How to make your travel blog (and other writing) sing

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?

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  • 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.
  • 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.”
  • 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.


Riding one of the world’s great train trips

web dunedin stn IMG_0633The historic Taieri Gorge Railway is considered one of the world’s great train trips. On an overcast day, during a 10 day trip to the southern New Zealand city of Dunedin, I checked it out.

Leaving the well-photographed 1906 Dunedin Railway Station, Graeme Smart and John Chapman drive us through tunnels and over viaducts … what I didn’t know was that I would get an invitation to ride in the cab for a while!  It’s tough being a travel writer at times. Not!

Judy, the guard, tells me she started as a volunteer about ten years ago and about 5 years ago qualified as a guard – which includes helping with shunting I believe.

“It’s an amazing job! I have fantastic moving scenery from my office and it changes daily, and with the seasons.”

However, she has also been up to her knees in snow while digging down to find the switch controls.  Fearfully, she was only 3 months into her job when the train and car collided:  a tough, and scary memory that’s still vivid.

“It seems my training just kicked in and I went into another mode and did what I had to do.” What a woman!

The scenery includes; pine forests, sheep, cattle, llama, horses. Add hills and rivers and bush to the tunnels, viaducts, bridges and tannin coloured streams and this trip is fantastic. There’s also a dog statue to commemorate all working dogs and I’m not surprised my fellow passengers were enthralled.

Those around me were from the UK and the USA, from Taranaki and Singapore.

But enough talk:  sit back and enjoy just some (40) of the many photos I took in this, the biggest slide show I have put into a blog.

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My ten days in Dunedin – was spent traveling in a NZ RentaCar  and if you too are in a car, parking is available at the north end of the station.

I have a copy of the booklet Taieri Gorge Railway. A photo guide by Antony Hamel … its last page is named ‘Train Enthusiasts’ Page.

It talks about trainspotting ‘can become obsessive;  he also warns ‘Foaming at the mouth when in the presence of a train requires medical attention.’

So, you have been warned!

Gum diggers, fish, and great accommodation in Northland, NZ

Doubtless Bay Villas
Doubtless Bay Villas

Northland has it all – you are spoilt for choice and today it’s gum diggers history, fish, swimming, and great accommodation.  I check out the fabulous, add-to-your-list Kahoe Farms Hostel and head off to the historic seaside village of Mangonui – home of the famous Mangonui Fish Shop. Browse the little craft shops and walk the Heritage Trail around the village. ( for a map see here, or buy one at the little visitors centre.)

Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui
Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui

The walkway is dedicated to the men and women, Maori and European, who sailed vast oceans to make a new life. The Polynesian navigator Kupe visited the area about 900 AD and later, another canoe, the Ruakaramea, was guided into a harbour by a shark. The canoes chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui, which means ‘large shark’.

This was known as a safe harbour for whaling vessels by the late 1700s and in 1831 the first European settlers arrived. By the mid-1800s, Mangonui was a centre for whalers and traders with sawmilling, flax and gum industries flourishing.

the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop
the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop

Now, it’s better known as the home of the ‘world-famous’ fish and chip shop’ but I’m sad to say, for me, the tagline did not live up to its food on the day I was there – but as it gets many rave reviews perhaps I was just there at the wrong time!

Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay
Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay

After the disappointing lunch I continue in my rental car  onto the lovely Doubtless Bay Villas in Cable Bay  and where I immediately head for the golden sands and blue water.

Travelling alone it’s not always easy to go swimming: where do you put your car and accommodation keys? Mostly, in NZ, I just leave them with my towel, but when the keys belong to someone else I find it easier to pin them inside my swimming gear, or on a chain around my neck – what do you do when alone and wanting to swim at the beach?

web doubtless bay northland DSCF3804

I spend the evening, night and morning relaxing, reading, just soaking up the view and great accommodation before heading off for Kaitaia and the Mainstreet Lodge, taking a side road and stopping for lunch at the fantastic Karikari Estate. For wine buffs make sure you have a sober driver when you tackle the samples of tasting wines.

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My very yummy sundae

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I continue along SH10 on to Awanui then turn right and head north for Gumdiggers Park , an authentic Kauri Gum digging site that’s over 100 years old.

