Ways to get more bang for your travel buck
What does a travel writer do while waiting for the world to return to normal? Reminisce about past trips? Fantasize about future trips? Reorganize the sock drawer for the umpteenth time?
All of the above, plus reflect on what I’ve learned from my 14 years as a travel writer and almost 50 years as a professional psychologist. From this perspective, I have identified a few ways to enhance your travel experiences in a post-pandemic world.
Here are a few tips that will help you get more bang for your travel buck, have more fun on your trips, and possibly learn something about the world and yourself in the bargain:
Before the trip
Daydream. Remember your mother or your teachers telling you to stop daydreaming and get back to work? Well, they were wrong!
Besides being entertaining and helping you get through boring parts of your day, daydreaming can also help you plan for the future in general, and your trips in particular.
After learning as much about the trip as you can, daydream about it to make sure it’s something you really want to do. Imagine what you might be doing, where you will be doing it, and the conditions you might face (e.g., heat, rain, bugs, rocky trails, etc.). If it still seems like fun, do it. Otherwise, start looking for something else.
Daydreaming can also help you identify what to pack. Picture yourself engaging in daily activities. What are you wearing? What equipment or gear do you need? Also imagine being in your room in the evening. What will you need to have handy on the night table bedside your bed?
Get specific information about possible challenges. General ratings, like “easy,” “moderate” or “difficult,” only tell you so much. Find out exactly what’s behind the rating of the trail or tour.
For example, how much will you be walking each day, on what kind of surfaces and grades? Are the accommodations “rustic” or “primitive,” and what specifically does that mean? Will you have a private bathroom?
Do research, ask questions and factor all of that information in to make sure the trip is for you.
Train to get in shape. If it’s a walking trip, put in the miles and break in your walking or hiking shoes before you leave.
If it’s a biking trip, find out how many miles you will pedal each day and, if you can, get on your bike several days a week before the trip.
Go to the gym. Hire a trainer if you have any concerns or doubts. Nothing will make your trip more miserable than blisters, back pain or a sore butt.
During the trip
Dig deep for underlying themes. Successful travel writers look below the surface for unifying themes, truths, angles and insights that tie their trip experiences together, transforming their articles into something other than a journal of activities. This enables them to gain a deeper understanding of destinations for a richer, more fulfilling experience.
As Christopher P. Baker urges in a recent issue of the Writer’s Digest, try to “[g]et to the heart of your destination’s character.”
For example, on a recent cruise through the islands of eastern Indonesia, I discovered a more complex picture than the tropical paradise of lush, jungle-covered islands and reefs of colorful fish I expected.
Battle sites from WWII made it clear to me that “paradise” was in the eyes of the beholder and dependent on the context. For the Japanese and Allied soldiers who fought there, these islands were a hot, steamy hell.
This revelation transformed a fun trip of snorkeling, birdwatching and cruising into something more meaningful and potentially transformative. [See “Having peak experiences in Indonesia,” in our March 2020 issue.]
Find time to reflect and take notes. The temptation on many trips is to fill your day with as much activity as possible. The problem is, you need time to think about what you are experiencing, especially if you are striving for a deeper, more impactful trip.
Make sure you write your thoughts and impressions down as soon as you can before they fade from memory or are displaced by subsequent thoughts.
Like all writers, I find that the process of writing something down forces me to think more. Often, I don’t quite know what I think until I try to express my thoughts in writing. Keeping a journal often elicits previously unrevealed feelings, memories, connections and insights.
After the trip
Write a story about your trip, publish it (and maybe get a free trip next time). You’ve got the photos, information and pages and pages of notes. Why not write a story about your trip?
At the very least, it will provide an opportunity to relive the trip in your imagination and use that daydreaming muscle again. It might even be part of the legacy you leave behind for your grandkids, showing them just how adventuresome you are.
If it’s good enough, send it to your local newspaper or other community or special-interest publication (e.g., a food and wine magazine, a magazine for cyclists, kayakers, RVers, etc., or a newspaper for an over-50 audience). Spend some time thinking of a punchy subject line and a concise, compelling pitch in the body of the email.
If you don’t get a response in a few weeks, try again. If they publish it, they might even pay you (but don’t expect much — just enough in most cases to cover the cost of a good meal).
Most importantly, once you’re a published travel writer, you can ask businesses for free or reduced fees on lodgings, meals or other services on your next trip.
There are several key steps to follow to gain these perks:
- Verify that an editor is interested in a story.
- If they are, tell the hotel, tour operator, etc., that a publication has expressed interest in the story.
- Also tell them about the publication. Make sure to include information on its focus (e.g., food, wine, cycling, hiking, active seniors) and its readership, including total circulation and characteristics of their readers (e.g., average age, level of education, socio-economic level).
- Then ask the hotel, operator, etc., if they would be willing to “comp” you on the trip, or at least give you a media discount.
You are now on your way to becoming an actual travel writer. Take it from me, it may not be the best way to make a living, but it sure is a great way to live!