The Ambidextrous Travel Writer

The Ambidextrous Travel Writer:

The Ambidextrous Travel Writer is a monthly advice column for travel writers & bloggers, written by author Susan Farewell.

A-BROADening Experience

Study to be a travel writer
6 February 2012 Post Author:
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As an international travel writer, I’m routinely asked these same three questions from people I meet:

1) What’s you favorite place in the world?
2) How did you become a travel writer?
3) How can I (or my college-bound teen) become a travel writer?

For this post, I am skipping the first two and just zooming in on #3—which is usually the one people are most eager to know about. I have a simple answer to it:

Spend some time living abroad, in a completely different culture, and take notes.

Spending significant time abroad changes your perspective.

I believe this is important for all travel writers interested in writing about foreign countries. By living in a different country, you learn how to have perspective about your own and you learn how to observe and accept how other people live. These are critical skills for effective travel writing. And the more entrenched you can get in another culture, the better.

For an article I just posted on our site, Brave New World: Study Abroad Today, I interviewed several students who were studying abroad or had studied abroad. The focus of the piece was how more and more students are going further afield to study, in cultures dramatically different from their own. The students are also choosing to immerse themselves in the local communities more, often living with families and attending schools without fellow American classmates.

Before I had spent even five minutes talking to each one of these students, I could see how global their frame of reference was. Each one had an open mind that only comes from being a stranger in a strange land.

None of them were planning to be travel writers. Instead, they were pursuing emerging professions that weren’t even around when I was in college including environmental policy; global health and human rights; and peace, security and conflict issues. But each one was already a travel writer. One beautifully told me her stories in e-mails. Another directed me to her travel blog which she said was for family and friends, and another writes travel press releases for her job in New York City.

When I was in college, I studied in Greece for a year. I wrote daily, sometimes in my journal, often letters to family back home. I was a Greek Classics major—possibly going to be an archaeologist. But I realized what I wanted to do was exactly what I was doingtraveling the world and writing about it.

~ Susan

Have you spent significant time abroad? How has it enriched your travel writing?


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6 Responses to “A-BROADening Experience”

  1. Great advice Susan, and I totally agree – the broader perspective gained from spending significant time living in other countries is priceless, and gives a writer the ability to offer a depth of information to a traveler that can change what would be a typical tourist-trap filled vacation into a richer and more memorable experience.

  2. so smart – you’ve got to open your mind, learn, and explore before you can write about ANYTHING. great post!

  3. I lived in Beijing for two years. The experience gave me not only a better perspective on China but also a new perspective on the United States and how easy my life at home was. As a result of my experience in the Middle Kingdom, I’ve written several guidebooks on Beijing, a city which I now call my second home.

  4. Kevin says:

    I spent 7 year living in France and Germany when I was younger, and found that — almost without exception — the expats I met were considerably more mature than their home-bound colleagues back in the US. Studying abroad doesn’t always equate to the same degree of immersion, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction!

  5. This is valuable advice. There’s nothing as beautiful as immersing you self into a different culture and so be able to write relevantly about that culture. And there is nothing as horrible as writing surface level perceptions about a certain culture without the benefit of a personal experience.

  6. Amandah says:

    I keep thinking about living abroad. I love the UK and there’s a lot happening this year from the 2012 Summer Olympics to the annual Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. I’d like to be there from July to August, maybe longer. I also keep thinking about teaching English in another country, but I need to take classes for that.

    BTW: I agree that teens would benefit from living abroad. I wish my niece would have taken a ‘gap year’ like the kids in the UK. It would have benefited her greatly. :)

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