How to pitch a travel story
+ how I became a writer
In today’s newsletter: pitching your travel story, the BAM BUS, and slippers. This month, a portion of the profits from paid newsletter subscriptions will be donated to World Central Kitchen. Previous organizations we’ve supported include Refugio Animal Holbox, Womankind, Girls Write Now, Women for Women, Heart of Dinner & Black Mamas Matter. If you’ve found your way here but are not yet subscribed, let me help you with that:
I remember the moment I wanted to be a professional writer. I was a sophomore at Indiana University, struggling through an organic chemistry course. The class was one in a parade of science and math-focused courses that were meant to set me on the pre-medical track. Yes, that’s right. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. If you had asked me at this time why I was trying to go pre-med, my answer would have been largely unremarkable. My grandfather was a doctor, my father is a doctor, and so with the same nonchalance someone uses to make an impulse purchase, I declared myself a biology major and decided I too, would be a doctor.
Of course, as my dad likes to say, between saying and doing the ocean is in between. Lacking both a knack for math and a talent for science, my eyes would glaze over during biology courses that sounded increasingly like gibberish to me. The more I struggled, the more I began to wonder what the hell I was doing pursuing this career. Speaking of careers, remember career counselors? I remember mine as being a middle-aged woman sitting in a cluttered office with one dusty window. I remember her short hair being disheveled and wondering why this woman was more qualified than any other adult to guide students into their future.
I booked an appointment and asked her if she had ever directed someone down the pre-med track who was as appallingly bad at science as I was. The answer, in short, was no. Walking out into the crisp fall weather, Indiana’s campus was the quintessential blend of collegiate and autumnal. Orange and brown leaves plastered themselves against the regal, stone buildings as if painted on. As a college kid, I was not one to look beyond that weekend’s party plans, but at that moment I was able to project myself into the future.
I imagined myself struggling through three more years of pre-med classes only to graduate with a below-average GPA and (if I was lucky) an invitation to a sub-par medical school. From there, I’d likely stumble my way through medical school and residency before ending up a mediocre doctor at one of those strip mall offices found sandwiched between a Jimmy Johns and Chase Bank.
Author Cheryl Strayed once wrote about the ghost ships of our lives. Whenever we close one of life’s doors, she imagines us as standing on the golden shores of our life, waving goodbye to a version of ourselves that will never come to be. In some cases, this can be difficult, such as waving goodbye to the idea of never becoming a mother or never living abroad in Paris. But in my case? Waving farewell to the ghost ship holding the next Dr. Vargas was not something I needed to mourn. I knew exactly what I wanted to do instead: write.
I received my first journal at age eight. That journal — a sky blue book with a photo of Bugs Bunny peering from its cover — was filled with the surface-level musings of a pre-pre-teen. My writing then wasn’t so much compelling as it was cathartic.
Did Josh really like me?
How come the other girls were already wearing bras?
Should I get a bra?!
The pages of that first journal became my sanctuary; a place where I could share my thoughts free of judgment or consequence. As I grew, the act of journaling became a way to translate the angsty knots of my teenage emotions into free-flowing prose. Through writing, I learned introspection, self-awareness, and found clarity. Deciding to change my major to journalism was, perhaps, the first time I decided to be proactive about what I want in life.
Despite warnings from my parents (writing doesn’t pay! How will you pay off your student loans!?) I abruptly pulled myself off the pre-med track and began to reassemble my future around words. Now, at the age of 33, writing is my career. I edit words. I write words. I read words. There’s a certain (admittedly nerdy) magic I feel when editing or writing a story. Like watching the pieces of a puzzle fall into a place, I can read a sentence aloud and just intuitively know when it sounds off or when it is just right.
Now, as an editor, I am not only in the position to shape stories, but I’m also in the position to help aspiring writers publish stories. This brings me to the main focus of this week’s newsletter. If you have ever aspired to be a travel writer or are currently a freelance writer, this one is for you.
Let’s talk basics
Like so many others, I was laid off at the start of the pandemic from my job as Travel Editor of The Infatuation. Since then, I’ve kept myself largely busy with Unearth Women, some other projects I’ve got going on, freelance writing, and applying for jobs. Recently, I shrugged off my unemployment title and joined Fodor’s Travel as an editor for their digital team. If you’re looking to pitch Fodor’s (or any publication, for that matter), here are some helpful suggestions:
Most publications will have writer guidelines on their website that specify the sort of stories they are looking to commission and how to send in a pitch. For example, here are the guidelines for Fodor’s Travel and Unearth Women.
Writer guidelines are extremely prescriptive and will tell you exactly what sort of stories the editors are looking for and in what format you should pitch. In short, these guidelines are meant to save you, the writer, time by telling you exactly what the editors are looking for.
All too often, I’ll receive emails from freelance writers that completely disregard the guidelines. It could be they are pitching a story that doesn’t make sense for our publication or are attaching a fully written article — whatever it is, you’re likely to get your pitch rejected if you don’t follow the guidelines.
When pitching a travel story, it’s important to have an angle beyond “I went to this country.” Did you discover a new culinary trend while backpacking in Thailand? Did you meet an inspiring entrepreneur while studying abroad in Spain? Did you stay at a brand-new ecolodge in Ecuador that hasn’t been covered yet? If you are looking to pitch a story inspired by a recent trip, consider focusing on the more interesting aspects of your adventure.
It’s also worth remembering that just because something was important to you, does not always mean it will translate to a larger audience. For example, if you got over a bad break-up while in Greece, that might read more like a diary entry than a travel article. Try pitching something like: “These are the Best Greek islands to Heal a Broken Heart.” Within that article, you can offer service elements to your readers (such as suggestions on places to stay) and weave in your own experience.
You have a stellar idea, you’ve read the writer’s guidelines, and now you’re ready to pitch an editor. Some tips to remember:
Always keep your emails short and concise. Your pitch shouldn’t be more than 1-2 paragraphs.
In your first paragraph, outline your story idea and make sure to include whether you can provide photography and any interviews you can secure. The key here is to eliminate the dreaded back-and-forth emails by giving the editor all the information they’ll need upfront.
In your second paragraph, tell the editor briefly about yourself and why you’re the one to write this story.
Avoid attachments. Use links instead.
Your e-mail subject should be a snappy headline.
If you’re going on a press trip, make sure to disclose that in your pitch email.
Have more questions on pitching?
Ted Lasso, an excellent travel book, and the BAM BUS
Ted Lasso is back with all his kindness and optimism, and I’m here for it. Watch it while wearing these slippers, which I’ve recently purchased and am obsessed with. I know the last thing any of us wants to do is buy from Amazon and fund another Jeff Bezos 10-minute space field trip, so you can get your pair from here instead.
If you’re looking for a good read, consider picking up Less by Andrew Sean Greer. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book follows the adventures of a struggling novelist who travels the world to avoid an awkward wedding. Speaking of travel, I am loving this story about the BAM BUS. Three women found out they were dating the same cheating boyfriend and decided to dump the loser, revamp a bus, and embark on a road trip together. Someone please write to Reese Witherspoon over at Hello Sunshine and tell her to make this a movie. Can’t you see it?