On Nov 20, 2018, The Travel Writer’s Field Guide officially launched. The book, in association with Craghoppers, is a beautifully illustrated 248-page book filled with essential information for anyone who loves to travel. It talks about how to make the most from your travels, how to tell stories, whether on social media or in magazines. It covers how to pitch to editors, hacks for writing on the road, clichés to avoid, making short films with a smartphone, how to make money blogging and much more besides.
Also launched is our monthly Travel Writer’s Field Guide Podcast. It’s available on iTunes, Spotify and on our website https://travelwritersfieldguide.com/podcast/.
How to travel the world, richly
‘We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.’ So starts Pico Iyer’s article ‘Why We Travel’, first published on salon.com. One of the great travel writers continues: ‘We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.’
The travel writer’s mindset: The Flaneur
This perspective is highly personal. It’s about what happens to you. It’s how you float through the world, how you interact with it, how you interpret it. It’s valid and inescapable. The flaneur – part of many a Paris scene in the 1800s – was typically a well-heeled young chap musing at the sky from a street corner. He (it was often a he) wandered the pavements of the city, watching, pondering, musing on what caught his eye.
Here are travellers who zoom out a little, perhaps watching the murmurations of the crowd from the first level of the Eiffel Tower. As travel writers, we need to zoom out in order to write context or paint a scene, but unlike the flaneur, we know the richest stories come from interacting with people; the realities of humanity can rarely be found looking down from the first floor. The travel writer is at once the flaneur and the chatty person in the queue, the aimless wanderer, the note-taker and nosy person in the pub.
How to start travel writing with purpose
Herein lies the difference between a holiday and travelling to write: it takes real effort.
Travel writers with a natural disposition to talk to everyone are lucky. For many of us, it’s a matter of taking a deep breath and breaking into an effusive personality interested in everyone and everything. For techniques, dip into chapter 5 of the book, but to get great stories is to throw yourself into a location’s soul with verve.
It’s to make sure you get to that Seville Flamenco show, even though you’ve been travelling all day and the blasted thing doesn’t even open till midnight. It’s to sit at the bar in a Buenos Aires pizzeria and make small talk about football.
Food, music and sport are all shortcuts to discovering the country. Perhaps it is easier to chat to the diehard fan in the stalls next to you than walk up to someone in the street.
Always, always check to see what sporting events are on, which venues host the music, where the most authentic bars and neighbourhood restaurants are – not Michelin-starred eateries or Irish pubs, but those brimming with animated locals on a Tuesday evening.
And then take a swig of beer, a deep breath and chat with the group at the next table as the most outgoing person in the room. Eventually, you will find gold.
How to prep for your next travel writing assignment
In nearly every case, the travel journalist will have a commission to write. An assignment considerably narrows the focus. Much of the planning and contact-making needs to be done before the wheels of your Airbus touch down.
Get a guide, get a contact, set up meetings, but always leave time to indulge your inner flaneur; it’s much more likely the intro to your article will come from the afternoon you had free than the guide a tourist board set you up with. Zooming out is as crucial as zooming in. Even if you’re starting out, or you’re writing a blog about worldwide travels without a commission, then it’s still worth finding a focus for your trips and your blog (covered in chapter 8).
Learning how to become a travel writer with real purpose is all about dragging yourself out of your comfort zone and working hard at finding your story. It’s putting yourself in slightly weird situations. At the very least, your trip to a Sao Paulo football stadium is going to provide a swathe of colour and a scene for your story; at best, you’ll meet someone with a great quote and a story to pin an article around. It’s work, and it feels like it, but you’ll come away with a richer experience than any tourist would.
For more information on how to travel the world with purpose and get the most out of your travel writing endeavours, check out our latest articles in partnership with the Travel Writers’ Field Guide.