Heather Hapeta lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand: real travel, real adventures, real stories, real photos. Recent destinations Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Hong Kong – now NZ destinations due to COVID travel restrictions
Covid, lack of travel, and few opportunities to publish in print, means it’s time to hang up my travel writing pen.
Although I wanted to be a writer as a child, I had no idea how that was achieved by anyone – who pays a writer I wondered. I only knew men went to work and got paid weekly – they bought their wages home in a little brown envelope.
So, I became an accidental travel writer. During the late 90s I attended a 6-week, couple of hours a week, a writing course where I was encouraged to submit a story to a magazine – I did and it was published.
Since then, I have had numerous stories printed and have a large clipping file – this despite dyslexia and an inability to spell (thanks spellcheck) – had a travel memoir, and two small books published, as well as having a few stories accepted for anthologies, so finally, late in life, I achieved that childhood dream.
My books, Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad; Surviving Suicide: a mother’s story, and A love letter to Malaysian Borneo are no longer in print, but are available, free to download, on Amazon, as e-books.
My writing will now be confined to family stuff and maybe some short stories for anthologies.
Thanks to all who followed my writing – despite the bad spelling and grammar that popped up frequently. If you like photos, I will be still using Instagram.
And, if you too dream of writing, know it can happen.
That’s all folks, and haere ra from down-under in Aotearoa – New Zealand, Love, Heather
The time has come for me to hang up my blogging pen and camera.
With Covid-19 ruling the roost and very little or no international travel on the horizion, I’ve decided to stop blogging – soon.
I have an IT professional collating my 1200 plus blogs into one file so I can keep them for future family fun. (and proof of my copywrite should any plagerisim happen and I want to persue the culprets) I suspect I’ll stop at the end of this year … but I will continue writing in some other way.
My next blog will be about my travel writing career which started in 1998 with a magazine story about canoeing down the Zambezi river.
Hopefully you will enjoy my last blog posts about travel – for now anyway. 😀 let me now if you have questions or requests re topics you would like me to write about.
If so, where to? I wonder if I will ever again have a year like this letter home wrote about! Is there anything here you would like to do? Or would never do?
Dear family and friends, over the past year ( pre-covid) I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; in swimming pools in Egypt and Thailand; Scuba-dived, and snorkeled off the Perhentian islands in Malaysia;
I’ve studied Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Chinese religions; was silent for ten days in a Buddhist forest temple and took a cooking course in Thailand.
Learnt to say ‘no problem’ in four languages, read junk novels, inspiring stories and travel tales as well as keeping copious notes for my own writing.
Been offered jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos, and worked for 5 weeks in Athens, Greece. Had a proposal of marriage, a few propositions and some foxy flirtations.
Celebrated four New Years. The calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one, currently the year of the rabbit
Stayed in little villages, large cities and small islands.
Climbed: up into Buddhist temples and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks onto boats.
Traveled on planes, camel, horse, bus, songthaew, cars, trishaw, bicycle, dingy, fishing boat, felucca, truck, river taxi, train, and cargo boat.
Slept in beds, bunks, hammocks, fleapits and 4 star hotels, on a concrete slab; on a mattress on the felucca, and on the roof of a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem with 29 others!
I’ve danced on beaches in Malaysia and Israel, in a Cairo hotel, on the banks of the Nile, as well as in Hindu and Buddhist parades.
Experienced monsoon rain and dessert dry; from 48 degrees centigrade in the Valley of the Kings, down to 12 degrees in the hills of Malaysia and where I needed a blanket for the first time for ages
Been blessed by monks and had water thrown over me by school children, ladyboys and farangs. I’ve played volleyball, frisbee, backgammon, scrabble, cards and petanque.
I’ve eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from a tap everywhere – including the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s shops, by people who spoke no English, as well as under a palm tree in Malaysia and in a garden bar in Athens, by an Aussie hairdresser.
Made music with bongo drums, spoons, sang Pali chants and both Thai and Egyptian love songs as well as playing drums in a traditional Malay cultural band.
Taught English and swimming; became a grandmother while in Malaysia and a mother-in – law when I was in Thailand. I’ve been called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, fox and H, as well as Pouhi. Chubby in Thai)
Ate at night markets, street stalls and fancy restaurants, in people’s homes – including the Minister of Health’s’ home in Malaysia!
Prayed in mosques, temples and churches of many religions and on beaches. Chatted with monks, children, tourist police, street people and shopkeepers.
Witnessed funerals in Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt.
Swam with turtles and tropical fish and the most poisoness snake in the world! In clean water, clear water and polluted water; warm and cold water, calm and rough, blue and green; fresh, salty and chlorinated.
Been to the toilet watched by kids, on swaying trains, in smelly dirty rooms, off the back of boats and developed good thigh muscles on the Asian squat toilets (which I missed when I arrived in Egypt.) Learnt to forgo toilet paper for months and use my right hand for eating and greeting!
