In a world where it increasingly seems like everyone has been everywhere, and what's worse, has recorded it for posterity, it's a real challenge to find a new story.
Yet, when you visit a place for the first time, even one that has been seen a million times by other pairs of eyes, you have the chance to tell a tale – or a dozen – through your unique perspective.
So, how do you ensure the stories that emerge from your travels translate into enjoyable and useful material for your readers?
If, like me, you live much of your life online, then it's time to leverage the power to hunt for ideas that'll shape your travel writing. Set Google alerts for your travel destination a few weeks in advance. This way, you're aware of events in your destination, and you'll get an idea of the kind of stories already being published.
Also, make sure to ask locals for tips before you arrive – you’ll be surprised at how many people will volunteer to take you around their beloved city. A local perspective will help you avoid the obvious and the overdone (if it’s only a story you're after), and go after the secrets not every visitor is aware of.
On a trip to a city you’ve never visited before – let’s say Lisbon – you've tried and loved the artisanal gelato at a small outlet. A quick chat reveals the gelato maker was a sociology professor not too long ago. Now, you already have an interesting person to profile.
During the next few days, your post-dinner dessert cravings that made you explore Lisbon’s streets for several hours late at night have made you realize that there are many more artisanal gelato outlets in the city. Now you have another story on how artisanal gelateria are getting popular in Lisbon. Does that sound interesting enough?
Perhaps, you could also dig into the idea of whether locals are losing a taste for their famed Pastel de Nata?
Congratulations, you have a story in hand. Or two, actually.
As a beginner in the travel writing scene, there are two options open to you: compete with accomplished writers who have found their unique narrative voices.
Or, the alternative: develop your own niche.
Do you get high on adventure sports? Or does your sense of adventure come from going forth with an iron stomach to conquer street food stalls? See if you can combine your passion for travel with adventure sports or street food – or nearly anything else, for that matter.
Are you a runner while at home? The next city you visit, why not write about it through the eyes of an early morning runner?
Look for stories that others miss out on. Remember the ancient ruins at that UNESCO heritage site you visited recently? The one that's also on the wish-list of millions of other travelers around the world? Did you notice how some tourists walked around, their necks craned upwards, searching for something elusive under tree canopies with bulky binoculars and camera equipment in tow? They are birdwatchers – talk to them, there is a story there.
Or did you take a horse-cart to gallop around the ruins accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who is also a budding historian? How about looking for a story there?
Remember, the 'big story' is only one part of a destination. A good travel writer brings alive the smaller stories, the interesting details that define a place: bargain markets, street food, art and craft, quirky locals. The real fun of travel writing is uncovering those details.
Our 2017 Travel Writing Scholarship winners give us a taste of what they learnt on their Balkan adventure from their mentor, NY Times contributor Tim Neville
Portugal isn't a large country which makes getting around easy. Public transport is reliable & cheap or you can rent a car. Read our tips for safe travels in Portugal.