Living on the road
Writing about places you see, like and fall in love with in this huge wonderful world is a very interesting experience for any writer. Professional or simply passionate about words, with a literary background or just a dedicated and traveller, we often feel the need to share our feelings and impressions with the others – family, friends or anonymous readers. On the basis of our direct experiences we might be tempted to make recommendations about places or to describe with our own words the feelings and pleasures roused by a certain corner we were lucky enough to discover.
The easiest and most affordable way to do it is by taking pictures. They are just one click away and, unless you do not intend to make after an exhibition or to publish in a glossy review, you do not need extraordinary skills. The widespread use of digital cameras offers to anybody, up to the account and interests, the possibility to fix your memory in pictures, easy to download and easy to share – off or online. A picture might talk the language of thousand of words of a potential book. And you do not need too much inspiration for taking them: be in the right place, at the right moment and click. It is all you need – not, as in the case of writing, a special space, silence, a notebook or a computer.
But, if you want to do more than posting or printing some photos on the Internet, and you are longing for turning into an occasional or dedicated travel writer, you open the right drawer. This book is for you: a short non-exhaustive and open to discussion guide about how to better use your words for telling good stories about places you visited.
Maybe you don’t intend now to turn into a professional writer. And, it is possible that your contacts with the writing world are sporadic. But, in the same time, you believe that you have to share somehow to the world of ideas your own version of the reality. It might be available for any kind of writing activities, weather is about journalism, literature, poetry, children books or…the subject of our book: travel writing. If you feel spiritually fulfilled when you write, it is a reason enough to continue to polish and refine your style. It is not your profession and the source of your income. But, more than your daily schedule, we need to rely on our dreams and passions. And, if travel writing is one of them, be sure that you will find enough time in your daily program to work to your dreams.
If your curiosity and interest are bigger enough, we hope to offer you in the following pages first-class directions for a qualitative added value into your writing career. Furthermore, if the title of our booklet is answering some questions and preoccupations you already expressed, we hope to offer a larger as possible support for your intentions. Our intention is offering you the best guidelines for progress of your writing plans. You are free to make further the choices you consider the most right, by identifying the adequate editorial recipes. And, of course, I fully urge you to make your own contributions, by sharing your own writing experiences.
As a passionate writer myself, I discover the pleasure of travel writing relatively later in my writing career. In comparison with other projects I was involved – as diplomatic journalism, such as – the challenge of putting in writing my very own travel experiences not as easy as I expected. In this case, it was more than relating naked facts and figures, it was about sharing a unique feeling inspired by a place, a very personal experience in fact. And, I must confess that at the beginning I was very reluctant to do it, simply because in my perception, the real journalism and the direct, personal understanding were at a great extent incompatible. But, I was omitting a very simple fact: I was facing a very different writing and journalistic category. And it took me a bit of time to enter a different shape and style.
The considerations included in the following pages are nothing but a short essay in sharing my experience of traveller and writer, activities that are for a very long time part of my daily life. There are practical advices – as, for example, how to make your writings known to a wider public using the social media tools – or stylistic considerations – about the most appropriate ways to discuss the subject – or even organisational aspects – concerning planning and documenting your trips.
Our aim is very simple: helping you to enjoy as much as possible both the pleasure of writing and of travelling.
For those interested in sipping the words of highly evaluated professional writers, I prepared an extended list of literature recommendations, going far beyond the classical touristic guides you are buying before going into a trip.
I would like to end this introductory chapter with another couple of personal considerations about both travel and writing. As I wrote, for many years already, travel is part of my daily life. Either I am discovering the places of the town I am living in – not always the same – or I am packing to see another continent and country, I am always feeling the joyousness of learning about new places, new cultures and to meet new people. IT is a valuable part of my school-of-life education. Without this usual roller coaster schedule, I feel less myself. This is the reason I am performing this ritual as often as possible. I had the wonderful chance to live and travel in very interesting places around the Globe and I am convinced that amazing other places are still waiting for me. Shortly: I love to travel.
The Never Ending Task of Polishing the Words
You might be a natural-born-writer, but without exercise and discipline of your daily program your talent would be wasted easily.
