Had someone told me that I’d be steeped in — and earning from — travel writing at one point in my adult life, I would have laughed and shaken my head in sheer amusement. Or disagreement. Maybe a bit of both.
On memories & why I never considered a career in travel writing
You see, when I was around seven or eight, I was almost certain that I would be a vet. But having been afraid of syringes, my veterinary career was nipped in the bud. In high school, I developed a liking for biology and later on, abnormal psychology. It turns out my report cards and junior year aptitude tests weren’t lying — I was a science girl at heart.
But nothing concrete came out of those interests and I soon learned the heartbreaking struggle of having to choose just one course in college. One course to love and to hold, to power through in sickness and in health, for the next four years of my pre-adult life.
I’ve always loved reading. And writing came naturally to me — a skill they say I inherited from my mother. My nose for news (and current affairs) I got from my father. So I ended up taking journalism. After graduation, the bright-eyed journo in me was sure of my next “serious” step: the winding world of investigative journalism. I guess you already know how that panned out.
Things I learned from travel writing so far…
In case you haven’t inferred by now, I’m a travel writer and editor for TripZilla, an online travel publication with websites across Southeast Asia. Our goal? To help #MakeTravelHappen for everyone, one story at a time. It seems simple enough, but in many ways, being a travel writer is and is not what I expected it to be. Here are a few things travel writing has taught me so far.
Travel writers don’t actually travel all the time
I thought being a travel writer meant travelling non-stop. Maybe this could be the case for travel journalists who host their own show or segment (hence the need to be shooting new material ALL the time). But it’s very different for travel writers who churn out content for print or digital.
Nope, we don’t travel all of the time. In fact, we don’t even travel for most of the year — not even for half of it. But we do travel more than the average person. And yes, it’s a mixture of work trips and personal trips, which we’re encouraged to plan and carry out because firsthand travel experience is always best!
Most of the time, though, what we write about isn’t even where we are at the moment. We travel…and then we take some time to thoroughly digest the experience before writing about it. In fact, we spend most of our time in front of our computers typing away. Or with our noses in our notebooks (or heaps of scratch paper) if we choose to pen down our thoughts first. You know what we do all the time, though? RESEARCH. That’s one thing we don’t stop doing. For new ideas, for relatable content, for our audience’s reading/viewing pleasure.
Travel writing can be one thing — or many things combined
A well-loved professor in one of my heritage classes once lent me his copy of Color: A Natural History of the Palette by British writer and journalist Victoria Finlay. As its title suggests, it was a historical narrative of colours and natural pigments — from ancient civilisations’ use of crushed insects to how plants played a pivotal role in the textile industry. It was heritage, history, science, journalism, art, and culture combined and perhaps what was most intriguing about the book was it smoothly read like a travelogue. Finlay actually journeyed to where these colours and pigments originated, and she delicately unravelled the stories she discovered through the perspective of a traveller.
It was the first ever travel book that truly touched me. But was it really a travel book? I’m not even sure. Now that I’m able to write about travel myself, I realised that travel writing can be one thing or many things combined. It’s true, travel really does bridge gaps. But it doesn’t only connect people. It’s a wonderful platform where all topics and fields, anything and everything under the sun, can intertwine. Surfers chasing waves across the globe for their sport. Flight attendants blessing our routines with skincare tips. Digital nomads, full-time travellers, and 9-5 office dwellers sharing their common love for adventure. Simply put, travel is one thing. But it’s also way more than that.
Anyone can travel, but not everyone can (or will choose to) write for a living
Another thing travel writing taught me is how vastly different it is from travelling per se.
First, to state the obvious, anyone can travel but not everyone can write. Or take great photos. Or create engaging travel videos. Because those are the skills needed to produce effective travel content. And even if a person could do all that, it’s another thing to choose to do it, whether for work or as a passion project. You can plan a rockin’ itinerary and be eagle-eyed when seat sales hit, but still come out blank when you need to document your experience. And it can be the other way around: You can write and shoot, but completely fail at trip planning.
Does travel writing ruin your travel experience?
That said, I used to think that travel writing would actually ruin the experience of travel. The thought of having to write about my travels because it’s required of me and not because I want to was something I dreaded. Planning a trip was hard enough…and you have to extensively write about it after?! Poor travel writers, I thought, they’re probably sick and tired of having to say something about every inch of soil they step foot on. Baka mema lang? Or maybe they’re just sick and tired of travelling in general. Imagine associating travel with work Every. Single. Time. I used to think that just sucks the fun out of everything.
Here’s a dose of honesty: Sure, travel writers get tired of travelling. And yes, there are times we travel and fight hard to keep work out of our thoughts. But at the end of the day, there are those sweet moments that our love for travel and our love for writing somehow mesh perfectly. Those are the times we kiss writer’s block and travel fatigue goodbye! All while earning from doing something we love! As an important side note, yes, you can get paid fairly for travel writing — but sadly some publications have yet to catch up with acceptable rates. But that’s for another day and another story.
The digital revolution has definitely changed travel writing
For good or for bad? I guess it’s a bit of both, too. By now you’re probably seeing that this neither-hot-nor-cold stand is an ongoing theme here. And I promise you it’s not a cop-out!
There once was a time when travel writing just simply had to sound good. Those were simpler times — when the only thing published travel writers worried about post-coverage was a page or word count and their editors’ esteemed opinion. There are tight deadlines, too, but that’s always a given. The world is fuelled by timetables and deadlines whether we like it or not.
Nowadays, the digital travel scene demands so much more. Think SEO, online ads, readability, clicks and pageviews, plus the never-static realms of digital media — on top of the things mentioned above, of course. I can throw around techie and technical jargon all day to prove my point, but let’s spare each other the headache. So yes, travel writing can still be poetic and in long-form and introspective. But it can also be listicles and itineraries and a photo collection of Instagrammable spots. Those who think it can only be one or the either need to keep up with the times. Don’t worry, I used to be that person until I wasn’t. *wink*
Travel really does bridge gaps — and travel writing brings this to light
To end this piece, I’d like to reiterate something I said earlier. I can’t promise this is the last time I’ll say it either. Travel really does bridge gaps. It brings people together. Travel opens our eyes to realities other than our own. It fosters pride of place and respect for the environment, for each other’s cultures and beliefs. Travel allows different fields and industries to interact and intersect. But all these wonderful ‘side effects’ will only gather dust in the crevices of our memory banks unless we make them known.
So go ahead, write about travel. Take photos and share them on social media even when they say it’s just a way of #flexing online. Start that travel b/vlog today! You never know who you’ll reach and touch with your stories.