I’ve long believed in that old writing chestnut: Write what you know.
As Matador’s managing editor, one of the immediate attributes I’m looking for in a submission is whether the author truly seems to know where and what he or she is writing about. It doesn’t take long–generally 15 seconds or so–to make that call.
But sometimes, maybe you can write about what you don’t know.
Like when an editor sends you an email, offers you a feature length article in a magazine, and tells you the rate is $800.
(Did I mention your bank account has exactly $246.20 in it?)
So yes, I accepted the assignment about travel trends among older adults, a subject about which I knew almost nothing.
The deadline was ridiculous (just the kind I like)–a few days. And the amount of research I had to do was significant. Finding and then reviewing statistics and travel data, calling tour companies to fact check, and reaching out to contacts in public relations and the travel industry for quotes, anecdotes, and recommendations* have consumed the past few days. I’ve spent more time on the phone in the past 48 hours than in the entire month preceding this assignment.
But here I am, on the other side of it, having learned a few interesting things:
1. Senior travel is a huge trend. This is obvious enough–the graying of the population is a global phenomenon, according to the UN, and here in the US, the older population is projected to double by 2030. Maybe this is why we’re seeing lots of older adults joining Matador’s travel community. But the trend is significant enough that it’s likely to affect travelers of all ages in big ways and small ones. Bye-bye, bathtubs; hello, shower stalls. This market is too big and potentially lucrative to ignore.
2. There are trips out there that boggle the mind. Smithsonian Journeys’ $62,000+ “Around the World by Private Jet,” for instance, a 22-day jaunt is one of them. And that one’s a bargain compared to the $100,000+ “Hidden Corners around the World by Private Jet.” And yes, I checked- there’s actually a market for these trips.
3. You CAN write about what you don’t know. This doesn’t apply to all types of travel writing, but for pieces that are focused more on information than experience, good old fashioned research and your usual writing skills are just about all you need to produce a solid, engaging article. And speaking of research, if you’re enrolled in or are a graduate of MatadorU’s travel writing program, be sure to check out the How to Do Desk Research bonus module, which I wrote. It has lots of useful information and resources that can help any travel writer. (And if you’re not enrolled in MatadorU, why not? You can click through to the U using the banner on the right side of this page.)
Have you written about a topic about which you knew little? How was the experience and what did you learn?
*by the way, this is another benefit of press trips: You can make useful contacts who can be called upon while working on future assignments.