One of my favorite ways to ensure that every trip:

  • results in assignments,
  • results in assignments that I want to write, or, best of all
  • results in assignments that I want to write that are achieved with minimal pitching effort

…is my pocket idea cheat sheet.

It changes all the time, and yours will be different than mine. But it’s an indispensable tool for spotting article ideas that editors will buy.

The Pocket Travel Magazine Article Idea Cheat Sheet 101

Imagine yourself getting off the local train in a random Italian coastal town that you’ve traveled to for the afternoon from your base in a nearby city. You have done some preliminary research on the city’s many attractions from your phone on the train, and the pictures look stunning, so you’re sure there’s something there.

Exiting the train station, you find that you’ve arrived right when everyone has disappeared for a few hours for lunch and family time before shops reopen in the afternoon. So, basically, it’s a ghost town. You wanted the streets, trying to take in the ambiance and get some notes and photos (at least one good thing to come from not having people around!) on the main attractions.

After a few hours, daunted by your lonely experience, you head back to the train right as people are finally emerging for their afternoon passeggiata. On the train back, you write up a quick blog post with your pictures and general thoughts so you can get something out of the trip.

Not let’s replay this scene with a pocket cheat sheet.

When you arrive and realize the lovely seaside city is not going to serve up any article ideas on a platter, you whip out your phone and your versatile OneNote/Evernote file of magazine section requirements.

You see National Geographic Traveller‘s “Snapshot,” a 50-to-100-word, first-person description of an encounter with a person in an international location, such as meeting a priest in Italy and overcoming the communication barrier with gestures, followed by the priest gifting his rosary beads and providing a blessing.

Perfect. If you can find one single person to run into and get them to try to pantomime to you where everyone is, that could make a great “Snapshot” explaining the Italian-style siesta prevalent in these coastal towns.

Also Wing’s “Die Fragen des Monats” (“The Questions of the Month”), which includes three to five 300-to-700-word piece articles that answer a question like “What do Cuban cigar rollers listen to as they roll.” One is in an interview format.

You can pitch a similar angle along the lines of “Are Spaniards the Only Culture with a Siesta?” or “Do Italians Still Take Four Hours Off in the Middle of the Day?”

Then you see a block that is full of shops and restaurants (even though they’re closed!) that could be a great fit for AFAR’s “One Great Block.”

Saved. Not your wandering not only has a goal, but you’ve retrained yourself to dig deeper for article angles even when there’s no one to talk to and not much to obviously see.

Make Your Pocket Travel Magazine Article Idea List Your Own

Like college students who all want to apply to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, any writers have the same three publications they’d all like to pitch:

  • The New York Times
  • National Geographic Traveler
  • Travel + Leisure

But just as college students get better acceptance rates and often a happier fit when they apply to a wider range of schools focused more on what resonates with them personally, you’ll have better pitching luck when your pocket list not only features a variety of publications, but also a variety of story types and angles, so you have the most things to look for on your trips.

I like to have a pocket list of 15 to 20 magazine sections, but for writers who do freelance travel writing part-time, five to 10 might be easier to juggle.

Right now, I don’t have my own pocket list polished up yet to share with you, as I’m in the middle of recreating mine before a big trip to Israel around the TBEX conference that will be there in March (and visits to an ever-increasing number of relatives my friends are sending me to to show me around!), but here’s a good sample of the breadth you should aim for:

  • American Airlines’ American Way: “Maps and Legends” is a 200-300 word segment that spotlights a certain aspect of a city, including five to six recommendations and is also contributed.
  • Saveur: “A Meal to Remember” is a photo that is the final embodiment of that issue and a short 250-word story written in first person about a memorable meal. A recent example titled “The Spearfisher’s Dinner” is about a spearfisher who catches her own dinner while free diving 75-feet below water in the Bahamas. Make sure you get regular Bahamas News to know what’s going on there in order to plan ahead if you ever visit.
  • Air Canada’s enRoute: “High & Low” is a 350-word article outlining expensive and budget options on three themes in a particular city. Recent examples include expensive and budget options for excursions, food, and souvenirs in Galway, Ireland; Fika, Middle East food, and smorgasbord in Malmö, Sweden; and wine, cycling, and Chinese food in Adelaide, Australia. This is written in third person with the addresses and phone numbers included for each option. (could work for Winnipeg)
  • Endless Vacations: “Drive” is a 1,500-word section catering to road trips and breaking down the must-see spots en route. There are also sidebars for “Eat” (five restaurants with price quotes for two diners along with address and phone number) and “Stay” (seven RCI affiliated resorts and four non-RCI affiliated resorts. Addresses, phone numbers, and price quotes are included for the non-RCI resorts).
  • Adventure Travel: “Adventure Academy,” which looks to the experts for lessons on adventure trips in the four categories of “Photography,” “Mountain Skills,” “Fitness,” and “Bushcraft.” For each respective category, a recent issue teaches “How to Take the Perfect Shot,” “How to Avoid Avalanches in Winter,” “Understanding What Keeps You Going on the Mountain,” and “How to Start a Fire With a Fire Steel.” This section is written in second-person instructional format with each subsection ranging from 500 to 600 words.
  • Conde Nast Traveller: “Way of Life:” a 1,000-word article written in third person about the home or hotel of a notable person that you can stay in. In a recent issue, the Cotswolds house where Nancy Mitford grew up is featured. (via Stacy Brooks)
  • United Airlines’ Rhapsody: “From the Sideboard:” a drinks-themed section focusing on an area or place that United Airlines fly to. The section is approximately 300-500 words and includes quotes from an interview with a bar manager or vineyard owner, for example. This section is often followed by a short section recommending drinks or a cocktail recipe. Article examples include “Vine of the Times” about wine production in Portugal and “Prix-Fixe Pours.” (via Hillary Richard)
  • National Geographic Traveller: “Snapshot:” a 50-100-word, first-person description of an encounter with a person in an international location, such as meeting a priest in Italy and overcoming the communication barrier with gestures, followed by the priest gifting his rosary beads and providing a blessing.
  • enRoute: “Insider’s Guide:” a profile of Canadian native who is now based abroad. There is a 70-word sidebar introduction followed by a 250-word first person article outlining four of their favorite spots in their adopted city. This frequently includes restaurants, parks, and hotels with their addresses and phone numbers included. Recent examples of cities covered include Vienna, Quito, and Tulum.
  • The U.S. version of Robb Report: “Grand Opening” which highlights a recently opened luxurious hotel. There are between 1-to-3 highlighted per issue and they are usually 100 to 200 words long. Written in third person, each piece highlights several features and attractions of the new opening as well as the website. Examples from recent issues include “Presidential Retreat” (about the new private Thanda island), “Malay Hideaway” (about the new St. Regis Langkawi in Malaysia), and “Breaking the Ice” (about Deplar Farm, a luxury lodge in Iceland).
  • British Airways’ High Life: “Curiosities” is written by well-traveled writers about random global phenomena they have recently noticed. It is broken up into four subsections, with one of those written by a regular columnist. Examples of the other three subsections include “Global Scorn” about the wittiest remarks in history and how they unite us, “Feel the Burn” about how part of a mountain in Yanartas, Turkey is always on fire, and “What I Pack” about the travel essentials of Tony Conigliaro, one of London’s finest bartenders.


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