Australia is vast. A map of Australia placed over a map of Europe puts Perth in Spain, Darwin in Norway, Sydney in Turkey and Cairns a few kilometres outside Moscow. It’s big. It’s also terrifyingly dangerous.
Before the Aboriginals arrived around 42,000 years ago, the continent was left to its own devices and spent its time evolving sociopathic spiders, plants that carried knives, and snakes that could travel at light-speed, which might go some way to explaining why the Aboriginals decided to live in harmony with their new surroundings rather than challenge it to a fight.
In 1788, the British announced their arrival by stabbing Australia in the beach with a flag pole. Gunpowder obviously helped in the fight they’d picked with the locals, but their fondness for wearing boots would have given them a definite advantage when Australia replied by trying to bite them on the ankle.
One evening, having a beer in the roof-top bar of a Kings Cross hostel, a young Dutch backpacker announced how much he’d enjoyed “trekking barefoot through the Blue Mountains” and the Aussie girl behind the bar almost fainted. So if you want to avoid being posted home in a jiffy bag, should you be packing sunscreen, or a hazmat suit?
Fortunately I have a few Aussie mates, expats and well-travelled friends we can call on for advice, so allow me to introduce Amy, Dolly, Fabian, Gareth, Monika and Nick: my panel of experts on all things Antipodean who have come up with a very handy A-Z of things we should be aware of before leaving the relative safety of the airport.
Introduction | A-F | G-L | M-S | T-Z
Introduction | Step 1: Planning | Step 2: Research | Step 3: Writing | Step 4: Editing
Introduction: What is Travel Writing?
Travel writing is a tough genre to get right. A lot of people try it. Some are quite good at it. But the trap that many travel writers fall into is the idea the travel part is more important than the writing part. Travel writing involves a journey or a location that is outside the experience of your readers of course, but it’s not enough to just describe the place, and it’s certainly not enough just to describe how you felt about the place.
Travel writing may get its own section in a bookshop, but it can’t really be called a genre. It’s an amalgam of other genres, wrapped in a journey.
Travel writers need to be able to tackle history, politics, religion, geography, sociology, and anthropology. They need to be able to write about food, music, fashion, art, architecture and sport. They need to be a journalist, novelist, satirist, polemicist, interviewer and biographer. They also need to be able to write characters like Isherwood and paint verbal landscapes like Constable. They need the musician’s ear, the photographer’s eye, and the vocabulary to translate what they see and hear into words.
Travel writing is as much one genre as the decathlon is one sport. As a result the travel writer really needs to be able to write.
Google 'How to become a travel writer' and you’ll find lots of advice about finding your niche, building an audience, and marketing yourself online. But these are not guides to travel writing, they're guides to travel blogging, and few of them ask the rather important question: Can you write?
This guide looks at a few things you need to think about if you are planning a writing trip, and a few techniques to make the writing easier, and - hopefully - better.
All writing begins with an idea, and this guide has been divided into the steps you’ll need to follow to realise that idea. The steps are the same whether you’re writing 500 words or 500 pages:
Step 1: Plan
Step 2: Research
Step 3: Write
Step 4: Edit
Step 5: Repeat steps 2, 3 & 4 until you can show it to someone without saying,
‘It’s not finished yet’.
“Find a nugget. A moment. A single object. One exchange. One epiphany. One cultural revelation. Find one story and tell it. Just it.” - Kristin Bair O’Keeffe