Travel Writing Coursework Or Course

An innovative MFA program at Iowa State University that fuses creative writing workshops, interdisciplinary coursework, and intensive field experience to help writers cultivate an understanding of the imprint of place, the natural world, and the environmental imagination on the poems, stories, and essays we create.

D E G R E E   R E Q U I R E M E N T S


  • ENGL 550: Creative Writing: Craft and Professional Practice — Taken in First Semester of Program
  • ENGL 551:  Master Workshop — Advanced Workshop on Thesis, Taken in Fifth Semester of Program
  • ENGL 543: Environmental Literature OR any literature graduate course with emphasis in environment, ecology, or science


Students may choose workshops from the following, and may repeat any up to a maximum of 12 credits for each course.

Every genre workshop offers a component on environmental or place-based creative writing.

  • ENGL 552x: Scriptwriting
  • ENGL 554: Workshop: Fiction
  • ENGL 555: Workshop: Nonfiction
  • ENGL 556: Workshop: Poetry
  • ENGL 557:  Studies in Creative Writing — Special Topics Course
  • ENGL 595b:  Graduate Study and Travel: Creative Writing


Students may choose from the following:

  • ENGL 557:  Studies in Creative Writing—Special Topics Course*
  • ENGL 558: Teaching Creative Writing
  • ENGL 559: Creative Writing Teaching Internship
  • ENGL 589:  Supervised Practicum in Literary Editing
  • ENGL 595b: Graduate Study and Travel: Creative Writing

*Students may take a graduate course in literature, linguistics, or RPC instead of ENGL 557 in this category with approval of the POS committee.


Students may repeat up to a maximum of 6 credits, 3 of which can be used in the POS.

Students design and complete a field experience relevant to their writing interests.

  • ENGL 560: Environmental Field Experience

Click here to download MFA Guidelines for Completion of ENGL 560

Click here to download MFA Environmental Field Experience (Engl 560) Proposal Form


Students design, in consultation with their adviser/major professor, a self-tailored core of interdisciplinary courses that allow them to pursue fields of knowledge relevant to their writing projects.  Selections can be made from any Iowa State University courses with an environmental focus offered outside the English Department. These courses may be at the graduate level; they may also be 300- or 400-level undergraduate courses used in accordance with English Department and Graduate College policy.

The MFA Environmental Courses Outside English Petition should be submitted to your adviser/major professor before taking environmental coursework and a complete petition by no later than week 7 of the student’s second semester of coursework even if it is a preliminary petition to be  updated later.

View List of Suggested Environmental Courses Outside English


Students may choose from any graduate literature courses in the English Department.


TAs may use ENGL 500 or 3 credits of SP CM 513 to fulfill this requirement.

  • Open Elective in English Department graduate courses


Students work intensively with a major professor to complete MFA thesis. ENGL 599: Creative Component is not an option.

  • ENGL 699:  Thesis/Research–intensive one-on-one thesis work with major professor.

Frequently Asked Questions

TOTAL PROGRAM OF STUDY : 54 credits minimum

Home :: Become a Travel Writer :: Free Travel Writing Course 

My Free Travel Writing Course

If you love to travel and love to write, this free travel writing course will get you one step closer.

It's a mammoth page, however, so I've added this short table of contents to help you navigate. Get your favorite writing implements out, sit back and let me unwrap the magic of travel writing for you.

Lesson 1: Angling your story
Lesson 2: Getting the facts, getting the story
Lesson 3: Letting the story speak for itself
Lesson 4: Turning your reader into a viewer
Lesson 5: The irresistible story
Lesson 6: The most important lesson of all
Additional courses and resources
Travel writing courses: Quick comparison chart

You don't have to be a brilliant writer, nor do you need to know everything about putting a story together. You do need passion, a desire to succeed, decent technique and an understanding of what editors want.

I can't give you the passion or the drive - but I can help you develop the technique and get into an editor's mind.

If you're in a hurry to jumpstart your travel writing career, my best advice is to take a great travel writing course. I've taken most of them and highly recommend Nomadic Matt's Travel Writing Course, taught by David Farley, a world-famous travel writer (who actually gives you personal feedback!)

Where should you start?

Right here.

A few years ago I wrote a six-part primer called The Travel Writing Magician to walk through some of the basics of becoming a money-earning travel writer. The course was distributed via email for years and eventually turned into an e-book. Now it's available below, in a single (meaty) article that covers all the basics of Writing Travel Articles that Sell - and it's all yours for the reading.

This piece combines my own decades of news reporting with great travel writing practice. I've written more than 2000 articles in my life as a journalist, and I now apply these techniques to my travel writing.

I'll show you how to...

