Want to be a travel writer?

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.

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 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. [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.
  • 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.

Covid 19 lockdown failure

What can I say, there is no doubt I am a lockdown failure.  I’d originally planned to do heaps of things during this time of being alone in my apartment.  Here are just a few:

  • improve my level of te Reo Maori (the Maori language)
  • visit art galleries and museums around the world
  • write numerous blogs
  • complete a bio of my life – only halfway through it
  • eat well – succeeded but just ate too much
  • catch up on my reading pile – sort of completed (but bought more for my e-reader)

However, what I did do was travel.  Armchair travel via a few of my thousands and thousands of photos and I’ve set aside a few to show you.

So this is the first of my gratitude blogs.  I still cannot believe that someone who had only left New Zealand a couple of times before I was 50 years old (a couple of weeks in Australia, and a month in the USA -mostly the Pacific Northwest.

Looking at my photos I’m amazed at the amazing life I’ve led.  So in no particular order, and chosen for no particular reason, here are a few of my memories – memory lanes I’ve slipped down while I should have been exploring or studying all sorts of things.

 

 

 

Despite the Covid-19 lockdown, I refuse to stop travelling!

Despite coronavirus in cities and countries being locked down, I refuse to be locked in – just as all my ancestors did in the mid-1800s – fleeing Scottish clearances, Cornish tin mine closures and the Irish potato famine.

And despite my trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River  -being cancelled, and the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival  -in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, being postponed until further notice, I refuse to be locked in despite the virus and, despite being compromised by age, nothing will stop me, travelling.  I remember a song from my parent’s era “don’t fence me in.”

Coffee in XIam, China

Travel writers have an affliction which, means they, I, we, are doomed to travel and as I said despite COVID-19 and the lockdowns all around the world  I am going to keep on travelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was in Oman, today I’m in Dubai with my parasol and a few days ago I was back in my home city Christchurch,

Solitude, Wellington, NZ
Peacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been down on the Wellington waterfront I’ve seen some birds that I saw in India yet again and I’ve even been upright on a paddleboard in Fiji.

So, take that coronavirus you’re not going to stop me – my memories are too well embedded for me to be isolated in my lockdown bubble, I can, and will travel the world with my wonderful memories.

What a privilege, it’s been to have travelled so extensively and I’m grateful for the example my parents set of not wasting money, saving, and living frugally as required.  they also left me a small inheritance which, after a lot of earlier travel, enabled me to do even more.

I recall being on a plane -in 1995 – petrified that at age 50 I still wasn’t old enough to travel the world by myself (with no bookings).

If I run out of memories, I could be jogged by just some of my clippings or books.

So where are you travelling to while in lockdown? I’ve been to Alaska in bwZimbabwe I’ve been to London, Wales, and Borneo. I’ve been to the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and had a river cruise in Europe – to name but a few.

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Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’

The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website

Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.

The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .

As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.

We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.

This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.

Here are just a few photos from one of the drumming circles which is set in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village

Hilton Kota Kinabalu ticks all the boxes for me

Flying into KK or Kota Kinabalu as its officially called, we, my friend Judy and I were picked up by Ben who was to be our guide – many thanks to Sabah Tourism Board for helping host us for 3 days and organising my itinerary. Ben was an ideal, and professional guide, and of course our driver, Wilfred (who incidentally, we find out, grows vanilla) was a safe and considerate driver.

First stop the was the Sabah State Museum, where we walked through the heritage village, in and out of many traditional houses and watched women making jewellery and arts and crafts. Inside the museum we enjoyed, in particular, costumes of years gone by and a photographic exhibition. We also made a note to ourselves to read more by Agnes Keith whose first book about ‘North Borneo’ as it was then, has become a tagline for Sabah – Land Below the Wind while another of her books, Three Came Home inspired a film of the same name.

