Sooner or later the dreaded – or the wonderful happens. You have to travel. Whether for business, vacation, pleasure or other purposes, you can cull more than enough gems from almost any trip to spin off an article or two. It’s infinitely doable to generate a dozen articles or more from a week-long stay away from home. From personal interviews to restaurant reviews and local news pieces, let’s look at some possibilities.
Know Before You Go
In the military they always used to say, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. So it is too with the art and craft of writing. As soon as you know you’ve got a trip coming up start preparations. Before you go read up on York, Pennsylvania or wherever your destination is. Use the library and the internet. Check the phone book when you get to your hotel too. Let your fingers do the walking first, then your feet. Make a “practice run” at visiting your local markets and points of interest where you live.
Be Active – Look Around
Don’t stay cooped up in the hotel for any reason. It shouldn’t matter what it’s doing outside. If there’s a riot going on outdoors, for goodness’ sake go down and carefully snoop around t find out what’s going on. Take a walk if things are tranquil. With a note pad and pocket digital camera tucked in my pocket I walk a square pattern from the hotel – left out the front door, walk three blocks, turn left – walk three more blocks, left again and three more blocks. A final left turn with another three blocks of coverage and you should be at the corner of your hotel block. During this “stroll” I stop in stores and shops that pique my interest. Stay a bit and chat up anyone there who’s talkative. If it’s a quiet hour shopkeepers will often bend your ear with interesting tidbits. Record or jot them down. And be sure to get a business card from the shop. Note what businesses you find to identify a pattern. While you’re at it, get your hair styled or trimmed, chatting as you get “done”. An information-seeking stroll like this can take anywhere from half an hour to half a day or more and yield numerous gems and seeds of shorts or feature articles.
Collect Brochures, postcards and tourist info
The time to start serious data-gathering is immediately upon arrival. Duck into that magazine or souvenir shop at the terminal or station. Pick up a handful of postcards for the city or region to arm you with some possibilities. Grab a guidebook too if you don’t already have one. Information is also available at drugstores, pharmacies, newsstands and bookstores. Don’t just whip in and out. You’re information-gathering remember? Strike up a conversation with the clerk or other customers.
Read local newspapers, magazines and community tabloids
Ask at a local newsstand about the best local and specialty newspapers, magazines and tabloids. What! “I don’t read “those” kinds of papers”, you say? You don’t read tabloids? You do now. At least while you’re “away” – psst! Nobody’s going to know but you and I, and I promise you I won’t tell a soul. Honest. Read everything. Look at the classifieds. Read the ads and Obituaries too. Look for stories and angles and you’ll find them in some of the most unexpected places.
Eating out or with family, makes no difference, you’re going to gather material to do a “food” piece. Maybe a short using your Uncle Sam’s (I really had an uncle named Sam) beer and pretzel dip recipe. Your sister’s pot luck pride recipe is also grist for your article mill. Eating out? That’ll work too. Even the local (I said local) fast food joint is fodder (pun intended) for your article mill. Photograph the food. If they look at you strange ignore them. It’s your food, you paid for it and you’re going to eat it. Just say, “Oh, this looks sooo good I’ve just GOT to get a picture for my friends back home.” After this line, the chef will come out and pose for you. Don’t laugh, it’s happened to me more than a few times. Ask for a “Take Out” menu and business card too. They contain extraordinarily valuable information you’ll use later. Do three to five restaurants with food and exterior shots of the restaurants and you’ve got enough to query a feature article in a major publication.
Visit the Zoo and local Museums
Go with your brother Bernard and his yowling brats to the Zoo or other local kiddie emporium. You say you don’t like video games? You will THAT day. You’ll even try out a couple yourself (hint, hint). Photograph signs, entrances, exhibits and layouts for background to use with your articles. Oh yeah, take some pictures of Bernard’s mob too – especially “in action” at exhibits. Be sure to pick up maps, brochures and other available handouts to provide depth for your proposed pieces. Talk to the brats about their favorites. Chip in your “first hand” experiences in playing “Crabgrass!” yourself and you’ll be able to garner more than you’ll need for an in-depth, saleable piece. If you have markets already in mind, fine. If you don’t, don’t worry, just get everything you can. You’ll sort it out later over coffee and writer’s guidelines back home.
Spend time at the Market
Talk about an absolutely great place to snag a story or two – this is it. Take your pick or do’em all, supermarkets, fruit and produce markets, fish and seafood markets. They’re all tremendous article-producing sources. Take photos – lots of photos. Remember your “food” response line too if vendors want to know why. If you or your companions actually buy anything it’s automatic for you to take a photo. “Excuse me, but I’ve just GOT to have a picture of my brother buying one of those nice-looking “do-dads”. Unusual goods on sale? Ask about the story behind whatever it is. What’s it for? Who buys it? How long have they been selling that? How did they get started selling them? You can background research that item later for addition material for your query and article. With the pictures and “on-location” interview material you’re a shoo-in for a quick sale.
Take Photos of Everything
All along I’ve been saying to snap relevant photos of everything you can. This serves more than one purpose. One, you have material to illustrate your proposed piece. Another thing, photos will serve to capture textures, color and visual impact that will aid you in pounding out a precision piece full of sensory stimulation. Third, you can use your photos to ask others for more information on an item. “Have you ever used, seen, tried these?” “Really? Would you mind telling me about them.” If you shoot roll film (35mm is a standard) you can always have the pictures digitized at your favorite photo shop back home. Slides are useful and can also be transferred into a digital format.
Interview the Locals
“I’m too shy to interview people”, you say? Get over it. How are you going to fill your high-paying articles with quotes if you don’t talk to people? You needn’t come off like Walter Cronkite. This is up close and personal. Ask an innocent question. Listen attentively. Ask another question. Keep listening. Say you’d like to know even more, while continuing to listen attentively hanging on their every utterance. Women are usually so good at this it’s embarrassing. Men tend more to “Bogart” their way to information. Nevertheless, do what you have to in the time that you have. Information is the name of the game. No matter how you write, you must have something to say or it’s “game over”. So, get it when and while you can. Besides, people just love to talk about themselves and their interests. From the newsstand operator to the hotel desk clerk to waiters, waitresses and barbers or hairstylists, get them started and you’ll usually have no trouble at all.
So the next time a trip’s coming up, do a little preparation and you’ll be able to turn that trip into additional sources of income from the articles you’ll spin off and the photos you take. The time to bone up on your interview, food writing and photographic skills is starting right now. Soon, you’ll be “writing on the road” like a pro.
Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free.
For more information on entering or advancing in the fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language send for his no-cost PDF Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, immediate delivery details and no-obligation information are available online now at https://www.carddesigner.co.in/
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