Writing could be a pleasant activity, but in the same time, as any intellectual activity, it is not effortless. Of course, you do not need to run or to put your health on trial, but the intellectual attention and effort required could equate in some cases the preparation for a marathon. As in the case of running, you need exercise and experience for successfully reaching your goals.
The usual writing activity looks sometimes as a never-ending story: writing, rewriting, editing, editing again. This is the sweet monotony of all those for whom playing with words is the main job or passion. At the end of the process, it might happen to lose the pleasure to read again – or ever – your words. But, years after, it might be a very pleasant surprise.
A couple of practical considerations will ease your work, available in general for any kind of writings:
- Polishing your words might be a very exhausting and anti-inspirational stage of your writing projects, but never avoid doing this at least twice. Even your ideas are brilliant, a bad grammar or various misspelling will discourage any editor or publishing house to consider your works for publishing
- Before starting your daily writing program, be sure that you have an easy access to a dictionary – of synonyms, of words of the language you are writing in – a grammar guidelines, online or offline Internet resources – for fast checking of the correct spelling of the names of places or for accessing various historical and cultural references necessary in creating context of your works. Your credibility created by different small details and technical elements part of your activity, among which the accuracy of the information sent to your readers or the literary quality of the written text. It is not always easy and you need permanent efforts for improving and upgrading yourself. Attitude available for any other kind of professional activities.
- Take your time and try to focus as much as possible on your subject. When you are starting to write, anything but your works matters. Either you have 20 minutes or 2 days, focusing on your writing must be the most important part of your day, during which put on-hold any other time-consuming activities – as, for example, permanently checking your e-mail or social media accounts.
- Read as much as possible literature relevant to your topics. Be updated with the main trends and concerns in the area, by taking part to various online or real-life seminars and discussions. Be active and raise your problems and questions by taking part to various discussion groups -on Google or Facebook.
Planning your Writing
Thus, before starting a new paragraph be sure that you have a general schedule of your writing program – an approximate planning of the results you intend to make, as of the main ideas you want include in your work. And, of course, prepare of being critical enough with your writings.
Before starting to write, try to ask yourself a couple of questions:
- What I want to write about? You might be tempted to cover big and generous topics as: Paris, travel. But, your originality and creativity consist in finding new angles and perspectives. Consequently, by being more specific – as, for example, the morning from the window of my hotel – you will concentrate new and interesting information.
- How I want to write about? A dialogue, a personal memoire, a short story, a description of a specific touristic service – as, for example a hotel or ways of transportation.
- For whom do I want to write? It might sound mercantile, but you always have to imagine how your audience looks like and thinks. It is a travel magazine, a blog for friends – case in which, for example, mentioning some adventures of people all of you know will add a very familiar note to your writings, a short story for kids etc. If you are writing for a magazine, your task is easier, as you have already the general description of the market.
- How much time I have at my disposal? Again, if you have to deal with magazines’ deadlines, your entire work must be carefully organized to cover all the three stages I mentioned before: documentation, writing, editing. If you are writing for your personal blog, this time pressure is absent and you are more relaxed in meeting your own deadlines.
- How important is writing into your life? It is a very general and philosophical question, but it is important for your next steps for being fully aware of the place occupied by writing. So, try to think about, for example: How many days are you able to live without writing? What prospective plans do you have with your writings – publishing a book or an article.
- How much time could you dedicate exclusively to your writing activities? If your income resources are other than those provided by writing, you have to think about the right balance between hobby and profession. Even if you are planning to switch soon your career to the full, professional writer’s level, be sure that this decision will not affect in a dramatic way your family and your daily life. A progressive transition, mixing the normal job with the free time used for covering your writing projects would be a wise advice for a successful start.
As soon as you have an approximate list of answers to the previous questions – perhaps there are many more, I only wanted to outlined some of the most important – try to make a draft plan of your day.
- When you feel the best prepare to write: early in the mornings, evenings or during the lunch breaks?
- Organise for short-, medium or long-term your activities to be able to respect in the stricter sense of the word this schedule.