Checking into the Hilton Kota Kinabalu, that evening we had early dinner with Jeremy, the marketing manager from the Hilton: he didn’t need to do any ‘marketing’ as the hotel and the Rooftop Poolside Bar and Grill spoke for itself. I had an Angus beef steak which was thick, tender and cooked perfectly, exactly as I’d requested – rare. Judy had salmon and said it too was faultless.

While up there we met the chef as well as the cooks and wait staff. Breakfast was in the Urban Kitchen on the ground floor and, as always, although I loved the wide variety of global food, I particularly enjoy being able to have Asian dishes for breakfast. The Urban Kitchen has an international buffet every night as well as having a special menu – for instance, Monday Malaysian, and Saturday Local Seafood Market. The Rooftop also specialises in the local seafood.

The Hilton Kota Kinabalu – really central, and which accommodated us for three nights in luxury – has been open since mid-March 2017 and, going by our experience, it’s living up to the names international reputation. Its spacious, luxurious rooms are all you could wish for – including in my room, a large rain or ‘deluge’ shower and big TV. It also had many power points and USB plugs, essential for travellers, and the bedside lights were fantastic – often one of the worst features in hotel rooms!

I also loved the welcoming lobby with its huge chandelier and especially the variety of little seating areas and magazines. Off the lobby was a quiet and well stocked library which impressed me.

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The Hilton staff were impeccable. I asked one of the wait staff ‘why are the Hilton staff so friendly?’ He responded. ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s just typical Malay, ma’am’. It’s true the Malay are friendly and helpful, but the staff here seem to really enjoy their various roles. Of course, Sabah, with the highest number of tourists in Malaysia, is not called ‘friendly state’ by accident.

This is about the third Hilton I’ve stayed at – it certainly was the best, by a long shot – and this, as followers of my blogs will know, is truthful and is exactly how I’d have written this had I not been hosted.

No posts for a while – I’m on the road again

strange nose – sort of like the proboscis monkey

I know many bloggers and travel writers do blog while on the road – I rarely do! However, I will be posting a photo a day.

Why? Well, I’m always too busy ‘doing’ ‘observing’ ‘photographing’ – as well as eating and generally ‘experiencing’ rather than writing.

As some of you know I will be at music and cultural festivals, I’ll also be exploring and hiking in national parks, snorkeling in warm waters, and, and and – so lots to follow in my daily photos and then the future blogs on this site.

So, if you want to follow my travels in Malaysia, (Sabah, Sarawak Penang, & KL) and Mongolia) follow me on my Traveling Writer Facebook page, and/or my KiwiTravelWriter Instagram page as I plan on posting a photo a day during my adventures over the five weeks I’m on the road. (I’m leaving NZ 30th June and back on 7th August)

Then, if you want to read my blogs after I have digested all I saw and experienced on these travels (And get notified by email as they are published) make sure you sign up for this blog on the top right of this blog page.

Now I will zip up my bags and head off to  the airport – see you back here in August.

Of course you can read any of the some 1300 blogs I’ve written since 2008 – just use the search box by topic, country, year or word.

 

#Follow me for new photos from Mongolia, Malaysian Borneo, and Penang


It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.

While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!

I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.

I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.

In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.

Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.

Hope I get to see Richie again – he’s a big boy!

Heather helps plant mangroves

 

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak,  photo by Gustino – Sarawak Tourism Board

A fisherman uses a net on Batang Ai, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo

 

20th #RWMF in Malaysian Borneo – music music music

 

Rafly … everyone’s favourite at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2013

Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

The Rainforest World Music Festival is an amazingly eclectic group of international ethnic and folk musicians performing. It lasts 3 days and the musicians, as well as performing on one of the two main stages each evening, they also lead amazing workshops.