  • Find an 'angle' for your story
  • Sell the same story over and over again and keep getting paid for it
  • Make your story irresistible to editors
  • Double your income by including photographs with your stories
  • Submit killer query letters that will be hard to turn down
  • Find the experts that will 'make' your story
  • Get most of your legwork done before you even leave home
  • Grab that headline
  • And a lot more!

Writing travel articles that sell

I worked my way across Africa by writing.

And Asia.

And the Caribbean.

I’ve worked from palm-fronded beaches, desert oases, icy mountaintops and tropical rainforests.

I swam with stingrays off the coast of Eritrea, got lost in the Amazon, fetched my own water and built my own cooking fire in the heart of Zimbabwe.

I have been privileged to see the world at my pace, combining my love of travel with my love of writing.

And you will too if you’re serious about writing stories that sell.

Now don’t get me wrong – it was a bit like roses: beautiful, but with plenty of thorns along the way. It’s not easy to make a living as a freelance writer, travel or otherwise: it takes hard work, a reasonable command of the English language and a helping hand from those who have done this before you.

So if you’ve always dreamed of travel writing and thought you couldn’t – think again. During these six lessons I’m going to share my hard-earned arsenal of tricks with you.

If you apply them and work (really hard) at learning your craft from the ground up, you’ll be getting closer to writing – and selling – your travel stories.

You'll have the freedom to travel and see the world, in a way you never dreamed.

Are you ready for the first lesson on how to be a professional travel writer?

Lets get started on the magic ingredients essential for a saleable story, one that an editor will be happy to pay you for.

Lesson 1: Angling your story

Getting the angle or the peg is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make when you write a story.

Without an angle, you have no story. You know what you’re seeing and what you want to write about. Now you have to figure out how to slant it.

Let me explain.


That's a destination.

“Paris is a big city.”

That’s a description.

“Even though Paris isn’t the world’s biggest city, it looms large in the heart of romantics everywhere.”

Not a great sentence, but it tells the beginning of a story – it has an angle, an idea, a perspective, an approach.

Writing a travel story isn’t about delirious descriptions or lists of must-see sights.

Editors can find these on any website or guidebook. Your job is to provide a little extra, a twist that will make something old seem new, or something common seem exceptional.

Do you know how few travel writers actually realize this?

Many writers think a good description, well-written, with plenty of colorful adjectives makes a great travel story (I know this because I too have been guilty of this kind of writing). Most editors, on the other hand, are looking for something more.

One technique I use to find new story angles when I’m writing about a place is to insert a word right after my destination.

Let me show you how.

We’re writing about Paris, right? So why not try:

  • Paris… romance
  • Paris food
  • Paris fashion
  • Paris language
  • Paris history
  • Paris museums
  • Paris flea markets
  • Paris streets
  • Paris fountains
  • Paris chocolate
  • Paris pastries
  • Paris theater…

Each one of these could easily yield a dozen story ideas.

Another technique I use is to ask these questions:

  • What’s new about this?
  • What’s first about this?
  • What’s biggest, smallest, oldest, youngest, best or worst about this?
  • What’s special about this?
  • What makes me the expert on this topic?

These are the things that will sell your writing.

Editors want to learn something from your piece: if they learn something, so will the reader. They want to feel excited and inspired by looking at a place through a different lens. You can provide that difference.

I hope this makes sense! In case it doesn’t yet, let me give you another example from my own experience.

On a trip to Thailand I didn’t write about my itinerary, nor did I provide a long list of tourist attractions. Here’s what I explored instead:

#1. Scrumptious Thai food – what it is, how to prepare it, how to shop for it, best restaurants, eating utensils, etiquette, unusual food specialties, the difference between Royal cuisine and common cuisine

#2. Relaxing beaches – where to bliss out, visiting The Beach film set, massages on the beach, best beaches, living cheaply on the beach, and the safety of beaches after the tsunami

#3. Shopping in Thailand – amazing Chattuchak Market, antique shops, tailored clothes at Thai prices, the history of Thai silk, Jim Thompson’s story, the ins and outs of bargaining

#4. Spiritual Thailand – best meditation retreats, reflexology on every street corner, Thai temples and what they mean

#5. Poverty – child beggars, refugees from Burma, deforestation in the North, trafficking of women and children (these aren’t technically travel stories, but I care about these issues so I wrote them – and sold them)

When you set out to write a travel story, remember – it’s not one story, it’s many. Imagine writing your own stories from each of these angles, and selling each to a different paper, magazine or site…

I pretty much did and I’ll show you how you can too.

So when you’re thinking of writing your travel story, ask yourself: can I find multiple angles?

If not, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’ll have fewers stories to write and to sell, so you’ll make less money. Imagine all that research about Paris just to sell one or two stories on the city as a destination. Not really worth it, is it?

I’ve given you plenty of ideas: now it’s time to come up with some of your own!

