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
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.
Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ,’Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.
Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.
Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen. Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us. I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.
“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If you don’t and we frighten them they are likely to charge our canoes as they try to get into deeper water to hide.” he said.
I’m really getting scared now – last night I’d read that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal – but it’s too late to change my mind.
Our canoes are laden with tents, food and water: enough for four days. We paddle away from the security of the Mana Pools National Park – our destination, a wee village just before the Mozambique border.
We paddle down-stream and, once the crocodile is out of sight, the safari is as wonderful as I had imagined. The sun is warm and all around me I can see the sacred white ibis balancing on the back of cape buffalo, iridescent dragonflies hover about, I can hear noisy baboons, and the sky has many fish eagles, Goliath herons and beautiful white-fronted bee-eaters. Magic. Just like a storybook.
“Hippo!” The guide and I paddle as fast as we can. It is coming directly towards us. We just miss colliding with each other!
“Close your mouth. Danger’s over,” I tell myself. I have a swig of water to get some moisture back into my dry mouth.
“Whew that was close!’ Adrenaline is surging through my body. I try to breathe evenly and calm my heart. “That was a lessor spotted hippo” laughs Chobe our guide.
True, we had spotted it at the last possible moment and I’m not sure who was the most scared: hippo, guide or me! In seconds Chobe had changed from a laid back, softly spoken Zimbabwean, to a fast paddling man who was sure both he and I were about to be killed by a hippo. The front of the canoe almost rose in the air as we both paddled deeply and strongly.
Perhaps it is true the hippo was just scared but I’d like to know why a vegetarian has such big teeth and powerful jaws if it only eats grass.”
Read more in ‘Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad’ by Heather Hapeta. Available as an ebook on Amazon etc.
Over the past few days I’ve listened to Elvis singing, sat through rhythm and blues on Beale Street and now the musical theme continues in New Orléans.
Arriving in the dark at the usual grotty bus-depot, I agree to an offer of a taxi. The driver, carrying my pack, walks out the doors to his cab where an argument immediately starts. A tough-looking, rotund man is trying to grab my pack from driver number one; it seems my driver has jumped the queue. This second driver is insisting I go with him, his taxi is in the front of the queue and the young man looks at me and shrugs his shoulders: it seems I get to go with the bully. Reluctantly I get in the cab – it’s dirty, smelly and the upholstery is ripped – I feel a little unsafe.
We speed though dark streets and, after a few turns, when I’ve totally lost my sense of direction, I begin to worry: seriously worry. Finally, one more turn and we’re in a well-lit street where he pulls up at the hostel.
‘Don’t go walking around here at night lady – it can be dangerous’ he tells me.
In the morning, the hostel is buzzing. I’ve slept through a murder.
Not long after I’d arrived, a young man – a local – was shot three times and died on the hostel doorstep. A drug-deal gone wrong is the common consensus but drug deal or not, I’ll try to look like a local: my camera and bag left behind, my money tucked into a pocket.
Sometimes things, and taxi drivers, are not as I, fearfully, imagine. If you want to travel alone this is a great how-to book.
Start as a child with a love of reading. For me this involved hiding under the blankets reading of far-away places that created a desire for travel: I was Anne Frank in her Amsterdam attic; and, I was Heidi on the mountains of Switzerland: I was the hero between the covers of every book!
Add listening to far away, static-crackling voices in languages I didn’t understand on my brother’s crystal radio, and dream of exploring those lives! An idea, the yeast of a dream, began bubbling below the surface of my conciseness. The first, most basic ingredients for my developing recipe are then lined up on the kitchen bench of my mind.
Cover and leave that bowl of imagination to infiltrate through life’s ups and downs, keep reading, keep dreaming until life and circumstances add more ingredients. These extra components are where your individuality, situation, and conditions, add to the recipe and finally, the result! (NOTE: Unlike many recipes, this one is totally tailored to your circumstances.)
My extra ingredients included: the deaths of my 20-year old son and my 35-yr old husband, recovery from alcoholism, and, after what seemed like too many birthdays, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Perhaps I could play catch-up with the traditional Kiwi penchant for travel. That germ of an idea, like all living things, divides and multiplies as it sits on the sometimes-messy kitchen bench of my mind.
Just some of my travel pics!
the author in Haridwar
Heather – the kiwiwtravelwriter
The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji cruising
Happy Thai new year
The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarwawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hotested me)
Yes, that’s me up there!
My face needed this treatment!
Now, add more ingredients so you too can reinvent yourself – mine were:
Travel for a year
Make no plans or bookings, just travel
On returning, after a year, I added:
Two years work & saving
A short writing course
Have an article about canoeing down the Zambesi published
Sell more travel stories; add those dollars to my travel fund
This recipe is never finished yet you can cook it, eat it, and share it daily. The flavours and textures change frequently – depending if you have used the high heat of Thailand or the coolness of a northern hemisphere winter, and, of course, your choice of spices.