Part of the beautiful Cultural Village grounds used for the festival

All this happening in the Sarawak Cultural Village  only a short distance from The City of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

I’ve been to the festival three times, and my fourth magical weekend starts in 51 days – at the 20th Festival (14-16 July 2017) This award-winning festival has, this year, musicians from: USA, Wales, China, Malaysia, Belgium, South Africa, UK/India, Cape Verde, Guinea, Colombia, Tahiti, Finland – to name just a few! As I said, eclectic with a capital E. Check the performers list on the #RWMF website – and follow the hashtags. (and this blog of course – more links to my social media here)

A typical day starts around 2pm with many workshops and interactive activities with the bands and other performers in the wonderful setting. It goes on until midnight, culminating with a live performance from each band on the main stage to a large, and always, enthusiastic crowd.

It’s not fair to try to sort out my favourites to check out, but I will. They are: Two South African bands – Abavuki and Kelele  – who will be performing at the #RWMF) at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

  • Abavuki means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language, and it seems they will offer “energetic and multi-instrumental performances which mix traditional rhythms of the South African people as well as more modern styles of kwaito, samba and Jazz.”

Based in Cape Town, it seems Abavuki’s high-energy afro-beat music “reflects their optimistic outlook on life, music-making and the resilience of the South African people.”

  • Kelele –  a minimal-instrument band – use their voices as the focal instrument.

They are keeping traditions alive with melody and harmony, maintaining the age-old African oral tradition of storytelling through song, passing on history, folktales and lessons in life over generations.

Accompanied by tradition instruments like the mbira dzavha dzimu (the finger piano), the uhadi (the traditional bow instrument of the AbeXhosa people), the umrhubhe (another bowed instrument) and the talking drum of the Nigerian Yoruba people.

  • On a very different note – and continent – I’m also looking forward to hearing Pareaso from Korea. These four young musicians will blend “serene spirituality and rhythmic pulse on the daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang,  janggu, gayageum and vocals”.

Of course, with so many to choose my favourites from, I have no doubt that when I next read the bios about more talented musicians, I will add more to my list.

Will I see you there? Who are you looking forward to hearing and, or, dancing to?

Damai Beach Resort beside the Sarawak Cultural Village and the RWMF

 

 

 

Borneo adventures: Orang utans

Hope to visit this Sarawak sanctuary again in July

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

It’s time for me to blog about my Borneo adventures in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei so these orangutan are here to announce them: Food, endangered animals, music, orchids and cats, will be the first few topics covered. I will mostly write them in my travel chronological time fame, starting in Kuching and finishing in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – a trip that took me 8 weeks.

Mum and baby .. Mum Annuar and baby ..

Only about 24 ks from Kuching, Sarawak, the Semenggoh Reserve is a must-visit place. Home to semi-wild orangutans, it was created many years ago for the rehabilitation of orphaned or rescued animals. They no longer do any ‘rehab’ work here but provide food daily for those who want, or need it. I believe they are only given bananas (largely) so they get bored and not rely on the ‘hand-outs’ but learn to eat the food in the forest.

Naturally as…

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Evolution, Darwin, Wallace and Malaysia

 

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoLooking at some of the TV programmes I have recorded while travelling recently I see one looks at a British explorer and biologist, Alfred Wallace who discovered evolution in Malaysia. I look forward to watching it as I wrote really briefly about him in my book (pub April 2015) see below.

Extract from A love Letter to Malaysian Borneo: or, can this travel writer be green?

Somewhere, in a museum, newspaper, or conversation, I also learnt about something called the ‘Sarawak Law’ which I’d not previously heard of. Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist and biologist known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. He believed this natural selection was very clear in Sarawak Borneo and his paper on the subject was published with some of Darwin’s writings in 1858 – leading Darwin to later publish his own ideas a year later in the Origin of Species.

In his book, The Malay Archipelago, 1869, Wallace also wrote: ‘The Rajah held Sarawak solely by the goodwill of the inhabitants. Rajah Brooke was a great, a wise, and a good ruler – a true and faithful friend – admired for his talents, respected for his honesty and courage, and loved for his generosity, his kindness of disposition and his tenderness of heart.’ Quite a recommendation and as I said earlier, a film about the White Rajah will be most interesting and I’ll be watching out for it.”

Note: this book has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism Awards 2015 which will be announced on 21st November.