How-to tips for travel writing – you want to be a travel writer?

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji cruising
The Kiwi Travel Writer enjoys cruising in Fiji

So you want to be a travel writer, you want some tips. Okay first, 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, like me, with shrinking travel pages in magazines and newspapers, you will find fewer places for you to send your work to and, the competition is high.

You will also discover 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 are really like an email or letter you sent your grandmother about your time in Rome; or the one to your girlfriend about the romantic date you had with that talk dark and handsome, very dishy, Greek. These absolutely could be the basis for a great story – just written differently.

Something else that stops people fulfilling their dream to become a travel writer is the discipline and hard work it takes! It’s not just the writing, you will also need to be your own travel consultant, time manager, tax advisor, receipt keeper, bookkeeper, bookings maker, PR person, media and editor 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. I live on a budget so I can travel to where I want to go … not just to the flavour of the month destination, or where I’m invited – in fact I turn down invitations if they don’t excite me!

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’ve been invited more than once to the same country, or event, by the same tourism agencies.

I started travel writing after a year-long trip, alone with no bookings, around the world, from Alaska to Zimbabwe. On my return to New Zealand I took a short writing class and was encouraged to send some of my travel stories to local newspapers and magazines. To my amazement they were all accepted and cheques sent – 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 – if you continue your dream of travel writing – silence from editors. Yes, that’s right, most don’t even answer.

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. However this too can be a cultural thing – each country expects different things from writers. For instance, when I have sent stories to the USA I need to use American spelling – seems editors there don’t think their readers can translate from Kiwi, or British, spelling.

Back to that list of tips, and of course other travel writers would add or subtract from this – so, please add your tips in the comments below:

  • Of course, first you have to be a writer – travel writing is just one genre. Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The basics: Learn about the place by talking to locals. Don’t interview your computer or guidebook, your readers can do that for themselves; but they are a good source for the correct spellings of places
  • Don’t write about places you haven’t been to – unless of course, you are doing a story about your bucket list. That’s PR/editorial work, not travel-writing, and you want your readers to know you are reliable for telling the truth.
  • 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 the colours, smells, and tastes. [I don’t journal when travelling but take copious photos and lists of ideas, and notes on speech, dress for example]
  • Avoid clichés, almost like the plague – although,  see 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. [Apart from the occasional cropping I don’t edit my pics either – you see what I saw i.e. I also tell the truth in my photos]
  • Read travel blogs, travel writers books and, of course, magazines and newspapers travel pages
  • This should have been my first tip: Read, read, read: Rinse and repeat, often. Good reading will make you a better writer. You will never develop your own voice and style without reading.
think about things
think about things
  • 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.
  • Thomas Swick wrote in Roads Not TakenIt 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. After all, your city is somewhere travellers visit. [When my city, Christchurch, New Zealand had quakes in 2010/11 I was inundated with requests for up-to-date information and I ended up writing many travel webpages for prestigious travel companies and airlines]
  • Don’t forget the adage of ‘Show, don’t tell’ and as Stephen King will tell you, when you read ‘On Writing‘, lose the lazy ‘ly’ words, so ditch the adverbs and flowery descriptions and find the perfect verb instead.
  • Sometimes, others would say always, end with a punch or at least capture 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 complete, read it out loud. Edit. Read again. Run the spell-checker, and your eye, over the piece, (I print to read from) 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. However, 790 or 736 is usually fine
  • If they need photos, send your best half a dozen, and caption them. If they ask for one . . .  guess what, send one.
  • And, some last points, don’t tell people what you going to write or you can lose the essence of the story. Be like the Nike ad’ 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: I know that from my travel editor days – for one year, for a now redundant Christchurch newspaper
  • A supportive group of hardcore travel writers I know are discussing, on-line right now, how they hate people asking for advice and tips then don’t say THANK YOU within 24 hours – just saying! I say thanks to places who host me: I also send links to all the work I publish that mentions them, and a PDF of a piece I’ve written about ‘how to make the most of having hosted’ me. Once again, win-win.
  • Start a blog, practice writing there, give it away there for free. I have had many invitations to events and countries (and that’s not easy when you live at the bottom of the world so fares are not cheap and time can be an issue) by people who have found me through my blog. And of course you need to be on all social media to urge those eyeballs to come over to read your blog. (See my links here)

See my three books here (two are travel, one about suicide grief)

Heather, the KiwiTravelWriter at work in Wurzburg
Heather, the KiwiTravelWriter at work in Wurzburg

 

Tips on how to be a good social media friend.

How to be a good Facebook, social media, friend, or blog follower is quite simple. It’s called ‘netiquette’ an online version of etiquette. Basically, it’s just being a good social networking friend to both the person blogging, or posting on Facebook, and to your other friends too.

