how to write travel stories. TOP TEN TIPS

My next one-day travel writing workshop ( They Pay you to do What!) is 13th August  2011 in Wellington, New Zealand

Chaffers Marina, Wellington, NZ

Keen on travel – like to write?  As travel editor of newspaper (now defunct so please don’t send me stories J ) here is a list of what we wanted from people who wanted to send us submissions. I hope some of these will be helpful as good tips for you travel writing.

Here’s what we asked for: Firstly we required authentic travel articles from people with a passion for travel.

  • In other words, you have actually been there, done that. If you haven’t actually got the T-shirt, you at least have real experience to write about, not information gleaned (plagiarised) from the internet or travel book. They are great for research before you go – we want to hear about your adventures after the trip; good and bad.
  • So what makes a good travel article? The goal is to transfer the emotional experience to the reader.
  • Avoid long scenery bits and a day by day, sight by sight, blow by blow  account of your journey.
  • Tempt with flavour, use weather to create atmosphere. Encourage with imaginative language, and resolve doubts with facts.
  • Take an unusual viewpoint and offer practical advice. Disabled travellers, parents with children and others need relevant information.
  • Who, what, how, why and when are always good to start with, and don’t forget smells, sounds, touch, sight and colour.
  • Tighten the focus of any story, don’t give too much detail, people want the feel of a place not all it’s history or each shop in a street. Aim for a free flowing narrative.
  • Try to keep the personal to a minimum – you, travellers and visitors are inviting words. Frequent use of the  word “I” doesn’t encourage the reader to visit too.
  • Give a strong structure to the piece . . . beginning, middle and end. Set the scene, take the reader with you, and round off the story.
  • A fact file can be really helpful – airlines, flights, costs, best season, accommodation.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Even though I write frequently, it’s when I concentrate on these basics that the story is better, the scenery brighter and the food tastier. Check out some of my  stories on www.kiwitravelwriter.com

For more of my writing check out another  blog here  

Balloon seller in Bangkok
Balloon seller in Bangkok

ALSO  see the top of this blog for comments and reviews  about my book Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad . ISBN 978-0-473-11675-0

BUY A COPY BY PAYPAL

Burns 250th commemorated first in new zealand

 

Often thought of as an English city, Christchurch, NZ  in fact started as a Maori village then the Scottish Deans brothers arrived in the 1840s long before the planned migration from England.

Inveiled 25th January 2009
Unveiled 25th January 2009

 

The Canterbury Burns Club in Christchurch New Zealand today commentated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet – perhaps the first in the world to do so.

With cicadas singing, temperatures over 25 degrees, kilts swirling, pipes playing, ladies and gentlemen dressed in the Victorian and Edwardian fashion, and a Maori blessing of the event, a procession of Scottish clans and descendants of our early Scottish settlers, ( including this writerthe day was enjoyable.

They also used the occasion to unveil a Scottish Pioneers’ Memorialunveiling-the-cairn-and-plaque at Riccarton house and Bush. This was home to the Deans brothers when they left Scotland to start a new life in New Zealand. 

Descendants of those brothers were present, including Austin Deans the celebrated war artist (now aged 93 and who is marrying next weekend)  and Charles Deans, chair of the Riccarton Bush trust which protects the remnant of native bush that was preserved by the early members of the Deans family.

No Burns day would be complete without a haggis ceremony,

the haggis is addressed
the haggis is addressed

 which was dramatically addressed by Dr Ron Macintyre – the bard would be proud of it.

As always, a drop of whisky ended the day.

Will ye no came back again?’

  

Kakapo: another of new zealands flightless birds. ENDANGERED

As well as the kiwi, (see prevous blog in this series) New Zealand has other flightless birds, all of which are in danger of extinction. Apart from two bats, New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals until the Maori arrived some one-thousand years ago, bringing the kiore,(a Pacific rat) and the Pakeha ( European) some eight hundred years later, who brought rabbits, possums, deer, stoat and many other animals. Before that, with no predators, it appears the birds had no need to fly and so lost the ability.

