Why your backyard is the best place to kick off your travel writing career

I haven’t travelled overseas at all this year. This might sound like an odd declaration for a travel writer, but it’s true. And do you know what? I’ve loved staying put and I’ve been as busy as ever (just a lot less jetlagged).

For if the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that the best stories are hiding in your own backyard.

I hadn’t really explored my home state of Queensland prior to its borders closing. I had no idea how vast it was, how many places there were to explore, and how many weird and wonderful yarns there were to unearth.

For the record, Queensland is nearly five times the size of Japan, seven times the size of Great Britain, and two and a half times the size of Texas.

High velocity travel

The travel writer’s dream is surely to be jumping on a plane every other week and jetting off somewhere they’ve never been before, right?

In 2022, I went to both Japan and the Maldives for the first time.

Both were incredible experiences, for which I’m very grateful, but between the jetlag, jam-packed schedules and intensity of the “group famil” environment, I ended the year exhausted.

(First world problems, I know, but that was the reality.)

This year, I’ve taken on assignments that are within easy driving distance – so like the Northern Rivers region of NSW – or a couple of hours on a plane. Hello Cairns, twice!

On one occasion, I even took an ambitious four-hour flight to Darwin.

This year, I’ve also focussed on solo or plus-one trips and itineraries that I craft myself, so I can pursue the threads of my curiosity and fully immerse myself in a destination rather than just skimming the surface, all the while savouring some downtime along the way.

Your everyday is exotic (to someone)

It’s not like I’ve put my passport away forever.

I’m not saying ‘nevermore’ to destinations that require visas, vaccinations and long-haul flights.

But this year has led me to the realisation that, even for travel writers, there really is no place like home.

This is just as true for those who are just starting out. So if you’re trying to break in, but you barely have enough money for a bus fare, my hottest tip is: Start where you are.

The landscapes you find so familiar are foreign to others.

Until you’re established, you’ll be funding your own travel, so local trips are much more sustainable than having to stump up for airfares and accommodation.

(Also, you won’t have to suffer jetlag or deal with the ridiculous expectation that you’ll fly economy class overnight and still be fresh as a daisy for the next day’s activities.)

You don’t need to invest reams of time coming up to speed with the local ins and outs.

You can provide an insider’s perspective from the get-go, writing about your hometown with the sort of depth, perspective and authority that short-term imports from elsewhere (i.e., travel writers on the road) simply can’t.

The gifts of staying put

This unparalleled ability to lend deep local knowledge is the reason many publications actively seek out resident writers.

For example, I spent two years living and working as an English language teacher in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In that time, I picked up multiple commissions for a range of publications, including Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine for United Airlines, for no other reason than because I was there.

(And also, because I pitched them, a lot. Want help with pitching? Download my free resource, Pitching for Publication).

Later, when I moved to Sydney, I continued on as the unofficial Down Under correspondent.

Now, in Brisbane, I mostly write about new hotel, restaurant, tour and resort openings in my own city, and on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

Occasionally I write about further-flung adventures, like this week-long donkey trek through the wilds of Far North Queensland.

Treading familiar territory over and over means you’ll gather the sort of layered knowledge that will facilitate local round-up stories like this piece on four luxury day spas.

Getting started in travel writing

So, to get started, look for the sort of micro-adventures that you can tackle in an afternoon, a day, or a weekend.

Bearing in mind that editors will inevitably ask the questions, ‘Why now?’ and ‘Who cares?’, think hard about what’s new or noteworthy in your town or city. If your response is ‘nothing’, dig deeper.

Maybe there are no big glittering openings on the horizon. But has a long-established restaurant freshened up its new menu, or hired a new head chef? Has an existing hotel revamped its rooms, or implemented some innovative new sustainability strategies?

Is there a local festival that’s so far flown under the radar? A under-rated gallery or museum? A quirky shop that’s found nowhere else in the world?

Can you put a fresh spin on a tired topic? Can you use some of the inside information you’re gathering as the springboard to a round-up, or as the starting point for a trends piece?

For example, while it’s not strictly a travel story, I spotted fake paparazzi at a restaurant opening and went on to write about it for The Guardian Australia.

By gazing at your backyard through a tourist’s glasses, you’ll discover that there’s so much more hiding under the surface than you ever imagined.

And editors will sense that energy, enthusiasm and authenticity. And they’ll buy your words.

What are your top tips for writing about your own home town?