Advice from an Aspiring Travel Writer on How to Succeed

On our 2012 Travel Writing Scholarship, winner Hanna Butler got her hands dirty in the worlds of guide book writing, travel writing, and travel blogging.


Photo © Christin Hume

Why are guide books important?

Guide books have been my bible since I began traveling.

The first guide book I read was the Rough Guide to India. I’ve critiqued them, chopped pages out to make them lighter, and used them as pillows on airport floors.

Yet I never really considered where all that content came from. I now know.

It comes from writers who sweep the streets for details and facts which have to be current, accurate, and appropriate. I never gave much thought to the responsibility that a guidebook writer has. They travel, and document every part of it; their footsteps become the guide. Every meal, hotel, every street they walk down is noted and photographed – it’s no holiday.

It’s not just the instructional material that is important, but the sense and impressions they give of a destination that dictates whether or not the traveler goes there. Many travelers base their trips around the places they read about in guidebooks. So gauging this is also an important part of the guidebook writer’s day.

Tell us about a day in the life of a travel writer

If travel writing is narrating, you need to get a sense of a place and this obviously can’t come from a whirlwind tour.

Travel writers watch, observe and experience. They need to take their time, get below the surface and meet local people.

They need to have an angle to ensure their writing becomes more than just a travel diary.

What qualities are necessary to become a successful travel writer?

Every travel writer needs to be able to write, research and be organized.

You need to be intrepid and adventurous – there is nothing exciting about a travel writer who won’t eat the local food or try local things.

Respect – whilst being intrepid and adventurous you are still a visitor to someone else’s home. Respect that, respect people’s culture and customs – conform while you are there.

Have an open mind – it might not be what or how you would do it at home, but its how they do it there. Remember the place is not foreign, you are the foreigner.

Lastly – and this is just in my opinion, look for the ordinary in the extraordinary. The story might not be about the architecture of the Taj Mahal, but about the man at the ticket counter.

What advice do you have for aspiring travel writers? 

Read and write. Think about new angles and creative ways to travel. Get off the beaten path.

Also, we travel every day. We travel to work. We travel in our minds thinking about faraway locations. I think many of us, including me, postpone travel writing until we can get to the other side of the world. Write about where you traveled today.

I also really think there is a need to be creative and come up with new angles, at the same time as finding your own voice and sticking to it. I’m not a fan of reading people's personal travel blogs – I find them boring, unless they have a niche.

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