To Travel Write or Not To Travel Write
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This piece was especially written by Lesley Anne Rose as a contribution to the Family Adventure Project. Lesley Anne co-established the first poetry slams in Britain, has worked in local radio and produced films for the British Video History Trust. Now a freelance writer, she has written guidebooks to Trinidad and Tobago, The Caribbean, Florida, USA and England, as well as numerous articles. She is currently writing a history book on the town in Cumbria where she lives with her husband Martin and cat Eliot - named after a pub not a poet. You can contact her via us or via her blog.

To Travel Write or not to Travel Write
by Lesley Anne Rose
"Perhaps the greatest social change since the Second World War is the way citizens from the free nations travel as never before in history." Martha Gellhorn

When I was growing up I had to cycle past a complex of old people's flats to get to the park. One old lady had positioned her rather 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 what I'd been looking for all along and that old lady's wave had urged me to seek.

Now 15 years after cashing in my pension and buying my first Rough Guide, I write for the company whose books saw me through the perils of turning up in a strange country alone and introduced me to a way of life and way of seeing the world that only those who get off the beaten track experience.

So, as a mark of respect for the old lady in the armchair and what she impressed upon me at an early age, I'd like to encourage all you armchair travellers, and armchair travel writers, to pick up your passports and your pens, stop dreaming and start packing.

There are many reasons why we travel and many reasons why we write - but why travel write?

From purely financial perspective travel writing can fund your way around the world. And if this is your aim the biggest market to break into is writing travel guides. There are many different kinds, many different publishers and the market is growing all the time. If you're reliable, can hit deadlines and already have a bit of traveling under your belt, don't be afraid of getting in touch with a few publishers to see if they'll give you a chance.

However, for those who think this is an easy ticket, here's a few words of advice. You might get your airfare paid when writing a travel guide but it's by no means a free holiday. On the contrary, it's hard, often painstaking work, which will allow you little time to relax and enjoy the places you visit, little editorial space to wax lyrical about your impressions and no space at all to share your travellers' tales and experiences on the road.

Travel articles do allow a bit more creative freedom in which to tell tales - depending on who you are writing for. They are also a good way to sell yourself to guide book publishers who will sometimes want to see something in print before they'll trust you enough to send you off around the world to write for them. This can mean writing for free in the first instance just to get something published - but that's how most of us start and the best way to see it is as an investment in your future as a travel writer.

The other great thing about articles is that once you have written or updated an existing guidebook, there's extra cash to be made by selling features to magazines and newspapers on the places you have just been. Having written a guidebook you will have instant credibility when trying to sell your work and your information will be bang up to date.

If you want to be less factual about travel writing and simply tell the tale of your life on the road, (all be it as an article, book, TV programme or radio feature) then get an angle on your story. Travel in a way no one has ever travelled before, follow in the footsteps of a previous adventurer, or simply find something different to say about the places you have been.

Or, if all these facts just get in the way, then make it up and do it in the name of fiction. Keep notes throughout your trip of your experiences, impressions, the people that you meet, the amazing things that you see - and more importantly when it all goes horribly wrong. Because lets face it, the tales most stay at home travelers love to read are those involving danger, disease, delay and discomfort. Record all of these and the experiences you can hardly put into words because they have changed your life so much, and transform them into poetry, short stories, novels, radio plays and even film scripts and in doing so take people's imaginations to places they never knew existed.

Having said all that, fame, fortune and freebies are not the only reason to travel write. The most valuable souvenir I bring back from any trip is my own personal journal that records my internal as well as external travels. I write this purely for myself - for those times when visiting the memories of all the places I have been is all the traveling I can do. And if the only thing I leave behind in life is a collection of battered travel diaries, stained with splashes of water from the Mediterranean, mud from a South American rainforest or stains from a spilt bottle of Caribbean beer, I'd consider this is a legacy to be proud of.

Whatever the reason you feel to compelled to travel and whatever the reason that you want to write about it, don't be afraid to give both a go. One day when I cycled to the park the old lady wasn't there anymore. I knew she'd gone traveling and I knew she wasn't coming back.

© Lesley Anne Rose 2004 reproduced here with permission.

See her blog at

Web links to other articles by Lesley Anne Rose on the Rough Guides website.

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