Introduced animals have been devastating these birds and their habitat since their introduction.

New Zealand‘s kakapo is one of the worlds rarest birds. (six billon people in the world – only 90 kakapo birds)  A large nocturnal flightless bird, it has full-size wings, their only apparent use being for balance while running, or the occasional glide after clambering up a tree. Sometimes called the owl parrot, the kakapo weighs between 2.00 and 2.5 kilo.

Iridescent moss green, barred with lemon yellow and black, this gentle, tame and slow moving parrot is totally vulnerable to hunting by introduced feral cats, rats, stoats and ferrets. The kakapo lives in rain-forests, from sea level to alpine basins. A vegetarian, it covers large distances each night, competing with the introduced deer for the same food. Like the kiwi it has small eyes, excellent hearing and catlike whiskers at the base of its bill.

The male is promiscuous, gathering in ‘booming’ areas with other males where they boom loudly Called ‘lek mating’ for 6-8 hours every night for up to five months, calling to attract females who then nest build and raise the chicks alone. The kakapo is New Zealands only lek bird. Most flightless birds emerge from the egg active, not helpless and blind like the young kakapo. This has contributed greatly to the birds demise as the mother has to leave the defenceless chick to forage.

In the short term, transferring the few remaining birds to off shore, predator free islands appears to be the only way to save these delightful parrots. Long term prospects for the kakapo do not seem promising despite intensive work by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. However the 2009 season is showing some promise see here.

Meet Sinbad a young kakapo who had an adventurous start to his life. He was one of three chicks hatched in 1998 but, as the youngest and smallest chick in the nest, could not get the food he needed to survive.


getting fit for travel? yeah right!

Reflections in New Zealand bush
Reflections in New Zealand bush

Pre travel countdown tasks continued for me – I had hoped that in 50 days  my hidden svelte body should appear ready for sun sand and beach. Yeah right!

I confessed to going to the gym, well signing up for the gym. Why, I want to know, are bad habits so easy to form and good ones so darn difficult to maintain. There seems to be some design fault in my brains hard-wiring.

The other thing about the state of over-weightiness – OK obesity – and wanting to be fit for travel is the unfairness of it all.

While travelling it always the skinny little things that look good even in a g-string who seem to get sick. They go to the toilet a lot, find it hard to keep food down, and complain about loosing weight. I on the other hand, break all the rules about safe eating abroad and still put on weight when travelling – it’s obviously a genetic malfunction.

How can you sweat that much, walk that far and still put on weight? It’s not fair. I know the book of life did not promise me fairness but . . .

Anyway stage two of the get ready for travel has started. Firstly, keep focused on the goal. What’s that? A fit healthy body that just glides up hills, lies on a beach with no embarrassment, and eats and drinks everything it desires – that’s the looked-for outcome.

So off to see a dietician. Five days a week at the gym, she says, not three. You need to speed up your metabolism. I thought the membership card alone helped, some sort of fat-sucking osmosis would occur. Seems that’s not so. What else?

Only one avocado a week! One? Only ONE?

When I was in Zimbabwe I was eating one a day: minimum. That’s another other thing that’s not fair. As a traveller – and remember I need to travel as others need to breathe – I love all sorts of what you might call ethnic foods. For me they are my life-blood. Indian: yummy. Thai: fantastic. 

They have lots of vegetables, lots of rice, so what’s the problem? Well actually I know what the problem is –well, one of the problems – coconut milk – the delicious fruit of the coconut palms I love to lie under. Although I do concede that quantity plays its part too.

I am not the type of traveller that eats at Mc D’s or any other restaurant catering to western taste – or rather often western fears of ‘different’ food? I am the sort that goes to the market in the middle of a small village and just eats what others are eating.  I will point to someones  plate and indicate – I’ll have that please. This means I get back to New Zealand and still want to eat all the wonderful food I have become accustomed to.

