It’s my dream job to be a professional travel-writer, but I doubt I’ll ever see a penny. Until I get the call from Lonely Planet, I make do with writing this blog and entering the odd competition. However, I have found an easy way to profit from travel-writing – the Sunday Times Travel Magazine letters page.
I have a 100% record over the years of getting my letters published and winning a prize (ok, I’ve only actually tried three times). Follow these steps, and it could be you…
The Sunday Times Travel Magazine is a monthly publication, usually available in the first week of every month. You can either pick a copy up from most newsagents for £3.70, or subscribe to get a slightly better rate per issue, and you’ll get the magazine delivered to your door. There’s a pretty good deal at the moment – subscribe, and get your first three issues for £5.
The magazine is fairly mainstream compared to the snooty Condé Nast Traveller and Wanderlust, with better writing and photos than its other rival Lonely Planet Traveller.
Every issue has a good mix of European and worldwide city guides, faraway destinations and travel tips.
Once you’ve found a story you want to write your letter about, follow these golden rules:
a) Begin by saying “I really enjoyed your feature on [insert destination] in the [insert month] issue.”
b) Go on to add an anecdote about your experience in that destination.
c) Aim for 100-150 words max.
Example 1: I got my first copy of the magazine in March 2007 at East Midlands airport on the way to a stag do in Bratislava. I didn’t even open it on the flight there, but did on the return and was interested to read a story about the best toilets in the world. The writer had been to a few posh toilets at 5* hotels around the world, and did a round-up article about the best.
I’d been to the UFO bar in Bratislava earlier that day, and was convinced the glass-fronted gents there could not be beaten. From the art deco urinals, you can pee and enjoy panoramic views of Slovakia’s capital city below. To read more about my adventures in Bratislava, click here.
I had to write in to the magazine to explain they’d missed out by not featuring Brat. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the lads from our stag do emailed me to say I’d won letter of the month.
Example 2: Days before Kat and I went to Biarritz on the Atlantic coast of France for a weekend break, the magazine ran a feature on what to do in 48 hours there. There was even a sidebar written by a local, which said the town is famous for its pear cider. Great stuff, I thought – I’m a big fan of perry. So imagine my disappointment when bar owners looked at me as though I was some kind of idiot whenever I asked for a pint of local pear cider. To read more about my adventures in Biarritz, click here.
As soon as I got back, I wrote a polite yet frustrated letter and hey presto – prize number two (and an apology) was soon on the way.
Example 3: Writer Laura Goodman’s Texas Livestock Massacre saw her going on a “burger-loop” around the Lone Star state in search of the best burger in America. I had been invited to a wedding in Las Vegas and had hoped to see the best of the east and west coasts, with the wedding sandwiched in between. After reading Laura’s story, I wrote to the magazine, thanking it for adding a thousand mile detour to my plans as there was no way I was missing out on a burger in San Antonio. As it happens I had to cancel plans to go to the wedding, but consoled myself with the knowledge I’d won Letter of the Month again.
My first prize, for the Bratislava toilet letter, was a Molton Brown travel set, worth £75. Before winning, I had never smelt or purchased anything from Molton Brown, but am now a big fan, especially of their Black Pepper range.
The prize for my Biarritz letter was slightly disappointing – a set of hardback Mr & Mrs boutique hotel books. The books looked nice on the coffee table, and had a value of over £100, but I rarely looked at them and never considered staying at any of their properties (typical recommendation – a renovated farmhouse in Tuscany for £500 per night).
My final prize was a lot more worthwhile – a luxury stay for two with dinner at the Dial House Hotel in the Cotswolds, reputedly worth £350. To read more about my adventures in lovely Bourton-on-the-Water, click here.
The prizes on offer are improving all the time – I noticed in a recent issue that the prize is now two nights in a posh hotel, rather than the one I got. The terms and conditions state that entrants must be residents of the UK or Republic of Ireland, although I reckon you could get around this by writing by email and having a forwarding address in the UK or RoI for your prize.
If you’re having a go, good luck!