A flying start to hassle-free travel writing

[words and photograph © Mark Eveleigh]

We’re somewhere in north-western Mozambique. They tell us it’s about 450km to the coast and about 250km to the nearest tarmac. We’re in the middle of a national park that’s about twice the size of mighty Kruger and, to be honest, I’m not quite sure how we got here.

After 16 years as a freelance travel writer, it sometimes seems to me that this business is 80 percent planning and logistics. Sometimes whole weeks go by when I work nonstop at setting up assignments, making travel plans, booking tickets, negotiating with sponsors. There might be weeks when little or no writing is done at all. Very often our work focusses on researching a trip that will appeal to editors. Once we get the commissions it’s time to set things up so that we actually get to the spot and into a position to pick up the best material possible.

Once in a while we might get a call from an editor with a vague request for a story that has already been outlined. Sometimes these are difficult stories. Occasionally they’re downright dangerous. Sometimes a freelancer picks these sort of gigs up because there was nobody reckless enough (or poor enough) in-house to take on a story like that.

“We’ll cover all costs and pay for your stories,” the editor will suggest, “if you can get to Sudan/Zimbabwe/Algeria for us by the end of the month.”

Even in cases like this – unless the story has been all but laid out – the logistics will be down to us to organize and we still need to research.

Occasionally though a real gift horse will come through. You get the call from a PR company who are confident that you could get their clients in front of just the right target audience. They also know that, as a freelance, you will work hard to get at least a few stories published. So the call comes through.

“We’ll take care of everything. Just get to the airport. All accommodation, meals, guides are covered…”

You read the small print and realize that, for once, even the booze is covered. The plan is sweeter still for all involved when the PR company’s clients are offering the sort of uniquely exciting tours that you know will appeal to magazines. So you call a couple of editors, who latch excitedly to the idea and commission stories (you know that others will follow eventually).

Then you head for the airport. You spend one night in a luxury resort somewhere on the coast of Mozambique before another flight in a six-seater single-prop billows and bounces you through the topical thermals towards a remote bush-veld airstrip.

Within two days you’re sitting on the verandah of a luxury tent overlooking a river that a few days ago you hadn’t even known existed. Three types of monkeys are loping past and you’re sipping Bacardi and coke and reeling at the chain of whirlwind events that brought you here.

Did it take two days to arrive here or 16 years?

Want to be a writer? Here’s what you need to know before you begin; then, take a look at these eight golden rules for freelancers and this guide to style guides. Useful stuff!

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