- You need to have at your disposal at least two hours dedicated exclusively to writing. Starting must be slow and as for running, the wake-up exercises can not be skipped.
- Make a plan of what of advancing your writing, day by day, week by week: one week dedicated to put on paper your impressions; one day for writing the introduction; another day for putting in order and connecting your paragraphs etc.
- As in the case of a business plan, check carefully at the end of the day and of the week your progress: How time you needed to write the starting sentences, for example; How realistic was your plan given your writing speed? All these considerations are very useful in rescheduling your activities and reconsidering the timelines you will be able to finish your project(s).
- Even the temptation to write on many projects in the same time, mostly if you are at the beginning of your writing activities, try to focus on one project at the time. You will avoid sparing lots of time and energy while jumping from an idea to another.
- Before starting writing, try to cover as much as possible the literature dedicated: travel blogs or books, guides, literature books. In this way you will be able to usethe right language and vocabulary.
- Focus on a mixture between descriptions and practical information. The qualities of a fiction writer – as offering through words a description of a place – are completed by a journalistic, up-to-the point style – as for example, describing the ways in which you must arrive to a hotel.
- Try to be as specific as possible. Maybe not all your readers visited the place you are writing about, so they will need, beyond plastic descriptions, also content information to convince them to go to see the place. There are many wonderful places in this world, but each of them could be described through largest five specific key-words.
- Be careful to details and cultural characteristics. Document each of them cautiously, to avoid stereotypes or ready-made negative ideas. Local media is a helpful support, but the background obtained by a direct discussion with local people or academic/literature documentation might be more helpful.
- The camera or the voice recorder could be helpful in keeping a certain authenticity you could rely on later during the process of writing.
- Be as critical as possible with the information you are processing. Some guides could be misleading or some observations of other travellers wrong. Keep awake your critical capacity and dare to make the proper corrections and observations.
To do or not to do? Any answers?
I will enlist a couple of things that usually I am interested in while reading a text about travel. Separately, I will enlist all those aspects that I find boring, irrelevant, and, in general, not worthy to use my brain and eyes for reading.
- Find the key-words – maximum five – describing the place.
- Find a subject for your writing – mostly useful when you are dealing with an article. For example, “food in California” will cover extensively your experience in tasting the special cuisine from this region and not the nature or the film industry.
- Use the fluency of the fictional writing wrapped in the journalistic tools. Be specific, but using descriptive sentences. Recreate an atmosphere, but connect your readers with practical information – for example, when describing the local food you tasted in a restaurant you recommend.
Not to do
- Reference to people and acquaintances not introduced formally – as talking about what your kids did in holidays, without getting connected with the place you are in.
- Unbalanced reporting – focusing too much on telegraphic information – as time zones, weather, ways of transportation or too much on plastic descriptions.
- Too much focus on “you”. Of course, I am expecting to read a piece about a subjective experience, but with a relevance for at least one other person, meaning me, the reader.
- Avoid to change yourself into an advertiser. As your success and profile are increasing, you will be contacted, for sure, by various specialized agencies, with generous budgets. Mentioning your connections will be an act of fairness to your public. Writing for or against a certain place, without disclosing your allegiances are against the rules of fair-reporting.
Preparing the Trip. Some Technical Details
Try to involve your reader as much as possible in every stage of your trip, including the preparation. Even you are not too much aware of this aspect, it might be a valuable help in offering him or her valuable information for proceeding in a similar way.
There are some of the questions I have in mind when thinking about this aspect:
- What is the cheapest and more convenient way to reach the place? Find as many information as possible about suitable travel agencies, airfares, quality of roads. Also, there are variations from a season to another: the places with beaches and sea are preferred by Europeans during the cold winters, as in some places, the summer periods are extremely hot and not suitable for people with toddlers and small kids, for example.
- What are the average temperatures from a season to another? Although we do not think too often about these mundane aspects – at least I haven’t for a long time until the last two or three years – it is very important in planning our trip. Being prepare for the good and bad weather will make possible a good planning of our trip. For example, trying to visit museums during a rainy day and planning a trip in the mountains when the weather is fine.
