Wanderlust bit me early – as a toddler skipping stones across the Great Lakes, and as a young girl fishing with Dad in the Florida Keys. I’d often dreamed of being a travel writer.
After attending the 2011 Missouri Writer’s Guild conference, I had the opportunity to connect with the editor of AAA Midwest Traveler and AAA Southern Traveler. She requested writing samples I’d penned on travel. I jumped at the chance, and emailed her a feature article on horse drawn sleigh-riding published in Missouri Life, two stories on Folly Beach, South Carolina published in The Folly Current, and a personal essay on scuba diving.
The editor enjoyed my stories and mailed me a contract for a Caribbean feature article, “Inside the Bahamas Out Islands,” covering romance in Great Guana Cay, Abaco; Hopetown Elbow Cay’s history, and water sports in Eleuthera, Bahamas.
The contract recapped the story idea, provided formatting guidelines, word count, due date, contracted amount, and assignment letter. AAA article prices are preset, so there was no negotiation.
After signing and returning the paperwork, I used the assignment letter to contact tourism offices in the locale I was visiting. Sometimes perks are offered by the tourism office in the form of hotel stays, spa treatments, adventure tours, attractions, or restaurant comps. It is okay to accept perks, but never okay to ask for them. The tourism offices will forward your letter to resort marketing representatives to aid in AAA-approved accommodations.
After arriving at a resort, I meet with the Public Relations Manager or General Manager to discuss the resort’s unique features and secure quotes pertinent to the article.
Perks have included butlered-stays at Sandals Emerald Bay, Exuma, behind the scenes tours at Churchill Downs, an upgrade to an oceanfront beach house in the Bahamas, and an all-day fast-boat adventure in the Exuma Cays. I cherish these comps as I never know when I’ll receive them.
As with any story, it’s important to “Show, Don’t Tell,” a pearl of wisdom I learned as a member of my writing group Saturday Writers. The aroma of the frangipani, the cool ocean mist touching skin, the tangerine and blue violet sunset, all add to the experience. Creating visual images places the reader in the moment. Anything less cheats them. Carrying a variety of cameras helps me connect the dots at a later date, especially if I can’t remember if the hibiscus floating in the sunken tub was red-orange or magenta, or the shape of water droplets in a tide pool were round or oval.
I carry a small notebook with me at all times, especially when I’m writing on ocean adventures when a computer isn’t feasible. While on a 007 Thunderball adventure tour in the Exuma Cays, we stopped to feed iguanas, snorkel in the grotto where the James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed, and skip on the sand at Galiot Cay sandbar.
Experiences are key in travel writing. When writing about spa-cations then by all means, indulge in a massage. Note how it made you feel, what type of music was playing in the background, the technique used by the masseuse.
The query period for AAA is open from January through April. Assignments are set shortly thereafter, with deadlines the following year, unless otherwise stated.
Source and contact information should be supplied to your editor, whether at AAA or otherwise, which includes names, addresses, emails, websites, and phone numbers for anyone you’ve interviewed or photographed. AAA verifies source information and fact checks the article closer to the date.
When you add up all the adventures, people met, and land traversed, it’s not a bad gig. The fact that I’m able to combine my love of traveling with writing and photography is a blessing. And I’ve made many friends along the way.
Sheree K. Nielsen is the author/photographer of FOLLY BEACH DANCES, a ‘healing’ coffee table book inspired by the sea’s rhythm – a recent 2015 Eric Hoffer Art Category Finalist and da Vinci Eye Award Winner. An award-winning author, poet and photographer, publications include AAA Southern Traveler, AAA Midwest Traveler, Carolina Go, Missouri Life, countless anthologies, newspapers, and websites across the nation and Caribbean. When not writing, she can be found discovering new beaches, or riding around town with her goofy dogs, sipping non-fat cappuccinos. She blogs at www.shereenielsen.wordpress.com, tweets @ShereeKNielsen and @follybeachdance. The book’s official website – www.beachdances.com