SELF-ASSIGNMENT #1: Practice finding angles

Choose a destination you can get to easily or that you know well - your own city, for example. Make a list of possible story angles. Don’t stop until you come up with at least 20. Then choose another destination and start again. And again. Once you’re confident about finding angles, challenge yourself: choose difficult destinations. The more ‘unexciting’ your choice, the harder you’ll have to work to find a great story angle. Remember, you’re laying important groundwork by doing this.

Lesson 2: Getting the facts, getting the story

Do you ever ask yourself how to get all the facts you need?

It happens to travel writers all the time. We travel to a destination, take copious notes, then come home to write, only to find huge gaps in our knowledge.

There’s only one way to avoid that: do your research before you go.

That’s right. Find out everything you can about your destination before you ever step on the plane.

And don’t worry, your ‘spontaneity’ won’t be ruined, on the contrary. By knowing as much as you can beforehand, you’re leaving yourself free to observe and absorb rather than trying to write every little detail down.

So how would I get started on my research?

Say my destination is Montreal. In winter. (Yes, people do visit then.) Here’s what my research path might look like.

Head to the library (or Wikipedia if you MUST)

The first thing I would do is go to a local library (or online, if I don't have a library nearby, which happens to be the case where I live in the French countryside) and check out a few history books to get the feel of the place – history of Canada, of Quebec, Indian and colonial times.

Tales of everyday life in times past, especially in winter, are great tidbits you’ll want to sprinkle through your story. What did people use for fuel? What did they wear? Eat? How did they spend the winter?

Read like a local

I then read some literature written by Montrealers or about Montrealers – authors like Mordecai Richler, for example – modern fiction but also historical novels, something that will tell me why things are the way they are.

What’s the story behind the Jacques Cartier bridge? What was the historical role of Old Montreal? Why is ice hockey so popular?

Lay the foundation

I then move to more general information. I’ll first buy or borrow a recent guidebook or two and read through to get the big picture.

Then, I’ll follow with a lengthy search online: official tourist office sites, Wikipedia (if you haven't stopped by yet), the CIA Factbook, BBC archives, blogs by Montrealers… any useful source of general information.

A word of warning though: by relying too much on the Internet, you’ll come up with the same information everyone else has – including mistakes.

This is lazy writing and can be dangerously inaccurate.

Read the news

I read the news, papers like the Montreal Gazette, magazines with websites, and national publications with Montreal content.

I need to get a sense of what a community thinks is important – not to mention the practical value of news. Will there be a strike during my stay? An election? Is there a crime wave? And of special importance in winter – what’s the weather like?

Map it out

I always want lots of maps – not the Google printout kind, either.

I want the hard, foldable ones that crunch in my hand, so I write to the Tourist Office – they often have free maps of the area, especially if you tell them you’re a travel writer.

Local brochures – a goldmine for travel writers

While I’m at it I also ask for any brochures to make sure I haven’t overlooked any obvious points of interest. You’d be surprised at how many tourist brochures actually contain offbeat information you won’t easily find elsewhere (and yes, despite the internet, plenty of tourist boards still believe that pretty colorful pamphlets will entice you!)

I may even set up an appointment to interview the head of the tourist office if I think it’s useful to my story.

Too much work? Not if you want to sell.

And now, the best for last…

Talk to people


You’ll have to get over it because some of your most memorable words will come from other people’s mouths. You’ll never know where a story will lead you if you’re not open to sharing yourself with others and vice versa.

And anyway, it makes travel so much more fun when the resident becomes the storyteller!

But who should you talk to?

First I look around my own networks, online and in person. Then I approach helpful travel forums like BootsNAll or Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree. I usually find hundreds of helpful posts and if I don’t, I just post my own questions there.

SELF-ASSIGNMENT #2: Learn to research

Choose a destination near you, one you don’t know intimately. Choose a story angle. Map out what your research would look like: What questions would you need to answer? What would you read? Who would you contact? What else would you do? Be as specific as you can because when you get your first assignment, this is exactly what you’ll have to do. And then do it for another story. And another, until this becomes second nature.

The research is essential.

Once you’re on the road, you’ll be able to concentrate on what’s around you. You’ll be free to let your creativity take over, safe in the knowledge that many of the facts you need are already neatly tucked away.

A final word on research: get it organized. It won’t be of much use if it’s scattered all over the house. Choose a system, manual or electronic, and be disciplined with your filing.

Lesson 3: Letting the story speak for itself

The best travel destination in the world won’t help you write and sell a story if you don’t have an angle (remember Lesson 1?).

And like it or not, one of the best ways to get an angle – not to mention authenticity and credibility – is by interviewing people. People like talking, sharing information and being taken seriously.

If you want to become a travel writer, you’ve got to learn to interview people.

It isn’t enough to do all the research and describe it beautifully – you need someone who ‘knows’ the destination.

This can be an expert – or just someone who has experienced what you are about to describe.