What else has arrived on the forbidden list – OK so she didn’t forbid things, just suggested I might like to make some lifestyle choices. Healthier choices than those I have been making.

Number one is eat out less – which means cook for myself! Now I could be a domestic goddess if I chose, but have been there, done that and much prefer others to clean up behind me, and cook for me too. However, I’ll do it – I’ll keep my goal in mind – and will eat porridge (to increase my fibre and calcium intake) – and then go out for a breakfast of coffee and the newspaper. Promise – I know bagels don’t provide the goodies I’m supposed to have.

I did get a tick for the amount of vegetables I eat, and a big sigh for the lack of calcium and fruit – smoothies for breakfast “she” suggests.

I have stopped eating heaps of muffins – but didn’t they first sell them to us as a healthy food choice? I must admit I’ll be sorry to loose the little cookies or chocolate fish served witht he coffee at a couple of my favourite cafés too.

It seems that to achieve the goal of being a healthy traveller – low blood pressure, low cholesterol, lower weight plus high fitness and flexibility – means I need more time than the days I have left. Incremental changes are required ‘they’ tell me, but I want quantum leaps.

Please tell me — What sort of traveller are you?  Do you loose weight in India? What’s the recipe – please, preety please – I’m looking for an easier softer way.

So, share your skills with us via the comments!

 

 

enrolling in the gym – fit for travel?

Maheshwar, India.
Maheshwar, India.

Enrolling in the gym is an ego deflating exercise and I have just humiliated myself.

Now there is a man, whom I had never met before, who knows more than he should about my body mass, flexibility and fitness. It was a reality check I’ve been trying to deny, but with only 72 sleeps until I travel, it’s time to review the necessities on my pre-trip checklist.  Once money and tickets have been arranged, fitness is the number one issue. I failed.

Why do I want to be fit to travel? Well I believe that I am better off and less likely to get any bugs if I am fitter, flatter and flexible. By now people who know me will be choking over their morning coffee as they read this: laughing hysterically. Ba-humbug I say to them, just watch this space!

I need put in a disclaimer – this entire column is purely my opinion and backed up by no known medical evidence.  I have gleaned screeds of useful and useless information over the years and stored it away like a pack-rat for when I need it.  Now I give it to you: take what you like, leave the rest, and, like going to the gym, consult your doctor about health issues.

Back to the gym, the first line of fitness defence. “Pull your tummy button to backbone,”. . . “Doesn’t take much to get your heart rate up”  . . . “how does that feel?” Red faced, hot, sweaty and embarrassed at my deep breathing, I ask myself, what has this go to do with travel; what has riding a bike that goes nowhere or rowing a boat that never sees the water, have to do with tourist activities?

All I know is past experiences has taught me that I feel better and am able to do more when I feel healthier.  I asked other travellers what they do for pre-departure health all said walking. So reassured, and my own knowledge to back it up, I’ll continue to work on improving my fitness level. I visualise myself jumping nimbly from boat to wharf, climbing hills to see views and monuments with nary a deep gasping breath to be heard and throwing my backpack onto my back as if it weighed nothing. Remember I said visualise, this is not reality – yet.

What other pre travel checks are needed? Unless you are going to a place absolutely guaranteed not to have any dreaded diseases or bugs it pays talk to your Dr or vaccination clinic to see what shots are needed. Tetanus, typhoid, polio, tetanus and hepatitis are some of the travellers common protection needs. Accurate up to date information about vaccinations is vital.

A couple of years ago I was off to Zimbabwe and it had been recommended that I have a hepatitis A vaccine. As it lasted only six weeks I waited until the very last minute to give myself the injection: I hadn’t intended to wait until just prior to boarding the plane in The Netherlands.

Picture if you will: me inside the toilets – in a city well known for it’s drug use – hunting through my pack for the syringe and contents required to jab myself in my thigh. I am sure my innocence would not have been believed had I been caught on the security cameras.