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So how to be that good friend?

Just like all those funny, or cat video clips we watch and repost, it’s really helpful to your writing friend, or photographer, or artist, to repost their work too. Artists and writers need people to read their work or consider the artwork whether this is by pencil, paint or camera.

Another way is to comment on the piece, or ask a question, or tag a friend telling them, “hey Pat you will enjoy this” or “how about we go here on our next weekend break Peter”. Your other friends will value the fact you were thinking of them, and are introducing them to artists or writers or bloggers will no doubt trust your taste, after all you’re friends so will have much in common.

If you have read one of my books, could you also add a wee comment about it on Amazon. Links to my blogs, Facebook pages (four of them!) and other social media pages are on my webpage for easy access.  www.kiwitravelwriter.com

So see, it is really easy to be a good friend to your writing friend, your favourite photographer, or local artist – and that tiny commitment will make a huge difference to them. Sitting at home, creating without any feedback, can be difficult, and for travel writers like me, it’s often the interaction I have with my followers that shows tourist destinations or activities that yes, this is a person we should invite to our city, country, or event. The more they can see that people follow me and enjoy my writing the more likely I am to get invitations or commissions to write.

One word of warning though, if you are anything like me, you need to do this instantly you see the blog or Facebook post or it will be gone forever, lost in all the other daily activity and busy minds! This doesn’t have to be a big chore, once a day would be wonderful.

And, if you repost blog links (or posts) to my pages on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media like StumbleUpon or Instagram, add a hashtag # (eg #kiwitravelwriter or #travel or #goodblog) I’d be really grateful: so, ‘thank you’ in advance.

 

 

Living the dream is a privilege I value

hh sarawak IMG_2148
Planting mangroves in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

 

While searching for a document I found this summary of 1999 I’d sent to friends. What a privileged life I lead – be assured I value and treasure it. 

“I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; and 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 temple and did 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 islands.

Climbed . . up into Buddhist temples and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks to 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 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.

Eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from the tap every where 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

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 in Malaysia and a mother-in – law in Thailand. And I’ve een called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, fox and H as well as Pouhi.

Ate in 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. 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 poison-ness 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 water.

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 élite snobbery of being a traveller 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 my courage and resilience despite fears!

Buddha holds buddha

Revisiting Waitangi again – next month

New Zealand’s birthplace is a must visit.

waitangi

One of the motivators for my 2012 road trip around Northland was to revisit the birthplace of New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – and in particular be there for our annual public holiday (Waitangi Day, 6th Feb.) that commemorates the 1840 event.

I’m thrilled to be going back again in about 6 weeks, not for a road trip, but for a few days staying in the hotel beside the Treaty Grounds and which I’ll visit again.

In the meantime, read some of my two weeks road trip blogs (and photos) written while travelling around New Zealands beautiful Northland – here’s one to start you off:)

NOTE: For more information about Northland check the official tourism website and to hire a rental car in Auckland I can recommend the company I use:  Rental Cars NZ.

Never smile at a crocodile … or an alligator

Over the next few days I will be starting a series of blogs about my three weeks in Florida, Atlanta, and California. The first one will be about Myakka River State Park (Florida) where I saw this fella while on a boat cruise!

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KiwiTravelWriter has readers all over the world! Thanks.

Interesting stats (June 2015)  about where my readers have come from – in order of numbers … thanks to you all!

United States
New Zealand
Australia
Malaysia
United Kingdom
Singapore
Canada
India
Fiji
Philippines
South Africa
Japan
Germany
France
Indonesia
European Union
Russia
Switzerland
Spain
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates
Israel
Netherlands
Hungary
Mexico
Thailand
Hong Kong SAR China
Belgium
Lebanon
Ireland
Turkey
Norway
Brunei
Denmark
Croatia
Serbia
Dominica
Vietnam

 

Sushi for Breakfast

With sushi as my breakfast I sit in the departure  lounge at Auckland International Airport. Virgin Air apologises for the late departure of its plane while Fiji Airways tells it’s passengers to ‘relax’ and we’ll be boarding soon: I obey.

Chillaxing is on my agenda for the next few days – I have been invited to Fiji for 4 nights on the catamaran Fiji Princess. Sometimes it’s hard being a travel writer.

‘Yeah right ‘ I hear you say and I must concur … a free trip like this (often called a famil ) is  a bonus: however, most of my travels are self-funded.

However the only difference you will see with a self funded trip and one like this, is I will tweet  (and other social media ) about it more. The information and story about my experience will remain the truth. No photoshopped pictures or embroidered words.

So sit back and relax … Welcome to a few days chilling on a Fiji adventure with me.