When I saw the editor’s reply to my pitch, I could feel a tiny knot form in my stomach. The anticipation, however, was short-lived. Another “No, thank you.”
But I’d expected this. Not because searching for an old winemaker in Saint Emilion or retracing my father’s ancestry in Dar Es Salaam wouldn’t make for an incredible story, but because my experiences didn’t fit the “editorial mold”.
Traditionally, travel articles published in major publications serve as a step-by-step guide, oftentimes providing the reader with a fool-proof, risk-free experience. In other words, a reader must be able to retrace your exact steps and (if they so chose) mirror your recommended itinerary.
But therein lied the problem, or perhaps the opportunity I was searching for. My adventures have always been fueled by my desire to immerse myself in different cultures and get hopelessly lost in translation. The uncertainty of mustering up the courage to share a drink with locals or wandering off the beaten path is what inspires me as a journalist.
In sharing my travels, I found that people wanted to hear less about the names of hotels and restaurants but actually craved stories about the colorful personalities and surprises I’d encountered along the way.
I’d connected with an audience that had an appetite for aspirational content; stories and photographs that would not ostracize people because they were unique to one person; but would entertain, inspire, and resonate with others, particularly women.
My perspective had value.
Truly believing those four words was a turning point for me. I realized that what I said, how I said it, and why, mattered more than a byline; that I could also inform and engage with fellow-travelers independent from a publication.
Writers often ask how I got started in freelance travel writing. Though, there’s no one way to do it, here are 3 general takeaways based on my experience:
1. Develop a unique narrative: Social media branding is to editorial as entrepreneurship is to society. It is the great equalizer. You’re not the Creative Director at Conde Nast? Or a travel editor at National Geographic? That’s okay. What matters is committing to your own discernible identity, voice, and aesthetic.
2. Refine and repeat: The best in this business aren’t those who travel the most, but those that are original in their storytelling. Believe it or not, I was assigned a project simply because of my disdain for avocado toast (and the hipster sham that it is).
Own your authentic point of view, whatever that may be, and share it with the world. Be consistent, take notice of what’s working and who’s responding. Then do it again. And again.
3. “Never blow out anyone’s candle to make yours brighter.” Early on in my career, I was given an opportunity that I believe would’ve changed my life, only to have it taken away by an editor. The politics behind the situation left me feeling helpless and I began to compare myself with other colleagues, most of whom were women that I cared for and respected.
Pro trip: Surround yourself with women who inspire you to create. Who challenge you. Who are curious. Who build you up. Who want to see you succeed. Who make you want to be a better friend, daughter, sister, partner, writer, and human. If you do, comparing won’t even enter your mind.
I quickly learned that drawing comparisons is unproductive, unattractive and irrelevant, especially given the capricious nature of our industry. So let go of what you can’t control, work hard, and find what lights your candle because there’s room for all of us to shine.
Trishna Patel is a cultural curator and photographer specializing in travel and the human experience. A former Los Angeles Times video journalist, she now works as a branding expert– writing and crafting social narratives for some of the travel industry’s biggest brands. She is also the Founder of @She_Only_Lives_Once, a travel brand empowering women to explore solo in pursuit of adventure and self-discovery. S.O.L.O.’s contributor program, combined with her personal blog, The Trishlist and their social platforms, connects a network of 20K+ travelers, storytellers, and tourism insiders from around the world.Keep up with Trishna’s latest exploits on Instagram @trishlist and @she_only_lives_once.