I’m about to share with you some of the ways you can…

1. Decide whom to interview.

2. Actually arrange the interview.

3. Conduct the interview.

4. Write it up once you have it.

We have but one goal here: to get your story written and preferably sold, turning you into a successful travel writer with a travel writing career you are passionate about.

And here’s how you can use interviews to reach that goal…

Find the “right people” for your interview.

Remember the Montreal in winter piece? You’ve found several potential angles (Lesson 1), done your research (Lesson 2), and now you need to bring it all to life and ‘make it real’ by getting the real story from the ‘experts’ (Lesson 3).

In other words, you’ll talk to people in the know – people who will tell you what they know about your chosen destination. And both of you will have fun doing it.

Here are some potential interviewees for your story:

  • Tourist board officials – to get the ‘official’ story: they’ll tell you what there is to do in Montreal in winter, the underground shopping arcade, hockey games and ice castles – anything officially “touristy”.
  • Normal people on the street – called a ‘streeter’ or ‘vox pop’: start a conversation with someone and ask, What is the best thing about winter in Montreal? What is the worst? How can you have fun here in winter? Why don’t you move to a warmer climate? Answers to these questions could lead your story into an entirely new direction.
  • Local tour guides – take the tour and interview the guide: What do people like most on the tour? What’s the least popular sight? Chances are their tastes will match those of your readers.
  • Winter lovers: ice sculptors, figure skaters, ski instructors, hockey players, everyone who makes a living out of turning winter into something fun
  • A local historian at the university: Why did people settle here despite the climate? How did cold and winter influence the history of the city? Are there any interesting anecdotes linking the city’s history to winter?
  • A celebrity or personality who still lives in Montreal and who hasn’t migrated to a warmer climate – why on earth is s/he still there? But yes, let's not dream - this last one is a toughie.

And when you return home… are there any famous Montrealers living in your city? What do they miss most? (If there are no famous expatriates, any Montrealer will do!)

Interviews will make your story that much more ‘real’. You don’t need many – for some short pieces, a single interview with a two-sentence quote will be enough. For longer stories, you may need two or three interviews.

How to ‘snag’ the interview

You should get your potential interviewees to WANT the interview, to desire it.

What? WANT to do the interview?

Absolutely. You’d be surprised how many people love being quoted.

Lets go back to our list of potential interviewees:

  • Tourist board officials: don’t worry, it’s their job to be interviewed. Just call their public relations or media office, tell them you’re a travel writer (sounds nice, doesn’t it?) and what you’re writing about. They’ll organize it. If this is your first stab at interviewing, your friendly tourism official is a great way to start. They actually want to share their information with you.
  • Everyday people on the street: just walk up to them and ask. Tell them who you are and why you’re asking. You’ll probably get one person out of five to talk to you… you only need a few. And, people often like to see their name in print so it may be easier than you think! If you’re too shy to stop people on the street, walk into a café and find someone who looks like they have a bit of time on their hands – reading a free newspaper, for instance, or gazing at everyone else.
  • Local tour guides: ask before you take the tour – a tour guide might need permission from his or her manager. You’ll rarely get a No, especially if you mention you’ll be quoting “so and so, a tour guide for X company” in your story. They get a plug, and you get the interview.
  • A local historian at the university: the public relations or press office of the university will be delighted to arrange it for you. Why would they have a press officer if they’re not looking for publicity?
  • A celebrity: you’ll usually have to track down their agent. Search the web for such things as ‘contact celebrities’ or ‘find celebrities’ and you’ll end up with more sites than you’ll be able to use.

Will they talk to you?

Not always, but more often than you think.

The good thing about interviewees is that if one person says No, you simply move on to the next on your list until you get a “yes”.

Persistence is part of the job.

Conducting the interview

Interviewing is part art, part skill. The good news is that the skill part can easily be learned.

An interview is… a conversation, led by someone curious (that would be you!)

Imagine you’ve just met someone and you want to get to know all about them. What do you do? You ask questions.

Prepare a few beforehand – just enough to get the ball rolling.

  • What do you think about…?
  • How do you feel about…?
  • What is the best…?
  • What is your least favorite…?
  • When is the best time to visit…?
  • What brought you to the…?
  • What is the most interesting thing about…?
  • How many…?
  • Who…?
  • When…?
  • Why…?

Just be curious, and the rest should naturally flow. Just avoid questions that can be answered by a Yes or No - that's an interview going nowhere.

As for recording the words of wisdom you’ll pluck during an interview, there are three ways I can think of:

  • By taking written notes – the most common way and the least intimidating for the interviewee (but the least complete for you)
  • By recording sound – with a professional device or a simple MP3 (make sure your subject doesn’t object) - but, technical things have been known to break down...
  • By recording pictures – with a digital video camera (again, check that it’s all right and that everything is in working order)

Each has its advantage but the more elaborate you get, the more intimidated your subject will feel.

