Thoughts on Travel Writing

by martinhesp


Blogging about being a professional writer leaves one with a lot of scope, especially if you are a jack-of-all-scribbling-trades like me.

I had loads of emails and comments made about my last blog giving some advice to would-be journalists, so this time I thought I’d touch on one of the other big “how-do-I-get-into-that???” questions I get asked on a regular basis.

And I’ll talk about travel writing because I am sitting in a hotel room in deepest darkest Yukon with a slight hole in the itinerary of my press trip. Which is unusual, believe me. Most press trips have you running about like the proverbial blue-arsed fly.

So as it’s grey and overcast here in Whitehorse – and bloody freezing – I’ll put a few thoughts down.

The first is – don’t listen to me. I am a travel writing dinosaur. It’s true. I was told as much – in exactly those words – while on a press trip to central France last year. It was the first media trip I’d been on where I was the ONLY print journalist. Everyone else was a travel blogger. Ten years ago – even five – such a thing would have been impossible. In those days only print journos with a commission were to be found enjoying the highs and lows of press trips abroad.

So now it’s the turn of the bloggers – although how the organisers of

Imagesuch trips get to judge who should or shouldn’t be invited beats me. The newspaper/newspapers I represent have certified figures regarding readership numbers and social demographics etc – how you glean such trustworthy information about someone who produces a blog I am not so sure. As in the Twitter world, I have been offered services to help me “boost” the viewing figures for this blog. Meaning that I’d pay someone to get me a host of hits backed by a haunting of empty names. Which seems to me to be akin to cheating at the card game Patience.

At a banquet here in Whitehorse (which was a distinctly weird occasion, I can tell you) an American “prefessional writer” (of one self-published book) asked me if my paper was keen to hand out travel writing commissions, to which I could only splutter on my baked halibut. Those days have gone. I can imagine a features editor accepting someone’s travel story if it was highly relevant to their publication – and if it was FREE – but I can no longer envisage a commissioning editor handing out hard cash, except for perhaps a handful of extremely well heeled publications. Do such things exist any more? Not in great numbers.

As for the travel-bloggers – who pays them? That’s what I’d like to know. Yes, I can see a few exceptionally gifted and energetic souls getting sponsorship and making dosh from a few adverts – but make a good living?

Some do. I know. They’ve told me. I have also now met quite a few travel bloggers who seem to have either rich spouses or some kind of inheritance.

All of which is fine. Why knock it? When I’m older and retired from day to day journalism, I might just have a crack at travel writing via the blog-osphere myself.

For now though, I am lucky enough to work as a part-time travel writer because I am a full-time staff feature writer. I do it in my own time, don’t get paid any extras for the photos I take or expenses I incur, etc – never complain about any of that – and enjoy every single minute of the amazing opportunities that come my way. I am in a privileged position – and I never take any of it for granted. When I finish writing this I am off to spend an entire afternoon driving my own small dog team across a frozen lake. How cool is that?

I realise none of this sounds like advice – and isn’t. Being an old print dinosaur in a world that’s rapidly being taken over by the digital realm, I haven’t got any to give. It has taken me 30 years to build up a reputation and make trusted friends and contacts in the travel arena – and what a useless waste of time it would be for me to advise anyone to do that…

What I am proposing to do, however, is use my experiences – gleaned from literally 100s of press trips – to write a book. In fact, I believe you could make a great film out of the subject. Recipe: take half a dozen journalists who, by their nature, have vast egos – put them in a dodgy old four wheel drive and have them breakdown somewhere deep in the desert, or in lonely mountains, or forests, or somewhere uncomfortable…

I have been in that dodgy four wheel drive that’s broken down – not once, but several times. The resultant human action/reaction has been hilarious to behold.

But nowhere near as funny as watching hugely pompous and self important journalists strutting their tiresome stuff across the face of the planet. I have actually heard one well known travel writer from one of our more august national papers say: “I didn’t know you could turn right on a plane.”

I’d picked up on this “I never travel anything but first class” twaddle before – but I never imagined I’d really hear someone say it in all seriousness. I also saw the same person arrive on a Caribbean island to be met – with the rest of us – by a luxury shuttle bus. They demurred to enter the lowly portals of this vehicle, insisting they be given their own chauffeur driven limousine. The request was duly granted.

But that was a decade ago. Surely, this hugely amusing personage would be left standing on the airport pavement with their designer luggage in a modern world which is run by cost cutting and tight budgets.

Anyway, “mushing” calls – and a team of dogs pulling a snow-sled waits for no man. If you are interested I will return to this topic soon.