Written By Robyn McGee

Help for the Newbie Travel Writer

Cruising the Caribbean, thrill seeking on an African safari or mad shopping in New York city, any and every trip you take can be turned in to the kind of adventure travel editors love to buy.

By Robyn McGee

Congrats to me! My article “Safari Diary” was chosen by the editors of the “WorldNomads” website and will be published June 2020.

Seizing on the publisher’s call for essays, which highlight “discovery, connection, transformation, fear, love or story roulette”, I knew I had found a sale for the retelling of the self-awareness I had gained and the immediate connection I experienced as an African American meeting the people of Capetown, Johannesburg, Soweto and Zimbabwe.   

Here’s my pitch:

It was the strangest feeling to be in a world where everyone looked just like me. 

With skin the color of ripe eggplant, gleaming white smiles, hair bushy and thick, the South Africans and Zimbabweans I met reminded me of the cousins, sisters and aunties I had left behind in the United States.

Like many black Americans, I have idealized Africa as the Motherland and yearned to be connected to a family, from whom I had been severed hundreds of years before. Here in the land of the late Nelson Mandela and blood diamonds, I was no longer a “minority”, despite being the only black person in my tour group. In Johannesburg, I didn’t stand out the way I often do in many situations in in America.  Leisurely walking the mall, I convinced myself no one could tell I was actually a tourist returning to the home of my ancestors.  I was one of them. For the first time in my life, I was part of the majority and I felt arrogant and powerful.   

Mentally, I had prejudged my fellow travelers, most of who were white from the American south and Midwest. Why had they come?  Did they look down on the native people who worked at the hotels, and restaurants and who guided us on safari?  Would any of these American explorers dare visit my neighborhood in the heart of Los Angeles? Were they secret racists, lulled to this majestic place by spellbinding sunsets and the exotic animals in the wild?

 By the end of my journey, I came to realize I actually had more in common with the safarians than I did with the Africans. While I was pointing a finger of judgment at the American visitors, three fingers pointed back at me. 

“Safari Diaries” is a day by day account of my first visit to Southern Africa, describing my wild feelings of the joy of connection, along with deep resentments toward the people on tour with me, who I dismissed as descendants of slave owners and colonists.   It’s a story of growth and transformation.  Of letting go of old judgements and find commonality with people, I believed were so very different from me.

Day One

The confrontation in Kruger Game Park. Lionhearts and the grace of the giraffes

One fellow explorer, a businessman from the American South had a big camera lens and a big mouth. I took an immediate disliking to him- and I let him know it.

Happy Day! My pitch was accepted.

Hi Robyn,

Thanks for the pitch and apologies for the delayed response. I’m intrigued by this idea and so is my editor – it’s an interesting perspective and I like the idea of finding commonality with your fellow travelers, as well as the place you were visiting. I’d like to commission this story if it’s still available.

We’d be looking for about 800 words and perhaps a couple of photos (USD $0.50/word, $20/photo). We won’t be able to publish this until June (my editorial calendar is full until then). But I’d want to see a first draft within the next month or so, just to keep this moving along.

Please let me know if that works for you, and I’ll get the paperwork started.


I used to think you had to have some special mysterious skills to be a travel writer.  As it turns out, all you need to be a successful travel scribe is an adventurer’s curiosity of the world and the desire to put your experiences, sensations and recall into words that capture the imagination of editors and readers. Pre pandemic, the travel writing market was plentiful and lucrative.  As the airlines and cruise lines ramp up for summer vacations, freelance opportunities should also increase.

Keys to Success

  • Thoroughly research your markets.  An editor once told me, the reason most pitches get rejected is because the writer sends in an idea about something the publication simply doesn’t publish.  It’s like going to a hardware to buy milk; you’re selling something they don’t buy.  Take the words, “familiarize yourself with our publication” seriously.  Go back at least a year to get a good idea of the tone and themes of the magazine to which you want to sell.  There’s nothing worse than sending in a query for a story idea the publication ran a couple of months before.  
  • Make sure your headline captures the enthusiasm and energy of your piece.  Writing headlines have always been a challenge for me.  In fact, I spend hours trying out catchy phrases and words which summarize a 1000- word article.
  • Follow the submissions guidelines to the letter.  Most of the places looking for freelancers, post their requirements on their websites.  The closer you stick to the publishing parameters, the better chance your pitch will be accepted. Of course you must spell names correctly, follow the editorial directions for how to send your pitch (email, Twitter, snail mail) and most importantly, be polite. A fresh pitch is no place to complain about why your wonderful query has not yet been accepted.
  • Show don’t tell is especially important in travel writing . Editors aren’t looking for just flowery language.; they want to be able to feel as if they were actually onboard the luxury liner, sailing the deep blue seas, or hiking the treacherous trails of Africa.  Utilize your five senses to create a winning query and don’t be afraid to how off your best writing in your pitch. If the publication asks for previous clips, send them samples which are closely related to the subject you are suggesting. And even if you have yet to be published, your crisp writing style and provocative ideas could rule the day.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Offer some photos of your travel destination to sweeten the deal, and to make a few extra bucks.   I had taken tons of pictures on safari, images of exotic animals in the bush, and breath taking sunrises and sunsets. I sent a few to the acquiring editor, and she purchased two to publish along with “Safari Diary”.
  • Be patient.  Some editors take their time responding to pitches, others let you know their decision right away.  If you can’t stand the wait, it’s okay (in some cases) to send a follow up email, confirming the receipt of your pitch and asking about if they plan to publish.  I have found it more productive, though to work on developing other story ideas and sending out more queries, rather than to obsessively check my email for a “yes”.

Robyn McGee is a Los Angeles based freelance writer and college professor whose work has appeared in Seventeen Magazine, truthout.combitchmedia.com and other sites.  Robyn’s “Hungry for More” is a nonfiction book, focused on black women, weight and body image. When away from the keyboard, Robyn enjoys whipping up her father’s old soul food recipes, traveling the world and bending to her love of yoga. Nameste! 


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