Perhaps the greatest social change since the Second World War is the way citizens from the free nations travel as never before in history.
When I was growing up I used to cycle past a complex of old people’s flats to get to the park. In one ground floor flat an old lady always sat in a cumbersome armchair in front of large French windows which overlooked the path that lead from my house, through the cemetery, past her flat, to the park. Every day she would wave as I cycled by, her face lit up and I always waved back.
Is this old age? I used to think. Is this what I have to look to forward to? Growing up in a small seaside town crammed with residential care homes, the future looked bleak and immobile and I believed from an early age that the only way to survive old age, and its cumbersome armchairs, was a supply of memories from a life lived to the full.
I came of age in the age of Thatcher, the age before yuppies disgraced themselves and rich pickings blinded those who worked hard, asked no questions and burnt out decades before their pensions matured. When the promises of the 80s turned into the broken dreams of the 90s, I took to the road in search of a different path.
Now, 21 years after cashing in my pension and buying a ticket out of town, I’m a fully fledged travel writer, committed to the unbeaten track. And, as a mark of respect for the old lady in the armchair and what she impressed upon me at an early age, I’m keen to encourage all would be travellers and potential travel writers, to stop planning and start travelling – whether this means walking a different route to work each day or taking time out to travel the world the long way round.
There are many reasons why we travel and many reasons why we write – but why write about our travels?
From a purely financial perspective, travel writing can fund your trips. And if this is your aim then options include writing or updating travel guidebooks. However, this is far from an easy ticket. You might get a fee and, if you’re lucky, some expenses paid, but it’s no free holiday. It’s hard, often painstaking work, which allows little time to chill and scant editorial space to wax lyrical about your impressions of a place.
Travel articles allow more creative freedom. They are also a good way to sell yourself to guidebook publishers who’ll often want to see something in print before trusting you to write for them. This often means writing for free in the first instance just to get published or even creating your own travel blog.
Also once you’ve written or updated an existing guidebook, there’s extra cash to be made by selling features to magazines and newspapers on the places you’ve just visited. Having written a guidebook you’ll have instant credibility when trying to sell your work and your information will be bang up to date. All the time taking into consideration that it’s often easier to sell travel to publications that are about anything but – such as food and drink magazines. Also remember you’re an expert on your own home town, so don’t think you have to travel the world to have something interesting to say about a place. Which leads to the importance of getting an angle and saying something new and different and interesting.
However, if facts bog you down, make it up and write fiction. Keep notes on your travels – your experiences, impressions, the people you meet, the things you see – recording all the bad as well as the good. Because often the tales most want read involve danger, disease, delay and discomfort. Record everything and transform your experiences into poetry, short stories, novels, radio plays and even film scripts and in doing so guide people’s imaginations to new places.
Having said all that, fame, fortune and freebies aren’t the only reason to travel write. The most valuable souvenir from any trip is often a personal journal that records an internal as well as an external journey. These are written purely for yourself – for those times when visiting the memories of all the places you’ve been is all the travelling you can do.
Whatever the reason you want to venture away from the well trodden path, and whatever the reasons are you want to write about your journey, do both. One day when I cycled to the park the old lady wasn’t there anymore. I knew she’d gone travelling and I knew she wasn’t coming back.