Unless I’m actually producing a piece for radio or television, I take notes, often backed up by a recording on my iPhone.

Write down your quotes accurately. Get the person’s exact title. Spell his or her name properly. And always, always get a contact email or number so you can check things later. You’ll need to… there’s no such thing as getting everything right, all of the time, especially the first time.

How to use your interview

The biggest problem in writing up your interviews will be what to leave out, not what to use.

You may interview someone for half an hour and only use two sentences. In fact, this is more the rule than the exception.

Let me give you an example.

You’re interviewing the head of the Montreal Tourist Board. You’ll be asking all sorts of questions… how many people visit the city in winter, why, what are the selling points, what clothes to bring, what to avoid.

You might extract a few facts and figures from the interview and sprinkle them throughout your story, not as quotes but as background information. For example, you may tell your readers what clothes to bring, what temperature to expect, and how to get around despite the cold and snow, all of it based on information from your interview.

You’ll follow those facts with the interview segment itself, which might run something like this:

Few people think of visiting Montreal in winter, and that’s a shame,” said Jane Doe, President of the Tourist Board of Greater Montreal. “If anything, our city is more fun in winter than summer – where else could you learn to make an ice sculpture, skate a Figure 8 with an Olympic medallist as teacher, build an igloo, or shop indoors all day without having to step outside?

Can you see how short that is? And can you see how well the quote captures what you need to say? Quotes provide color and texture to your story. You can park the more boring facts elsewhere.

SELF-ASSIGNMENT #3: Interviewing

Choose one of the many story angles you developed in Lesson 1  and map out your interviews. Make a list of potential interviewees. Then make a list of 10 questions you would ask each of them. Try to imagine which bits you’ll use and where they’ll go. You’ll see an article beginning to take shape in your mind.

Interviewing someone is all about putting your common sense to work. Know what you want, then ask for it.

But be open-minded. You never know how someone might answer a question – and what path that answer might lead you down if you only listen.

Lesson 4: Turning your reader into a viewer

This series is dedicated to setting you apart from the crowd – to showing you how to write saleable travel articles.

If you can think up the angles, do the research, approach people for interviews and write up your story…

… you may have what it takes to make a real living out of this.

But there’s one other step…

How often have you heard this?

“A picture is worth 1000 words.”

I hear it from editors all the time: give me visuals! Sometimes photos (and video, if you’re submitting to a website) make the difference between a sale and a rejection.

If you can’t recreate your story through pictures, your editor may look for someone who can.

Your success or failure as a travel writer depends on just a few factors – and a visually appealing story is definitely one of them.

Imagine a beautifully written travel piece that tries to describe a coastal sunrise – splashing rays shimmering over the horizon, their light skipping across the sea foam… Very nice, but wouldn’t it be even better just to show one?

For example:

Better than 1,000 words, right?

With the range of affordable digital point-and-shoot cameras now on the market, it’s almost impossible to take a bad picture. I mostly use... my iPhone.

10 Simple tips to take professional photos

#1. Do your homework before you go. There might be a festival or special event taking place during your trip – a great photo opportunity you won’t want to miss.

#2. Spend a bit of time on composition. Get in close – remove the non-essentials from your picture. Keep your backgrounds uncluttered and simple – don’t distract your viewer.

#3. Never ‘bisect’ your photographs. In other words, don’t cut them in two, for example with the horizon across the middle. Use the ‘rule of thirds’ instead. Put your horizon in the top or bottom third of your picture. Faces too: position someone in the left or right side of your photograph, not in the middle. Leave that silly frontal look for a passport picture.

#4. Take colorful shots, but beware – not too much color. Force the eye to focus: a bright flower against a plain background will show up far better than a bright flower against a multi-colored background.

#5. The edge of your photograph may be straight, but the world around you isn’t. Find landscapes that curve or follow a line to soften the eye. If you do shoot a horizon, don’t shoot it at an angle. Unless you have a steady hand you’ll need a tripod (or a brick or a stone) to support your camera.

#6. Nothing is as compelling as a photograph with people. Just make sure you ask permission first. You don’t legally need a release if you’re using a photograph editorially as part of a newspaper or magazine story under what is known as ‘fair use’; you only need a release for advertisements or if you’re using the photograph to make money directly – on a mug or poster, for example.

However, many editors actually don’t know this and demand releases anyway so be prepared to provide them if it means the difference between making a sale or not.

#7. Photograph people going about their daily routines. Avoid the group or head shot. There’s nothing as boring as a group of people standing around staring at the camera.

#8. Be aware that some places apply strict rules to photography. I was once chased around a Nigerian market with a machete because I tried to photograph a vegetable seller without her permission. In some countries many things are out of bounds, from military buildings to airports and sometimes even schools. Check first.