Amazingly, 40,000 to 150,000 year old Buried Kauri Forests have been exposed by the gum diggers and the Gumdiggers’ village, equipment & recreated shelters brings the stories to life.

Newly formed tracks show extensive ancient kauri deposits and the  bus tour tourists who  were also visiting told me they too enjoyed the walk around the very natural park.

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With the scenery around Northland, as I said in a earlier blog  with other photos  –  no wonder TV shows like The Bachelor and Top Model have used this area for some of their programmes.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with a view like this. Not!
 Doubtless bay Villas

scared to put on weight on holiday?

Tips For a Healthy Week at Sea
• Use the stairs. Cruise ships have elevators, but I used the stairs instead of getting a free ride
• Use the Promenade Deck. At any time of day, passengers can be seen doing laps around the ship. I always walk with my iPod, mixing my tunes with the spectacular views.
• Use the spa and fitness center. I treated myself to a manicure, pedicure and hot stone massage. Perfect remedies for all that outdoor exercise I was enjoying.
• Sign up for active shore excursions. Whether it’s dog sledding or snorkeling, head for shore and take in the scenery with one of the local guides.
•  Eat wisely. I only dined on the Lido Deck twice; all those food stations were too tempting. I usually ate breakfast and lunch in the Vista Dining Room or had room service. Lunch and dinner menus include a light and healthy section, and special dietary needs can be accommodated.

Read the rest of the story here

what to pack or not to pack that is the question . . . .

I wish I had the skills of  another traveller.

Maud Parrish (1878-1976) said in her book, Nine Pounds Of Luggage, that she travelled around the world with approx. 4 kilo of luggage and a banjo. How did she do it – I’m just glad to have reduced mine to around 12-kilos.

I travel for a year with less luggage than my friends take for a weekend! Carrying possessions on my back ensures I pare the weight down to the least possible and still have a change of clothes.

Items that seemed absolutely essential on my first travels are no longer necessary. Things  that individually weigh little, collectively add huge weights to your case and make getting from A to B unpleasant.

It’s the extras that weigh so much. Necessary extras such as toilet-gear, books, glasses/contact lens, and footwear.

So what can a woman with a passion for travel and adventure tell you about what to take?

Travel lightly, in spirit as well as in luggage; wear the world like a loose garment as an old saying suggests but pack lots and lots of enthusiasm

Take less rather than more – a lot less, there very few places that you cannot improvise or buy a needed item of clothing. Remember, most of the people you meet will never cross your path again so there is no need to impress with different clothes each day.

What can  you jettison – well just everything you take ‘for just in case’. Soap is on the out list; body shampoo works well on hair too and saves carrying two items. Disposable shavers will keep your legs just as silky as the designer ones and half empty containers of toothpaste and deodorant from home last for ages. Film canisters are great for keeping things such as hair gel rather than carry a years supply.

I love BIG bath towels! However travel has taught me to dry myself on a well-worn, soft, small one.

Think about where you are going when you pack your clothes. Be respectful in your clothing, even if you don’t approve of, or understand the cultural norms that require you to cover up. Remember you went to that place because of it’s difference, if it was the same as home you may as well stay at home, it would be easier and cheaper!

Jewellery, take the absolute minimum as insurance cover is expensive, and looking after them is just one more worry. I wear small earrings and a gold chain, and of course, like most travelling Kiwis, my bone carving or greenstone. Sometimes I buy a couple of cheap fun pieces in the county I’m in just for a change.

Bank cards are my preferred way of travelling, with a few small travellers’ cheques and a little cash, hidden away for emergencies. Most airports have an ATM ensuring that as soon as I arrive I can get local currency.  Only once did I have a problem with using a card. Leaving Zimbabwe I was expected to pay my departure tax in US dollars which of course I didn’t have. After much pleading and hysterical laughter on my part they finally let me pay in local currency from the ATM machine. I really thought I was going to miss my flight, the next one was in a week – a problem as my ticket expired in five days!

On a practical level, check with your bank about charges. It may pay to put your credit card into credit then use it as a debit card to reduce charges. I carry two different cards that I keep separate in case of loss or theft and make sure the expiry date doesn’t fall in the middle of your holiday!

Traveller cheques  are, weirdly, still  used by lots of people so check the exchange rate, often those offering no commission pay a lower exchange rate. Once again, talk with your bank to get current, and correct, advice.