Apart from indulging in addict-like activities what else can I do to ensure I’m a healthy traveller? I could take multivitamins or drink only bottled water with no ice, become vegetarian while on the road but a hepatitis carrier, often unknown to them, is of greater concern than bad food. So vaccinations and common sense around hand washing is really important – and no sleeping in fowl-houses.

Despite my constant state of good health when I travel I’m not a good role model as I break so many rules. I drink local water, eat from street stalls and remain healthy. Good luck? I guess so. In the meantime I’ll keep going to the gym.

John, next time you test me I’ll remove your heart-rate strap and watch from my body before I go home. Promise.

the buskers are here again!

only three days to go and the world buskers festival 2009 will be here in Christchurch New Zealand yet again .. for something like 20 years our streets have been taken over every January with buskers from around the world.

Just planning my days now around whats happening and where.

on my must see list are Les Vitamines from Canada, the Aussie – Reuban Dot Dot Dot, and Slackwire Sam also from the USA; Swank theatre company from the UK

I feel sorry for the pair from Israel as I suspect they know they will be heckeled at sometime about their goverments actions in Gaza over recent times.

for other things to do in Christchurch/ New Zealand  see some of my stories

for more I’ve written about the world Buskers festival click the link

 

 

Local Busker
Local Busker

And coming up in 2010 …………………………

This summer’s World Buskers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand is now previewed online for people keen to get the most from the entertainment on Christchurch’s streets during the 11 day event.

The official 2010 World Buskers Festival website has been launched (www.worldbuskersfestival.com) with details of all the performers attending the festival, as well as a schedule of when and where around Christchurch they will be performing.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says the World Buskers Festival consistently tops the list of the city’s favourite events.

“Each year, the 10 day festival attracts 300,000 visitors to Christchurch, all keen to experience the daring and hilarious antics of our buskers. The Central City comes to a standstill during the street performances and evening events allow us to secure a seat right next to the action,” he says.

“With 44 acts, 450 live shows and 500 hours of world class entertainment this is a festival you’ve just got to experience,” says festival director Jodi Wright

“An exciting new music pitch has been added to the 2010 festival. Plus the circus, street and comedic talent we’ve assembled for this festival is truly world class. Check out the schedule so you don’t miss seeing any of them perform.”

In its 17th year the World Buskers Festival runs in Christchurch from 21 to 31 January 2010.

For more information go to www.worldbuskersfestival.com.

 

 

 

I want to cry! Writing, blogging & computer problems

I just want to cry. And cry and cry and cry.

Over the past three days I have learnt some valuable life lessons. Most of which could be summed up in those horrible lazy sayings.

Some I already know about but didn’t respond to – ‘if you are in a hole stop digging!” and “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’

The particular hole I was in involved my computer. I used some free web access at an airport and from then on I could not send email! My mail arrived fine but my out box got bigger and bigger.

I tried to fix it ( my ‘little knowledge’ part) I looked up all the things I thought would tell me how all to no avail, I rang my isp and spent an hour on the phone. Still no solution.

In the end I did one more thing and bang – NOW I have no Outlook on my laptop … resulting in having to reinstall Microsoft Outlook – a brand new version with none of my ‘stuff’ on it . I thought it would import my old email – but no.

I now have many emails unanswered and lost. AND I have travel bloggers waiting for me to thank them for (and publish) their responses to my interview question. Mea culpa.

I am sorry but now I don’t know who I wrote to, who responded or what they said … all put into a special folder in my outlook.

I have contact for editors around the world gone, I have copies of contracts gone – could go on and on ………. I also have lost my diary with plans for the year all planned out.

Now you know why I want to cry.

If you know me and I should have your address or other information please email me. If you want to answer a two question interview re travel writing and or blogging also please email me.

