Marketable Travel Stories in Your Own Backyard
Last Friday, I asked my University of Oregon Travel Writing class to meet me in front of the Eugene Public Library. “We’re going on a journalistic scavenger hunt,” I told them. “You don’t need to go to Europe to be a travel writer; you can be an expert on your own region.”
“But downtown Eugene?” One young man challenged me. “There’s nothing here.”
Au contraire. I sent one group of three out to explore local bulletin boards and storefronts with promotional posters. There, they learned about the city’s upcoming concerts, movies in the parks, theatrical events, and something called The Fetish Ball. Another group explored Eugene’s public art. They visited Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA) and New Zone Art Gallery. They photographed sculptures of Ken Kesey, Rosa Parks, and a trio of musical turtles. Still another group–charged with investigating the city’s more eccentric characteristics, trooped over to Voodoo Donuts to inquire about the origin of the Slug Donut (bakers created it in honor of Holly GoSlugly, this year’s Slug Queen ) and visited Lazar’s Bazar with its offerings of high-top tennis shoes, martial arts equipment, Bob Marley posters and . . . um. . . hand-blown glass.
Post-hunt, we gathered to compare notes on downtown Eugene. Now, instead of skepticism, I saw enthusiasm on students’ faces. “I’m going to check out the food carts at the Farmer’s Market,” one woman said. Another smiled. “I love this assignment. I’m going to the First Friday Artwalk.” One writer assigned to the downtown art beat frowned. “We never did find the Wayne Morse statue,” he said. “I want to find out who he is.”
What questions do you have about your corner of the world? Try your hand at travel writing and solve these small mysteries. Walk around your own downtown with a sense of wonder. Take a camera. I did this yesterday and found myself looking at architecture, flower baskets, public art, and charismatic dogs with new eyes. If you’re already a working writer on assignment, think about what stories you might scavenge about the region in which you’re reporting.
Want to know more about how to write and sell travel articles and essays to newspapers and magazines? I’m teaching a workshop on the subject on Saturday, August 4th, for the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR. Should you find yourself in the position of needing to speak with a donut baker or Fetish Ball participant or hawker of Bob Marley paraphernalia, you might also want to check out my Friday workshop, “The Expert Voice: How to Incorporate Research and Interviews into Your Writing.”
What do you find story-worthy about your own downtown? Feel free to comment, below!