‘Oman is one of the cleanest and most beautiful countries in the world’ a local business man tells. He put it down to the thousand street cleaners, in their green uniforms,’who work daily from 6 AM to 11 AM and then again from 3 to 530′. I agree, it needs to be on your bucket-list.
The Sultanate of Oman, the third largest country of the Arabian peninsula is certainly beautiful: with low rise buildings which must be painted white or cream. And, unlike its neighbour Dubai, this country has not traded its heritage for shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and imported workers.
In this delightful country it was easy to meet locals and today’s photos are from the fish market Muscat, the country’s capital.
Heather Hapeta AKA the KiwiTravelWriter, got her first passport and ran away from home on her 50th birthday.
With a backpack, an around the world air ticket, and no other bookings she travelled the world: this book tells of her year of adventures from Alaska to Zimbabwe. It was so good she’s done it twice more and now lives as a travel writer, photographer, and blogger.
Hard copies are available directly from the author (NZ addresses only), and e-versions from Amazon and other e-book retailers.
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.
- 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 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. 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)
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!
Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort (where I have stayed three times while at the magical, annual Rainforest World Music Festival) is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) in the estuarine reaches of two rivers.
It’s also where I have twice planted mangrove trees as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts, helping offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.
The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.
An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.
To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.
To read more about eco-tourism in Malaysian Borneo see my small book (A love letter to Malaysian Borneo or, can this travel writer be green) which has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism 2015 Awards.
Many thanks to Rash (Jo’s Bamboo Cuisine) who really tried hard to teach me to get the insides out of these native snail while at the Sarawak Cultural Village and the Rainforest World Music Festival (#RWMF) earlier this month.
While she and other locals made it seem so easy, it became very obvious I need to practise sucking more, or, carry a pin to winkle them out next time!
“It’s easy, just suck, then eat.” As she also told me … they’re like rubbery chewing gum!
Confessions from a travel writer: I’m not as perfect as my blogs may imply!
No doubt with a book called Naked in Budapest you could assume my confessions will be racy – sorry to disappoint you but these confessions are about packing and any ‘racy confessions’ will stay in my travel memoir – not this blog.
So, confession #1
Despite having written a few really popular and helpful blogs about packing for travel and another about carry-on luggage, or for cruising, I occasionally fail by not reading my own words of wisdom, and if i do, not heeding that voice in my head that says “Heather, I hope you are listening (in this case via reading’) to yourself”.
My recent trip to the USA saw me break my cardinal rule of don’t take anything for ‘just in case.’ and although I think I wore everything once, there was too much in my bag.
I guess swimming gear doesn’t really count – its hard to use what we Kiwi call ‘togs’ for anything else but in the water or poolside. (mine were only worn twice, once swimming with the Florida manatee and a very quick dip in the Pacific, despite the heat)
I’m now gathering things together for my trip to the Rainforest World Music Festival (#RWMF) and already I know I have way too much to even choose from. So I’m taking myself in hand by writing this confession and hopefully shaming myself into taking what I need – not what I want, or think I want. I will also, this time, reread my helpful packing tips!
One of the issues around packing decisions is the variety of activities we often have to do in one trip.
The USA trip saw me attending a convention, a couple of parties, shopping, hiking, exploring tourist places and checking out restaurants.
My August trip to the music festival, in Malaysian Borneo, also has its challenges: a fancy dinner reception, surviving the photographers mosh-pit, planting a tree as part of ‘greening the festival’ – possibly in a mangrove area, attending performers’ interviews, meetings with tourism officials, exploring Kuching, AND spending part of my significant birthday in a drumming circle.
So, once again, many occasions, and very hot weather, meaning I need to think layers and interchangeable tops and bottoms and colours that mix and match.
Now to choose what makes the last cut! ( and my next blog will be from the annual Rainforest World Music Festival)
Now to choose from too many items!
Photo of the end result for boarding tomorrow … red bag for checked luggage, plus my carry-on and personal handbag (combined they weigh just under the 7kg rules – and the ‘handbag’ could be put into the grey carry-on which is mostly my electronic gear: of course NONE of which I needed when I first started travelling :):)