- What are the most encountered security risks for a traveller? They must be wars, dangers of terrorist attacks, risks of various natural calamities, pandemics. Looking for extreme adventures might be a way of living, but if our lives must be endangered, it is better to watch our steps and think about a better planning. Our life is one of the most precious assets so it is better to live it at its fullest but being aware that we don’t live for ever.
- Do you need a visa? Where you could find reliable information about these issues available for beholders of various citizenships? In some cases, the visa rules must be long and obviously with lack of chances to solve it from a day to another. In some cases, if the travel arrangements are made via a travel agency, the visa rules could be included. If we are on our own, we have to be aware of the conditions and rules in due time, for properly preparing the documentation.
- How safe is to travel alone?
This information is available for both male and female travellers. Some countries must be restrictive and not very foreigners’ friendly, in some places women are imposed to respect various travel and dress restrictions. Hitchhiking is easy in most part of the European countries, but not very sure in South America or Africa, for example.
- What reliable sources you must take into consideration for making the reservation for a hotel? Read carefully the hotel descriptions; try to contact them directly people who wrote their impressions.
- Which is the most spoken language? Language is very important, because in many situations you do not have too many options in finding ways to advance your trip – for buying a train or bus ticket, for example – or to find various directions. We are used to think that English is the most used language, but this is not always true. For an easy access to the local people, a basic Phrases Dictionary must be helpful for a good communication.
- Which is the most used currency? This is important for a good financial planning of our trip. Also, we could do the exchange process in our country of origin, avoiding various communication problems at our destination. ATMs are widely available, it is true, but on the other side, in places more exotic and isolated, we must counter the risk of not finding any available and it is better to have on us, for the beginning a smallest amount of money.
- Any other relevant information: as, for example, regarding the dress code for women in certain Muslim countries etc., the possibilities to call abroad – including the availability of some mobile networks, newspapers available, various medical warnings, affordability of some cultural places, restrictions addressed to foreigners etc.
All these information might be found easily on the Internet, but in a disparate way. What the writer have the occasion to do is to put all these data in a different shape, addressing them coherently and making a story out of it. For example, by telling the story of how he or she discovered it, what thought had in mind when found out – putting on hold a certain destination because high health risks. Try to be creative and personal and aware that your story is worthy to be told and listened afterwards. Beyond the purely informative aspect, you might use your words for making a difference. It is what gives substance to your writing profile and increase your joy of writing and being read.
For every kind of trip – from mountain biking, to a short week-end trip – the orientation provided by the maps is extremely valuable and are very important as illustrations of the writing.
Tell a story
Honesty and the preoccupation for telling the truth are the main constant of the work of a writer.
Use your imagination and your cultural background, but in the same time, unless your work is not a complete work of fiction, respect the truth and the reality. You might think it is not a work for you, as long as you love to be creative and do not like the grey guide-like type of stories. But, in the same time, you must be aware of the fact that, in the luggage of good cultural and writing experience every opportunity for a new subject is more than useful. Maybe your starting point is very prosaic – as the presentation of the coffee bars in a certain area – but you could add your own style by focusing on the people you surprised at a certain moment of the day, the specific smell of the coffee, the behaviour of the bartenders. We have a lot of story subjects around us. All we need is a better education of our sight and an open mind.
Why should somebody read a book about travel, instead of a normal touristic guide?
In my case, before preparing for a trip or choosing a certain destination, I always prefer to document myself via various references. Sometimes I am curious to find out more than touristic information, going in-depth with political or social information. Maybe there are some rules or regulations I have to be aware of, as a foreigner. Maybe during my trip there will take place elections and I will have the occasion to see not only nice places, but also lots of people on the street and electoral billboards.
Today, the usual traveller is more exposed to various kind of information and references that at the very beginning of touristic travelling. We are interested not only in running from a touristic goal to another, but also to understand the background of the place we are seeing. It is a matter of telling and listening a story.
I mentioned several times since now how I am doing the documentation, from the point of view of the sources used. I will not insist too much upon this and for some valuable resources in this respect, I strongly recommend you to consult the bibliographical link at the end of the booklet.