Soft covered journals weigh less than others, swap your reading material along the way, if still using film send photos home once they have been developed (negatives in a separate letter for safety) and for the rest of us on digita, take lots of cards, memory sticks etc to back up off your camera.

Most of all throw out all your worries and problems about yesterday and tomorrow, they weigh far too much to be of any use to you today.

how to cost your travel? tourist or traveller?

Read more of this article about how to cost your travel – depending in what you want . . . are you a  traveler or a tourist?

“The Tourist:

* Is willing to pay good money for little or no inconveniences.
* Gets detailed itineraries on hour to hour/ day-to-day activities.
* Will be told when and where they will eat on a tour.
* Trusts in package deals as to accommodation or transportation.
* Will be chauffeured to and from most attractions and monuments
* Usually has a very limited amount of time to sight see and take photos.
* Will meet other people with fairly similar tastes and likeness.

The Traveler:

* Wants to be creative with their travel arrangements.
* Can save money by finding their own accommodations online.
* Will not have a set schedule to keep. After all, isn’t it a vacation?
* Has the freedom to extend, cut short or avoid a stay in any particular area.
* Does not wish to be told when, where and how much time they have to eat.
* Can take all the time in the world to do whatever they want. Ex. take pictures, lounge at a sidewalk cafe, soak up the sun or stay in one attraction all day.
* Will intimately experience the world on their terms.
* Will have a better chance to meet, mingle and mix with the local crowd to truly appreciate the culture and lifestyle.
* Is more likely to have an uninhibited, unforgettable time.”

want to be a travel editor? what’s needed?

The future for travel editors?

by Jeremy Head – travelblatherer

Travel WriterI was really struck by a recent job ad on from Frommer’s. The job title is ‘Editorial Manager’ and it’s to manage and implement the upgrading of content for a major travel brand’s website.

I know Frommer’s does a lot of work for BA and for Hilton hotels so I’d imagine it’s probably for one of these two.

Some of the requirements are as follows (the elements I’ve taken out for the sake of space are mainly about softer skills like people management and getting the job done.)

* At least five years’ experience of managing successful online projects where high volume, high quality editorial content has been delivered to specification and deadline
* Meticulous editor, responsible for ensuring quality control at every stage of the production cycle
* Technically savvy, and a whizz with Excel
* At least five years’ experience at a senior editorial level in the travel and hospitality industry
* Broad destination knowledge of EMEA and APAC 
* Acute sensitivity to tone of voice and brand
* Unwavering ability to ensure content connects with customers

read the rest here 

asian drivers – is it safe to cross the road?

Check out a post I wrote about Asian Drivers  and my school of fish theroy – developed in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

“Is it safe to be a pedestrian?  A cyclist? How do you cross the road ” I ask an expat in Chaing Mai

biking - not in Thailand which I have done but in my city
biking - not in Thailand which I have done but in my city

 See elsewhere in this blog for a ‘cycling in Bangkok’ story – or is it in my other blog?  I cant remember!

the prince and a bugus guru

Check out the new post about the bogus guru in Masheswar, India.

Anyone can stay in hotels that used to be palaces, but being the guest of a prince in his residential palace was the highlight of staying in Madhya Pradesh right in the very heart of India.

Twenty–two generations ago, Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore, the celebrated Indian Queen, built a fort at Maheshwar on the banks of the holy Narmada River: now her direct descendant, Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar, son of the last Maharaja of Indore, hosts a few guests in the restored palace. I am one of those guests.

part of the palace from the holy Namada river
part of the palace from the holy Namada river

interviews with writers: its all about me! ha ha (two years ago)



Interview with a Travel Writer…Heather Hapeta

Today’s interviewee is New Zealand travel writerHeather Hapata. Heather’s articles have been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, NZ Listener, and Morning Calm (Korean Air’s in-flight magazine), she writes a monthly travel column for Homestyle magazine, and has her first book, Naked in Budapest, due for release in June. 

Hi Heather and thanks for stopping by My Year of Getting Published.

1. Did you always want to be a writer ? How did you get started writing?

I was an avid reader as a child and always dreamt of being a writer – I thought how fabulous it would be to give such joy as I had from book. However it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I had the time and confidence to give  a try – after all when you are fifty-plus surely it’s time to do what you really want to do.


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