A 3-step travel-writing niche strategy to to help you break in and prosper

By David Hammond 

Many travel writers choose a niche like it's a fixed thing—something they decide on and then live with the best they can.

But the truth is, your travel niche can possess flexibility.

You can optimize it to break in. Then, gradually expand it to help grow your travel writing career.

Choosing a niche gets you out of the ocean of travel-writing generalists and into a pond of specialization—for a better chance to stand out and win assignments.

However, some travel niches are more crowded than others.

In general, a wider niche, covering a broader travel topic (like food and drink on your travels), can be very competitive.

Specializing in a narrower travel niche topic (like Mexican food options while visiting Scottsdale, Arizona), will be less competitive and easier to break in.

The seeming trade-off between wide and narrow travel niches 

With a wider niche, like food and drink, it’s more competitive to break in. But once you do break in, you can probably get a lot of assignments.

With a narrower niche, like Mexican food places in Scottsdale, it’s easier to break in, but with fewer potential assignments available after you do.

So, which is the better choice?

Some advise new travel writers to choose a wider niche. Yes, they say, it will be more difficult to break in than a narrower niche. But it won’t be as competitive as breaking in as a generalist. And when you do break in, you can work up to a full schedule of assignments.

Others recommend starting with a narrow niche. Break in. Get some clips (samples of published work). Then, use that foothold to help you also get assignments as a travel-writing generalist.

Both these prescribed strategies can work.

But, if you'd like to avoid the compromise altogether, consider the following three-step niche strategy—optimizing your niche for each stage of your travel-writing career.

Step 1: Start out with a “narrow” niche 

In most cases, the best starter niche is a narrow one.

Just how narrow?

You’re looking for a sweet spot—a niche that’s wide enough to attract the interest of editors and readers but narrow enough for you to stand out from the crowd as a topic authority.

Travel niche composition 

To better understand how to choose a narrow niche, let's look at how travel niches are formed.

Travel niches are composed of two elements:
1. Destinations
2. Portable travel topics

Destination travel niche 
For our purposes, a “destination” is anyplace a traveler may visit or tour. Examples of travel destinations include La Concha Beach in San Sebasti├ín; the State of Idaho; and Southeast Asia.

For many writers, a destination is their niche—writing about their chosen place for the benefit of travelers.

Portable travel topic niche 
A “portable travel topic” is any travel-related topic that can apply to multiple destinations. "Budget travel", "senior travel", "horseback riding tours", and "medical tourism" are travel-related topics that can apply to multiple destinations.

For some writers, a portable travel topic serves as their niche—covering their favored topic in different places.

Portable travel topic combination niche
Portable travel topics are often combined. “Luxury scuba diving vacations” combines "luxury travel" and "scuba diving vacations". “Budget cruises for seniors,” combines "budget travel", "senor travel," and "cruises".

The best type of niche for new travel writers 

You’ll find plenty of successful travel writers with stand-alone destination niches, stand-alone portable travel topic niches, and combination niches composed of portable travel topics.

However, I believe the most effective starter niche combines one or more portable travel topics with a destination.

Portable Travel Topic(s) + Destination 

More specifically, a portable travel topic, wide enough to attract a readership, with an interesting travel destination, narrow enough for you to stand out as the local travel-writing authority.

For an example, let’s say you want to write about trout fishing trips.

As a travel niche, “trout fishing trips” is plenty wide enough to interest a readership. However, if you’re a new writer, “trout fishing trips” is probably too competitive for a starter niche.

But if you pair trout fishing trips with a narrow destination—let’s say a single river you know well, standing out as a travel niche authority comes within reach.

To make the point, following are examples of portable travel topics, wide enough to attract reader interest, combined with narrow destinations:

  • Trout fishing trips on the Bighorn River
  • Destination weddings in Boca Rotan
  • Low-cost retirement abroad in Manizales
  • Volunteer vacation opportunities in Cabarete 
  • Bicycle rentals and tours in Mendoza

Step 2: Adjust to market feedback

Responding to market feedback is a lesson we can learn from the business world.

No matter how much research and planning goes into a new product or service, customers rarely respond just as expected. So, in order to succeed, a company adjusts its offering based on market feedback.

As a travel-niche specialist, you offer your customers (editors and readers) expertise on a travel topic. So, it makes sense to pay attention to feedback and fine-tune your niche if warranted.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting you change course with every opinion and comment. But, rather, to pay attention to the big picture of how your proposals and articles are received.

If it turns out your niche is more competitive than you anticipated, seek ways to narrow it so you can stand out.

If you can’t find editors interested in running stories on your specialty, consider ways to adjust your portable travel topic or destination for broader appeal.

You may find readers express a stronger interest in a particular aspect of your niche. Or, you could notice readers respond more favorably when you approach your topic a certain way. If that’s the case, a small adjustment to your niche may help you win more assignments.

Step 3: Gradually widen you niche

Quick review:
Step 1: Start out with a portable-travel-topic(s) + destination niche.
Step 2: Adjust your niche in response to market feedback.

Now for step 3: Once you break in and established yourself as an authority on your travel topic, consider gradually widening your niche
  • To get more assignments
  • For new travel opportunities 
  • And greater career resilience 

To get more assignments 

While a narrow niche makes it easier for you to stand out as a topic authority and break-in, there may not be enough demand for articles on your narrow niche to get as many assignments as you'd like.

If that’s the case, gradually widening your niche is often a solution.

For new travel opportunities 

If the opportunity to travel is attractive, gradually widening your niche provides a way to make it happen.

In time, when you’ve covered your portable travel topic in several destinations, you can provide readers with even greater value with meaningful comparisons.

For greater career resilience 

Focusing all your attention on one narrowly-defined destination is an effective way to break in.

However, in some areas of the world, staking your long-term travel writing career on the desirability of a single place poses a slight risk.

That’s because a destination that’s interesting to readers today could fall out of favor sometime in the future.

This can happen for a variety of reasons such as a natural disaster, economic swings, or social unrest.

By gradually expanding your niche to cover multiple destinations, the marketability of your writing isn’t dependent on the uninterrupted favorability of a single place.

How to widen your niche 

Start with your original narrow niche. Then, gradually add to it in one of two ways:
  • Cover your portable travel topic in new destinations (as mentioned) 
  • Cover additional topics in your current destination 

Cover your portable travel topic in new destinations:

Once you've become the undisputed topic authority in one narrow destination, study up and expand your knowledge to cover a second location. Then, a third, and so on.

Note: Expanding the coverage of your portable travel topic in new destinations can help you realize all three of the benefits listed above: getting more assignments, more travel opportunities, and greater career resilience.

Cover additional topics in the same destination 

When your work is trusted on one travel topic, it's a small step to win assignments on related topics in the same destination.

Let’s use the trout fishing example again. In addition to covering trout fishing on the Bighorn River, you could start learning and writing about trail hikes, camping, and wildlife viewing in the Bighorn National Forest.

Note: Covering more travel topics in the same destination won’t facilitate additional travel or provide a backup plan if your destination falls out of fashion. However, it is an effective way to get more assignments.

New travel topics + new destinations 

If you’re ambitious, there’s no reason you can’t expand your niche both ways: adding new related travel topics and new destinations.