So, if you want to run away from home or reinvent yourself, pick your ingredients from the lists above, add your own, use your imagination, mix well, and as ‘they’ whoever they are, say, “the world’s your oyster.”
NOTE Seems the above UNEP link is broken or has been removed see this one instead about sustainable tourism
Waka play a big role in Waitangi
Chinese Nets – Keral
the author in Haridwar
looking for Manatee in Forida
Heather – the kiwiwtravelwriter
Tourism is one of the most powerful change agents on Earth and we consumers must vote with our wallets and support local people with local businesses.”
I blogged about this issue (first published in a newspaper column) some years ago and reprint it here. I’ve also written a small book on the same topicA Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo – and if you have read it I’d really value a review on Amazon or Goodreads. 🙂
Here’s that column I wrote . . .
What is an eco-tourist? Ecotourism?
Like Asians need rice, Italians love pasta, British their curry, and us Kiwi’s love fish and chips, I need to travel and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to rather than have to go the destination flavour of the month.
This means I’m often in places that are not on the tourist trail. As a slow traveller I can stay longer and get to know people, to absorb the local culture and flavour. This also means that although I don’t always sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism – a word that’s often thrown around and frequently means nothing.
My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are that’s it an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the locals.
I believe independent travellers are most likely to be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.
Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.
Life on an Asian marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes the natural sites and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws are left on the beach.
Have travel agents sold us too narrow views of places to visit? Given us a list of sights we ‘must see’ or activities to take part in? This produces problems all over the world with buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes to see wonderful pristine or historic sights.
It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting alone with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.
The problems of being poured into these tourist funnels will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.
This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”
So, what can we travellers do? I don’t know what you will do – what I do is travel slow, travel cheaply, and use local products when I can.
So, by combining the universal codes of pack it in packit out and take only photos, leave only footprints, along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’m able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.
Are you a glass half-full, empty, or full-glass person when travelling? My glass is full all the time – although on occasional days, minutes, or hours I have had an empty glass in a foreign country – they are usually associated with tiredness. A day off from being a traveller, what I call ‘my housework day ‘ usually fixes it.
My travel-house-work-day consists of taking everything out of my bag, washing, sorting, throwing away unneeded stuff, reading, plus an afternoon nap works wonders. It’s not possible to be a tourist for seven days in a row for a few weeks – just as if we had to work thirty days in a row in our regular employment. By the last few days we would not be performing at our best. Travel is the same – unless you only have a week, in which case you just have to suck it up princess (or prince) and make the most of every, minute, and hour of every day 😊
Those of you who follow me know I’m a great believer in an early and relaxed check in – I don’t want to have to rush to the gate and start that leg of my travel anxious – I use that time with my journal, social media, or a book – or now, my latest must-have, an audiobook.
There’s nothing like having a story read to you. I just shut my eyes and be transported somewhere or even learn something. I love that my local library has many, many, free audiobooks that I can check out no matter where I am in the world. On my recent travels to India I listened, en-route, to The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters ‘ by Julian Barnes. I’m sure I found it funnier in the audio version than I would have had I had it open in my Kobo (e-reader) or had a paper copy on my lap. As you can see, I’m a promiscuous ‘reader’ in both form and topic.
During my last week in Kerala, India and feeling the heat, during most afternoons I lay on my bed, under the fan, having two more books read to me – I can recommend both. America’s First Daughter, a novel by Stephanie Dray, gave the added layer of a southern American voice and, A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul also had a local accent. These appropriate voices added an extra something which I enjoy.
I recently read a long piece “25 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Traveling” and the first three benefits resonate with me … my immune system is great because I eat everything everywhere! My mind is pretty sharp – I was in the winning team at a pub-quiz a couple of weeks ago – and my stress levels are low. Are these because my years of travel have added these health benefits? I don’t know. It’s a bit like the Mark Twain question asking if travel make you broad-minded or do broad-minded people travel? So, am I healthy because I travel, or do I travel because I’m healthy?
Who cares! I’m going to keep travelling – and writing – about travel for the foreseeable future: as I often say “I want to be like me when I grow up!”
Upcoming stories, articles, and blogs, in my to-do pile include, a cooking school in India; up to my knees in water feeding stingray in Gisborne New Zealand; ethical travel; a day at the Taj Mahal; and seven days relaxing over Christmas at the Kannur Beach House.
Is travel writing dead? Granta 137 has asked that question, and, before I read what international travel writers are saying about the topic, as travel writer, I thought I should answer it myself.
First of all, what is travel writing? Is it a guidebook? Yes. Can it be a blog? Yes. Can it be an article in a magazine? Yes. Can it be a setting in a novel? Yes. And, can it be pure fiction, or the embroidered truth? Unfortunately, yes.
So, the question, is travel writing dead, depends on which genre within the genre you are talking about. For me, and my style of travel writing, it’s about telling stories about what I’ve seen and done. It’s not PR work. It’s not interviewing my computer. And, it’s not embellishing my photos – what you see is what I saw.
