to explain your plan. E-mail, write or call some trade journal editors and tell them you're planning a trip to (pick a city or country) and would be interested in doing some business profiles for their magazine. Explain you'll visit the business, interview the owner, shoot some photos and provide them with an interesting article. If you have no experience writing business profiles, ask to see back issues of the magazines that have profile articles and follow that format. Ask the editors to provide you with a list of questions they'd like answered. Stress the idea of showing their readers through your articles how they do it in other parts of the country or "over there." Contact an assortment of magazines covering different fields so you can turn out a bunch of articles. During a trip to London, for example, you could profile any number of businesses including motorcycle shops, restaurants, clothing stores, auto parts stores, a shoe shop, a TV repair service, or a taxi company. Check out the trade journal directories and you'll find magazines reaching all of these audiences.

I have no experience writing about business matters, so I would stick to businesses that fall into the non-exotic category: no doctor offices, computer programmers, advertising agencies, etc. I'd concentrate on sales businesses where I could use most of the same questions over and over again. You can decide your own capabilities.

Use the since-I'm-in-the-neighborhood approach when talking with editors and be reasonable about payment. Most trade journals have a limited budget, so if you can offer them a low-cost solution to what could be a high-cost product they can't normally afford, they should respond favorably. Most trade journals can afford to pay up to $150 for an article with a couple of black/white photos, so every 10 article assignments puts $1500 in the travel pot.

If you think this is the type of project you would be interested in and could complete, you should begin by contacting the trade journals listed in the above publications. You can query with a letter or phone call and explain you're planning a trip to (fill in the blank) and ask if they'd be interested in you profiling businesses in that area. Make it sound like you do this profiling-thing on a regular basis. If they know of some specific businesses in that area they'd like profiled, offer to cover them as well. Stress how the magazine's readers can benefit from this information. If I was an editor, putting out a magazine for a select business audience, I'd jump at the chance to have someone supply me with this type of article for a price I could afford. It's something I wouldn't be able to find elsewhere and it would certainly interest my audience..

Contact an assortment of magazines covering different subjects so you can profile an assortment of businesses while you're in one city. On a trip to London, for instance, you can profile (among other things), a motorcycle dealer, a restaurant, a men's clothing store, a shoe store, a wholesale fish outlet, a garage, an auto parts store, a taxi company, a TV repair shop, a laundromat, etc. The list is endless. A mere $150 from each of the above would cover your expenses -- including airfare -- for a quick dash over to England.

If you're an experienced business profile writer, you can probably write about any subject. You might be like me: I have very little experience writing about these subjects, so I would stick to businesses that fall into -- for lack of a better word -- the simple category. This would eliminate advertising agencies, doctor's offices, environmental control businesses, medical suppliers and computer programmers and include pet shops, stationary stores, restaurants, hotels, resorts, sporting goods store, clothing stores, etc. These type of business have basic operating procedures that apply to them all. They rent or own a building that houses their operation, pay mortgages or rent, stock inventory, advertise, mark up merchandise, hire sales personnel and deal with walk-in customers.

In addition to national trade magazines, there are lots of regional magazines that are good markets and because readers of Florida Cattleman and Livestock magazine never read Tennessee Livestock magazine, you can sell the same article several times. I found similar overlaps in several fields including restaurants (Midwest Restaurant Magazine, Food Service East, Wisconsin Restaurateur, Southeast Food Service News) and others. Glance through the trade directories and make a list of national and regional magazines, their editor names and their telephone number or address. Then start the sales pitch. They're all listed in Writer's Market.

Photos are usually necessary, so try to get an additional $5 to $20 per photo. You can also request that the magazine cover supplies and developing costs. Every dollar adds up. I'd offer only black and white unless the editor insists on color. If you're not proficient with a camera, get one of those point-and-shoot, 35mm models with a wide angle/telephoto lens, which cost about $100-$150. Your best photos will be exterior shots where the subjects need no additional lighting. That way you don't have to deal with f-stops, flashes, etc. Have the owner stand in front of the shop window or door. For black and white, shoot one, 24-exposure roll per interview and have the developers print you out a proof sheet. This is a 8.5-inch by 11-inch sheet with thumbnail images of each shot. You can pick out the best photos and have them printed to 5-inch by 7-inch or 8-inch by 10-inch, whatever the editor needs. For color, use slide film which costs about 15-cents a slide to develop.

You can decide where you want to travel based on the response you get from editors. You might try a major U.S. city for your first trip to see how things work out. Eventually, you can work your way to the countries of your choice. For overseas destinations, contact the country's tourist office, get all of their literature and plan on visiting the largest cities. You can call the tourist office (most are in New York and/or Los Angeles) and explain your project. They can probably supply you with names and contacts at your destination point who can help.

Travel writing is a competitive business but if you approach from a unique angle, you can become a travel writer and not only travel but get paid for it.

Phil Philcox is the Editor/Director of B>The Press Association. With Associate Editor Beverly H. Boe, he has authored over 1200 articles and 38 non-fiction books on various subjects including travel, lifestyle, gambling, computers, self-help, reference, publishing, testing, city guides, etc.) Their books have been published by Prentice-Hall, Chilton, Icarus/Harper and Row, Pharos Books (the publishers of The World Almanac), Motorbooks International and others.

He is the former European Travel Editor of The Overseas News Media in New York, European Correspondent for Skin Diver Magazine and a contributing editor to numerous magazines including Touring Bike and Executive Travel. He is an active member of The International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, The Computer Journalist Society of America and The Freelance Writers Association. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, The London Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Desktop Computing, Consumers Digest, Writer's Digest and Writer's Yearbook, and the Atlanta Journal.

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