I would like to insist a bit on the organisation of our information.
As a writer on the road, there are not too many chances to be completely mind free. Of course, the travel is mostly aimed to divert and offer various leisure opportunities. And, a good writer will enjoy these offers as well, while keeping his mind and eyes open to discover the world around. From my direct experience, I must confess that I never felt as a burden the need – or the professional obligation – to write about the places I was. Writing is so much part of my life that I took this task as natural as possible, being fully aware that my experiences could be an interesting story for my readers.
So, have your notebook and pen ready at any moment to keep your impressions.
But, in this case too, the over organised mind should prevail.
Carefully plan your day – What are the aims of your trip: you want to see a famous museum, a must see place, a garden, or you want to melt into the daily atmosphere of a flea market? Or maybe you are interested to enter in touch with the fancy places, as discos or shopping malls? Try to get from the ground as much information as possible – description of places, people, the hour when you’ve been there. In some cases, a photo might help you, as the digital photography is indicating the day and the hour the picture was took.
Write the possible questions about certain customs or places, to be answered later, by supplementary documentation.
Try to imagine what kind of article or essay you will write after. Write the lead in your mind and based on this, try to organise a bit your material you have by now.
At the end of the day, evaluate how much of your plan was accomplished and what do you need to do more in the next days.
This planning depends on a great extent of the time you have at your disposal. In my case, the short and intense trips offered me several “hooks” for my articles, more than in the cases when I had one week to spend in one place. Of course, when you have more time, the chances to find new directions for your writing are increasing. But, with a good planning, everything is on the good track.
- Official touristic websites and local leaflets
- Comments and reviews of the visitors posted on the websites
- Literary and cultural sources
- Previous articles published in the media – local or international
- Discussion groups on Google, Yahoo, Twitter or Facebook
- People from the street that we meet accidentally – in a market, at a shop, people we are asking about a specific place
- Local blogs
- Cooking books
- Travel fairs – It is a very direct occasion to enter in touch with both the providers of various touristic services and the direct beneficiaries. You have access to presentation materials, videos, leaflets, images. For me, it always worked as a very inspirational event, both for my future destinations and for my updates about the trends in the industry.
Of course, all these sources must be scrutinized from a critical perspective. And this is the reflex of the journalist. Never trust one single source, trying to confirm or deny your information after consultation of at least three sources.
The practical information must have a specific place in your reporting. It is nice to go in a place described as fabulous, marvellous and attractive, but maybe your need to pay the entrance fee in the local currency and you need to know more about the differences.
As a possible solutions:
- Introduce some practical lines at the end of your article including references to currency, eventually as a comparison with the prices from the home
- If you intend to cover more than one country, setting a couple of comparative lines will be useful
- Try to find some information useful for families travelling with children – as prices of tickets in some museums, special meals or playgrounds in some places.
How to Communicate Your Stories
- Try to make comments on fellow writers’ articles, on forums, blogs or newspapers.
- Open a blog, with a detailed plan of posts, updated permanently – at least twice the week. Don’t forget to upload as many pictures as possible.
- Create a Twitter account and try to identify people with similar interests, as well as representatives of the industry. Network your articles and contributions, as well as fresh impressions about your trips.
- Create a Facebook page
- Post your short movies on YouTube, with or without background comments.
A Preliminary Conclusion
We are now at the end of a short travel along the landscape of writing tools. We hope it was worthy to spend some time together and I offered you a couple of interesting suggestions and insights about this wonderful hobby, pleasure and/or job: that of a writer.
Never forget that the first people who discovered the world were people lacking most part of the mental comfort we benefit today. They didn’t have maps, or airplanes to move from a place to another, not even dictionaries for entering in contact with local populations, very often hostile. For centuries, travel was a long time and dangerous enterprise. We have thousand more opportunities to see in a life places discovered and identified in centuries. What we lost sometimes is the capacity to wonder, to see each place as a different one, worthy for respect and opening as a possible new perspective on life and new window to the world and ourselves.