#9. Choose your camera wisely. Nothing too complicated – you need something simple and easy to carry. Just make sure it’s sturdy. With digital photography you can check your photographs on the spot and if you don’t like what you see, shoot again. If you're taking a camera, carry a spare battery and memory cards – they do corrupt. Or get lost. And back up at the end of each day.

#10. Finally – read the manual! Don’t wait until a glorious sunset to decipher instructions. Yes, you can edit later but the more you get it right from the start, the better.

A quick word on photo guidelines

Magazines and websites usually have guidelines for photographers.

Most magazines (fewer every day) used to insist on 35mm slides, now replaced by high-resolution digital shots. Guidelines are different for each publication, so check before you submit.

I can’t let you go without giving you one last tip: when you get to your destination, your first stop should be the postcard shop.

Have a look at what the pros are shooting – especially the angles and composition – and use the image to inspire up your own.

If you’re interviewing someone, place them in that picture. If these postcards sell by the thousands, your similarly-framed shots should sell too. Once you’ve got the basic shot wrapped up, then you can experiment. But get your main shot first.

SELF-ASSIGNMENT #4: Thinking visually

Choose a destination you’d like to visit and make a list of 10 photographs you might take there. Explain how each shot would contribute to your story. Include not only landscapes and sights of interest but people as well. Who or what would you shoot? Why? Why one shot and not another? Write captions for each story. Will they add information to what’s already in the photograph?

Lesson 5: The irresistible story

We’ve talked about the importance of finding a story angle, researching the story, snagging great interviews and taking fantastic photographs…

Now, learn how to make your story so compelling an editor won’t be able to resist it – and will pay to publish it!

In case you haven’t noticed, this entire guide is focused on getting an editor to: 1) read your story, and 2) to buy it.

And if the editor doesn’t first read your story, she can’t buy it.

If she does read it, she’ll have to like it so much she’ll be desperate to buy it (and isn’t this exactly the response you want?)

I can’t say it any more clearly: your career as a travel writer depends on whether an editor reads your story, and then buys it.

And it all starts with a gripping headline. Here’s what I mean.

1. Keep it short. 

The shorter the headline the better. Keep it to five words, seven at most. Make every word count. Draw pictures with your words.

  • Poor: Many Different Styles of Cooking Coexist in Dubai
  • Better: Dubai’s Delicious Diversity

2. Keep it active rather than passive.

  • Poor: Man is Bitten by Dog
  • Better: Dog Bites Man

3. Keep it honest.  

A flashy headline is great – but only if it’s true. I write the headline after I’ve written the story. Others do the opposite. No matter, as long as the two match. Don’t make promises or raise expectations in the headline that you fail to deliver in the story.

4. Go for the familiar. 

Sounds of Silence on Cape Cod
Plays on your knowledge of music, and notice the cadence of sounds?

Le Tour du Chocolat
Even if you don’t speak French there’s a good chance you’ll know this is about travel, France and chocolate.

Out of Africa, the Wisdom of a Warrior
Plays on a movie and on rhythm and alliteration (note the constant consonants – W and W).

These three headlines from the New York Times travel section play on familiarity – things you may know or have heard of, but not necessarily in the same context. Still, they’re familiar.

5. Keep it gripping. 

A headline grips the reader’s attention – but it must also grab the editor. Use poetry and alliteration. Make your headline sing and dance. Use numbers. Use superlatives. Use active verbs.

6. Keep it clear. 

There’s little worse than an ambiguous headline, especially one trying to be funny or to deliver puns that fall flat and only confuse the reader (again, I sadly speak from experience). Have a look at these bad headlines and you’ll see what I mean. Stay away from being clever – you rarely will be. If you can’t think of anything brilliant or creative, just be clear and succinct – tell the reader what to expect in the story, and then deliver.

Here are a few examples of clear headlines that deliver on their promise:

  • Comfort Food at Comforting Prices in Paris (New York Times, 2004)
  • 9 Days in Switzerland, by Trail and by Rail (Marco Polo Magazine, 2004)
  • Wild Ways: Beyond Victoria’s manicured gardens (Islands, 2003)
  • For sail: A slower, smaller option (Chicago Tribune, 2003)
  • The High Cost of Low Fares (Conde Nast Traveler, 2003)

So lets just recap: what goes into a good headline?

  • It is short.
  • It is active.
  • It is honest.
  • It grabs you.
  • It is specific.
  • It is clear.
  • It feels familiar.
  • It leads into the story.

Here’s what your headline should not be:

  • It shouldn’t be vague or general.
  • It shouldn’t ask a question the story doesn’t answer.
  • It shouldn’t be passive.
  • It shouldn’t be clever just for the sake of it.
  • It shouldn’t be too cute – rhymes, puns and humor only work if they are extraordinarily good.

By now it should come as no surprise that writing a good headline can be harder than writing a good story – and may take as much time to write. 

