WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU NEED TO BECOME A TRAVEL WRITER?
First of all, a passion for travel is crucial. You should be somebody who gets excited by the prospect of arriving somewhere new and checking out what it has to offer.
The second most important quality is a desire to produce entertaining and informative accounts of your experiences. Most of us enjoy telling friends and relatives all about our travels. To become a travel writer you need to build on that by writing about your travels in ways that will appeal to a much wider audience.
So a passion for travel and a readiness to write for a broad audience are the key qualities needed.
WHAT KINDS OF PEOPLE BECOME TRAVEL WRITERS?
Travel writers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they all have in common is a great enthusiasm for travel and a strong desire to see their experiences in print.
There are a couple of myths to quash here. It is not the case that you need to come from a professional writing background to become a travel writer. In practice, all you need is a commitment to develop your writing in a publishable direction.
And you don't need to be wealthy, either. It is cheaper to travel than it has ever been and there is huge scope to generate income from your travel writing across a diverse range of media, both old and new.
So the kinds of people who become travel writers are just the same as you or me. Travel writing is a great profession because what is on your CV does not matter. If you can write travel articles that appeal to editors then they will publish them.
DO I HAVE TO BE A GREAT WRITER TO BECOME A TRAVEL WRITER?
No, literary genius is not required. Bear in mind that most travel writing consists of craft – and any craft consists of a set of skills that can be learnt. There is art thrown in too, on occasion, but it is the craft that is essential for producing a publishable piece of travel writing.
This means it is vital to acquire the skills to craft your travel writing to the right standard. Paying close attention to the requirements of the travel writing genre is necessary - part of that involves scrutinising other travel writers' work to learn how to improve your own. And it is also worth thinking about going on a course and learning about your craft directly from a travel writing professional.
So you don't have to be a great writer to be a travel writer, but you must be willing to learn your craft.
HOW DO I CHOOSE WHERE TO WRITE ABOUT?
This is a big and open-ended subject, but here's a couple of initial ideas to play with. If you know a particular destination well, then that's a huge plus because you can bring your insider knowledge to bear. In similar vein, don't assume that you have to travel far and wide to come up with good material. Over the past few years, partly because of environmental concerns and partly as a result of economic turmoil, the “staycation” has become popular with editors - in other words, holidays right here in the UK.
When considering destinations further afield, be mindful that particular places are written about frequently. So, for example, if you want to cover India, remember that Rajasthan and Kerala are popular subject matter. If you wish to write about either place, try to come up with an unusual angle. Alternatively, write about somewhere else in India – it's a big place, after all! And the same reasoning applies to other countries and regions.
DO I NEED ANY SPECIAL EQUIPMENT TO BECOME A TRAVEL WRITER?
The most important equipment you will need is, again, an enthusiasm for travel and an enquiring mind. Beyond that, nothing is required beyond what you would take away with you in the normal course of your travels. So if you prefer to use a notebook and pencil to record your impressions, that's absolutely fine. Many of us carry a laptop nowadays; this can make life easier for writing up notes and carrying out online research when you're on the road – but it's not essential. A camera's a good idea: often you'll want to supply pictures as well as text to a commissioning editor. But, of course, you probably carry a camera with you on your travels anyway!
WILL I BENEFIT FROM GOING ON THE TRAVEL WRITING WORKSHOP?
In theory, with lots of initiative and over a long period of time you could gradually raise your travel writing to the required standard and find out how to get it published. With a fair wind, eventually you might get there.
But using the self-guided route can mean a very lengthy slog to get yourself launched as a travel writer - if you do manage it. And in the meantime you might spoil your chances for some of your travel writing. You might make the wrong kinds of approaches to editors and your work might not be the best you are capable of.
With experienced help, you are likely to save yourself a huge amount of trial and error. Most of us do benefit from assistance with taking our travel writing where we want it to go.
HOW HAS THE INTERNET AFFECTED TRAVEL WRITING?
The net has been hugely beneficial to travel writers, by providing many more opportunities to get your travel writing out there. There is now a whole slew of great new platforms for your travel writing, ranging from newspaper and magazine websites to lots of good blogs. And of course the net provides tremendous help with your research too.
AM I TOO OLD TO BE A TRAVEL WRITER? OR TOO YOUNG?
No to both - travel writing is an occupation for all ages. It is never too early or too late to start. Travel writers range from teenagers all the way up to individuals in their nineties who are still travelling to far flung destinations and busily writing away. Bear in mind here, too, that there is a huge number of travel publications out there, catering for a very wide spectrum of readerships. So whatever your age, there will be a set of publications looking for travel writing that appeals to your age group.
ARE THERE MANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN TRAVEL WRITERS?
Yes. Gender is absolutely no barrier for travel writing and women are very well represented among travel writers. There may be restrictions on female attire in particular countries, but that doesn't stop women travelling to them and researching and writing travel features. (Indeed, they often gain special insights because they have much easier access to the local female population.) And when it comes to publication there is a whole range of outlets that are keen on women's perspectives on travel.
CAN MY TRAVEL WRITING PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL?
Yes, travel editors are placing increasing emphasis on an environmental approach to coverage. This might include a preference for holidays which minimise air miles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see the “staycation” material above), as well as favouring hotels which are keen on sustainability by reducing water consumption or growing their own vegetables. So if you wish to write about travel from a green angle there is plenty of scope for that.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DESCRIBE MY EXPERIENCES?
This is another vast topic, but to start with, think about the things you don't see. Many novice travel writers restrict themselves to describing what is visible in front of them. You should make use of more of your five senses than just sight. So what were the smells that caught your attention in that street market in Palermo? And when you were on top of that old church tower in Provence, what sounds floated up to you from the countryside below?
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS ON RESEARCH?
Here's one - talk to lots of locals. A great deal of travel writing is driven by personal encounters. One of the best ways to get to grips with a destination is to talk to the people who live there. So don't be shy about approaching strangers and quizzing them about the best places to go, or about local customs and culture. Material that comes direct from residents in this way is so often better than information from guidebooks or websites.
HOW MUCH TRAVEL DO I NEED TO DO?
Travelling a lot is important. Take any opportunity to travel to the places that you want to go to. Working or volunteering abroad can be a great help here. But remember that a travel writer … writes! So do get your experiences down by taking notes and creating a journal in a disciplined way. Think about going on a short course. You can save yourself a great deal of trial and error by benefitting from the experience of an established travel writer – that can get you where you want to go with your writing more quickly.
WHICH TRAVEL WRITERS SHOULD I READ AND LEARN FROM?
The best travel writers around in the English-speaking world include Jonathan Raban, Paul Theroux and Colin Thubron. And they all tried their hand at literary fiction before they embarked upon travel writing. (Bruce Chatwin mixed fact and fiction, but that's another story …)
So bear in mind that travel writing is a branch of writing in general. You can learn from good writers in all areas of literature. Take Eric Newby. His account of his life and times in the rag trade Something Wholesale is as memorable as his travel writing. But don't be intimidated by other writers' talent. The great thing about travel writing is that it is democratic. You can draw upon all sorts of literary influences but, again, you don't have to be a literary genius. If you're willing to learn how to craft travel pieces in the way editors require, then with perseverance and determination, you'll be published.