Sold beer and bananas on the beach in Malaysia, served pancakes, nasi goring and BBQ on the same island and cooked countless meals in Athens.
Been offered hash, opium, and marijuana and changed money and brought cigarettes on the black market.
Met people from all over the world, was proud to be a Kiwi, ashamed of many westerners attitudes and behavior. Joined the inverted elite snobbery of being a traveller and not a tourist.
Gave blood in Malaysia, broke a toe, and had an allergic reaction and apart from bites have been disgustingly healthy.
And have kept developing courage and resilience despite fears!
Cooking at Xmas can be an issue – especially if you are cooking for friends and family who don’t use alcohol.
Alcohol Burn-off Chart: The following chart data comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with information on how much alcohol remains in your food with specific cooking methods. Keep in mind that this is the percentage of alcohol remaining of the original addition.
For more detailed information and explanation, consult the full article on Cooking With Alcohol and Alcohol Substitutions, which includes important information about how much alcohol remains in cooked foods and caution when using alcohol in frozen foods, plus tips and hints to help you make the right substitution choice. For alcohol substitutions, consult the Alcohol Substitution Chart.
Alcohol Burn-off Chart
alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat
no heat, stored overnight
baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture
Baked/simmered dishes with alcohol stirred into mixture:
how to make your travel blog sing? Here are a few tips to help.
It often helps to make a basic outline before you start writing.
Talk to locals. How else will you learn about the place?
Find a fresh angle to the story. Most places have been written about before so find something original that will grab a reader’s attention.
Take notes, ask questions, get quotes and jot down the little details of your trip. How much did it cost? What’s the name of the district it’s in? Always be specific.
Avoid clichés! Lose the “best-kept secrets”, “city of contrasts” and “unspoilt gems”. Why do lodges always “nestle” at the foothills or “perch” vulture-like atop a mountain with “breathtaking views” over a “rustic” village?
Lose the unremitting good cheer. Among all the stories I had read about Egypt before I went, nobody had prepared me for the filth, the cruelty to horses, the stray dogs and starving camels eating cardboard from rubbish dumps. Be more realistic. Tell the truth!
Read, read, read: Rinse and repeat. Only good reading can make you a better writer. Dip regularly into your list of 25 favourite travel writers. You will never develop a voice and style without reading in the style you want to write – travel.
Add historical or political context to assist the point you’re making in your piece.
Good travel writers understand that times have changed, and in an age when everybody has been everywhere (and when there is a Travel Channel for those who haven’t), it is not enough simply to describe a landscape, you must now interpret it.”
Seek to entertain, and educate, your reader in a light, breezy way.
Write, write, write: You have to write even when – especially when – you don’t feel like it.
Paint with words: Take the reader on an armchair journey. Include sensory details. What did the place look like? Feel like? Smell like? Taste like? Remind you of?
Develop a speciality: If you want to stand out, it pays to be an expert on something that you’re passionate about.
If you can’t afford to travel abroad: write about new activities in your local area. Become a travel expert on your own city. Does it have any unusual landmarks, remarkable museums or attractions? How about festivals?
Show. Don’t tell: Loose the adverbs and flowery descriptions. Choose the perfect verb instead.
End with a punch or at least ensure the ending captures the point of the story. Don’t dare to say you can’t wait to return to wherever you went – that’s been done to death.
When your piece is finished, read it out loud to find that parts that don’t work.
So you want to be a travel writer, you want some tips?
Okay, first of all, after teaching travel writing over many years I can tell you most people never get published – sad but true. In fact, that’s why I stopped teaching – it didn’t feel right to be encouraging an almost impossible dream. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, you will find there are and fewer places for you to send your work to, and the competition is high.
You will also find that you will not be swanning around the world with free airline tickets accommodation in five-star hotels and meals at fancy restaurants – again, sad but true.
I’m sure your friends and family tell you that you write really well, that you should be a travel writer, that in fact, you should write a book. That may well be true, but and this is a big but, editors do not want articles sent to them that is really like a letter you sent your grandmother about your time in Rome; or the one to your girlfriend about the romantic date you had with a dishy Italian.
Something else that stops people fulfilling the dream to become a travel writer is a discipline and hard work it takes! It’s not just the writing, you will also need to be your own travel consultant, tax advisor, receipt keeper, bookkeeper, bookings maker, PR person, media and it is a chaser, and of course photographer. Oh, one more thing, you also don’t get paid until the editor actually prints your work – so make sure you have some cash hidden away.
However, if you love to travel, if you love to write, if you love to take photos, this is a great job: in fact, I think I have the best job in the world. I’m on the bottom of the food chain, but I have a great lifestyle. Sometimes I do get airline tickets and five-star accommodation too but that’s because people know my work and believe they get value for money from me. What’s even more confirming is that I have been invited more than once to the same place by the same tourism agencies.
