Trip Planning for Travel Writers

By Roy Stevenson

Rigorous trip planning is an important part of any major domestic trip or international journey. Travel writers need to be well prepared to get the most out of  every trip. 

Since travel writing is a business, you want to make sure you're planning the trip with your assignments in mind. If you just "wing it", you'll likely make some bad decisions and take a hit in your wallet. And you might not spend enough time in the right places to do justice to your assignments.

To thoroughly plan your important trips, here are seven steps you can follow:

Trip planning is important for travel writers if you want to make the most of every trip.

Trip Planning includes a Safety Check

Before starting your preparations, you'll want to check safety conditions in your potential destination.  It goes without saying that you don’t want to travel to a war zone or political flashpoint.  Certainly some journalists will want to go to these places, but usually not travel writers.  We tend to enjoy going to more pleasant destinations.

The U.S. Department of State website is a good reference for checking your potential travel destination for any travel advisories.  You can find travel alerts for short-term conditions such as cyclone season in the South Pacific, or spring break in Mexico, for example.  There are travel warnings for long-term conditions such as dangers and/or instability of a country.  And you can get country-specific information for any country in the world, friendly or otherwise.

This website is also a good starting point for all kinds of information such as entry/exit requirements, passport and visa requirements, safety and security, medical facilities, and much more.  Although the website is written primarily for U.S. citizens traveling abroad, it’s still got valuable information about every country that could be beneficial no matter where you are from. 

The point is – consider travel safety as your first step in trip planning.  Here are my top ten travel safety tips for your next trip.

Research Your Destination

Once you've decided on your destination, your next “trip planning” task is to gather information about that destination.  You'll need a solid reference base in order to dream up potential story ideas and research is the foundation. 

Use guidebooks, search the internet, and contact the destination tourist office for information. 

I like to do an internet search for articles by other travel writers to see their take on the place.  Reading articles by other writers gives you an idea about what’s already been written about the place. The aim of this exercise is to trigger some new ideas.

For an international trip, it takes me several days to gather my reference material and read through it. But spending this time doing research at the beginning really pays off. 

Select Your Story Ideas

From your research and reading, it’s time to select potential stories to pitch to magazines.  Yes, that is plural.  You need to be thinking in terms of multiple stories, not just one.  And you need to be thinking in terms of multiple publications, print and online. 

Maybe there was a time when you only needed one story for one trip, but not these days.  Unless you’ve landed an assignment with all expenses paid, you want to make the trip profitable by selling several stories and landing multiple assignments. You can get ideas about story ideas that sell in my ebook.

The more assignments you have in-hand, the more money you'll make from your trip.  On one of my annual trips to Europe I rounded up 23 articles for 11 different magazines, including one article that paid over $1,000. Although this sounds overwhelming and it did keep me busy, I made a profit on the trip and really got around Europe.

Also, the more assignments you have in-hand prior to the trip, the more likely you can request and will be offered comps to cover some of your costs.  If you're not sure how to go about asking for assistance from CVBs (Convention & Visitors Bureaus) you can learn more in my book How to Land Press Trips and Fam Tours.

Then start pitching your story ideas. This is a big topic and you can find more information about how to get your work published here.

Create Your Itinerary

Now that you know what you want to see and have selected your places, it’s time to flesh out a tentative day-by-day schedule.  On this calendar, you list the places you’ll be seeing each day.  Having a detailed, daily itinerary is especially important for overseas trips, so you can make the most of your time.

Your trip planning should also include estimating the amount of time needed to visit each attraction.  This builds some structure into your day so that you won’t get so caught up seeing one place and end up missing the others. 

Flexibility is also important.  Try not to book yourself too tightly – often there are things you’ll want to see that you didn’t plan for and you need some time to build these things in.  Some things take more time than you planned, either because of transport or crowds. Or perhaps a place is even more interesting than you anticipated and you need more time there. 

Be sure and leave yourself a little breathing room to enjoy your visit.

Food and Lodging

With the details done and a few assignments in hand, create a list of cities you will visit if you're going to more than one place. Work with CVBs once you have assignments so they can help you with lodging and food. Otherwise, do a search for accommodations that fit within your budget.

If I’m paying for the lodging, my trip planning includes looking for budget accommodations near the tourist hot spots, usually close to the center of the town.  Although accommodation costs tend to be lower further away from the center of town, you’ll end up wasting time catching transport into the city center and sometimes this adds quite a bit to the cost of the trip.  Time is money when you’re on the road, so find convenient places to stay.

This is where a good map and good internet resources come in.  I use travel websites to start my search and then work from there.  Read reviews for hotels you’re considering and locate them on the map before making your bookings.

If you're writing about food and restaurants, your trip planning should include selecting the places you'll be writing about.  If these are trendy, popular restaurants make sure you book reservations in advance. 

If you’re not writing about food, then you can wait until you get there and find places where the locals eat.  Stay away from tourist restaurants. You can also find grocery stores or, depending on where you're going, street food.

Book Your Transportation

Your trip planning isn’t complete until you arrange your transportation.  I do this after I've put together my draft itinerary so I know exactly how long I need to stay in each place. 

Obviously, you are sometimes limited by how many days you can get away – but changing airfares these days is very costly.  Book your transportation when you feel confident that you’ve included everything you need to see in your itinerary. 

Booking transportation includes round trip air tickets and internal flights within the country or region you’re visiting, if needed.  It also includes rental cars, trains and/or coach bookings.  Arranging as many of these things in advance makes it more likely to have a smooth trip once you arrive at your destination. 

Trip Planning Summary

So just a quick summary of  my trip planning process for international trips and major destinations. 

  1. Do a safety check
  2. Research your destination
  3. Select potential story ideas
  4. Pitch your stories & get assignments
  5. Create your itinerary
  6. Work with CVBs for assistance
  7. Book lodging & transport

Following the above steps will ensure that you make the most of your trip once you’re there and you'll get the most profit from your travel writing.

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Roy Stevenson sitting in front of his computer.

Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of  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.