Travel writing can include a destination overview or round-up, accommodation choices, personal experiences of fear & laughter, advice or ‘how to’ articles, food, a journey or transport, events and festivals, history, health advice, nature, animals and, of course, personality profiles. They can also be a memoir.
In the past, I told students to ‘encourage with description, tempt with flavour, resolve doubts with fact, take an unusual viewpoint, introduce fascinating people, reveal little known information, offer practical advice – of course they don’t all have to be in one story. And what doesn’t work? Stating the obvious, squeezing everything in, clichéd descriptions, trite phrases or a passive observer view’. It’s not a letter home to your family unless that’s how you are going to structure your book, your column, or travel book.
So, given these parameters, of course travel not writing is not dead: all the time I’m reading works by people writing along these lines in new and old literature, on the web, between the covers of books, and on my e-reader or tablet.
What is dead is the number of outlets available to reproduce such travel writing. Magazines and newspapers – which used to devote many pages to travel writing weekly – have drastically reduced. Along with this reduction is the huge decrease in dollars paid to the writer. My income is a pittance to what I used to be paid only a few years ago, and it’s very difficult to negotiate a payment – it’s mostly, “this is what we pay” and a take-it or leave-it attitude.
Pages in magazines and newspapers of course have reduced as circulation numbers and travel advertisements have also plummeted. Glossy flyers, posters in travel agent’s windows, and the Internet have replaced those adverts. No adverts equals no money equals pages reduced equals travel writers not needed.
The other reason local travel writers are not used are that editors are given free PR material to reproduce and, or, they use stories from the publishing stable of their international colleagues. This means in New Zealand we read stories written by British, or American, journalists and not something in a Kiwi voice and with a kiwi attitude to travel – and they are different.
Hear ends the rant. And, now on a wet Sunday afternoon in Wellington, New Zealand I can now devour my new Granta book and see what some of my admired, or unknown, travel writers have said about the topic.
Do you think travel writing is dead? What’s your favourite type of travel writer?
Life is funny sometimes – it arranges connections between things then ensures you follow the dots. I’ve had such an experience recently.
Mid-2016 my book group had set the topic American politics as our subject for reading around. Given that it was election-year I was actually sick of American politics as even in New Zealand our TVs were full of it.
So, while some chose history, others presidential (or hopefuls) biographies, I went looking for stories about the wives – and of course it was only wives given America has never had a female leader.
I found one about Betty Ford, called Betty a Glad Awakening – I chose this as, it wasn’t current times, I knew an A&D counselor who had attended the opening of the treatment Centre in LA that bears her name, and have known people who have attended a rehab centre – so thought this topic and book could be of interest. It was.
The next connection, or dot, along the way was a couple of months later hearing a presentation in which the speaker talked about an article in a Times Magazine and a list of ‘80 days that changed the world’.
Not having seen it, but interested, I looked it up and found, among these most diverse days of . . .
The First Talking Picture
The Overlooked Miracle
The Mouse That Roared
Wall Street’s Bad, Bad Fall
A Disobedient Saint’s March
Movies’ Moral Crackdown
Birth of the Superhero
Storming into Poland
Churchill Takes Charge
What I Saw at Pearl Harbor
D-Day: Saving a Continent
Flying Faster than Sound
The Dawn of Israel
New China is Born
. . . and at number 13 in the Time’s list, ‘AA Takes Its First Steps’ – a loose connection to the book.
Two days later I’m visiting the historical home (Stepping Stones) of one of AA’s co-founders Bill W and his wife Lois.
So, that’s why I say life is funny: that a thread ran through my life this year – from a topic in my book group in Wellington New Zealand, to visiting New York, USA, to hearing about a magazine article, and as a result, visited Stepping Stones which has been a national historic landmark since 2012.
All I can suggest is check out the list and see if any connect dots in your life, holiday, or interests.
With less than a day before the shuttle delivers me to Wellington Airport (NZ) I’m now ready to sit back and relax in front of TV and a book. I’m reading Open, by Andre Agassi – once at the airport I’ll start something new on my e-reader)
I’ve watered my balcony plants, I’ve had a little tidy-up of my allotment. The only washing left to do will be the bed-linen in the morning – and my coffee plunger and cup.
I’ve charged my electronic gear, I’ve checked my gear for leads. My at-my-seat bag is all ok too — headphones, e-reader, sox/socks, eye mask, peppermints, pen and paper so no getting up and own to my carry on luggage, and I’ve re-read my pre-travel airport checklist
plus all my other pre-flight essentials
I also have my clothes to wear sorted: layers for hot or cold conditions in planes and airports, and have done my last luggage check.
So, time to relax, post this and then that’s it! Don’t even have to prepare a meal tonight as I’ve bought salads and cold meat at the supermarket, and tomorrow will go to the Preservatorium for breakfast.