I started travel writing after a year-long trip around the world, from Alaska to Zimbabwe. On my return to New Zealand, I took a small writing class where I was encouraged to send some of my travel stories to local newspapers and magazines. To my amazement, they were all accepted and cheques were sent to me – I immediately decided I would be a travel writer. It seemed it was that easy, but no over the following years, I received many ‘no thank you’ letters, or, as you will find out, silence from editors. Yes, that’s right, most don’t even answer.
at work in Malaysian Borneo
RWMF Kuching, Sarawak
Pelican in Florida
Hippos kill manypeople
Canterbury, New Zealand
Nevertheless, if you decide to become a travel writer here are just a few tips – I don’t do these all the time, but mix-and-match to suit the occasion, and more importantly, the style of the magazine or newspaper I’m pitching to. As I am not a journalist, I very rarely approach editors before my travels – this is because mostly I’m a traveller who writes, not a writer who travels. Sometimes I have an idea of stories before I go, but usually, I just go exploring and stories find me. Back to that list of tips.
And, there are more in my travel memoir “Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad
The basics: Learn about the place by talking to locals. Don’t interview the computer or guidebook your readers can do that for themselves
Don’t write about places you haven’t been to -unless of course, you are doing a story about your bucket list
Get lost – the best stories are not always in the main tourist destinations but in the back roads and streets of places
Take notes, ask questions, get quotes, and note colours smells and tastes
Avoid clichés like the plague – although I’ve just used one because occasionally they’re useful
Lose the ‘best-kept secrets’, ‘city of contrasts’ and ‘unspoilt gems’. Why do lodges always ‘nestle’ at the foothills or ‘perch’ vulture-like atop a mountain with ‘breath-taking views’ over a ‘rustic’ village?
Find a fresh angle to the story. Rarely will you find a place that has not been written about so find something original to grab a reader’s attention?
Be realistic and tell the truth – in other words, talk about the filth, the cruelty to horses, the stray dogs or what seems to be, starving camels eating cardboard from rubbish dumps.
This should have been my first tip: Read, read, read: Rinse and repeat, frequently. Good reading will make you a better writer. You will never develop your own voice and style without reading.
Along with reading you need to write, write, write, even when you don’t want to. Paint a picture with words for your reader
Add some historical or political context to add to the point. As Thomas Swick wrote in Roads Not Taken ‘It is the job of travel writers to have experiences that are beyond the realm of the average tourist, to go beneath the surface, and then to write interestingly of what they find … Good travel writers understand that times have changed, and in an age when everybody has been everywhere (and when there is a Travel Channel for those who haven’t), it is not enough simply to describe a landscape, you must now interpret it.’
Write about your local area, become a travel expert on your own city. [When my city, Christchurch, New Zealand had the quakes in 2010/11 I was inundated with requests for up-to-date information and I ended up writing travel webpages for prestigious travel companies and airlines
Don’t forget the old adage ‘Show, don’t tell’ and as Stephen King would tell you – lose the lazy ‘ly’ words, ditch the adverbs and flowery descriptions and find the perfect verb instead.
Sometimes, others would say always, end with a punch or at least captures the point of the story. Don’t dare say you ‘can’t wait to return’ – it’s been done to death.
When your piece is finished, read it out loud. Edit. Read again. Run the spellcheck- put your work aside for some hours or days, or even weeks, then read it out loud again then, and only then send it to an editor. But, make sure you have read their publication again and again so you know their style, and if they ask for 800 words that means 800 words. Not 802 not 850 but 800.
where to next?
Hone at Waitangi
Mumbai train station
NZ traffic jam
If they require photos send your best half a dozen and caption them.
And some final points, don’t tell people what you going to write as you can lose the essence of the story. Be like the Nike advert and just do it
Don’t write for free. Let me repeat that don’t write for free. If it’s worth publishing, it’s worth paying for. You don’t need a portfolio to start, the editor is only interested in the piece in front of them.
Start a blog, practice writing there, give it away free there: I have had many invitations to events and countries (and that’s not easy when you live at the bottom of the world) by people who have found me through my blog. And of course,
you need to be on all social media to encourage all those eyeballs over to your blog.
Its caused a roadblock in my international travel writing days. Luckily New Zealand is relatively free of the virus ( except for kiwis returning home and who are put into quarantine for 2 weeks) so I can travel freely in a country known as a fantastic travel destination – save your pennies and one day you too will be able to visit us 🙂
A three week holiday (vacation) in Samoa, Tonga, and Hawaii saw me instantly have to stop at this roadblock. We had had other warnings too.
Kīlauea is an active shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands that last erupted between 1983 and 2018. (I was there in ’94) It is the most active of the five volcanoes that form the island of Hawaiʻi. Located along the southeastern shore of the island, the volcano is between 210,000 and 280,000 years old and emerged above sea level about 100,000 years ago.
It was amazing to see, in the dark, a river of red lava pouring down the side of the volcano.