The one good thing was something I learnt . in the advanced settings for my ISP is a place to tick and keep all my mail floating around in the ether. I have ticked it and if this ever happens again I will have that record to fall back on.

stoats kill more endangered birds

 

 Brilliant blue body,  green wings and back, combined with sturdy red legs, feet and beak make the takahe a bird not to be forgotten. Territorial,  it lives in pairs and both parents incubate and raise the young. Unfortunately their fertility rate is very low with many of the eggs infertile.takahetakahe - a colourful NZ native

Once found throughout  NZ, the takahe (prounounced  tar car hay )  was thought to be extinct for over fifty years before being rediscovered by Dr. Geoffrey Orbel, in 1948, while he was bush walking. The population of a round 150 continue to live mainly in the marginal environment of the South Islands Murchison  Mountains,  foraging for it’s favourite snow tussocks in competition with introduced herbivores.  

Conservation measures include  the eradication or reduction of the stoat which eat the eggs and the deer which feed on the same tussock. Management of their habitat is vital for their survival. Sadly the 2008 population count have found a large number have been killed by stoats. Read more here

Another measure to save these birds is to hatch eggs artificially. Removing one of the two eggs laid increases the number of chicks born as usually only one hatches in the wild.   Young chicks are then reared;  hand puppets for feeding, an artificial parent to shelter under and taped sounds of various feeding and alarm calls.  This ensures they can be returned to the wild and are not dependent  or imprinted on humans. Chicks are later transferred to Kapati and Maud Islands in the Cook Strait or a fenced area the Murchison valley.

One of my special memories is the time I spent as a Department of Conservation volunteer at the Te Anua Wildlife Centre with these beautiful birds and saw the young being fed with the puppets and knowing the numbers have declined is really upsetting.

Two places to view these birds that cannot fly are Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf, and Mt. Bruce National Wildlife Centre in the lower North Island. Mt. Bruce is open all year and is a good place to learn more about the work being done to save these, and other endangered species.

 

 

guests: fish or friends?

Are you a good quest? are you a fish or a friend?

It’s that time of year again when we descend on friends and family, and conversely they descend on us. It seems timely to check ourselves -am I a good house-guest?

I am sure you have heard the old saying – guests and fish are similar, they both go off after three days. In an attempt to ensure they we don’t go off quite so quickly, lets consider how not to be a guest from hell.

First of all what is a guest from hell? .

The lazy one; she thinks it’s a hotel she’s booked into, that you are her mother and find  pleasure in picking up after her. There are males with the same traits. In fact he can be even worse as his gear usually includes smelly, or very smelly, sox and sneakers lying in the middle of the lounge floor. A male will often spend long periods of time in the toilet. When this is in the same room as the shower and you have to go to work and or the kids get to school, well . . . paint your own picture.

The fussy one: they’re similar to the lazy one in that they too think you are their mother, ecstatic at being able to provide all their needs. The fussy-one tells you she is a vegetarian just after you have spent hours producing a meat dish using fashionably long slow-food methods. He tells you he hates tomatoes when the only food left in the cupboard is a packet of dry pasta and a tin of tomato sauce.

The cheap one: spends hundreds on sky diving, bungee jumping, hot air ballooning, and expensive bottles of booze, for himself, but fails to even think of a buying you a coffee when you pick him up at 1 15am when his flight, train, or bus arrives. He tells you about his budget and how far he has travelled or an oily rag but never asks about your budget.

The boring one: is often not family but someone met in a bar when your perceptions of people were somewhat distorted. The amusing convivial fellow has turned into a right-wing bore who knows how this country should be run, loves reality TV and channel surfing, sleeping late and mostly, the sound of his monotone voice. Have you met him? Or her. They are hard to get rid of.  

Now, I am absolutely positive you are not like that, nor do I expect my family who are flying in to stay with me over Xmas to be anything like this but, lets review some of the etiquette required to be a good guest. Common sense and courtesy are the key principals. This is a time when the golden rule “do as that you expect done to you” needs upgrading to platinum, “do as your hosts want you to do”. Guess what- it’s their home you are in so their rules rule.

