Writing for the Adventure Travel Market

by Kim Davis

 

A freelance writer interested in adventure travel wrote me to ask:

“Is there any room for professionals with these adventure jobs?  Like you, I am a desktop publisher with an MA in Creative Writing and a BA in Technical Writing. Do these adventure jobs have openings for people who want to use their education while working and traveling instead of shifting gears to lead tours or bartend? Those jobs sound great, but I would feel guilty abandoning my years of education and experience.”

To which I must reply that there is absolutely room for adventure travelers who write well.  I read comments from several well known adventure travel writers, among them Tim Cahill, editor-at-large of Outside Magazine, and Doug Lansky, syndicated columnist and author.  The following basic points came up again and again:

  • You must be a good writer to succeed as a travel writer.
  • The money doesn’t come quickly, so perseverance is key.
  • The trick to success is not telling the reader how nice a place is or how much you enjoy it, but rather allowing them to experience the place or the adventure through you.
  • Start small.  Build clips with pieces for your local newspaper’s travel section.  Approach the local editor a couple of months before you plan to travel and present your idea.  (Just don’t be surprised if the story evolves once you actually reach your destination – and don’t be afraid to go with the flow.)
  • Though there are many travel magazines and this market is growing, they prefer to work with experienced travel writers, so get those clips in order.
  • Travel guides like Fodor’s, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are always looking for staff writers and researchers for their guides, but they expect quality.  In addition, writing travel guides is tedious work with little creative writing involved.  Instead the bulk of the work involves getting listings in order for hotels, restaurants and points of interest.  Hours of operation, telephone numbers and addresses must be up to date and accurate.
  • Don’t expect to have anyone pay for your trip for a long time.  At first you’ll be merely offsetting the travel costs.

If you have the chops, there is room for you in the adventure travel business.  This special segment of the tourism industry is BIG, and it is booming since the early 1990’s.  There have never been more people interested in reading about great adventures you’ve been on, beautiful wild places you’re seen or brilliant guides you’ve traveled with.  Times have changed dramatically.

Our parents used to travel with the express purpose of “living large” for a week or two.  They scrimped and saved all year to pay for a vacation in some expensive resort or cruise ship where they ate rich food and flashed the wads of money they’d saved up over the previous year.  When the trip was over they went home; put their noses to the grindstone and spent months taking off the extra 20 pounds they gained from over-indulgence on holiday!

Today, however, vacationers increasingly want to DO SOMETHING when they go on holiday.  After spending nearly every waking hour sitting, in the car, at the desk, or in front of the television, people long for any excuse to get outside for some exercise and fresh air.  We are healthier than ever before, with longer life spans.  Our retirees are still strong and active, so the old sedentary holidays are just not good enough anymore.  And the boomers over the age of 45 are a major driving force behind the growth of the adventure travel industry.

Keep these few things in mind when writing for this dynamic booming market:

  • Half of the adventure travelers you’ll be writing for are women and half are men – so be careful that the language you use does not exclude half your audience!
  • The age spread of adventure travelers today is huge – from 25 to 80 years old, and while you probably won’t be writing one article or guide that meets all their needs, this is an advantage since it means that there are markets for young, middle-aged, and older adventure travelers.  Think about it:
  • Rock Climbers (mostly younger folks),
  • River Rafters (there are rivers to suit all age groups),
  • Fly Fishing enthusiasts (more older folks),
  • Hikers (all ages),
  • R.V. people (largely retired folks),
  • SCUBA divers (all ages),
  • Sailors (all ages),
  • Etc.

The term “Adventure Travel” can be broken down into several branches covering an immense spectrum of different sorts of holidays.  As an adventure travel writer, you’ll come across and need to know how to use these terms:

  • Special Interest Travel – This broad term refers to the fastest growing segment of the travel market, which includes culture, nature and adventure travel.
  • Adventure Travel – Generally refers to travel involving some physical activity often taking place in an exotic or remote location.  Participants expect varying degrees of excitement and risk.  Adventure Travel may be further broken down into:
  • Hard Adventure – which requires experience and physical fitness.  More risk is involved.  Examples would be:  climbing expeditions, class V+ river rafting, whitewater kayaking, hang gliding, wilderness survival, mountain biking, etc.
  • Soft Adventure – is going to appeal to a much wider audience because the accommodations will be more comfortable; the food will be fancier; little or no experience will be required; and the element of risk will be significantly lower.  Examples of Soft Adventures include: horse back riding, rafting, sea kayaking, fly fishing, cross-country skiing, bicycle tours, etc.
  • Guided Adventure Travel– is just what the name implies.  It’s a trip with a guide, which is great for those of us who want to travel to wild and exotic places with a little local knowledge working in our favor.  Before booking a guided trip, take the advice of the Adventure Travel Society on this one and make sure to question the Tour Organizer at length about how your money will be spent.  (Will your guide be a native of the area?  What sorts of accommodations will you be lodging in?  What sorts of food will be provided?)
    • Ecotourism implies a concern for the environment, and represents probably the most popular type of adventure travel since it is accessible to everyone.  We want to leave some wild places for our children and their children, but we still want to enjoy those places now.  Therefore, it’s always good to write from an environmentally responsible perspective.  Broad-based Ecotour examples would be:  photographic safaris, bird-watching trips, cultural tours, and archaeological digs.  Here are a couple of ideas to get you started writing:
    • One article idea would be to rate tour group organizers on the basis of how environmentally conscious they are.
    • Another might be to look at the interesting and surprisingly positive effect that adventure travel is having on some of the worlds less developed civilizations.  In many of these countries adventure travel is becoming a major source of income for the people and as a result they now have a strong incentive to protect these last remaining wild places.
      • Spiritual Tourism is a modern version of various ancient religious pilgrimages and more.  Not only will you find trips to the holy lands here, you’ll find Yoga vacations and holidays that focus on swimming with dolphins.  You’ll find representatives of every organized religion offering guided tours as well as many other spiritual disciplines that are not as mainstream.  (There is not room here to get into a definition of “Spiritual”!)

 

To my mind, there are really two approaches to take for the trained and talented writer who also wants to become involved in adventure travel.  She must either work as a writer in general, occasionally squeezing in an adventure which she later writes about, or she (this one is me…) goes nuts; takes the poorly paid guiding job or the well paid yacht crew job; has a fantastic time, and writes about it and gets paid a little bit more.

 

 

Source Materials:

Kim Davis publishes Extraordinary Jobs for Ordinary People, a weekly online newsletter for those who seek a job less ordinary.  http://www.extraordinaryjobs.com