How to Be a Travel Writer When You’re Not Traveling

You can still write about travel even if you’re stuck at home, advises Newsweek travel editor Kathleen Rellihan

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Underwater car sculpture Photo © Getty Images / Donald Miralle

How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? That’s a question on many writers and editors minds while were living through the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re locked down and our wings are clipped but even when the world isn’t living through a pandemic, travel writers – a fact surprising to some – are not always traveling. Perhaps a travel writer has family commitments, a day job keeping them at home, a new baby or a lack of funds. Or maybe they simply need a break from the constant go-go travel life.

If a travel writer isn’t traveling, that doesn’t mean they can’t be writing in-depth or first-person stories about travel. They merely need to think outside the typical 'I went here' tales and dig into stories they can tell while they’re at home.

Unearth a new story

Reflecting on past travel experiences can open up fresh opportunities. Is there a story you haven’t told but perhaps its relevant now more than ever? Maybe you visited a country that’s celebrating a milestone soon and it’s time to look back on your travels there.

I didn’t write about climbing Mt. Elbrus for over a year after my trip; I was waiting for the perfect timing and when Russian-American politics brewed up in the news again. I knew telling another side of Russia would be important and timely to an American travel audience. My pitch was accepted a year later during heated political discussions.

Politics aside, a country’s peaks and its people need to be experienced firsthand. So, while I didn’t write about those politics exactly, I seized the moment to write a story about why you would consider climbing a mountain in Russia – the highest in Europe – despite its politics, stereotypes or simply because you haven’t heard about this side of the world much yet.

Interview people virtually

I’ll remember the pandemic of 2020 for many reasons, one of which is I interviewed Dr Jane Goodall while in lockdown. This global icon still travels 300 days of the year with an indefatigable drive to change our world. That is, Goodall was traveling that much before the pandemic. So luckily for me, I was about to catch this highly sought-after octogenarian and squeeze in about 20 minutes of her time to talk about what hope she has for the planet – and how tourism can play a positive role in it.

Interviewing people virtually lets you focus on their perspective. I interviewed British eco-artist and sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, who creates underwater art worlds all over the globe that act as artificial reefs for new ecosystems to thrive.

Sure, I would have loved to have seen his art underwater or interviewed him in Australia, where he was working on his new underwater art museum, but being able to do a WhatsApp interview across multiple time zones enabled me to talk to him while he was in the midst of creating this new massive submerged sculpture park, all while I was home in New York.

Of course, I want to experience his art where it should be viewed – under the sea – but this way I was able to focus on his story and his work more in-depth. Next, I’ll write about my experience seeing it underwater.

Broaden what travel writing means

Travel writing is a combination of experiencing other cultures, writing about unique perspectives, dispelling stereotypes about the world and exploring facets of the human experience. So you don’t have to think so literally about travel as going from point A to point B, “here’s where I went and what I did there.”

This is the time to broaden your scope and think about travel writing as culture writing. How can you write about culture and the world when you are stuck at home? Go beyond and go inward.

Maybe you have an affinity for photography and art. I interviewed a professional photographer who started taking virtual portraits during the pandemic and now it’s his preferred way to shoot. He photographs people from around the world, reflecting on how we see the world and the changing times.

Or maybe you have an interest in food and wine; you can certainly taste natural skin-contact wines from Georgia at home. Or maybe you want to dig into the health benefits of Japan’s forest bathing – surely there’s a forest to bathe in nearby.

Or maybe this is your time to go inward and write a very personal take on what travel means to you, how it’s changed you, or maybe how the world now, in a pandemic or not, will change how we will travel. You have to the time to write it now – one benefit of being stuck at home.

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