SELF-ASSIGNMENT #5: Crafting headlines

Get a copy of your weekend newspaper travel section and look at the headlines. Are they any good? Do they fit the criteria for good headlines? How so? If not, how could you improve them? Now choose a travel destination and a great story angle. Write three headlines for your story. Once you’re satisfied, write three more. (For practice I once wrote 10 headlines a day for 30 days.) The headline is crucial: it can sell your story. Not that easy, is it?

Lesson 6: The most important lesson of all

It’s now time for me to share my number one technique to guarantee you actually make money travel writing rather than just feed your passion.

If you don’t apply this lesson, you may become a wonderful travel writer – but you won’t make a living at it.

The secret to making money as a travel writer is to sell the same story over and over again – in other words, to recycle it! It’s the only way to make a (possibly) decent living.

Most travel writing doesn’t pay much so you have to stretch every trip as far as you can.

Remember how in our first lesson we discussed finding new angles to old stories?

This is a similar technique but it goes a step further. Not only do you find lots of angles for a single story, but you also market to several publications.

If you visit the Alps on a skiing trip, you could easily query a skiing magazine with an obvious skiing in the Alps story.

But that’s just one story.

Now imagine this:

  • You query food magazines – with stories about cheese fondue, tartiflette and raclette, and other popular Alpine after-skiing foods.
  • You query backpacking magazines – with stories about hiking Alpine trails, ultralight backpacks or how to survive at high altitude.
  • You query winter sports magazines about winter hiking in the Alps, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
  • You query an architecture or building magazine about Swiss chalet architecture.
  • You query a popular nature magazine about unusual Alpine flowers or the story behind the endangered eidleweiss.
  • You query a real estate magazine about how to rent or buy or renovate an Alpine chalet.
  • You query a sports clothing and equipment magazine about what’s cool and unusual on the international slopes this year.
  • You query a transport magazine about picturesque private trains still operating in the Swiss Alps.
  • You query mainstream travel magazines, websites and newspaper travel sections with destination pieces covering the region as a whole (Alps), broken down by country (French Alps, Italian Alps, Swiss Alps, Austrian Alps, Northern Alps, Southern Alps…) or resort (Zermatt, Chamonix).

I can think of dozens more.

And since you’re in the region, why not write some great destination pieces on one of the nearby cities like Geneva or Lyon?

You get the picture.

Take one trip, and resell it dozens of times simply by changing the angle and the market. That’s recycling.

It’s quite straightforward. First, check the publication’s writers’ guidelines (I’ve prepared this fun little downloadable guide that demystifies guidelines for you).

Then, have a look at a sample query or pitch, adapt the content to your chosen publication and send it to the appropriate editor. Repeat for each submission.

The trick is to think this through before you travel so you’ll know what to look for once you’re there. Unless you’re planning a food story, you might not ask a chef for the secret ingredient in his tartiflette or the tourist board about the history of fondue.

SELF-ASSIGNMENT #6: Recycling your stories

Pick one of your best story angles and sit with it for a bit. Make a list of 10 new stories – spinoffs – based on that original story. Each special feature of your destination can become its own story. You should easily be able to come up with 10 ways to recycle your original story with a new target audience in mind every time. If you can do this over and over again for a dozen stories, you’ll be ready to start thinking of selling.

You now have everything you need to get started on your travel writing career.

I’d like to wish you all the best in your quest to become a travel writer! If you want to see the world and get paid for it, you’ve taken the first few steps. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed immediately – I didn’t, and neither did most writers I know.

It takes practice to develop the craft of writing, and the best way to practice is to keep writing, keep submitting, keep rewriting – and eventually you'll keep selling.

(This six-part article, with the title How to Write Travel Stories That Sell, was originally published on TravelBloggerAcademy.)

Not untypical of my writing life! At other times I've been on the beach by the ocean, on mountains or cafés, in restaurants or offices or airplanes... anywhere goes!

Now that you've read my free travel writing course...

You've covered the basics.

Still want to become a travel writer?

Then you may have to push further, depending on your skills.

If you're a gifted writer with a knack for marketing yourself, then go for it! Start pitching.

If you don't feel ready to write for pay and need to hone your craft, take a travel writing course (after five decades of professional writing, I still take courses). Inventor Thomas Alva Edison once said: "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." The same can be said for travel writing.

Here are my three tested suggestions - I've taken every one of these myself.

Nomadic Matt's Superstar Course - cutting edge advice from David Farley

The travel writing course

I recently completed Nomadic Matt's course and was surprised at how thorough it was and at how much I learned (yes, I'm still learning too.) This course is absolutely topnotch but its benefits go way beyond the course itself: the course is taught by none other than David Farley, who has been published in major travel and news media more often than I've had Sundays (or so it seems).

