Taking the first steps on your travel writing journey can feel scary.
But, if you love the idea of calling yourself a travel writer, visiting exotic places, getting VIP treatment, and writing about your experiences, you first have to get your work published.
Many people dream of being a travel writer and have no idea how to get started. Or they know what to do but feel alone in the wilderness, with no support. And so they do nothing.
I get it. That’s where I was fourteen years ago. I told my wife I wanted to be a travel writer, but I didn’t have a clue how to go about doing it. Somehow I had to figure out how to move forward and get published. And I was in my fifties – was I crazy? What was I thinking?
It reminded me of another time in my life, many years ago.
I’ll never forget my first distance running race. As a very insecure, skinny 13-year-old, I was standing on the start line of a 2.5-mile cross-country race in Auckland, New Zealand.
I’d only been training for 6 months. The rest of the runners - about 80 of them in their colorful club uniforms - all looked more confident and fitter than me.
They also seemed so much bigger than me. I remember I was so nervous I couldn’t talk.
Suddenly, the starter’s gun went off. I bolted out with one of my training friends. There were plenty of runners ahead of us, and my only thought was “I don’t want to finish last!”
At half way, I started to feel better, a little more confident. I noticed many other runners were falling behind. Then my friend fell in a muddy stream. I stopped to wait for him and he yelled, “just take off!”
So that's what I did. I ran like a scared rabbit, to the final uphill stretch and through the finish line. I finished! And I wasn’t last. In fact, there were plenty of runners behind me.
Everyone from my club started gathering around, patting me on the back and saying “congratulations”. I had no idea why. Then someone told me I’d finished third!
Over the next 8 years, I went on to place in several dozen Auckland Championships on the track, road, and cross-country. I competed respectably in interprovincial races and in New Zealand Championships.
I no longer got nervous before my races. Every time I was successful, I gained more self-confidence in my abilities and it inspired me to go out there and do it again.
I had similar feelings when I started pitching my stories to magazine
editors, fourteen years ago. I was scared. I didn’t know whether my articles would sell. I worried that my story ideas would crash and burn.
I was afraid editors would reject my queries. And even if I sold a story, I wondered whether magazine editors would fling my articles back in my face as unpublishable.
But somehow, despite my lack of confidence and scant knowledge of freelance writing, I sent out a few query letters. And I sold some articles!
In fact, I sold three articles to print magazines in my first week. This built my confidence and I continued sending out queries. I got very good at it.
The rest is history. I went on to have more than 1,000 articles published, in 200+ regional, national, and international magazines, newspapers, trade journals, custom publications, specialty magazines, in-flights, on-boards, and online travel magazines.
We all have many “start lines” in our lives. Deciding to begin your travel writing journey is one of them. There’s some preparation needed. You read books and articles, you take workshops, you learn about the craft of writing a travel article. You do these things as your “training” just to get to the start line.
But at some point you will have collected enough information and you need to take your first steps beyond the start line. You have to send out a query letter - and then another - and another.
Stepping across the start line is the only way to take your writing dream and turn it into reality. I had to train before I could step up to the start line as a 13-year old. Then I had to take those first steps to become a competitive distance runner at the national level.
Fourteen years ago I stood on the freelance writing start line and sent out those first few query letters. I desperately wanted to get published. And if I hadn’t sent out those queries, I wouldn’t have broken into freelance writing. For the rest of my life I would have wondered, “Could I have got some stories published if I had tried?”
First steps are scary. But all you have to do is take one step at a time. Do this and your confidence will build as you start your travel writing journey.
When aspiring writers sit down at my workshops, or sign up for my coaching and mentoring program, I fully understand the self-doubts they’re feeling. But at least they’re getting to the start line and taking those first steps.
Taking those first steps on your travel writing journey feels scary. But once you do, you’ll learn it’s not so scary, after all. And if you don’t even try, you’ll never know if you could have made it.
Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past ten years, he’s had more than 1000 articles published in 200 magazines, trade and specialty journals, in-flights, on-boards, blogs and websites and has traveled on assignment around the U.S. and to dozens of international destinations.