So, to remain on your hosts xmas list, do the opposite of the above examples ( and there are many varieties of hellish guests, this was just skimming the surface, perhaps you could add more from your own experience)

Open your wallet and purse to buy the basics. Toilet paper, coffee, food. Sure its easy to buy, and nice to get, a bottle of wine or box of chocolates, however you will more than likely drink half of it…grand gestures are OK as long as the basics are covered too. Absolutely pay for your phone calls and don’t spend ages on it.

Clean up after yourself. Don’t put it down – put it away. Keep your bed made and all your gear tucked tidily into a corner of the room. Keep the bathroom clean too.

As well as the clean up behind you, an extra task each day will be appreciated by your hosts. For example, water the garden, when you do your washing offer to do the house wash too. Strip your bed, wash the sheets and tidy the room when you leave.

Cook a meal for the family: buy all the ingredients, and do the dishes afterwards.

If it all sounds too much – don’t stay with friends or family. Book into the closest hostel, hotel or bed and breakfast and visit them from there. Both of you will appreciate each other that way and the friendship will continue.

traveller or tourist? what is a backpacker?

Am I a tourist or traveller? What are you? As a backpacker, I belong on one side of the great divide in the world of travel snobbery. The saying that prevails around this group is – tourists know where they are going, but don’t know where they have been, while travellers know where they have been but don’t know where they are going.

web james bond islandOf course, my friends who stay in hotels are horrified at the idea of sleeping on a rooftop in Jerusalem with 29 others, or any of the other shared places I’ve slept in.


I, on the other hand, cannot imagine spending any more than the occasional night in a sterile, albeit luxurious, hotel.

Many of my friends hate to leave home without knowing where they will sleep, what tours have been booked, what times their transport will leave and exactly where they are going. They think I am crazy to have no idea where I am going, where I am staying and what I will see. This is, for me, the difference between a traveller and a tourist, characterised by the freedom of time and attitude. As Hostelling International says in one of their adverts, backpacking is about attitude not age.


However if you have two, three or four weeks to enjoy an annual holiday, or this is your one chance to visit Europe, China, or Australia, and it is important you see all that you can join a tour. Being part of a tour is the only way to fit in the top sites.web beach at indigo pearl Just make sure you are not in a cultural quarantine – returning home untouched by any contact with locals.

As a nomadic wanderer, I often miss many of the ‘must see’ tourist places but leave a country having been to a wedding, had a long coffee and meal with a local school teacher, taught swimming to a group of young Thai boys and on another occasion, spent three weeks on an island cleaning up a marine-reserve after a monsoon. Am I the only person who went to New York and merely stood at the bottom of the Twin Towers?


Conversely, I don’t know any ‘tourist’ who volunteered their time in a soup kitchen in the middle of a New York blizzard. The snobbery evident on both sides of the fence: ‘I can afford to stay somewhere clean and civilised’ versus ‘I can afford the time to spend a long time travelling’. Different strokes for different folks.


web laos polly and iSo what do others have to say about the topic? Larry Krotz (Tourism. 1996) says travel, or going somewhere as a tourist, has become something we do in order to share our culture – like going to an annual sports or cultural event. He discusses the shift over 150 years, from travel for education and knowledge to the enjoyment factor of today, ‘something everyone does’.

WEB naked-front-cover


Mass ability to travel, as things became cheaper and faster, was captured originally by Thomas Cook mid 19th century, making a fascinating topic to read. So, if you want to know about the conveyer belt that tourism has become; how we are a product to be seduced, fed and watered, displayed and then returned home go to the library.

So, if you want to know about the selfishness of people like me who get off the beaten track and then don’t want you to discover it too; if you want to know about the affects of tourists or travellers on the country we travel in, I recommend the whole section on tourism in your local library.