Emily Corak:
My Freelance Travel Writing Story

By Emily Corak

When I left my job in education after 12 years, I never remotely considered writing as a feasible option. I’d always loved writing – I’d even earned an MFA in creative writing because I loved it so much, but it felt like a means for personal expression and enjoyment. I’d even had a few things published, but never received a dime. The act of being published was its own reward! Making money as a writer? Ha! I’d leave that endeavor to the real writers.

emily corak Charleston medium

But whenever I had a few spare moments, I kept googling travel writing courses. I told myself it was strictly out of curiosity, not because I thought it was a realistic option.

I’d spent a lot of time traveling when I was younger - I took my first international trip at age 14 to Tunisia to visit where my dad had grown up. I visited a friend in Norway numerous times, taught in China, went scuba diving in Belize, spent summers volunteering in Bangladesh, and studied abroad in Italy. But when my children came along in my early thirties, I feared my traveling would be limited to quick coastal getaways with the occasional trek to Disneyland.

I stumbled upon Roy Stevenson’s workshops online in 2019 on one of my many Google explorations and I had an inkling that this was something I should do. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I bookmarked the page and kept coming back to it, reviewing all the details about his workshop in Charleston even though I was still a high school English teacher at the time. I worried that it would be impractical and a little self-indulgent because who did I think I was? The most adventurous trip I’d taken recently was braving impatient toddlers in line for the teacups!

Luckily, my intuition won out and I booked the weeklong masterclass with Linda and Roy in Charleston, SC, for the summer of 2020. Roy’s course was postponed for 2 years due to the Coronavirus, but I finally got to attend it in June 2022.

Emily Corak and Her Travel Writing Successes

It turns out my intuition was on to something. I spent mornings inside the air conditioned classroom, learning alongside my fellow students from Roy and Linda about the art of travel writing, photography, and how to pitch and market your work to editors.

This was all brand new to me – pitching is an art that had completely eluded me prior to the workshop. Afternoons were allotted for exploring Charleston and coming up with travel writing material. I produced an article during the class and would later be published in Confetti Travel Café.

I learned about not only how to craft a story, but how to look for story ideas in all my travels — even local ones. I’d never even considered looking in my own backyard for potential ideas!

I went home from the trip with a newfound love of fried green tomatoes and a notebook full of ideas. Roy gave a great deal of insight on where to find homes for these story ideas, and he recommended pursuing local and regional publications as a great place to start. I pitched my first idea to our local Vancouver Family Magazine, only to discover they’d just published an article on my topic the previous month. This served as a great reminder to do your research!

Luckily, I came up with another idea, pitched it, and it was received with enthusiasm. I was about to write my first paid article! I spent enormous amounts of time getting it right and wanting to make a solid first impression. It worked!

The editor contacted me afterwards to ask if she could assign me an article she had coming up for the next month. I’ve been writing for them ever since – it’s a hybrid of pitching my own ideas and being assigned articles, a powerful reminder that a good relationship with an editor can foster lots of consistent work!

I gained some confidence and was starting to pitch to outlets. This can be both exhilarating and also anticlimactic -– sometimes an email goes out into the void never to be heard from again. Sometimes editors take over a month to get back to you, and sometimes they express interest only to ghost you soon after.

I heard back from PADI Magazine almost immediately after reading they wanted more stories from women divers; the editor asked when we could set up a meeting to talk and then never responded to me again! Freelance writing can be a game of many ups and downs and I’m learning that you just can’t take it too personally. Time to move on and keep pitching.

Because of my attendance at the Charleston workshop, I received an invitation to Northwest Travel and Words, a conference run by Allen Cox, editor of Northwest Travel and Life Magazine. Cue the imposter syndrome! This conference is designed for representatives of various Pacific Northwest destinations and writers to meet in a format akin to speed dating. We would chat for 15 minutes to find our overlapping interests and see what stories could come from these, to benefit the writers and the destination marketing organizations.

The established writers at the workshop couldn’t have been nicer and were full of encouragement for burgeoning newcomers, and the destination reps provided inspiration galore. The conference hosts also took an immense pride in showing off their area -– I ate at a traditional Native American salmon bake and it’s ruined all future salmon for me. It was that good!

It was at this conference that I made my first initial contacts for destinations and was offered my first press trip to explore the Great Oaks Food Trail in Polk County, just outside Salem, Oregon. We were wined, dined and transported in a swanky party bus and I met the most incredible writers. This would have been unimaginable to me six months before – people really got complimentary trips in exchange for writing? I pitched an article idea to my local editor, asked Roy to look over it (thanks!) and got to write about the experience.

emily corak and family mediumEmily Corak and her family hiking on a press trip in the Pacific Northwest

One of my most significant triumphs came after the conference. I’d connected with an Amtrak representative and told her about the challenges of road tripping with young children and how much I adored the train for its practicality and nostalgia. “There’s your story angle,” she said. “Pitch it.” The article was picked up by Northwest Travel and Life and I was able to take my family on a train trip to Vancouver B.C. and explore the area through generous comps. When you’re polite and respectful, people are generally very willing to work with you and help you in any capacity they can, and it ended up being an amazing trip with very little cost to our family! Six months later, I got to see my article in a magazine on the shelves at Barnes and Noble – a huge win for me!

I’m still learning all the time. I still deal with a mix of rejection and victories, which is the life of a freelance writer. I finally ventured out of the country with my children and am now looking for homes for articles on traveling to Costa Rica with kids and how to adapt from being a solo traveler to a parenting traveler! I’ve been able to explore locally and have upcoming regional trips to Bellingham and Long Beach, Washington, and Medford, Oregon, for local articles. I get to be a local tourist in my own backyard!

Sometimes our intuition steers us exactly where we need to go, and I’m thankful it lead me here!

A Few of Emily Corak’s Clips









emily corak and husband mediumEmily Corak and her husband on the water in the Pacific Northwest

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