Not only is David a topflight, award-winning writer - he provides personal feedback to students. Yes, you read that right. An acclaimed travel writer who actually reads what you write and delivers constructive criticism.

The course has everything you need to succeed as a travel writer, the kind of writer that gets bylines in major newspapers and magazines. Here's just a taste of what you'll get:

  • the key rules of writing - how to create a story and structure the narrative flow
  • how to be descriptive, use correct grammar, avoid clichés and self-edit
  • examples of stories before and after editing
  • how to make sure your reader hangs on to every word
  • how to research any destination
  • how to pitch, examples of good and bad pitches, and how to submit the articles editors want
  • how to write book proposals

This is the course you should take if you want to become a professional travel writer or get into freelance travel writing, and set yourself apart from other writers in this hard-to-crack and competitive market.

Worth every penny of its US$485 price tag (in 5 installments of $97).

The travel blogging course

It used to be called Travel Blog Success but now it's part of Superstar Blogging. This is for those of you who want to become bloggers rather than travel writers - in other words, to launch your own blog, write for yourself and eventually learn how to make money travel blogging. 

This course and community was put together by several successful travel bloggers. It is much more than a course, although I had no idea until I joined it. The package of lessons teaches you absolutely everything you need to know to launch your own travel blog, from SEO to Wordpress to how to tell great stories, along with great travel blogging instructions and advice. 

This is the course you should take if you want to launch your own travel blog and make money with it: for beginners.

The coursework is great but there's a lot more:

  • a lively Facebook group to which some of the world's top travel blogging names belong - and in which they participate actively
  • a forum in which to ask all techie questions you can never figure out and share ideas about marketing and monetization and a million other things
  • dozens of webinars and Q&As and interviews, each focused on a specific slice of travel blogging, from getting press trips to revving up your Instagram feed to finding your voice as a writer (including one by yours truly on building your email list)
  • a really responsive team that makes sure your questions get answered fast

So writing, yes, but also everything you'll need to set up your own successful travel blog. I'm on their Facebook group nearly every day and while I've been online since early 2007, I still learn something new each time.

If you're starting out as a travel blogger, overwhelmed and don't know where to turn, this is the place to start. 

The Ultimate Travel Writer's Program - a travel writing classic

The Ultimate Travel Writing Course is the first travel writing course I ever took, many years ago: it's professional and traditional, a classic that still delivers the goods. It's been refurbished and renewed and looks great, even though some of the examples used as headlines or stories are a bit old (but, still very good!)

This is the course you should take if you're just starting out and wondering if travel writing is for you - and if you want to learn the solid rules of travel writing (although the course delivers plenty on reaching and pleasing editors).

  • This is an excellent course for potential writers who are serious about their craft - writers who believe good writing lies at the heart of the publication process.
  • This is the course for travel writers who ultimately want to see their bylines on the cover of glossy magazines and while it does include writing for the web, that's not its specialty.
  • If you like being guided through your learning in small steps, this course will do exactly that.
  • It is structured like a traditional course and that provides familiarity and comfort.
  • This course has its own travel magazine so you're almost guaranteed a sale or two to get you started (as long as you write a good story, of course).

This is the least expensive option at US$ 249. 

Quick course comparison chart

Course Name





YES - Instructor and Facebook group

For all levels but includes several advanced modules if you want to take your writing to the next level.

Professional travel writing course taught by award-winning travel writer David Farley. NOT a travel blogging course (see the next entry) but for those who want to see their bylines on the masthead.

Buy Now!

Best for beginners who haven't started their travel blog or who are still new to it.

Membership site with excellent "blogger starter kit" on various aspects of blogging and making money with your blog. Very active Facebook page where beginners post questions often answered by the world's top travel bloggers.

Buy Now!

US$ 249 (or 7 x $35 plus 1 x $45)

For writers rather than bloggers, especially beginners-intermediates who want to polish their writing.

Possibly the first travel writing course online. Solid, time-tested advice aimed at writers who want to pitch magazines. A good third of the course is on the craft of freelancing, helpful if you want to sell your writing.

Buy Now!



YES - Instructor and Facebook group


For all levels but includes several advanced modules if you want to take your writing to the next level.


Professional travel writing course taught by award-winning travel writer David Farley. NOT a travel blogging course (see the next entry) but for those who want to see their bylines on the masthead.



Best for beginners who haven't started their travel blog or who are still new to it.


Membership site with excellent "blogger starter kit" on various aspects of blogging and making money with your blog. Very active Facebook page where beginners post questions often answered by the world's top travel bloggers.


US$ 249 (or 7 x $35 plus 1 x $45)



For writers rather than bloggers, especially beginners-intermediates who want to polish their writing.


Possibly the first travel writing course online. Solid, time-tested advice aimed at writers who want to pitch magazines. A good third of the course is on the craft of freelancing, helpful if you want to sell your writing.

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